When our ESRA branch was founded just over three years ago, the first big event was a sophisticated Latin Jazz evening in Pearl Biderman's beautifully manicured Caesarea garden. With 180 tickets sold and funds raised to kit out an Ethiopian community center in Pardes Hanna, we were up and running.
Since that first summer we averaged six to eight talks, tours, visits and concerts each year. Nearly all the events have been rated a success although we did have a rather irate panel discussion on future building plans in Caesarea; in these parts this is a dangerously explosive topic, beating religion and politics hands down.
It is surprising how many lesser known excursions are so close; we discovered the "green" credentials of the Rothschild gardens in Gan Hanadiv, where the most invasive item of gardening equipment was the hand held grass clippers. We were enchanted by the Dor Musuem with its low key collection of marine archeology artifacts. Perhaps a fifteen minute drive is just too far away, so we also arranged a visit to "undiscovered" Caesarea on our doorstep. Now, we can show these secret sites to our own visitors – and smirk when all the tourists traipse off in the opposite direction. The Palm Court Quartet and Tea at the Dan Caesarea Hotel, went down well. "Cucumber sandwiches?" said the hotel chef, "no problem". "Scones?" he asked. "Ein ba'aya". Neither the scones nor the sandwiches were remotely recognizable as such. But the string quartet was very definitely a string quartet. It was a marvelous afternoon.
We had 'A Day at the Races' at the racecourse near Pardes Hanna last year. The course manager arranged for tables to be set up for SRA Caesarea in the covered Members' Enclosure. With a glass of cold white Chardonnay and the evocative sound of hooves pounding the track, for a moment it could have been Ascot. But there was a striking view over the race course, the surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim and the Arab villages nestling in the surrounding hills. Most definitely Israel. This was in contrast to the afternoon at the donkey sanctuary in Gan Yeshiyya. Here we had sedate donkey rides for the toddlers on a very fat, very safe and very slow donkey.
This is wine country. We visited the Tishbi Wineries in 2005, and last December we toured the Binyamina Wine Cellars. We had an excellent French guide, a new immigrant, who claimed never to have drunk so much as a glass of wine when he lived in France; he has since mended his ways. Good to know that there are still quite a few local wineries for us to visit, and presumably quite a lot of local wine tasting to be done.
At the beginning of this year, ESRA Caesarea saluted Jerusalem Book Week with its own literary event, a reading and book signing for 'Jane Doe Buys a Challah and other stories.' We discovered that five of the contributors lived locally, so we invited them to read sections of their stories and to take part in a Q & A session afterwards. Maybe other ESRA branches will follow suit with their own local authors.
Recently we visited the new observatory at Givat Olga. Here, on our patch, is one of the most powerful telescopes in the Middle East. Former president of the Israel Astronomy Association, Ilan Manulis, introduced us to our neighboring planets with a series of stunning detailed images taken from the Hubble spaceship. Then to the real thing, where, through the telescope we could see Saturn, oh so clearly, with its magical rings.
With thanks to fellow committee members: Dora and Howard Green, Marion Fredman, Betty Kazin, Leon Keene, Elaine Rosenberg and for the gone but not forgotten ex-chairpersons, Edward Sidi and Caroline Velkes.