Last year, Zel took our family north through the Galilee and the Golan. My son gave him the title of “unguide” because he shied away from standard, itinerary based touring. Zel crafted our very personal experiences without overwhelming us. The northern Israeli landscape spoke for itself; Zel just helped us to hear the voices.
This spring, I returned north with Zel to see what I had missed earlier. One of the highlights of my trip was Akko, which is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We wandered the narrow alleyways and Templar tunnels, the mysterious fortresses and strongholds, stopped at a spice shop, a coppersmith and listened to the Mediterranean crash against the city walls. We ate lunch at the wonderful Uri Buri fish restaurant and walked through the luxury boutique hotel, Efendi…startling for its seaside vistas and elegance.
The next day, we roamed paths in Gamla Nature Reserve to see the soaring vultures and explored the ancient oaks and volcanic craters of Odem Forest. Zel took me to taste the distinctive wines of Tal Pelter who set up his intimate winery a few miles within the Syrian border. In late afternoon, I enjoyed the cool mists and shade of the roaring Dan River.
Zel stopped at Mitzpe Hayamim Hotel and Spa, the following morning, so I could get “a spot of tea” and ‘drink in” the Hermon Mountains and Sea of Galilee below. The art exhibit featured there had the theme “Israel is The Stage and Her Views Are the Actors.” I could not help but extend the metaphor to Zel’s continuous and unobtrusive “setting of the stage” for this journey. From there, we strolled the cobblestone streets of Rosh Pina, overlooking the Hula Valley, and I discovered the striking mosaics of the talmudic city Tziporri. Zel arranged an early dinner at Makom B’Sejera, a rustic country restaurant in the first settlement of the Galilee. I remember the wonderful smells of the grill and my delight at the organic, homegrown vegetables.
Once we returned to Jerusalem, Zel coordinated a very special tour for me. I wanted to see the synagogues of the Old City, which included the newly restored Hurva complex and the synagogues in the Moslem Quarter. My local guide was a descendent of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem who struggled centuries earlier to rebuild the Hurva. The morning allowed for private prayer and reflection.
Beyond his vast knowledge of history, Zel has an uncanny sense of what will move and lift the spirit of a visitor to truly understand the beauty and the issues of Israel. My last night, Zel sent me to the Notre Dame Hotel on the east side of the city to see the bright lights of Jerusalem. I was pretty restless and saddened to leave Israel again. For a moment, the colored lights seemed to unify the city and reassure my return.
I am certain that very little of this sounds like an ordinary tour to Israel. “Ordinary” is not what Zel does. You will find Zel’s personality and vision disarming; his understanding of people profound. It would be hard to duplicate this trip with another guide or to even find another “unguide.”
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