Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Chanukah!

Happy Chanukah to all back home!

This year I am spending Chanukah in Tzfat, and I think it will be a memorable way to celebrate the holiday. In just a couple of hours, I will be lighting the candles with 14 other people from my Otzma Program, as well as the staff and participants of the Livnot U’Lehibanot program. More about Livnot in a second, but I’m very excited to be here for Chanukah.

While it’s always nice to light candles and sing Mah Oz Tzur, it feels special in a different way to be able to celebrate the holiday in the land in which the miracles took place – we always sing “A Great Miracle Happened There”, and now we get to sing “A Great Miracle Happened Here”. Dwelling on the miracle of Chanukah (or miracles, because there were multiple miracles), makes me think about the miracles that go on in today’s world, and how important it is to open our eyes to what’s around us (especially living in the State of Israel, whose existence is a miracle in it of itself)

But of course there’s a trade-off to being here at this time of the year. I won’t be able to take part in one of my favorite yearly traditions: multiple viewings of “Home Alone” prior to Christmas with Alex and Nicole – so I’ll have to watch the movie here next week and yell out all the lines and know they’re doing the same thing back home (From a treehouse!)

So back to Livnot. The past few days have been long but fun. Breakfast at Livnot starts at 7am, so that means getting up at 6:45. I regularly woke up at 7:15 or 7:20 to eat breakfast and read the news online before Ulpan class, but something about that “Waking up before 7” really makes it seem much earlier than just a half hour. But when the days are as short as they are this time of the year, it’s important to make the most of the daylight hours.

Anyway, we’ve had the good fortune to have weather largely cooperate with us this week. We spent the last 3 days doing three very different kinds of hikes. On Tuesday, we did a half-day hike from Tzfat to this park called the Wadi Amud, which is a pretty, foliage-covered nature reserve. Apparently in the warmer months, it’s a popular hiking spot because there are pools to go swimming and it’s generally an easy hike. But in the winter months, when it’s just rained and the terrain is very muddy and rocks are slippery…well you get the picture. There was definitely a lot of slip-sliding around and I definitely crashed my knee into at least one huge boulder.

Wednesday’s hike was my favorite of the week. It was a full-day hike but not as intense as the day before. We drove to the top of a mountain just south of Lake Kinneret and hiked all the way down.  From certain vantage points along the way, we could see the Kinneret to our left, the Jordan Valley straight ahead, and further back, the mountains of Jordan. This was one of those hikes where pictures don’t do the place justice. Along the way, our tour-guide extraordinaire, Michael, taught us about the different kinds of farming the Jewish pioneers did during the first waves of Aliyah and we discussed the sacrifices these chalutzim did when the founded the first kibbutz in Israel.  We ended our hike at sunset, and then had a cookout on the shores of the Kinneret, and it’s pretty cool to be able to do that in December anywhere in the northern hemisphere.

Thursday we took a ride up to the Golan Heights and got off near the eastern-most village in all of Israel. The town is called Alonei Habashan, which translates to mean the oak trees of the Golan, and it’s right near the border with Syria. As we gathered to begin our hike, we could see an IDF base manning the border. Then in the not-to-far-off-distance, we heard some gunfire and explosions, which we all assumed to be the IDF conducting some sort of war games and training. Turns out we were exactly right – as you can read here in this article from Ha’Aretz, the IDF was simulating missile attacks and war against Hizbollah. Because it had rained the day before, the grass in the area was green, which made the views along the hike very pretty.

I’d write more but the internet here is not working well and I need to get ready for the chag…so Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll try to upload some pictures next week!

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