Israel 2022

Masada

How can you not think about the war in Ukraine when visiting Masada, a symbol of resistance. A fortress mountain in the Judean Desert where about 2000 years ago, over 900 people chose death over surrender to the Roman Empire. And on the topic of resistance, I am also thinking about the lack of mental resistance as it was so disgracefully demonstrated by Will Smith at the recent Oscar ceremony.

It’s always a moving experience to visit a place that is more than just a dot on the map. Masada is a symbol that identifies my nation.

I first climbed Masada at the age of five and many times since. One noteworthy climb was at dawn after a long walk that started the evening before when I was 18 years old. At the top, my platoon received the coveted red beret, the unique Israeli paratroopers’ headdress. On this trip, we climbed Masada leisurely via the cable car. It was amazing again.

Kibbutz Ein Gedi

Kibbutz Ein Gedi is a spot of paradise situated on the Dead Sea coast in the Judean Desert. When its first settlers set it up, it was an arid hill whose salt-saturated soil grew nothing. Today, over 60 years later, the Kibbutz is transformed. A beautiful Botanical Garden with various warm-climate plants and trees resides between the residents’ houses. It was in full bloom during our visit in the spring. As it often goes, the ultimate beauty is in the people you meet along the way.

On our morning walk, we encounter a white-bearded man talking and feeding the birds that flew in and out of his second-floor balcony. I thought to myself, this is the kind of guy I would like to connect with. Lo and behold, once his wife and Danna got into the picture, we ended up spending half the day with this incredible couple, Tova and Zabu. We adopted them, so deep was the connection. I felt incredibly grateful.

Kusama retrospective, Tel Aviv Museum

Yayoi Kusama began making Infinity Net paintings in the late 1950s. Repetitive, semi-circular brushstrokes create lace-like patterns that cover the canvas, suggesting a potential expansion into infinity and expressing the notion of endlessness. These paintings allude to Kusama’s hallucinations, which began when she was around ten years old and have continued ever since. Seeing flashes of light, fields of dots, and auras, she sensed patterns “bleeding” from her mind into the world around her. She became interested in the concept of self-obliteration, whereby her body would dissolve into the surrounding environment. As Kusama described it, she produced her paintings in obsessive episodes: “I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. … the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me.”

My mother, family, and friends

In most social encounters, the Arab-Israeli conflict comes up. My impression is that the hope for peace might still be alive, but it’s very slim. The wings of “peaceful coexistence” have been trimmed, and certain disbelief prevails. On a couple of occasions, friends mentioned the tale of the scorpion and the frog. The lesson is obvious and often overlooked: people rarely change their fundamental nature. Yet too often, we make the mistake of ignoring this truth.

It’s sad to hear it from people who were big peace advocates in the past. Like it or not, this is the reality Israelies experience.

At Passover meal, a 20 years old relative told us of her ordeal during the Dizzengof attack. She was sitting at a bar with a friend as they heard the shots. Immediately they were ordered to clear the area so that the security forces could go about the search and chase. She spent the next four hours at the bar’s basement bunker. Thankfully, it was a bar, and the drinks and food followed, but this is one of many examples of how the terror is close to home.  

And then we met my legendary uncle Moshe Gal at Kibbutz Kabri. A man who is the “salt of the earth” – a warrior and a farmer. He is in complete acceptance of his Parkinsons and partial blindness. He is still vibrant and makes the best beer I have ever had. He is also one of the only Israelis I met on this visit that still holds hope and faith in a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has always been a source of inspiration for me.

The Golan Heights

A visit with Anat and Avi at Cnaan Village in Had Nes.

For most of history, the Golan Heights has been a desolate region in the middle of nowhere. Over 30 years ago, my dear friends Avi and Anat were among the first settlers in Had Nes village. They built luxurious guest houses, which are now a thriving business in this popular tourist destination.

It is impressive to see how water management has transformed this area into an agricultural success, particularly the wine industry and many apple and cherry orchards.

Considering how Israel would have navigated the last decade’s events in Syria without this buffer zone is to think the unthinkable.

We feasted on Druze home cooking at Naseeba Samara restaurant in Buq’ata village. Ms. Naseeba is an emancipated Druze woman, a rarity in her traditional, conservative society. After a week-long in Florence, if I had to choose between Italian food and Druze food, I would choose the latter, as it contains lots of green vegetables.

Zefat

We walked the narrow streets of what used to be an artists’ colony.

Zefat is a sleepy and dilapidated town with an aura of historical holiness because, in the 16th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the father of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, lived here. We saw many orthodox Jews in their traditional black outfits and a few eccentric clairvoyants. In one respect, I felt related, as all of us are seeking an answer. But my urge to end the tour speedily was strong.