Trip Journal - Israel




Safat -- 9 October 1998

By the time I got up, and it was still early, Paul had already showered. I was still sleepy. Janice made pancakes, which we ate in the sukka. Mike and Paul went to the shuk (market -- a supermarket is called "hypershuk") to get food for our trip. We were going to Safat, North of the Sea of Galilee. And since it was shabbat, Mike was afraid all the restaurants would be closed, so we were bringing our own food. I showered and packed for both Paul and me, worrying the whole time that I'd forgotten something. The kids were fighting and crying, which only stressed me out more. Matan managed to get into one of my extra contact lenses and spilled it on the floor. I rescued it but have no idea what kind of shape it's in.

It was getting late and I was afraid we were going to miss our 11:00 bus to Tel Aviv, but Mike and Paul drove up at 10:45, and we quickly said our goodbyes and ran to the bus stop.

Our bus from Tel Aviv to Safat was at 12:30. While we waited, I bought some drinks for the ride and called the Youth Hostel to make reservations. They only had dorm beds, but I went ahead and booked them anyway just in case. (Later on the bus, I read that dorm space cost $20 each, and we decided we couldn't afford it, nor could it possibly be worth $40 to sleep with five other people we didn't know, and in separate rooms.

The bus ride was a little nerve-wracking because there was never any way to tell where we were. At one point, we jumped out because I'd seen road signs indicating we were in Safat. A nice man who appeared to be wearing African dress (long flowing clothes and a fez-like hat) set us straight: we were in Safat, but the driver would also stop in the center of town. At the same time, a woman asked us if we needed a room. She was tiny and had long, wild grey hair. We said we did and she got on the bus with us and presumably got permission from the bus driver to hitch. The woman signalled us to get off, but we had no idea where we were. We asked the nice man if we were indeed in the center of town, and he nodded that we were. So we followed Shoshanna to her hostel, which was in an alley behind Ha-Palmeh St. Once we got there, we realized we'd read about Shoshanna's place in the book. The accommodations were very basic, just a double bed in a little room that also had a wooden davenport without the cushions. We shared the bath with everyone else. But there was a kitchen with a hot plate and a fridge which, once we turned it on, kept our food cold. There was also a very nice dog there who had an uncannily human-looking face.

We arrived late but before sundown. It didn't matter though. Tourist Information was closed , as was the little street cafe with the great view of the sunset over the town called the Bagdad Cafe. Ah well. We walked around town a little then went home and ate dinner: hummus with basil, pita and fruit.

Safat -- 10 October 1998

Safat is a deeply spiritual place for Jews. They believe that when the Messiah comes he'll pass through Safat on his way to Jerusalem. It is a wonderful place, but I do admit that I was initially disappointed with it because it wasn't as beautiful as I had expected. It's old so it's a little run down and people just throw trash out there's doors so it's a little dirty. But I was confusing surface beauty with the beauty inside Safat, because once you get past its flaws, you can feel that it's a very spiritual place.

We had breakfast in our kitchen: juice, bread, cheese, jam and tea. We shared the hostel with only one other guy that night. We later found out that he was French Caandian; the distinction was clearly very important to him. After breakfast, we went out to explore Safat. The whole town revolves around a central hill, Mt. Kenaan, which has the ruins of a citadel (Metzuda) built by the Crusaders on it. There's very little left of the citadel; there's just the park there now, but even that was overgrown and littered with trash. At the time that the British pulled out of Israel in 1948, their orders from the UN were to hand Safat over to the Arabs, since it was largely an Arab town. (The ratio of Arabs to Jews was something like 40:1.) The Jews were offered resettlement at Acre, where the British troops were headed, but they opted to stay. From April to June 1948, there was fighting in the town. The Jews somehow managed to take the police station, and another key building. The needed to capture the Metzuda to gain control though. The next day, two little boys reported that the citadel was empty. The night before, the Jews had fired Davidka mortars, which were essentially very loud duds. The believed that the Arabs had fled because they thought the Jews had atomic weapons. However, as it turns out, there had been a general call by the Arab powers that be for the Arabs to pull out for now and that, when reinforcements arrived, they would go back and drive the Jews out and take back all the territory they were now leaving. Only problem is, they never quite got their act together to go back. So the Jews really won the battle because of Arab mismanagement. There's a plaque at the top of the hill celebrating this "victory", but once you know the whole story (at least James Michener's version of it), the victory seems a little hollow.

We walked back into town and had iced coffee and a lemon smoothie at the Mountain View Cafe. We had to sit inside, but were surprised anything was open so we were happy.

When the Arabs left their quarter of Safat, artists moved in, and now it's a really cute part of town. The artists have added little touches here and there, statues, a bit of color, etc., that make it a nice place to explore. We hadn't expected any of the galleries, cunningly dubbed museums and exhibitions, to be open since it was shabbat, but many were. A one-armed man had lovely miniatures in a style similar to what Matisse would have painted had he lived in Israel.

It's impossible to comprehend, but there's a Howard Johnson's in Safat. We stumbled upon it by accident while we were wandering. It has nothing visually in common with its American blue and orange counterpart. It's actually very beautiful, with little connected but individual spaces all made of white limestone block and surrounded by flowers.

We were tired after all our wandering and went back to the room. I finished The Stone Diaries. Later, we went back out to take a few photos that hadn't been possible earlier because of the position of the sun. We swung by Cafe Bagdad after sundown, but it was still closed. That was sad. But we consoled ourselves with a couple of beers at the Oriental Cafe. The owner brought out first a plate of olives, then one of pickled vegetables and sliced cucumbers for us to nibble on. Back at the hostel, we had our "real" dinner of hummus, pita, potato chips and sodas while we talked to two woman who'd recently arrived. One was Dutch and the other Swiss and they were both on a little holiday from their work at a kibbutz in Afulla. It sounds like the kibbutzim are on the decline, although already at the time of the writing of The Source, there was disillusionment with the system. The girls have chicken on shabbat only, and the rest of the time, it's bread and cheese, both for lunch and dinner. And it sounds like your job is more likely to be washing dishes than helping grow crops, which is what I had always imagined doing. There are lots of older people there, but almost all the young ones leave after doing their military service. But despite the living conditions, the girls are having a good time.

Another two women came in while we were talking. They too were French Caandian and they went off to be exclusive with the French Caandian guy. By that time, the energy had kind of died in our conversation, so we went to our room. I was still feeling the symptoms of the cold and was feeling snappish. It's better in those situations for me to just stay out of people's ways.

Ein Gedi -- 11 October 1998

We caught the 6:50 a.m. bus to Jerusalem. We saw our first camels at rest stops on the way. The first was standing in a field. Then Paul called me over to the other side of the restaurant where a man was offering camel rides. The camel was kneeling down and had a saddle on. I felt kind of sorry for him. It can't be much of a life. I was also surprised to find that the Sea of Gallilee is really not much bigger than a small lake. All those stories about being stranded in the storm seem less exciting when you see how easy it is to get to shore.

Jerusalem seemed very crowded after Safat, and full of soldiers. (We hadn't seen a single one in Safat.) From Jerusalem, we got a bus to Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea. The ride was awful for my ears, which were all blocked up. We went from the hills of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, which is 394 M below sea level. The pressure was really painful.

Ein Gedi appears to be just a rest stop and a nature reserve; otherwise, there's not a lot visible. I mean, it's a desert after all. The camping appeared to be free, they got your money by charging 5 shekels ($1.25) for a shower and 1 shekel to use the WCs. (We later found out that the real campground was closed and that people were just setting up tents anywhere. That explains why the old woman collecting money in front of the facilities was so surly.)

We set up our tent in the only available shade, which was unfortunately very close to a very gregarious and large group of people living near, but apparently rarely sleeping in, two large tents. Even in the shade it was way too hot. We put on our suits and headed for a dip in the Dead Sea. On the way in, we were met by Mud Men, who slather Dead Sea mud, reputedly very therapeutic, all over your body. Actually it looked like they were concentrating solely on women's bodies. Paul wasn't very happy about it. In Hebrew, the Dead Sea is called "Yam Ha-Melah", or the Sea of Salt, a much more accurate name now that they've discovered micro-organisms living in it. It's 65 M long, 18 km wide and 400 M deep. Paul went in the "water" while I let my mud dry (to take maximum effect) and took pictures. You can read about the experience all you want, but until you actually enter the Dead Sea yourself and experience how different it is from the ocean, you can't really imagine it. The salt content is 7 to 8 times higher than in the ocean. The water feels distinctly oily, and in fact, they are drilling for oil at the southern end, and is very bitter-tasting. There are signs all over warning you not to get the water in your eyes, but of course I splashed too much and got one drop in my left eye. It stung like crazy for about 10 minutes. There's a life guard on duty and presumably he's there to haul out losers like me who get water in their eyes. It's really hard to see with all that pain going on. He certainly can't earn his keep saving drown victims; it's impossible to submerge; in fact, it's hard to get your neck in the water. It's a really cool feeling and it's effortless. The water is hot, but slightly cooler than the air. There are cool springs that feed into it that are refreshing.

We got out and showered off the salt and mud, then lay in the shade of the huge umbrellas provided. No sun tanning in Ein Gedi -- it's just too hot. Paul went off in search of mud; he figured the Mud Men must be getting it from not too far away. He came back black with it, and had more in his hands to darken me with. He said it was there for the taking, under the rocks in the water. He'd seen someone else gathering it. After we'd slathered it on the both of us (Paul needed some finishing touches to look like the creature from the black lagoon) we gave our excess mud to a woman lounging behind us and went for another dip. We came back to the shade of the umbrella. The woman's boyfriend was making coffee on a little stove and offered us some. I was very pleased to accept.

We met Andy during our third and final float of the day. He works for a fiber optics company here in Tel Aviv. I think he said he'd been here for four months or so. We floated and talked on the sea for quite a while, then Andy had to leave to drive back to Tel Aviv.

We had dinner at the rest stop's "restaurant", whose main feature was its air conditioning. We were freezing within minutes. The prices were outrageous -- 28 shekels for cafeteria chicken, pasta and peas. The portions were decent enough though; I couldn't finish all mine because I had to leave room for my chocolate eclair.

After dinner, we sat out in the heat of the night and watched the stars. They were all wavery in the heat -- I had the impression stars were moving when they were not. I saw two fallen stars that Paul missed, and then we spotted a satellite. We watched the lights on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. We wanted them to be the lights of fires on the shore but of course they weren't. Then the soldiers began probing the Sea with their spotlight. (There are soldiers all over Ein Gedi; they do regular patrols, inspect tents and fool around with the life guard.) When we went to bed, it was still so hot that we slept on top of the sleepsacks with the flaps of the tent open completely nude. (We hadn't even put on the fly.) I woke up in the middle of the night with my hair wet from sweat.

Ein Gedi -- 12 October 1998

Our noisy neighbors, who'd been up very late, also rose very early, as so did we. But we wanted to go to the Ein Gedi nature reserve and it was best if we got an early start. I don't know what their excuse was. I had been hoping to wake them up as they had kept us up. We got me a coffee then we headed out. We didn't know exactly where we were going; we'd read that there was a less-travelled trail that featured a hidden waterfall at the end, but didn't know where the trail started. We walked all the way to the main entrance only to find out that the start of the trail we wanted was almost across the street from the rest stop. So Paul walked and I trudged back. I was still dragging from the cold and the blocked ears; the heat wasn't helping any either. I may have already mentioned that the desert is not my preferred climate, and I admit I was feeling very far from home.

We finally found the right trail; on the way to the entrance of the reserve we passed a herd of ibex, little mountain goats. We wet down our heads at the fountain outside the gates and Paul fashioned a sheikh's hat out of his towel and his flashlight head strap. We took apples out to eat on the trail but were thwarted -- food wasn't allowed in the reserve. We ate our apples outside and "forgot" to mention all the other food in our packs. We always pack our trash out, so there's really no harm.

The nature reserve is an actual oasis, my first. It's fed by four different springs whose sources begin in the Hebron hills. This means that the water supply is quite steady all year long. And it turns out Ein Gedi isn't completely deserted, there's a 250-member kibbutz nearby, with a school as well. The reserve itself is 6,750 acres, we only saw a little bit of it. Apparently in biblical times, there was quite a large settlement here. Ein Gedi is even mentioned in the bible a few times. David fled here once. It's called Hazazon-Tamar. Now Ein Gedi belongs mostly to its animals: the ibex and hydrax, which is an incredibly cute, furry small animal (and which Paul believes must have been Dr. Seus' inspiration for the lorax), and some nocturnal foxes and leopards. We only saw the first two. The leopards are nearly extinct, there are only four or so. But they are extremely territorial, it's possible the reserve can only hold that many. We were there during the annual mating season of the ibex and were lucky enough to see a male courting a female. He was very persistent and seemed ready to follow her to the ends of the earth. When we left, it looked like he might have to. Incredibly even the two animals we saw in Ein Gedi are mentioned in Psalms 104:18: "The high mountains are for the ibex; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax." The leopard feeds on both though...

For the first half hour, I didn't really believe we'd find any water at Ein Gedi. It was hot and dusty and there was no vegetation at all. But one of the hikes that you're supposed to be able to do is to walk up the stream bed to the hidden waterfall, so I help out hope. Suddenly we turned a corner and there were people sloshing around in a small trickle of water. And around that corner was a waterfall in a cave created by an overhang with long hanging plants around it. All the sloshers were now shrieking with delight under the cool water. We shed our shorts and t-shirts (we'd already put on our suits) and waited our turn to go in. It was refreshing and such a contrast to the harshness outside. The map on the brochure calls it an ancient pool, so maybe it's been delighting people for millennia.

After the waterfall, we were back to the unrelenting heat and rock and dust. We walked the path above the stream bed because we only have two pairs of shoes with us and we weren't willing to ruin them in the water. The trail climbed steadily for a while, then we walked down a stone staircase that led to the hidden waterfall. It was miraculous. It wasn't just a trickle of water, it was a massive amount plunging over a cliff into a clear pool. The early Israelis must have seen it as a gift from God. There were a couple of other people in the pool when we arrived, so we sat down in the shade and ate some clementines. The two guys hanging out on the other side of the stream were obviously soldiers, they had their guns with them. Paul waded into the pool first. It wasn't very deep, probably not much over our knees. I went in next and was shocked how powerful the water was. It knocked my suit straps off. But it felt wonderful. We let some other people who were waiting go in. One of the guys had to hold onto his swim trunks with both hands to avoid too much exposure. We went in again, together this time. (That's the problem with photo opps. -- someone always has to man the camera.) Paul went for a dip in the pool but I wasn't brave enough. I'm in favor of avoiding giardia.

After we'd dried off a little, we put our clothes back on over our suits and headed back home. I was very tired. There were some upper pools that Paul wanted to check out, but I opted for snoozing in some shade. We found a spot next to a very loyal golden retriever, too loyal as it turned out. He wouldn't give us the time of day and barked piteously the whole time his person left him to float in the Dead Sea. I consoled myself with a book of Larry Niven's short stories. Later, we fired Tamino up in the cafeteria and worked on the journals until they kicked us out at closing time. There wasn't a lot to do after dark. We watched the stars for a while then retired to the tent to sweat.

Modi'in -- 13 October 1998

Paul was up at about 5:00 and went for a float. I grouchily put up with the sun,heat and flies for another half hour, then gave up. I went in for a float while Paul played the recorder on the shore. Rather than pay the 5 shekels for hot water we didn't need, we took "cold" showers outside. Our suits dried in 20 minutes.

We packed up, got some sodas from the kiosk and sat down a bench to write postcards and wait for the bus back to Jerusalem. Two men were cleaning up the trash left by yesterday's visitors to the Dead Sea. Most Israelis just don't get it yet. They drop trash wherever they happen to be standing.

The bus was late and when it did arrive, the driver used some very sophisticated sleight of hand to cheat us out of our correct change for the tickets. He preyed on our niceness. He demanded that Paul hand over all our small change on the pretext that the "foreigners" were counting too slowly and holding up the bus. It was about 20 shekels. Then he took our bills. But when he gave us our change, he didn't take into consideration the small change we'd already given him. All this happened very fast. I was trying to tell Paul how much our total fare should be, but he still felt like I hadn't been "helping." He was very angry about the whole thing. I thought the best thing to do was to let him get over his anger and leave mine out of it, but he thought I should have asked him how he was feeling so he would have an opportunity to talk about it. Sigh.

The man sitting next to me make some small talk and then asked me if I knew the story of the Dead Sea region and how it got its salt. I answered "no" eagerly, anticipating a great story. But the man acted as if he couldn't believe how ignorant I was and turned away to sleep. I was so disappointed. But maybe the man was hoping I could enlighten him.

We got the bus from Jerusalem to Modi'in and were home by noon. I worked on the journals and Paul and Yonah practiced spelling in English on the computer. Tamar's school let out a half hour later than Yonah's that day for some inexplicable reason and Janice had to go out to pick her up again after she'd already gone out once. so we watched Yonah. It was fun, but she's very sly, great at wrapping herself around your heart and tugging in order to get what she wants.

That night, neither Yonah nor Tamar would stay in bed, and they're allowed to play or read. But they insisted on coming out on various pretexts. It would drive me crazy, but presumably you have more patience with your own kids. Janice had borrowed Titanic from a friend and couldn't wait to watch it. We'd already seen it and Mike was ambivalent but we indulged her. I think it had been built up too much for her though, she was disappointed with the two main characters and found them too young. Poor Janice.

Modi'in -- 14 October 1998

We were supposed to fly to India the next day and Paul discovered this morning that we needed a visa to get in. I guess I'd gotten complacent in assuming that we wouldn't need one because we haven't so far. Imagine if he hadn't discovered it, we'd have been stuck in no man's land. To me it felt like it was just one more obstacle, one more reason why I had to go back to Tel Aviv, a city I really don't enjoy, one more day of the crowds and the noise. I figured it'd all seem brighter after breakfast, a cup of coffee and a shower.

Paul called the Indian Embassy and we discovered that a visa would take a week to procure. A week! Time does indeed move at a different pace in India. We broke the bad news to Janice that we'd be imposing another week -- if they'd have us. She was quite gracious about it. Then we caught the 10:00 bus to Tel Aviv, to take care of the visa and run our other errands.

When we arrived, a man at the front desk had the audacity to say that they were closed. We'd found out on the phone that they were open until 11:45 to accept visa applications and was only 10:30 now by their clock, so we knew it was a lie. I had to really squelch the urge to go ballistic. "We called," I said meaningfully, in a voice meant to convey that I would not be got rid of so easily. Suddenly, they were open again and we were given forms to fill out. We'd already had the photos done at the camera shop in the NCBS, 15 shekels for four, so we were ready with those. But then they wanted to keep our passports for the week, which seemed ridiculous. They offered to make us a photocopy, but I don't think that you'll get very far with that when you try for a cash advance, or, as we were contemplating, if you try to cross the border into Egypt. I explained about Egypt and asked it there was a way we could work it out, but the woman wasn't very helpful. Then Paul asked if they could keep the photocopy and we could keep the passports and that got a nod of approval. I always think it's a kind of courtesy to offer someone the opportunity to find a solution to your problem. But it seems like what you have to do is just offer the solutions.

It was too late to get our second Japanese encephalitis shot, but that didn't matter, since we weren't going to India yet anyway. We'd do those tomorrow. We stopped into a cafe on the first floor of the building and had coffee and cookies and read some of the India brochures the Barths' neighbor, who worked for the India Tourist Office, brought for us. Then back to the NCBS, because it does have everything. We stopped at the Post Office and mailed the last journal, some books and postcards. Then we went to Tourist Information to see what kind of travelling options we had during our enforced exile from India. The same charming woman was happy to give us all kinds of information about tours to Egypt, camel trekking and stays in Bedouin camps. We also got the number for El Al again so that we could re-change the flight. They asked us to sign the guestbook and said that they try to send cards to everyone who does. We'll see what we get.

We called El Al, and then went to the pharmacy essentials, like shampoo and toilet paper. Then we bought a newspaper so we could find out whether Saving Private Ryan was playing and got lunch at Sbarro's , if you can believe it. Israel has all the fast food places. Janice constantly votes to eat at Nathan's but gets vetoed by Mike, who says that's not what he came to Israel for.

After lunch, we went to the main branch of Israel's biggest bookstore chain. If I may say so, it wasn't very big, but it had what we wanted, which was a Lonely Planet New Zealand book. We probably should have gotten Australia as well, but didn't. New Zealand is uppermost in our minds because it's official: Dean and Colleen are meeting us there at the end of January!

We caught the 4:30 bus back to Modi'in and did some reorganization of the packs and worked on the journals. Janice made pasta and garlic bread for dinner. It was just the three of us since Mike hadn't gotten home from work yet and the kids had already eaten. I got into bed and read after that but came back out when Mike got home around 10:30. We checked email and went to bed around 11:00.

Modi'in -- 15 October 1998

All those days making the trek into Tel Aviv and we'd still not been to Jaffa, the ancient port town next door. We wanted to try and arrange a package tour to Egypt today and I was adamant that we also see jaffa.

Mike had told us that there were really cheap tours to Cairo, around $200 for four days. He had been on one years ago and although he'd been treated to the Egyptian side of all conflicts with Israel he'd really enjoyed it. The woman at Tourist Information had recommended a company so we went to talk to them. Right from the first it was difficult. The guy seemed bent on us leaving Monday and four days would be $175 each. The price was fine but our flight was leaving on Thursday so it was no good. Three days' stay was something like $238 and we couldn't understand why it was so much more expensive, nor could we get an answer from our unhelpful guy behind the counter. He just said the four-day package was the "Special." Somehow we got from Monday being the next available tour to Friday, the next day, being okay. I have no idea what the problem was. I was finding the whole process exasperating. The only thing that sounded like it would be no problem was getting the visa, even though it was now 11:00 and the time for taking applications long past. We could have them after two.

Then the guy wanted payment today and in dollars. He finally agreed that we could pay in shekels but only at the exorbitant rate of 4.5 to the dollar. The bank rate that day was 4.18. Unfortunately , we couldn't just go to the cash machine and get the $350 dollars and convert it because our withdrawal limit is $300. We figured our best option was to get a cash advance in dollars. We went to a few banks. At the first one, the exchange rate guy brought us to a manager who told us a dollar cash advance was in theory possible but not at this branch. He thought we should try a branch on the beach where the tourists hang out. Of course, that was a really long walk. He also implied that it was illegal to change shekels into dollars anywhere but in a bank, which seemed odd. We thanked him and left.

The next bank we went into just said "no" when we asked about a cash advance. So we headed for the beach. It was a long, hot frustrating walk. There was a line when we got to the bank, and people seemed to be jumping ahead of us with the permission of the people behind the counter. And they were closing for lunch soon. It was finally our turn and the guy nodded that what we wanted was possible. All he needed was our passports, which were at the Egyptian Embassy. We explained this to the singularly disinterested man and asked if we could give him any other form of ID. He seemed on the verge of accepting our driver's licences then abruptly changed his mind. There was nothing we could do so we left. "Would you like to light the hoops on fire and then I'll jump through?!?" I yelled into the sky. Paul just laughed. I couldn't understand why he was taking this so well. It was obviously a conspiracy. I wasn't in the mood to walk all the way back, get the passports at 2:00, then come all the way back. It was too hot. We started to think that we should just take out as much money as we could from the ATM, pool it with our existing dollars and change it all into dollars. But first we walked into an AmEx office with a Mastercard sticker on the door and asked if they did cash advances. "No," she said. Well, then why the sticker on the door? Well, they could do it, but two doors down. We went there and got a terse negative shake of the head. No explanations, no polite words. Nothing. I was furious and wanted to march back and call Ms. AmEx a liar to her face. Paul doubted whether it would help our case. We walked back to the travel agent, picked up our passports, told the guy we'd have to pay tomorrow. He made us promise we'd show up and let us go. We took some cash out from the ATM across the street, then walked to an exchange place and asked for dollars. It was so easy. They didn't even ask for ID. Whom to believe? we'd heard so many stories and still didn't know which we could trust. We'd spent all day being thwarted by stories when I wanted to be in the flea markets of Jaffa. We went to the NCBS and enquired about a bus.

It was late when we arrived and we hadn't had lunch yet. After walking through the flea market, we stopped at a little outdoor restaurant and ordered falafel platters, which were great. The beer wasn't too bad either. After our meal, tea I guess you'd call it, we walked along the road by the sea for a while, then turned inland and upward. Just before sunset, we found our way out to a restaurant with a view. It was gorgeous but of course defies description. They never reproduce well. What was interesting though, were the number of wedding couples being photographed. I counted at least seven. At first, we thought there was some sort of formal event going on, like a prom, but each couple had its own photographer attached and all the women were wearing white. It was really fun to watch. We found out from Mike and Janice later that Jaffa is a really popular place to have wedding photos done, so probably none of the couples had actually gotten married yet.

The name Jaffa comes from "yafo" which means beautiful in Hebrew. Jaffa is also mentioned in the bible; Jonah went there to catch a ship to Tarshish when he was fleeing from doing what the Lord commanded him (to go to Ninevah? I've forgotten what the Lord wanted him to do). While on board, there was a huge storm, which Jonah knew God had caused in his wrath against him, so he asked the sailors to throw him overboard. (I'm unclear about why he didn't just jump.) But the storm subsided, although God wasn't through with Jonah yet. The whale, or sea monster, swallowed him, and there inside, he spent three days and three nights before he finally repented and God released him.

Another interesting story about Jaffa has the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutmose III frustrated at not being able to conquer the city. In 1468 BCE, he gives his chief regent his scepter and tells the regent in no uncertain terms that he is to take over Jaffa. The regent, who values his life and knows he'd better succeed, comes up with a clever plan. He fills huge clay jars with soldiers and gains admittance to the city by claiming that he's stolen the scepter and riches (contained in the clay pots) from the Pharaoh. That night, after being treated to a sumptuous banquet, the regent lets the soldiers out of the clay pots and it's an easy matter to take over the city from inside the walls. Salah ad-Din, the Kurdish military leader, fought and won battles in the second and third rounds of Crusades. Richard the Lionheart fought here. Layers and layers of history.

After watching the wedding couples, we went to the Jaffa Visitors Center, which is underground, because it actually encloses uncovered ruins from Tel Yafo. These ruins are 2300 years old. A tel is a mound created from successive layers of civilizations building on top of each other. (I may have mentioned that before.) Tel Aviv actually means Spring Hill. It's tough to excavate these tels, especially when the top layer is currently in use. This underground idea is a good way to do it. They have three houses unearthed so far.

Like Safat, much of Jaffa is now an artists' quarter. We wandered around the galleries in tiny, windy staircased streets and had a look at an antiquities shop full of old Roman coins. You can apparently dig down a couple of feet in Israel and find several without trying. My favorite sight, however, was the hanging tree. There was a huge round clay pot suspended at eye level in the middle of a bricked in square, and in it was a tree, probably ten or fifteen years old. The pot was suspended by three wires from various nearby rooftops. It was stunning, glorious. Life in the middle of a stone desert.

We were tired and caught a bus back to the NCBS. Janice and Mike probably thought we were total party poopers when we got back. We just wanted to go to sleep.