AINA TOUR RETURNS TO ISRAEL

By Donna Sims NLG

            AINA’s 2008 two-week tour to Israel left October 23 and returned November 7.  This tour began a little different from prior ones. Several mishaps were happening prior to departure: one member lost his passport at the airport and had to return home; another had to cancel because of personal reasons; two members barely made it on the plane due to their late flight arrival at JFK, and then their luggage did not arrive in Tel Aviv with our flight but did arrive the next day at the hotel. Tour members were from Florida, New York, Maryland, California, Virginia and Arizona. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, we met up with our guide from Da’at Travel Agency, Moran Shlomy. Our bus driver, Shlomo (who did not speak any English), was waiting for us outside and one of the first things we noticed on the bus was the AINA logo and sign positioned in the front window. The tour had officially begun. 

            We left Ben Gurion Airport and headed for our first stop, the arts and crafts fair in Jaffa. We were entertained by a woman mime who was painted all in gold and a man who was covered in feathers doing a very strange form of modern dance. It was here that I was able to find my first Falafel (by the time I left Israel, I managed to have seven). We then drove to the Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv, our home for the next three nights. Following Shabbat services and lunch the next day, most of us walked together along the boardwalk heading for Old Jaffa, where we were entertained along the way with music, artwork, and a variety of different groups of people. We learned of many historical things about the area, including looking at the remains of a teen nightclub that had been blown up a few years earlier by an Arab teen suicide-bomber and heard about Abie Nathan, whose radio messages of peace broadcast from aboard his ship, named “Voice of Peace”, were heard for twenty years, from 1973-1993.  

The next morning we were greeted by noted artist and sculptor, Dana Krinsky, at her studio (she was the designer of the 350th Anniversary of Jews in America medal). Dana and her husband delighted us with an extensive tour of the studio, showing us many different types and forms of medals she had designed. Following refreshments, we took some group photos (see picture-Dana is in the center, back row). 

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In the afternoon, we toured the Eretz Israel Museum where the Kadman Numismatic Pavilion is located. Cecilia Meir, director of the Kadman, gave us an extensive verbal and visual tour of the Museum. That evening we met with members of the Israel Numismatic Collectors Association (INCA). We were treated royally with a great welcome by AINA member Pinchas Bar-Zeev, viewed an excellent slide program by AINA member Nir Elzner, given great refreshments and a numismatic souvenir. It was exciting and my please to meet personally several other AINA members, and we even gained a new AINA member. 

            On day Five, we headed north, driving to Caesarea, one of the most important cities in Israel during the Roman Period, where we actually were able to walk among many ruins. We then traveled to Nesher to visit the new Gras Headquarters (Gras is the new owner of the Israel Coins and Medals Corporation). We were personally greeted at the bus by Jossef Attali and Raphael Yehudai of the ICMC. Once inside, we were given a tour of the showrooms and then were treated to the most fantastic buffet lunch that had been prepared by Tovi, wife of Arthur Boxer of Gras. Ruth Dayan, wife of the late General Moshe Dayan, was the honored guest speaker. As we were leaving, each tour member was given a bag full of goodies. We next arrived at Nazareth, where we visited several churches and synagogues and walked through the marketplace. Back on the bus, we drove to Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, which is located in the Upper Galilee, where we would spend the next two nights. 

            The next morning we headed northward to do a nature walk through the Tel Dan Nature Reserve (where Esther fell). The Hula Reserve is located on the largest tributary of the Jordan River. Next, we boarded two “mountain-climbing” jeeps to ascend the Golan Heights. Now that was one bumpy experience, but breathtaking nevertheless. From up on top, we could see Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The next morning, we had a tour of the Kibbutz, then headed for Safed, where we toured Synagogues and Art Galleries. Heading south, we stopped to visit the Kinneret Cemetery, where we were told stories about the dreams of the earliest Zionist pioneers. Continuing heading south, we arrived at Mt. Scopus where we stopped to say the traditional blessing that is recited upon entering Jerusalem. The Prima Kings Hotel would be our home for the next five nights. 

            The next morning we began our “walking tour” of the Old City, starting with the Jewish Quarter, the Cardo, Hurva Square, the Kotel (Western Wall), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa. We head to Yah Vashem on Day Nine, visiting the new Historical Museum, the Children’s Memorial and the Valley of the Communities. It is while resting after an emotional visit that three of us noticed a quote flashing up on a screen and we all agreed that this sentence was most important (and would be great on the obverse of a medal) – “My desire is to be with God against Man, rather than be with man against God.” - Aristedes de Sousa Mendes. On Saturday afternoon, we visit the miniature City of Jerusalem exhibit and the Israel Museum. That evening, Mel, Esther and I were treated to a special evening at the home of the Attali’s in the Old City (this was my first time inside a home within the walls of the Old City).

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Early Sunday morning we head for the Temple Mount, waiting only a short time to get through Security. The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are for outside viewing only. We exit through the Arab marketplace and headed towards the Jewish Quarter where we entered and walked through the Western Wall  tunnels. We next drove  to  the Hadassah Hospital to see the Chagall Windows. That evening we were treated to a lavish banquet dinner at the Darna Moroccan Restaurant, hosted by Gras and the ICMC.  Several Gras and ICMC dignitaries were there: Sammy Grass, Herzel Biryoti, Arthur Boxer, and Gili Raanan of Gras; and Rivka Toledano, Jossef Attali and Raphael Yehudai of the ICMC. Each tour member was given a Ben Gurion medal with a special-made commemorative stand in a red holder, with an engraved nameplate. 

            We head for Eilat on Day 12, stopping at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve where we saw many Ibex and then hiked back to some waterfalls. Next stop was Masada where we ascended to the top by cable car (new cable cars and a whole new museum area at the top since my last visit in ’94). The Crowne Plaza at the Dead Sea was our next stop where we dined and swam. Continuing our drive to Eilat, we stop at Yotvata Kibbutz for a break and something to eat. There are plastic cow statues all around the outside and one live camel. On the outskirts of Eilat, we stop at the Eilat Stone factory where we are shown how they cut and polish stones. After a very long day, we finally arrive at the Dan Panorama. 

            An early departure the next morning found all tour members heading for Petra, Jordan. We crossed into Jordan at the Arava Crossing Point, boarding a bus with our new guide, heading for the ruins of the Ancient City of Petra. As we were walking towards the ruins, we were treated to some Jordanian line dancers who were really moving their feet in the dirt and sand. When we finally arrived at the ruins, the view was absolutely breathtaking. There was a full-sized amphitheater off to the side and many other smaller ruins. Petra is considered one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World (in my opinion, this day’s event was the highlight of the entire trip). Petra was carved out of a red-stone mountain by the Nabateans more than 2000 years ago.

           As we pack our bags for the last time and leave Eilat to head north, we drive through the port area and then to Taba, one of Israel’s borders with Egypt, where we stop to take some photos. Next stop is the Hai-Bar Nature Reserve. We walk through a small zoo-like area, and then drive through the preserve where we observe several kinds of “Biblical” animals. We then head for the Ramon Crater, where we walked around up on top and it almost made you dizzy while looking over the edges because we were so high up. After a couple more hours on the bus, we arrive in Tel Aviv for our farewell banquet, sponsored by Da’at, held at the Maganda Restaurant in the Yemenite Quarter. Following the banquet we head for the Airport and say our farewells to Moron, our excellent tour guide, and Shlomo, our excellent bus driver, and begin standing in numerous lines. Our flight is late and we finally get airborne around 2:00 a.m. Israel time. We arrive in New York around 6:00 a.m. EST, and begin again standing in numerous lines to head home. All in all, the tour was fantastic, absolutely, no complaints. We certainly can hope that there will be another tour in the future.                        

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