For the first night of Sukkot I went with my Aunt to her friend's apartment in Ramat Gan. With Moroccan-inspired dishes (think sweet meats and lots of couscous) and a sukkah decorated with Christmas lights in 90 degree weather, it was the most tropical/mediterranean celebration of the harvest I've yet to experience. For a more traditional Sukkot dinner, my roommate and I journeyed to Jerusalem for a טיול (tee-yool), or day trip. Walking the entire city, spanning from the Central Bus Station and the shuk to the Old City and Mamilla, we played tourists for the day: admiring the sukkahs lining the streets and the craft festivals adorning popular squares. Even all of the cafes and restaurants had sukkahs up for customers to eat under! The Old City at night was filled with energy- live music and bands, children selling cotton candy and popcorn, spontaneous dancing, and Jews of all different levels of observance. I would have loved to stay in Jerusalem for the night, but Israel Experience planned a טיול for us up north which was leaving early the next morning!
In the spirit of following Israeli custom, our program trip was up in the Golan- a popular vacation spot during the Sukkot vacation thanks to the Kineret and plethora of hiking trails. Our first stop on this 48-hour trip was the Arbel Cliff, overlooking the Kineret and Tiberius. The three-hour hike took us to the top of the mountain and spiraling around to see the ruins of ancient synagogues and caves where Jewish communities hid during Roman conquest. Working up an appetite, the Rishon LeZion and Petah Tikva cohorts were split into two groups for Iron Chef Israel style in the woods. Given canned goods, a few vegetables, some pita, eggs, meat, and two burners to make three courses for 15 people and the panel of "judges" we actually put together quite the smorgasbord (see below!). Believe it or not, the point was just as much team building as it was feeding us dinner. Stuffed and drained, we spent the night at a Kibbutz (the same one I stayed at in May with MEOR) to prepare for our early morning hike the next day.
Working to beat the peak temperatures of the day and the heat advisory warning, we started the Nahal El-Al hike first thing. Hats were compulsory, so I was forced to "go Bedouin" and work the do-rag look (see gallery). With black and white waterfalls (named after the colors of volcanic rock) and four-hours of winding trails in 100-degree weather it was definitely one of the hardest hikes I've ever done. And yet, there were Israeli families carrying babies in backpacks and cross-body pouches. I barely trusted myself to do the hike, and the Jewish mother in me could not comprehend the חוצפה of these people! Moving our way to the Syrian border our program's טיול ended with apple/peach picking at Ein Zanim. And then the real טיול began... my trip to Tzfat.
Me and two girls from PTK planned to spend Thursday-Sunday at Ascent, a Chabad hostel in the middle of the Old City of Tzfat. Before this trip, I had visited Tzfat a few times already and spent a weekend there last summer, securing it's spot as #2 of my favorite places in Israel (after Jerusalem, of course). There really are no words to describe the way of life in Tzfat, other than to say that they really are living life on a whole other level. The serenity of being truly a city on a hill atop the mountains of the Golan only echoes the spirituality and mysticism (branded as the birthplace of Kabbalah) you can feel in the air. A city of the divine, it was explained to me that even the professions there all circle around this theme- from the handful of Yeshivas/Seminaries to the Artist's Colony, attempting to emulate an elevated expression of G-d. Not to mention that my Grandma grew up in Tzfat, so let's just say the city holds as much Jewish history as it holds family history for me.
The best part of staying in Ascent for the weekend though is the people that you get the chance to meet while you're there, for they shape the experience. A hub for international and Israeli travelers ranging the observance gamete from Chassidim to the most reformed Jews, everyone comes together to experience the real Tzfat. Whether its wandering around the Artist's Colony (which fun fact is not the long street of vendors or the candle shop) or climbing up to the cave (yes, there is a cave) or the top of the mountain to enjoy the view of Lebanon and Kineret, there is history to uncover. I also love that we get set up with host families for Shabbat dinner, so you really get a window into what life is like for these people who seem to live in spiritual and literal isolation. Eerily enough, out of the eighty or so people staying at the hostel, I was set up with the SAME host family as last year!!! Everything happens for a reason, but I'm having a hard time finding the reasoning behind this one.
But no, the adventure does not end there my friends. Sprinting that morning to get back home and pack for my next adventure before the buses shut down for חג, I made it to the other side of Petach Tikva just in time to meet my host teacher. My co-teacher and I were invited to come spend the holiday with her family and to be honest, at first I wasn't so crazy about the idea. How often in America would your new employer invite you to sleepover at their house to spend a holiday? Or in what world would it even be appropriate? The answer is never. (or, if your answer is yes, then I am just working at the wrong places!). But, she came to greet us outside, showed us our bedroom aka the house's bomb shelter. However, for Israeli standards, bomb shelters in the home are usually converted into spare bedrooms or studies. As soon as we walked into the house though, it was the smell of food that really drew me in... her family is Yemenite and there was an impressive menu set for the night. For the life of me I will never be able to pronounce or even spell these names, but a neon yellow soup and insane pie-looking bread were involved :) Joining us for dinner were also her husband, daughter, and three sons. As an English teacher, her children spoke very nicely; throughout the weekend and even just that night I could hear their English improve.
For the full 25 hours I can safely say all we did was eat, schmooze, and play. We ate dinner and schmoozed. We ate breakfast and schmoozed at the Yemenite Synagogue (also a very cool experience filled with lots of dancing, snacks, and energy). We ate lunch, schmoozed at home, and played Rummikub for 3 hours (nice to know some Shabbat games don't change no matter where you go!). We schmoozed some more and ate dinner. Literally, this was our schedule. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and half fatigued from the amount of food I inhaled. Even after the holiday ended we stayed until 10 PM and each of the kids gave us a little concert with the instruments they play (think piano, guitar, saxophone). Not only did I get to see my host teacher in a whole new light and really connect with her and her family, but it felt great to be experiencing the holiday in-full with the same family rather than a meal here or there. And to top it off, we got goody-bags of leftovers to bring home :D
In a not-so-short nutshell, this was my last hurrah before heading back to school and finally starting a routine. This week I will be finalizing my teaching schedule, resuming Ulpan classes, and even planned a meeting with the Environmental Education director in Petach Tikva to help set up the perfect internship for the year. Sukkot was definitely not my last time in the Galilee, and I'm hoping to make it back up there for Hanukkah!