topics: kebabs (food), 'Akko (Acre), Ptolemy, Crusades, History, "making Aliya", Mt. Carmel, Baha'ism; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: January 21–22, 1998

Food of the Day: Kebabs

Throughout our voyage across North Africa and the Middle East, we have always seen kebabs. Very similar to those you might eat in North America, the kebabs we have been eating are basically chunks of meat speared on a skewer and barbecued over an open flame. The meat can be marinated before cooking or spiced up as it is cooking. Normally, the skewer holds only meat (while often in North America it is loaded with vegetables too) and is served either with bread or rice. Sometimes (like in today's dinner), it is served in pita bread as sandwich filler.

Person of the Day: ORT School System

Our Person of the Day is actually a thing: the ORT School System. In today's Rider Notes, the BikeAbouters talk about their visits to five different ORT schools: in Kiryat Tivon, Hanna Senesh, Kiryat Bialik, Kiryat Motzkin, and 'Akko. But what is an ORT school?

The little the BikeAbouters were able to learn about the ORT school system was very interesting. The ORT system, which was started in Russia hundreds of years ago and brought to Israel by refugees fleeing the pogroms of Russia and making Aliya (see the Tech Fact of the Day) stresses technical training as well as learning in the arts and sciences. We were very impressed with the schools we visited. In addition to having very high-tech computer labs, CAD (computer-aided design) machines, and computer-controlled machine lathes (not to mention other tools, the use of which the BikeAbouters were completely ignorant), the schools were homes to very impressive facilities for both the fine and performing arts. Of course, squished into the daily programs were all the usual subjects like math, literature, and science. The students certainly all looked busy and everyone seemed to be enthusiastic about learning.

For anyone interested in learning more about the ORT schools, we encourage you to contact the Director of Foreign Relations for the ORT Schools and Colleges for the Sciences and Advanced Technologies.

39 King David Blvd.
Tel Aviv 61160
Tel: +972.3.520.3566
Fax: +972.3.522.0677
Web site:

Place of the Day: 'Akko

'Akko, also known as Acre, is located on the Bay of Haifa about 30 km (19 mi) north of the city of Haifa. 'Akko claims to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (along with Jericho, Byblos, and Damascus).

The oldest record of 'Akko is from 1500 BCE; it appears in the recorded history of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Since then, its 'Akko past closely reflects that of the region, including having been conquered by Alexander the Great, ruled by the Ptolemites and known as Ptolemaïs (named after Ptolemy II) when Alexander died, and then lost to the Seleucides. During the pre-Christian era, 'Akko became an important sea port and trading center. It also became part of Syria and then a Roman colony. 'Akko was an important prize during the Crusades, having been captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, retaken by Salah ad-Din for the Arabs, and then by the Crusaders again during the Third Crusade. In 1291, the Mamluks conquered and destroyed it, leaving it in ruins for 450 years. In the 18th century it was the Albanian mercenary, Ahmed Pasha Al-Jazzar, a/k/a "the Butcher," who finally brought it back to life.

After the British takeover in 1917 and despite having been a hotbed of Arab discontent over Jewish control, 'Akko has been an important part of Israel since the 1948 War of Independence. However, its old city is still almost entirely populated by Israeli Arabs. 'Akko is now the center of Israeli steel production.

Group Dispatch, January 21–22

picture of Anthony picture of Ethan

Having determined our plans for the Haifa area when we were back in Tel Aviv, settling into a northern Israeli rhythm was easy. Well, it wasn't an easy rhythm, but we had no trouble finding it.

The morning after our arrival and long evening of discussions with the Re'ut-Sadaqqa staff and friends, we were up bright and early. Corinne and Anthony had a 20-km (12.5-mi) ride ahead of them, east for a 10:30 a.m. appointment at the ORT school (see the Person of the Day) in Kiryat Tivon, while andrEa and Ethan were expected at the Hanna Senesh ORT school at the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa.

Anthony and Corinne's visit to ORT Kiryat Tivon (Web site in Hebrew only) was one of the most fun presentations they have yet made. They were met on their arrival by an English teacher and a math teacher who talked a little about the ORT school system and gave them a brief tour of the school. Afterwards, they all headed for the teachers' lounge where Anthony and Corinne met some of the other school faculty. As the duo explained what BikeAbout was and why they were at ORT Kiryat Tivon, all the English teachers perked up their ears. They saw the perfect educational opportunity that combines a learning experience with exposure to native English speakers. Anthony and Corinne became a little confused when it seemed that every teacher they were meeting was an English teacher until someone explained that they were sitting at the "English Teacher" table. They next discovered that there are 15 different English teachers at the school, which seemed like a lot until they were told that there are over 1500 students at the school! When it was apparent that there was not going to be a classroom large enough for all the interested teachers and students, the whole operation was moved to a small auditorium. Anthony and Corinne gave two different presentations, each time to groups of between 75-100 students.

Ethan and andrEa, in contrast, enjoyed a more intimate group. Also, despite the proximity of the school to the Re'ut-Sadaqqa offices (only a few kilometers away in another part of Haifa), Ethan and andrEa felt like they were working as hard as Anthony and Corinne to get there. ORT Hanna Senesh (Web site in Hebrew only) is located in the Har Ha-Carmel section of Haifa, which is at the very top of Mount Carmel. And it is quite a little mountain.

You see, Haifa is a city of sea and mountain and is divided into three distinct levels. Ha'ir, the lower level, is the location of the port and also a major business center. Hadar Ha-Carmel, the middle level, though largely residential, is also the location of many businesses and offices. At the top of the mountain is Har Ha-Carmel, which is primarily residential and recreational.

[Incidentally, near the top of Mt. Carmel is one of the most unmistakable buildings of the Haifa skyline. The Shrine of the Bab click to view a photograph which contains the remains of Mirza Ali Mohammed (the Baba) is one of the Baha'i religion's holiest shrines. Baha'ism is rooted in the prophecies and teachings of the Bab, a Shi'ite Muslim executed in Persia in 1844 for heresy. His teachings continue today and Baha'ism claims a worldwide following of nearly four million people. Our good friend Shady of inTouch Communications in Cairo (Egypt) is Baha'i. We salute him with this remembrance of his religion.]

And so, ORT Hanna Senesh, commanding a dramatic view out over the city, the port, and up the coast, was a welcome destination when it was finally reached. A bit out of breath, Ethan and andrEa were ushered into the teachers' lounge where, for almost two hours, they described BikeAbout to a constantly changing but always very interested group of students and teachers. Moshe and David, two seniors, were particularly helpful and attentive, sharing information about themselves and their opinions and transmitting details about BikeAbout to latecomers. Moshe and David stayed with Ethan and andrEa the whole time, even bringing them up to Moshe's computer class for a repeat performance.

The lively conversation with David and Moshe and other students about their lives in Israel covered topics from the current political climate and the peace process to obligatory army service and the future. Everyone expressed a view that we have heard repeatedly: peace is of paramount importance everywhere in the Middle East for the safety, security, and sanity of everyone involved. The problem remains one of trying to figure out how to achieve it. Despite the agreement on a need for peace, the ideal method for reaching an agreement was a point of disagreement.

After a swift coast back down the hill they had climbed, Ethan and andrEa, and later Anthony and Corinne, devoted the remainder of the afternoon to dispatch writing, research, and, of course, rest!

At 7 p.m., Anthony and Ethan hopped on a bus for Kiryat Bialik, a small city about 10 km (6 mi) outside of Haifa. It had been arranged that some of the BikeAbout team members would host a small group of Israeli students on the weekly Wednesday chat from the computer lab at the ORT Bialik school (Web site in Hebrew only). This vast institution of almost 5,000 students (!) was extremely impressive, as were the computer facilities, the students present for the chat click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, and the school's Technical Director, Mr. Israel Berger. For 90 minutes, Ethan and Anthony ran back and forth between students, open computers where they could answer chat questions, and a table full of pastries. (Simultaneously, Corinne and andrEa had gathered a few of the Re'ut-Sadaqqa commune members together and were helping them navigate the Web and join the chat.)

Once all the telecommunication responsibilities were accomplished and Anthony and Ethan had returned to Haifa, some of the BikeAbout team members joined a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the start of army service for a friend of the Re'ut-Sadaqqa gang. Since women only serve in the Israeli armed forces for two years, completion of one year is important, as it marks the halfway point.

The next day, Ethan and Anthony were up early for a new set of ORT school visits. The two guys had agreed to do both school visits as part of a one-day, round-trip outing to 'Akko (Acre) (see the Place of the Day). Meanwhile, Corinne and andrEa would work to complete their dispatches and then pedal to their port where an overnight boat to Cyprus awaited them. (They are going to Cyprus in order to replace their passports; Ethan, Anthony and Padraic have already done this. A passport replacement is necessary since onward travel to Lebanon and Syria is impossible with the Israeli stamps we have in our passports. Read more about this.)

So, skirting the mountain that Ethan knew better than to tackle again, the two guys braved the traffic and then the two ORT schools of Kiryat Motzkin and 'Akko. In both cases, they were received by the schools' directors and interested teachers. At ORT Kiryat Motzkin, we first met Ms. Nici Eldar click to view a photograph, and, at ORT 'Akko, we were enthusiastically welcomed by, among others, the school's director, the head of the high school, and finally the computer teacher, Mr. Ilan Bar Shalom. click to view a photograph After the meetings, the guys were brought into classrooms to meet students.

The conversation at ORT Kiryat Motzkin (Web site in Hebrew only) centered once again on the upcoming mandatory military service that everyone in the class of seniors click to view a photograph would soon be facing. While concerned about the two- or three-year commitment and the dangers they might face, most students did not really fear the time ahead. Growing up in Israel with full knowledge of what lies ahead just makes it another part of their lives. Sure, their parents are concerned, but the students were relatively philosophical about it. Many expressed a desire for peace so that army service would not be necessary, and almost all agreed that it would be better not to have to serve. But, unfortunately, no one expected peace anytime soon, and the importance of doing one's duty to protect the State of Israel is such that almost everyone is ready and willing to serve.

The discussion at ORT 'Akko (Web site in Hebrew only), with slightly younger students click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, focused more on life in the north and experiences during the Gulf War. The north of Israel is unusual in many respects, two of which the students expressed in no uncertain terms: greater (and less confrontational) Arab-Israeli integration; and a proximity to an active war zone (the Israeli-Lebanese border). We wondered why the rest of the country was not as successful as the citizens of 'Akko have been in managing and supporting communication between Arabs and Jews. (We later learned that this rosy picture may not be altogether accurate since the two communities really live in separate areas and many conservative Jews are moving away from 'Akko to avoid the cultural integration.)

The proximity of 'Akko to the northern Israeli border brought up some interesting points. Since the border is actively patrolled and sees almost daily conflict between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon, students are accustomed to hearing fighter planes roar up the coast on the way to a mission. Students are also conscious of the fact that rockets and mortars from the militia in southern Lebanon routinely fall within 20 km (12.5 mi) of where they live. While this was disturbing to Anthony and Ethan, the students reassured us that they were not scared. However, they were scared during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq fired missiles at Israel. During this period, every student came to school with his or her very own gas mask and everyone practiced air raid drills. Again, Ethan and Anthony were surprised until the teacher of the class reminded them that in California students practice earthquake drills. Still, it was hard to imagine bringing a gas mask to school.

After this excellent encounter, during which we were made to feel "Welcome to Israel" click to hear an audio clip, the two guys joined Mr. Bar Shalom in the ORT 'Akko computer lab where every computer was being used by students for chatting, working, and Web surfing. Mr. Bar Shalom was eager to show us how he is working to use computers and the research capabilities of the Internet to encourage students to think in new ways. His forward thinking and the enthusiasm of his students impressed us.

With the sun beginning to set, Anthony and Ethan raced into the old town of 'Akko (see Place of the Day) to appreciate the city's ancient walls, calm seaside atmosphere click to view a photograph, and famous Crusader City. With only 45 minutes to spare, they walked quickly through the now underground and dark maze of thick-walled rooms click to view a photograph and passageways click to view a photograph click to view a photograph with high vaulted ceilings. They could easily imagine heavily armored knights stomping around in thick-soled boots and chain mail, shields and swords and tattered clothing hanging from their shoulders. The austere lives they were supposed to lead seemed to match the spare environment and what we supposed were the cold, unadorned walls even back then.

The Crusader City in 'Akko was built as part of the fortifications of the "Latin Kingdom" in the Middle East during the Crusades. As a center and residence for the Knights Hospitallers — one of the order of knights sworn to protect the Holy Land and the pilgrims coming to see it — 'Akko has one of the more significant coastal structures. Unlike many others, since 'Akko was forgotten for many years and covered over with rubble, the present city (founded during the 18th century) is built ON TOP of the Crusader City. click to view a photograph The structures of the Crusader City are now almost entirely underground.

Knowing full well that the sun would drop behind the sea while they were still on their bikes, Ethan and Anthony set out for home, dinner, more work, and sleep. With Corinne and andrEa departed for Cyprus that evening, Ethan and Anthony were tomorrow preparing to cover nearly 170 km (106 mi) in a mad dash to Ramallah, where they hoped to meet Padraic.

(Incidentally, Padraic had arrived that evening and was getting over his jetlag in Tel Aviv at the house of Micky of the Tel Aviv Bikers Association. Plans called for Padraic to pick up his bike and some gear and either bike or bus up the hill to Ramallah. Ethan and Anthony were particularly excited about seeing him since he is carrying with him the replacement wheels that Wheeler-France's Francis Kelsall had been instrumental in getting them. These two wheels will replace Anthony's spoke-eating beasty and Corinne's pretzel, which she had given to Ethan since she was already on her way to Cyprus.)

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