Our first morning in the Golan Heights started in Gallilee at the Mount. The Church of the Beatitudes commemorates all the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount. It has a nice view of the Sea of Gallilee and it’s very pretty, though not very old. It was built in 1938. Combine the newness of it with the religiousness of it, and this wouldn’t have made my must-see list. But Mom seemed to appreciate it.
Then we went to Capernaum, where Jesus apparently lived and preached. There is a spaceship-like church built over the ruins of his place, which would have been used as a church. The spaceship has a window in the floor. I like the way that the sites are built over without erasing what’s below. Next to it is the ruin of an early Sephardic temple.
The next stop was probably my favorite so far–a hill overlooking the Syrian border, with bunkers and battlements and real soldiers up there with metal silhouettes (and wacky metal art). Artillery fire in the distance. Cafe serving coffee. Tourists. Soldiers. Totally surreal. Things like this are why traveling on a guided tour sometimes makes sense. I am sure this random hilltop would not have been in my Frommer’s Guide to Isreal.
After that we went to a “sound and light show” that was propaganda for the Golan heights and taught us nothing. It included fake wind and rain. I consider this a total waste of time, especially as there was a brewery next door that we did NOT visit. We DID visit the Golan Heights Winery, which was lovely because wine. It’s actually very good.
After that we stopped at a falafel and shawarma place for lunch. Delish. There was a whole table of soldiers with rifles slung over their shoulders eating at the table next to us, and they invited James the Texan to be in a picture with them. Very charming. We actually saw a ton of soldiers on the road that day, mustering for some reserve training. Mary found it disturbing to see them all there, waiting for busses and such, but it didn’t seem that strange to me.
Our next stop was Tzfat, the center of Jewish mysticism. We couldn’t go into the temple on our schedule because of a Bar Mitzvah, so we mostly had time to stroll down the artist-lined street and be tempted by their wares.
Finally we headed back to the Kibbutz, and over dinner had a wacky conversation with Ken about tarot and numerology. He shared his Golan wine with me before we headed to a lecture about kibbutzim. Basically, they are communes.
The next day we left the kibbutz, after visiting their synagogue furniture showroom. They’ve sold furniture to IKEA–for the worship areas in their three Israeli locations. Our first stop was Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary was told of her impending virgin birth. There is a truly impressive church there, filled with beautiful mosaics from all over the world. The church is built over Mary’s supposed home–or the home of Jesus as a child. They were apparently troglodytes: they lived in caves.
The town of Nazareth is Muslim-controlled now, and they wanted to build a big giant mosque next to the church, dwarfing it, but Israel wouldn’t let them. They even checked records to see if there was evidence that the person the would-be mosque-builders wanted to honor had died there, and couldn’t find any. So they had to settle for signs telling the Christians to convert. Tomer seemed very offended by this, but it pales in comparison to Westboro Baptist Church in my opinion.
Our next stop was Beit Alpha, where we saw its famous zodiac floor. This had the BEST video explaining the origin of the floor, with reenactors. According to the video, the mosaic artist was new and therefore cheap. But he also sucked at understanding Judaism and art. The video made it look like he sketched one idea and then totally went with that, which is what the floor looks like, honestly. An actual quote from the video is “Those are barely cats!” in reference to the “lions” portrayed. Rarely does a historical site so blatantly mock itself. Or display any sense of humor, actually. This was a welcome breath of fresh air.
From there we went to an unscheduled stop at a park with a spring, where many went swimming. The water was lovely. We just put our toes in after eating terrible mystery sandwiches. Could they have been ham? Seems unlikely to me, but the others insisted that’s what we were eating.
On the way into Jerusalem were stuck mightily in traffic. But we did make it, eventually.
After checking into our hotel and having a rest, we went to Lavan at Cinemateque for dinner. It was quite a nice dinner, though we got very lost trying to find the place and wandered almost into a canyon. Thanks a lot, misleading sign! As we were finishing dinner, an outdoor movie started up right next to our window–Back to the Future! No matter where you go, there you are!