Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Our Israel Trip: Recap, Reflections, Remarks

Day -1: Sunday, August 17: pack – or, rather, my wife packs all day for herself and our three children while I keep them out of her way. When she’s done, I pack everything I need (clothes, electronics, reading material) in 20 minutes, because I’m a guy.

Day 0: Monday, August 18: fly – or, rather, survive the trip with our children, two of which are male and treat their seat like it’s the Star Wars trash compactor, out of which they find it necessary to bust out, and yell about it. I daven mincha with a minyan on a plane for the first time in my life. Nice chavaya to start the Israel experience. I read Rav Soloveitchik’s “Kol Dodi Dafek” to put me in the proper appreciative frame of mind. The plane is filled with teenage girls who are experts at sprawling while they sleep, with limbs, fingers, toes, and hair sticking into aisles everywhere.

Day 1: Tuesday, August 19: Touchdown. We head to the Hertz counter to rent a Ssongyang Rodius. I find offensive that one needs a lisp to properly pronounce this vehicle. My big boy falls asleep on the floor from his exhaustion. I scoop him up and plop him in the luggage cart basket. He rolls onto the luggage and continues sleeping. We drive to Hashmonaim. We’re staying at Josh and Arica’s place. We collapse. Everyone takes a seven-hour nap. When we awake, we head for Jerusalem. My in-laws are staying in an apartment, room 402 on the 2nd floor, which makes a lot of sense. For dinner, we join up with my brother-in-law and his family. Our nephew is celebrating his bar mitzvah over the weekend, which is the reason for our visit. We walk to, and dine at, Marvad Haksamim (“Magic Carpet”). Food is good. We burn it off by walking back to the hotel. We then head back to Hashmonaim. I note that the runners in Jerusalem are all grimacing. These hills are not easy. My wife is exhausted, and I take over the driving. I’m stopped at a checkpoint by a female soldier, who asks me a million questions in Hebrew without taking a breath. When she finally inhales, I say, “Thank you.” She says, “Oh, English!” and motions me on my way. Once settled, I check Israeli news. Both where we landed (Tel Aviv) and spent the evening (Jerusalem) endured rocket sirens minutes after we left the area. Yikes. I get a tour of the community jogging route from my host. We fall asleep at 1 AM. At about 2:15 AM, I am awakened by a faint siren in the distance. I also hear the faint sound of the Iron Dome interception. This is going to be an interesting vacation.

Day 2: Wednesday, August 20: I go on my first run ever in the land of Israel. Do 3.37 miles in 28:31 at 7:38 AM. Love every second. Get lots of boker tovs from the friendly locals. My family doesn’t wake for hours. We then head with our hosts to Chai Goat Farm in Mevo Modi’im, where we milk goats, press olives, make cheese, feed turtles, weave fringes, and get to see some rare and beautiful animals, which the keeper keeps while the zoo which put it in her care looks for proper mates. Fascinating place of business. Further up the road is the Carlebach Shul, entirely hand painted, and beautiful. Behind the shul is a small park, where my kids romp and begin to complain for water, and don’t stop for the rest of our visit, just like the Jews in the desert. There’s a pizza place a bit further up the road. We drop by at 3:45. The owner says he opens at 4:00. Interesting time of day to open. At 4:15, he’s still not open. Lost a customer. We pack up and head back to Hashmonaim. We order pizza, which in Israel is served on thin slices of cardboard. Interesting. We pack up and head to Jerusalem to stay with my in-laws.

Day 3: Thursday, August 21: At 6 AM I hit the treadmill for a 5k in 28:15. Again, my family snoozes for hours while I chill, catch up on e-mail, read about where rockets are landing. We then dress for the first of the Bar Mitzvah events and take a cab to the Old City. It’s stifling in the car. My wife asks for AC. The cabbie says, “In the morning?” My wife says, “Yes,” but she wants to say a whole lot more. Continuing with his stereotype, he pulls over to the curb where it isn’t legal to do so, and a cop comes over to motion the cabbie to move. The cabbie starts mouthing off at the cop! Only in Israel, because if this was New York, he’d probably be tased and choked, and Mayor Al Sharpton would have a few things to say. We then join up with the Bar Mitzvah party on the plaza. I excuse myself to go to The Wall. I feel drawn to it, so I have to go. It’s good to embrace it after being away for eight years. We daven shachris in the tunnels. The Bar Mitzvah boy does a great job. It’s the truest mizrach I’ve ever faced in my life. I catch up a bit on the daf. We then hike uphill from Dung Gate, past a parking lot that wasn’t available, to the next lot, which is difficult to get to for all of us. I’m carrying a car seat, my wife is pushing a stroller, and my delicate babydoll girl doesn’t like any uphill of any sort. The murmuring for water continues. Good thing I have ice water on hand – and will for the rest of our trip. Hitting rocks won’t help me much. We survive and get to our bus, which delivers us to Ticho House for brunch with extended family and friends. While waiting for the bus to bring us back to where we’re staying, I witness some hasidic dumpster-diving. Very odd sight. There will be plenty more. We get back to the hotel and decide to have some fun in the pool. Water exhausts our kids into docility, so my wife and I are always game for that. After we get dressed, we head to Blumfeld Gardens to join my wife’s friend Elana with her family for my first ever Shakespeare in the Park experience. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing. They pick up and move locations, audience included, after every act. I love every second of it. We all head out afterwards to Bardak, a pizza and beer place. These cardboard placards are wacky, I decide. We then get back to the hotel and take a two-hour nap on the couch, because we’re drained. When we wake, we watch Oz the Great and Powerful with Hebrew subtitles in an attempt to further learn the language. We hit the sack at 1:13 AM. Before we do, I learn that our hosts back in Hashmonaim spent some time in their miklat. We had a conversation with our children about this, but we have no idea how they’ll respond if we find ourselves in that situation.

Day 4: Friday, August 22: Another 6 AM treadmill 5k in 27:44. A talk show plays on the screen. I try to learn more Hebrew. The gym was closed at first, even though the sign says it’s open 24/7. I head up to the main desk but no one’s there. I’m about to hit the streets when the security guard returns, telling me he opened the gym for me. Eye in the sky. Wow. After the run, I wait again for hours for my family, catching up on e-mail again, getting rocket updates (nuts, just nuts. Russell Brand’s recent “harmless rockets” comment infuriates me). The kids wake up, and we watch Despicable Me, trying to learn more Hebrew again. We then saddle up with my mother-in-law, brother-in-law and nephew for a walk to and through Ben Yehuda. We buy watermelon and NY Knicks kipahs for the boys and froyo halfway up for everybody. After a little old lady helps *me* cross the street (“Yarok! Yarok!” she says helpingly. I was just being cautious with the traffic), we then arrive at Machane Yehuda for the Friday afternoon gonzo experience. We buy – as we slowly make our way through the crowd – rugelach (coconut!), pickles (my daughter loves ‘em), and candy. I sample some of the most marvelous halvah I’ve ever tasted. They have cafés along here now, which is strange. I also expect an action movie to break out at any second. Ya know, where the bad guys on motorcycles chase the good guy through a crowded market? That’s what this scene looks like. We get spit out intact and head back to Ben Yehuda, for some lunch at a kosher McDonald’s, whose fare is as unimpressive as I remember it from last visit (note: Burger King no longer exists in Israel, kosher or otherwise). We walk back to the hotel and prepare for Shabbos. We head out on foot to Mercaz Shimshon for pictures, davening, and dinner overlooking the Old City. The help staff is all Arab, and they all speak at least three languages, which is practically a given in this country, which is fascinating.

Day 5: Shabbos Koidesh, August 23: I make it to shachris on time (i.e. Borchu), I get an aliyah and a compliment for my accent. We have a big, big lunch, preceded by a kiddush with mojito on tap instead of spiked punch. I’ve been reveling in my enjoyment of limonana (which flows like water in this country, in addition to milk and honey), and added alcohol just takes the cake. After a short rest back at the hotel, we head to the Inbal to meet up with a large crowd and head out for a walking tour led by a Ronen Malik, whose surname is the same as my mother’s maiden name. I’ll ask him about it. He takes us on a walk through Yemin Moshe and gives us a history lesson with a lot of information I didn’t know. I do a lot of manual stroller-down-steps hauling, but he reminds us that it’s a mitzvah to shpatzir in the streets of Jerusalem, so I get a double mitzvah for my efforts (it’s also why I’m keeping up my running, of course. If it’s a mitzvah to walk, al achas kamma v’kamma is it to run!). We walk through Zion Gate (mile 14.15 of the Jerusalem Marathon - which I hope and pray to run one day), parts of three of the four quarters (guess which one we left out?), and exit Jaffa Gate (mile 13.75) and walk back to our hotels. During a water closet break, I quiz our guide about his ancestry. Everything stops when he mentions my grandfather’s name as an ancestor. We have much to discuss. I daven ma’ariv at the Inbal and walk back to where I’m staying, to rejoin my family. We rest, dress, and head out on foot to the Begin Center for a light supper with the baalei simcha. On the way, a chasid passes by. My adorable girl comments asking why people from Brooklyn are here. Too cute. Also at the event is the writing of a sefer torah, in memory of the Bar Mitzvah boy’s mom’s father, about whom my sister-in-law spoke emotionally during the Friday Night meal. It’s my second experience with this. I get a reish. Cool. I discuss our relationship with Ronen. We’re part of the same family tree. He married my sister-in-law’s first cousin. Now I’m related to her in more ways than one. Small world. I’ll be following up.

Day 6: Sunday, August 24: At 5:50 AM I hit the treadmill and crank out a casual 10k in 1:01:46. Again, the gym is closed. This time I just stand at the door until the guard showed up. Easy peasy. Satisfied with my warmup. I then hit the streets of Jerusalem, traversing all the areas I’d trod thus far. I run every footfall with utter joy and liberation. 2.5 miles in 25:47, through the hills, stopping for selfies and loving it. Back at the hotel, I watch the news to learn more Hebrew (four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was murdered via “harmless” rocket, H’YD). When the kids roll in, I switch to Monsters University and continue learning. We head to Waffle Bar for brunch. The kids are strangely, marvelously antsy. They break the condiment plate in their animatedness. The food is delish, and we tip generously (I broke it, I bought it). We head out of Jerusalem for the afternoon, but not before pit-stopping first, because our little one has unbuckled his car seat. While pulled over, a truck pulls up behind us and out pops a guy offering help. We explain the situation, and he heads back (note: there’s no AAA in Israel. You call your insurance company for roadside assistance). We continue on the way, headed for Sorek (AKA Avshalaom AKA Stalactite) Cave, but not without getting there through a twisty road that’s so awful, my two oldest vomit en route. We arrive at the cave, near Bet Shemesh, in okay spirits and an unruined car (I’m fast with the plastic bags), only to encounter the absolute worst customer service on the planet. Example (from a pool of many): the sign (and signage sucks in this country, in general) says guided tours are available in English and Arabic upon request. We request – and are refused. We ask for a bit of translation. No. My wife takes out her camera because the cave formations are gorgeous. Suddenly the guide asks her to put it away, in perfect English. My wife says, “Aha! Now you speak English!” The guide does not appreciate the humor of the situation. Feh. We exit the non-twisty way and return to Jerusalem to pay our respects at Har Hamenuchos, by visiting some who have passed who were very dear to my wife, including Reb Chayim Boruch Yehudah ben Dovid Zvi Daskal, the only rebbe with whom I ever bonded in any way. According to minhag, no visitor is allowed to ask for anything of him during his first year, only that his neshama should have an aliyah. I do that, but also sneak in a request to ensure I return soon to ask properly. We then pay a visit to his wife and four children in Katamon (mile 15 of the marathon. Okay, enough of that). His son jumps all over me. I don’t mind. I know he needs his father. We reminisce over old pictures, pizza, and sushi. We then head back to Hashmonaim to stay with our original hosts. Long day.

Day 7: Monday, August 25: I wake up ready for another run, but as soon as my feet hit the ground, I realize it’s not happening. I am sore from yesterday’s hills. No problem. Back to bed. Another day. We head out to the Israel Museum to meet up with extended family and to enjoy the Bambu Exhibit, which is a large structure made entirely of bamboo and ropes, with walkways, ramps, stairs, chairs, and bunkbeds, whose entirety rises dozens of feet into the air. The whole thing is entirely not up to code. This would never fly in the U.S., but it is fun and fascinating. We also enjoy a stroll through the sculpture garden  (my kids love art; that makes me so happy!), and have lunch in their cafeteria (kosher lunch! In a museum cafeteria! Only in Israel! Okay fine, maybe also in a couple of places in NYC), where we spot Mark Regev, spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu. Cool. The Knesset is next door, after all. We then head for an official visit to The Wall, parking near Zion Gate, and getting a good spot, only after having a Seinfeldian argument with a person who tries to secure the spot with his body. I’m not having it. I shoo him away aggressively. Highly unlike me, but I’m feeling like a local now. Hauling the stroller isn’t easy, but I get extra credit for it. My wife takes our girl and oldest boy to The Wall. I take the stroller with the sleeping little one. I pour my heart out, then return to the plaza, where spontaneously, I bless each of my children, and I fall apart doing so, bursting into tears right at the outset, completely overcome by my love for them. I bless my family that we should return next year. My wife can barely utter her “Amen,” having been overcome with emotion herself. The whole experience is very powerful. We then haul back, pit-stopping for popsicles along the way because we’re scorched and parched (it’s 91-95 degrees for our entire stay, with 1,000,000% humidity). My daughter spots limonana ices for me. Yum. I educate my oldest boy on the world flags outside an Old City pizza shop. We’re back in the car, and we park near the hotel where we stayed. We pop out and stroll into the Waldorf Astoria lobby, filled with spectacular art, which my kids enjoy (I love it!). We then stroll through Mamilla Mall, taking it all in, and shopping for a dinner place. I note miklats every few hundred feet. Amazing. We then stroll up to Jaffa Road and go dinner-place hunting. I try a coffee from Cofizz while I’m at it. Nice. We settle on Café Hillel, where we’re joined by my in-laws and their friend, plus brother-in-law and nephew, who will be taking the flight back with us next week. I’ve burned so many calories, that I allow myself some fries. People who eat junk food all the time don’t know how good the stuff is. Soda’s like a miracle elixir to me during the 3-4 times a year I allow myself to have it. After enjoying the evening warmth, calm atmosphere, pleasantry with family, and good food, we had back to Hashmonaim for the night, and fall flat on our faces into bed.

Day 8: Tuesday, August 26: I head out for a morning run in the yishuv at 6:20 AM, when, about a half mile into my run, I hear sirens loud enough to give me pause. I have 15 seconds to find shelter. This is real now. I don’t find any. At the count of 14, I duck into the best thing I find: a concrete covered driveway. Good enough. Two whole seconds later, I hear the boom of Iron Dome. Whoa. I stand there stunned, unable to see any smoke trails because it’s a cloudy morning. A half minute later, I see people on the way to shachris, in perfectly peaceful mosey mode. I emerge a little shaken, and finish my run, a 5k 28:32, the now-usual two hakafos around the settlement (note: audible sirens are very local, broken up by defined zones; Iron Dome interceptions can be heard from dozens of miles away). We then head out with our hostess and her kinderlach to the Dead Sea. When we arrive, we have a short machloykiss about this belief that you don’t need sunscreen at the lowest point on earth. Taiku. We practice safeness rather than soriness. We then dress, fume that they don’t offer towels despite the exorbitant cost of the visit, and head for the Dead Sea on the little tram, which now travels several hundred feet further because of the sea’s evaporation. Retired docks seen along the ride bear witness to this. The sea is much more concentrated in its mineral contents since our last visit, and oh yes, the decision to shave that morning is a bad one. I comment that if I swim halfway across, I’d be in Jordan. After enjoying the experience, we enjoy a quick lunch, a half hour in the not-very chlorinated pool (guess the resort wants to give you a break after the super-saltiness of the sea), and we head back. My oldest boy asks me about a sign warning about sinkholes, which is ironic, because my wife noted earlier in the day that Israel doesn’t have a pothole problem due to the steady, dry weather (FYI, potholes are structural collapses from above; sinkholes are structural collapses from below. Betcha didn’t know that!). Once re-dressed, we then head to Ramat Bet Shemesh for dinner with my wife’s cousins. On the way there, my Waze app bunks out, and leads us astray a bit. We call our dinner hostess, who sounds a bit panicky, concerned we’d be led through some iffy neighborhoods, but I get it working again, and in the process, note a certain setting: “Use only roads under Israeli authority.” Fascinating. We set ourselves on the proper path, and arrive in peace. After the main course, the men go daven mincha. I catch up a little on the daf. Our wives and children then join us. Why? Because the shul, Beis Tefilla Yonah Avraham, is named for the same person our big boy and their newest little boy is named for. A lovely plaque in the lobby attests to this. I notice the pasuk inscribed on bottom is the very one I use for my name at the end of shemonei esrah. Whoa. We then head back for dessert, and return to Hashmonaim, pack everything, and head to our new hosts in the same community. While en route, a cease-fire is put in place. How nice.

Day 9: Wednesday, August 27: I go for a run at 6:30 AM from my new starting point, and boy are my legs tired. I do 3.3 in 30:09. I’ll take the day off tomorrow. Once my family is up, we pack up and head north on kvish 6, which is littered up and down with battle-weary tanks on flatbed trucks. I don’t know if this is a good sign or bad, but it’s quite a sight to see. We arrive at the tippy-top of the northwestern part of Israel, Rosh Hanikra. In the waters can clearly be seen navy destroyers, protecting Israel at all times. The constant military presence is both overwhelming and reassuring. We can see the buoys separating Israel from Lebanon. We take a picture at the border fence. The cable cars are amazing, the grottos are amazing, the cliffs are amazing, the tunnel that was built that travels through multiple countries – about which I had no idea! – is amazing, as are the limonana ices. We then head back south (because um, North into Lebanon and West into the Mediterranean Sea aren’t really options). My wife comments that there are clouds in the sky for the first time since we arrived. True. Interesting. We pit-stop at the Baha’i Gardens and give our kids a teaser of the gardening artistry, promising to return once they can fully appreciate the artisanal aspects of the groundskeeping. We then arrive in Haifa – birthplace of my mother, shetichya – at the home of my wife’s friends, and marvelous grandmotherly and –fatherly hosts. We watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. It’s beautiful. We then all head together to Pardes Chana, to visit our hosts’ daughter, who was a childhood playmate of my wife’s (and whose house was robbed earlier that day! Oh my!). They haven’t seen each other in 378 years. We order pizza (I try the one with olives. Interesting), enjoy each other’s company and fall into bed again before midnight. We’re exhausted from our traveling and constant re-packing. Whew.

Day 10: Thursday, August 28: We pack up once again and head northeast this time, driving through the fascinating Carmel Tunnels out of Haifa. We arrive in the Golan Heights, a bit nervous about the Syria/Israel ISIS border problems that occurred earlier in the day. We arrive at Kol Shofar in Givat Yoav, for a presentation, demo, and tour given by the proprietor and builder of the shop. He is simply the most marvelous presenter and tour guide I have ever had the privilege to enjoy. If only my kids would stop begging for water, they might enjoy him too. He’s engaging, kid-friendly, passionate and proud. We buy the shofar he fashions for the group on the spot, and throw in a beautiful mezuzah fashioned from an antelope horn. We just have to have these things. They’re so meaningful and beautiful. Once the tour and purchases are over, we stay on for a supplementary tour because we just have piles of questions (you’ll never guess where the ram’s horns come from! Hint: if you think Indian sheitels were a problem because they were avodah zara, then you don’t want to know how the horns were obtained). I love the place and this man so much, I’m kind of sad when we have to leave. Before we do, we admire the etrog tree on his property, the first I’ve ever seen! Which is also growing the largest I’ve ever seen! We all make a borei itzvei bisamim. Filled with mitzvot, we head to end of the Daliot Estuary, for something called the Majrasa water hike (hat tip: Bonnie!), which is a 1k-long stretch of calm stream that empties into the Kineret. It’s a fun, relaxing, good time that the kids love too. Again, we reluctantly leave, loving the experience so much. After re-dressing for the 435th time on our trip, we get into the car, completing a full circle around the Kineret, while crossing over the Jordan River – where peace was made with Jordan in 1994 - and travel 2.5 hours to Rehovot. Greeting us are most of the Israeli remnants of my mother’s family: her first cousins and great aunt, my 2nd cousins, and my children’s 3rd cousins. It’s an overwhelming, and very cherished experience for me. It’s so good to see them all. So good. The family picture we take is huge and already memorable. For the third time that day, I don’t want to leave. We have to, though. Back to Hashmonaim for the evening, through the nearby Modi’in neighborhood with lots of nice jogging paths. Neat.

Day 11: Friday, August 29: At 6:30 AM I head out for a 4-miler and incorporate more hills (there are plenty for my choosing). Done in 35:45. We then head to Netanya – passing through Tel Aviv – to hang out for the day at my wife’s Uncle and Auntie’s place overlooking the Mediterranean. We hit the pool and have a lovely time, enjoy some ice cream, then a delicious lunch. I sit on the mirpeset and become entranced watching the waves, which I snap out of when military choppers fly by on reconnaissance. Seriously, they’re everywhere. We shower up and head back to Hashmonaim for Shabbos. When my host and I head over for shul, we hear gunfire, which startles me, but not my host, because hey, it’s Friday, and that’s why “they” do it. Oh yeah, sure, totally normal. A family that made aliyah just last week joins us and our hosts for Friday night dinner.

Day 12: Shabbos Koidesh, August 30: Davening is lovely. Our Shabbos dinner guest gets “Vishavu Bonim” sung for him before his aliyah, and um, because of his aliyah (did you catch that?). How lovely! Anim Zmiros is sung by a Down Syndrome child. How lovelier! After davening, we head over to the house of friends, who made aliyah several years ago, for a little kiddush get-together with various other who made aliyah from our community. Three ex-presidents from our shul are around the table. Everyone says “Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom” to us as we stroll through the neighborhood, which has no cars, because the front gates are shut down for Shabbos. We have lunch at friends, plus other guests, including Jay, who finally explains the Israel-Palestinian-Jordanian land issues to me better than anyone has yet. I’ve been asking questions the whole time I’ve been here on a range of Israeli issues, and I finally have some answers. We daven Ma’ariv outside, as it’s Shabbos Mevorchim, but there is no visible moon. A chaval. The kids conk out at 9 PM. My wife and I head out and pick up Yoni – my children’s favorite babysitter – from his yeshiva in Sha’alavim. We head to the Modi’in Mall and have a light dinner – and bump into several of our Shabbos kiddush friends - in the Roladin Bakery, which is three minutes from closing, but the nice waitress lets us in anyway. We tip nicely (Israel expects 10% tips, and in some fields, like cabbies, nothing at all), and return Yoni safely. My kids will have to do without his services for a year. Nuts, but we wish him well. I take advantage of the kid-less silence, on the ride back to base, to take in my experiences in this country, from the good (the entire country is under construction; cranes are absolutely everywhere, somebody will help you quickly if you’re in a pickle, the landscape is generally beautiful), to the bad (constant war-threat, high cost of everything, lawlessness [laws are suggestions here, seriously], general rudeness, horrible road signage) to the ugly (the road insanity stands out most of all. e.g. texting while driving seems to be a requirement; foreign drivers to do not take a written test to get a license! Just a road test! Madness!), to the interesting (drip-irrigation is fascinating, profiling is de rigueur here; if you don’t like it you can suck an egg, by comparison: in the U.S. you just have to not beep to walk through a metal detector; in Israel, beep away, but they got their eyes on you), and I feel drawn, pulled even, by a definite sense of belonging, a feeling of place. Good thoughts with which to drift off to sleep.

Day 13: Sunday, August 31: I gear up for a long run at 5:45 AM, leaving foodstuffs and a large extra supply of water on my hosts’ front steps (because I can enjoy during any of my many circuits), but things don’t work out as planned. Firstly, it is beyond stifling. It’s choking. Secondly, I decide to explore some of those daunting hills I haven’t tried yet. Bad combination. I wither, and am reducing to walking and hiking very quickly. No regrets however. I’m happy to have maintained my fitness while away. Instead of sulking, I turn it into an experience. I pluck leaves from lemon and lime trees and make a besamim (seriously, you reach up your hand at random in this country, and can come down with a fruit), I grab an olive off its branch and eat (oops! Not ripe! Aftertaste doesn’t go away for hours), I run through all the parks and their sprinklers, I say hello to everybody, and after 7.17 miles in 1:36:50, I’m winded, elated, and done. Now I can start my day. We head to Sanhedria Murchevet to pick up my wife’s friend (this whole trip has been a kind of “This is Your Life” for my wife. I’m very happy for her) and her daughter, who we ferry to Genesis Land in Yishuv Alon. On the way, I note the differences between what the Bedouins set up in the desert (basically, mini-District 9s), and what the Hebrews do (basically, flourishing oases). The Eretz Bereishit experience is marvelous. All of use ride camels (first time ever! Awesome! And my kids are great sports!) to Abraham’s tent, guided by Eliezer. He gives us the history of the region, and TaNaCH comes alive for me. We’re served fruits of the land, make our own pitas, and are served supremely delicious tea. We then ride the camels back along a ridge that’s clearly one camel-foot wide. Yikes, but they’re sure-footed. Nature films of camels slipping off mountains are probably rare. We cool off with more ice cream, then head back to the Old City for a goodbye to The Wall. I’m less emotional, but still as grateful, this time. My big boy writes his name on a kvitel, and I say he can ask for whatever he wants. He writes a little something, and refuses to tell me what he asked for. Good. I respect that. May God grant his wishes. On the way there, my wife buys me a lovely wall-adorning gift that will have a prominent place in our home. I offer to buy her a gift, but she refuses. I’ll find a way to repay her. We leave the plaza, and while I haul the stroller up the hundreds of steps, my big boy and girl give tzedaka through the gauntlet all the way up. We stop for pizza at Papa’s at the top of the steps, in the shade. It’s sweltering. We then make a final visit to Machane Yehuda - which is uncrowded and silent because it isn’t Friday – to pick up some halvah and rugelach. We then return to Hashmonaim for a BBQ with even more of my wife’s old friends. I’m too zonked to be social, to my regret. I just have no energy left whatsoever. After, we put the kids to sleep and spend the evening packing, hitting the sack before midnight again, because we have a plane to catch tomorrow morning. One of my tasks is to charge up the myriad electronic keep-the-kids-busy devices to distract them on the 12-hour flight.

Day 14: Monday, September 1: We all manage to get out of the house before 7:45 AM, run a few tie-some-loose-ends errands, and we’re on our way back to Ben Gurion, reluctantly having to go home. I can clearly see Gaza out of the window as we fly away. We survive the bumpity flight despite our children begging for water like they’re still in the desert and my little one’s need to be anywhere but his seat. I read a great book called “A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales” by a female member of the Knesset. On the landing approach into JFK, my little one - after crying wolf by claiming he had to go poopy, but revealing he didn’t – says, “Mommy, I have to poopy” at least 40 times – bli guzmah! – miraculously without the entire section on the plane laughing at us. Everything subsequent to the flight goes rather smoothly: we get our stroller and car seat quickly, our luggage is accounted for, we get through customs handily, our shuttle arrives on time and our car is waiting for us in the lot, our kids conk out, there’s no traffic because it’s Labor Day, and we get home within an hour. We put our kids to bed upon arrival. I haul hundreds of pounds of luggage into the house, and we collapse for one last time, drained of energy, but delighted with our trip. It was great to be away. It’s great to be home.

L’shono habo b’Yerushalayim.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Never Forgotten

I can never forget first hearing the curious news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, the crashed CNN website when I tried to learn more, the shock when I heard a second plane had slammed into the second tower, the quiet and horrified conference room where we watched the unfolding of the terror, the dismissal of my coworkers when I explained that the towers were going to fall because of how they were constructed and the temperature tolerance of steel, the shock and odd nods of acceptance when what I predicted came to pass, the uncontrollable hysterics of a coworker who had been in the towers when they were first attacked in 1993, my 10-mile walk to Williamsburg over the NYC Marathon route in reverse from the Queensboro Bridge, the sadness on my father's face when he came to retrieve me to take me home, the desperate e-mail sent to friends to see if everyone was okay, the relief the day after that I had no funerals to attend because all my friends in and around the scene had made it out alive, the thinking about what would have happened to me had I not moved from my Wall Street job just three months prior, the gratitude in learning one year later that my wife was one of the honorable rotation of shomrim for the deceased members of our tribe. Never forget, they say. I have never forgotten.