Friday, March 16, 2012

Sound the Trumpeldor!

Shalom, chaverim! All's well here in ever-increasingly sunny Nahariya. I even moved my long underwear into a not-so-easily accessible drawer, which says a great deal about my hope about the future. Who cares whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full, when you can really make a statement with a shift of your lingerie?

It's been a little hectic lately, what with Purim being a four-day national party and all.  And if giving new immigrants five months of free Hebrew language classes wasn't enough, last week Ulpan Nahariya also laid on a free field trip for us. Becoming a fully integrated Israeli citizen involves not only learning Hebrew, but also learning about Israeli history and culture.  As it happened, a couple of days before the Purim break was the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of Joseph Trumpeldor, a national hero.

We started our journey in style. Only seventeen of us were on this very swish bus!

Our field trip took us to Tel Hai, way up high in the Upper Galilee, right next to the Lebanese border but much further north than Nahariya. Tel Hai is a kind of little place--not actually a town in and of itself, but rather a national monument very close to the Tel Hai Academic college. Its most prominent reason for being is that it marks the graves of "The Eight,"--eight Jews, including Trumpeldor, who died in 1920 in a skirmish with unfriendly neighbors. (You can read all about this brave, intelligent, handsome one-armed hero on this link to Wikipedia).Trumpeldor is considered a national hero by Israelis, not the least because his last words were "Never mind, it is good to die for our country."

The Hulah valley surrounding Tel Hai and part of the mountain range near Mt. Hermon. Views like this support Trumpeldor's thesis nicely.

Our journey to Tel Hai was beautiful, taking winding roads first east, then north. We passed Shlomit, the village from whence Elul and I procure our eggs from Rodika, a lady in our Ulpan. Gradually working our way up in altitude to "the finger of the Galilee", and close to our destination, we stopped for a break just outside Kiryat Shmona, the "City of the Eight." Kiryat Shmona is a lovely little town of about 23,000 people, and has light industry, agricultural production and tourism as its economic base. Elul and I immediately decided that once Ulpan is over, we will be back for a longer visit.

View from the rest stop parking lot. After what felt like months of rain, I took pictures of every bit of blue sky around.

I wasn't the only one on the trip taking pictures. Here's a shot of one of my classmates, a young man from Ethiopia, who was taking the same picture at the same time as me.

Bekkele carefully concentrates on his shot. I bet HE didn't have any fuzzy images!
Speaking of photography, I also got well and truly bitten by the camera bug. Until I started this blog, I never gave two hoots about cameras or photography, other than appreciating other photographers' work. (I named my last cat Man Ray, for example.) But that's all changed now, and for the first time, I found myself with a serious case of "camera envy." A Russian lady in my Ulpan had a very sharp-looking Canon camera, not only with a giant lens but also an eyepiece. These digital cameras are great for some things, but they're rubbish if you're trying to shoot something in bright sunlight and you can't even see what's on your screen because of the glare.

Fortunately, my birthday came along at just the right time, and Elul paid careful attention to my grousing. I won't have a camera quite as fancy as my classmate's camera, but I will soon be getting a very nice one. It's now winging its way to my mother's house, where she will pack it up and send it to me without the insane shipping charges merchants always seem to want to charge when Israel is involved. (Thanks, Mom!)

After coffees, snacks, toilet runs and stretching of legs, we clambered back onto the bus and proceeded to Tel Hai. We got to the seating area for the memorial ceremony while the players--mainly soldiers, students and politicians--were still milling around. Some were practicing laying the wreaths to honor each of the eight.

Practice makes perfect. Soldier and VIP do a test run of wreath-laying in front of impressive leonine grave marker.
It was a very beautiful ceremony. The mayor of Kiryat Shmona was there, and the master of ceremonies was someone who apparently is a major bigshot in the world of Hebrew linguistics. Our Ulpan teachers, Yael and Gallit, were thrilled to see him there. Gallit had already gone up to talk to him, but I insisted Yael go talk to him too, so she could have a picture of herself with him.

Ulpan teachers extraordinaire Yael and Gallit, with Mr. Big. Score!

There was another speaker who apparently was an even bigger shot, so to speak. So much so that he had his own security guards following him everywhere he went. I was going to post a picture of him with his guards, but thought better of it. I don't want those guys knocking on my door, asking questions about why I published photos of Israeli Secret Service-type guys on the internet!

Not a picture of Israeli honcho with Secret Service bodyguards.
As a newly-minted Israeli citizen, it was particularly gratifying to see a row of Israeli flags, flying against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

Er..the clear blue sky is above the trees, anyway!

And of course, no Israeli event would be complete without some group singing accompanied by a "playback machine."

It was a tough crowd, but these kids really rocked that ceremony!
When all was said and done, there were a lot of flags, a lot of speeches, a lot of songs, and a lot of wreaths. It was very tasteful, and I was particularly impressed by an outstanding cantor who alternated singing with spoken poetry. Of course, my Hebrew is still complete crap, so I could only catch a few words here and there. But the sentiment was true and heartfelt, not mawkish or cloying.

Soldier holds candle with which to light the flame of remembrance.

Afterwards, we visited the nearby museum and learned about the history of the area in more detail, including its involvement in agriculture and animal husbandry. But there was still time for a few more photographs.

Beautiful animals that look like a cross between a deer and a goat, with long curly horns. I'll send a postcard to anyone who can tell me the name of this species...because I sure as heck don't know what they are myself!

My classmates from the former USSR look unnervingly at ease posing on heavy artillery.
And that was that. We had a safe and happy trip home, and the next day it was back to packing our brains full of vocabulary and verb forms. Sigh.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim, and remember, if you can't see any of the photographs I've referred to here, go to directly.

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