Rachel and I went on a trip to the Golan with our synagogue last weekend.
We stayed in the Hermon field school, a ramshackle of little motel-like rooms outside the small settlement of Snir, along the Hermon river, otherwise known as the Banyas.
Snir is just across from my favorite spot in Israel, Tel Dan, a national park with a series of gorgeous treks through deep shade and freezing water. The air may be over 40 degrees Celsius, but the water is so cold that you get chills if you stay in it too long.
Dozens of entrances to the natural cool springs flowing down from Syria dot the 99 highway, including "Banyas", "Snir River", and rafting businesses. All these locations have fees, between $5 to $10 to $20 an hour (for a tube or kayak).
Some of these place no longer let visitors go in the water at all, since generations of visitors has had a somewhat negative overall effect on the area's wildlife and beauty. But .... that's the reason everyone visits the area. You don't pay $5 to go to see beautiful cold water on a hot summer day and then not go into the water! I'm hoping that these restrictions are temporary (or just rumors).
You don't have to go into the river through one of the above points, as there are several free access points to the river from the country's vast connection of national trails. One such entrance was to be found behind the field school, and a fifteen minute descent brought us right to one of the most beautiful locations on Earth.
The only problem with using the trails to enter the river, rather than go through the parks, is that you see interesting things and have no idea what they are. This castle-looking thing was visible from our trail on a neighboring hill, but I don't know it's story.
On the other hand, the view in the other direction needs no explanation:
This is simply marked by a sign which reads "Syrian Tank". The tank is upside down at the bottom of a ravine where a tank should not be.
There was a "forbidden grove", a wall of trees and vines covered with gossamer cocoons.
I found this sylph reposing on a branch overhanging the river and I took her home.
The path we took led to She'ar Yeshuv, the next settlement down the road. At the end of the path was a little concession stand where the mists of water sprayed onto the plants floated over and onto us. The person who ran the place had covered every table, chair and wall in mosaics. He even covered the ice cream cart, the posts, the floors, and much of his nearby house and barn in mosaics. It was psychedelic. Below is a table with Chess and Backgammon mosaics (with one of our synagogue members).
If you come the right time of year, you can go blueberry picking on the Golan, but we missed this by a few weeks.
We met a Teimani group of three families from Raanana and included them in our Carlebach Anglo-Ashkenazic shabbat davening, alternately listening to some of their songs and leyning. We also sang together with them during the communal meals. They were so impressed by our singing and joy that they asked to be called and told when we next have a shabbaton so they can join us. Hooray for cross-cultural ties!