Wine, Olive Oil, Our New Israeli Soldier Friends, and Har Bental

After hiking Nahal Jilabun Canyon in Golan Heights, we set off to the Golan Heights Winery.

It was probably the worst wine tasting ever, and I mean this in the organization and presentation of the guide. We arrived and had to wait quite a while until they set up. The only thing they really told us was that when you taste wine, you are supposed to swish it around in your cup first, smell it, then sip. They said about two adjectives for each wine, then said, “it goes well with __ cheese” and gave us a two plates which we were basically battling over, the small cheese squares quickly disappearing, arms flailing over heads, stabbings of tooth picks to try to scrounge the last cheese survivors…. I had higher expectations I guess.

After the uneventful, 4 or 5 wine tastings, we crossed the street to an olive oil press.
This place was pretty cool. They told us a lot about how they made their oil and seemed really passionate about it. We sampled some of their soap that smelled delicious and gave new, soft hands. We were given the tour then got to sample the kinds of olive oil.

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They were so delicious. Every single one of them. I bought my mom my favorite lemony olive oil (pretty darn expensive, but worth it!). I also picked up some face cleansing product for my significant other’s mother. I really enjoyed my time here. The place was worth the visit (kind of remote place if I remember correctly), check out their site here if you are interested: http://www.oleaessence.com/

At the end of the tour, we had a surprise. Joining our group were 8 lucky soldiers from the IDF, Israeli Defense Force.  My god, this was probably the best experience of the trip. We all went around introducing ourselves, but after hearing the Israeli’s introductions, “I am fluent in 5 different languages”, “I am in charge of 3,000 people”, “My work for the Israeli army is (doing some kind of crazy science things I don’t even understand)”….I felt like we were the most lazy, unimportant, and just stereotyped Americans ever. They stood there, tall, proud, powerful, in their dark green and tan uniforms among us.

They have done so much already, who knows what each of them has gone through?–and they were our age. Compared to them, we have done nothing. They are our age, so they are like us! But they were most definitely not like us. Israel is the only nation to conscript women and put them on the battle field. Perhaps this is why Israelis women are so goddamn strong (and I don’t mean that solely physically). Once you turn 18 you have no choice but to pay your years to the IDF, unless you are extremely orthodox–a debate that was causing much trouble when I visited (“Someone has to pray for us”). I can’t imagine the U.S. being like this, so it’s very strange to me.

However, what surprised me the most, was that they were all so happy, grateful, kind, and overall great people. Getting to know them was such a special and significant part of Birthright. They made the trip extraordinary.

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With our new members, we drove to Har Bental.

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Artwork by Dutch artist Joop de Jong

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This little mountain offers an awesome view of Golan, Syria, and Lebanon borders. This was a very dangerous place back in 1973, year of the Yom Kippur War. The battle over Golan was executed here. Israelis fought with 160 tanks versus Syrian’s 1,500 for this land. Many lives were taken on this spot, but once the Israelis destroyed 900 tanks of the Syrians and left with only 7 of their own, they were deemed victorious because of Syrian’s retreat.

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We were able to walk through the bunkers and the tunnels underground.

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The valley below the mountain is referred to the Valley of Tears. I couldn’t help but notice how rigid and uncomfortable our new friends were when Karmit told us the history here…

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