Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Notes from our 1/26th-of-a-Year Israel Family Trip

Day 1, Sunday, August 20, Getaway:

All vacations start with a morning run. They also end with a morning run. They’re also filled  with morning runs during.

Come to think of it, all my business trips have these features too.

For today, though, it’s a 6:00 AM 10-miler through my neighborhood, where I wasn’t feeling it towards the end, but a total stranger urged me on, and I finished with a good oomph.

Our flight is scheduled for 7:00 PM.

Our first hint that things might be amiss is when my wife gets a text that our flight is delayed to 8:30.

That’s the last bit of information we get before things go awry.

Oh boy, do they.

We’ll get to that shortly. Yes we will.

There’s so much time left to our flight, that we all go out to a movie the kids want to see: The Emoji Movie. Cute.

We have a quick lunch, pack up our bags and kids, and we out. It’s 2:00 PM.

It takes us 1:20:00 to get there, which is a new world record from Northern New Jersey, and we don’t live anywhere close to the GWB.

Nice driving, sweetheart!

We arrive with our four checked bags and three kids at the security line, and note that one woman has brought along 28 – that’s 28 – purple bags (the kids counted). Shouldn’t she be using a Nefesh B’nefesh flight for something like this?

While shuffling forward, security asks us some questions. For the third time in my life, I’m asked what my middle initial stands for. Fun fact: all three times have been ELAL security.

We sail through airport security and enjoy some relaxation in the Wingtips Lounge, because our credit card makes us special or something.

Balancing our Ivory Tower lives is the fact that there’s no AC whatsoever in here.

I pick up an Uncrate magazine while I’m sweating to death in this “comfy” lounge, and note that there’s a car refurbishing company that can sell me a Delorean for $48,000. I show my wife, who doesn’t seem interested in buying it for me, but I put it on my Amazon Wish List anyway.

Time for our flight!

This should be a breeze.


The first thing we notice about the blob of people surrounding the gate is that there is no order whatsoever. There are no announcements. There are no little signs showing where privileged passengers board. There is just a mass of people who already look like they’d rather turn back to Egypt than cross the sea.

I peel away from this ticking timebomb to use the bathroom for a minute.

I notice a doggie bathroom on the way. Interesting. I crack the door open. Ha! A fire hydrant (or “pump” in my vernacular)! Poking out of some fake grass!

That’ll be the final amusement for a while. Let’s get back in line, shall we?

Despite some extreme tohu and vohu, the hundreds of us somehow manage to get onto the plane.

But it’s 15 minutes after flight time, and we’re not going anywhere.

30 minutes. Still here.

45. No go. What’s going on?

A maintenance crew is going in and out of the plane.

One hour. Not moving.

1:15, a brief announcement that they have to fix something.

1:30. Still stuck here.

1:45. Nothing doing.

Two hours. Everybody off the plane. Part can’t get fixed. Everybody gets vouchers, and will need new boarding passes.

You gotta be kidding me.

The vouchers are good for $15, to spend at whatever airport shop might be open still. There aren’t many.

There are no further announcements. The only way to get information is to beg for it at the counter.

No one behind that counter knows anything.

They also don’t tell anyone they need new boarding passes, which all of us find out by accident.

My wife asks them to announce this relevant information, or any information, anything at all, but the request is refused. All information is given only to travelers barraging the counter, and no further. ELAL plays telephone.

This is nuts.

The manifest begins losing families with little children. They can’t tolerate the delay anymore. This is going to be survival of the fittest.

We begin starving.

My wife, ever the resourceful one, alights on an idea: starving to death is no fun. Maybe we can find a nearby kosher restaurant that might still deliver at this ungodly hour.

I don’t even know what time it is, but trust me, it is not godly.

Bango!: Munch Place to the rescue!

My wife heads to the airport exit, whilst I make sure this broken plane doesn’t go anywhere, and that our kids don’t fall asleep in a weird body position that might obstruct other persons’ comings and goings (There are lots of people in such positions; exhaustion is rife).

While my wife is out there, fighting the good fight, getting the good food, they announce that the part has been fixed. I hear three lazy “yay”s from the sleeping crowd.

Meantime, I panic. Where’s my wife? I text her furiously.

At that moment, she’s trying to get back through security, but the restaurant sent sauces, which is a problem for security, but my wife specifically asked the restaurant not to send sauces, because she’s smart, but other people just won’t play along.

In the end, she does get through, and we feed like lions on carcasses while we wait for ELAL to get themselves in order.

This is what “order” means to ELAL: at an interval of time before boarding, one airline employee declares a random spot the place where first class passengers will line up. Then, just before boarding, another airline employee will declare the random spots moot, and will make up their own spots, usually on the opposite side of wherever everyone is lining up.

My fellow passengers now look like they want to rip faces off of people, but they’re too tired for aggression.

And by the way, you must be aware that this writeup is now two pages long, and we haven’t taken off yet!

Don’t lose hope though! We’re finally leaving! This is great, because Day 1 is over, and it’s been a doozy so far. Nobody has come to fisticuffs with these ELAL clowns, but that’s only because those who are furious have been turned into zombies. Everyone is just too blitzed out of their brains to think about violence.

Sort of like how my wife and I get our kids mellow in the evenings: tire them out over the course of the day. Hey, if it works for us, maybe ELAL is trying the same thing.

Day 2, Monday, August 21, Flight From Hell:

At 2:00 AM, we’re invited to board again. We have to use a different gate, because the next ELAL flight needs to use our original gate.

As mentioned, we’re lined up the opposite way we were before, and the random employee reverses the boarding designation spots, just to be cruel to everyone, who clearly haven’t taken enough punishment.

At 3 AM, we finally take off, but not without some aggravation in the process.

I am apparently the only human still awake enough to say Tefilas Haderech. Everyone else is dead to the world. My light is the only one on as we race down the runway, and the stupid woman behind me is the only person on this flight who isn’t clued in as to what I’m doing. She will not stop asking me to shut off the light, and no matter how much I try to explain that I just need to say this one little thing and then I’ll turn off the light, she still doesn’t get it. How did I get so lucky?

I finally fight her off, and manage to say my tefilah. I shut off my light, hand the siddur to my wife in front of me, and realize she can’t see, so I flip the light on real quick.

This does not sit well with the nice lady behind me, who begins another round of badgering.

My wife realizes what’s happening, says the tefilah quickly, and hands back the siddur. I shut off the light.

Peace on earth.

But not for me. The rest of the plane is asleep within five minutes, beaten into exhaustion by the mess of the evening this has been.

However, I’m acutely aware that they forgot to install air on this hunk-of-crap 747 (When will they finally replace this decrepit fleet with the 787s? Answer: two months from now).

Also, the moving map stinks.

And, this chair is like a 40-year-old sneaker, with the padding squashed to nothing.

Plus, the entertainment console is garbage.

Remember, I can’t turn the light on to read my Kindle because Mrs. Lights Out will freak out behind me.

Finally, the food stinks.

Not to mention, my head really hurts.

At some point in the flight, my wife turns to me and says, “I’m so bored.”

I say, “I need to get off this plane.”

God has mercy on me after He balances my good deeds against my sins, and the flight concludes with applause from the passengers. For the pilots? Nah, for God, for having mercy on the passengers too.

It’s over. We’re in the Holy Land.

Momma always said, “You got to put the past behind you.”

We go through immigration at the “Forien passport” kiosk (even the kids pointed out the typo), fetch our bags (the 28 purple bags have no taker), get our car, and we’re on the road. Destination: our apartment in Jerusalem, which we reach, enter, greet my in-laws, and collapse.

Let the vacation begin!

Day 3, Tuesday, August 22, Lots of Chillin’, and the Opposite of Chillin’:

My day begins as every day should: a little run. This one is a 7:30 AM (late!) 2.6-mile jaunt around the immediate neighborhood, up Ben Yehuda, down King Gee-or-guh (inside joke) and Keren Hayesod, up Kind David, through Mamilla Mall, and lookie who I run into! My mother-in-law! So we do some morning shopping together. Nice bonding time.

Weird stores are open at this time of day, by the way. Café’s I understand, but clothing and furniture stores? It’s 7:45 AM!

After I freshen up, we find that the kids are still out cold, so my wife and I head out for breakfast together. We choose Caffit, and we enjoy an al fresco meal. Likely it’ll be the last waking moment where the kids won’t be underfoot for the next few weeks, so we revel in it.

The kids wake at 12:20 PM, having completely skipped the AM part of the day. Talk about jetlag.

Once they’re fully conscious, we gear up (“We”? Ha! I’m the pack mule!), mostly with bottles of ice in a backpack because it’s shmoiling (Webster’s should accept this word, which is a contraction of “murderously hot” and “I’m going to drop dead.”) outside.

We walk through Mamilla Mall and Jaffa Gate, and make our best beeline to the koysel (correct pronunciation) while shvitzing to death. It’s good to be back.

I bless my children while on the promenade, and don’t blubber myself into a puddle of tears like I did last time. Instead, I’m just happy.

My big boy asks why I’m blessing them now, here, and I say that now, here is the best place in the world to do so!

We pit-stop in the restroom behind the plaza on the way out. I’ve never seen something so labyrinthine in my life. In the modern era, this is what you dig into tunnels, I suppose.

Speaking of tunnels, we try to gain tour entry as part of itinerary. Nope. Next slot available is 7:15 PM. Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that.

Our children give tzedaka all the way back up until we reach street level again, and take a break for some ices. We need cold stuff inside our bodies.

Mordechai Shapiro walks by, and my wife grabs a picture of him. Not for her, for my sister, who’s like, mad love all about him, for realz.

We head back out of the Old City and walk up Yaffa Road into Ben Yehuda, which we zig-zag through looking for pizza. Our kids need pizza like they’re Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

There’s plenty of pizza, but none staffed by anyone who can satisfy our allergy questions (our little one is allergic to tree nuts), until we find Big Apple Pizza. Bingo.

Aw man, this stuff is good. Street otta New Yawk, b’lee dat.

I’m so famished from all this shvitzing and pack-muling, and so in need of replacement sugar, that I actually I have soda. I know, shocking.

We walk back to our apartment, sunbeaten and happy, and relax for three hours.

My kids watch Bubsfug Michnasmeruba (what Spongebob Squarepants translates to – which is hilarious!), and I schedule my appointment with Homeland Security to secure Global Entry (I hope I pass the rigorous exam!).

Chillaxed and rested, we head on out again on foot back to Ben Yehuda to dine al fresco, with my larger in-law contingent, at Café Rimon, which was the home run meal for my wife and I during our last visit. Whaddya know, it scores again. We’re 2 for 2. We’re making this is a must every time we visit.

There are cats everywhere, though, at which our daughter is marveling.

Our big boy can’t get over all the smoking going on everywhere.

Our little one? Just happy to exist. He’s like that.

We walk back to our hotel, and crash. Maybe tomorrow we’ll all be over our jetlag.

Day 4, Wednesday, August 23, The Gush!:

A 6:30 AM (that’s better) 3.5-mile run, mostly through Gan Sacher, and past the start and finish lines of the Jerusalem Marathon (which I ran three years ago, and only virtually since; I must return).

While there, I run with the Israeli Army for a few feet. How do I know they are the Israeli Army? It says so on their t-shirts, plus their ranks. Also, they all – men and women alike – look like they are carved out of granite and trained on Themyscira.

We’re off to Gush Etzion to spend a day there. We’ve never been, but it promises to be a lot of fun.

Stop #1: Pat Bamelach ( A wonderful bakery where the proprietess imparts loads of historical baking wisdom, and the participants get to make their own pretzels and little rolls. The immersion was fun, and the baked goods hot and delicious. The owner, a madrich of my wife’s back in the day, recognizes her on the spot. I get this awesome t-shirt:

Stop #2: The Workshop ( A woodworking shop run by a lovely couple, with whirring machines galore, wherein which visitors can create their own Judaic crafts and stress over how they’re carefully going to get the glass and delicate stuff home. I make a Kiddush saucer, my wife makes a honey dish, the boys make dreidels, and our daughter makes a “shalom” sign. My in-laws and their friends make a whole bunch of other good stuff. Fun is had by all.

Stop #3: The Lone Oak Tree ( This tree has quite a history. Click the link to learn more. Most oak trees live for 150-300 years. This one?: 700. Wow. A non-Israeli youth shows up on his bike and eyeballs us. That’s our cue. We’re outta here.

Stop #4: Roza ( We dine with some fine friends of my wife’s, whom I adopted as friends as well because they’re a running couple, and nobody loves Bruce Fordyce more than the hubby. I come bearing gifts: the last four issues of Runner’s World (because it takes four months for these to reach Israel, bringing them up to date). The company is great, the food is darn good, the service attentive and nice, and our children bond over iPhone apps. The Mrs. is battling cancer at the moment, and I want to give her a shout-out here to continue being as strong and brave and tough as she’s always been.

Before parting, I ask where all these stabbings and rammings are taking place in The Gush. The answer: the junction through which we drove, that we’ll be taking home, and that we looped through when we got a wee bit lost.

Oh, yikes.

Well, we do go through that junction again, and make it safely back to our Jerusalem home away from home.

Galla galla gal galatz!

Day 5, Thursday, August 24, Around Jerusalem:

A 6:45 AM, 3.4-mile jaunt through my favorite neighborhood in Jerusalem  (Baka, AKA Geulim) and my favorite piece of the Jerusalem Marathon course: the filled-in train tracks. Oy, do I enjoy.

A short while later, we all head out for the exact purpose we’re in town to begin with: my nephew Jordy’s bar mitzvah. We’ll daven in Haas Promedade and have breakfast, to kick off the weekend’s activities. The view from south of the Old City is captivating.

Present is Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, who is an old, old friend of my wife’s family, in town for a grandson’s bris. The father – Arnon, my brother-in-law - of the Bar Mitzvah boy met him on the plane and invited him over. Neat. Here he is. To most other people who are reading this, you’ll know him as the rav of the Agudah of Avenue L (which is how me and my friends know it, despite that it has an actual name).

My job for him today is to figure out the kashrus of everything for him. Happy to serve.

Jordy does a bang-up job leining from the sefer torah, written (during his older brother’s [Gabie] bar mitzvah just three years ago)  in the name of Rabbi Moshe Kushner, ZT’L, who is Jordy’s grandfather, taken before his time. Jordy’s dad lugged the sefer torah with him all the way from New York, an adventure that must have been epic, and difficult.

This is the sefer torah’s relay race journey:

Camp Moshava, Wild Rose, Wisconsin to Chicago: camp employee.
Chicago to New York: family friend.
New York to Israel: my brother-in-law.
Israel to New York: son of Rabbi Kushner.
New York to Chicago: another family friend.
Chicago to Wisconsin: camp employee.

How about that!

After a delicious family breakfast, we head on out to the Knesset for a tour. The website was clear on the hours and days these would be available, and the required mode of dress, but what it didn’t say was that they’re on hiatus for three weeks.


Time freed up, we head to Har Hamenuchos to visit an old, dear friend, also taken before his time a few years ago. May the neshama of Reb Chaim (of Yerushalayim) Boruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi have an aliyah.

When we exit the complex, the cartoon waft of Angel’s Bakery beckons us in, so we obey, load up on delicious rugalach, rumballs, and iced coffee (OMG I needed that!), and we head back to our apartment.

But this time, we don’t chill for long. The kids love the pool, so we head to the pool. My daughter gives me another session in the butterfly stroke, and I make some serious progress! Old dog learning new tricks!

After we dry off, we head out for dinner. First though, we drop off our daughter at a friend’s bat mitzvah. She and her friend are thrilled that she can partake, the stars having aligned to make it happen.

Dinner is at Sheyan in Rechavia with my wife’s friends (who hosted us for Shabbos after The Jerusalem Marathon a few years ago; that keeps coming up, doesn’t it?). Food is good, company is great, daughter is beaming when I pick her up, crazy happy that she could attend.

Our apartment’s just a quarter-mile away, so we get there quickly, and crash quickly. Another fun-filled, and fun, filled day.

Lo l’dog, lo l’dog, lo l’dog’oh!

Day 6, Friday, August 25, Go West:

A 6:30 AM 4.4-mile run, detouring a bit so I can grab selfies under “Naomi” and “Mordechai Hayehudi” street signs in – guess where? – my favorite neighbordhood of Geulim. I then head back via The Rakevet again. Gosh, I love that thing!

We then pile into the car. Destinations: Ramat Gan and Emunim.

Israel has square bales of hay.

They also have a new superfast train that connects Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We race one, and lose.

We arrive in Ramat Gan, park the car a quarter-mile away, arrive at Lol & Pop (, and I head back out to find the parking meter about eight miles away from the car and sixteen miles from the shop. What kinda silly business is this?

Anyway, we have a blast at this candy-making shop, and I mean a blast. The place is fun, the nice couple engaging, the final product tasty, and it’s just an all-around good time. We ask the couple where they’re from. Ukraine. They left to avoid war. Terrible. They’re prospering here with their little fun shop, and making a nice living. Good for them.

They have a scratch-off global map in their store. Customers from different places can scratch off their country of origin. My nephew is delighted to scratch off Slovakia.

After this good time, it’s time for a quick family visit. My mom’s mom’s brother’s wife’s daughter’s husband (Oh come on, they’re closer than you think) is celebrating his 80th birthday, and we zoom over to the party to make it just in time for the festivities, at a restaurant called Ratatui in Emunim, just 16 miles from the northern border of Gaza. I’ve never been closer.

After this merriment and nostalgia, we zip back to the apartment in Jerusalem. Time to dress up and look nice for family barmy photos. And by time, I mean these photos gotta be taken as fast as possible before we all melt to death in this crazy heat. Whew, we finish before we melt, and the little dog too.

We daven on the rooftop of a hotel facing the external western wall of the Old City, the one with Jaffa Gate. We can’t quite see the kotel, but before us is the Vatican flag, floating above the Christian Quarter.

Which makes me wonder: if Jews daven facing Jerusalem, and arabs daven facing Mecca, do Christians daven facing Vatican City?

Dinner is amazing, atop yet another rooftop with a dazzling view, and the mom of the bar mitzvah boy – my sister-in-law Shlomit – gives a truly emotional speech. Her gratitude for our collective presence is on full display. I’m happy to contribute to her simcha.

And a short walk to our apartment to crash, exhausted with tummies nice and gorged.

Day 7, Shabbat Kodesh, August 26, Lots and Lots More Food:

We daven in the morning at a different location, and the barmy boy does a bang-up job again.

Afterwards, we absolutely stuff our faces at kiddush, followed by absolutely stuffing our faces at a gala lunch. We then take a four-minute nap before stuffing our faces again at shalashudous, after which, we leave the kids with my in-laws so my wife and I can stuff our faces all over again with her friends (one of the hubbys has a surname interest like me!) in Roladin in Mamilla Mall. After we part ways, we bump into my wife’s cousins, who are with us on the trip, and we let our company stuff their faces while we watch, because mercy, we’ve had enough. I make the mistake of being polite by at least having a coffee, so by the time we get back to the hotel past z’man krias shma, I’m not only vestigially stuffed, but I also can’t sleep.

Day 8, Sunday, August 27, Let’s Hit the Road:

A 6:30 AM 5.6-mile run, up to Beit Zafafa. I turn back when I get there because I’ve run out of filled-in railroad track. The neighborhood looks kind of iffy here, so it’s just well that it serves as my turnaround point. On the way back, I need the bathroom. I walk around First Station looking for one, and I find one, retrofitted into a shipping container! Now that’s interesting.

When I get back to the apartment, we pack up, and get ready for the road.

Breakfast first!

We head out to Waffle Bar because yum yum gimme some, but they open at 11, despite that it says on the door that they open at 10. Grumble.

Fine, we’ll take our business back to Caffit again, indoors this time, so we can contain our children’s nervous energy into a smaller space.

Tummies full again, we head southwest to Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, where we dig in caves for artifacts (and find plenty!), spelunk through tight caves (fearless!), sift through our findings (it is crazy to find 2,000-year-old pottery in dust you unearthed), drink our heads off in the roasting sun, get a great history lesson, and have a general blast. The Maccabees were here!

Elated by this experience, we then hit the road again for a mesmerizing 1:40:00 drive through the transfixing, scene-repeating, deja-vuing, art-installation filled Negev Desert.

We check in to our hotel – we’re 24 miles from the Egypt border – and head back out for dinner, in a restaurant at the very edge of this teeny-tiny town (population: 5,007) named Pangaea. The place is huge, and the food and service is great.

We head back to the hotel, regroup, meet up with my brother-in-law and nephew, and head to the edge of town (the edge of town is always a block away, no matter where you are), in the deep, dark, night for a night sky tour on the edge of Ramon Crater, by Mr. Ira Machesfky, AKA the Starman of Mitzpeh Ramon (

It is a fantastic evening, and the Starman is supremely engaging, with a great backstory, with the Cantina music playing as we arrive, and the experience of moonset dazzled all comers, and I was a stargazer before, but now I’m, well, over the moon. The two hours zip by in a fleeting moment. I can barely have enough, and want to stay through the next session – a birthday party starting at 11:30 PM – but the kids have collapsed, and we’ve got to bed down for the night.

Gravy to this all: I view Saturn through a telescope for the first time in my life! It’s amazing! Before I even leave the premises, I quickly place a telescope on my Amazon Wish List.

We roll back through the desert with our sleeping cargo, and plunk everyone down gently in their beds for the night, visions of The Pleiades dancing in their heads.

Day 9, Monday, August 28, The Desert:

A 6:30 AM 2.4-mile run, from the very top to the very bottom of this seriously tiny neighborhood. I covered the whole place.

I take a selfie with the sun rising in the background that makes it look like a nuclear explosion is behind me. I gotta blow that one up! Uh, so to speak.

There are as many ibex wandering the streets in this neighborhood as there are squirrels in my backyard back home.

We head to the other edge of town into the desert again, exposed to the sun, instead of the moon. I’ve got bottles of ice dangling off me, as I have all trip.

For a few hours before midday we trek through the wasteland and fire arrows ( at all kind of targets, at all kinds of distances. Man, it’s fun, and as it turns out, I’m a pretty good archer (as is my nephew)!

Full roasted by the sun, we escape into our air-conditioned vehicles and go to the next edge of town: the rim of Ramon Crater. Can’t get more edge than that!

Before we enter the Visitors Center, we spot a guy in a cart, freshly squeezing pomegranates and orange. Ooh! I have me some pomegranate juice, with ice, in the hot, hot sun. Oh man, nothing better.

At the Visitors Center, we’re walked through the life and career of Ilan Ramon, and my heart broke all over again for his loss. He’s a hero of mine.

The presentation ends with the curtains opening into a view of Roman Crater. It is beautiful and awesome.

The place is well organized too. Countdown clocks and everything, and tours in various languages. Nice.

After a lunch and ice cream break, we’re off even further into the desert for sandboarding. The spot is in a place so barren, it doesn’t even have an official name. I’d call it More Desert. The closest town is Ashalim (population: 495), and the Egypt border is now just a half marathon away.

On the way there, we spot the Israeli Army conducting exercises with jeeps and tanks. Whoa.

We have some difficulty finding the place because there is no signage for Lone Gigantic Dune in the Desert. However, there’s only one lone gigantic dune in the desert, so we just go off-road until we get to the base of the dune. This would have been more suited for one of those tanks.

So we literally surf down this gigantic dune. Our youngest is the brave one, and is first to go. It looks scary from the top, but not as threatening on the way down. The trudge up is exhausting, however. Where does the sand come from to seed this dune? The Sahara! Our instructor takes a handful of sand, holds it over the face of a surfer, opens his hand, and the wind whips it clear away. Nice demonstration!

We graduate to Bigger Side of the Dune, repeat, have more fun, and exhaust ourselves even harder trudging up.

After several successful runs, I decide I’m going face-first, and I eat gobs of dirt. I’m done for the day, but it was fun!

While up there, we hear tank fire. Gosh! We ask our guide what that’s all about. He says, “Oh, it’s either the Israeli Army practicing, or some spillover from random skirmishes in Egypt.”

Okeydokey then!

Interestingly, as we speak, Conan O’Brien is touring through Israel, and one of the places he stopped in was the Syria border in the Golan, where he, too, could clearly hear gunfire and artillery, the way we are now. Scary.

Once the last of us races down the dune, we clean up, and head back on the road once more, winding further through the desert.

We enter a military area where signs clearly say stopping is not allowed. When do you think our kids suddenly need the bathroom the most? This ain’t the Jersey turnpike with exits every few miles! There’s only sand and guns and – whoa, what’s the caterpillar-shaped white thing dangling in the sky? A military drone! Ooh!

It takes us a while to finally make it to Neve Zohar, which is, fascinatingly, the lowest village in the world! Population? 73!!!!

Also fascinating, our phones welcome us to Jordan! Ha! We’re that close! Just on the other side of the Dead Sea!

We roll in to our hotel, which I won’t name, because man, it is…sub-optimal, and there’s a cat trying to get into our room.

Mind you, we did not pay sub-optimal prices for this place. We paid some serious coin for this privilege, and we’re shocked.

But we have no time to deal with that. We need dinner. We’re famished, but nothing is open nearby and there’s no room anywhere furtherby, so we’re sneaky: we head to the Isrotel in Ein Bokek, where my brother-in-law and nephew are staying for the night, and we order in pizza. Everybody’s happy.

Now back at our dump, everyone’s not so happy. It’s like a run-down Catskills bungalow transplanted and run down even further for effect.

But it doesn’t matter. What matters, upon reflection, and upon completing the writing of this day’s events, that this seriously was the best day ever.

And we’re out of this place by morning.


Day 10, Tuesday, August 29, Dead Sea and Out:

No run this morning. I am way, way too drained to head out, and also, there’s nowhere to run! This town is like, one acre, and I’m not running on the highway, so this confluence is perfect. I’ll recover and run tomorrow.

Today, by the way, is the 110th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress. Bet you didn’t know that.

We head back to Isrotel for the biggest buffet breakfast I’ve ever seen in my life. No exaggeration. The biggest. My gosh, what do they do with all the leftovers???

Off to Masada! We’ve been trying to get here the best several visits, but couldn’t schedule it right. Finally, we’re here. We each put on about seven layers of sunscreen, load up the packmule (me) with barrels of ice, and we head up the mountain via the cable cars.

The audiotour things aren’t available (darn, our kids love those, especially in museums), so we hook up with a group led by a crazily energetic and fact-filled tour guide (I forgot his name!) and sweat our way through the complex, while learning an awful lot.

At the conclusion, we give the guide a very handsome tip, and thank him for his energy and guidance and for not minding our mooching.

An ices (AKA “popsicle”) break to cool us down again, and we’re off to Ein Gedi spa, which we somehow manage to visit nearly every time we’re in the country, because hey, it’s great, and we have to be here before the place completely dries up.

Turns out, Conan O’Brien was here yesterday. How ‘bout that!

We luxuriate in the Dead Sea (and some of us do the Blue Man Group treatment – not for me, igg), then luxuriate in the pool, then we’re off again and out of this desert. We have all sweated off pounds and pounds of liquid.

We pit-stop in Mevaseret Zion for dinner in their big mall in McDonald’s, because the kids have been begging for this the whole time.

There, satisfied, kids? I sure am, as I finally got my tastebuds on the true and best limonana-flavored beverage: the Frimet version. That’s the one I’ve been looking for.

Finally, we make it to Chashmonaim, where Gila and Avi will host us for a stretch.

Asiti! Asiti! Asiti! Asiti!

Day 11, Wednesday, August 30, North:

A 7:00 AM 5k run, comprising of two loops around the yishuv. I just love the random apple, lime, olive, mango, and chestnut trees everywhere I look, and I probably miss plenty more!

We pack up and wee wee wee, all the way north to Tiberias.

Before we head to Aquakef (, we take advantage of our location and pay a visit to the kevarim of Rabbi Akiva and the Ramchal. I wonder how they got to be buried here, of all places. The view is great. Was that a consideration? Were others buried elsewhere, or moved away so that these two could be highlighted? I’m genuinely curious, but also moved by the experience of being there. The manner of Rabbi Akiva’s horrible death is etched onto his grave; an alarming tribute.

After this meaningful melancholy, we shift gears back to our original mindset, and we head over to Aquakef, a crazy Ninja-Warrioresque park on massive inflatables on a shore of the Kineret. It is more immediately exhausting than anything I’ve ever experienced, and wouldn’t be legal in America without signing two tons of release forms. It’s hella dangerous but massively fun.

We travel down the 90, along the Israel/Jordan border. At one point, the border is just about 40 feet away, in the “Island of Peace” area, which is fascinatingly complicated. See here: Further south, we see small hills, with small bunkers on top, with Jordanian flags waving in the breeze. Guess we’re watching them, just like they’re watching us.

We finally peel off and head a bit west, arriving at Gan Garoo ( in Nir David. It’s an Australian-themed park with many interesting creatures abounding – including flying foxes (AKA bats), which absolutely freak out my children – but we’re here for kangaroos, up close and personal. Engaging with them is an extraordinary experience. Visitors are allowed full access, save for areas designated for the hoppers to chillax. The rangers also know their stuff, and are able to answer my wife’s and my curious questions. Amazing that the males pummel the stuffing out of each other, but harm no humans whatsoever. The place is a bit pricey, and a bit small, but this level of interaction is totally worth the price of admission, and going out of our way for.

We head back north to Tiberias, and land at Pagoda, where we have an even more delicious, filling meal than we had here the last time we visited. Note: in Israel root beer might mean black beer, which isn’t really recommended for tykes. Neither is Pepsi Max when we ordered Pepsi Max, which is what we get when we order Pepsi. Big difference, people!

We then arrive at our hotel, the Royal Inn, which, um, isn’t so royal. It’s a Catskills bungalow, not the way they used to be, no, the way they are now, in their Chernobyl-like abandonment. Whatever, it’s one night of sleep. We can hack it.

We get two rooms, in response to our various complaints about conditions. I suppose that’ll do.

Everyone conks out, but I’ve got energy to spare, so I watch a replay of the Mayweather/McGregor fight while everyone snoozes. Great stuff. After that, I’m finally good for bed.

Day 12, Thursday, August 31, Jerusalem, We Did Not Forget You:

An 8:30 AM 2.7-mile run of brutality and delight. The first 1.3 is straight downhill to the Kineret, no flat ground anywhere on the descent, then .1 on the Kineret, than 1.3 straight uphill. Mamma mia!

Now, that .1 is important because on my Bucket List is a 34-mile run around the perimeter of the Kineret. My wife has biked it, so I have to run it. .1 will do for today, but ah’ll be bock!

We have a delicious breakfast in the hotel, which is delicious because it includes halvah, the most nutritious part of any meal.

Into the car we go and back to Jerusalem, which the kids tolerate for two hours because these Israeli radio stations crank out the good stuff.

We head directly to Machane Yehuda, which is so alive with living lively life, I swear it’s actually a living organism, and we’re just another of its cells.

We cross absolutely everything off our checklist – and it was a big list, including the 8 lbs of halvah I came here for. Aw man, ain’t nothin’ like whiskey halvah, nothin’!

For lunch we enjoy fafafel from the Levi Falafel stand, which is the best falafel in Jerusalem, because they say so, but also, maybe because it actually is.

While we scarf away, a battalion of heavily-armed female soldiers happen through. I point out their ranks (by the insignias on their shoulders) and specialties (by the accoutrements to their weapons) to the kids.

We then head to the southernmost tip of Jerusalem (The property is knifed through by the Green Line, and Rachel’s tomb is just 2.5 miles south of us) for a few duly meaningful hours at Pantry Packers in honor of our daughter’s bat mitzvah. We’re joined by my in-laws. We sticker, fill, pack, seal, switch around jobs, and the kids have a good time. At the other end, the poor will be fed. I appreciate that the kids appreciate the experience.

Now we have to feed ourselves. We all head out together to Talpiyot, for dinner at Papagaio, a tasty Argentinian steakhouse. We take advantage of the parking app Pango, which, frankly, takes advantage of us. Don’t get me started. I’m on vacation and shouldn’t be complaining.

Time to head back to home base in Chashmonaim. Waze sends us within two miles of Ramallah. Um, no thank you. I instead find a straighter route, which takes us through Zichron Moshe, which is more Williamsburg than Williamsburg, if you can believe it. Burkas and everything. And wouldn’t you know it, a store named “Brooklyn.”

Upon arriving at base, I realize we entirely skipped a checkpoint. Should that have happened?

Anyway, nighty night.

Day 13, Friday, September 1, Jerusalem, Told You We Did Not Forget You:

A 7:00 AM 4-mile run through the steep streets in the neighborhood, just for kicks. It’s my final run of our vacation, and I’ve racked up 31.9 total miles. The running isn’t just for running’s sake. I’ve run in the north, the south, the west, and all over the middle. To roam the land is to possess it, to take ownership of it. This land belongs to me, and my people, and we’re keeping it. It’s ours.

We then head to Beit Shemesh, to visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History (, which is the best money per square inch we’ve ever spent. The place, founded be the esteemable Natan Slifkin, has a rather small footprint, but there is a world of fascination in there. I’m enthralled, by everything. As are the kids. Even the petting zoo is entirely unique (A coati!). I hold a snake for the first time ever, which tries to fashion a yarmulke out of itself onto my head. Small crowd, so we have our tour guide’s attention, and we ask our requisite bajillion questions. Great time.

My wife’s cousin drops by for a quick hello.

We head back to The Kotel for one last visit, and bump into my brother-in-law and nephew on the way in. Not that much of a coincidence. There’re only two million people in this city. Okay, fine, they’re all going to the same place.

We poil ourselves aus ales gitz at The Kotel and bid it a fond farewell.

At the top of the steps, we stop for lunch at Mozzarella. Mmm…olive slice.

We meet an older couple named the Hochhausers, and we name drop like crazy.

Back through Jaffa Gate, pick up the car, and we’re back in Chashmonaim in time for Shabbat.

Our host has the Schottenstein set of Shas, which is a godsend, because I am way, way behind due to all our running around.

Day 14, Shabbat Kodesh, September 2, Chashmonucha:

I actually make an 8:00 AM non-high holiday Shabbat minyan for the first time in my life.

I actually meet someone I know – usually my wife’s province: an old friend, with whom I karated way, way back in the day. Way back. Good to see him.

After lunch, I find a spot on the couch while the kids play, pick up the Schottenstein I’m in middle of (Sanhedrin), and sit there and learn for hours. I cover so much ground, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. Somehow I find the calm to remain rooted in my spot. Usually I get antsy, but I feel no need to rise and graze, at any point. I stop only because it’s time for mincha.

Motzei Shabbat, we head to Modi’in, to have some pizza with my wife’s cousins, in a de-luxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi. Seriously, the view is stunning.

On the way up, our eldest boy notices they have a 13th floor. Perceptive, that one!

For night activity, we pack. We’re outta here tomorrow. Lights out early.

Day 15, Sunday, September 3, Captivity (There Really Isn’t a Good Antonym for Getaway) Day:

Too early for a run, if you can believe it. I certainly don’t, but I certainly had my fill.

We make our goodbyes, and we’re off to the airport, where I count six visible layers of security.

ELAL treats us the same way on the way out as they did on the way in: by telling us nothing, then delaying and telling us nothing, then pulling their classic maneuver: telling everyone how they’ll be lined up at boarding time, then switching the whole thing around at boarding time, which results in quite vocal displeasure by a woman with several babies. Good for her. She gets screwed, man.

Also, it’s just before you board the plane when they confiscate your water. Meaning, if you tossed your water at airport security, and bought yourself new water, ELAL will kindly now toss it for you before boarding. Moronic.

I experience an instant headache when I board the plane, and suffer just like I did when flying here. I cannot wait for the 787 Dreamliner (which, at press time, are experiencing one failure after another).

Speaking of which, we were teased in the terminal. On the TV behind the desk, it said, “Inaugural flight.” Boy, were we hoping it was the Dreamliner! Nope, it was referring to something else. Boooo!

The guy who’s taken the window seat next to me is staring at the empty space where the window is supposed to be, in complete disbelief. This is why we check, buddy!

I’m amazed at people who can’t match their seat on the plane to the one it says on the boarding pass. There are at least 12 of these people per flight.

We land at JFK, and my headache unclenches as soon as I disembark.

All of us suck NYCs reservoirs dry through a water fountain because, OMG, we missed our familiar water so much!

Our little one says, “I'm so happy that water actually exists.”

As are we all!

Our kids spent the ride home checking who their classmates will be for the year, having been e-mailed the information earlier in the day. Everyone’s happy.

When we arrive at our home, I post the following to Facebook:

“We're back after two whirlwind weeks in The Holy Land. Everything was awesome, and my writeup will probably be book-length. For now, though, we need a nap. There's no place like home.”

Okay, 13 pages. More than enough for yom tov reading. Please enjoy.

Coda: many weeks after our return, I polled everyone about the favorite part of the trip. This is what I got back:

Daughter: Aquakef.
Big boy: Aquakef and cave diving.
Little boy: The Workshop and cave diving.
Wife: Lol & Pop.

Me: I left my heart (and legs) all over the place, but a big chunk of it was left in Mitzpeh Ramon. That place just kept on giving.


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