Binyamina: "Life is What Happens ..."

Bangkok Friday

April 18, 2008

 

Dear Family and Friends,

As the poet said,

"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans."

To keep a short story short, I flew to Israel and along the way I picked up some sort of "bug." I struggled to maintain my strength but after almost two weeks of feeling weak and tired, I decided to return to Bangkok. I saw a doctor here and nothing seems abnormal. At the moment I am slowly recovering. I will go for more tests in a day or two if I don't feel 100%.

Naturally I am disappointed. I expected to do some traveling in Israel. I was also considering a side trip to Cyprus. The biggest disappointment is that I will not be with my Israeli family for the Passover Festival.

My Israeli family has adopted me as their new son, welcome cousin and close friend. Even though we only met for the first time last June, I am now a member of a generous and energetic family. At its head are Miryam and Moshe Lauer who emigrated from Germany as very young children more than seventy years ago. They have three adult children and eight teenage-young adult grandchildren. *

Miryam and Moshe prepared my comfortable room in their large home in Binyamina, a town halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Miryam's delicious German/Israeli style cooking added at least three centimeters to my waistline. And despite my illness, we managed to see several sights in northern Israel.

Since Moshe is a retired farmer, he took me to the Carmel Agrexco packing house where the workers sorted and crated Valencia and Mandarin oranges and very large grapefruits. In an adjoining building we watched as a woman carefully plucked pieces of shell from an unending conveyor belt of pecans.

A few days later we visited the Tishbi Winery where hundreds of barrels of merlot and brandy are aging. I met the current owner who is the great grandson of the founder.

From the Tishbi Website:

Tishbi Estate Winery

Vintners Since 1882

IN 1882 MY GRANDFATHER, MICHAEL CHAMILETZKI, SET FOOT UPON THE LAND OF ZICHRON YAAKOV. HE MADE HIS FIRST HOME IN NEARBY SHEFEYA AND WAS CHOSEN BY BARON EDMUND DE ROTHSCHILD TO PLANT AND DEVELOP VINEYARDS ON THIS LAND. IN 1925, THE FAMOUS POET CHAIM NACHMAN BIALIK VISITED AND GAVE MICHAEL A NEW HEBREW FAMILY NAME, "TISHBI" AN ABBREVIATION MEANING "A RESIDENT OF SHEFEYA IN ISRAEL". FOUR GENERATIONS HAVE PASSED AND I STILL REMEMBER HARVESTING BY HAND IN MY FAMILY'S VINEYARDS AND BRINGING THE WAGONS OF GRAPES TO BE PRESSED IN THE NEARBY WINERY. WE STILL FOLLOW THE TRADITIONAL GROWING METHODS PASSED ON TO ME BY FATHER AND GRANDFATHER. Jonathan Tishbi PROPRIETOR. **

One afternoon I simply crossed the street from Moshe's house to the work area behind Ofer's house. Ofer is Moshe's elder son who is now the owner of the Lauer plantations. On the day we visited, the harvest of sweet peaches and enormous green avocados were being sorted and packed by Ofer's Thai and Arab workers. "Sawatdee krop." "Salam Aleikum."

The most beautiful day trip was northeast through the orchards and vineyards of the Yizre'el Valley to the Galilee and the resort city of Tiberias that sits on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Fed by natural springs and the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. The weather is usually quite warm as the lake is 209 meters (685 ft) below sea level. Tiberias, named for the Roman emperor, has a lovely shoreline promenade, Roman ruins and old buildings made of the black volcanic rock called basalt that is quarried in the nearby hills.

North of Tiberias, in Tabgha is the Church of the Multiplication. "The site has long been venerated as the 'deserted place' of the Gospels, where Jesus miraculously multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed the crowds that followed him." *** The floor of the church is covered with mosaics of flora and birds and in front of the altar is the small and simple mosaic of the loaves and fishes.

We continue northeast again through the hills and valleys, orchards and groves, farmlands and mine fields of The Golan Heights. We made two stops in Katzrin.

Ancient Katzrin. "When the Six Day War ended, an archaeological survey was held which set out to uncover the hidden past of the Golan. During the survey, archaeologist Shmaryahu Gutman came upon the Bedouin village of Katzrin. While touring the village, an ornate doorway caught his eye, built of basalt stone and towering above the ruins.

"It was the entrance to the ancient synagogue. It had been standing there for the duration of one thousand five hundred years, awaiting the opportunity to tell its story. The story of an ancient Jewish Community whose tale is etched in the basalt stones." ****

The ancient village complex includes an oil press, the house of Uzi, the house of Rabbi Abun, and the partially reconstructed synagogue that collapsed during an earthquake in 749 CE.

The Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin screens a film devoted to the history and the last stand of the hilltop city of Gamla during the Great Revolt against the Romans (AD 66). Known as the "Masada of the North," Gamla suffered the fate of Masada and the moving film made me feel I was there, on the battlements almost two thousand years ago.

How was ancient Gamla discovered and uncovered from under a modern forested hill in the Golan? Josephus (37-100 CE) left us perfect directions and descriptions in "The Jewish War."

("For someone who's a little sick Jan, you sure are seeing a lot." Wait! There's more.)

Closer to home, "Ramat Hanadiv spreads out from the south of Zikhron Ya'akov over an area of about 4,500 dunam (450 hectares). It was established between 1939 and 1954 to perpetuate the memory of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, known as "The Well-Known Benefactor" and as "Father of the Settlement." At the heart of Ramat Hanadiv (The Hill of the Benefactor) is the 70 dunam (7 hectares) Memorial Garden where the Baron and his wife, Baroness Adelaide are buried. Surrounding planted sections spread out to open landscape extending over the tip of the Carmel range." And back again to the Sea. *****

The planted sections include a palm garden, a rose garden with an unusual sundial, a cascade garden featuring two rows of muscular dragon trees, and a fragrance garden designed for the blind. What fragrances! And what colors! It's springtime and many of the trees are abloom in pink and yellow and white. Ramat Hanadiv is not in the guidebook, but it's a gem, not to be missed.

Another gem from another benefactor is the Ralli Museum of Latin-American and European Art on Rothschild Boulevard in Caesarea. Founded by an Israeli banker, hundreds of paintings and sculptures are on display including one gallery devoted to Salvador Dali. The building itself is worth the visit.

(More?)

Finally, on the Mediterranean coast is the nature reserve "Nachal Taninim" or Crocodile Stream. As late as 1977, a croc was spotted here. The stream is filled with water lilies, fish, turtles and water birds. Large birds peer down from the treetops. The reserve is also an archaeological site. The stream is bisected by floodgates and dams that provided power for the gristmills of the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Now young modern Israelis come here with their children to enjoy the park and to learn their history.

As a young modern American, my own American history of merely four hundred years is just a fraction of the history of Diaspora Jewry. Jews everywhere in the world waited for two thousand years to celebrate Passover in their own land, in their own State.

I had planned to celebrate Passover this year in Israel. But, "life is what happens…."

I suppose I can wait one more year.

"Next year in Jerusalem."

This Year I had the privilege to attend a series of events marking another important date. On April 10, Moshe Lauer celebrated his eightieth birthday.

Moshe is quiet, modest, good-natured and calm. But what a force! For many years he was the Director of the agricultural organization in Binyamina and for many years thereafter he was the Mayor of Binyamina. Everywhere we went, Moshe knows everyone and everyone knows Moshe. Moshe and my cousin Miryam made history in this region as their family and their neighbors transformed a barren landscape into a prosperous land.

Moshe is an international diplomat. He was the leader of several Israeli delegations to post-war Germany to establish business, civic and cultural ties. I asked him, "Moshe, after all that happened, how could you find the emotional strength to go to Germany, of all places, to become partners with Germans and Germany?" His answer was simple. "My government asked me to do it. I did it for my country. I did it for the well-being of modern Israel."

I was present at a special meeting where the new generation of local farmers honored Moshe with moving speeches filled with respect and praise and gratitude. Have you ever seen an Israeli give an impromptu speech? What hand gestures! What facial expressions! What sounds! What movement! What drama! What passion! Did I understand even one word of their Hebrew? No. Did I understand everything they said? Yes.

At his home, with just a bit of apprehension, but with the positive attitude of a much younger man, Moshe accepted his family's gift of a small yet frightening-looking digital camera. Moshe asked me a few questions and I was pleased to be helpful. Fortunately, Ofir, Moshe's twenty-one year old granddaughter just left the IDF where she was a specialist in aerial photography and map reading. Everyone agrees that Ofir knows everything.

And at a festive birthday party with children and grandchildren, Miryam and Moshe's daughter Dalia served the highest caloric collection of homemade fruit and nut cakes and cream-filled pastries this side of Greenberg's on Madison Ave.

Last year, after my father died, Moshe called me to express his condolences. At the end of our conversation he said, "Jan, I will be your new father." I was grateful for his sympathy and appreciative of his generosity. Since my own Hebrew name is also Moshe, I am now honored to be Moshe ben Moshe.

Yes, my friends, "Life is what happens…."

Here's "To life."

Jan

PS I have attached a few photos. I will post all of the photos on my website next week. http://travelwithjan.com

PPS There's more! In between the attractive assortment of meals and the flavorful assortment of tours, I managed to read all or parts of several books. All but one are on Jewish themes.

I recommend them all:

The Last Jew by Noah Gordon. The Expulsion in Fifteenth Century Spain.

Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld. An Allegory on the Unspeakable.

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. A story/philosophy of survival, success, sorrow.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. The "mystery" of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East by Bernard Lewis. Forget politics; there's something to learn.

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. 15th Century Tapestries. By the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

I just finished:

A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev. Israel at war. Israelis in love.

And I just started:

A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson.

* http://travelwithjan.com/middleeast2007binyamina

** http://www.tishbi.com/

*** "Israel." Fodor's Travel Publications. New York. 2006

**** Park Qatzrin Golan Archeological Museum. www.golan.org.il/park

***** http://www.ramat-hanadiv.org.il/lobby.aspx?boneId=322

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