Beit Guvrin National Park

Beit Guvrin National Park

Day 3 of My Israeli Adventure started out pretty early because our party of 13 had to make our way out to Beit Guvrin National Park. All I knew about the day’s itinerary was that we were going on an archaeological dig.And as with so much of this week-long trip, I didn’t ask any questions beforehand. I just followed the instructions of Hillel, our by now one-of-the-family guide. Because each night, as we got off the bus at the hotel, Hillel would tell us what time to be in the lobby the next day, what we were doing and what we needed to wear and bring. (It was so nice to not be in charge.)

The instructions for today were to wear clothes that could get dirty. I could do that.

Descending in to the cave

Descending in to the cave

We got out to the site, called Tel Maresha, and learned a little history of the region from our guide Missy. That it was the ancestral home of King Herod over 2,000 years ago. That we were to be digging in an area called Cistern 169. Which was where the trash had been thrown. So we were going to be excavating the garbage dump of the place using a pick and a shovel and our hands to clear out piles of dirt.

Getting down and dirty

Getting down and dirty

And we really found stuff. This is not a place where they plant old pieces of pottery so you can get the thrill of uncovering something. The people who go on this excavating tour are really helping to dig through the many layers of civilization here.And this is one of the things that I unearthed: a piece of pottery with markings on it. Pretty cool, right?

Real pottery shard

Real pottery shard

We also got to crawl through an unexcavated cave system, lit solely by candles. Only the bravest, and most limber, of our group opted to do this. And it was pretty cool. We crawled through a columbarian which is a section of the caves where they bred pigeons. It was marked with hundreds of small holes in the walls where the pigeons lived. (Glad I didn’t have to clean them out.)

Dirty, and hungry, we hopped back on our bus and headed to a diner at a truck stop. It was a pretty fancy diner with menu options like fresh tuna salads, interesting combos of pasta toppings and an amazing goat cheese artichoke tapenade sandwich. On freshly baked grainy and seedy bread. I had that. And I ate all of it. Being an archaeologist makes you hungry!

Armored Corps Memorial

Armored Corps Memorial

And then it was on to the Yad Lashiryon Memorial at Latrun, where the Israeli Armored Corps remembers the fallen soldiers of it’s division. The Wall of Names lists each of the almost 5,000 men and women armored corps members who have died in all of the Israeli wars.

The site also has over a dozen different types of tanks used throughout the years. And the kids, and some of the adults, had a great time climbing up on them and pretending they were, well, the victors.

After Latrun, we were driven to an border intelligence base. I don’t have any pictures because we were asked to put our cameras and phones in a small lockbox before we entered their war room. And I never got around to asking how much of what we saw and learned about their operation I could write about it. So I’ll be general.

The base was populated by only women soldiers. (National military service is required of Israelis over the age of 18. Two years for women and three years for men.) And these women were responsible for making sure the borders were secure. Each soldier sat for four hours at a time in front of a bank of monitors. Giving them their complete attention and watching to make sure nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

My brother and his wife, in honor of their kids’ B’nai Mitzvah, had worked with the organization Thank Israeli Soldiers to bring care packages to these women. And we had the privilege of handing them out and speaking with the soldiers. Learning a bit about what their day to day lives were like.

And I was awestruck. By them. By their commitment. By their open affection with each other. And by the collective power these young women held. I felt really proud. Of what, I’m not sure. I’m not a soldier. But I’m a woman. And a mother. And watching my daughter and her cousin watch these women was really special.

Once again, I boarded the bus physically and emotionally spent. And the group made a decision to forgo an evening out. The kids were going to order room service. And the adults were going to enjoy a relaxing dinner on the patio restaurant of our hotel. We were to meet downstairs in the hotel bar at 7:00. I was the first one there (of course) and was treated to a beautifully made slightly Dirty Martini. And also? Bugles. I love Bugles.

evening collage

It was a beautiful sunset and a beautiful night. The perfect end to Day 3.

Tomorrow was the big day. Our raison d’etre. My niece and nephew’s B’nai Mitzvah.

And it was going to be another powerful experience.