In their tracks

January 15, 2012 - 9:46 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Entertainment, Environment, General, Immigrant Moments, Israeliness, Life, Travel 

This photo, of which there was a similar one in today’s Ha’aretz, shows deer walking around in the Odem or Red Forest, the largest nature reserve in the Golan Heights. I love the photo because it doesn’t seem like it could have been taken in Israel, as deer with antlers, romping in the snow, look so foreign to these parts. But Odem is a fairly magical forest, with deer, ibex and gazelles wandering around, overlooking views of the Golan mountains and Mount Hermon.

The forest and the moshav of Odem are located on Mount Odem, which is 3,580 feet above sea level, making it the second-highest town in Israel, after Neve Ativ, which sits on Mount Hermon. Odem, the moshav, has a few business concerns, but most interesting, perhaps, is its winery, Har Odem Winery, which is worth checking out, especially if the snow has melted by the time you get up there.

Why? It was a rainy weekend over here, and that rain translated into snow up there, where a meter of snow fell on the Hermon, Israel’s ski resort mountain, and nearly as much in other northern towns, including Tzfat and other peaks in the Golan Heights.

Of course, once there’s news of snow, the whole country heads up north to see it for themselves, as snow days are few and far between in these parts. The deer, however, get to revel in it as soon as it starts falling.

Lucky. I’m gonna try and join them this week.

Storm sports

December 12, 2010 - 10:35 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Environment, General, History and Culture, Immigrant Moments, Israeliness, Life, Sports 

You heard it from David, winter has arrived, albeit with a raging sandstorm in Jerusalem, although my sister in the mercaz, the country’s center, says it’s been pouring all day long.

So while I’m keeping my windows closed to keep out the sand, the Gush Dan folks are celebrating water and those in the Golan Heights are hoping for snow. And that’s good news for surfers and skiers. As I learned while reporting a surfing story a few weeks ago, it’s wintertime surfing that’s the best in Israel, when the waves are higher during and following heavy rainstorms. Fall and winter swells can reach from six to 10 feet, which is the time for the more experienced Israeli surfers to hit the waves.

If you want to check it out for yourself, head to the Topsea surfing website, which has webcams stationed at the best beaches. This is the link to the cam at Maravi or Western Beach, which is Tel Aviv’s southernmost beach, situated between Tel Aviv and Jaffa.

If you’re hoping for snow, you’re in luck, as the Hermon received 10 centimeters of snow and is expecting to open the site later this week. That’s early for our little ski mountain, but it’s a good omen considering that the ski season doesn’t usually happen until January or even February.

Here’s to some solid water or snow schussing in our futures.

Israel chooses team for Winter Olympics

January 27, 2010 - 10:35 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Life, Sports, Travel 

Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky

Winter sports and Israel aren’t often thought of in the same sentence. But this week’s heavy precipitation has seen over a foot of snow fall on Mount Hermon in the Golan, and the skiing season has officially begun.

And in a case of good timing, the Olympic Committee of Israel announced this week it would be sending a three-member delegation to the Winte Olympics next month in Vancouver – Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky, a brother-and-sister skating duo, and skier Mikail Renzhin.

Renzhin will compete in the slalom and giant slalom events. The Zaretskys finished seventh in the 2010 European Championships, and are scheduled to skate to “Hava Nagila” and the theme music from the film Schindler’s List. For all three, it will be their second Olympic appearance.

Roman began skating as a 4-year-old in Belarus, while his younger sister started after the family’s aliya to Israel at the Canada Center in Metula. “He decided that he didn’t want to skate alone, so my parents looked for a partner for him,” Alexandra, now 22, told Ha’aretz. “I was supposed to be a stand-in until a suitable partner could be found.”

Their mother, Elena, sent them to Delaware to study with top professionals after they began outskating their teachers in Israel.

“We had the potential and had to make the move,” explains Roman. “Either we went to the United States to get better, or we stayed in Metula where the conditions are not suitable for breeding champions. Our mother couldn’t go with us for financial reasons.”

They both say they miss Israel and feel foreign in New Jersey, where they now live. Their apartment is always stocked with pickled cucumbers, Turkish coffee and other Israeli-made foodstuffs. “We grew up in Metula with the beautiful view of the Golan, then suddenly found ourselves here, where the people aren’t always so nice. It doesn’t feel like home. There’s nothing like Israel.”

Maybe they’ll be the ones to bring home Israel’s first medal in a winter Olympics.

Gone in the Golan

August 10, 2008 - 8:31 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Life, Travel 

What do you do when you want to take a summer vacation, but can’t afford Italy, France, or even Slovenia or Cyprus, and you don’t want to go to one of those glitzy Eilat or Dead Sea hotels where doing the “Macarena” and singing karaoke  is still part of the nightly entertainment fare?

Well, vacationing at a ski resort in the summer may seem a bit backwards, but in this case, it provided a refreshing break from the city hustle bustle, some spectacular views and hikes, a rustic environment without a huge crowd of noisy vacationers, and a chance to spend some time in a part of Israel whose future is not so solid.

Neve Ativ, a moshav at nearly the northernmost edge of the Golan Heights, just south of the formidable Hermon mountain range, turned out to be the perfect location for a quick family getaway. The Rimonim resort there offered quaint, red-tiled Swiss-style chalets, a spacious pool and Jacuzzi, and a breakfast that made lunch extraneous.


Only three hours or so away from Jerusalem, the Golan is like another country. Highlights – we took the ski lift to the top of the 2,000 meter Hermon peak and enjoyed a 2-hour guided tour that focused not only on the topography but also the history of the area, and then the kids go-karted down part of the mountain on the “Extreme” track; we spent a morning exploring the expansive Nimrod Fortress built in 1228 by the Ayyubi governor Al-Aziz, and  reenacted scenes from  Gladiator and Spartacus (alright, different eras, I know); we ate some great humous in the nearby Druze city of Majdal Shams, and heard from the locals that they’re not very happy about the prospects of going back to Syrian rule; and we did an amazing water hike in the Masjare River in the southern part of the Golan. At Rimonim, we joined the other vacationers for a hike and ‘kumzitz’ (bonfire) in the area with Avi, a gruff with a heart of gold ex-paratrooper type, who regaled the kids and parents alike with stories about the area, delicious herbal tea made from plants within hand’s length, and some good old fashioned ‘walking the land’ Zionism.

And like Where’s Waldo, Avi showed up everywhere else - checking us off at the dining room, filling the Coke in the vending machines, and manning time at the front desk. Therefore, when we decided to attend the nightly entertainment show in the nightclub, it wasn’t surprising to find Avi leading the karaoke (alright, so it isn’t really another country). If you’re here, you should get up to the Golan now and enjoy its multitude of charms. And if you’re not, then make sure to include it on your next visit instead of one of the tourist traps.


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