On the last day of my trip to Israel, our friends took us to see Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights, and the Jordan River. The long drive took us up into the northeasternmost part of Israel, right along the borders of Lebannon and Syria. Barbed wire fences posted with warnings served as the markers for these closed borders that are closely watched.
Up, up, up our road wound through the mountains, past flocks of sheep and herds of cattle feeding on the slopes. We rounded a bend and glimpsed a fortress towering high above us. As the switchbacks took us higher we gained a better view of Nimrod’s Fortress, built by the nephew of Saladin during the Sixth Crusades. It was in the perfect place to stand guard over the Golan Heights and the sprawling valley below.
But our road wound ever upward taking us through a Druze village called Majdal Al-Shams. We learned that the Druze are a fascinating people group that have managed to maintain separatism from other ethnicities. They follow a very specific sect of Islam and only marry within their culture. Even their clothing and customs differ from those they live among – the men in traditional garb could have rivaled M.C.Hammer with his parachute pants! They are the only Arabic people group who serve in the Israeli Armed Forces. We stopped for lunch in the village and were treated to some delectable Lebanese cuisine.
Our road continued a little past the Druze village and ended at a ski lodge. At first I couldn’t imagine anyone skiing in the Middle East of all places. But as soon as we got out of the van, it all made sense. The summer dress and leggings I wore had been comfortable at 80 degrees down in the valley but were woefully inadequate at 5400 feet above sea level. Winds swept down from the mountains above us but the first snows of the year had not yet fallen so the place looked barren.
Back down the mountain road we went, back into warmth and sunshine, back into the green grasses of the valley. We agreed to stop and see the headwaters of the Jordan River. A dusty trail took us down into a ravine that the Jordan had dug out over the long centuries. The hot sun beat down and was only kept at by when we reached the shelter of a leafy covering in the ravine. We could hear the river splashing and crashing below us and anticipation built. I had seen the Jordan River once before, in the south during my first trip to Israel. It was brown with mud, shallow, and so narrow. I could hardly reconcile the two bodies of water that I saw.
Seeing that river surrounded by such greenery after wandering through what had seemed a desert wilderness was so refreshing. The Jordan came crashing over rapids, down shallow falls, and gave life to everything it touched. We followed the river upstream, marveling at this beautiful place - truly in oasis within an arid climate. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight of the shower of water that cascaded with reckless abandon into a pool. We could have stepped into a tropical paradise, it was so stunning. I couldn’t help but linger by the pool and soak in the moment. And then it was back up the dusty trail to the top of the ravine, through the fields in the sun, and back on the road to Haifa.