The bell rang early, six-fifteen in the morning, and we stumbled around blearily, getting ready for the day. Swimsuits, towels, water shoes all had to be added to our usual array of supplies. Breakfast was in the dining hall, a welcome luxury after too many gobbled bowls of cereal before catching the bus.
First period was biology, though we’re doing some interdisciplinary studies, so it was combined with archeology, Bible, the land of Israel, and Israeli history. We took a field trip to Tel Dan Nature Reserve and the biblical city of Dan. Gan Eden was on the map, but we did not visit, as paradise was part of the doctoral program. There were numerous trees, shrubs, and a river that is the largest tributary of the Jordan River.
Despite a rocky start, we walked through the gate to the ancient city of Dan and an archaeological dig, which was deep in more ways than one. A stone marked the place where archaeologists found a decorative floor piece with Hebrew writing that described the ancient city of Dan. It was the first extra-biblical piece of evidence found showing that Jews were in this land in ancient times, thus proving that rock lives forever.
We spent some time in the remains of an old court, where citizens would bring legal issues before the king and the elders of the city to be decided. This city also features in the Book of Ruth, when Boaz brought 10 men to the city.
After legal studies, we visited Abraham’s Gate, which Abraham passed through while pursuing those who kidnapped his cousin Lot. It just goes to show, Israel has a lot of gates.
From there, we proceeded to History, Geography, and Current Events at a former Syrian position in the Golan Heights, overlooking Israel. We could see how important it was to Israel’s security that Israel control this land.
Lunch — everyone’s favorite subject — was next, and we ate at a café on the top of Mount Bental, which also served אייס קפה — ice coffee. Just outside the café was an impressive overlook into Syria. To our amazement, we heard mortar fire and heavy machine gun fire, and saw smoke from brush fires that started as a result of the shelling. It is important to note that this was the only sign of violence anywhere in or near Israel during our trip.
Electives were next, where some went to wine tasting and others went to chocolate tasting. All education should involve wine and chocolate tasting.
The last subject of the day was Physical Education, in which we rafted (or kayaked) down the Jordan River. As it happened, it was also the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), so the river was full of people celebrating, having picnics on the banks of the river, and creating whitewater conditions for all. It was a welcome splash of fun, and I say that dripping with sincerity.
The river rafting proved to be an opportunity to overcome challenges for some of us, myself included, as getting in and out of an inflatable raft is not always the easiest feat. And in an effort to get to know my youngest son and endear themselves to him, Zvi and Rabbi Spilker rowed up next to the raft he was in, hauled him into their kayak, rowed away, and later dumped him in the three-foot-deep river, demonstrating the Talmud’s mandate to teach a child to swim (Kiddushin 29a). Said son later reported that this was his most memorable (and fun) moment.
Before we were excused for the day, we were randomly assigned to oral exams over the course of the evening from our dinner hosts, where we had the chance to prove our mastery of the subjects covered during the day, as well as conduct research interviews regarding current events at the Kotel.
I am pleased to report that all passed with flying colors.
All day, I am reminded of two Hebrew songs:
Eretz Eretz Eretz by Ilanit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q91bg7qIIwc)
Hashamayim k’chulim, anan hu lavan
Vehaboker bahir, ubelayla ashan
Ve’achlom le’atzmi, eizeh achla olam
The morning is clear, at night smokey,
And I dream to myself, what a wonderful world*From Eizeh Achla Olam (What a Wonderful World) by Gidi Gov