Thursday, January 15, 2015

Home from Israel

Monday morning our  cousin drove us to the airport. Now we know why we saw so little security personnel in and around the terminal (as we see at US airports). In order to enter the airport complex you must pass through a security checkpoint. It was easy going through immigration -- we received an exit receipt and were on way. Check in was also easy. And because it was still fairly early, there weren't long lines going through the security check. We did some last minute shopping in the "duty free" shops (that just meant we didn't have to pay the VAT).

It's a longer flight back to the US (about 12 1/2 hours). They were more generous with food on the return flight -- lunch (fish with pasta or beef with rice), sandwiches about 2/3 of the way through the flight, and then breakfast about an before the end of the flight. That seemed odd as we were landing at about 5 pm -- not when we would expect to eat breakfast. I watched two TV shows ("NCIS: and "Big Bang Theory") and "Sabrina" (the original with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn) and read a lot.

The last photos are things I bought (some referenced in earlier posts). The dreidels are Israeli -- instead of the letters standing for "a great miracle happened there", they stand for "a great miracle happened HERE". The large, colorful hamsa is from the Tzuki design studio -- I've seen works from this studio at a shop here in the US and was delighted I could buy some things in Israel.The pomegranate with the cat was from a local artists' booth at the Market in Jerusalem. The fiber artwork was purchased in Jaffa. And the hamsas also came from Jaffa -- Adina Plastelina designs; the smaller one has the Shma on the front and a blessing for the house on the back while the larger one has a blessing in Portuguese on the back and will be given to our Brasilian friends.


Almost from the time I arrived in Israel, I was asked for my reaction to being in Israel -- whether it met my expectations, what was best, what was a challenge. In all honesty, I'm not sure what my expectations were. I was a little concerned that I wouldn't like it, but that was quickly dispelled. My overall reaction is that the trip was incredible -- walking in King David's Palace, visiting places I've only read about in the Bible, being somewhere surrounded by Jews. My initial reaction was that Israel is a real place with real people. Because much of our trip involved being with family, it helped to make things more personal and less touristy. When I told the rabbi at the Conservative Synagogue that it was my first trip to Israel and he responded "What took you so long? Welcome home!", there was a sense of yes, I'm home. And it did feel very special to be praying in Jerusalem.

I'm certainly not planning to make aliyah (move to Israel) but I am looking forward to visiting again (hopefully at a time when it's not snowing). I want to see more of Israel and I want to spend more time with family. Our synagogue is planning a trip in October. If things work out, my husband Mike and I will go on the trip, probably going over a few days early so we can spend time with family.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day 7 in Israel (1/11/15)

Another long day -- our last full one. Our cousin Yeshai picked us up at 8 am this morning. Although it's Sunday, it's the Israel Monday and there was lots of traffic as everyone returned to work after a day off. Eventually made it to Tel Aviv. It rained off and on along the way but was bright and sunny when we arrived I took some photos along the highway -- didn't realize when we drove through here in the shuttle bus last Monday that this is actually Palestinian territory. What I thought was a toll booth is a checkpoint; what I though were sound barriers are bullet proof walls to protect the highway.

We're in a very nice little hotel about 5 minutes from our cousins' apartment. After checking in and dropping our bags, Yeshai drove us there. With cousin Lois and SIL Ruthi we went out to walk around Tel Aviv. They live at the corner of Rothschild Ave. which has a pedestrian walkway and bike path down the center. We walked through Neve Tzedeck, the first area of Tel Aviv, settled as people moved from Jaffa. There are lots of old buildings and fun shops. Next was the old train station, now full of more fun shops. And then we reached Jaffa -- more old buildings and fun shops. I chose a really beautiful piece of fiber art (much larger examples are in the photos) which is a Chanukah present from Kate and Sam (you can see it in the photos from the "we're home" blog. Lunch was at a restaurant featuring mezze (small plates). The table was covered, as you'll see in the photos.  I finally got to see the Mediterranean. Jaffa is one of the oldest settlements in the area, dating back to Biblical times (Kate keeps saying think Jonah).

We took taxis back to the apartment. Kate and I did a little more exploring and then it was time for dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, which of course put an Israeli spin on it (plus they were apparently filming a scene for a movie at the bar).

Tomorrow morning at 8 am, cousin Yeshai will pick us up and take us to the airport.

Day 7 photos

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day 6 in Israel (01/10/15)

It snowed last night! There are some great photos of snow on palm trees, flowers etc. that we took as we walked to the Conservative Synagogue this morning. Walking in felt very similar to entering a synagogue at home. I was given the 6th aliyah (the honor of saying the blessing before and after the 6th portion of today's Torah reading). The Rabbi (Rabbi Adam Frank) was very welcoming, particularly when I told him it was my first visit to Israel. After asking me what took so long he said "Welcome home.". He also asked about my yellow bracelet and when I explained it was for childhood cancer awareness, he announced that to the congregation. The drosh (sermon) was delivered by a guest rabbi, Rabbi Danny Schiff (originally from Australia). It was very good, combining what just occurred in France with today's Torah reading, the beginning of the story of Moses and Pharaoh's response to the Jews.

After a quick lunch in our room, we set off to walk to the Israel Museum. We took a path through a park and got some more snow photos. Unfortunately, the staff at the museum thought the road conditions were too icy this morning so they didn't open. We walked across the street towards the Knesset to a park that included a rose garden. You'll see photos of roses in the snow including the aptly named Rosa Iceberg. Everywhere there were families playing in the "snow" (there was no more than an inch!!), making snowmen, and taking photos. And, yes, they've all seen "Frozen" as everyone brought a carrot for the snowman's nose.

We strolled back to the hotel, rested, read, and checked e-mails. Around 4:30 Israeli friends, Yael and Ittai Gavarelli, picked us up and took us to a lovely place for coffee and dessert. It's a cafe in the Cinematheque -- a place that shows older films, has film festivals, etc. You'll see Kate's unmixed hot chocolate (hot milk with chocolates added) and our decadent dessert. It was fun catching up with them as we haven't seen them in a number of years.

After they dropped us back at the hotel, we strolled back to Mamilla Boulevard, the semi-outdoor mall with the upscale shops. We found a very nice restaurant Joy that is a meat restaurant. Then a little more shopping.

We've been packing as tomorrow morning our cousin picks us up to take us to Tel Aviv. It's supposed to at least be warmer there and we might even see the sun in the afternoon.

Day 6 photos

Friday, January 9, 2015

Israel Day 5 (01/09/15)

Another gray, chilly, and damp day. We started with our Israeli breakfast and then set out for the Tower of David, by the edge of the Old City. It's another "wait 10 minutes and the weather changes" day. Showers, a little sun, snain (my word for snow and rain), just snow.

The Tower of David is an important historical and archaeological site. Within its ancient guardrooms, the museum tells the 4000 year old story of the city. It focuses on the central events that took place in the different periods of Jerusalem's history and on the sanctity of the city for each of the three monotheistic faiths. (This was summarized from the brochure.) There are models of what Jerusalem looked like at various times. There is a wonderful model of the Temple which shows features that we saw on Wednesday during our tour of the Old City. And from the towers, there are great panoramic views of the city. Not a lot of captions on the photos as I tried to take photos of the signs that went with the displays.

After climbing up and down stairs and seeing the exhibits, we took the light rail back to the Market. We had hoped to revisit the falafel stand we'd gone to on Tuesday, but he was closed. The market was a madhouse -- to get around you couldn't be polite but had to push your way through. Kate asked me what I could possibly find to photograph that I hadn't on Tuesday -- the stacks of challahs waiting to be taken home for Shabbat dinner. We revisited the  Etrogman's stand to claim our free drink (another etrog lemonade) and got a funny photo of a small snowman decorated with lots of plant material.

Because of the weather (a little rain, a little snow) and the approaching erev Shabbat (candle lighting is 4:12 pm today), a number of stalls and shops were closing. We wandered along Jaffa St. towards Ben Yehuda and found a nice restaurant for lunch. Best part is that it was warm with nice heaters. Then it was back to the hotel. Tonight we'll be having Shabbat dinner at our cousins' home. Depending on the weather, cousin Nati and his wife and son will also be there. I won't be taking photos as our cousins are Orthodox and would not want me using my camera. [Cousins Dani and Nati & Rachel were there, Zamir stayed behind with grandpa. Also Nomi & Zagiv, the newlyweds were there. Ahuva made a delicious dinner. Those of us from the US attempted to explain to Zagiv about the US healthcare system -- he is now much happier about what he pays in taxes towards the Israeli healthcare system and what is covered.]

I included a photo of our "snack" -- a Jaffa orange. I should have included something to give perspective -- it's almost as big as a grapefruit and very, very juicy. Oh, and it's snowing again.

Day 5 photos

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Israel Day 4 (1/08/15)

Only a small amount of snow overnight but a lot of wind. You'll see tree branches and stuff blown around in my photos as well as some mounds of snow. Today was a day of constantly changing weather -- pouring rain, a little sleet, sunshine, wind, light rain -- wait about 10 minutes and it will change.

After another Israeli breakfast, we walked up to the Old City to take a few photos with snow. We then walked to the Israel Museum. You'll see some photos of the Knesset which is across the street from the museum. This is the Israeli equivalent of the Capital. The museum is huge -- we only saw a few exhibits today. Kate and I will go back on Saturday to see more. My photos include some modern artwork, an exhibit on old glass, the oldest masks in the world, Byzantine gold, "Dress Codes -- Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe", and some more.

After hiking back to the hotel we snacked on pita and hummus and then went with Ruthi (SIL) to our cousin Ahuva's apartment down the block. Just a quick cup of tea so Ruthi could say goodbye as other cousins were coming to pick her up and take her to Tel Aviv (they'll be back on Sunday to get us)..

Kate and I then wandered around the shopping areas, ending with a lovely dinner at Cafe Cafe. We both had pasta dishes and, because we walked a total of 11 miles today, dessert.

Forecast is for more rain/snow overnight and snow showers in the afternoon. Hopefully that will not affect things and the places we want to go will be open.

Day 4 photos

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Israel Day 3 (01/07/15)

We were up early as we had to meet our guide by 8:30 am. Ayal is a licensed Israeli tour guide -- this means he's been through extensive training and has passed a test. Not only was he super-knowledgeable, he was a lot of fun. It was an interesting day as it was very windy, rained, sleeted, snowed, and was sunny -- all we had to do was wait a few minutes and it would change. Oh -- and there was lightning and thunder too. As Ayal is a native Israeli, he's not used to the cold (he's lucky he's not in NJ tonight!)

We saw many things in the Old City. I've tried to caption as many of the photos as I could remember. It was very amazing to be seeing archaeological sites that were so very old. And to walk in the area that was King David's palace. Parts of the Bible truly came alive for us. We visited the Western Wall and left notes and put money in the tzedakah (charity) boxes. Lunch was in a little cafe overlooking the City of David. Once again we were given more food than we knew what to do with. That actually turned out to be a good thing as we didn't try to go out for dinner but ate leftovers and yogurt from our room fridge.

It was a fascinating but tiring day, We're not sure what we're going to do tomorrow as the weather is still unsettled -- snow, thunder. Latest forecast is maybe for just a little rain tomorrow in which case school will be in session (it was closed today) and shops and museums might be open. Everyone is complaining about the cold because it is around 30 F -- they don't know what cold really is.

Day 3 Photos

Israel Day 2 (1/6/15) -- The Wedding

Kate and I dressed in our Chico finery, ready to head off to the wedding. Although it was windy, there was no precipitation. Just to explain the family connections: Parents of the bride are Ahuva Passow-Whitman and Jon Whitman, the bride is Nomi. (Ahuva is my husband's second cousin.) Also at the wedding was Eli Passow (Ahuva's brother) and his wife Chaya, Eli's son Nati and his wife Rachel and their son Zamir, and Eli's son Dani. Also Eli's first cousin Mimi.

Ahuva & Jon's friends and nearby neighbors drove us to the wedding which was at a fancy wedding hall in the city of Modi'in (45 minutes with traffic, 35 without, almost to Tel Aviv). It started with a reception (aka cocktail hour) with some yummy food. As we entered the hall there were two ladies by the door with iPads who looked up your name and table number and gave you a card with the number. Next to their desk was a large metal lock box with a slot where you could deposit your card/gift and a bin for any actual gifts.

As expected, the ceremony did not start at 8:15 pm but closer to 9 pm. People were quite casual about the ceremony -- not everyone left the reception area to go to it. First the groom, Zagiv, came down the aisle escorted by his father and grandmother. Next Nomi was escorted about 2/3's of the way down the aisle by Ahuva & Jon. They left her and Zagiv went to her, put the veil over her face, and escorted her the rest of the way to under the chupah. The service, entirely in Hebrew of course, was relatively short, with relatives from both families participating in saying the seven blessings. At the end, many in the crowd rushed to the chupah to congratulate the newlyweds.

Meanwhile, the glass panels in the wall to our left were slid out of the way and the black curtain was raised to reveal the dining area. We sat with Ahuva & Jon, Eli & Chaya, Nati & Rachel & Zamir, Dani, and Ruthi (my SIL). First there was the "salad" course which included many typical middle eastern appetizers. Next came what we thought was the main course as there was a choice of fish, a lamb dish (done like baklava), and a chicken dish but it was only the first course. At that point there was a break for dancing. Initially it was a lot of modernized middle eastern music, though eventually I'm told there was American pop music. Nomi & Zagiv came in for their first dance. This was followed by much dancing and merrymaking -- Nomi was lifted on a chair, Zagiv on someone's shoulders. Then it was time for the main course -- a trio of shish kebab, chicken, and beef. As we were finishing, our ride came to say they were ready to head home. I was disappointed as we were going to miss dessert (which Kate translated from the menu as including chocolate but it turned out there were plates with little squares of chocolate and coffee out in the reception area. We were actually back at the hotel by about 11:30 pm.

Wedding pictures

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Israel Day 2 (1/6/15)

Our first full day in Israel began with breakfast (see photo for my non-traditional breakfast, although scrambled and hard boiled eggs were available). With my SIL we then took a taxi to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. You start by going through a history of the Holocaust with photos, displays, videos from survivors, and exhibits. Incredibly moving. One thing in particular -- in other writings, exhibits, etc., I have seen or read about the Holocaust, they usually refer to people being killed. Here it always spoke of them being "murdered". One of the most moving areas is the Children's Memorial -- it's pitch black with a railing to hold onto as you move through. There are photos of children and what appear to be endless stars (lights) representing each child lost while in the background a voice lists names and ages. (Photos weren't allowed within the exhibits -- I did buy some postcards which I will either photo or scan when I get home and add to this blog).

From there we took the light rail to the Machne Yehuda Market. It is like a permanent Farmer's Market and flea market, some open air, some covered, with twisty, intersecting streets. My SIL bought us tickets for a self-guided tour that included samples from selected vendors. We actually had several meals -- falafel (I've never had such light, tasty falafel); baked cheese with flecks of spinach "pastry" (it's Georgian), and a combo plate of a bouka ("cigar"), stuffed grape leaf, and kusha plus a bowl of soup. We also stopped at a vendor with a variety of spices and teas, coffees, and things. He gave us many sample to try and we bought bags of things to bring home. Near the beginning I had an etrog (similar to a lemon) mint lemonade. We finished with a relaxing mint tea. (Still have a couple bites to get -- will return later in the week.) We started walking back and then took a taxi back.

Jerusalem is in a state of semi-panic. There is a storm coming tomorrow that may include snow. The mayor has already said he will close major roads ahead of the storm to avoid the stranded vehicles they had last year. They've been trimming trees as it will be very windy and last year there were power outages during the snowstorm due to branches coming down. Our trip to Masada and the Dead Sea planned for tomorrow has been canceled. We were able to move our tour of the Old City from Thursday to tomorrow (the bad weather isn't due until later in the day).

Tonight is the wedding. We'll be getting ready to go in a little while. I'll take photos and post tomorrow.

Day 2 photos

Monday, January 5, 2015

Israel Day 1 (1/05/15)

Kate and I are on a new adventure. Yesterday afternoon we boarded a United flight to Israel, arriving at about 9:30 am this morning. We will fly home a week from today. The main reason we're here is that our cousin's daughter is getting married tomorrow night.

It was a about a 10.5 hour flight -- we watched movies (I saw Walt Disney's original Sleeping Beauty and Grease, two of the selections in the Classic Movie category), read, slept, and ate a little. The flight was almost full with a variety of people (Orthodox, college kids on Birthright tour, a church group tour, Israelis, etc.) Going through immigration took almost no time, then a long wait for the luggage, and through the green line (nothing to declare) at Customs, which meant walking out the door. Then a very long wait for the shuttle van that took us to our hotel. There are a few photos from the airport and van ride. Countryside is interesting and Jerusalem is a fascinating city. Two important things we learned on the van ride -- the most important piece of equipment for a car, truck, or bus is the horn (not sure they can operate without it) and vehicles do not yield to pedestrians.

We're staying at a nice, small hotel in the Rechavia section of Jerusalem -- in easy walking distance to the Old City, a shopping district, other points of interest, and our cousins' house. My sister-in-law Ruthi is also here so after we did some unpacking, we went for a walk with her. There are photos of the edge of the Old City, interesting buildings, shops, etc. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, temps in the 50s, there is a cold front coming in and rain/snow expected Wed. and Thurs. Depending on how bad it is, the city could shut down. We stopped at the grocery store to buy a few things (yogurt, hummus, bread, crackers, oranges) to stock the mini fridge in our room. This way even if the restaurants close, we'll have food. Amazingly we ran into our cousin Ahuva shopping in case of the storm (she has invited us for Shabbat dinner on Friday night).

Kate and I went for a second walk to see things lit up after sunset. We had a light dinner at a small nearby cafe (salads and a mint lemonade smoothie for Nancy).

Here are the photos for day 1.