Northwestern Israel: Golan Heights, Galilee, and Tzfat

After just under 10 hours or as the flight attendant said in his broken English, “10 hours minus 10 minutes”, and I was back in Israel. Although I had been to Israel twice before I never felt that shock and awe when visiting a distant land. I always feel at home and as my family would like to describe it as way too comfortable. I got on the bus with the tour group and we headed up towards Afik in the Golan Heights where we would be staying in a Kibbutz.

My idea of a Kibbutz was a little more rugged compared to the place we actually stayed. The place we stayed, Kibbutz Afik, reminded me much more of a resort, with dining halls, a pool and a bar. Being a resort esque kibbutz the food was always solid which made eating clean here easy.

                            Kibbutz Afik: Not your ordinary Kibbutz

                            Kibbutz Afik: Not your ordinary Kibbutz

After a few getting to know you games and pleasantries we were excused for the evening. Being an adventurous night owl I wasn’t keen with sitting around the rooms watching other smoke cigarettes and chatting. I began exploring the premises and came across a group of guys having some drinks. They invited me over and shared some of their vodka with me. These guys called themselves Druze and I had never heard of anyone call themselves by this before. Apparently the Druze are an ethnoreligious, Arab speaking, group that have lived in the Levant for over a thousand years. We had some great times but after the foul breath, conversation that turned into shouting and language barrier I decided to retire back to my room.

First morning in Israel and low and behold I was up at 6 am putting together a meditation and a light workout. Not to blow smoke up my ass but I’ve never been a morning person and that fact that I was able to do this first day of travels was big for me. It really helped set the tone for the rest of my trip. I really felt that although this was a break from my normal routine, getting that hour of mindfulness and exercise really helped to shape my day. It does also help when you have MCT powder for you coffee every morning.

We took the bus out for a very scenic drive around the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. We proceeded to hike in and around the Hazbani River. There were much more water hikes then I had planned for and my Chuck Taylor’s prevailed every single time. After the hike we came to a kayak center where we rented kayaks and headed down the Jordan River. They asked us to abide by one rule and that was to have at least one male participant in the canoe because the current was strong. I initially thought this is just a backwards saying for the region and they want to keep us in big groups. However once we took off and I saw how little of paddling was needed and the amount of Arab man there were I soon understood the concerns of the tour coordinators. It was the last day of Eid and many Arabs were out celebrating the end of the holidays. The river was very vibrant and swollen with people of all ages.              

I was in a canoe with Jess, one of the coordinators, and Natalie a participant of the trip. I didn’t pick up on the real meaning of the rule until I jumped out of the canoe to swim for a while in the river. As soon as I got out of the raft, three guys tried to jump in the canoe with only two ladies inside. I jumped back in the raft and was able to keep two of the three guys from jumping into the raft. In by no means was this a negative confrontation. I simply explained with my very limited Arabic, “Khallas”, and our new friend, Ahmed, actually accompanied us for the rest of the ride down the river.

Now it was off to the DMZ between Israel and Syria. We went up to very high ridge with many surrounding military bases. Days before our arrival there were several mortars fired over from Syria, however these were not fired by the Syrian Government but rebels who had taken control of much of the borderland with Israel. We heard several loud explosions during our visit but I attributed that to IDF war games and not mortars or missiles.

Up here on the ridge the head tour guide Itia explained the history of the area and how it came into the hands of Israel. From the initial occupation by Israel in 1967 to 1973 when the Syrians took back a bit more land in the Yom Kippur War. After explaining the history, Itia asked us to notice the difference in vegetation lines. Israel’s side of the border was much greener and there were not just plenty of land being farmed but green houses as well. As you may have noticed Israel really prides itself on its drip irrigation system. I asked Itia, “’If maybe it had something to do with a Civil War going on the other side of the imaginary line or maybe that $3.8 billion dollars a year in defense funding , from the US, could play a role in a country having prosperous farm land or not? Because it had to divert fewer funds towards defense.” Itia went on about it the funding not being that much money but also how it is the responsibility of the leader of said country to make sure that to look after the best interest of its people.

                                   Once a machine gun turret in the Golan Heights 

                                   Once a machine gun turret in the Golan Heights 

The thing I did enjoy about this tour was the lectures and discussions. That night back on the Kibbutz the program brought in Israeli-British journalist to give us some insight on the geo-political situation in and around Israel today. There was heavy emphasis on the Israel and Palestine question. The lecture was great and I realized there was a lot I didn’t know and it seems that because this has been a process in the making for almost 50 years both sides are becoming very weary that an agreement will be reached.

The rest of the night consisted of some drinks at the bar drinks with the Druze and hanging out with other members of the tour. I really connected with a lot of the members of the tour that evening whether it was through pool or trolling.

                          A view from outside the Rabbi Amichai's office in Tsfat

                          A view from outside the Rabbi Amichai's office in Tsfat

5:55 a.m. and right back to the mat for some meditation however today I had a few others join me. It’s great seeing your positivity and good habits rub off on others. It’s even greater when people are commenting on your positive energy and smiles early in the morning. There was no coincidence then that we were headed to the holy mystical city of Tzfat where mysticism, Talmud, and kabbalah studies have taken place for over a millennium. Our first stop in the city was a sit down with Rabbi Amichai Cohen to get a deeper insight on Kabbalah.  The Rabbi got deep and I was truly impressed with the layers of life, science, religion, and spirituality he covered in his talk. I was so impressed that I diverged from the group on several occasions while in Tzfat in order to have a more in depth conversation with the Rabbi.

                                                 Me and Rabbi Amichai

                                                 Me and Rabbi Amichai

The rest of the day was attributed to art scene in Tzfat. We visited the studio of artist David Friedman and got to view all of his psychedelic, sacred geometry pieces. I ended up even buying one for a friend back home. The reason I know its psychedelic is because I asked David, “Which kind of hallucinogenic he takes?” and just as I suspected it was LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.

David Friedman's artwork

David Friedman's artwork

Now the artwork that didn’t need any psychedelics to be ingested to make because the text says it’s all was the biblical candles. Some pretty accurate descriptions of different Old Testament story’s like Noah’s Ark, with Winnie the Pooh and the Madagascar Penguins on board, as mentioned in the Bible, Sampson killing several Philistines with his bare hands and David decapitating Goliath.

                                                    Biblical candle pieces

                                                    Biblical candle pieces

The rest of the day was to grab lunch and wander around the streets of Tzfat to grab lunch and to take in the amazing location and architecture of this holy city. We eventually headed out to Tel Aviv where we spent the night at residence in Jaffa.

                                                           Tzfat

                                                           Tzfat

No, no, no the evening didn’t end just like that. Not on the road with Brandon. We headed up to the rooftop after dinner and bought about I’d say 30 beers to split amongst the 8 to 10 of us who were still drinking. Everything was kosher, or halal, until one of my friends on the trip started having a seizure. Luckily my buddy Max was an EMT and he was able to be with our friend through the entire seizure. This wasn’t just a shock to us but to our friend as well. He is a very healthy individual and never had a history of seizures ever. He spent the night in the hospital, was released, and was still able to join the rest of the trip. He’s doing so well that I received a snapchat of him on the toilet this morning.