Gem in the Galilee

My dad and my husband have this routine:

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.

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

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.

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Breakfast at Hemdatya

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

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

to the grape vines that overhang the entrance to the jacuzzi room.

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

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.

Hint, hint. 

 

 

 

 

 

Give me your tired your poor your books

It’s no secret I love old books.

I cry over them like they’re wounded, abandoned puppies crouching behind a garbage bin in the rain.

Sometimes I rescue them, but then have no use for them. (Again, like puppies.)

Often there’s a story behind the compulsion to save them.

I’ll save any Little House on the Prairie book I see, simply because I lost my original set of them in a flood. (For the same reason, I’m drawn to Choose Your Own Adventure.)

I’ll save many an illustrated children’s book from the 1960s because the art makes me want to shake my hips in a way I don’t know how.

I’ll save a book inscribed to Marty or to Catherine. Especially if it was inscribed before I was born.

I’ll save, on the rare occasion I find one, a COUPLES or a SISTERS or anything by Christopher Pike with the express intent to read them with my daughter when she’s 12.

I like old books.

I like to imagine the shelves they once sat in, the boats they traveled by, the author, the editor, the sweat poured into their being.

Which is why, when I discovered in the kibbutz giveaway pile a year ago a Scholastic Book of Poetry edited by Ann McGovern, I snatched it up and placed it on the saved books shelf on the top floor of my house.

It was a triple threat, quadruple even, the 1960s publication of a Scholastic book club book with its retro cover, with its pages filled with poems by ee cummings and Langston Hughes and Maxine Kumin and Basho, and peppered with adorable little one-color illustrations. For the cherry on top, there was editor Ann McGovern: a goddess of children’s books and someone I remember from my days as a young assistant at Scholastic. (What I didn’t know until after I completed the project below is that serendipitously McGovern also enjoys creating collage art.)

I’ve been meaning for some time to take a book from my saved collection and turn it into something new. So it serves a purpose other than collecting dust on the shelf. I got the idea after visiting a gallery in Jaffa last year. Passing a wall of framed art, I noticed one was simply a circa 1950s Dick and Jane book cover torn out, framed, and priced at 200 shekels. After I got over my shock that someone tore off a vintage book cover, put it in a frame, and priced it at 200 shekels, I realized, “Wait a minute. I just might buy that. I am someone who would buy something like that.” And if I would, others (with a lot more money to spend) would, too.

I didn’t decide then and there to start my own recycled books-as-art business, but I filed away the idea of it. I liked the prospect of saving old books from doom and turning them into new art. Thinking about it made me happy.

I’ve always loved creating collages. Looking back at old pictures of my childhood bedroom recently reminded me of this. Why not create collages with the old books I’ve saved?

Today, I dug in and created my first.

The process, I learned, is an art in and of itself. It was impromptu and yet fluid. I didn’t know exactly where I was going when I started, but when I went to the old books shelf and saw the Book of Poetry this morning, I knew that was the book to start with.

And so I sat in front of the patio door where the sun shines in brightest, and I read Frost and ripped.

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

 

I positioned Edna St. Vincent Millay and pasted her next to Paul Bunyan.

I made sure, too, Ann McGovern still got credit and that bits and pieces of the lovely retro cover remained.

And the result makes me happy. Like a rescued puppy brought in from the rain.

 

 

 

I see beauty

When I first moved to Israel, as when I first fell in love with my husband, everything was beautiful:

The early morning mountains which framed a glorious sky peppered with misshapen clouds.

The herds of cows that grazed by the side of the road in fields glistening with morning dew.

The herb garden I grew from seedlings and the lemon tree i tended in my front yard.

All instilled me daily with wonder.

But as with any new love, the extraordinary faded into the ordinary, and over the past two and a half years, I have slowly become a woman who no longer feels compelled to sigh as I drive on the beach road from the lower galilee where I live south to Tel Aviv.

I no longer breathe in deep and breathe out the question:

I live here?

I am able to see the waves crash on the shores of the Mediterranean without being overwhelmed with delight.

I am able to see a lone camel walking along the busy express highway without grinning.

Yes, i live here.

And with my acknowledgment comes a price. My vision shifts slightly.

But even in my nonchalance,

Even in my hurry to get home to my kids
To make dinner
To clean the dishes

i still stop for the cotton fields.

There’s something magical about blooming cotton.

I can’t explain it.

Is it the absurdity of seeing — there sprouting from a plant — a material I know only as a sensation against my skin?

Is it the contrast of the billowy white puffs against the dried out greenish gray stalks emerging from the ground?

I don’t know.

But I am always caught surprised by the cotton fields.

As if someone has transported me back

Somewhere else but now.

cotton

An Israel Story Only I Can Tell

The title of my blog references my aliyah.

Aliyah is the Hebrew word used when a Jew moves from somewhere outside Israel to Israel.  If you have been to a synagogue on Saturday, you might have heard the word also used to reference someone being called up to the Torah for a blessing. The word aliyah literally translates as elevation or ‘going up.’

My going up was from New Jersey.

Depending on how much of a Jersey fan you are, you might not have difficulty seeing how moving to Israel from New Jersey was ‘elevating.’ (I’m staying out of that debate.)

On the other hand, depending on how much of a fan of Israel you are, you might have a lot of difficulty understanding why my husband and I picked up our three young children and moved here. (I’m staying out of that debate, too.)

We’re not particularly religious. Nor are we ardent Zionists.

We are reasonably observant moderate Jews from New Jersey, emphasis on the word reasonable.

This — reasonableness  — is what Israel, and the world that talks about Israel, needs more of. So, you can say, we’re contributing to that cause.  When I blog from Israel, I hope to share stories that most people outside of Israel never hear. The stories of the people who live here: Our daily lives, minus the conflict, minus the politics, minus the fear.

I don’t blog often about what I do during the day when I’m not blogging. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for an investment group that invests in and develops start-up companies.

A lot of new olim (immigrants) try to break into high tech when they move here because a) it’s a great marketplace for English speakers and b) Start-up Nation is where it’s at.

Not me, though.

That wasn’t my plan at all.

My plan was to move here, get adjusted, learn Hebrew, grow an organic garden, and write a few freelance articles for The Jerusalem Post.

However, a few months after landing here a job opened up at a nearby company and the job description basically described me. My husband encouraged me to apply for the job. I did. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 1/2 years all day, 5 days a week — helping grow start-up companies.

I never write about my job because it’s not what I think about when I am not working. I like to leave my work at work.

Mindfulness, and all.

But last night, something incredible happened that is still with me today.

Two companies who I’ve worked with — portfolio companies of my employer, The Trendlines Group — won awards for best start-ups of the year. Out of dozens that were eligible, the award was offered to three companies, and two of the companies were from our group.

That in and of itself is something to take pride in — companies who I’ve worked with are now award-winning companies. But my greater pride comes from the types of technologies the companies are developing. One, Sol Chip, has created a tiny chip that harvests energy from the sun in a way that’s going to change how we use electricity everywhere from offices to farms. The other, ApiFix, has revolutionized treatment for adolescent scoliosis. It’s literally going to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young girls with severe curvature of the spine.

These are the kinds of companies Trendlines invests in — companies really poised to improve the human condition.

These are the kinds of ideas and technologies that come out of Israel.

Not just technologies that help you find your way from the bar to the post office.

waze

But technologies that will save your life some day. If not yours, than your child’s or your neighbor’s.

Technologies that will one day be used not just in Israel, but everywhere.

Even in countries that are anti-Israel.

This. Is. Quite. A. Story.

And so, I blog about it.

You see: The Israel story — and my story living here — is even more complex than you ever thought.

When I moved to Israel, I braced myself for potential backlash from friends who, for reasons of politics or ignorance, might see my move to Israel as a statement, or worse, as a mistake.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was a door opened.

I got to be a part of an Israel that people who live outside Israel hardly ever see.

And I got to be someone who shares that story.

So, thank you.

Thank you for reading.

And thank you for letting me be a reasonable voice in a very noisy, and complex world.

team at awards jm

Part of the Trendlines team with Chief Scientist Avi Hasson and Israel’s Technology Incubator Program Director Yossi Smoler, June 2013

ocs award