Thursday, August 20, 2009

An August for the Ages

...And the weeks go by. Another week has come and gone, bringing with it adventures, wondrous thoughts & sights, new friends, challenging hikes and a slue of beautiful sunrises and sunsets giving drama to time. The Klezmer Festival in Tzfat was amazing. Jewish gypsy music live on every corner, people gathered from all over the world, and a crew of newly acquired friends. After the Klezmer, I attempted to meet a friend and her family for Shabbat. Once again the race was on and as the hours wore on, it appeared as though I was losing. After missing the last train to where I needed to go, it took incredible effort and ingenuity from my friend, serving as central intelligence guiding my every step as I called from random cell phones, arranging rides and coordinating our impromptu Plan B with incredible precision. After a series of rushed buses and a cab ride only a fool rushing to make Shabbat would pay for, I arrived at her house twelve minutes before Shabbat arrived. Incredible! I spent the weekend with Shira (said friend and intelligence agent pulling the strings of my travels from an undisclosed location) and her family, which was a treat of the highest order. Meeting her grandparents, whom have lived lives of literally historical significance, was one of the most interesting experiences I've been fortunate enough to have since being in Israel. Her grandfather, a physicist whose work on Atomic Energy has taken them all over the world, her grandmother, a woman whose very presence puts you at ease yet instills a desire to learn more, try harder and take nothing for granted, both escaped Nazi Germany and lent their hands in the War of Independence for Israel in 1948. Their stories were epic, their presence steadfast, and the fact that they not only spoke to me, but actually did so with genuine interest was ultimately humbling. I only wish I could record a snapshot of the conversation and antics that went on around the Shabbat table. It was a history lesson wrapped in a Woody Allen film.

After a memorable Shabbat, several friends and I set out on a three day hike that would take us through a Druze village, along the only river with water in Israel at the moment, and end in a day at the most beautiful grottoes along the Mediterranean. My compatriots were three amazing compatriotets, each very unique in their own way, all such beautiful souls. It was quite the hike. Aside from the first night onslaught of mosquitoes and the occasional dog sitting on your head, our hike went very well. We would occassionally hitchike from place to place, often breaking into groups of two and meeting up at our final destination. A bit like the Amazing Race. After our hike concluded with a beautiful sunset over the Meditteranean, Shira (one of the three musketeerets) and I hitchiked to the north and crashed a beautiful wedding. It was an ideal ending to several days of hiking.

This brings us to today, as I'm about to set out with Shira #2, currently sitting right next to me, to hitchike (a favored form of transportation here) to Haifa for a beer festival, then on to Jerusalem where I'll spend Shabbat with my good friend Benny. For those of you following this blog, I wish you all unexpected inspiration. Below is a note from Shira, her lovely personality and incredible spelling ability shine through. She's a gem, no doubt. Till the next post...

Aside from that the best time that l had in Tzfat was not yet come- l am going with my best friend Shira (the littel one...) to a beer Fastevial in Haifa, the city l hate!!! but l would do any thing just to spend time with Shira!!! l would even buy here dinner tonight, when she will be hangrey, and stay intuch with here for ever!!!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

...With A Little Help From My Friends

Well, I safely arrived in Tzfat, though not in the same condition as I left Nahariya. It was an exhilarating, exhausting and most of all an inspiring hike. As has been habit for the last several weeks, remnants of my still lingering New York penchant for expediency, I once again found myself in a slightly stressful, just slightly, race against Shabbat. Racing against Shabbat in order to enjoy Shabbat. A contradiction no doubt. But once again, I was catching the last train, that would connect to the last bus, that would drop me off in a small town that would no doubt be abandoned in preparation for the Shabbat celebrations once I arrived. And indeed, this is just what happened. So, with 3 days worth of food and water packed on my back, I wandered the empty town until I found a cab that would take me to the beach where the head of the trail I would begin to hike the next day was, and there I would camp for the night. This would be where I would celebrate Shabbat. Fortunately for me, as has been the case over and over here in Israel, the random person of my encounter, in this case the cab driver, would prove to be integral in not only getting me to the next phase, but would once again do so with grace, humility and a caring bond that distinguishes friends from strangers. Nava, which means "beautiful" in Hebrew (the cab driver), when she found out my plan to hike the Yam L' Yam alone, though I had yet to be able to find a map or a flashlight, proceeded to take a detour upon her own volition, in search of my needed provisions. Though we were unable to find a map, which would unsurprisingly prove problematic along the way, she rummaged through her trunk and found a perfect flashlight she insisted I take. When we arrived at the beach, she gave me her card and insisted I call her if I need anything during my hike. This is the cab driver mind you. She then went on to tell me that when she saw me walking alone earlier, she felt drawn to me for some reason, and after having spent the last twenty minutes together, she was certain that we had known each other for a very long time. Somewhere, somehow, we had been friends before. She wished me luck with a mother's concern and went about her way.

As I turned to take in the atmosphere where I would welcome in Shabbat in solitude, the scene was an instant affirmation of a quick and intuitive decision I had made several days prior. When walking around Haifa, a city in the north, I decided, literally within the scope of about five steps, to turn around at that very moment, pack my things, head to Tel Aviv to gather supplies and set off on this hike. Three days of running errands and gathering supplies found an undeniable affirmation in this moment. After taking a moment to appreciate the fruits of my brief labor, I snapped a few pictures for memory's sake and hiked up the tallest hill that punctuated one end of the beach and found a perfect camping spot, a hilltop that practically leaned over the ocean with an unobstructed view from every angle. I quickly set up camp and then stood and watched a fiery sun emanating shattered rays fade behind a purple and blue haze. After a few moments, I made a 180' turn and watched a rustic moon, almost identical in size and color, rise from the other horizon, directly in line with where the sun had set. It was a beautiful Shabbat evening.

The next morning I rose with the sun and greeted a day that I knew would be both invigorating and bittersweet. As I set out to hike the twenty kilometers that would be the intended first leg of my journey, I was thinking a lot about all that had transpired over the last two years that had brought me to this point, a place of unique fortune born in the wake of unprecedented pain. This day would have been my mother's 51st birthday. She would occupy the majority of my thoughts on this day as I walked alone, taking great pleasure in the clarity and intimacy of my memories. I add this in an attempt to offer a glimpse into the inner atmosphere of this day.

With an obscene amount of weight on my back, I set out through a field of banana farms, leaving the Mediterranean behind, walking directly into a rising sun. Without a map in my possession, I was relying solely on instructions I had gotten from the internet to be my guide. Throughout the day the trail would have many faces, from fields, to roadsides, to wooded valleys set between rolling mountains, but the trail itself was very poorly marked and I soon found myself on top of a hill that took two hours to hike up, but which culminated in a Moshav (a neighborhood, with cultisacs, pools and neighborhood dogs that seemed infatuated with the strange guy passing by with tons of food on his back.) So I knocked on a door, received shaky directions, and decided to hitchhike back down the hill to take the "other road". After a few minutes, a car arrived and a man in his forties with his two young daugthers (6 and 8) sitting in the front seat greeted me warmly. As I explained what I thought was my situation, he assured me, "Don't worry, we'll take you wherever you need to go. Just get in and we'll figure it out." Once again, an amazing soul sprouting from the fertile soil of Israel.

As we continued to drive, he trying to figure out where exactly I wanted to go, me not entirely sure, I told him where I was supposed to end up by the end of the day, which happened to be the town he was born in, and he quickly did a U-turn, heading back up the hill again. Watching him with his daughters was an incredible treat; they practicing their English with me and asking the curious questions that entertain the minds of children. The car was filled with their laughter, cutting straight through more mundane conversations of where I was trying to go, where I was from, etc. His youngest daughter, being quite the character, often had both of us in fits of laughter. We drove on, mind you it was now about 95 degrees outside at this point, and he offered to take me as far as I wanted to go. I decided that since the first leg of this hike went mostly through towns and ran too close to roads for my liking, he could take me several more kilometers and dropped me off where I should have been the morning of the next day. Not bad. What was a setback had suddenly put me a day ahead, and in this heat, with this weight on my back, that was a very nice luxury to be working with. As we said goodbye, me with my many 'thankyou's, and he, like Nava, writting down his number and insisting that if I need anything I not hesitate to call, that he would be happy to help from the phone, or could come get me if need be. He would not be the last good Samaritan of the day.

From where my hitchiking adventure ended, my hiking adventure began. I descended down into a valley, running along side a dry riverbed (this is summer in Israel after-all), and hiked through dry forests nestled between large rolling hills. Stopping periodically to eat and write, the day was taking on a more tranquil, though equally exhausting tone. After several hours of hiking and once again losing an elusive trail, I hiked up a steep incline, stopping at a gas station, completely exhausted, and began trying to gather as much information from the gas station attendant as possible, who made no qualms about expressing his astonishment and feelings of general absurdity at my idea of walking to Tzfat. "Why walk when you can drive?" was his general sentiment. When I spoke with the other attendant, neither of which knew where the trailhead was, she told me to wait a few minutes until her boyfriend arrived, maybe he knew. So I waited and when he arrived we got to talking, he showing me on the GPS on his phone (a high tech modern convenience he was quite proud of) where I was and where I wanted to go. It was essentially straight up hill, alongside a road. Lovely. As we spent more time together, he asked if I wanted a ride up to the town at the top of the hill. Such sweet words. I was seriously considering pitching a tent behind the gas station, I was so tired at this point. We drove up to Hurefish, a Druze village, which sits at the base of Mt. Meron, the biggest mountain in the area, and what, in theory would constitute the next day hike. However, as we went on he mentioned that just yesterday he told his girlfriend that he wanted to go up to Mt. Meron to clear his mind, but she convinced him to stay home and study. "Would you mind if I took you up to the top of Mt. Meron?" he asked. My love for the people of Israel only deepens as this day goes along.

When we arrived at the top of the mountain, the view was absolutely breathtaking. Lebanon to the North, Tzfat to the East, farms and small Moshaves dotting the valley between, and the Mediterranean to the West. We stood on top of the mountain and talked for about an hour and a half, him telling me about his experiences as an Israeli and a Jew, being born of a Polish mother and an Uzbeki father. He was intelligent, articulate and had a variety of passions, including flying airplanes. He told me about avoiding bombings from Gaza, being from Ashkalon, the town that borders Gaza. He told me of experiencing the bombings up where we currently were from Hezbollah in 2006. His stories and perspective were quite unique.

As he departed, like those that came before him, he gave me his contact information and insisted I call him if I need anything. I set up camp on top of Mt. Meron, where it was strikingly cooler than below, and slept for what felt like days. With bleeding feet (agressive hiking sandals) and a back that was screaming protests, I have never been so tired, but I had successfully covered almost three times as much ground in one day then I had planned... with a little help from my friends.

The next morning I got up, a beautiful day, and hiked down Mt. Meron, where, as the heat began to set in, I opted for a ride to Tzfat, which took all of about ten minutes. So, no I can't say that I successfully hiked the Yam L' Yam hike. The weather, lack of map, and surprisingly ailing body (a blunt reminder of my mortality) left me quite open to the help of the many extended hands of Israel. What I gained in return was a string of unforgettable experiences, all contained within a single Shabbat.

I'm now in Tzfat, reunited with several good friends and the Livnot Chevre I've come to love, awaiting the beginning of the much anticipated Klezmer festival, which will last the next two days and fill Tzfat to the brim. Here I have found time to decompress, reflect, and give thanks. I apologize for the lenght of this post, maybe there are unnecessary details embedded within. But I wanted to give those of you who are interested as accurate and intimate a look as I can offer into both the unparalleled generosity and love of the Israeli people, as well as the thoughts and inspirations carrying me along the way.

For those of you who have contacted me about your having prayed for Dave, I thank you and as soon as I find out his status, I will update you all.

I will leave you with another quote from Abramham Joshua Heschel, a continued presence on this trip. Thank you for reading and enjoy. Most importantly of all, enjoy.

"Israel exists not in order to be, but in order to dream the dream of God. Out of the wonder we came and into the wonder we shall return."
-Avraham Yehoshua Heschel

Friday, August 7, 2009

A thought... just a thought

This posting will be brief. I'm on my way to catch a train to Naharyia in the north. I'm going to hopefully arrive as Shabbos is coming in, enjoy the evening in solitude on a beach somewhere, and then rise early and begin the Yam L'Yam hike, which essentially connects the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. The hike should take about three days. A tent was provided by a friend I met in Sinai. A sleepingbag was offered by a good friend in Jerusalem. Israel, the people who make Israel what it is, provide for you. It's quite amazing really. There is much that I would like to say in this post. Many thoughts and inspirations have come to me that I want to share with you all. But for the moment, I must make haste. But I will share this very simple thought that keeps visiting me during peak moments here. It's a sort of a mantra really, something that is continually echoing in my mind, enhancing every moment and giving rise to a more purposeful and appreciated tomorrow. The thought is this:

There is so much magnificence.

Every thing around you at every moment, the very breath you are taking at this moment, which in itself requires you to be submerged in a sea of oxygen (which to our untrained eye appears as nothing), held in place by atmospheric pressure nurturing an oxygen rich rock that is very precisely spinning around a meduim size star at just the right distance for energy to infuse rather than consume, a process that has been coming into this state of being for approximately six and a half billion years. It's all at such a perfect balance, for this moment, and you not only get to experience it, but you essentially are the experience of it. So enjoy, because there really is so much magnificence that you might just miss it.

On another note however, there is something else on my mind, which by comparison makes these writings and adventures seem all too trivial or incredibly fortunate at best. I have a very good friend of mine who will be undergoing his second brain surgery today. He's an amazing person with incredible courage. Yet, as you can imagine, he's scared. Regardless of your beliefs, religious or otherwise, I'm asking each and everyone of you who reads this to please take a moment, a real moment, and think or pray or do whatever it is that you do within the depths of your own self when something really matters to you, and think of my friend Dave Sommer. If you care to know his story, or are moved to donate to his parent's ever-growing financial burden for his medical care, please visit his blog at Any and all positive messages are welcomed.

I thank each of you for reading and will write again when I can.