Morgan Pressel: Hello from Israel!
Rising LPGA star Morgan Pressel is in Israel for the first time to tour the country and host golf clinics for local children. Between leading roundtable discussions with Israeli and Palestinian youth and meeting with various Israeli signatories and leaders, Pressel, a Jewish-American, is trying to use golf as a medium to teach life lessons.
For more on Morgan's trip, which is being hosted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Jewish National Fund and the "Positively Israel" campaign, check out her foundation page via Facebook and more from Peace Players International and Seeds of Peace.
Here is her latest entry from this past weekend:
Hello again from Israel! The past few days of the trip have been just as exciting as the first three! On Thursday morning, we woke up early to have breakfast with a man named Effi Eitam, a decorated military hero in Israel. Effie was born in a kibbutz near the Golan Heights, and became a brigadier general in the Israeli Defense Forces. He was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for his actions ending the Yom Kippur War, stopping tanks from invading the Golan Heights.
Listening to him speak, none of us wanted to leave the table and get something to eat; we had so many questions. He is a very passionate man with a big heart and strong beliefs. We sat there far longer than our schedule allowed, but it was fascinating hearing his stories of the Entebbe rescue mission and the Yom Kippur War, as well as his political positions on the State of Israel and the Middle-Eastern conflict.
But at some point, the show must go on, so we got on the bus and headed north to the Golan Heights. We visited one of the bluffs where Israeli soldiers defended their positions during the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973. It is easy to see why the plateau is such a coveted piece of land for both the Israelis and Syrians. From this point, we also had a beautiful view of the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee.
It is amazing how much the Sea of Galilee has receded in recent history, which is a problem because it is the main source of water for the country. The National Water Carrier of Israel takes water to the populated areas of the country, and control over the Golan Heights is very important, as the flow of water into the Sea of Galilee is vital to the water supply.
We continued on our journey and ended up in one of the most visited sites in Israel, Hula Valley. A Jewish National Fund rehabilitation project, Agamon HaHula is a nature preserve in the valley where approximately 500 million birds stop every year during their migration. We rode on a hidden wagon and went bird watching (this preserve is one of the top bird-watching sites in the world). There are thousands upon thousands of cranes that live here year-round, and they can be very loud when they are all together. It was fascinating to see them all -- I have never seen so many birds in my life!
For lunch, we stopped at a fabulous organic hotel/spa, Mizpe Hayamim and I ate too much, as usual. I feel like every meal has been the last supper, but I must say the food has been excellent, and I would classify myself as a picky eater. The views from this restaurant over the valley were spectacular, which made the food taste even better.
After filling our stomachs to the brink, we visited the birthplace of Jewish mysticism, also known as Kabbalah. It has become popular in the recent years thanks to celebrities like Madonna, but it is a very religious movement of Judaism that aims to answer the bigger questions, like the nature of the universe. It is something that is studied after all of the basic Jewish studies, such as an understanding of the Talmud and the Torah. The small town of Tzfat also has many small artisan shops with Judaica pieces, works of Israeli artists and souvenirs for those who come to visit.
We flew back from Tzfat to Tel Aviv on a commercial plane that looked like it was built in the early 1900s and would not pass any FAA regulations in the United States. But we made it back safely and had a very interesting evening.
My sister, Madison, my grandmother and I met my grandfather's cousin, Ami Maayani, for dinner. Maayani is an Israeli composer, architect and philosopher whose works have been performed all over the world. The most fascinating part of the evening, however, was the fact that my grandmother had not seen Ami since 1974, when our mother, Kathy, was 14 years old. It was amazing to hear how much he remembered my mother at an age where my sister and I didn't know her. We caught up on families on both sides until it was time to go to bed, so we could get up early the next day and do it all over again.
The next morning we went to work -- we went to the golf course! Caesarea is the only 18-hole golf course in Israel, which was designed by Pete Dye a few years ago. Madison and I played with the Israeli junior champion and a famous sports-television personality. It is a beautiful and well-designed desert-style course with generous fairways, but is quickly penal if you miss one. We had a great time and had a little gallery that followed us around, too.
After the round, I interacted with two groups of kids, one from the Academy at Caesarea and another from Peace Players. I helped the Academy kids with their putting strokes, some kids as young as 4 and 5. They were great. The girls from Peace Players, both Israeli and Palestinian, had never even seen golf before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We went over the basics, and after 20 minutes or so, they were all making contact. Think back to the first time you picked up a golf club -- it isn't that easy! These girls were between 16 and 18 and play basketball, so they certainly had a natural affinity to sports, as well as tremendous hand-eye coordination. I was very impressed.
On Friday night, we celebrated Shabbat with a wonderful kosher dinner at the hotel. It is interesting to see how the traditions and holidays are observed in a culture that has no other religious influences. In the United States, it is assumed the week is Monday-Friday and the weekends are Saturdays and Sundays. In Israel, Friday and Saturday are the days off, and Sunday becomes a normal work day.
This morning, we got up early (again!) and headed out toward the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea. With the water containing 30 percent salt, it is an amazing feeling floating in the water! We all took turns with the traditional reading-the-paper-while-floating-in-the-Dead-Sea and had a few good laughs. After getting out, we gave our skin a spa-like treatment, slathering the famous Dead Sea mud all over our skin. We looked ridiculous, but our skin was so soft, so it was well worth it.
Then we drove farther down the Dead Sea to the most popular attraction in Israel, an ancient palace called Masada. It was built by Herod the Great in the early 30s B.C., and it sits on a plateau that is 1,300 feet above ground, which made the palace very difficult to penetrate. About 100 years after it was built, a group of Jewish zealots fled Jerusalem for Masada at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War. They used the base as a place to torment the Romans, and eventually the Romans built a ramp of stones that allowed them to penetrate the fortress.
When the Romans entered the palace, however, they found it on fire, with all 960 inhabitants committing a mass suicide, as they would have rather killed themselves than fallen prisoner to the Romans. Today, it is a tourist attraction with a cable car that takes you up 1,300 feet in three minutes. Once you get to the top, you can explore the ruins of what used to be the palace of Herod the Great. The views of the Dead Sea and the desert are spectacular, as the land in the area has tremendous character from millions of years of earthquakes and flash floods that have shaped it.
After nearly leaving one member of the crew behind, we headed for a spectacular hotel in the Negev Desert overlooking the Ramon Crater, the largest makhtesh in the world. I can't wait to get up early tomorrow and watch the sunrise over the crater -- I have a feeling it will be spectacular. We took an evening to relax, and I indulged in a spa treatment before sitting down to write about the past few days.
With only a couple of days left on this journey, I'm excited to see what else it will bring!