Thursday, December 10, 2009


Promoting Classical Judaism
December 2009 Vol. 23 • No. 3 Kislev 5770

Israel Planning Its Own National Wine Route for Tourists

Rabbi Mordechai Weiss, the former head of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County who now resides with his wife, Ellie, and their family in Mitzpe Yericho, is convinced he has the best job in the world. As a licensed Israeli tour guide, he is always meeting new people and “enjoying a great time with them.”
“At the same time, I have the opportunity to see Israel as if for the very first time, through another person’s eyes,” he said.
This past summer, prompted by the three-day annual wine festival at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Rabbi Weiss said his thoughts turned to visits to Israel’s wonderful wineries.

Major Industry
The festival featured wines from 33 different Israeli wine¬makers.
In all, Israel boasts more than 250 wineries. Together, they manufacture 33 million bottles annually. Of these, 150 are so-called boutique wineries that produce fewer than 100,000 bottles a year. Ninety percent of these smaller wineries were built in the last 15-20 years.
The Israeli wine industry is a $224 million business, employing thousands of workers in the vineyards, cellars, and offices.

Throughout the Country
“Our wineries are dispersed throughout the country, making it easy to put them on the itinerary,” said Rabbi Weiss, pointing out that there are wineries in the immediate area around Jerusalem as well as to the south, north, and west of the city.
“Up north, in the Galilee and the Golan, the list of wineries to visit is practically endless,” he said. “But you can also tour wineries in the Judean Mountains and the Negev. Each place has its own particular wineries and all of them should prove interesting to tourists looking for something different.”
Two recent additions to the wine route are the Psagot Winery just north of Jerusalem and the Adir Winery located in Dalton near Safed. Both Wineries boast great wine and beautiful new visitors centers to enjoy the wine tastings on your visit there. At the Adir Winery, an additional bonus is the opportunity to taste the goat cheese and yoghurt ice cream which they also produce on the premises of their dairy.
The maturation of Israel’s wine industry in recent years has led the Tourism Ministry to consider developing an Israeli wine route, similar to the ones found in the Napa Valley in California or the Stellenbosch district in South Africa.

Good for Tourism
Rabbi Weiss is convinced that promotion of such a route would be a draw for international tourists in addition to helping develop local businesses.
Last month, Israeli Tour¬ism Minister Stas Misezhnikov visited the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya’acov, and came to the same conclusion reached by Rabbi Weiss. Mr. Misezhnikov said that after visiting the town and the surrounding area to learn more about the wine industry and its tourism potential, he was sufficiently impressed to call for a plan to implement the idea of a national wine route.
Zichron Ya’acov is located 22 miles south of Haifa and just 15 minutes north of Caesarea. Nestled at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range, overlooking the Mediterranean, it was one of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and named in honor of his father.
Rabbi Weiss said Zichron Ya’acov, with its wineries dating back to the 19th century as well as high-tech 21st-century models, is the perfect place to open a wine route.
“There are big commercial wineries like Carmel next to boutique family-owned micro-wineries,” he said.

Becoming Popular
According to Rabbi Weiss, wine tours are becoming popu¬lar in Israel and he is one of the country’s tour operators who offers such tours of Israel’s wine regions to interested individuals and groups.
“The differences between the various wineries and the personalities of the vintners make the tours informative and interesting. In each area, you really get a local feel, and the winemakers reflect that,” he said.
In addition to offering wine tastings, many wineries offer tourists the opportunity to en¬joy superb dining.
“There are all sort of wineries, ranging from rustic to high-tech modern facilities. When you combine the wine with quality food, you are in for a really great time,” said Rabbi Weiss.

Off the Beaten Track
Wine tours often take visitors well off the beaten track, away from the established ho¬tel regions on the coast and in Jerusalem. That can mean finding local bed-and-breakfast options, which is when a tour guide can come in handy.
“It’s also good to have a driver if the tourist intends to spend the day sipping wine,” says Rabbi Weiss.
According to the Tourism Ministry, the new wine route will provide maps for bike and walking tours as well.

Not Just for Kiddush
Israel’s wineries seem quite ready to accommodate a new influx of tourists bound for a national wine route.
Adam Montifiore, development director for Carmel Wineries, said his company’s transformation symbolizes the change in the Israeli wine
industry as a whole. Once a producer of a limited range of staple wines, used mostly for Jewish rituals and holidays, Carmel now operates five kosher wineries across the country, each with distinct features and characteristics.
Aside from its two 120-year-old wineries in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya’acov, Carmel also owns a state-of-the-art boutique winery near Arad, a five-year-old winery in the Upper Galilee, and an experimental micro-winery, also in Zichron Ya’akov.
“Israel is no longer a producer of mostly sweet kosher wines just for kiddush. It is gaining a reputation for mature wines enjoyed by sophisticated drinkers. Fortunately, many of them are still kosher,” said Rabbi Weiss.
In Zichron Ya’acov, Carmel recently opened a new wine culture center, an upscale ver¬sion of a winery visitor center, where guests are treated to a 90-minute wine workshop and extensive tasting, led by an Italian-trained sommelier.

5,000-Year-Old Story
According to Rabbi Weiss, a wine tour can be either the main purpose of a week-long visit or a fun day-trip for a family looking to spend time outdoors.
“Whichever you decide, a trip to a kosher winery is always a fun experience,” he said.
For more information, Rabbi Weiss can be reached in Israel at 201-353-7946, or by email,
“Learning about the history of Israeli kosher wine manufacturing means delving into a 5,000-year-old story. It’s an¬other way of experiencing this very special place in the world. And, besides wherever there is a developed wine culture, good food can’t be far away,” he says.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Best Job in the World

Reprinted from The AACI Jerusalem Voice

My very good friend Yehuda likes to tell me every so often that in order to "make it" in Israel, one needs to be extremely flexible when it comes to employment. Meaning, you can expect a couple of curves thrown at you after you make aliyah, and if you want to succeed, you better be ready to do something for a living that might not have been in your original plans.

I am fifty years old. Throughout my life I have been blessed with many great teachers, starting with my own father. In my teenage years I took it for granted that one day I too would be a teacher, just like my father. And so it was, but not as a school teacher.

My first gig as a teacher was volunteering one hour per week to teach basic Judaism to a group of elementary age children who attended public school. It was the only religious instruction they received. It was then that I learned that a good teacher gains more from his students than the students from him. Another fringe benefit of the job was that my boss introduced me to his sister-in-law, my wife to be.

Before our first year of marriage was up, we had settled down in Teaneck, New Jersey with our first child, where we would spend the next 21 years. I was hired by Chabad to serve as their Director of Educational Activities. With no building to call our own, I started giving Adult Education classes out our small two bedroom apartment along with the other community programs I organized. Eventually my boss would make aliyah and I would replace him as the Executive Director, building Teaneck's first Chabad House and opening up many more Chabad Centers around Bergen County, New Jersey. All during this time, my wife was busy at my side, raising our children, serving as the Rebbetzin and as a pre-school assistant at the local Jewish Day School. It was a great, great run.

Our oldest child made aliyah with her newlywed husband in the summer of 2000. In July of 2003 we all followed suit. The initial plan was for me to sort of continue what I was already doing and what I was pretty good at; fundraising. After two years, the dynamics at work changed and it was time for me to move on. But what to do?

It was then that I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a Tour guide course which was to be given in English. When I had taken my brother around the country he had said that I would make a great guide. And so with my father-in-law's encouragement, and financial help, I took the plunge. The up-side was that the two years of the course was one of the best times in my life; New friends, outstanding teachers. The down-side was pretty much being unemployed for two years. Ouch!

But I did it. I also took the course for the special drivers license you need to transport tourists. And so now I have the best job in the world. I am teaching again, and the Land of Israel is my textbook. I'm teaching, but I'm constantly learning. I spend my time with some of the nicest people you could ever meet. People from back home in the States, from foreign countries, College students, young kids, seniors, Jews, Gentiles, all different types of professionals. You name it.

Each morning when I leave my house, the classroom will be different. Every day is another trip. And I am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To Laugh and to Cry

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av – Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av – which catapults us into the saddest period of time on the Jewish calendar. It was on the 9th day of Av in the year 70 when the exile of the Jewish nation began with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. All the many years of suffering, the inquisitions, the pogroms, the Holocaust, are traced back to that one single event, that one single day. It is a day marked by fasting and mourning.

If in the month of Adar, when the holiday of Purim is celebrated, we increase our joy, then in the month of Av we are to minimize our joy. In an interesting play on words we are taught that the way to minimize the effects of Av is by being joyous.

Today I experienced both. Joy and mourning.

Today I visited Jericho. Believe me, that's no small feat for an Israeli citizen. After the Six Day War in 1967 to visit Jericho was no big deal. For many it was simply the quiet Arab village one passed through when travelling north via the Jordan Valley. It was also a particularly popular location for archaeologists who have unearthed the remains of over 20 successive settlements dating back thousands and thousands of years.

It is also to the Jews that the city of Jericho is so important. It is mentioned over 70 times in the Torah. It is the key to the Land of Israel, the very first city in the land conquered by Joshua after having spent 40 years wandering in the desert with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after their enslavement in Egypt. Who isn't familiar with the story of the crumbling walls of Jericho? Both Prophets Elijah and Elisha are here, as well as King Zedekiah at the tail end of the First Temple period who is captured in the area. Hundreds of years later the Hasmoneans as well as King Herod will be here too.

Sometime between the 5th to 8th centuries the "Shalom al Yisrael" (Peace upon Israel) synagogue was constructed in Jericho. The synagogue contained a mosaic on the floor with drawings of the Ark and Menorah of the Holy Temple as well as a Shofar, Lulav and the inscription "Shalom al Yisrael". After 1967, the ancient synagogue was used regularly for prayers. Later on, a Yeshiva was developed in the place.

On May 13, 1994 Israel withdrew from Jericho. According to the Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to keep free access to the synagogue and to defend it properly. In September of 2000, the building was desecrated and set fire to.

That's where I went this morning to pray. Under very heavy guard by the IDF, permission is being granted for monthly prayer visits to the "Shalom al Yisrael" synagogue in honor of Rosh Chodesh – the first day of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is a festive day. It's about renewal. Having the opportunity to pray in this ancient synagogue in this ancient city gave me great joy. It was in fact the very, very first time in my entire life that I had ever visited Jericho, let alone pray there!

But the circumstances can make one cry.

We are told that the saddest day of the year will one day be transformed into a day of celebration, that in the destruction there is already the seed of redemption. I would like to think that the place I call home today epitomizes that idea of being located somewhere between the depths of Jericho, the lowest city on earth, and the spiritual heights of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives with his family in the Judean Desert community of Mitzpe Yericho, Israel which overlooks the city of Jericho. He served as a community Rabbi in Bergen County, New Jersey for more than two decades. He is a licensed tour guide.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Israeli Bus Drivers

As a tour guide, and as an Israeli who utilizes the bus system pretty regularly (we haven't owned a car since September), I quite often have the "opportunity" to interact with what we lovingly refer to here in Israel as the "nahag", or more simply, "the driver", or more specifically the (Israeli) bus driver. Taxi drivers are a category all unto themselves ("accidentally" taking the longer route to "avoid the traffic" (an impossibility) or overcharging you), but an Israeli bus driver …

I decided to write about this because of an incident which happened last week during the Pesach holiday as my 16 year old daughter Bat-sheva was making her way down south towards the Dead Sea by bus.

It seems that the bus driver had accidentally passed by one of his stops and it was only kilometers later that a passenger who needed to get off at the missed stop brought it to the driver's attention.

Now with Israeli bus drivers, as with people in general, but even more so, you never know what kind of reaction you're going to get from the driver. Listen. Bus drivers are taxed to the limit, and then some. Number one. Their passengers are Israeli. Need I say more? Number two. They are constantly being asked all kinds of questions regarding every single bus route in the country, they are busy giving change and selling tickets, they are fighting the traffic and dealing with an overcrowded bus with passengers arguing among themselves. Oh, and don't forget that all through this they are supposed to keep an eye out for suicide bombers. A dream job!

So sometimes your bus driver will simply refuse to drop you off at your designated stop, or sometimes he'll be especially kind and make a stop for you at an "unofficial" stop. You never know.

Anyway, getting back to my daughter's story. After the passenger told the driver that he had missed her stop, the driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road, got out of the bus, and for twenty minutes stood out on the highway with his finger stuck out trying to find a "hitch" for the passenger! Finally a police car stopped and they took the passenger back to their correct stop.

What a country!

A few of our major appliances are on the blink. Our freezer is out of commission and even worse (much worse) the washing machine broke down two weeks ago. The repair man has been out to visit us twice so far, but with the holidays … Anyway, with a house filled with kids and guests, you can almost imagine the "ba-la-gan" (mess) that not having the machine has created. The repair people now say Tuesday … We can only hope.

But in true Israeli hospitality, all of our neighbors have graciously opened their homes to us to use their own machines. One neighbor even insists on washing, drying, folding and delivering our laundry back to us! (Remember, we have no car.) But that's how it is where we live; neighbors knocking on your door for some milk and eggs, and you yelling out your kitchen window for some zucchini for the chicken soup.

Life on the Yishuv.
And so last week I finally had my knee arthroscopy. I was given an epidural, so I was able to watch the procedure on the computer screen as the surgeon did his work. Wow! I had the procedure done at Hadassah (Mount Scopus). The surgeon was great and I am, baruch Hashem, feeling great.

We enjoyed a wonderful Pesach, our 5th since making aliyah. (Just 7 days. Still feels weird). Again we participated in the catered communal meal on the Shabbat before Pesach. A life saver! Our married daughter Chaya with Joel spent the entire Pesach with us, as did Yaakov, Mazal and our grandson Uriel Tzion (They stayed on for a few extra days). The kids did some hikes, nearby and further away, and also found some time to go bowling. Ellie even found a few hours one day just to sit and relax in the sun. The weather has been pretty nice, except for the huge sandstorm that hit us full blast Wednesday night. Whew!!!

In another two weeks I begin a pretty full schedule of guiding. I'm pretty much booked up into July (including a 13 day Birthright trip), baruch Hashem, although I have not heard yet from the Pope and Obama who will be visiting here soon. So in the meantime I'm catching up on my writing (Isratimes), waiting for the publication of my book (September?), laying off the blackberry but spending time on Facebook with my Birthright alumni, and preparing a talk on time management for the Refuah Institute in Jerusalem.

The kids are back in school and Ellie is back to work, but before you know it will be more vacation days (Yom Ha'atzmaut, Lag Baomer), Shavuot (Ellie will be joining me in Jerusalem with a Birthright group), school graduations (Mendel into High School, Shimon into Junior High, Nechama into first grade) and birthdays! (Menucha Rachel 2, Shimon 12). Still another year until Menucha begins pre-school. Getting her to wear her eyeglasses continues to be a struggle.

We are still looking for tenants to rent out the apartment we renovated a few months ago. Hopefully soon. We got to see a lot of the family just before Pesach at a family wedding. A son of my brother Yosef got married. The kids had a ball. And it's real nice seeing all the construction going on in my neighborhood. Bunch of new homes going up. Wonderful.

And so I took this family from Chicago down to the Dead Sea before Pesach. On the way, traffic was stopped for about a half hour for a suspicious object to be removed from the road. And at Masada we got held up while we watched a daring rescue operation as a rope was lowered down from the cable car to recue a tourist who had slid down the snake path up to Masada.

Now this was stuff my tour guide course did not prepare me for.

Stay in touch. All our love.


Thursday, February 12, 2009


So as I was surfing my BlackBerry this morning and reading all the nice birthday greetings which were sent to me via Facebook (including the operating system of Facebook itself!) I imagined what it must have been like 50 years ago today when I was born. Was my father surfing his blackberry too checking out all those mazal tov greetings to him? Oh yeah! Back then a blackberry was a wild fruit and a smile came across your face when you read a good book. Thank G-d for progress. The world is such a better place. And by the way, how come Lincoln got a new penny for his birthday and I didn't even get an agurah? My beard is just as long as his!

All is well. Tuesday was a national holiday here in Israel. Election Day. No wonder they have elections so often here. You get a paid vacation day every time there's another election! No wonder so many people are hoping coalition talks fail and then there will be another day off... I mean election. This is a really great country. I was given 33 choices at the voting booth. 33! So Jewish. Sort of like living in a community with 300 families ... and 12 synagouges. (My place.)

I've been busy guiding. Had a great time with the students from Swathmore here on Birthright. Enjoyed a most meaningful time with a group visiting Sderot and its environs. In another week I'll be guiding a Federation mission from Houston, and then after Purim another Birthright group.

My latest learning curve here has been trying to navigate the Israeli tax system. And each time I think that I'm getting close to getting a handle on it ... WHAM!!!! I find out about another agency ... form .... regulation .... don't ask! Baruch Hashem.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chanukah Travel

(Maccabees I, Chapter 6, verses 32-46)

When writing about different locations associated with Chanukah, some obvious places would be Modiin, where the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Greeks all began, and Jerusalem. Alternatively, one could write about the different battle sites such as Wadi Haramia, near modern day Ma'ale Levona, Beth Horon, Emmaus or Beth Zur north of Hebron, Adasa or Elasa near Ramallah. For your enjoyment, I have decided to write about a battle site which did not have a happy ending for the Jewish rebels— the Battle of Beth-Zechariah located just outside Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion.
In 164 BCE, Yehuda HaMaccabee (Judah the Maccabee) defeated the Syrian Greeks at the Battle of Beth Zur, and restored the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. However, Seleucid forces still controlled the Acra, a strong fortress within the city that faced Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) which served as a symbol to remind the Jews that their land was still occupied [by the Greeks]. Two years later, in 162 BCE, Yehuda HaMaccabee laid siege to the fortress. The Syrian Greeks then took the field against the Maccabean army.
With an army of about 50,000 infantry and thirty war elephants, along with cavalry and chariots, the Greeks approached Jerusalem from the south and besieged Beth-Zur eighteen miles from the city. Yehuda HaMaccabee lifted his own siege on The Acra, and led his army south. The Jewish force of about 20,000 positioned itself on the high ground across the road to Jerusalem — directly in the path of the Syrian-Seleucid army.
After the Syrian Greeks captured Beth-Zur, they then marched on to Beth-Zechariah. Yehuda HaMaccabee used traditional field tactics and fought the Syrians in their own fashion. The result was a defeat for the Jews.
The war elephants unnerved Yehuda’s troops. As the Jews began to break for the rear, the Maccabee's younger brother, Elazar, attempted to show his fellow men that the elephants were vulnerable. Charging into the mouth of the Syrian assault, he spotted a large elephant bearing the royal seal. Elazar cast himself under the animal and thrust his sword into its soft belly. The elephant died immediately and fell onto Elazar, killing him.
Today you can visit the settlement of Elazar located in Gush Etzion just across from Efrat. The site of the Maccabean battle where elazar the Maccabbee was crushed by an elephant is located nearby in Hirbet El Zachariah. A wonderful place to visit there is the Path of the Patriarchs which runs between Rosh Tzurim and Neve Daniel.
In all probability, the Romans built on this existing path that has been around for many generations earlier. This is the most logical path to take according to the landscape of the region. The book of Braishit is filled with stories about the forefathers walking between Beer Sheva and Nablus. This would be the path they travelled on. Abraham and Sarah walk from Nablus passing Bet El and then southwards on this path.

And then there is the story of the binding of Isaac, where Abraham takes his son and they travel three days from Beer Sheva to ‘that place’, the Temple Mount. On the beginning of the third day, they are able to see ‘that place’ from a distance. On the hills at the top of modern day Neve Daniel, it is approximately 60 km. from Beer Sheva, which is two days’ travel and it is also a place where you can see on the horizon the Mount Moriah.

And so here you have the path, travelled by our forefathers as well as the Maccabees. On June 7,1967, during the Six Day War, Israeli forces advanced on the Path of the Patriarchs towards the Etzion Bloc and entered the abandoned Jordanian army camp on the site of Kfar Etzion. By Rosh Hashana, some of the Gush Etzion survivors from 1948 were granted permission and returned back to Kfar Etzion.

To visit the Kfar Etzion Memorial museum call 02 993-8308.