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January 2012

On The Road to a Virtual Voyage!

I figured a  “Throwback Thursday” would be a most appropriate time to wax nostalgic and invite you to join me on my next virtual vacation!  This weekend I will set off on a wondrous adventure “across the pond”  touring southern England!  As if that weren’t fabulous enough, I’m traveling with my daughter Sara, just the two of us, as her graduation gift before she heads off to college next month! 

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  During my 25+ years at ABC7, many of you have watched Sara grow up over the years - here’s the nostalgic part - and during that time she has become an incredible traveler! 








She took her first cruise before she was 2 - at 4, she was climbing pyramids in Mexico!

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At 6, Sara accompanied me and my Mom on a trip to Spain - 3 generations in our mother country! At 10, Sara was sightseeing through ancient Greece; at 12 she experienced the glaciers of Alaska!

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                         Alaska july 26 to aug 5 2008 146 (2)


I took her to President Obama’s first inauguration - we explored the holy land together with members of our congregation.

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I chaperoned a high school choir trip to Ireland, and back in the states we took road trips to our national parks and the entire stretch of Rt. 66!  Sara’s 18th birthday with a destination party to the “Happiest Place on Earth!”

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I now invite you to join us on our next adventure, as I share our discoveries in London and many other historic places in the UK.  We arrive at Heathrow Airport Monday August 4th; posts on Facebook and Twitter soon to follow!  As this is an “interactive vacation,” feel free to make suggestions, ask questions or give advice - this is the first time in the UK for both of us!

 https://www.facebook.com/RozVaronABC7   https://twitter.com/rozvaronABC7 

One more thing - a heartfelt thanks to my incredibly understanding husband for giving Sara and I this special bonding time while he stays at home.  Besides, someone has to watch the dogs, right?!


Bon Voyage!




On The Road to The Red Sea

We celebrated our last day in Israel with mixed emotions.  We have enjoyed each other’s company for almost 2 weeks now and didn’t want this adventure to end.  On the other hand, we do miss our homes, our families and for many of us, our pets!  We decided to go out with a bang and take a lunch cruise on the Red Sea!


We boarded our ship, the Zorba at the Eilat Marina, a few blocks from our hotel.  The ship was built in 1918 - today it is used strictly for tourist cruises.

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We couldn’t have had a more perfect day - bright sunshine, warm temperatures and tranquil waters.  From our vantage point we could see Egypt, Jordan and of course, Israel.

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As we sailed, I began reflecting about our group of 34 and how we had changed over the past 12 days.  When we began our trip we were several families - we are now one.  Many of us didn’t know each other - we have now learned something about each one of us.  Sarah loves to salsa - now Jim does too...and Iris, Lisa, Robin and Susan!


Ben is the most articulate 13 year old I’ve ever met - he taught me a thing or two on my Mac!


Robin did not have a religious upbringing, barely celebrating the Jewish holidays; now she is the Rabbi at a large Conservative Congregation in the western suburbs - a true inspiration.


Caleb celebrated his 18th birthday on our trip - L’Chiam!  


Like many of the teens on our trip, Rachel and Sara saw each other on occasion at school or at the temple - their friendship is now a special one, with many shared memories, from the sea the sky!


Cantor Julie has done an amazing job organizing this trip - she is already planning the next temple outing to Eastern Europe!


This trip has made an impact on my life in many ways, from historical to spiritual, but it wouldn’t have been the same without this special group of people - my extended temple family.  Each of you has touched my life, and I thank you for that.  I am making the journey back home with renewed faith, a fresh outlook and a gratitude for my new friends-my new family.  Shalom.







On The Road to Petra


As I looked out the window from our hotel, the sun glistened over the Red Sea. It was a bright, beautiful morning - a perfect day to tour the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.  We had to get an early start, as crossing the border would be quite a process. 

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We checked in at the main crossing gate and had to hand over our passports while Jordanian officials processed the paperwork that would allow us to visit their country.  Although we had been told of this proceedure in advance, it was still a bit unnerving to be without a passport!  After about an hour of waiting, our passports were returned and we were on the bus, driving through Jordan to the amazing city of Petra.  









We wind our way up the mountains, taking in the scenery.


"Petra" is the Greek word for "rock."  The city of Petra is an archeological wonder, as all of the buildings are carved right into the rocks!  This ancient city is so amazing, it's one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World!"  Once we arrive, it's a short walk to the entrance. 











There is evidence that this area was inhabited as early as 1600 BCE; at it’s peak in the 1st century BCE, Petra's population was estimated at 45 to 50-thousand people.

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As we made our way down the narrow “canyon” we are struck by the brilliant colors in the rock formations. 




































Our guide explained that many of these structures were mausoleums.  He showed us the original stones alone the path, as well as the extensive water canal system. 














When we came to the end of the canyon, the towering rocks appeared to separate, opening up to the magnificent structure known as "The Treasury.' If you're thinking, "I know I've seen this somewhere before..."  you probaly have - if you're an "Indiana Jones" fan.  It was used in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" as the temple housing the holy grail! 


















This incredible building, also believed to have been a mausoleum, took 20 years to build with 100 men working on it each day!  There are many influences in its style, including Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, Mesopotamian, and Greek.  We continue on to the Necropolis - or “City of the Dead” which displays more mausoleums.

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At one point, a member of our group asked, if all these buildings were to house the dead, where did the living reside?!  We were told, they actually lived on the hills near Petra, but because these were free-standing homes (not carved in the rock) they were destroyed over time.


The grand Amphitheater was originally constructed in the 1st Century BCE for religious purposed, but when the Romans took over Petra in 106 CE they used it for entertainment purposes.  After learning about the history of the region, we had some free time to explore - I used this time creatively!!


By the time we walked back to the bus, we were pretty tuckered out! 


We stopped for a fabulous lunch and were treated to another outstanding sunset over the Jordanian mountains.  

Getting across the border back into Israel was fairly quick, compared to the morning experience.  One more day to go - tomorrow, we cruise the Red Sea!




On The Road to Eilat

I thought today was going to be an easy-paced one, with a few stops on our way to the town of Eilat, Israel’s southern most city, located on the northern tip of the Red Sea.  It started out simple enough with a fascinating visit to Kibbutz Lotan, an eco-friendly Kibbutz! 

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We got a tour of the prototype village, with environmentally friendly residences, built to withstand the extreme heat and cold temperatures of the Arava Valley. 

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These building use as little as 1/8th the energy of a standard building!  They showed us solar ovens, an environmental theme park and an organic herb garden. 

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We got to try our hand at making earth bricks out of dirt, straw and water - that was a big hit with kids of all ages in our group! 

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After a rich experience at the Kibbutz, Arie, our tour  guide, not being one to pass up an opportunity, made a stop along the way for some of the "best ice cream in Israel!"  We'd have to agree!

As we continued our trek south, we were in awe of the towering rock formations at Solomon’s Pillars in the Timna Valley.  Originally an ancient copper mine, these statuesque pillars were created naturally by centuries of water erosion and wind. 

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Who could resist climbing these ancient rocks?  Not us!

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Now that we’d burned off our lunch, we were ready for one more site before heading to our hotel - Mt. Yoash.  From the top of this mountain you can see four countries - Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Thing is, the bus only gets us so far.  We had to hike the rest of the way up, and it was pretty steep! 

I don’t think we were expecting that, and being at the end of the day, it was a bit of a challenge - but we accepted that challenge, and made it to the top! 

IMG_4212Not only did we have an incredible view, but we witnessed a magnificent sunset on the way back down.

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As we pulled up to our hotel in Eilat, we were amazed by the beauty of this port resort city!  I would have loved to explore more, but I was exhausted - and tomorrow is a day-long journey into the historical and archeological city of Petra in Jordan!


On The Road to The Negev Desert

If you think ocean water is salty, try swimming in the Dead Sea!  It was an interesting start to our day.  After a quick breakfast, we rushed to the shores of the famed body of water.  A little background here - the Dead Sea is 32% minerals, and almost 9 times saltier than ocean water. 


Even though it was a little cool for swimming (not to the young people in our group of course) I had to experience this phenomenon!  Adjusting to the cold was challenging, but floating in this salty body of water was so worth it!  Kind of like swimming through gelatin, but not quite that thick.  Really different, really amazing!



Our journey now was taking us deeper into the Negev desert, and into higher elevations.  We stopped at Mount Sodom, a mountain that is made entirely out of rock salt! Not that we didn't believe our tour guide, Arie, but most of us had to do the "tourist thing," and and stick our tongues on the rock to be sure.

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Did I take a rock with me as a souvenir?  You better believe it!

We continued on through the winding roads taking in the majestic scenery until our next stop at the “small crater.” 

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While most craters are caused by things like meteorites, volcanic activity or explosions, there are a very small minority called makhtesh.  These craters are created by geological erosion.  There are only 7 maktesh in the world - 5 of them including the “small crater” are found in Israel!  For a small country, there’s certainly a lot going on!

As we get to better understand the physical attributes of Israel, we also learn more of its political history.  Our next stop takes us to the grave site of David Ben-Gurion - the man who formally proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel in May of 1948. 

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This major event connects the dots from our earlier visit at the Herzl Museum.  While Theodor Herzl created the dream of establishing a Jewish State, Ben-Gurion implemented it!  Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula’s grave sites are overlooking the Negev Desert; behind them Ben-Gurion University casts a watchful eye.   Before we leave, our group places stones on the graves - a Jewish tradition - and recite the mourner's kaddish.  Through the years, Ben-Gurion made many contributions to Israel, including the consolidation of all the state’s militias to one national army, the Israel Defense Force.  We passed by an IDF facility on our way to Mitzpe Ramon, where we will spend the night.


We have just 3 more days left of our Israeli journey, but that’s 3 more adventures to look forward to!



On The Road to Masada

We bid a fond farewell to Jerusalem this morning as we made our way to the West Bank - destination, Masada.  Within miles of leaving the city the terrain made a drastic change as we entered the desert.  We passed the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found!

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Before making our way to Masada, we stopped at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and National Park.


This picturesque oasis within the Judean Desert dates back to the Biblical Era.  It is filled with serene waterfalls throughout the rocky hills.  As we began our hike, we came across several ibex looking for a mid-morning snack!


We stopped several times along the way to take in the beauty of each waterfall, before it was time to head to historic Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea.


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The ruins at Masada are all that is left from the massive complex that was built by King Herod in 37 BCE.

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 After his death in the 1st century a group of Jewish Extremists took over Masada during the Jewish-Roman War agaist the Roman Empire.  The Romans, determined to break through the seemingly unreachable complex, built a ramp over the course of 3 years in order to break through and conquer the fortress.  When the Jewish Extremists realized they had been defeated, rather than die at the hands of their enemies, we are told the 961 people living there, instead committed suicide.

Today, visitors from all over the world hike, or take the cable car up to the top of Masada to walk through the ancient historic site.  It is a challenging trail, but incredibly rewarding!

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In case you were wondering...we took the cable car back down!  Tomorrow we float in the Dead See! 




On The Road to The Old City

December 31, 2011

What a way to ring in 2012! On the last day of 2011 we had our first walking tour of The Old City, aka, Old Jerusalem.  A short walk from our hotel, we passed by some amazing architecture.  The YMCA Hotel, was designed in Art Deco by Arthur Loomis Harmon, the same architect who designed the Empire State Building! Across the street is the prestigious King David Hotel.

















We took a short cut through the very modern Momilla Mall, and entered The Old City through the Jaffa gate on our way to the Christian Quarter - one of 4 uneven quarters that make up this city within a city.

Once inside, it was as if we'd entered another world in another time.  Street vendors lined narrow roads, ornate arches leading to more shops until we reached our destination........ 

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                                                The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.



This is the site where the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have occurred. We see visitors from all over the world wait in long lines to worship at the Alter of The Crucifixion.





Below us, and just inside the entrance is the Stone of Anointing, which tradition states was the place where the body of Jesus was purified for burial.  We are also shown the tomb where it is said Jesus was buried.

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17 different demoninations share this massive space - some with a room, some with an entire floor.

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Muslim guard lock the towering wooden doors every night at midnight and reopen them the next morning at 2:00 am.  The keys have been in the hands of the same family for 900 years!

We now make our way through the bazaar for some hummus and shopping!

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Make that successful shopping!

On the walk back to the hotel, a small group of us couldn't resist a peek inside the King David Hotel, even if the closest we got to "rubbing elbows with royalty" was taking pictures of their signatures!!


Our New Year's Eve dinner was with a small group at the trendy Ben Yahuda Street.  Goodbye 2011!

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January 1, 2012

A clear, blue sky greeted us on this sunny New Years Day.  I had been anticipating this visit to the Western Wall for quite some time, absolutely thrilled to be starting 2012 at such a historic site.  I had prepared prayers in my mind, ready to insert my slip of paper into the ancient rocks.  I was ready to take notes, ready to take pictures - I was totally unprepared for the emotional reaction I would have, visiting this holy place.

Our bus stops at an overlook to Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge in The Old City of Jerusalem that is home to the Dome of The Rock.  This Golden Dome was built in 691 CE and is said to sit on the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.  It is known as the site of the Holy of Holies during the Temple Period.  The oldest Jewish cemetery in the world is on Mount of Olives, dating back some 3-thousand years. 


The 2nd Temple was built in in 516 BCE to replace Solomon's Temple after its destruction, and became a massive complex to accommodate the increasing Jewish population wanting to be near the Holy of Holies. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE.  The lower levels of the Western Wall are part of the few remains from the huge complex.

We start our tour by getting our bearings.  Our amazing tour guide Arie gives us a visual of the "before" and "now" of the southeast corner of the complex.  The Western Huldah Gate was once a main entrance.

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Inspired by these events, our group sings a prayer as we climb the stairs - our guide Arie comments.


Before we go the to Western Wall, we get an amazing view of the tunnels under the wall!  We learn that the wall did not start as a religious structure, but actually as a retaining wall for the nearby Muslim neighborhood that was built in ancient times.











As we make our way through the narrow tunnels, we also learn that the length of the 1,860 ft. wall is made up of HUGE 36-foot stones - the cornerstones weighing up to 50-tons! We then come upon something I wasn't expecting - a prayer wall on the other side of the site of the Holy of Holies.

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I quickly fumble for my reporter's notebook and tear out a piece of paper.  Not wanting to be disrespectful to the other women praying at the wall, I quickly try to find the words for a prayer.  i am overcome with emotion, yet find a way to put my thoughts on paper and insert them between the stones on the wall.

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It takes me a moment to recover from this surreal experience. We get to the end of the tunnel, make our way back through the neighborhood above, and prepare for an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

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My daughter and I shared a moment to reflect on what our individual prayers would say.  We sat, thoughtfully wrote them down, and made our way to the women's side of the wall.  As Sara approached the wall she put one hand, then both hand against the stone.  She took her time; I can only imagine what was going through her mind as she carefully placed the piece of paper between the rocks.  











As she turned back to approach me, I could see she had been crying.  That set my tears in motion as I made my way to the wall.  I bowed my head and put my hands against the structure.  My mind was racing trying to recite in my head the prayers I had put into words.  Tears were streaming down my face. I placed the paper inbetween the stones and turned around with a sense of calm.  It was the most powerful moment in my life.  What a way to start the year!


Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem and head to the Dead Sea Region and Masada.  The journey continues!