Traveling with the Rockets: Day eight

August 16, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is writing about the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

What a wonderful day it was for the Toledo women’s basketball team in the city of Tel Aviv and the country of Israel. Our trip is starting to wind down a little, but I thought we had another great day to explore so many wonderful options that this historic land has to offer.

Members of the women's basketball team posed for a photo after lunch at the Palmach Museum.

Members of the women's basketball team posed for a photo after lunch at the Palmach Museum.

If you are wondering (and I know you all are) why I am in such a good mood this evening, it is because I got a run in this morning. Even though I had another bad night with the wireless Internet, I woke up pretty easily today and was able to get a solid 6.2-mile run in on the treadmill in our hotel. Most people rate hotels by level of comfort in the beds and eating options, while I base at least 95 percent on level of fitness facility. And I give the Dan Panorama in Tel Aviv a big two thumbs up.

Following the 6:45 a.m. training session (early by my standards), I ventured to the hotel dining room for breakfast and feasted on a waffle with kosher strawberries, more fresh fruit on the side, and coffee. The meals at this hotel have been top-notch!

I returned to my room for a quick shower and was on the bus for an 8:30 a.m. departure for the Ayalon Institute in nearby Rehovot. Did you know that the Ayalon Institute’s fascinating story is about a top-secret operation that took place during the years between the end of World War II and Israel’s independence?

Under the eyes of the British who ruled the area during this time, a plant for the production of bullets was built underground on Kibbutzim Hill. The plant was code named Ayalon Institute by members of the Haganah. The operation of the institute was a cooperative effort by members of the pioneer group Hatzofim Aleph and people from the local Jewish military who lived on Kibbutzim Hill. The size of the underground factory was 300 yards and was covered by 13 feet of ground. They also had two openings camouflaged by a laundry facility and a bakery.

The machinery for producing the bullets was smuggled into Rehovot by the underground to Beirut and Lebanon in 1942. Did you know more than two million nine-millimeter bullets were manufactured in this factory?

We went on an awesome 90-minute guided tour of the institute, which included an extremely informative audiovisual presentation.

Following the day’s opening activity, we made our way back to the bus and traveled across the busy town of Tel Aviv (the city that highly encourages physical fitness on a daily basis) and visited the Palmach Museum. It was the fantastic story of Israel’s fight for independence, using actors and theatrical sets — pretty awesome!

We divided up into two groups for the 90-minute tour and had a light lunch at the facility’s snack shop before getting back on the bus for our day’s final stop at the Olympic Experience.

The Olympic Experience provided our group with a detailed history of the overall Olympic games and in particular the involvement of Israel. The 90-minute guided tour explained in great detail the past successes of some of the tremendous Israeli athletes, the tragic death of the 11 Israelis at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and the true meaning of each of the Olympic rings. It looked to be a fairly new facility, and one tour that many of our student-athletes referred to quite well.

Our group was running a little ahead of schedule at that point and was slated to have about 80 minutes of free time before leaving for dinner, but we ran into a huge traffic jam and ended up with a little more than 10 minutes to freshen up before returning to the coach. The downtown area around our hotel in Tel Aviv was crazy busy!

Our group ended up eating dinner a couple blocks from our hotel at the Maganda Restaurant, and it was delicious! The owner treated us like kings and queens and must have provided us with at least six different appetizers to choose from. My favorite was the falafel and the pita bread with hummus — just thinking about those two makes me salivate — yum! To top it off, you could have as many of the appetizers as you wanted. The table I was sitting at with Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser, Assistant Athletic Director for Finance Tony Zaworski and UT Videographer Don Reiber had so many plates on it that the owner did not have a place to put the main entrée. We all could have stopped eating after the appetizers, but we didn’t. We each loosened our belts again (some more than others) and ate beef and chicken on a skewer with French fries. Both entrées were deliciously cooked. The meal was then finished off with freshly cut watermelon (with no seeds, mind you).

Most members of our group had to be rolled out of the restaurant (myself included) and nudged toward the bus.

We finally returned to our hotel for a free evening and hopefully a good night of rest.

On the agenda for tomorrow, we are slated to travel north up the coast to Caesarea to tour the archeological wonders of Herod’s seaside resort before visiting the quaint community of Zichron Ya’akov.

Video blogs and extended photo galleries from each day will be posted here when we return to Toledo.

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