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To continue on our visual tour of Israel… here’s a set from our trip up north last weekend, to Ceasarea, a Roman pleasure villa on the ocean, then on to Haifa, where we stayed with family near Acho.

The next day, lunch with more family on their kibbutz near the Lebanese border, then a wandering path back down to Tel Aviv, via a stop to see some more friends. On down through Tiberius to wave at the Sea of Galilee before hitting up a late dinner with yet more friends in Tel Aviv. Good Lord, I’m exhausted just writing about it…

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In our absence, spring has come warmly to Portugal. The trees are suddenly in full leaf, the days are warm, the evenings mild. I had imagined lots more of this when we moved here. So far we’ve had a lot more days in the cold, rainy gray category than I’d expected, but I’m hoping we can make up for lost time in the months remaining.

To continue on our photo tour of Israel… here are a bunch from a day trip we took last week down around the Dead Sea, up to Masada, then to Jerusalem. Yes, all in one day. It was a whirlwind tour indeed, and one that involved about as many changes in temperature and clothing as it did locations, since Masada was warmer than Jerusalem by about 10 degrees centigrade. Definitely would’ve been a good day to bring my jacket — which of course I did not do!

Our intrepid friend and guide also served as our very own personal paparazzi, resulting in more photos of us together than I think we’ve taken this entire year. Enjoy. (The first picture in the set is our last name in Hebrew, as seen on a dump truck! Sweet!)

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I’m going to be adding pictures here slowly, since I got so far behind. Here’s some from a quick jaunt Gabe and I did down the coast to Yafo, the old Arab town to the south of Tel Aviv, which you could see from our hotel room:

We hopped on two of the free cruiser bikes our hotel had on offer — Gabe was particularly enamored of the bright pink flowers, never has he felt so manly — and rode down the ocean front walk to the old town, where we spent a lovely hour or so wandering around. All the streets were named after zodiac signs and signed in blue-green pictorial tiles, which I particularly liked (e.g. number two Aries lane had a “2” with a ram’s head after it.)

Here are pics…

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I’m writing this on the airplane back to Portugal, via a stop in Madrid and a very late arrival tonight. Somehow though, it feels less like we’re going home than leaving it behind. As we said goodbye to our friends at the airport, I had to remind myself that I met them only twelve short days ago. Already these people inhabit a closer place to my heart than many I’ve known for years.

I am completely at a loss as to how I can describe the warmth with which we were treated during our time in Israel. I know it’ll take me a while to process everything, to be able to put things into words. But I do know right now that I will be feeling the impact of this too-short trip for a long time to come. When we were waiting to begin boarding, Gabe asked me if I had had a fun trip. I said yes, of course, but not in a laid back vacation sit on the beach kind of way (we don’t really do that kind of vacation anyway). This trip was, at the risk of being cliched, nothing short of life-changing. It opened my eyes to so many things, to a country and a way of life so refreshingly honest and vibrantly, fully lived that it felt like a homecoming.

Having been there for Memorial Day, I can say that one of the most refreshing things about Israel is that they openly acknowledge the fact that loss is truly universal. Everyone there has lost someone, everyone mourns, and everyone feels intimately the cost of Israel’s continued existence. Death is truly seen as a part of life there, which is a fact that we constantly strive to deny or ignore in the United States. Instead of making people inured or blase though, their intimacy with mortality seems to release the Israelis to enjoy life with greater gusto, to feel things more strongly, to laugh louder and harder than we do, to allow tears to flow down the faces of big strong men with no shame implied or felt.

To my immense relief, this meant that small talk was almost entirely dispensed with when meeting new people. Instead we got right down to the meat of things, and I was soon making dirty jokes with the young men and discussing children with the women. It was such a relief to meet so many genuinely open people, to dispense with the false artificiality of Americans or even Europeans, and to simply be myself — including the darker, less savory aspects.

In fact, I think I talked more about my father in the past ten days than I have in the year since he died, simply because I felt for once as though the taboo was lifted. People were open to hearing my story, and didn’t greet it with false sympathy or discomfort, but rather took it in stride. It was hugely refreshing to no longer feel like a freak, the twenty-something year old with only one parent. Instead, my curse became a shared burden, my shame no longer applied.

I will write more on the culture of loss another time. But for now, I wanted to express how incredibly grateful I am for all that was given to us during our time in Israel, the laughter, tears, meals, and trips that we shared with friends both new and old. I already can’t wait to return, and am busily scheming how we can get away with doing so before too long.

Well I survived both Israeli Memorial Day and Independence  Day, a back to back nonstop celebration of life, death, and nationhood that is hectic, noisy, emotionally fraught with both tears and laughter, and lots and lots of food. LOTS of food. Even I, who has to eat every two hours or I die, never want to see food ever again. Or at least not for another few hours. We are both totally exhausted, but very happy we were able to be here to experience these two days.

I have many many thoughts and impressions to share, but am simply too drained to formulate them in any coherent fashion. So here are some pictures from last night’s pre-Independence Day wander in search of sustenance, which after more than two hours of walking finally resulted first in “diet” chocolate gelato and then pitas stuffed with various substances, eaten on a bench on the street. Later on, the Independence Day celebrations and fireworks. And then from this afternoon, where people are dancing on the sidewalk and the rooftops.

They take their partying almost as seriously as they do their mourning in this country. Between that and their eating, they certainly don’t do anything half way…!

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“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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