Posted by Amy

Eva on the beach in Tel Aviv

As we have now been gone from Israelfor a little over a week, we need to put some kind of closure to this first part of our trip.  Let’s just start by saying it was great.  It was amazing to see all the changes that Israel has undergone since the last time I was there, twenty years ago.  It was incredible to see the kids witness and try to comprehend life in a Jewish state where Jewish holidays are National holidays and life truly does slow down and settle in for a rest on Shabbat.  And, most importantly, it was great to be able to reconnect with old friends and have the pleasure of making new ones.  The people who opened up their homes and hearts to us in Israel are what we will most remember.  Thank you Katz’s, Zetlands, Franks, Itzik, Eitan and Noga , Tzippi, The Rosenshines and many more.

So, here is a list of some of our favorites in Israel.

Top Ten (more or less) Israeli Favorites

  1. Hezekiah’s water tunnels in the City of David
  2. Archeology – Dig for a Day, Beit Guvrein
  3. Tel Aviv, city life
  4. Tour of the Rabin Museum with Udi Katz (okay, this was more of an adult favorite than a kid one.)
  5. Night view of the Kineret from the very bumpy jeep ride.
  6. Getting lost in the Golan with Jeremy Zetland
  7. Tel Aviv beaches
  8. Dead Sea (David only)
  9. Astro Turf lawn balcony at the Dan Panorama where we played with our cousins.
  10.  Being with the Israeli Katz family and the Zetlands
  11. Traveling with the Michigan Katz family and Susan.

We dig archeology!

Favorite Foods (We think food deserves its own category)

  1. Falafel – first night on Ben Yehuda St. in Jerusalem was the best.
  2. Shakshuka – tomato, onion and pepper sauté, with a poached egg nestled into a pocket .  (Tastes better than I can make it sound)
  3. Limon nana – introduced to us by our new friend Noga.  Lemonade with mint leaves in slushy form, nothing better on a hot Tel Aviv beach.
  4. Popsicles
  5. Bomba – imagine something like a cheeto, but peanut butter flavored instead of cheese.
  6. Israeli chocolate!
  7. Israeli breakfasts at the big hotels, we will be dieting the rest of the year because of these.
  8. Rikki’s pasta dinner made with Susan in our Tel Aviv apartment.

The market


Yasmin Zetland, entertaining Maya and Rikki

Dress code

I have no caption for this photo - the whole scene just cracks me up. Greg taking a picture for a very young religious couple with Rikki observing.


Tel Aviv fitness parks - we need these in Michigan!

Categories: Israel | 2 Comments

Israeli Kids- They’re Just Like You and Me!

Goldmans, Katzs and Noga in Jerusalem (Noga is the farthest right in the grey and white shirt)

Posted by Maya

On our fifth day in Israel, we met Noga Yanai.  Noga is our tour guide Itzik’s ten year old daughter and she came up to K’far Blum with us, the Katzs and her father.  Noga is Israeli- she has lived in Israel for almost her entire life.  However, she spent her toddler years living in New York, so she speaks English very well.  Almost better than I do.  On the bus up north, we started talking. It surprised me how much she is like a ten year old American girl. She is in fifth grade in a public school, goes to summer camp, and listens to Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. Noga told us that her family doesn’t have a T.V. at home, but when she goes to her grandparent’s house, she watches Disney Channel. Of course, there are a few distinct differences- she speaks Hebrew at school and most of the time at home, and her family is moving to a Kibbutz, although they won’t be members of it.

I found this to be true with many of the other Israeli kids we met. Amitai Roseshine, also ten, loves to play sports, especially soccer and gymnastics, and he watches American t.v, like iCarly. He seems like every boy that had been in my fifth grade class.

Hanging with the Rosenshines in Jerusalem

Yasmin Zetland, the grandchild of my parent’s good friends Frannie and Danny Zetland, is only three, but she already seems like an American kid. She doesn’t speak English, but she does understand it. Yasmin loves princesses and horses, and only wears dresses and skirts. If that doesn’t sound like an American three year old, what does?

Yasmin with her bag of fun.

I guess that this isn’t so shocking- Israel is a very western country. I’m excited to see though, if kids are the same (or similar) in countries like China and Argentina. I am kind of hoping that they won’t be. It’s good to have a distinct culture. But, it is very fun for us if they are similar, because then we can identify with each other. We’ll just have to wait and see!

Categories: Israel | 6 Comments

Speaking Hebrew

Hey Gang! Let's all speak Hebrew!

Something I can’t stop thinking about is how modern -Hebrew came to be.   Picture a group of rag-tag Europeans descending on Ottoman ruled Palestine in the late 1800’s in an effort to forge a new Jewish homeland.  Most of these people probably speak Yiddish in addition to dozens of other languages.  A leader of the day, Ben Yehuda1, says that in order to begin building a strong nation, everyone must speak the same language and that language should be the historical language of the Jews (AKA, Hebrew).  The only problem is that other than for praying and reading the Torah, nobody really spoke Hebrew and hadn’t done so for thousands of years.  So, Ben Yehuda set out to teach everyone the old language.  The process was slow through the First and Second Aliyah periods but by the end of World War I, Hebrew was declared the official spoken language of Israel (although Israel didn’t exist as a Country until nearly 40 years later it gave people time to practice!) The leaders of the day could have said that everyone should learn English, French, German, Spanish or even Esperanto, but instead they chose Hebrew, the language of our ancestors.  It was one of many bold moves made by these founders of the modern Country of Israel.

By the way, one of the best streets in Tel Aviv is named after Ben Yehuda.  We had great ice-cream, rented bikes from a South African immigrant, peeled Rikki off the side of a city bus after she lost control of her bike and slammed into it’s side, and watched the great city scene that is Tel Aviv.  There is an equally fun street in Jerusalem named after the same guy.  It’s a pedestrian mall with awesome falafel, lots of gift shops, restaurants, bookstores and a huge cross-section of Israeli and Diaspora culture.


1 Ben Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman in Luzhki (now Belarus) in 1858.  He was brought up in a religious home but then studied at the Sorbonne in Paris where he became convinced that Hebrew could become the spoken language of what was yet to become the new Jewish homeland.  His dream was achieved.  Ben Yehuda died in 1922 in Jerusalem at the age of 64.

Categories: Israel | 1 Comment

Busted in Tel-Aviv

God forgave me, why can't the Israeli police?

Posted by David

I would never claim to have a good driving record, or that I’m a good driver. I’ve had my run ins with the law in half a dozen States in the U.S as well as in at least three other countries. I’ve pleaded, bribed, cajoled, and angered law enforcement professionals the world over. But, I’ve never had an encounter as interesting as the one I had in Tel Aviv two nights ago that almost landed me in an Israeli jail.

It was our 18th day in Israel and probably our 8th day driving our own car. The weather was unbearably hot as it had been since we arrived in Israel. By 3PM you begin to see smoke rising from the bottoms of your shoes if you happen to be dumb enough to walk outside. The Israelis go barefoot which only ads their mystique as some of the toughest SOB’s in the World. I had been driving all day and had already made more illegal maneuvers than I can count when I found myself running late to meet our friends, the Zetlands, for a nice farewell dinner overlooking the Mediterranean.

Before I describe the encounter, let me say that in Israel, the “Do Not Enter Signs” look a lot like stop signs, there are streets designated only for busses and taxis that are not marked AT ALL, and it’s nearly impossible to find a place to take a legal left turn. Oh, and one more thing….in the States we are warned that a light is going to turn red by a brief yellow light. In Israel, they are warned that the light is going to turn green by that same yellow light. This means that as soon as there is yellow light, the cars behind you begin to honk, which when translated into words means, “Nu? Shlameel, the light is ALMOST green, get moving!”

Okay, sounds like a lot of excuses, right? Maybe so, but it aint easy driving in Tel Aviv, I’ll tell you that.

So, we are running late, we have circled the same block four times trying to find a parking lot, and I’m more than a little irritated. Amy is in the passenger seat and the three girls are in the back. I make what I think is quite an elegant move first dodging the motor scooter on my left before darting right and then gliding into the parking lot. No sooner do I enter the lot when I hear the sound of the police sirens. I stop the car and am approached by a man half my height, I’m guessing about 63, slicked back grey and black hair and a sort of Danny Devitohobble with a scowl that tells me he either (a) he just got kicked out of his house and is going to take his frustration out on an unsuspecting citizen (b) has been passed over a coveted promotion for a desk job for the 15th time, or (c) he genuinely believes in the virtues of Israeli traffic law and is going to TEACH ME A LESSON for my own safety and the safety of 300,000 other Tel Avivians. By the way, he also has Barney Fife-like side kick.

Jewish Barney Fife

So, the cop comes over to the car, asks for my license and insurance and then starts in on me. He wants to know why I made a left turn from the right lane and then entered the wrong way on a one-way street before turning into the parking lot. I tell him I didn’t see the signs at which point he becomes incensed and asks me to get out of the car (but not before insisting I put on the emergency parking brake). He marches me over to the area on the street where my transgressions occurred and points to a sign. He asks me what this sign means to me. I tell him it looks a lot like a stop sign to me at which point he blows a fuse. He begins yelling at me that I am stupid and how can I be so irresponsible. I tell him I made a mistake, I’m sorry and I don’t know how it happened other than that I didn’t see the signs. He tells me that his has never seen an individual make so many driving errors in the course of 10 seconds before in his entire career (if this is true, it’s impressive as Israelis as don’t think Israelis are known for their driving). He asks if I have been drinking and then marches me back to the car where he begins to berate Amy and ask her how I could have done something so aggregus. I suppose this was a very Jewish move, if you can’t get through to the man…talk to his supervisor. Amy tells him I haven’t been drinking and that it was just a mistake. Rikki begins to cry, she is scared. I pull Barney Fife over and tell him it was a mistake, I’m sorry and I will be leaving the country shortly and they will be done with me. He says he will try to reason with his ‘bad-cop’ partner. Bad Cop wants my passport, which I don’t have. I ask him for some rochmanus at which he says, “would you ask a police officer in America for rochmanus?” I tell him I would and I have (and it has worked!) but he just storms back to his patrol car with my license in hand.

Barney emerges several long minutes later and tells me, very gravely, that this is an extremely rare case but they have come to a decision and are going to let me off with a very strong warning. If I was an Israeli, they say, I would be on my way to jail. I take my license, park the car, calm Rikki down. I ask the other girls if they are scared and Eva says, “I just assumed that you would have a run-in with the police in every country we visit, so I wasn’t scared.” I vow to drive more cautiously and to fane more respect for authority in the future.

Categories: Israel | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

Kibbutz Living

Posted by Rikki

bunny house

Hanging with the horses

A kibbutz is sort of like a camp.  Just a little bit.  You eat, sleep, play and work on a kibbutz.   Just a few days ago, I went to one.  We went to the kibbutz to visit our friends Moshe and Rollie Frank.  Their kibbutz is called Ein Harod.   We ate at the heder ochel (dining room, where everyone on the kibbutz eats together).  See what I mean about camp and the kibbutz? There is even a great pool there.  Sadly, even though it was the hottest day of the week, we did not swim in it.  But, Moshe gave us a great tour of all the animals. We saw sheep getting milked.  We also fed bunnies and horses.  The smells were not too good.  I don’t think I would like to live on a kibbutz because then you have to work and sometimes you don’t want to do the work you are told to do.

Ein Harod with Moshe Frank and Jeremy and Yasmin Zetland

Categories: Israel | 7 Comments

The Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea

Posted By Eva

Today we went to The Dead Sea. I did not care for the extremely salty water. It stung sooooo much! I screamed my way out of the water.  I learned that it’s not actually the salt that stings. It’s the minerals. We had to take freshwater showers to get the salt off.  It didn’t really help the pain though.

Next, we spread mud from the Dead Sea on our skin.  Aunt Susan told us the mud will make us look ten years younger.  Since, I am ten now and the mud made me ten years younger, that makes me six months old.  I liked the mud much better than the Dead Sea because it wasn’t as painful.

The mud!

Salt chunks sitting on the beac

The Dead Sea is 1388 feet below sea level.  This is the lowest place on Earth.  It is very hot there, both in and out of the water.  Nothing lives in the Dead Sea.   After being in it myself, I can see why.  Also, the Dead Sea is evaporating.   The Dead Sea is 9 times as salty as a regular ocean.

Susan chillin' in the Dead Sea

Since there is so much salt in the water, as soon as you pick your feet up off the ground, you start floating without even trying.  My dad fell asleep while he was floating, and he almost got to Jordan!  On the beach there are actually blocks of salt.  The air is also salty.  The Dead Sea was not a fun experience for me, but I will always remember it.

Categories: Israel, The Trip Begins | 16 Comments

Golan Heights

Eva and Jackie on the Golan Heights

Posted by David

We spent a beautiful morning in the Golan Heights on Thursday.  It was a relief to get out of the heat and amazing to see the lush valleys with apple, cherry, and pear orchards as well as grape vineyards, olive groves, fish ponds, wind farms, and so much more. The soil is very rich stemming from the volcanic activity that formed the area millions of years ago.  Itzik (formerly known as Yitzhak in the most recent post) talked to us about both the ancient and modern history of the area as well as the geology.  Here’s a brief synopsis….

View of the Golan Heights from Bental

The area consists of less than 500 square miles and there are approximately 40,000 thousand Israelis living in the area and a number of Druze.  Israel has had control of the Golan Heights since it captured the area (along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai Desert) in the 1967 Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  The area is strategically significant for many reasons including its long border with Syria which is officially at war with Israel and would like to see its destruction (this is and has been a stated goal of the Syrian Government), it’s only about 60KM from the northern part of the Golan Heights to Damascus.  In fact, the Israelis made it within 30 miles of Damascus during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 before the Syrians surrendered.  Water run-off from Mount Hermon, the highest peak in Israel (about 9K feet above sea level) provides nearly 15% of the fresh water supply to Israel through run-off into the Jordan River, which feeds the Kinnerit or Sea of Galilee.

We went to a beautiful look out point , Mt. Bental, and were able to see the border with Syria including the U.N. Peacekeeping troops.  The lookout point was filled with bunkers from which the Israelis fought the Syrians.

We heard about the famous Israeli spy, Elie Cohen, and his brilliant and tragic career infiltrating the highest ranks of the Syrian government including being appointed, but declining, a post as the Secretary of Defense for Syria.  His story is told in the book, Our Man in Damascus, which Nison (Amy’s father) has often talked about.  Elie Cohen continuously fed strategic information back to the Israeli military, which helped them immensely in 1967 and 1973.  In one great move, he encouraged the Syrians to plant eucalyptus trees on the army bunkers where the soldiers were stationed to help keep them cool during hot training sessions.  The trees were planted and allowed Israel to easily find the Syrian army bases by looking for the only eucalyptus trees in the Golan.

Golan Bunker on Bental

Itzik also took us to some places like a new gourmet chocolate making factory started by an Argentine immigrant whose family has been in the chocolate making business for generations.  The place was great and the chocolate was amazing.  We also went to a very nice food court for lunch where we had, you guessed it, falafel, bought from an exceedingly friendly Israeli of Moroccan decent who told us he had “The Best” falafel in Israel (it was really good but it is funny how hyperbole is used here SOOOOOO much….get it?  It’s common to hear people talk about the first, the only, the best even if the discussion is simply about something as mundane as toilet paper) and insisted that we should buy a small farm in The Golan with about 10 acres and a house for approximately $400,000 U.S.  He also happened to need some eye care, which Greg very graciously helped him with and now he can see much better. It wasn’t like Greg performed cataract surgery right there at the falafel stand but he did help the guy get some reading glasses which helped him much better than the $800 glasses he had just bought.

In the same area as the falafel stand there was a great micro-brewery and some other very interesting shops that are examples of Israeli creativity.

Because Syria is so consumed with what appears to be a general uprising (more than 2,000 protesters have been killed) against the brutal and corrupt government of Bashar al Asaad, the border has been relatively quiet.

It’s hard to say what will become of The Golan, but I don’t think it will go the way of The Sinai or Gaza.  As our prophetic bus driver, Eitan Recthman, said, “Look, two things are possible, Israel will keep The Golan, or they will give it back.”   At the moment, it’s not the biggest issue on the agenda for Israel.

Categories: Israel, The Trip Begins | 8 Comments

Our First Firsts

Posted by Amy

On top of Masada with the sun rise

Israel is our first stop and has been a great place to experience all of our firsts on this trip.  Beginning with our first night in Jerusalem, we were witnesses to democracy in action as 20,000 people marched down Ben Yehuda street after Shabbat.  Apparently that was small compared to the numbers assembled in Tel Aviv (300,000).  We had a great view as we sat outside our falafel stand eating our first meal in Israel.  From what we could gather and have been able to read about in the days since, Israelis are very upset with the economic and social policies practiced by their government today.  They feel that someone with a good degree and a job shouldn’t have to struggle to find affordable housing and pay for gas (9 and a half dollars a gallon!).  The amazing thing was how organized and peaceful the protestors were.

This morning, I just read that similar concerns were being voiced in London, but if you read the news you know that peaceful and orderly did not describe the London protests.  Since we are headed there in a couple of weeks, I certainly hope they get with the program there and fast.

To the Israeli government’s credit they have already set up some sort of commission to address these concerns and may help mitigate the problems with a decrease in some of their VAT taxes.  We shall see.  I wonder how this would play out in the US.  I think these same problems are smoldering back home, but as of yet, only the Tea Party is organized to speak about much of anything.

Demonstrators on Ben Yehuda Street

That first night, we also bumped into our first familiar face in a faraway place.  Marching with the protestors, the kids actually saw someone they knew.  They said, “We know that woman from camp.  That’s Eli’s wife.”  Naomi Rockowitz was walking down Ben Yehuda and we picked her out of the crowd.  Small, small world.  Naomi was the guide on Davd’s last trip to Israel and her husband works at Tamarack as the head of Jewish Programming.  I have to say it again, small, small world.

Other firsts have included our first lost retainer.  Yes, one down on day two, swept away with the breakfast dishes at the Hotel Dan Panarama.  Don’t worry, Dr. Rubin was smart enough to send us with two retainers.  Also, our first doses of anti biotics for both Rikki and Maya.  One eye infection and one sinus infection.  Good thing we have our doctors here with us on this first part of the trip.  Thank you Aunt Laurie and Uncle Greg.

As for the sites, they have all been amazing.  Our guide, Yitzak, is great.  He gave us one of the most comprehensive tours of the City of David that I have ever been on.  This is just a small part of the Old City, but even still so much has changed since I was here last almost 20 years ago.  You would think how much could change in a part of the city famous for being old, but the amount of archaeological excavations going is amazing.  We walked through water tunnels, still filled with water built by King Hezekiah about 2100 years ago in order to allow the city to have access to a water source outside the city walls.  He saved the city from siege because of these walls.  They connected up to Roman sewers that we also walked through.  The kids loved walking in a tunnel once filled with Roman poop.  And in the newspaper the very next day, there was news of a discovery of a Roman sword, 2100 years old, right in those very sewers!  We all were very curious what kind of soldier would be so careless as to lose his sword in the sewer.

We have learned all about King Herod.  Yitzak has told us, “If it is beautiful, it was probably built by Herod.”  Yitzak’s other famous line is “All Jewish holidays are the same.  They tried to kill us.  There was a war.  We won.  Now let’s eat!”

Other highlights have included hiking up Masada at 5: 00 in the morning, already hot at that time., floating in the Dead Sea, going on an amazing archaeological dig  – and actually finding ancient relics, or at least pieces of ancient relics!  Planting trees, touring  Yad Vashem with David’s friend and Holocaust Witness Elie Ayalon, touring Caeserea , also beautiful and also built by Herod.  Almost lost retainer number two there and did lose me there!  Don’t worry, I was eventually found and so was the retainer.  Tomorrow is up to the Golan and also over to Tsefat.

It is especially amazing to be sharing all of these firsts with the Katzes and Aunt Susan.  It is making the beginning of our year of touring seem very easy and this will be a great transition to whatever comes next.  We really couldn’t be asking for anything more.  Wish you were here!

Notes left at the Western WallOur whole group in Caeserea. Mediterranean Sea behind us.

Categories: Israel, The Trip Begins | 15 Comments

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: