Last night we stayed at Sha’ar Hagolan Kibbutz. When we woke up, we all enjoyed a nice breakfast together in the dining hall. After breakfast, we headed off to Mt. Bental for our first stop of the day.
On Mt. Bental, we learned about Israel’s border with Syria and how the current political climate in Syria is affecting the border and how it may impact Israel in the future. Yoav pointed out where different terrorist bases were located as well as the mountain where the Druze people live. We were able to explore the base and some of us were brave enough to go into the military bunkers learning quickly just how dark it is down there. Most of us just whipped out our smartphones to act as our flashlights. Boy how times have changed. The guys also discovered that the newest fashion trend in Israel is short shorts with tzitzit hanging down while carrying a machine gun. After hearing some gun fire in the distance coming from somewhere in Syria we bought some fresh fruit and left for our next adventure.
We left Mt. Bental to take a short drive down the mountain to go drive dune buggies for the afternoon. After handing over all our driver licenses, we board 2-persson and 4-person buggies and set off for the Syrian border. The 4-person buggies stopped halfway through to switch drivers and the we arrived at an abandoned and bombed out Syrian headquarters. The IDF was practicing in the building with paintballs, so we headed up to the roof to stay out of their way. On the roof we learned about Eli Cohen, The Israeli/Syrian spy. We also got a great group shot on top of the roof.
After switching drivers in some of the buggies, we headed back towards the bus to dust off, clean up, and have a picnic lunch. We had a delicious catered lunch from a local Druze company. After lunch, he spoke to us about what Druze life is like and what some of their beliefs are. We learned that when Druze get married and move away from their family with their new spouse, but I don’t think they can simply dial 1-800-Druidia like in “Spaceballs”. Once they leave their family they may never return or ever see their family again. Can you imagine not seeing one of your family members ever again? We also heard a fascinating story from him about his cousin being reincarnated and he met the 4-year old boy who his cousin was reincarnated as. After a quick bathroom break, we hopped back onto the bus to head out for rafting.
Later that afternoon, our bright orange bus traversed down from the Golan Heights and deposited us at the Jordan River, a 156 mile-long river which flows into the Dead Sea. Just seconds after embarking down the Jordan River on inflatable rafts, we learned that there’s a second definition of “Israel 360”. Akin to when a skateboarder performs a “360” by spinning around 360 degrees in the air, an “Israel 360” is a boating maneuver where the raft spins around and around in circles, because its oar-wielding operators have no idea how to steer the ship. We can safely say that we are all now experts in performing the “Israel 360”.
After perfecting our new boat trick, we came up with the genius idea that it would be easier to navigate the waterway if we worked together as a team. Before we knew it, we were rowing in unison, steering around rock formations, and dodging the splashes from the oars of school children on adjacent watercrafts…with the occasional “Israel 360” thrown in for good measure.
Besides being a great place for a bunch of pale Americans on watercrafts to get a little suntan, the Jordan River serves as the political border between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. The experience was not only a boatload of fun, several boatloads actually, but it also gave us new perspectives on how tenuous and precious our freedom is in this world.
The final activity/destination of day 4 was dinner and wine tasting located at a winery in the Golan called Assaf.
This family run business has been around for 19 years, and 9 years ago, the government allowed the family to buy the property verses leasing it, which was the goal from the start.
When the group arrived, the staff greeted and welcomed each one of us with open arms, which has been proven to be the Israeli way when it comes to hosting.
We were seated all together at a long table fit for a feast, and a feast we did have.
With each dish brought out, came another wine to go along with the flavors in the food.
A delectable rose, a Cabernet reserve, Cabernet franc, and the list went on!
The meal consisted of salad with herbs with homemade dressing, beef carpaccio, seasoned steak, hand cut fresh potatoes (both white and sweet) pickled cabbage, parjit which is a special part/cut of the chicken, and the list went on.
Needless to say, not one of us walked away hungry, especially after we had a beautiful creamy dessert with a granola that will be hard to duplicate in the states.
We were all given the opportunity to purchase the wines we tried, and many of us certainly took them up on this offer!
Whether couples decided to ship them home to enjoy after the trip, or to bring back to the kibbutz to be opened and shared with the 360 crew, most did not walk away empty handed.
It was all around an experience that I will forever remember along this special journey of ours.
Molly and Chris Howard & Jen Kaleck and Josh Horvitz