Last Tuesday, we returned from a 10-day pilgrimage in Israel. This has been a trip my wife and I have been wanting to take for decades. Hylan Slobodin and his wife Rita, have been coordinating tours in Israel every two years for the past 34 years.
We have been friends with Hylan and Rita since the mid-1970’s and Hylan, as one of the senior pastors of the church we were attending at the time, co-officiated our wedding ceremony in 1979. Every two years, they would call us up and ask if we are joining them on their next Israel tour and every time, we had to decline due to family or business demands. However, last year when they called, we finally could make the trip along with 30 other people.
Hylan engaged his friend and local certified tour guide resident, Yossi Goldberg, as our guide for this trip. Yossi’s intimate knowledge of Israel and its history was of great value as we went to local restaurants, ancient sites, and areas not typically on a tour guide’s agenda.
The trip was a whirlwind scheduled waking each day at 6:00 to get ready, eat breakfast, and be on the group bus by 7:30. We visited over 30 historic sites throughout Israel and stayed in hotels along the Sea of Galilee, Dead Sea, and Mediterranean. If you have not made it to Israel, it is worth being on your bucket list. The country has beautiful landscapes along the Mediterranean and Sea of Galilee. The main cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are competitive to metropolitan US cities with top rated hotels and restaurants. Seeing the ancient ruins, cruising the Sea of Galilee on similar boats Jesus and his disciples used, and learning the historical significance was a great experience.
The first days of the tour were focused on the events and battles that lead to Israel gaining independence in 1948. Our first stop was the Avalon Bullet Institute near Tel Aviv. To assist Israel forces with supplies of ammunition, Yosef Avalon, secretly built a 50’x100’ underground ammunition factory under a Kibbutz that was located up the hill from the British military headquarters. Yosef secretly recruited 45 students of the kibbutz who were trained and worked in the basement below the laundry area. They entered through a secret passageway hidden by a large clothes press designed to pivot to reveal the opening and ladder to the room below.
The 45 students were sworn to secrecy not telling anyone or even their family what they were doing. Discovery of this factory would have been death to all. The students maintained their responsibilities on the kibbutz to not alert anyone of their secret work in the factory. During 1945 to 1948 these students produced over 2.25M 9mm bullets and one of many reasons for the success of this war for independence.
There is significantly more to this story that included the clandestine companies formed by Yosef and his partners to buy the equipment and supplies in Poland, installing the equipment in the basement during the night, and even convincing inspectors that the millions of bullet casings being brought into Israel were represented as fancy lipstick containers for wealthy Asian women.
Probably the most impactful experience for us was visiting the mountains near the base of the Dead Sea. This is the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first discovery in 1947 was by a Bedouins young man tending his goats. When the young goat herder threw a rock into the cave to scare out a goat that had wondered into the cave, he heard a breaking sound of pottery. He discovered that in the pot was an original Isaiah scroll that unrolled to 27’ 2” long. Since then, archeologist have discovered over 16,000 fragments in 11 separate caves that now represent most of the Old Testament. The scrolls date from 200 BC to 100 AD
Israel and the Jewish population have experienced significant violence, persecution, and attacks throughout history for their faith. Touring the holocaust museum representing the 1930’s- 1945 period was not for the faint of heart. Inside the museum were vivid details, pictures, videos, artifacts, letters, and thousands of other items outlined from this horrific period in history. It was a somber experience to say the least.
The next day we traveled to the far north corner of Israel to Rosh Ha-Nikra that borders Lebanon. We walked through tunnels created in the sides of the cliffs by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. This is also where Lebanon has been digging tunnels through the mountain to gain access to Israel territory with four new tunnels discovered and blown up as recent as 2018.
One aspect we were not prepared for is the distinct difference in the Mediterranean food. It seemed the same selection of dishes was for breakfast and dinner. I think because we stayed at hotels catering to the seasoned travelers, we did not have the “American” food options that may have been at other hotels. The key difference is the flavor and seasoning that is significantly different from our American palate. Options varied from bowls of sour cream with sliced jalapenos, raw fish, eggplant cooked in olive oil or red sauces, and lots of rice. Cooked vegetables in generous portions of olive oil or red sauce along with large selections of fruit were also frequent options. One afternoon my wife and I engaged in a conversation of what foods we most look forward to eating first when we got home. Beginning signs of home sickness.
Unfortunately, the final four days of this trip my wife and I spent in our hotel room. A painful flu spread throughout the group, and we had 102+ fevers for the remaining time there. We recovered enough by Monday midnight departure time to endure the 18-hour flight home. It’s been a tough re-entry with continued flu symptoms and jet lag. Despite this, the trip was a great experience and fulfilled a bucket list goal of ours.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME?
The more I travel abroad the more I appreciate America. The freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries under the same constitution are a unique experience for any nation. Businesses that respect the laws prosper while those that don’t eventually fail. Americans have freedom to pursue any occupation, attend most any school, and live just about anywhere without showing “papers”. “Rags to riches” stories are so prevalent that people have prospered in every conceivable facet of our society. Americans produce more patents than any other nation and entrepreneurism is the DNA of our culture.
We can travel anywhere and cross state lines without military inspections. Our water is clean, our air is clear, and food is plentiful. Our children can pursue their dreams, and many can start pursuing goals well before starting college. My grandson started this summer studying for his pilot’s license at age 14.
Men and women before us have fought wars for our freedoms we enjoy to this day while many nations are still embattled in conflicts or ruled by corrupt politicians and military leaders.
After getting through customs in Newark airport last Tuesday at 4:00am, I saw on the TV monitors the familiar CNBC personalities commenting on projections for the day’s stock market. It is a great gift for our country to continue to function as an economic superpower that is not driven by military or government entities but by average people with the freedom to work and live safely with families and friends. It is great to be back!
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