My dad, an archaeology enthusiast, always keeps his eyes peeled for the undiscovered artifact when he visits Israel. My husband always ribs him, “They’ve already found everything there is to find, Paul.”
I take my dad’s side on this one and whenever archaeologists make a big discovery in our area in the Lower Galilee, I’ll usually send the article to my husband and my dad with the subject line: “So there’s nothing left to find in Israel…”
I am reminded today, too, how much there is still yet for me to discover here in this region — not ancient artifacts, necessarily, but unexplored paths, little known attractions, charming exhibits and people.
I wasn’t the one to stumble upon Hemdatya, a particularly special bed and breakfast in the Lower Galilee; my husband (the one who says there’s nothing left to find) did. Ilaniya, the historic community on which the b & b is located, is across the street from where he works and the company often recommends the place to out-of-town visitors.
My husband was so charmed by Hemdatya and by the owner, Atalia, when he was there recently with his colleague, he invited me to breakfast there to see exactly what a gem in the Lower Galilee it is.
I was smitten.
With Atalia, yes, who was a gracious, sweet and entertaining hostess (not to mention an amazing chef!). But with the grounds themselves, and more so with her vision for Hemdatya, which is a haven for any traveler interested in ecotourism, organic agriculture, or permaculture. It’s also a charming, potentially romantic retreat for both foreigners and locals looking to get away for some low-key relaxation.
Hemdatya is located on a historic Israeli village about 15 minutes from the Sea of Galilee called Ilaniya, originally a farming community and agricultural training center for long-ago pioneers. The stone buildings of the b & b — renovated with both historic conservation and sustainability in mind — are constructed much from nearby materials. Hemdatya installed and employs a system for collecting rain water and recycles gray water throughout the site. The water from the rooms (bathrooms and kitchens) drains into a biological purification system and from there irrigates the orchards that grow vegetables, fruits, and grapes for wine.
We ate in the main kitchen — a traditional Israeli breakfast of breads, salads, cheese, and shakshouka. The cheese was from goat milk; gifts from the local goats. And the eggs in the shakshouka were from the local chickens.
Many tzimmerim in Northern Israel can claim goats and chickens, but not many can claim the fruits and veggies grown not just organically, but according to the ethics and principles of permaculture. No pesticides in her gardens, says Atalia. No need. Using permaculture, the gardens grow in harmony with the “pests.”
After breakfast, Atalia gave us a tour of the five guest rooms (each with a small kitchenette and eco-friendly bathroom) which are so delightful in their decor, you can tell attention was paid not just to construction and conservation, but also to aesthetics. I gushed to Atalia (and I meant it), “I am sure all of your visitors are as struck as I am at how enchanting these rooms are.”
Last, we toured the grounds. Vegetables grow everywhere, from little gardens in front of the farm-house guest rooms
to the grape vines that overhang the entrance to the jacuzzi room.
The gorgeous stone pool sealed the deal and I am already planning in my mind a getaway in the near future: a writer’s retreat, let’s say, just me, my laptop and my thoughts. Or a birthday weekend.
I spent the morning with my father-in-law in a cafe in Kfar Tavor.
He was generous enough to be an interview subject for me in regards to a creative writing project I’m preparing for a class called “Art, Atrocity, and Truth.”
My father-in-law is a child of the Holocaust. He is, in a way, art born of atrocity. His story is fascinating, as are the stories of so many whose parents survived the Holocaust, either in camps or in hiding or in brave revolt in the woods of Poland.
But his story is not my story today. My story is brief and bubbled up for me this morning on the drive home from the cafe.
My story is in response to the despair I often feel in this world; and the despair I feel specifically right now in this region.
I woke up this morning with a headache, and with a swelling I get in the hollow of my neck where sadness lurks. The news, the last thing I read before falling asleep last night, still lingered there.
But two hours later, after a spinach quiche and cafe hafooch at Cafederaztia, after taking 8 pages of notes, after probing my father-in-law for details about the small Polish village, about the time in Lublin, and the after time in Germany, and the time after that in Lod and in Petach Tikva, and eventually Newark, NJ …
I felt alive again.
The headache is still there a bit, but the hollow less congested. And if I had to say why, I’d say it was the listening. It was the act of being a vessel — even temporarily — of someone else’s story. Someone else’s past; someone else’s meaning. I bet if you asked my father-in-law immediately after our conversation, he would probably say he felt lifted up too. For having been actively and intentionally listened to.
It’s not the first time I’ve listened. It’s something I enjoy. It’s something of myself I want to give to others, if that makes sense.
I sense they need it. And I sense I do, too.
I know this is a luxury — drinking coffee, listening. I know it’s a luxury of living here in the Lower Galilee where, for the time being, war is more a headline than a reality. I know this is not a luxury for those in shelters in Southern Israel or others whose life stories are characterized more by war than by living.
I am not naive, though this is an accusation sometimes leveled on people who still suggest conflict may be resolved by talking and listening.
But I repeat, I am not naive.
I am just open. A vessel.
And there are more like me. A lot more.
We could band together. Form our own little revolution of listening. Create art not out of, but instead of atrocity.