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Friday, November 25, 2011

Israel! Horseback Riding in the Galilee, Pomegranate Wine, & Tiberias!

Horseback riding in the Galilee - Vered HaGalil
During our amazing month in Israel, thanks to Ben Gurion University of the Negev, one of the places I had to take Dan (and finally experience myself!) was Vered HaGalil ("Rose of the Galilee), the magnificent (and first) "American-Style" horseback riding ranch in Israel!

View from our suite's balcony
Vered HaGalil

When I was is the Israeli Army (1984-1986), Sol Baskin, who I had met through the late Major Zohar Levkovitch, told me that someday I Must visit Vered HaGalil! I was a military illustrator and graphic designer in the Israeli Army, and Sol Baskin is an artist; Major Zohar Levkovitch, the IDF historian for whom I was illustrating books, and who became a dear friend, introduced us so I could meet one of the founders of the State of Israel. Sol, a highly decorated WWII US Army Veteran of Anzio and Monte Cassino, immigrant to Israel, "Mahalnik", (a Volunteer from Overseas in the Israel Defense Forces), a founder of the Israeli Armored Corps, became a dear friend of mine, as well, and when I had my NYC gallery for contemporary Israeli art I gave Sol the first US retrospective exhibition of his extraordinary paintings, most created during 5 wars: WWII, the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, 1956, 1967 Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel and my hero since childhood, wrote the forward for the catalog for Sol's exhibition, as Sol was his officer during the Israeli War of Independance in 1948... A native of Chicago, Sol was friends with Yehuda Avni, who had also immigrated to Israel from Chicago, and who had, in what was then "the middle of nothing"- acres full of giant boulders and thistles, with nothing but a magnificent view of the Galilee- created, with his Jerusalem-born wife Yona, an extraordinary "American style" horse riding resort! This trip was my golden opportunity to stay at Vered HaGalil and ride horseback thru the Galilee with Dan- and finally meet Yehuda and Yona Avni!
Elisse, with Yehuda & Yona Avni,
founders of Vered HaGalil

Dan & Kitty, Vered HaGalil

A Very sexy room!
A view of the Galil from our jacuzzi at Vered HaGalil!

Sunset in the Galilee...

Our horseback riding guide
at Vered HaGalil

Night view of the Galilee from our balcony
Vered HaGalil

Yehudah Avni with the "Chicago Book"
Our Suite at Vered HaGalil was truly romantic & beautiful: our bedroom had a jacuzzi tub with windows overlooking the Galil, and the balcony view was nothing short of fabulous! We were welcomed with a bottle of wine and a bowl of fresh fruit, and Dan was totally delighted by our visits from the resident kitty!

The first thing I did- while we were booking our horseback riding tour- was pick up the phone and call Sol in Tel Aviv to tell him I'd finally made it to Vered HaGalil! I hadn't spoken to him in a number of years, and as he's 89 (like my mom) I was more than a little nervous. He was so shocked and laughing so hard when he heard my voice that he had to put down the phone! My heart literally leaped in my chest: I love and respect Sol more than I can ever say; he is the person I would have wanted to be, had I been born in 1922. Happily, I was not only able to give his warm regards to the Avnis, but Dan and I got to spend an evening with Sol at his apartment in Tel Aviv, sit in his living room and drink his homemade cherry vishniak brandy, and take him for a wonderful steak dinner. Dan thus got to meet the man who, for me, personifies everything fine and noble, hard and soft, heroic and average, about my country- one of the people who literally made the State of Israel a reality...

Banana groves in the Galil

Our first day in the Galil, Dan & I drove to see the 2000 Year Old Boat, known as the "Jesus Boat", at the nearby Yigal Alon Museum of Man in the Galilee! This extraordinary, one-of-a-kind 2000 year old archaeological find from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was discovered in 1986 by two fisherman brothers, Yuval and Moshe Lufan, following a prolonged drought that lowered the Kinneret's sea level. It was amazingly saved and restored in record time (it was in immedaite danger of deteriorating beyond repair), and it is an extraordinary thing to see it up close and personal! Yigal Allon, for whom the museum is named, was a native of Israel and the Galilee, a founding member of Kibbutz Ginosar, an active participant in the pre-state settlement movement, an officer in the Palmach (the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces), and an Israeli government minister.

Dan & the 2000 Year Old Boat
Restoration of the boat

Modern sculpture garden
at the Yigal Alon Museum
Ancient Galilee Mosaic
Yigal Alon Museum

2000 year old pottery & nails, discovered near the boat; Yigal Alon Museum

The Flautist: modern art with sheep
made by children at the Yigal Alon Museum

We had a wine tasting of delicious pomegranate wine and jam from the Rimon Winery at the museum, and (naturally) bought some wine and jam to take home! Rimon wines are 100% pomegranate, without any added sugar, and the wine is truly delicious: light, fruity, smooth, and not cloyingly sweet! The Rimon Winery is at Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in the Upper Galilee, and as we didn't have a chance to visit, I'm SO glad we got to taste their delicious products at the museum!

We then drove to Tiberias, (Tveria in Hebrew), the ancient city named for the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and had a yummy lunch of  fresh, local fish on the sea-side Promenade ("HaTayelet HaYeshana") at the Galei Gil Restaurant! We walked along the seashore, fed our bread rolls to the fish :-), strolled around Tiberias, and found Roman ruins, including mosaic floored baths! We dug thru the archaeological "junk pile" of discards and plucked some ancient souvenirs to take home: 2000 year old pot shards and urn handles! On the way back to Vered HaGalil we stopped at the Tomb of Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's wife, and I made another prayer for health and security for the State of Israel...

Dan, at lunch: Galei Gil Restaurant
Tiberias Promenade on the Kinneret

Fresh fish lunch: Galei Gil, Tiberias

Art Studio/Gallery, Tiberias

The old and the new: Dan in Tiberias

Elisse, on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Tiberias

"Ancient" tour boat on the Kinneret

Hassidic family enjoying the view: Tiberias

Dan, Tiberias

Modern art on an ancient theme, Tiberias

Modern Art: the Tiberias Hebrew Aleph-Bet

Tiberias: the ancient road, made modern

Tiberias: the ancient road, still in use...

Tomb of Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's Wife

Rachel's Tomb

Roman ruins: Tiberias

Elisse: Roman ruins, Tiberias

Herod Antipas founded Tiberias in 17-22 C.E., naming it after his patron, the Roman Emperor Tiberius. In the second through tenth centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee, the Jewish People's political and religious hub, as well as the center of Jewish spiritual creativity. A few years after its establishment, around 30 C.E., Jesus Christ is said to have moved his base of activities to the northern shore of Lake Kinneret, where several well-known miracles are said to have taken place, including his walking on the waters of the lake. As Christianity grew, many churches were built in Tiberias and the surrounding area. Tiberias has been continuously inhabited, and various buildings and ruins from various periods are well-preserved. In the Old City, built during the Crusades and the Ottoman Empire, a number of early sites are visible, including Daher El-Amar's 18th century fortress, a Jewish ritual bath, the black basalt remnants of the city wall, and the Church of St. Peter, constructed on the ruins of a Crusader church. Tiberias is also dotted with the burial sites of Jewish sages, making it one of Israel's holy cities; Jewish pilgrims flock to the tombs of Rabbi Akiva and his wife, Rachel, Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakai, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, and the great philosopher and sage Maimonides.

Next: More Galilee Adventures! Nazareth Village, Nouvelle Nazareth Cuisine at Al Reda, & soaking in the Hamat Gader Hot Springs!

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