We are back in Israel, docked in Haifa for two nights. We will tour the city tomorrow; it appears to be the only Israeli city with facilities large enough for big cruise ships to dock. In the morning we headed up 3,500’ to the Golan Heights, perched precariously on the border with Syria. We were warned to bring jackets and umbrellas and encountered the first gray skies of the entire trip. As we peered into Syria from the Valley of Tears it began to rain: kind of a metaphor for the whole sorry mess further north. We saw lots of signs along the road, warning us about land mines that haven been there since the 1967 war. They are being removed, but obviously not a top priority since the war was over forty years ago. Signs also warn car drivers to yield to tanks, which are still perched along the border. Some serve as war memorials while others are waiting to be activated at a moment's notice.
Long before Israel became a nation, Jewish immigrants began to settle on the Golan hoping to farm. This area has more water than anywhere in Israel we have seen. Some of them bought the swamp land around the Sea of Galilee and got to work. Agriculture had been a forbidden occupation in their homelands and their skill level was low. They banded together to help one another and share the expense of farm implements. Thus, the kibbutz was born in this area, although they can be found on the borders all around the country. At first people shared everything, even their clothing. Children were cared for communally, freeing up most of the mothers to work in the fields. The children developed strong bonds with one another, rather than with their families. Many of the most prominent Israeli soldiers generally started life on a kibbutz. The lifestyle had gradually fallen out of favor and they function more like business corporations, rather than socialist communities today. No new ones are being built.
We visited a kibbutz which has diversified from farming. It dubs and translates films and TV shows from around the world into Hebrew. It’s hard to believe that this language was almost extinct before the birth of the nation when a conscious decision made it the lingua franca. This ancient language was inadequate at first. Words like telephone and airplane had to be created from the roots of other words.
We ate lunch at a different kibbutz. This cafeteria style meal was tasty, but a far cry from the gourmet stuff we have been gobbling the last few weeks. A resident who had immigrated from Russia spoke to us about the challenging lifestyle there today. The Golan is a rural area very close to a major enemy. Living there doesn’t appeal to just anyone. If you do wish to move in, current residents can vote on whether they want you as a neighbor or not. If it’s thumbs up, you can remain there for life, even if you misbehave. Since the kibbutzes were begun by idealistic young people about the same time we were young, they are beginning to grapple with the problem of how to care for their growing elderly population.
Then we drove down to 630’ below sea level with our ears popping to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. This town was Jesus’ home base during his most influential time of Galilean ministry. All four disciples have accounts of his miracles and sermons here in the New Testament. This prosperous town was leveled by earthquakes and then the Persians came through and finished the job. This was a site where we had to use our imaginations.