Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shloshing around in the Gan HaShlosa

National park visit number two this week was to the springs at the Gan HaShlosha National Park just west of Bet She'an.  To get there, we descended out of the Judean hills toward the Dead Sea, and then headed north on Highway 90, past Jericho (yes, that Jericho, where the "walls came tumbling down").  We pulled into the park after about an hour and forty minutes of easy driving on nearly deserted roads. 

The main feature of the "Park of Three" (Hebrew) or "The Hot" (Arabic) is the series of three natural pools that stay at a constant 80 degrees or so, year around.  On a warm September day like today, they just felt "refreshing." 

There's a kids' wading pool, and two larger pools, with waterfalls connecting them all, before the stream that feeds the pools runs past an ancient mill and carries on its merry way out of the park.  The waters are clear... which gives you a clear view of all the trash at the bottom of the pools.  We caught plenty of "plastic bottle fish", along the occasional "platefish" or "forkfish."

The pools' real-life fish are very inquisitive (though much too fast to catch with our assortment of kids' toys) and give you a gentle pedicure if you'll let them.

Green lawns and lifeguard stands surround the pools.  Barbeque grills dot the park, and there's a restaurant if you forget to bring your lunch along.

A great spot for a lazy day of lounging by the poolside!  Two parks down, 64 to go!

More photos here!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Excursions in Israel - Bet Guvrin Maresha National Park and the Bell Caves

We're officially "wheeled!"  Our van is finally here, licensed, registered, insured and road-ready.  We hit the trails this week with our first trip out of Jerusalem - to the Bet Guvrin Maresha National Park.  Just 45 minutes away from our perch in Holyland park, we headed down out of the hills of Jerusalem, descending through Ein Kareem and winding through the valleys to the flat plains of Maresha below.  The same plains where King Asa of Judah met and defeated an invading army from Ethiopia (2 Chronicles 14).  

No Ethiopians anywhere in sight today, but we did find plenty of interesting caves to explore.

This area has been known for centuries for its mines and quarries - the top meter or so of hard surface rock gives way to softer chalky rock beneath.  The bell-shaped caves resulted from the top-down mining techniques common to this area.  The miners "cracked" the top shell, and then dug down into the softer chalk, widening the caves as they went deeper, and pulling the quarried rock (and hopefully the miners too, at the end of the day) up through the hole at the top.  

The entrance to the Bell Caves complex today is via an arched doorway, leading to the cool shadows of the caverns beyond.

Ancient chisel marks were still very much in evidence as we explored the cave complex - a linked collection of several former bell-shaped caves, now accessible via well-maintained trails throughout the park.  

With the chimney-like entrance holes some 50-60 feet above our heads, the chiseled walls curved above our heads to form natural archways.  Pockets of harder rock left behind by the miners formed fascinating formations along the walls, and far above our heads, a colony of bats squeaked and rustled in dark corners.

After exploring the Bell Caves, we headed back up to the surface before driving a short way to the remains of the Biblical city of Maresha on a Tel (hill) to the north of the caves.  Several more caves to explore here: the burial caves prompted the kids to go searching for mummies, and strike their best "Zombie" poses.

Our last stop on this trip was a scrabble up the side of the Tel, and then deep underground into a deep cistern complex.

That's all for this update... lots more photos of this trip available here.  

With 65 more National Parks to visit, and a brand new National Parks pass in hand, there's plenty more yet to see!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are You Religious?

"Are you religious?"  

That was the question posed to me by my son's friend who came over to play yesterday. I paused, longer than necessary, since I didn't know how to answer such a potentially loaded question. What did this 10 yr old mean by "religious"?  Do I not use electricity or push any buttons on my smartphone during Shabbat? Am I that kind of "religious"?  Do I make sure I face a certain direction before I pray? Am I that kind of "religious"? Do I not eat beef because I believe it is from a sacred cow? Am I that kind of "religious"? These type of questions raced through my head while this boy looked at me, waiting for my answer. Apparently I wasn't fast enough for him since he interrupted my brain dialogue with another question, "I mean, do you believe in God?" Ohhhhhhh.....that is a WAY EASIER question to answer!  (Whew---dodged a bullet!! )  I was able to reply in a timely manner, "Yes, we believe in God and in Jesus." The conversation then carried on like this:

10 yr old: Oh, so you go to church?
me: Yes we do. We attend on Saturday.
10 yr old: Why? Aren't you suppose to go to church on Sunday?
me: Well, in most countries yes, but not here. What about you? Do you believe in God? (Please note: I didn't ask him if he was religious!)
10 yr old: I'm not atheist. I believe in God, but I don't go to church.
me: Well then maybe you can come sometime with Jad and us to church.
10 yr old: Hmmmm.

Honestly, I do not like the word 'religious'. I prefer the word 'relationship'. I have a relationship with God. I talk to Him, I pray to Him, I meditate on Him, I thank Him, I praise Him, etc. It is not a one-sided relationship, and this is the hard part-- it takes time and effort to listen to God, to read His Scriptures, to obey His teachings.

If a 10 yr old boy had asked me this question in Prague or Costa Rica or Oregon, I'm sure I wouldn't have taken so long to answer. But living in Jerusalem, the focal city of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (alphabetical order...nothing political here), has made me re-evaluate my view of the word "religious". Maybe it isn't such a scary word after all.  It is a powerful word that has been used to throw stones, ignite misunderstanding, and build impenetrable walls. But I am discovering that it can also be a word that builds bridges, encourages mutual respect, and fosters peace.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God." 

The Gospel according to Matthew chapter 5, verse 9

Oh dear God, please help me to be a peacemaker, no matter where I am.