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Letter from Israel

A picturesque northern travelogue

In a dusty photo album in my living room, there’s a picture of my best friend, Viv, sitting next to a gorgeous stream and waterfall in July 1981.

Viv and I were on a post-college trip to Israel. We took a tour bus to the Golan Heights. One of the stops was the Banyas, formally known as Hermon Stream Nature Reserve.

This is one of the prettiest spots in Israel. A circular “hanging trail” across the gorge brings visitors up close and personal to the Banyas waterfall, fed year-round from the runoff of Mount Hermon at the Lebanese border. The fall drops 33 feet with tremendous force into a beautiful pool surrounded by lush foliage.

I know this is peanuts next to the majestic waterfalls of the American Pacific Northwest. Last year I visited Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Its highest point is 620 feet.

Nevertheless, I was enchanted with the Banyas and always wanted to go back someday. “Someday” ended up being 40 years later.

Below I will share a few pictures from the mini-vacation that Steve and I took last week to the Galilee and Golan, starting at the Banyas.

Back when the Land of Israel was occupied by the Syrian-Greeks of Chanukah infamy, the powers that be built a temple in that bucolic area and named it for Pan, the Greek god of the wild. (The word “panic,” named for Pan, originally referred to something popping up in the wild.)

They called the area Panion. The Romans, who built here extensively starting in the year 2 BCE, later changed the name to Panyas. Under Ottoman and Syrian rule, the pronunciation morphed into “Banyas” because there is no “p” sound in Arabic.

Here you can see water coursing alongside the hanging trail at Hermon Stream Nature Reserve.

The hike through Hermon Stream Nature Reserve includes archeological ruins. The most impressive one is a palace and storage complex built for Agrippa II in the first century CE.

Here’s Steve in one area of the Agrippa complex.

Another view of the Agrippa ruins at the Banyas:

The structure below is evidence of various periods of settlement in the Banyas. The lower walls are from Roman/Byzantine times (3rd to 6th centuries). Above them is part of a Crusader wall (12th century), above that an Ayyubid corner tower (13th century). Atop the tower are 19th century Ottoman additions, and finally there are modern Syrian additions to the building.

After the Banyas, we went to the nearby Tel Dan Nature Reserve. It’s a magnificent national park filled with bubbling brooks, a running river, wooden bridges and impressive trees. The Dan Stream is a major feeder of the Jordan River.

Below are some scenes from Tel Dan.

The biggest surprise was finding Winnie the Pooh’s house here, quite far from England! That’s me posing in front of it.

Another stop we made was a memorial to the 73 soldiers and support personnel killed when two military troop transport helicopters collided mid-air on a stormy night in February 1997.

This poignant memorial is next to Kibbutz Dafna, exactly where one of the copters fell into a wooded stream, shearing a fig tree in half.

Handmade plaques with each soldier’s name, some draped with personal effects, including a hat and an epaulet, hang from the branches of the bifurcated fig tree.

A water element shaped like the long tail of a helicopter leads to a round pond encircled with the 73 names and surrounded by 73 stone boulders.

On our journey, we also walked along the lakeside promenade at Tiberias in the Upper Galilee. Lake Kinneret — the Sea of Galilee — is one of our favorite scenic views in Israel.

I hope you enjoyed this travelogue and most of all I hope that when tourism to Israel resumes you can visit some of these places too.

Abigail Klein Leichman moved to the Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim in 2007, after 20 years in Teaneck. Her occasional Letters from Israel share personal experiences and impressions of Israel with our readers.

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