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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Then we got to wander through the Acre markets.
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.
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).
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 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.
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,