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Monday, 27 February 2012

A Cornerstone of Strength In Despair: Off-Beat Travels in Israel’s Galilee

Mark.UlyseasThis  article may also be viewed in the online international magazine, Live Encounters. Editor, Mark Ulyseas is an Indian travel writer who supports Israel and all matters Jewish.

"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner." (Psalm 118:22)

We returned one spring Sabbath afternoon bathed in serene sunlight to find there was something different about a pet Israeli beauty-spot.

On previous visits to Rosh Pina, Galilee we had seen the ‘old quarter’ founded by Romanian chalutzim (pioneers). We had learned how they battled malaria;  started a silk industry funded by Baron de Rothschild and (by legend) had become so friendly with local Bedouin, they had even taught them Yiddish!

Rosh.Pina.Nimrod.Mitzpa.LookoutBut this time we found a new street with a fresh story. It lead us to ‘Nimrod’s Lookout’, an observation point guarding the glorious Galilee landscape. Did the name have a biblical meaning? Did it refer to the town’s psalmic name? 

The view may be lovely but the stark reality is grim. We discovered that the lookout is part of a memorial to Sergeant Major Nimrod (‘Nimrodi’) Segev  who was born in Rosh Pina in 1977 but died during the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Nimrod.Segev

Segev, aged 28  had been on reserve duty as a ‘loader’ in a Merkava tank when it was hit by a missile. The entire crew was killed outright.

But the story continues. While gazing at the  panorama, we talked to other visitors. First, a young couple still serving in the Israeli military. The man was in the  I.D.F. and his girlfriend was a naval officer.

We learned a little about where they lived and their families but as we wished them well and said ‘goodbye’,  an older man arrived who gazed almost  desperately at the scene that we had so-enjoyed.

By startling coincidence, our new acquaintance was  Chezi Segev – Nimrod’s father – who now plays an important role in The One Family Fund, a mutual self-help group of bereaved parents who have lost children to terrorism and war. A most splendid ‘cornerstone’ indeed.

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Another remarkable town is Bethlehem Haglilit, near Nazareth. Some historians suggest it is the true birthplace of Jesus while others say it may have been a cradle of rabbinical Judaism. Bethlehem.Haglilit.02

Whatever the truth, it became Christianised, first during the  Crusades and then when it became a Templar colony in the early 1900s after members of Haifa’s German Colony settled there.

Nazi.Rally.ESRA outing 2-2-2012 013.

Most Templars had German citizenship and modern visitors to the town are shocked to learn that during the 1930s some joined the Nazi Party.The picture (left) of the Nazi parade may be viewed now in the local museum situated on the ground floor of the house owned by a tourist guide.

But what happened to these people? After World War II began, Germans in Mandate Palestine were regarded as enemy aliens and they were interned before being released for resettlement in Australia during 1941.

For those with time to ponder, there is an elegant, modern house at the far end of the main street which appears to be an official residence of the Slovenian Consul in Israel. I find this odd as the state’s embassy is in Tel Aviv while the consulate is housed in Haifa. Perhaps someone can explain the arrangement.

Also of great interest is the nearby Jezreel Valley Railway, (Rakevet Ha-Emek), originally a British project  which had failed due to lack of money and  was then adopted by the Turks who saw it as a chance to annex the planned Haifa-Damascus line to the Hijazi Railway, so strengthening their control in the area.

Visitors may conclude their trip at the Zithershpieler Family’s Herb and Spice Farm where medicinal plants and herbs are produced and sold alongside cheeses and other goods at a shop open to the public. There is also an attractive restaurant on site.

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Amirim.Sunset.07My final recommendation is the village of Amirim – a ‘must see’ for all committed vegetarians - and so near to Lake Kinneret (‘The Sea of Galilee’)  that on an evening like the one on which we last visited, it seemed near enough for us to stretch our legs and dabble our toes in the water!

The village, barely 12 miles from where we live in Karmiel, was established as a vegetarian-vegan  retreat in 1958.  The founders now say ruefully: “Long years of hard labour, patience and much investment brought Amirim to its present appearance.”

But their ‘labour of love’ has borne fruit as the village is as enchantingly pretty as its surroundings whose terrain is wonderfully reminiscent of England’s Lake District. The advantage is that bad weather is confined to the winter and visitors may arrange a summer trip without fear of rain!

Two of the best views here are Mitzpeh Kinneret and Mitzpeh Menachem with benches for those wishing to sit to enjoy the panorama. Moreover, Mitzpeh Kinneret is the venue for light classical and folk concerts held before the Sabbath during the summer.

If you choose not to stay in the village but wish to dine there, there are several excellent restaurants. Dalia’s, which is on the main street and the oldest eatery in the village, has my personal recommendation. The owner, Dalia Cohen, has been cooking her simple, tasty fare there for about 25 years. She is an astute businesswoman as well as an excellent hostess as she invites guests to linger over dessert and coffee on the restaurant balcony which affords an idyllic view of the lake and mountains. Absolutely delicious!

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