Yesterday we drove through the Golan Heights up Mt. Bental, an extinct volcanic mountain. Porous basalt lined the winding roads. From the top we could see into Syria for a few miles. Our guide, Shahar discussed the strategic advantage this peak gave Israel then led us down into bomb shelters within the mountains and explained the amazing victory of the Yom Kippur war. He told us stories of soldiers who would get injured and taken to the hospital but who would run away from the hospitals to find their tanks again because they were so desperate to fight in Israel’s Defense.
After that we hiked along the Banias stream, an offshoot of the Jordan River, where we got to see the only Roman bridge that is still standing in Israel. We hiked above and along a beautiful stream and ended at a waterfall. Some people waded. Harper found a small piece of pottery that the tour guides thought was probably thousands of years old. I got to play with my f-stop a little so that was fun for me.
At one point we ran into a group of Arabs ahead of us. They stopped at a wider spot in the path (over looking the waterfall) and all chanted loudly in unison. At first it was a little scary but Shahar asked them what they were saying and one man told them it was a declaration of the greatness of god. Shahar used this as an opportunity to explain how the language barrier can build tension between Arabs and Israelis because the Arabs speak Hebrew, but the Israelis do not speak Arabic which can breed fear and paranoia. That certainly rang true for me in that moment.
After the hike we grabbed some lunch. Then we went rafting. I chose to take a two-man kayak with Harper which was more fun for me because it was a lot more active than the 4-6 person rafts. There was only one little rapid at the end of the ride, but all along the river we paddled by our friends and Israelis were having parties and barbeques on the beaches and little boys were swinging from ropes into the river. It was a fun and unexpected introduction to the culture.
After that we headed back to our Kibbutz. Because it was Shabbat a man came in from Tel Aviv to play some music with us and explain some of the Shabbat traditions to less knowledgeable Jews than me. After that we had dinner and more music, which I enjoyed a lot. We couldn’t do much on Shabbat the next morning (today) so we would get to sleep in. We used the opportunity to have a party Friday night after the service. The Madrichim encouraged this and even stopped at a large gas station/grocery store on the way back from rafting so people could buy alcohol. (The rules regarding alcohol are a. No drinking during the day and b. No getting drunk.) I had bought a bottle of wine earlier in the day because it seemed appropriate for Shabbas and was surprised to find that it was sparkling wine. I found drinking to be a huge benefit for me because last night was the first time since I’ve been here that I managed to sleep through the night. Hopefully tonight I will be able to continue that pattern without the glasses of wine.