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Leaving Tiberius & Arriving In Jerusalem
After a month, Tiberias & Michael's apartment seemed like home. Nostalgically, we took some pictures before we left Tiberias. When we arrived in Jerusalem, we were delighted with the quaint area we are staying in.
Ah, Those Ah-Ha Moments
During my power walk in Tiberias, I routinely encounter a few obstacles. As I get out of the elevator located on the lower exposed parking deck, I at times have to dodge birds flitting about (my condo building could be designated as a bird sanctuary). Once outside, my concern is drivers who all too often erratically scoot inches away from me. Sometimes I have to hopscotch over dog poop (there is no leash law in Tiberias), and I have to make sure that I bypass an area where a couple of watch dogs once lunged at my legs. And I try to stay clear of the cats that feast on the garbage in the overflowing dumpsters.
Although usually my walk is uneventful, I have had a few ah-ha moments along the way. As I trod up a hill and approached a large apartment complex that I had passed by for over a week, I had a flash: that same building was the one that my wife and I couldn’t find a week earlier on our own while walking downhill in the dark. Mercifully, a man in a beauty salon had given us a lift to the right address so that we could be on time for supper with a couple who were to debrief us about Tiberias. After all of the fruitless searching that we did, I was sure that I could never find their place again. But now, ah ha, I can readily home in on their apartment, going uphill or downhill.
My second fortuitous insight occurred a few days later. I have always noticed a sign that indicated—with an arrow—that the Tombs of the Matriarchs were nearby, but neither by car or on foot had I been able to locate the site. But mid-way in my walk last week in the twilight, I just happened to get curious about what was housed in an alcove up a long paved driveway ending in stone stairs. After I climbed up, there they were: the traditional burial sites of the six so-called minor matriarchs. I was the only visitor to this attraction that consisted of a huge walk-around granite tomb and shelves of Hebrew prayer books buttressed against one side of it. Although the unadorned monument itself did not have magnificent trappings and although these matriarchs were not to be confused with the revered Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, and Leah, I was still happy that I had accidentally found the spot where one of the wives of Moses and one of the wives of Aaron were reputedly buried. And in a bit of serendipity, the tomb was directly opposite the once-hard-to-find apartment complex on the hill.
The last revelation on my walking route was the most meaningful. My wife and I had visited Sefat, an age-old center of Kabbalistic scholarship and—we discovered—the highest city in Israel. The only time I ever thought I’d see it again was if we drove back to it from Tiberias, an arduous thirty-minute haul through lots of switchbacks. Near the end of my walks, I have always slowed down to gaze at the hazy mountains of the Upper Galilee outlined with a few towns and villages. But walking on the day after I had been to Sefat, the sky was abnormally clear. And then it happened. I stopped short. Entrenched on the highest mountain top was a wide berth of houses that reminded me of the ones I had recently seen in Sefat. Could that be mystical Sefat, no longer enshrouded in mist? I became exhilarated, euphoric: for the first time during my trip to Israel, I felt a vibrant connection to my heritage. The next day, I found out that Sefat was indeed where I thought it was—not just geographically but in my heart as well.
John Winthrop in a sermon once fervently called Boston a city on a hill, alluding to a phrase from the Gospel of Matthew. Drawing similar inspiration, Ronald Reagan famously referred to America as a city on a hill. Well, I have seen my own city on a hill, and it’s the real deal.
For the last day with our rental car, we traveled to Beit Guvrin-La Maresh National Park. We slowly made our way through all of the highly sophisticated sculptured Bell Caves, but spent most of our time traversing the mammoth bird breeding cave that spiraled downward (lots of crouching needed) four or five stories into a watery cistern. In between locating all of the caves, we were wowed by the 360 degree views of the Judean Hills.
Two Prospects of Sudden Death
Last week, my wife and I were determined to traverse every cave in Beit Guvrin-Tel Maresha National Park. At one point, after we climbed up a rutted path to a 360 degree view of the flourishing Judean Hills, my wife realized that she had left her camera in the car. Naturally, I volunteered to retrieve it. I quickly found it and rushed up the steep incline to rendezvous with my ever elusive wife. As I reached the crest of the hill, I felt as if the air was thinning out in my lungs and that my heart was shutting down. Dehydration, my old nemesis, had overpowered me once more, this time with a vengeance. Instead of panicking, my usual response, I gazed at the all-encompassing Judean Hills and thought that if I were now to die, this grand sanctuary would be a perfect spot. Soon, my beatific moment ended, I regained my strength, I spied my wife down the path, and I joined her—and the water bottle that she was carrying. I certainly was glad that I was alive, but I did miss the sanctified feeling that I had on the top of the hill. I wonder if the prophets, perhaps from dehydration as well, experienced some of their epiphanies while embraced by the Judean Hills.
But I wasn’t done with visions of death that day. As my wife and I were leaving the park, I started to choke on a fistful of raisins. My wife, who was driving down the hills where there was no shoulder, got alarmed but couldn’t stop to Heimlich maneuver me. In the meantime, the choking got much worse. I tried to swallow—no luck. Inhaling was impossible. I had the terrifying sensation that I was going to die, not nobly as before, but ignominiously, without any raison d’etre. After a few more seconds of fright, I slowly recovered, ecstatic to still be alive.
I have no yearning for death. But if I had a choice, I’d opt for death by dehydration, alone at a mountain top, rather than death by asphyxiation in a car, with my wife watching—I presume—in horror.