Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Aquarium - a Zionist Experience


Only in this country can a visit to the aquarium become a Zionist experience. We've been here for over four years now, and I still marvel at the way things are done here and the magic of this place.

We went to Eilat this week for Hanukah. Eilat is the "place to be" over Hanukah because the weather is so warm, and we've wanted to go for a number of years. We finally got ourselves together and booked two nights in a hotel. Within the first hour of our trip, Eliav threw up all over himself, his blankie and his brother. Other than that set back, we had a great time! We arrived in the afternoon on Tuesday and took a speedboat ride out to the dolphin park. We were able to see about eight dolphins playing and it was an amazing experience. Afterwards, we came back to our hotel rooms and managed to find a restaurant that would deliver to us - we were exhausted!


I was struck in the hotel by the festive atmosphere. The hotel didn't want people lighting Hanukiot in their rooms, so they had set up a huge table for people to light. Everyone had brought their own Hanukiot from home, and for hours you could hear people singing the brachot and additional songs in the lobby. It was a really cool experience and created an interesting festive atmosphere that I've never seen before.

The next morning, we headed for the aquarium. They had a show at 12:00 where they feed the animals in an above-ground aquarium in the round. The place was packed to overflowing and the woman who worked there was telling us that the scuba diver would arrive soon. He arrived with a microphone on and starting talking to the kids. Then, he declared that his kippah was slipping and that he had to readjust it! Here was a scuba diver - in full scuba diving uniform with a kippah on his head underwater! Once his kippah was secure, he started to light the Hanukiah they have underwater. He used those lights that you can crack so that they light up and he proceeded to light this underwater Hanukiah, to do the brachot for Hanukah and to sing extra Hanukah songs. Josh and I were beside ourselves. Here were hundreds of families watching this scuba diver adjusting his kippah and lighting candles underwater, as if they were the most regular and normal experiences in the world. Only in Israel would the fish-feeding at the aquarium involve these extra perks!

From the aquarium, we took the kids to the beach where they had a great time for the afternoon. The next day, we started to head back home but stopped at many places along the way. We went to a bird sanctuary where they've set up a huge area for birds that migrate twice a year. It was a beautiful location with waterways, small huts, perches and the such for the birds. Of course, while stumbling through, we came across a memorial to five soldiers who died in Gaza four years ago. I was struck, as always, by how this entire country is constantly reminded of the soldiers who have given their lives for us. Even in a bird sanctuary, you are reminded of this fact.

We also went to a crocodile farm where an Israeli couple is breeding Nile crocodiles. They were a fascinating couple who lived in South Africa for years and then brought their trade back to Israel. The kids loved it and got to pet a five month old crocodile.

Now, we are back home and spending a few days relaxing (can you relax with five boys under 9 underfoot?) until school starts on Tuesday.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy end to Hanukah and hoping that our operations in Gaza go quickly and smoothly - and that our soldiers come back safely and soon.

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