By: Francine Dweck

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Did you know that the Coliseum in Rome is not round and its walls were made of marble before the marble was removed and used for the interior of the Sistine Chapel?

Each time I’ve been to Rome, I’ve learned something new; this proves it doesn’t matter how many times you visit a place, you can always encounter new experiences.

Albert and I chose to take a Tauck Tour to Israel with our friends Fred and Lucille, as we wanted them to understand why we love this spiritual land; but first we all went to Rome for the weekend. We stayed at the Hassler Hotel. Those of you who have been to Rome know that the location of this hotel is great! (For those who have never been to Rome, the Hassler is at the top of the Spanish Steps overlooking the Gucci and Prada stores. (A great location, wouldn’t you say?)

I’ve always loved Romefrom the first time we went in 1964 for our honeymoon to today. I love the shopping, the excitement around the Spanish Steps, watching the mix of people, and the sightseeing. This time we also learned about the letters SPQR. They appear on Roman coins, at the end of Roman documents, and on state statues. It’s Latin, but the English translation is “the rich people (the Senate), the middle-class people, equals Rome.” I think that is a very intelligent saying.

Our first stop in Israel was Tel Aviv. We’ve never stayed in Tel Aviv before, so this was something new for us. We stayed at the David InterContinental for three days; it is just across from the beach. The combination of the shoreline and the Israelis speaking Hebrew reminded me of Florida. Tel Aviv is the cultural center of Israel.

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We walked down Rothschild Street and saw the Bauhaus Houses, which were built by a conglomeration of architects from all over the world who settled in Israel in the 1920s. They built affordable, square, and functional houses. The thing that left a lasting impression on us was the number of new high-rise apartments being built; they gave us a sense that Israel is still growing and has a vibrant future.

Our next stop was Caesarea, which had certainly changed since 1977, when Albert and I had visited the Amphitheatre, which was then the only historical site that archeologists had found in the area. Since then, scientists have found many palaces, theaters, bathhouses, and streets where marketplaces date back to King Herod’s time.

In Haifa, we went to the Baha’i Gardens for the first time. They are magnificently manicured gardens that are set in symmetrical forms. We drove to the top and walked down 720 steps. On each level, we looked out into the distance to the Port of Haifa and, looking down beneath us, we eventually saw the whole city. Across the Mediterranean was the Lebanon border, which, thank G-d, has been quiet for the past six years. Next, while staying at the Colony Hotel in Haifa, we ventured out to the city of Nazaria.

Traveling with Tauck enabled us to see Israel in a different light. In the past, when we visited Jerusalem for a bar mitzvah we did exciting activities geared toward kids. This time, we had an adult adventure. Tauck provided us with educated guides who gave us their perspectives regarding each site’s history and the present time. This is certainly different from anything I had experienced before.

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When our Orthodox guide, walked us through the old city of Jerusalem explaining things from her viewpoint, I saw the city I thought I knew from a different angle.

When we went to Yad Vashem, we saw the new building which had replaced the old building since we were there many years ago. Amie was our guide. She has a master’s degree in the Holocaust and explained in great detail the trials and tribulations the Jewish people went through during the Holocaust. After spending three hours in the museum, we went to the Children’s Memorial, which was the most touching thing we have ever witnessed.

At the Israel Museum, which was also a first for us, our guide was still Amie. She explained all about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are enshrined in moisture-filled cabinets. The miniature model of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple was fascinating. It brought history very close to the present and I understood what an extraordinary, daring, and ambitious man Herod was.

On the last night in Jerusalem with Tauck, we went to the Sound and Light Show at the Tower of David; this was the first time we had ever seen it. It was amazingwe couldn’t get over how the timeline of history was illustrated on the walls.

Our Tauck Tour was almost at its endwith Masada being our last stop. Of course we had been to this site many times before, but what’s a trip to Israel without going to Masada?

We said good-bye to all our new friends, as the rest of the group went on to Jordan and we stayed in Israel for three more days with Fred and Lucille.

The next three days were as exciting and adventurous as the first two weeks. We had a private tour with Sruli, our guide. First we went for a wild jeep ride through the Jordanian desert. Our destination, deep in the desert, was the Marsabas Monastery, which was carved out of the mountains.

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Later, driving up and down major hills in the desert, we stopped at a Bedouin camp, where the elder of the clan greeted us and invited us in for tea. Leaving the desert, we stopped at Abraham’s Tent. Of course, we were there before with the kids, but this time we had dinner while watching the sunset as the stars filled the night sky. It was serene and magical all at once. After a very long and exhausting day, we returned to the David Citadel in Jerusalem, a little “broken up” from bouncing in the jeep but with memories we would never forget.

The next morning, Sruli picked us up and we went to Radar Hill, which we won back from the Judeans in the 1967 war. We climbed up about 100 steps to the top and looked out at Israel in all directions. It was the first time we had come to this spot and it was worth the climb. The sweeping 360? view of Israel lay calm, peaceful, and radiant.

Next we went to Latrun Fort, where Sruli explained to Fred and Lucille how Israel fought for this fort in 1948, and then lost it before regaining it in 1967. Even though Albert and I had been here before, Sruli refreshed our memories and gave us his perspective on what happened.

The Blind Museum was next on our itinerary, so we drove toward Tel Aviv at top speed in order to get there in time for our tour. Once inside, it was an experience of a lifetime. This exhibit could be anywhere in the worldit didn’t have anything to do with Israel, but it had everything to do with humanity. We went into a very, very, very dark environment where a man introduced himself as our blind guide for the tour. We couldn’t see anythingnot our hands or feet or where we were headed. For the next hour we were blind.

We were given a walking stick to help us steer around. We had to find the step down into the street; feel for a doorknob of a house to open it; shop for apples and oranges; order a Coke and pay for it; and sit at a table in a restaurant. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! After we returned to “normal,” we thanked G-d for what we have and understood how dark a blind person’s life really is.

To end the day, Sruli took us to Mini Israel, where we saw a model of Israel as it is today.

On Friday we went to Mea Sharim and walked around while Sruli explained about the different sects of Hasidim. This place has been here since 1860, and has not changed one bit. Leaving Mea Sharim, we drove out of Jerusalem to the West Bank and to Herodian’s Castle, which was built for Herod by laborers. It was the first time we saw these ruins, and it was startling to learn how powerful Herod really was. First they built the castle, but Herod was afraid that it would be ambushed, so he had a mountain built over the castle so no one could see it, proving again how powerful he was. Just before Shabbat, we went to the market in Jerusalem and bought whole wheat challah.

Throughout Israel, we saw sights we had never seen before or sites that hadn’t changed in thousands of years; we came upon new archeological findings; and we revisited renovated tourist attractions. But, whatever we saw, however many times we had seen it, there was something new to discover about Israel.

Our holiday was almost overjust one more outing. Sruli picked us up after lunch on Saturday and we went walking all over the old city through the Jaffa gates, on the tops of roofs, and through the Armenian quarter to the Western Wall just before sunset, where we took a deep breath and said our prayers one last time in Israelfor now. Our plane was on time and all four of us left Israel promising ourselves we would return soon.

One lesson we learn over and over again while visiting Israel is this: “Each time young men and women of Israel fight for their families and homes, finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, Jews have a homeland.” We were proud to show Fred and Lucille the homeland that we, as Jews, have fought for and held onto for many generations

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