Northern Heights

After a couple days of settling into our new digs, the group from Be’er Sheva took a break from the desert and traveled north to the Golan Heights. For those who aren’t familiar, the heights are in the northern part of Israel where a mountainous, green terrain lends to beautiful views and a much needed cool breeze. But more than the pleasant forecasts, Golan is home to much of the country’s rich history and has geographic and geopolitical significance.

Essentially, the Golan Heights is a strategic playground. The high altitudes allow for excellent vantage points useful in monitoring the surrounding countries: Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Equally important, the Jordan River runs along the Lebanese border and into the Sea of Galilee where up until recent years Israel obtained 30% of its drinking water. Needless to say, keeping the Golan Heights is a necessity for Israel to succeed as a prosperous and safe(r) country.golan3

As our group curved up the valley pathways to various lookouts throughout the area, we passed rows upon rows of mango and olive trees and apple orchards. The land was filled with plenty. Unfortunately, the swerves of plenty finally got to me and I finally stumbled off the bus with wobbly legs, anxious to find a place to reject my Israeli breakfast from that morning.

I slowly came to my senses at Mount Bental, a mountain peak with one of the best panoramic views of the heights and home to an important battle in Israel’s war for the Golan. But as I looked off into the distance, I saw a plume of smoke rising. And then I heard it. A thunderous boom rang through the valley and we all knew it wasn’t thunder that made the ominous rumble. We witnessed one of the countless back and forth attacks in Syria against the two major Islamic denominations, Shia and Sunni. Everything narrowed into a very honest perspective. It wasn’t something we’d seen on the news or been told to expect. We saw it and it was only a few miles from us. At that moment we were completely aware of where we were and realized that to move forward, we must accept this incident as upsetting but also commonplace.

What we saw made us appreciate our amazing trip to the Golan. ATV rides along Israeli terrain, a walk through a river surrounded by eucalyptus, poolside kibbutz lounging and a special Kabbalat Shabbat service were just a few things that made up a once-in-a-lifetime weekend.

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vineyards

Hi(gh) Holidays

Not only did we experience spectacular views and delicious Israeli food, we learned about the importance of the upcoming High Holidays which include Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). For the gentiles out there, let’s compare these holidays to Christmas. It’s the holiday that brings everyone out of the woodwork. Just like the “Christmas Christians” – the ones that only head out to church when December 24/25 comes around – there are Jews who only make an appearance on these two holidays because they are that meaningful.

Why are they so important? For one, they are the only two out of the 13 (give or take) Jewish holidays that don’t celebrate a specific event in Jewish history. Instead they highlight the coming of a new year, reflection and repentance. It’s a chance for Jews to say to G-d, “Hey, I know screwed up. How about you give me a shot to make things better next year?” Or in a more formal sense, asking the big man upstairs to inscribe your name in the Book of Life.

It’s a chance to celebrate a fresh start and reflect on the relationships in your life, a value seeped deeply in the roots of Judaism. Take stock of what and who is important to you. Ask yourself who you managed to piss off enough and go make things right. What haven’t you said to someone important that really needs to be said? Pretty deep stuff.

As I took in all of the information that sounded so familiar from those Sundays school lessons of years past, I realized at what an opportune time these holidays are coming into my sphere. What a time to reflect on my past year, right? In this completely new environment, I can take stock of what my last year has presented me with and figure out what I want to change. I can find where I’ve gotten off track from who I know I am and who I want to become.

With a few prayers, a couple of traditions and some personal solace, I can take on this new year in the most Jewish place in the world. Of course, more to come on all of this. My masa (journey) is just beginning.

P.S.

I’ve decided to choose a song to add to each post I write. Whether it’s an awesome tune I’ve put on repeat lately or something a little more relevant to my subject matter, sharing music is just fun. Enjoy!

Vacationer – The Wild Life Lyrics

I’m tired of just talking
I want to get a move underway
I’m putting my thought in
I want to give all my worries away
Because they’re still in my pocket
I want to empty my calendar days
Let the feeling just spark it
Starting to change
Being less guarded
And act like I’ve got it
I’m putting my heart in
Just to give it away
We’re trying our hardest
Yeah, we’re trying our hardest
Where would it go

No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working
No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working

I’m tired of just talking
I want to get a move underway
I’m putting my thought in
And sending my worries out
And I lock it
And act like I’ve got it
I’m putting my heart in
Just to give it away
We’re trying our hardest
Yeah, we’re trying our hardest
Where would it go

No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working
No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working

No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working
No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working