March 29, 2013

Holiday of Freedom

Pesach is in in full force around the Jewish world. And here in Israel, the holiday ‘energy’ is palpable. In fact, I am always surprised by how everyone here has any energy left after spending so much time industriously cleaning their homes, shopping, then diligently preparing loads of food for this holiday.

Pesach is all encompassing: it is hinted at in the commercials for house cleaning products while cell phone companies offer unlimited mobile time on their pass over to our plan promos. And mah nishtanah becomes a regular radio jingle for selling insurance, mortgages and  hotel get aways.

Holiday is on the brain. All school children are on vacation, and many adults take off the week.  Shopkeepers tend to shut down and many restauranteurs, especially bakery owners, look forward to the one week they can happily hang a CLOSED sign in their windows.

And as soon as the Yom Tov is out and chol hamoed begins, people are packing their cars with sunscreen and strollers, bathing suits and barbecues, heading for forests, parks and beaches. Teens hitch on their backpacks and pitch tents along the Kinneret and on the Mediterranean. Packed flights land non-stop in Ben Gurion and tourists file out, filling the hotels from north to south.

We decided to take the path of nature, rising early and picking a hiking trail that was not on the regular top ten hikes. We desperately wanted to avoid crowds and actually feel as if we were in nature and not in a human zoo.

Our trail headed south from Highway 85 down to the Kinneret. This is part of the famous Yam le Yam Trail (Sea to Sea), which winds from the beaches of Nahariyya to the edge of the Kinneret. It is also a small piece of the incredible Israel Trail that stretches from the Eilat Mountains in the south to the Hermon at Israel’s northern tip.

We were up early. It was fresh and cool. Our hike followed a dry riverbed, winding through a valley that became a canyon with soaring rocks on either side. Swallows flitted out of dark caves that pocked the cliff face. Archeologists have found proof that Neanderthal man populated this 'hood some 150,000 years old. Wondering who in history had taken this same path was very sobering. We saw a huge chimney like structure butting out and now knew why this whole nature reserve was called Nahal Amud, Stream of the Column.

As the canyon gave way to meadows and the riverbed filled with cool water, we heard the shrieks of children.  Leaving our quiet sanctuary behind, we walked past orchards of flowering mangoes and lychees, groves of bananas, the bunches covered in large blue bags.

Suddenly we saw a turquoise glint. It was the Kinneret. We soon came out onto the highway and felt overwhelmed by the cars and packed buses that zoomed past.

We blinked then drew a deep breath, placing this into perspective. It was frantic, but it was all good. Here we are, celebrating Passover, the Holiday of Freedom, here in Eretz Israel. We shook off our dusty hiking boots and looked at the sparkling lake in front of us; freedom doesn't get better than this.

Chag Sameach!

March 14, 2013

Sheep Thrills

The Jerusalem Marathon was on Friday March 1st.  This third annual marathon attracted some 20,000 people from around the world (an incredible leap in growth, considering the first marathon brought a crowd of 6,000 runners). A few days after Purim, festivity was still in the air with runners turning up in superhero costumes and clown wigs.

There was the option to run a full marathon, a half marathon or a 10 km. run. I was signed up, along with my husband, older daughter and younger son, for the 10 km. run.

Arriving in Jerusalem on a chilly Friday morning, we made our way to the starting line. The atmosphere was festive with clowns, jugglers and wacky cartoon characters parading on stilts.  A disc jockey belted out encouragement in a feverish pitch while music thumped from speakers.  The end result? A pumped crowd of runners who were mingling, stretching, and, if you were me, spending a half hour in line at one of four johnny on the spots that served tens of thousands. Hmmm…poor planning?  While standing in line, fiercely guarding my spot, I heard a lot of English and hardly a word of Hebrew.

We split into groups depending on our projected finishing times. Since my optimistic husband was in charge of signing us up, he placed us in the ‘B’ group, which meant we felt we would finish the 10-km run in less than an hour. Less than one hour? I was surely in the ‘C’ or  ‘D’  categories. Was there a ‘Z’ option?

Heralded by brash music, the race began. We were such a large group, we started out at a crawl that turned into a speed walk. I was thankful for this as I often feel that my jogging is more akin to shuffling.

We sped up and as the group scattered, the vista opened, displaying the wide avenues of this magnificent city. We ran towards the old city walls, and across ancient cobblestones that have been polished by pounding feet for millennia. We ran right through the Jaffa gate near the shuk. I leaned my hand across the shiny old walls, feeling such gratitude;  I had the physical ability to run as well as the incredible opportunity to be in this holy, ancient and vibrant city. My daughter, who was running with a large group who had fund-raised for a charity, later told me she cried when she entered the city gates.

We ran with ‘seeing’ runners attached to blind runners wearing wristbands. I ran past young men pushing disabled children in wheelchairs.  I ran up and up and up those twisting Jerusalem hills and then flew down, receiving encouragement every step of the way. People lined the streets offering high fives, they leaned over balconies, called out from bicycles and looked up from newspapers in outdoor cafes.

At one point, four confused sheep joined the crowd. I am not sure where their shepherd was, but they saw a crowd and since they are sheep, they instinctively joined us, refusing to leave the stampede. I ran behind them for a while, laughing aloud and watching the grins on people’s faces as they saw them. Only in Jerusalem. Where were the camels?

At the seven-kilometer point, the chatter died down and people entered into a quiet solitude, focusing on their stamina internally. The pounding of feet and beating of hearts kept me going. And on we ran until the finish line. I waited at there to watch others runners end, feeling their glee each time someone new crossed the line.

Here is some interesting information I gleaned from this race:
A 63 year-old-man ran, competed here. It was his 52nd marathon.
A 64-year-old Australian ran barefoot. “It feels like the most natural thing,” he explained.
A runner from Tokyo just celebrated his 86th birthday. He could not be missed as he was running in a pink cape with a brown teddy bear tied behind.

The top winners were all from Ethiopia. Two Ethiopian female runners used this race as an opportunity to run away from their country, disappearing in the crowds never to be seen again.

There was also a prize for the full marathon winner who came in last. The “Determination and Perseverance Cup went to a 19-year-old soldier who finished in six and a half hours.

I was so impressed by one young athlete accompanying runners who looked tired or challenged, ensuring they made it to the end. He ran back and forth over and over again, offering encouragement and bringing a hopeful grin to each person’s face. 

This was a run that inspired unity. The day was not about speed or fashion, rather it was about achieving personal best in one of the world’s most spiritual places.

Here's a youtube video we made to capture the energy of this race.

March 5, 2013

Let My RV Go! Hits The Road

March is here and my novel has just been released. Let My RV Go! finally pulled out of its parking spot and has hit the road. It is out there but as I have no road map, I do not know where it will be heading.

There have been sightings in Jerusalem bookstores and here in Ra’anana. Nothing yet in Toronto or New York, but I so hope it will make an appearance in North America.

Writing and publishing this book has been a learning experience and I feel challenged at every turn. I strive to deal with this positively and know this will cause me to grow both as a person and a writer. 

Nonetheless, I am very happy that my once unwieldy manuscript is now housed in a fresh book complete with a sweet just-off-the-press smell and an enticing cover. (I used to work at a book store and loved the experience of cutting open a carton and pulling out freshly printed books.) 

I am also now part of the ebook world. Let My Rv Go! is a NookBook on Barnes & Noble and a Kindle book on Amazon–and I don’t even own an e-reader! I even opened a Facebook page. This in itself was a feat as I once aspired to be one of the few remaining people on this planet without a Facebook account. And guess what? I like my facebook page and I hope you will Like it too!

Check out the book. It is a great read for Passover. As it says on the cover, “Ever had Passover in an RV? Hop aboard and celebrate with a twist.”