Israel's Good Name

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Industry in the Galilee Panhandle

In Galilee, Israel on May 21, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Sunday the 20th of May was a big and important day. For all of us in Israel, Sunday marked “Yom Yerushalayim” – a day celebrating our re-conquering of the Jordanian-occupied Jerusalem back in 1967 – and less importantly, it was the day we took a trip to the Galilee Panhandle. The sole purpose of our trip (“our” being my parents and I) was to procure some shoes at the Naot factory store. However, thanks to some advertising cards we found, our trip was expanded to a full-blown day of exploration. First, the factory:

Teva Naot factory

It was a lovely day and the shoe selections were also good. I was not looking for shoes so I browsed and then took my browsing skills outside. I wanted to look inside the factory but only one door was open. The entry was filled with boxes so there wasn’t much to see. I decided to play it sneaky and followed a forklift. He headed for the other entrance, one blocked with those thick plastic flaps, and I attempted to get a picture. My efforts weren’t really paid off so I had to slip my camera between the flaps and take a discreet photograph, “point-and-shoot” at it’s truest form. Not a great shot but here it is:

Sneaky picture of the factory floor

What makes this humble factory so interesting is that Teva Naot is Israel’s biggest exporter. Making over a million pairs of shoes every year, some 3,000 every day, with sales in over 6,000 locations around the world it is a fair chance that you have footwear from this very factory. Teva Naot’s product line includes the iconic Teva sandals, Naot shoes (very similar to Birkenstock) as well as Source sandals – very popular in Israel. Tons of people make their way up north to shop in the factory store, including us. But our adventures didn’t stop at the Teva Naot complex, after we bought the shoes we needed we picked up some advertising cards and saw two interesting sites that were in our return journey’s path. The first one was the low-key Derech HaTavlinim (Spice Trail) store:

The spice store

When we entered the store we were greeted by lovely smells and began to look around. We were handed a basket and a marker to properly label the spices we were to pick out. With over 200 types of spices and blends, there was much to see. Some of the most interesting products included the “schwarma” made out of apricot paste and walnuts. The girl behind the counter shaved off some for us to try – I didn’t fancy it too much.

Apricot and walnut ”schwarma”

The halva beside the “schwarma” was magnificent – all four varieties: chocolate chip, coffee, vanilla and pistachio. One of the workers approached us with little cups of apple cinnamon tea which smelled delicious. Here is the rest of the tea, just look at those little cubes of dried apple:

Tea for the customers

From the hawaij to the Sicilian onions mix to the assorted fruity teas, there was so much to see, so much to smell. The first thing I sampled from the stock was this very unique black sea salt:

Black sea salt

There was also lemon sea salt and smoked sea salt but the black one was the weirdest to eat. As I stood there I imagined I was eating coal and that amused me. After more tea was drunken and more halva was sampled, we gathered up our purchases and headed out. Our next stop was the Meister Vineyards, of Rosh Pina. As we left the highway and maneuvered through the dirt roads that skirted the vineyard, we approached an interesting cluster of building and equipment. This huge dog was standing guard and greeted us peacefully:


We looked around but the only signs of life were of the canine variety. Apparently they closed prior to our arrival so we had no choice but to turn back. But all was not lost, upon crossing the bridge that connects the vastly different Upper Galilee and Galilee Panhandle, we stopped the car and got out for a look. Here it is, the beautiful Kinneret with the mountains and trees surrounding it:

Looking down at the Kinneret

And here is the bridge behind us:

The bridge that spans a change in the land

And of course, a panoramic of the beauty (click to enlarge):

From the golden hills of the Panhandle to the forest near Tzfat

An adventure well done!

Kibbutz Degania

In Galilee, Israel on May 7, 2012 at 4:02 PM

Continuing with the adventures of May 3rd, following a few hours spent at the Hamat Gader resort, this post focuses on Israel’s first kibbutz, Degania. Founded in 1910, the kibbutz celebrated its 100 year anniversary just two years ago. That was the year I first visited Degania, on a Yeshiva trip. So I returned to cover it for Tourist Israel and to catch up on my lacking historical knowledge in regards to the early days of Israel’s rebirth. Here is the first house of Kibbutz Degania where everyone lived together in the early 1910s:

The original first house

My adventures first started at the Gordon House museum where I was greeted with locked doors and nobody around (kind of like a “Twilight Zone” episode). I read online that the museum was open until 3 PM but that website was last updated in 2001 so the information was outdated. I was crushed and decided to find someone who could open the museum for me, at least for a few minutes. At last I found living people and I asked them for help. They gave me a phone number to call and after a confusing conversation the woman agreed to come open the museum for me. I explained that I was a journalist and she gave me a tour, and didn’t even charge me admittance.

One of the Gordon House museum buildings

The most interesting of the three separate exhibitions of the Gordon House was the Natural History exhibit. The others were the History of Kibbutz Degania and the Ancient History of the Lower Kinneret Area. In the Natural History exhibit there are tons of stuffed and preserved animals ranging from birds to snakes and to a leopard skin that once belonged to a leopard which was killed nearby after eating one of local’s sheep. Here is a diorama of the wildlife found in the Lower Kinneret area:

Kinneret diorama

We continued on through the exhibitions, going from building to building. There were all sorts of interesting pictures from the early days when they worked the fields and had guards riding around on donkeys or horses to protect the workers and the crops. At first, in the earliest stage, the kibbutz was just a large house where everyone lived in together (some 10 people or so), a series of small building holding sheep, cows, chickens, supplies and a blacksmith workshop all build in a square and enclosed by a wall and then there was the dining room and kitchen in a separate building. The kitchen area is now converted into another small museum which just covers the history of Degania. Here is an old photo of the early settlers building the stables and cowshed:

Building the stables and cowshed back in the early 1910s

Today, the main house is now an office of sorts (all I saw was lots of paperwork) and the other building which once hosted livestock now contain various other offices and even a nice light restaurant. I had a few minutes until I had to find my bus out on the main road so I went in and bought a Coke, in a glass bottle. I sat outside and sipped, batting flies away as I listened to two couples (one local, one tourists from Spain) and their cheery banter. It was a lovely place to sit and relax and I was reluctant to leave. But the bus waits for no man so I gathered up my belongings and bid farewell. On my way out of the kibbutz I took this picture, the old farm equipment which once conquered the land now rests on display, the would-be rusty parts now decorated with paint:

Old farm machinery

I then exited the kibbutz and sat down at the bus stop across the road. It was a hot afternoon and the flies seemed to swarm relentlessly. The cars and trucks whizzed by and a young corporal sat down across from me, her large suitcase gleaming in the sun. I asked her if she too was headed for Teverya (Tiberias) and she was. Her reply was in English and before long I was privy to the facts that she was Canadian, a lone soldier and living here in Kibbutz Degania, not far from the original “plaza.”  Eventually our bus came and we parted ways, I headed for Tzfat and she for her army base down in the Negev. It was a long and quite enjoyable day but I was pleased to finally arrive home.

Hamat Gader

In Golan, Israel on May 6, 2012 at 11:44 AM

The morning of May 3rd started at 4:45 AM for me. I was to embark on a trip to the far side of the Kinneret (also known as Sea of Galilee) for some fun in Hamat Gader and Degania, covering them for Tourist Israel. Hamat Gader, the subject of this post, is a remarkable place encompassing thermo-mineral springs, a crocodile farm, parrot shows and other interesting attractions. After travelling to and through Tzfat and Teverya (Tiberias), using three separate bus companies, I finally made it to Hamat Gader. It was just about 10:00 AM and I headed straight for the crocodile farm.

American Alligator

But before the crocodiles, alligators and the endangered Indian gharial were in view, a small petting zoo and mini wildlife preserve were to be seen. I browsed through the selection, giving each species a minute of my time. From the olive baboons to the meerkats, from the small herd of Indian axis deer (chital) to the 8-metre/26-foot long reticulated python named Monica, I saw them all. There were even some hideous Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which hiss by forcing gas through breathing pores in their bodies, for those that find them to be interesting (not me). I made a mental note to be in the vicinity for the parrot performances which were called for 11:00. Then I found the alligators and crocodiles. They were tons of them, about 200 in all if the listed numbers are correct. Hamat Gader has the largest crocodile farm in all of the Middle East (I guess that Egypt is either considered Africa or they don’t keep farms).

Alligators sunning

After exploring the whole crocodile farm, from the segregated areas for the young Nile crocodiles to the wide open areas for the grown-up alligators (above), I made my way through the small aviary and to the parrot show. The music was too loud but the show was entertaining. The trainer introduced the parrots, macaws and whatever else they were to us and they performed various tricks. It was hard getting good pictures of the parrots at work but here is one of a macaw riding a tricycle:

Macaw riding a tricycle

The tricks were more interesting than the parrots speaking which, to be honest, sounded pretty bad through the mic, but the show was a fun 15 minutes of parrot antics. After the show I meandered around, taking a few pictures of the partially collapsed Roman amphitheatre and the picnic grounds with the lovely blooming flora. From there I headed to the highlight of the attraction, the hot thermal springs. The Hamat Gader resort is situated in a little valley between the Golan mountains and Jordan’s mountains over the Syrian-African rift where a volcanic history has developed into a whole bunch of hot mineral springs which gush an outstanding 600 cubic metres of water every hour. These springs have been exploited since Roman times when they too created a resort of such as can be seen today on the way to the springs:

Ruins of the Roman hot springs

The springs itself are divided up into a bunch of separate pools, some in the sun, some shaded and some indoors. When I got a locker and put on my bathing shorts I headed first for the indoor one. It was so hot I couldn’t believe people actually liked going in. I’m not sure, the water is either 42 or 52 degrees Celsius (108 or 125 degrees Farenheit) – either way, there was a warning on the wall not to exceed ten minutes in the water at once. I stayed about seven and then fled (is that what lobsters feel like?). The outdoor sunny pool was a cooler temperature but still a hot thermal spring. I eventually made my way to the shaded section and sat comfortably with one of the jets attacking my back. For those who have never been around thermal springs, they smell really strange (borderline bad) but eventually I got used to the odor. I didn’t really get a good photo of the pools so I had to find this one on Flickr, I know its a nighttime shot but it still gives an accurate description of the area.

Hamat Gader thermal pool at night (courtesy of InfinitelyDigital on Flickr)

After enough soaking in the hot thermal waters I walked on over to the “Splash” pool, taking an interestingly placed elevator. The most noticeable part of the “Splash” pool in the huge blue waterslide. I read the sign, removed my glasses and began to ascend. The lifeguard asked me if I swim and I assured him that I do. When I got to the top of the 30-foot (or more) slide I braced myself and plunged into the dark tunnel, the water rapidly propelling me downward. At first it was fun but then I went sailing into the air. I couldn’t imagine why I’d be sailing in a tunnel but when I landed I was in a circular watery funnel, trying my best to first breathe and then position myself for the inevitable drop, or “Splash.” But I didn’t have enough time to position myself and I was unceremoniously dumped into the deep water pit. The whole latter part of the ride took me off-guard so I must have looked like an idiot as I surfaced and tried to make my way out. I asked the lifeguard if I looked like an idiot and he said “Yes.” Jeez.

“Splash” water slide

I could have gone on again, now knowing what was to be, but once was enough and I languished in the shallows as other people plummeted down the slide. Once I had seen all and done all in the Hamat Gader resort I was ready to move onwards, to my next location, Kibbutz Degania. But no, I was stranded until the bus was to leave so I loitered about, fully dressed and drying. When the bus finally did leave Hamat Gader I sat across from some soldiers. With help from one of the soldiers I learned that what we were looking at out our windows was, in fact, Jordan. When I then saw a Jordanian van driving along their border road an odd feeling struck me. Here we are, two wildly different nations and yet we drive side-by-side with just a barbed wire fence between us… and even after so many wars between Israel and Jordan, here we are now, at peace and just living our lives, each and every one of us. It was a slightly profound moment, but I was awoken from my reverie as the bus stopped at Kibbutz Degania.

Snapshot of Jordan from the bus window

To be continued…