Our first official day in Israel included various nature and archeological visits around the North of the country. Our first stop was a nature walk to Tel Dan which is an ancient sanctuary site that Jews in the north visited instead of needing to travel all the way to Jerusalem. It was so incredible to see such an ancient site of worship, especially because it was surrounded with such natural beauty. The walk around this nature site was gorgeous as well; normally when I hike I power through and try to get a good workout, but because I was with a group I was forced to slow down and really take in my surroundings. It was lovely to be reminded of the beauty in everything- every leaf, twig, bug, and breeze.
Our next stop in the North took us to the Golan Heights, which is a region between Israel and Syria that has been the site of extensive turmoil and dispute because it is a border zone. We got to experience the no-mans-land terrain in rugged off-roading jeeps which was definitely an in depth experience in the Israeli nature. All throughout the Golan were Eucalyptus trees, and being from California I took notice because as we learned these trees are native to Australia. Our jeep guide explained that the Eucalyptus trees had originally been brought to Israel because they soak up a lot of water and there was a need to develop the swamp land in the North of the country into fertile farming land. Eventually, the Eucalyptus trees had been used as ground cover for roads, sniper positions, and bunkers to better camoflague the army’s border infrastructure.
We got an even closer look at this while visiting an army bunker at the top of the Golan Heights at Mount Bental, where we could also see the Syrian boarder and local Syrian towns below. From that point we also had an incredible view of Mount Herman which is Israel’s only ski area as well as the border with Lebanon. Crazily enough, we were also close enough to Damascus to hear bombings and gunfire from the civil war that is currently going on there, although we felt very secure because of the strength of the Israeli Defense Force and its handle on the borders.
Once back at the hotel, we had a group outing down at the beach of the Kinneret, which was calming and beautiful. As the sun set over the Sea of Galilee we reflected on our experiences so far, made resolutions for the upcoming year, and dazzled at the lights of nearby Tiberias. We brought our day- and the year- to a close at a huge New Year’s party complete with drinks and dancing the night away. For once, I was able to cheers to “next year in Jerusalem” and actually mean it!