Each morning in Israel we begin with tefillah, as we do back at home at Community Day School. Today, our Torah service was unique because we read from a gorgeous Sephardic Torah that stands upright and is encased in decorated wood.

We then met our new Israeli friends from Misgav at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve for a guided walk along the Dan Stream, the largest source of water feeding the Jordan River created by snowmelt from Mount Hermon. You might be wondering what you get when you cross a bunch of kids from Pittsburgh and Misgav? Why, PittsGav of course!

Walking through the shady woods in Tel Dan with its flowing brooks and lush green foliage was almost like taking a walk through Frick Park after a heavy summer rain–until we reached the remains of a temple from the biblical kingdom of Israel built under King Jeroboam I. That doesn’t happen back in Squirrel Hill. The city of Dan is one of the most important antiquities sites in Israel. Excavations have revealed, among other things, evidence of the existence of the “House of David” and an altar to the Golden Calf.

Our bus then climbed from the Hula Valley to the Golan Heights, where we enjoyed a pizza picnic with the Israeli students before heading to the De Karina boutique chocolate factory. There, we reenacted the famous “I Love Lucy” chocolate wrapping scene, CDS-style. The De Karina factory was established by Karina Chaplinski, a third-generation chocolatier whose family made aliyah from Argentina in 2003. We had a guided tour of the factory to see the manufacturing process in action (including a demo of how they make flaky mekupelet  bars), tasted some new chocolate delicacies, and then tried our hands at filling truffles and decorating chocolate wafers. Some of us even had room for chocolate milkshakes afterward! !טָעִים מְאוֹד

With full bellies, we made our last stop together with the students from Misgav at Mount Bental, where we enjoyed breathtaking panoramic views of the Golan Heights and Syria’s Quneitra Valley. Formed in a volcanic eruption, Mount Bental was the site of one of the largest tank battles held during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when the Israelis defeated the Syrians despite having a much smaller force.

We spoke to U.N. troops from New Zealand and Norway at their observer post overlooking Syria; they’ve been stationed there after disengaging from the border while monitoring the ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis. Eitan taught us about an Israeli hospital for treating Syrian refugees, and in a surreal moment, we looked out across into Syria, where you can often see smoke in the sky and hear distant explosions as the country continues to unravel.

A famous sign at the top of Mount Bental marks the distance and direction to far-flung cities, from Baghdad to Jerusalem, Tiberias to Washington, D.C. As we bid farewell to our friends from Misgav, Eitan reminded us that we also stand at a crossroads as we approach the end of our Israel trip and CDS experience and that we have the power to choose the direction we head next.

At least in our immediate future, the next stop is Tel Aviv, as we bid farewell to Tverya tomorrow for the last leg of our adventure. Meantime, we’ll leave you with one more cheer from PittsGav!

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