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A Wintry Mix

Last Friday, after an overnight flight from Philadelphia, we arrived to an overcast sky in Tel Aviv and by the time we reached the Jerusalem hills the skies had darkened, the rain fell, and the windows were fogged up from the heat trapped inside the bus.

For those that had never been to Israel before, it probably felt surreal- a long transatlantic flight, a dark and rainy drive to a mystical destination, and a nighttime arrival in a place they’d never seen before. I’m sure you would excuse their disorientation and general sense of “where am I and what am I doing?”

Over dinner I tried to answer that question, making promises and assertions about how Jerusalem might make them feel, but I knew in my heart that the only way to really experience Jerusalem, or any place, is to get your feet on the ground and walk through it.

This is why, despite the jet lag and the fatigue, we set off at 8:30 for the Kotel, arriving 25 minutes later after a walk through an Old City bathed in darkness and light, with walls glowing the way only Jerusalem walls can glow, a soft yellow infused with a smoky, somewhat shimmering quality. Only when the blazing white lights of the Kotel replaced the understated glow of the Jerusalem stone did the night awaken and our eyes open to see some of Jerusalem’s dazzling beauty.

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The next day dawned with sunshine, and the city was reborn with optimism and brightness. The walks to synagogue, the stroll through Yemin Moshe, and the evening return to the Kotel all offered new perspectives on the city. The Jerusalem stone shone in the sunlight and, far away to the east, the horizon offered views of distant mountains beyond Mount Scopus. Compared to a Friday night that was shrouded in darkness, Saturday was a sun-drenched tapestry of Jerusalem’s many colors.

The changing weather and light of our Jerusalem Shabbat was an omen of things to come. Our Sunday walk to the Israel Museum and the shuk offered a full spectrum of light and shadow, with the day beginning under sunny, 60-degree skies, and ending with a chilling drizzle for the second part of our walk. A long, slow, traffic-filled drive to Haifa did little to sharpen our senses. We again arrived in a new place under cover of darkness, climbing a steep mountain with little sense of where we were going, with kids going to a new place with no visual context. Nevertheless, our arrival “home” in Haifa was joyous and warm, as our hosts welcomed us with open arms.

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On Monday we were again offered a stunning array of visual experiences. We drove across the Galilee under cloudy skies, traversed the Jezreel Valley as the sun peeked through to illuminate the fields near Meggido, and as we climbed the slopes of Mount Gilboa we darted in and out of clouds and burst onto the ridge under sunny skies with air force fighters doing maneuvers above us. Not long after, our hike along the ridge was beset by a rolling fog that obscured the landscape just 100 yards in front of us, and not a few of us took panorama shots that had a trail of hikers disappearing into the mist ahead. That experience, followed by our three-hour descent of the mountain down the Wadi Yitzpon through thick mud, drizzle, sunshine, and the occasional grazing cow, was one that many of us will never forget.

Tuesday, we showed up under overcast skies at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and a freezing rain upon our arrival at Kikar HaMedina and the studios of TLV1.FM, but not one hour later we were spoiled with sunlight as we climbed the walls of Yafo and looked out onto Tel Aviv. Not long after that we strolled through the alleys and passageways of Shuk HaCarmel and Nachalat Binyamin under pleasant skies and comfortable temperatures. While we returned to Haifa with a chill in the air, the lights of the Carmel shone brightly under clear skies as we climbed the mountain on the way back to Reali.

Wednesday came with a morning downpour that cancelled our field experience and gave us a thrilling hour in the Yokneam Mall, but the weather did clear enough for the Reali-Kiryat Ono high school soccer championship game. We sat in the new Sammy Ofer Stadium at the entrance to Haifa, our section bedecked in Reali blue, as the guests from Kiryat Ono thrashed our hosts, but it was a lovely way to spend the early afternoon. A cold and windy tour of Wadi Nisnas and the upper end of the Bahai Gardens concluded the day.

Wind, rain, and perhaps snow all lie ahead as we enter the last stretch of the trip, but after what has seemed like a never-ending sequence of days ending in darkness and exhaustion, tomorrow our program will end at 3:30, and we will all get to experience Haifa in the daytime without the pressure of getting back to Reali or getting to the next destination. Hopefully the weather won’t be too bad.

Dealing with bad weather while traveling is always a challenge, but this group has met the challenge head on.  It’s a wonderful group of kids that hasn’t protested walking in rain or hiking through mud, and has pushed itself while tired, never saying “we can’t.” I’m sure that same spirit will make the coming days, and the long journey home, all the more memorable.

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