Monday, March 23, 2015

Recap, Reflections, Remarks on Our 2015 Israel Trip

Recap, Reflections, Remarks on Our 2015 Israel Trip
Martin Bodek

Day 0, Saturday, March 7: packed the remaining 3% of our supplies, carefully weighed our luggage, gave huggies to the kids, Uberred to JFK (so not Princeton-Trenton airport; I want that experience again) where our luggage came in at 48, 48, and 49 lbs because we pack like rockstars, realized Naomi forgot her wallet and Blackberry at home because of a last-minute coat switch (no worries, she switched the car rental to my name and arranged with Suzie and Elie – also running Jerusalem - to bring the items to Israel), boarded more than an hour early (aha, so we can through security again, or maybe so the religious could have time to negotiate seats away from women. Oh just kidding; that’s mean).

Day 1, Sunday, March 8: couldn’t sleep on the plane due to turbulence, thoughts of turbulence, and the general concept of the existence of turbulence. Kept busy with movies (The Imitation Game: unworthy of Picture of the Year consideration; Fury: overlooked, but fantastic) and a book (The Unfortunate Traveller: thankfully not a portent of things to come). Davened shachris on a plane for the first time ever, because we would land at 5:50 PM after taking off at 11:45 PM the day prior, so the middle of the Atlantic seemed good by telepathic consensus (indeed, at least 20 others telepathically agreed to daven biyechidus too, as we were on a Delta flight, not ElAl. Also, the African-African woman in front of me was seemingly on a plane for the first time in her life, and she couldn’t get her eyes back in her head), learned that people cut bathroom lines on airplanes too, landed to applause and a beautiful sunset, encountered a passport control officer that was Personality of the Year (buddy, when you slip into your post and hold up a finger at us, we don’t know if you mean you’ll be with us in a minute, you want one of us at a time, or if you’re displaying your opinion of yourself), fended off a yutzhead at the Hertz counter who tried to pity-cut (“I was just on a plane for 10 hours, so why should it matter who goes first?” Seriously, pal? Get to the back of the line), got geshnoodert only 25 minutes after landing, got a free coffee as consolation for not having a car ready (they know how to take the reservation, but not how to hold the reservation), and finally made it out to the yishuv, at Josh and Arica’s, where we’d headquarter for our stay. We skipped out to the Azrieli Center, where we chowed down at Burgers Bar before heading back to base, FaceTiming with the kids, and falling apart.

Day 2, Monday, March 9: was woken by the call of the muezzin at 4:18 AM, which is, like, two hours from vasikin! What kind of z’man tefilla is that? Went for a 5k run at 7 AM in 28:29. Made it a nice and easy hill-practice one as training winds down. Spotted monkey bars along the way, so I did W3D1 of the Twenty Pull-up Challenge in which I’m currently partaking. Fun way to start the day. Showered, davened, and made our way back to Azrieli for breakfast at Landwer Cafe, where we had good food, nice service, multiple seating options, learned that coffee is generally ordered in Israel with warm or cold milk, and watched a smoker light up directly beneath a no smoking sign. Then north to Caesarea, where we learned about soft painting (and bought a fine example for our daughter), got solid lessons in history and engineering, and generally found everything fascinating. Then further north to Baha'i Gardens, which wasn’t fair: the inner gardens are open till 12, the outer till 5. But the inner are 17 strata, while the outer are 2. Our tour was over in 3 minutes. Pffft. Bust. Purty though. Then a nap in the car, then a bit further north in Haifa (birthplace of my mom, shetichyeh) to Sarah & Amnon’s, where I fell asleep again watching a hazy sunset, had a delicious dinner, and experienced the most thunderous Hatikvah I’ve ever heard because Sammy Ofer Stadium was built at the foot of the hill our hosts live on, and Beitar Jerusalem was playing Maccabi Tel Aviv at the moment. Then it was south south south, all the home, and FaceTime with the kids before collapsing again.

Day 3, Tuesday, March 10: no muezzin woke me this time. They must have missed z’man tefilla. At 7:45 AM, I headed out for a 3.2-mile run, a little further than yesterday, in 28:58. I found a few more hills, and did W3D2 of the Twenty Pull-up Program. No sirens also made for a more relaxing run, unlike last time I visited here. When I was done, I made friends with a neighborhood doggie, who wouldn’t leave my side to allow me back in the house, until he was distracted by another passerby doggie. Then a quick breakfast cereal, a quick shower, then off to Jerusalem through the wrong neighborhood (crescents, concrete, satellite dishes, and Palestinian flags are good clues you’ve wandered afield) to the get to The Kotel via Zion Gate, where I poiled mich aus aless gitz (a phrase that means asking for good things, but also implies receiving the request as well), as did my wife. While there, it struck me that it was the first time in my life that I said l’shana haba while in Jerusalem one year, and had it come to pass the next year. May I experience that again, amen! Then I got me some iced coffee because yoy it was hot, bought some t-shirts for the boys, and off to Arnona to visit the other Mrs. B in my Mrs. B’s life, who took us out for lunch at Papagaio, which was most delicious, an apparent trend in this country. We then sat in traffic and took in all the campaign ads (election day is 3/17), then to a Burgers Bar to pick up and deliver dinner to the wife and children of the man in whose memory we’ve come to run the Jerusalem Marathon. We stayed a while, then were off to the marathon expo (about 1/3,078th the size of NYC’s), where we got our respective running kits (me: marathon; Naomi: 5k), bumped into Robby Berman (founder of the HOD Society), met Michael Appel (good guy JRunner), bought a water bottle vest (mostly for the 8 free GUs that come with the purchase – but seriously, I needed a better water supply option for the race. I can’t drink Israel’s mineral water), then to Nachlaot to drop off supplies for the pre-race party for the Team L’chaim L’Chayim group I’m officially running with), after which we skirted Machane Yehuda (closed for business at 9 PM! I didn’t think that happened!), before heading to Ben Yehuda for dinner at Café Rimon, where we had the most delicious dining experience of our stay. Everything was scrumptious (haven’t used that word in a while) for both of us. The soup of the day was my favorite (lentil). That never happens. Naomi liked the mushrooms so much, even I was tempted to think about pondering the possibility of trying them. Even the cappuccino was foamier and creamier than any I’ve had before. Bravo! Stuffed to the grills, we headed back to base to FaceTime and zzzzz.

Day 4, Wednesday, March 11: at 8 AM, I went for a short run and tested my new water bottle vest, which fit perfectly and also kept me cool, with the iced-over bottles up against my chest, chilling my core. This is the beginning of a great relationship. Did W3D3 of the Twenty Pull-up Challenge. My rib cage was sore. Hmmm, couldn’t figure why. Did the two miles in 19:30. Final run before the Marathon. Trained harder, higher, and more than for any single race ever. I put myself in the best position possible. Here we go. Then off to the Negev (first finding ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Palestinian construction crew convoy; fun) to skirt past a sinkhole that opened in the highway yesterday, before entering Ein Gedi for some shvitzy hiking and perfect water vest testing. We tried not to exhaust ourselves pre-run, encountered waterfalls, nature’s beauty, ibex, and too many for our comfort, followed by deserved ice cream, then a drive back to Jerusalem, carefully avoiding further Palestine convoys while trying to figure out what all the different license plate colors mean. We learned you can generally switch lanes in Israeli tunnels before revisiting Machane Yehuda. The place could use a directory and some manners (it’s like they’re always after the next customer instead of politely serving the one they’ve already snagged). We loaded up on real deal halvah and other goodies, then to Mamilla Mall for dinner with my wife’s Israeli-living cousins. We were early, so we window-shopped, then decided to have dessert first, so I could have a coffee to be awake for dinner. Roladin fit the bill, which was tasty. I tried napping in the mall (they say coffee followed by a nap is the best activator for energy; I haven’t the time to discuss the brain science), but rain interrupted me, so we shopped again, tried another nap after the rain ceased, then it was finally dinnertime at J’oy, whose food was very good, and the company was better. I took leave for a few minutes to run out to receive my wife’s wallet and Blackberry from Suzie. Perfect transaction. I formally turned over driving duties, and we headed back to our quarters, FaceTimed with the kiddies, and fell to pieces from exhaustion.

Day 5, Thursday, March 12: woke up late, way late, like 11:15 late (my wife didn’t stir me, figuring I needed the rest, and knowing I would have had trouble sleeping the night before a big race; perfect thinking), then packed up, ignored Waze to take us the comfy way to Jerusalem, and came to Har Hamenuchos to visit Reb Chayim, the reason we’re here, as mentioned, and to give honor, respect, love, and due to this beloved man who passed too soon, to run in his memory, and to raise support for the young family he left behind. It has always struck me that his three names (Chaim Baruch Yehudah) are the names of my three dads. Now I notice my initials embedded in his name, and are the very top two letters on his matzeivah (…hadvekiM Bashem...). Intersouled. After that we headed back to Mamilla to pick up a halvah crunch pastry at Roladin that was so huge and so difficult to get my mouth around, that it would last me for days. Then a tour of David’s Tower which was slightly anticlimactic, but nonetheless interesting. I would have liked more information about the grounds and means of defense. Most fascinating were the Hasmonean Balls. We exited to see mishtara chasing a car demanding a permit. 50 feet later, more mishtara surrounding a drunk guy. Good day. Then Candyland in Mamilla for lunch, which had average food (burned to the point of inedibility) and below average service (don’t get me started). Can’t win ‘em all. Naomi bought some balloons for Elimelech’s (Reb Chayim’s son) birthday party, and bumped into Suzie, Elie, and Dov. Nice to see them! We then dropped off the balloons at the party, then attended my running team’s party, then had dinner with Noa and Bryan at Focaccia Bar, where I had a lovely time with my wife’s smart, savvy, passionate, fit friends and had a near-perfect pre-marathon meal of fish, rice, and potatoes to boot. We then checked into Lev Yerushalayim for the night, chosen for its walking-distance proximity to race start (and from finish). Nice accommodations, good service, and didn't break the bank. We set up our Golems on the couch, hit the sack, realized we hadn’t FaceTimed the kids, so we FaceTimed the kids, then hit the sack again, setting the alarm for 4 AM.

Day 6, Friday, March 13: Naomi was right. I didn’t sleep. I just got out of bed at 4 AM. I davened, we ate lightly, animated our golems, packed up, checked out, loaded the car with our luggage and walked to Sacher Park. I had the time of my life, ran relaxed, was very prepared, finished first in the Vibrams/barefoot division (I think), took it all in, shepped naches from my wife at her 5k (couch-to-5k complete! Woohoo!), encountered the expected (1,970 feet of elevation, gosh!), and the unexpected (Israelis don’t hold up motivational signs), got so much love from my friends and family. Full, separate marathon (literal and figurative) writeup to follow soon. Believe you that. After, we FaceTimed with the kids, then walked slooooowly to Ben Yehuda for a big lunch at Sam’s Bagels, then a slower walk to car, then to Har Nof for Shabbat, at a dear friend of my wife’s, in the Shas party’s home turf. I was slightly underdressed upon entry. The jacuzzi was heaven. I climbed several steps to daven Friday night, and resolved not to do that again. I fell asleep on the couch before dessert. Naomi woke me at 12:40 AM to go to bed. She and her old friend Yocheved had muuuuuch to talk about.

Day 7, Saturday, March 14: woke at 7:04 AM, crawled out of bed at 8:30, had a coffee and finished the halvah crunch monster, then davened shachris in Lev Aharon, chosen because it was the closest to my hosts that had the fewest steps (0) to enter. ‘Twas a Sfardi minyan, where they sang theme songs for each aliyah. Interesting. After lunch, I chilled on the comfy couch, and read an outdated Fodor’s book while awake (no smoking allowed on flights shorter than six hours). After Shabbat, we packed, and headed straight to Resto Bar in Modi’in for dinner with Avi, Gila, Josh, Arica, Leah, and Shim. The food was quite loud, and the music was pretty tasty. No wait, it’s the other way around. We then headed back to our old base for the night, but didn’t have an opportunity to FaceTime the kids because of the clock change. Darn.

Day 8, Sunday, March 15: we packed, then headed to Waffle Bar in Azrieli for the One True Meal. My wife estimated our dishes at 7,000 calories (I burned 3,500 at the marathon so now I have to run another one). That’s about right. We were forced to surrender, however. Like some streets were unrunnable, some calories are uneatable. We’re surprised this franchise hasn't reached The States. Everything on the menu is so BIG. Then back to headquarters to say goodbye and thank you to our hosts, then off to Jerusalem to tour the marathon route a bit, then back to Zion Gate, a stop at the Last Supper Room (figured this would be culturally interesting. Had to have a look; wasn’t much to see. How about a plaque, or mock-up, or diorama?), then back to The Kotel to thank HaShem for everything and to ask for more, then lunch at Mozzarella (we realized we hadn’t had pizza during our stay, so we chapped arain), a tour of The Cardo, then to Ben Yehuda for final shopping (I finished The Unfortunate Traveller while Naomi worked on creative shul dinner gift ideas), back to quarters to say goodbye again, then to the airport, where all good things had to come to an end. Was asked what my middle initial stood for for the 3rd time in my life (two of which were Israeli security), met the warrior Ruth Liebowitz in the terminal after seeing her during the marathon, thumbs down on Burger Ranch, experienced my – not joking this time - first chasid-won’t-sit-down-next-to-a-woman scenario…

Day +1, Monday, March 16: …wished my wife a happy 12th anniversary at 12:01 AM, watched a movie (Interstellar: sucked), slept in between turbulence, began reading book #10 on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list (Don Quixote: this one is quite good!), and home sweet home after Ubering it back. The snow was all gone, which was lovely, and oh gosh, we missed the kids (FaceFacing is so much better). As I always say, being away is great, being home is better. I shaved, showered, davened, ate, and headed off to work, thoughts of our excellent vacation and our last 12 wonderful years of marriage dancing happily in my head.

Our trip had a purpose. Please give if/what/when/how much you can. Bless you!: