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Hiking and Camping in Israel.

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Last night, which was Friday, I was sitting in my favorite watering hole in Haifa The Kapiot Restaurant. I was sipping on a vodka and diet coke and overheard the couple next to me speak in a deep southern accent about their home in Atlanta Georgia. They brought up the fact that Atlanta is an urban area but the areas north of them are somewhat mountainous and offer plenty of hiking and fishing. Myra asked her husband and everyone in the cafe if Israel has trails and wildlife.”We are both outdoors people”, she explained. They are here in Haifa for a one month seminar at The University of Haifa. I reassured them that Israel has lots of outdoor activities.The school adjoins a large wildlife reserve and nature center. “You can walk to the east end of the school and hike for hours”, I told her with glee.

I am a former Coloradan now living in Israel. I still have my passion for the outdoors, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many Israelis share the same passion. Israel has an abundant amount of trails, outdoors scenery, nature reserves, and wildlife. The Northern part of the country is mountainous and filled with greenery, while the south is desert.

The Israel National Trail is a hiking path that crosses the entire country of Israel. The Northern end of the trail begins at the Lebanese border, and the Southern end of the trail is at Eilat. The total length of the trail is 940 km (580 miles). The level of difficulty varies in different parts of the trail. It is the highlight of nature activities for citizens and visitors. 

Hikers can seek help from “trail angels” who offer short term shelter. There are lawns for sleeping bags, couches to sleep on, a room with a shower, or a pickup from the trail. For example, at Kibbutz Yagur, a soldier leaves the key to her room for hikers who need a place to sleep, and a farmer in Hadera forest offers sleeping quarters in exchange for a day’s work. As a matter of fact, recently I met four hikers from Holland who were hosted by an Israeli family in the Northern end of the trail. They were wildly enthusiastic about the trek, and the warm reception by their new Israeli friends.

Hikers among this glorious trail pass among others these four historic sites- Mount Tabor, Tzipory Stream, Mount Carmel, and the Judean Mountains. The trail takes hikers up the Tabor and around the monasteries on its peak, near the remains of ancient walls, corner towers, caves, exposed antiquities, spring blossoms and of course, views to any direction from the sides of the mountain. Along the trail are streams of flowing water, like the Tzipori Stream, with improvised water pumps and a castle named “The Monks Mill” (Takhanat HaNezirim) and the remains of another impressive gristmill at the Alil ruins (Khurbat Alil). Mount Carmel has a special appeal to me. It is claimed that Elijah the Prophet lived his nomadic life in the area. I love to study the Biblical history of this region. Elijah is revered by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and our Druze friends. 

I live in the Mount Carmel region. This is mountain range that overlooks the sea. Hikers on the trail can take a break and enjoy the sea. There are many dirt trails that lead in and out of the mountain. The area is abundant with trees and other greenery, and many types of wild-life. Near Atlit there are Neanderthal caves, ancient olive oil presses, and wonderful beaches to visit, like Tantura. There are spots in which you can rent dirt bikes, and leave them at designated spots along the trail.

Shayarot Range at the Judean Mountains offers a view down to the Coastal Plain and up to the Judean Mountains, hundreds of kilometers of mountain dirt tracks, walking routes, caves, and an abundance of flowers in the spring.

I might still suggest, for those of you who are avid hikers and campers to bring high quality equipment. It is still amazing to me that you can have so much diversity in a 580 mile radius. In many countries the experience of history is usually embodied in museum settings, here you can do this while enjoying the outdoors. Public transportation is adequate enough that you can start your hike at almost any spot along the trail. It is important to tell the readers that temperatures can get very high in the summer, and it is rainy and windy in the winter. I therefore try to do most of my hiking during the spring and fall.Many parts of the trail cross urban areas for those who prefer the comforts of a hotel for their sleep needs. 

It is important to note that the Green Line is respected through the whole length of the trail. People from all over the world enjoy sharing this experience. This is a pleasant and surprising part of life in Israel that I wanted to share with the readers.

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Building a Spiritual Home for English Speakers in Haifa.

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Earl Shugarman

I am sitting at The Dan Panorama Mall in Haifa writing this post at my favorite cafe.  The upscale mall houses high-end clothing and jewelry stores. There are several restaurants, a beauty salon, and a pharmacy. The community Chabad center is located here as well. It is my spiritual home and favorite place to buy religious artifacts and home décor. The Rabbi is named Levi. He is about thirty, razor thin, with dark hair, and smiles consistently. He has six children ranging from in age from six months to seven years. My favorite is his six month year old daughter Devorah which means “bee” in English. She already beams her father’s smile. I visit the store almost daily in the hope that the kids will be there. Levi was born and raised in Tzfat the holy city where the Kabalah developed. His parents were “Chabadniks” long before Levi was born.

 

In the course of our two year friendship Levi and I have discussed the need for, and to develop,  English language courses in our community on various topics of Judaism. Chabad is recognized throughout the world for the superb quality of its spiritual teachings. I chose to study at a Chabad center in Pittsburgh for a year before immigrating to Israel. My classes included Talmud, Tanach – Bible Studies, and tutoring in Hebrew. They have my deepest appreciation for their support. 

 

So what actually is Chabad-Lubavitch?

Chabad-Lubavitch is a major movement within mainstream Jewish tradition with its roots in the Chassidic movement of the 18th century. In Czarist and Communist Russia, the leaders of Chabad led the struggle for the survival of Torah Judaism, often facing imprisonment and relentless persecution for their activities. After the Holocaust, under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaak Schneerson and his successor, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Chabad became a worldwide movement, caring for the spiritual and material needs of all Jews, wherever they could be found. Their goal is to teach and promote spiritual growth without judging or changing their “students”.

Today, over 3,000 Chabad centers are located in more than 65 countries, with a new center opening on the average every ten days. In South Africa, South America, Russia, Australia, the UK, and many parts of the USA, and of course Israel. Chabad has become a dynamic and dominant force within the Jewish community.

Levi and I are now acting on our dream of establishing a study center for English speaking immigrants and visitors in Haifa.

We visited the Chabad center in Tzfat to meet their leader there Ayal. He has decades of experience in planning and administering programs for English speaking individuals. He speaks the tongue of Shakespeare wonderfully but sounds a bit British. He actually was born and raised in Israel. He is housed at The Tzfat Kabablah center in the old part of the city. He helped us to plan and organize our agenda. We recently added a new team leader Zecharya Gonsher, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, made aliyah at age 28 where he meet his Israeli wife through the help of a Chabad shadchanit (matchmaker).  He earned his MSW in family clinical therapy in St Louis, MO, where he connected to Chabad, and has cherished this ever since. Currently, Zecharya helps the Chabad House in establishing programs for the English speaking Haifa area community. He lives in Kiryat Ata with his wife, Liat, and newborn twins.

Ayal and Levy have a list of English speakers from Haifa and the surrounding communities who have inquired about starting classes in our community. Judaism is a knowledge based faith. I can not imagine a greater bruchah or blessing than offering the opportunity to learn with others.

 The Reform Jewish Movement has some classes in our community. My very close friend Rabbi Edgar Nof hosts a Pirke Avot group one day a week for example. However, there are those Jews who are more oriented to other streams of Judaism or find the convenience of transportation to the Mercaz or center a big asset.  We are planning to have an open house in the fall to build a garin – a seed or core group of those interested in supporting this program. 

 

Here is the contact information again

 

Zecharya Gonsher, 0585-454-770

Alexa, The Perils of Youth and Old Age.

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My friend Alexa and I were sitting at my favorite cafe in Haifa, the Kapiot café, discussing my concerns about my age related tipshoot (silly) behavior. I turned sixty five in April. The once twenty minute walk to the cafe now takes thirty. It is more due to the fact that I almost always seem to forget something than physical conditioning. I forgot my ex- wife’s birthday for the first time in March. It was on my calendar which I neglected to review. Beautiful young women like Alexa now seem like granddaughters of grade school age. My once healthy appetite for dining has greatly dissipated. Alexa tried to reassure me that things are not as bleak as they seem. “Earl, I do silly things at my age,” she mused. She blames her mistakes on being twenty. My buddy is just finishing her military service with the Israeli Army. Alexa recounted this sad tale: 


“I arrived at the Haifa Lev Hamifratz bus station at 7:00 AM this morning. The second that I stepped out of the bus I realized that I won’t be getting to Tel Aviv as planned. The special bus lines that they bring in for soldiers, which I was hoping to board, are only relevant on Sundays. After a short calculation I discovered that today was NOT a Sunday, but a Tuesday. Boarding a train wasn’t an option either, as the same rule applies. That was stupid act number one!

I hesitated for a while, shifting my weight on the platform from one foot to another like a ballerina on a warm up. I decided to go to Jerusalem in a hope of catching the 8:45 AM bus to my army base. Two minutes after departure, I realized that I could board a train to Tel Aviv. Since, again, it was not a Sunday (and the public transportation restrictions for soldiers only extend as far as Sundays). Ouch, I goofed again!

My arrival at Jerusalem was at 9:30 AM. The central bus station doesn’t quite look and smell like a daisy field of lovely blossoms, but it’s still better than Tel Aviv’s balagan (mad house) of crazy people looking like convicted murderers, blood curdling music and nauseating, poisonous food. I was already quite upset about the earlier degradation in my brain activity, and the fact that I missed the bus didn’t help lifting up my spirits. To summarize: I was frustrated, and had loads of time to spare till the next bus to the base (12:45 PM), I was starting to feel hungry. It was a very grim looking state of affairs indeed.

But, of course, a brave young soldier wouldn’t let minor misfortunes discourage her. I decided to find a place to sit and roll a cigarette. Humming the “Two and a Half Men” opening theme, I rolled a beautiful cigarette that could be the envy of many addicts. I took a moment to glow with pride in my ever-expanding skill.

Still humming, I went out to the platform to smoke this work of art. There were herds of people outside, many of them soldiers. I smoked quietly oblivious to the rumblings of the world around me.

Upon finishing the cigarette, I approached the door and pushed it. However, to my genuine amazement, it didn’t budge. Perfect! I thought to myself, and tried to push it again. Being a rational, quick-witted adult, I reckoned this might be a pull door and not a push door. Therefore, I started looking feverishly for a handle that I could pull. It was then that I heard it.

“Are you getting tired yet”, a voice called to me from behind. I turned to the left to discover an amused looking ‘Magav’ soldier who was following my actions with a look full of wonder. He might have been a child witnessing the fireworks for the very first time.

“Yes…looks like I don’t even have enough strength to push the damned door.” I cracked something that was meant to be a charming smile, but it turned out to look more like a grimace. He smiled and took a sip from his coke.

“Yeah…well, it’s a window, not a door”, he pronounced. “Try the one to your right.” Once again I committed a mental folly.

I blinked at him. For all I knew, he could have just said that a pair of unicorns was giving free haircuts outside the station. Looking to my right I saw a doorknob, a door! I swallowed and pulled it, deciding not to speak for a while. Should I crawl away and hide somewhere? Yes, that would be the right thing to do.

So here I am now… humming no more, feeling like the most mentally challenged creature on the planet. When did this start happening? When did I go all foolish like this? How many people have noticed?

I think I should stop going outside, unless absolutely necessary, I should wear a sign around my neck saying: “dangerous when thinking”. It might clear up lots of confusion…”

I listened to her quietly, when a smile crossed my face. Age has always been a troubling issue. You could be in a place in your life when you’re longing to grow up, or quite the opposite – you might have just started thinking about striking a deal with the devil to stop the time from seeping right through your fingers. There is no way around it, since we live on borrowed time and our days are numbered. But upon hearing this amusing story, I came to think that perhaps the only thing we could do to make the living meaningful, is to trick time. Do things inappropriate of your age – eat a steak at 10 AM in the morning, pull a push door, be that strange bird that just wouldn’t sit on the perch assigned to it. Be twenty at the age of sixty, be that child that nobody believed you could be. It might just make your sun shine brighter.


Thank you, Alexa, for reassuring me that we all have our weak moments and that age may not be the only issue in my case.

Food and Dining in Haifa Israel

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When I immigrated to Haifa six years ago at the age of fifty nine, I was concerned about learning a new language, making friends, adjusting to a new culture and eating properly. Food was almost certainly my primary source of anxiety.

 

My fears were quickly removed. Israel has most American cuisine and much more to offer citizens and visitors. Bagel is a household name and in this day and age most Americans find that bagel and cream cheese is almost as common as mum and apple pie. Bagels and cream cheese are standing dining fares in many Israeli cafes. Smoked salmon is available but somewhat more difficult to find. Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King and Dominoes are an integral part of Israeli society. For those of us who can’t live without a Big Mac or Pizza Hut, don’t worry-be happy! Whilst the Hebrew language may date back five thousand years, the most universal words in this land seem to be ‘Shalom’ and ‘Pizza please’!

One of the wonderful things about living in a multicultural society like Israel is that there are many distinctive types of menus on offer. It is also common to sit at an eatery and to share dinner and conversation with people from a myriad of backgrounds in several languages. I am sitting at my favorite cafe, the Kapiot, listening to fellow diners conversing in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Russian. The cafe is located in the Mercaz or center neighborhood or our city. The Baha’i Gardens is located a few hundred meters from here. Therefore, the neighborhood is filled with upscale hotels, a complete variety of restaurant choices, and numerous food stores.

The Israeli diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, salads, and dairy products. The staples of the Israeli diet are humus, falafel, and Israeli salad. Humus and falafel are chickpea products. Humus is a paste like form of chickpea usually eaten with pita bread. Falafel is chickpea formed into small balls, fried, and eaten in a pita bread as a sandwich. Both are eaten with or without vegetables and several possible sauces. Israeli salad is a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley, served with Israeli salad dressing, a combination of salt, lemon and olive oil. These culinary treats are now enjoyed throughout the world.

Israelis enjoy a barbecue at least once a month. Lamb kebab, chicken breasts, beef flanks, and shawarma or roasted lamb are the favorite meat choices. Yes! Israelis like a cold beer, a glass of wine, and even Jack Daniels. The balmy climate and abundance of parks allow Haifa residents to enjoy their outings throughout much of the year.

Haifa is a sea front community that offers you the choice of dining in modern western style malls or traditional culinary spots. We have a taiyelet or boardwalk lined with cafes and food stands. There is dining on the seashore with the Mediterranean as an aesthetic backdrop. Due to the nature of the Israeli diet, food costs are often lower than in the United States. American style grocery stores abound in Israel, as do small local shops and the shuks or outdoor markets. The larger grocery stores do carry American canned and packaged products such as Oreos and Campbell’s soup. They also offer non-grocery items such as health care products, beauty aids and clothing. Most stores and restaurants in Israel accept major credit cards although some accept only those issued in Israel. Most Tourist Bureaus offer a comprehensive list of local dining.

 

The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

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English speaking Olim have a myriad of organisations and groups to support their new life in Israel. The largest private organisation that supports all English speaking Olim is the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel). It has offices throughout Israel. Twenty five thousand English speaking Israelis belong to this wonderful organization.

The author of this article is especially appreciative of the AACI’s sterling work. The efforts of Yanina Muskinow their representative for the north proved invaluable during my acclimation. AACI, a voluntary, non-profit organization, was established in 1951 to help North American immigrants acclimate to Israeli society and to build strong ties between North American Jewish communities and Israel. AACI is governed by a lay board and administered by a professional staff. Its many activities are financed through the support of foundations, annual membership dues, an annual fundraising drive and private donations.


AACI provides a wealth of services and programs to cater for its membership:

  • Professional counseling on Aliyah and Klitah (absorption)
  • Employment Resource Center
  • Emergency, mortgage and small business loans
  • Support groups
  • Advice Sessions: tax, banking, translation and more
  • Legal consultations
  • Blood bank privileges
  • The AACI Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired
  • Senior Outreach

AACI Acts can move mountains when its members’ welfare is at stake.
AACI Acts:

  • Lobbied successfully to modify the effect of new Israeli tax laws on immigrants;
  • Produced and distributed a free Emergency Handbook and held gas mask demonstrations prior to and during the Gulf War;
  • Confronted the social, economic and psychological pressures affecting its membership through the Seniors Outreach Project.
  • AACI Community offers a warm and welcoming environment, with special programs targeting families, young adults, mid-lifers and seniors.   Members participate in:
    • Welcome Home events for new olim (immigrants)
    • Home Hospitality
    • 4th of July/Canada Day & Thanksgiving Celebrations
    • AACI Travel Experience & Study Vacations
    • Social and Cultural Programs,
    • Lectures and more including (our new Writers’ Group?)

The challenges of immigrating to this amazing and complicated nation have been overwhelming to me at times. I have often said to myself should I return to my native United States? There is a new language to learn, a diverse and complicated culture to understand and sadly ongoing security threats from within and our neighbors. Yet, I am still here six years later thanks in great part to the support of my friends at AACI

They even honored me by choosing me as their volunteer of the year in Northern Israel this year.

Is Doggy Day Care Needed in Haifa Israel?

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I am sitting at my favorite ‘watering hole and source of nutrition’ – The Kapiot Café, in Haifa Israel. The restaurant has a beautiful view of the bay and overlooks the east edge of The Baha’i Gardens. The food is traditional American and Israeli cooking. This is due to the fact that many tourists stay at the posh hotels in our community and visit the gardens. You can order hamburgers and French fries or hummus and pita. The cafe seats one hundred customers and the prices are fair. The hamburger and fries cost about seven American dollars without the drink.The cafe owners are Offir and Avi. They are both in their late 20s. Offir is married with two youngsters, Agam (Lake) and Amok. And, there is also a three year old terrier named Snow. He gets the same love and attention that canines receive in my native United States. Sadly, both of his parents work and therefore he is left home alone much of the time. He may have some problems because of that. He has a crush on an orange blanket and seems to reject many beef products. Avi is single but involved with Tami. She is the mother of a seven year old boy and two year old Schnauzer.

Sarah is one of my beloved servers. She and her boyfriend also work and leave their two “puppies” in their ‘bayt’ or home much of the time. They both exhibit the nervous scratching symptoms associated with canine depression. Is a lack of sufficient companionship a cause? I would bet on it! Sarah agrees, “I wish that I could spend more time with Choo Choo” she often exclaims. “He would be less nervous, poor baby”. “Moti seems calmer but we try to give him attention when it is possible”. The restaurant has a canine trough outside for those traveling in the community with their pets. Moti is a frequent visitor. 

Many Israeli parents need to work two jobs, as people do in America. Does this create some of the problems that exist in my native United States? I worked at an after school program for children at risk aged nine to twelve. Many of the kids came from homes where parents were often absent. The counselors all agreed that lack of parental contact was a primary cause of behavioral issues.

In the meantime, Israelis do see the four legged pets as their best friends. Does the need for pet sitters and other such services exist? Yes. And such supports are widespread. Haifa, like many communities in this country, has animal rescue shelters, many veterinary centers, professional dog walkers, kennels, pet shops, and day care centers. Israel even has a doggy television station for your informed pets. Therefore, for those of you planning to spend time in Israel, do not worry. Your canine friends will have more than ample services, please have them join you!

 

 

Kababir, Home of Israel’s Muslim Ahmadiyya.

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I immigrated to Haifa Israel six years ago from The United States. My greatest joy in living in this city is the peaceful coexistence of its citizens. The city is also beautiful. It is on the Mediterranean with a tiyelet or boardwalk and active commercial port.

Haifa is a city dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha’i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the abor.faith, Bahá’u’lláh. The presence of the Baha’i, for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city. The greatest challenge facing this small and brave nation is to promote the values of peace in an area filled with strife and hatred. Haifa is the home of the Tomb of Elijah the Prophet, which is considered one of the holiest and most venerated shrines to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze alike.
The Community and Beautiful Mosque.
One of my favorite communities in Haifa and in Israel is Kababir. I am fortunate to live in the Mercaz or center part of Haifa which adjoins the wonderful neighborhood.It is the home of Israel’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Most of our two thousand Achmadis live in this pleasant tree lined residential area of Haifa. There are many parks, some neighborhood cafes, schools, grocery stores and the grand Mosque and school for their believers. There are many Jewish, some Christian, and a few Druze citizens living in the quaint neighborhood. There is a breathtaking view of the sea in the bottom of the sloping area.The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the larger of two communities that arose from the Ahmadiyya movement founded in 1889 in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (1835–1908). The original movement split into two factions  in 1914. (The other branch is the smaller Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-i-ahmadiat.)

The community is led by the Khalifatul Masih (“successor of the Messiah”), currently Khalifatul Masih V, who is the spiritual leader of the community and the successor to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, declared that he was the “Promised One” of all religions, fulfilling the eschatological prophecies found in world religions. He stated that his claims to being several prophets (religious personages) converging into one person were the symbolic, rather than literal, fulfillment of the messianic and eschatological prophecies found in the literature of the major religions.The motto of the Ahmadiyya Community is “Love for All, Hatred for None”. They first settled in Palestine in 1925 and became part of Israel in 1948.

They built the neighborhood’s first mosque on Mount Carmel in 1931, and a larger grand mosque in the 1980s. The grand mosque has two white minarets standing 34 metres tall, which dominate the low-rise skyline of the residential neighborhoods on the ridges nearby. Mount Carmel is the burial spot of Haifa’s most famous citizen Elihah the prophet. Famous visitors to Kababir include Shimone Peres.

At the beginning, the neighborhood was managed as a commune in whom every one of the founding family brothers worked in his occupation and donated its fee to a mutual account. Some of the family members joint the Turkish army, some worked in the Oil refinery in the city of Haifa. Others worked building the Port of Haifa.

Today the Achmadis are leaders in education, commerce, and medical care in our community. They are active in promoting dialogue and peace in Haifa. I have been blessed to join them in interfaith sports activities, choirs, community tours, and most importantly friendship. Below their Iman and a Rabbi share fellowship in Haifa.

 


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