Servas Israel Tour – Fantastic

It was a wonderful, whirlwind tour of the country hosted by Servas Israel.  Barry and I (and John) have been Servas travelers and hosts since 2002, and many of our best experiences involve visiting with Servas members.

However, the Servas Israel Christmas Tour was beyond our normal experience of staying with people we didn’t know and learning of their lives.  “Servas home stays,” says the website, “provide insight into the political, cultural and social realities that face people of diverse cultures and backgrounds around the world.”  Go to -(https://www.usservas.org/Membership/).  On this tour opportunity, not only did we stay with local families but we were also guided around Israel by people who live there.

We did much and saw much, but it is only now that I’m reporting since I’ve had trouble retrieving my photos and only now are we back home.  So here is an overview of the highlights of the first part of that fabulous 10-day tour.

On December 22, 2014, we started our Israel Servas Tour with an evening gathering in Jerusalem.     Other Servas travelers were from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Germany, Italy,  India, the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.  Surprisingly, Barry and I were  the only ones from the U.S.

Claudia - our wonderful Servas Israel leader.

Claudia – our wonderful Serves Israel leader.

Servas members from Poland in the front, from Germany behind.

Servas members from Poland in the front, from Germany behind.

Even a lovely couple from Belarus xx were able to participate.

A lovely Servas couple from Belarus–Angelika and Sasha.

The people on the tour were varied and interesting.  One Servas woman whom I was sure was from the UK because of her accent and manner is actually from Sweden.  She says that she’s always been an Anglophile :).  I’d never meet anyone from Belarus – and there were two!  One woman is a flamenco dancer; one young couple have built a community center; one had written a book about his studies abroad.  Everyone was open and friendly.  We got to meet not only Israelis but also others from around the world.

Maria xxx and Roselee xx from xx were the first to introduce their country.

Anna Maria and Rosellee were the first to introduce their country – Italy..

Day 2 – Tuesday – 23 December 2014   Guided Tour to Kibbutz Kfar Masarik – Akko – Haifa We had a really full day starting off at 7:30 a.m. at  Kfar Masarik, one of the first kibbutz – started even before the creation of Israel.  Located in the western Galilee, Kfar Masarik was founded by Czechoslovakian and Lithuanian immigrants in 1932.  In 1937, they were joined by Polish immigrants.  Despite opposition from those who reasoned that the sandy soil could not support agriculture, the kibbutz grew, and  in 1940, the kibbutz moved to its present site and was renamed Kfar Masaryk after Tomás Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia.

Maria from Poland and xxx from India - Servas members.

Maria from Poland and Sudhir Kuman from India – Servas members.

The kibbutz post office - with our guide and xxx from xxx

The kibbutz post office – with our guide and Brigitte from Germany.

Kibutz preschoolers.

Kibutz preschoolers.

Kibbutz nursery.  No longer do children spend most of their time away from their parents.

Kibbutz nursery. No longer do children spend most of their time away from their parents.

Our Servas hosts in Kfar Masaryk, Haim and Avraham  told us about the kibbutz: The First and Second Aliyah (immigration wave), the situation in the country and in Europe at the time and the establishment of a pioneering settlement outside the main urban centers of the time, including the many difficulties involved.

The big beautiful trees give the kibbutz a park-like setting that must be quite a change when they started here in 1940.

The big beautiful trees give the kibbutz a park-like setting that must be quite a change when they started here in 1940.

They noted the social structure of the kibbutz work – of sharing and equality, the difficulties in everyday life — family split apart from children, laundry services, dining, clothing, and various members’ decisions.  The guides also said a few words about the present privatization, which is happening with most of the surviving kibbutz in Israel today.

Olga & Svetlana, Servas members from St. Petersburg, Russia.

At the kibbutz, Olga & Svetlana A., Servas members from St. Petersburg, Russia.

10:00 – Our guided tour in Acre (aka Akko) started at an elaborate Tunisian synagogue where we learned basic concepts of Judaism. The mosaic motifs on the walls represent an integrated Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Zionism in a unique place.

The Tunisian xxx

The Tunisian Djerba Synagogue.

While many synagogues are in humble buildings, the Tunisian Djellaba Synagogue in Akko is the only one of its kind in the world; all four stories, within and without, display spectacular mosaics (from Kibbutz Eilon).

The wall, floors, and even ceiling were of mosaics1

The wall, floors, and even ceiling are mosaics!

Angels ??

Biblical scenes.

Biblical stories in mosaics.

Biblical stories in mosaics.

Wall of a study room in the Tunisian synagogue.

Wall of a study room in the Tunisian synagogue.

Outside the Acre walls - with Servas Israel Tour members.

Outside the Acre walls – with Servas Israel Tour members: Manda from Sweden, Kashi Liel from India, Svetlana P. from Russia, and  Sudeshna and Tarit from India.

The Land Gate - Akra

The Land Gate – Acre

Servas Tour members at Acra

Servas Tour members at Acre/Akko.

As we toured Acre/Akko, we learned about its significance during the Crusades, Arab and Turkish periods until today. We  visited the fortress walls, went inside the local ruler’s fortress, remotely viewing the Knights Halls.

Maria and Tomas from Poland                  Maria and Tomasz from Poland and, facing the camera, Imelda from Germany.

On the Eastern Wall rampart.

On the Eastern Wall rampart – Angelika from Belarus is in the foreground.

Stephen ?

Stepan – from the Czech Republic.

Acre Citadel - The Knights Hall

Acre Citadel – The Knights Hall

Regrouping before lunch.

Regrouping before lunch – Marilyn from the U.K. in the foreground

Located directly under the city built above it, a perfectly preserved Crusader city is being unearthed and brought back to life in Akko.

The Old City of Akko is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The walls and fortresses, knights’ halls, churches, synagogues, and mosques are all reminders of the city’s conquerors and religions, from the Canaanites and Romans to the Crusaders, Turks, and British.

12:30 Midday break – lunch at a local eastern restaurant/eatery.

A typical meal - lots of salads and choices - yum!

A typical meal – lots of salads and choices – yum!

Then we got to wander through the Acre markets.

Acre market.

Acre market.

Barry & me - and lots of fish in the Acre market.

Barry & me – and lots of fish in the Acre market.

Shopper

Shopper

Dresses for sale.

Dresses for sale.

Bakalava xxx

Baklava – of all kinds!

Shoppers

Shoppers

Lines for popular restaurants.

Line for a popular restaurant.

Acre shoppers and our Servas group.

Acre shoppers and our Servas group.

Cool Acre walkways.

Ancient Acre walkways.

A wall of Acre (Akka xx)

A wall of Acre (Akko)

Ancient Acre sea wall

Ancient Acre sea wall

The Akko Port was first mentioned in relation to the Greek campaign to conquer Egypt in 527-525 BC.

The port had been built during the reign of Ptolemais II (285-246 BC), transforming Akko into an international port city and the gateway to Israel.  It reached its zenith during the conquest by the Crusaders.  In the 13th Century, Akko became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom in the Holy Land.  After the Ottoman conquest, the port was neglected, reduced to a fisherman’s harbor.

Acre sea wall - now a good spot for fishing.

Acre sea wall – now a good spot for fishing.

The 1269 sermon encouraged a Jewish congregation to make Israel its home xxx.

In 1269, a rabbi encouraged his Jewish congregation to make Israel its home.

St. John the Baptist Church - built in 1737 xxx on the site of St. Andrews Cxx

St. John the Baptist Church – built in 1737  on the site of  the Crusader Church of St. Andrews.

Akkra zzz lifeguard?

Akko  lifeguard?

M and S? - from Germany?

Anna and Thomas from Germany.

Beauty in even a gate.

Beauty and history everywhere – even in a gate.

The old wall; the new city.

The old wall; the new city.

During the British Mandate, the Akko Fortress served as the main prison in the north of the country.  Prisoners included hundreds of members of the underground movements: the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi.  The Underground Prisoners Museum in Akko has a new exhibit describing reasons for incarceration, daily prison life, the  Akko Prison breakout, and the story of the Olei Hagardon (those hanged on the gallows).

xx from India

Sudhir Kuman from India

Juice bar!

Fresh juice bar!

Those who live in the old area - especially the Arabs - will not sell their property at any price.

Those who live in the old city – especially the Arabs – will not sell their property at any price.

View from above the Ba'hai Temple in Haifa to the port.

View from above the Baha’i Temple in Haifa to the port.

Then we drove for about an hour to reach  downtown Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, third largest in the country, with about 600,000 residents in the area, and home to the Bahá’í World Centre (another UNESCO World Heritage Site).

The beautiful grounds of the Baha'i Temple in Haifa.

The beautiful grounds of the Baha’i Temple in Haifa.

The history of the city spans more than 3,000 years.

Haifa has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs,  Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis.

Today, Haifa is a major seaport on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and plays an important role in the economy.   It is also home to one of the oldest and largest high-tech parks in the country. Haifa Bay is a center of heavy industry, petroleum refining and chemical processing.  Formerly it was the western terminus of an oil  pipeline from Iraq via Jordan.

Downtown Haifa connects the past and the present and points to the future.  Our Servas guides noted historical factors that affect the status of Haifa as the northern province and industrial and logistics center.  The cultural fabric of life of Arabs and Jews in Haifa points to a possible realization of future peace for other places in Israel.

Then, instead of joining the other Servas members at Castra – the modern center that combines a shopping and art center, Barry and I finished the eventful day by going with our Servas hosts’, Shoshana & Shmuel, to their daughter’s home for Hanukkah donuts and celebration.

Getting ready to light the Hanukkah candles.

Getting ready to light the Hanukkah candles.

Lighting Hanakkah candles! xx

Lighting Hanukkah candles!

Barry getting tips from XShashonna xxx - the queen of donut making.

Barry (I hope) getting tips from Shoshana – the queen of donut making.

Shoshana's daughter and granddaughter make the donuts too.

Shoshana’s daughter and granddaughter help make the donuts too.

Shmuel, me, Barry, and Shoshana eating Hanakkah donuts. xx

Shmuel, me, Barry, and Shoshana with the rest of the family – eating Hanukkah donuts.

I couldn’t eat  just one 🙂 !

It was a wonderful way to end a varied and interesting day.

The following days would be terrific too.

Shalom and aloha,

Renée

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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