Chocolate, Love, Olives and Lemons
I love the land of Israel. I only wish that in this land, there could be more straight roads.
It was about the sixth day of our tour of Israel. We had left sacred Jerusalem for a tour of the more secular, serene northern region of Israel, full of fields, mountains and seaside scenery.
After a morning jeep ride, our family got back in our minibus and we began our long and winding climb climb climb to the top of Mount BenTal, one of the highest points of Israel. Here, there is a lookout point where Israelis fought the biggest tank battle against invading Syrian armies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Thank you to Jewish Virtual Library for this source of information:
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Mount Bental was the site of one of the largest tank battles in history. Mount Bental is a key strategic point for Israel due to its advantageous observation point. Israel knew it count not risk losing this mountain, nor any of the Golan Heights . The Syrians attacked the Golan with 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces. Israel countered with only 160 tanks and 60 artillery pieces. The long stretch of valley in between Mount Bental and Mount Hermon became known as the Valley of Tears. The 100 Israeli tanks were reduced to seven under extreme enemy fire. However, the Israelis managed to take down 600 Syrian tanks in the process. The Syrians eventually retreated, but not without inflicting heavy casualties on Israel.
In the backdrop of all this very recent history, mount Bental is also a great place to have lunch.
High atop on Mount Bental is Cafe Annan (anan means cloud in Hebrew). A great play on words, Israel’s highest restaurant is named after the former UN Secretary General.
There, we were treated to steaming bowls of sweet potato soup, salads, tuna and grilled mozzarella sandwiches, bagels, and great cups of hot coffee.
Afterwards, we walked among the bunkers where Israeli troops fought off invading Syrian army during the Yom Kippur War.
The mountaintop also affords a great view of Har Hermon, blessed this winter with snow:
And right into Syria. Damascus is only 60 kilometers away.
My son the Bar Mitzvah boy was nearly eaten by a rusting metallic giant insect, made out of scrap metal from leftover Syrian tanks:
Then, we boarded the bus and went down the winding road to our next stop, the de Karina Chocolate Factory. A small factory created by Argentinian immigrants, de Karina specializes in micro batches of different kinds of confections we all had an opportunity to taste and then make our own chocolates in a workshop. We all had fun getting our hands dirty, except for my dad. My dad doesn’t even like to get his hands dirty eating french fries or barbecued chicken. He can dissect every piece of meat from a chicken breast like a steely surgeon. So you can see the disgust on his face when we all were up to our elbows in melted chocolate:
I however, didn’t mind in the least:
As we were waiting for our chocolate creations to cool, we had a chat with our chocolatier guide, Sigi. When he found out my in-laws were from Long Island, his face lit up:
“Are you near Syosset? That’s where my girlfriend lives!” exclaimed Sigi with a big grin.
“How do you know a girl from Syosset?” We asked.
“I met her when she came on birthright trip when I was still in the army!”
A match made through birthright. My heart melted like chocolate.
Then, it was onto another winding road to an Olive Oil Factory in the Katzrim village. Israel has no shortage of Olives. Groves of olives are everywhere. As it happens, we were in Israel the very week of Chanukkah, when we celebrate the miracle of the olive oil that burned in the newly restored temple for eight days.
It was about the end of this tour that my day started going, well, downhill. I had already started feeling the effects from a day riding a jeep and riding through the winding hills of the Golan. I am sure that chocolate tasting and then olive oil sampling were not much help either.
On the winding way back to our hotel on Kibbutz Halavi, I tried to remember tips to ease motion sickness. Look to a still horizon. Don’t talk. Don’t move. Deep breaths.
Our driver had to pull over about twice for me. The second time was in the thick of the afternoon traffic rush in Tiberias. I lost sight of the horizon of the Sea of Galilee to the houses and buildings of this ancient and thriving town in Israel’s north. I also lost my lunch, chocolates and olive oil.
Our guide Vivi (have I told you yet about the incredible guide Vivi?) hopped off the bus and held back my hair as I puked into the street curb. I was completely humiliated and apologized for making the bus stop so much on account of my weak constitution.
“Aeyn Ba’ayah,” she said, no problem, in Hebrew.”This happens all the time, I’ve seen it all,” she said. Indeed, Vivi has 13 years of experience leading small and large tours through Israel.
Out of nowhere, our driver Eli also came to my aid and handed me a freshly-halved lemon. The lemon’s zingy scent was instantly refreshing and reminded me of how an Arab shopkeeper decades ago revived my brother on a hot August day in Jerusalem in 1982 with a lemon.
I guess Eli had this lemon stored away for this very occasion. Israeli guides and their drivers are prepared for anything and keep their tourists in very good hands.
I spend the rest of the drive sucking on the lemon, rubbing it on my forehead and inhaling its citrus aroma. And I felt much, much better.