Monday, August 13, 2018

The Long Road Home

Thursday, Aug 9, 615PM

Waiting for Eli and Batsheva to come over. We've been here for two months and no one from the family has been here, invitations notwithstanding. So we'll have a cup of tea and a piece of cake and say goodbye.

I made sure this final week was a busy one - too busy to focus on the fact that we are leaving tomorrow.

On Saturday night we went to Birman's. It's a somewhat sleazy bar on a side street off Ben Yehuda. We used to go regularly the first few winters we spent here, and then somehow it fell off the radar. Jenny and Dave went when they were here and had a really good time. There's live jazz on Saturday nights. It's still sleazy and our waiter was on another planet, but the music was better than average.

On Sunday I went on a tiyul (excursion) to Hebron. One of Judaism's four holy cities, it is the burial place of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, Jacob & Leah. It's in Genesis; look it up. But why did Abraham buy this particular burial cave? Because according to tradition this is where Adam & Eve are buried.

There's been a Jewish presence in Hebron since Abraham's time. It took a decree by Hajj Amin el Husseini, the leader of the Wakf (Muslim religious council) in Jerusalem during the British occupation, to put an end to a 3000 year old community. In 1929 Hajj Amin issued a fatwa (religious decree) for a pogrom against the communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias, the four holy cities. In Hebron alone 67 men, women and children were murdered on Shabbat morning, many others were injured, while the Brits stood idly by. They have a shameful record in this regard, as they had prior knowledge of this and other massacres that occurred on their watch. This was the beginning of the end of the Jewish presence in Hebron, as the Brits ultimately decided to forcibly evacuate, rather than defend them. There were some diehards who insisted on staying, but when the Jordanians conquered the city in 1948, even those few had to leave, thus ending the three millenia history of the Jews of Hebron.

Fast forward to 1967. After 19 years, Hebron was liberated from Jordanian occupation, and many of the residents who had to leave returned. They weren't exactly welcomed with open arms, and today, 51 years later, there isn't a lot of camaraderie. 30,000 Arabs and 900 Jews live in the city, and regrettably the IDF has to maintain a sizable presence in order to keep them from being slaughtered. Surprisingly, the Jews who live there are very happy, and when the cameras aren't rolling they get along decently with their neighbors. And there's a waiting list of people who want to move into the Jewish neighborhood. New residential construction is restricted (one of the more stupid conditions Israel agreed to) which means space is tight. In order to prioritize the waiting list you have to be a legacy. There are another 5 Jewish suburbs around Hebron which have a population of about 8,000. 

We visited the Abraham Synagogue and the Hebron Museum, which is small and fascinating, and then went to the Machpela Cave to visit the graves. Today it's anything but a cave; in fact the exact location of the original burial cave isn't known, but most archaeologists agree that it's somewhere under the current building. Even during Biblical times there was some kind of structure over the cave. Then along came Herod who loved building grandiose edifices, and put up a grandiose edifice. A few centuries later, Christians turned it into a church. And a few centuries after that, Muslims turned it into a Mosque. The agreement today (the one that restricts residential building) is that Jews have exclusive use of the area that has Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca's graves, the Muslims have control of the rest of the building.

The first stop on our tour was the Abraham Synagogue.
It was founded in 1500 by Jews who had been evicted from Spain, and used continuously until 1948.
The Jordanians demolished most of the structure and used it as a cattle barn.
It was restored to it's original design after 1967.

The Torah scrolls, still used today, are over 200 years old.

Beit Hadassah (Hadassah House) used to be a hospital. It's now an apartment building in the center of Jewish Hebron.

Beit Hadassah after the Jordanians destroyed it in 1948

One of the memorial walls with photos of the 67 men, women and children who were massacred in 1929.

Our docent at the museum, who lives at Beit Hadassah.
She also lives the history of Hebron; her own father was murdered in their home when she was 2 years old.
She's one of the returning residents.

Machpela Cave; typical Herodian architecture with the added minaret.

The grave of Leah

The 3 graces (L to R) Peggy, Racheli and Batsheva

Usually tourists want to be photographed with soldiers.
These guys, part of the detachment that protects the Machpela, wanted to be photographed with me.

We went to the Dead Sea on Monday. Who wouldn't want to be somewhere where it's 105 degrees? Actually it was only 100, but a dry heat. We always have a good time there, no matter what the temperature is. Nir and Hannah happened to be there at the same time but at a different hotel. We met in the shopping center for a few minutes, more to say goodbye than anything else.

The thing that looks like a tennis ball is actually a salt ball

View from our room at sunrise

We got back to Jerusalem in time to go to the Melanie Phillips book launch. She is a brilliant analyst and one of our favorite columnists. She wrote a novel, Legacy, which is a novelty for her.

Wednesday was my follow up appointment at the hair dresser. No photos. This is a new one and I think he's a keeper.

Thursday, Aug 9. Our last day. I did some last minute shopping and met Yafit for coffee in the shuk. It was the first time we were able to get together, just us girls.

Then home to finish packing. Eli, Batsheva and Yafit came over around 730. We gave them what was left in the fridge and said bye for now.

Friday, Aug 10

We're on the last leg of our trip home - the flight from Philadelphia to O'Hare. Only delayed 2 hours, but that's not the worst of it. American Airlines did us the courtesy of losing our luggage. The day started very early. We were picked up at 3AM for our 7AM flight to Prague. Almost as soon as we started out there were problems. The next pick up for our airport shuttle was the Leonardo Hotel. When we arrived the doorman said the 3 people who had ordered the shuttle cancelled. Some kind of misunderstanding with the front desk. The guests wanted a taxi, and the hotel reserved the shuttle. The driver was understandably upset and called the office to let them know what happened. Then he got into an argument with the taxi driver who was waiting for the passengers. This seemed pretty pointless, since it wasn't the taxi driver's fault, and it cost us about 10 minutes. The next pick up was at the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda. The driver kept calling the passenger's cell phone but it was turned off. So again he called the office, and they said she should be on the corner. There's really no place to pull over but at 315AM there's not much traffic to block. Finally she showed up. The next two pick ups went smoothly. The last one was a problem because apparently the driver had the wrong address. By the time we got on our way to the airport it was 335, and we needed to check in at 4. The driver raced to the airport and we got there at 405AM, plus 10 more minutes to get over to Terminal 1. It wasn't nearly as crowded as Terminal 3 and the check in process went quickly. I was worried about being able to check our bags all the way thru to Chicago, and I also worried about our luggage allowance. But the guy who took care of us verified the 2 bag per person allowance and checked us thru to O'Hare.

I didn't sleep a wink Thursday night. By the time we boarded I was ready to pass out. I fell asleep as soon as I fastened my seatbelt and slept an hour an a half.

We had an hour plus layover in Prague, and they actually had a nice business class lounge. To show you just how classy the lounge is, it's the only airport rest room I've ever seen that has a bidet.

Then it was time to head over to the gate. Well ... we haven't been thru security like this in years. The  security agent wanted to chat, which is a technique that's used in screening passengers and I understand it. But this agent wanted to chat. When we said we originated in Tel Aviv she had to know all about Israel. Meanwhile, over the loudspeaker, they kept announcing "final boarding call for the flight to Philadelphia" even tho we went to board at the time it said on our boarding passes. I mentioned that this was our flight and she said yes, I know. Great. I had visions of missing the plane because she wanted to know what we did in Israel for 2 months. But she was just the warm up. The main event was going thru the X-ray part of security. Everything had to come out of our carry-on bags - liquids which had to be put into a plastic bag, laptops AND tablets AND kindles AND cell phones. The only thing we didn't have to do was take off our shoes. All this to the chorus of "final boarding call for the flight to Philadelphia". We finally got thru this procedure, which was way worse than in Tel Aviv where you don't have to undress or take anything out of your hand luggage, and they only ask the rudimentary questions. Fortunately the gate was next to security, and we collapsed into our seats.

The ride to Philadelphia was smooth and we landed 45 minutes early. Maybe we could even stand by for an earlier flight to Chicago. We got thru passport control quickly; then waited for our bags. And waited. And waited some more, until the carousel stopped. I spotted an American Airlines agent who said they probably didn't make it on to the plane in Prague. Great. Just great. I have all kinds of contraband in my suitcase (cheese, dried fruit, nuts). When we go thru passport control it's a 50-50 chance that we'll have to open our bags, but when they get lost I know they'll be opened and all my treats will wind up on some CBP officer's dinner table. On top of that our flight to Chicago was delayed two hours, and the prior flight to Chicago, which we could have made since we didn't have luggage to worry about, was oversold.

So we headed to the Admiral's Club... and struck up a conversation with a couple of very fascinating guys - brothers - who were returning to Amsterdam after visiting family in the States. It turns out than one of them is a singer who's been performing for about 60 years all over the world. Ronnie Tober. We had a great time talking to them until it was finally time to board our flight. I'm writing this at 39,000 feet and with so much turbulence that even the flight attendants had to sit down. But we're about to land and it's time to shut down this electronic device. 


Well, it's Sunday, Aug 12. I've been up since 3AM.

They found our luggage and it will be delivered this afternoon. I won't end this post until I know if anything was confiscated.

The bags were finally delivered at 645PM. All three. In Israel they had been opened for a security check. How do I know this? No TSA or USCBP notes inside. The important thing was that nothing was confiscated - the cheese, nuts and dried fruit arrived safe and sound.

Until the next trip ...

Peggy and Sid

Friday, August 3, 2018

. . . and Found

The clock is ticking. Rapidly. One week from today we will be sadly winging our way back to Chicago. And I will continue to kick myself for making this such a short visit. Sid keeps reminding me that we are used to being here for 3 months; this time it's just two. There were legitimate reasons: we were here 6 months ago, the cost of housing for 2 summer months was the same as 3 in the winter, and the all-important ability to upgrade our flights (heaven forbid we should fly coach). Besides it's no easier to leave after 3 months than after two.

The closer we get to leaving, the more I attempt to pack the remaining time with things we haven't done before. On Shabbat we walked over to the Botanic Garden, which we've never been to. It was nice, but because it was Shabbat all the activities (like a rock wall and very short zip line) were closed. Still it's a very nice place in the middle of the city.

Waterfall in the Botanic Garden

Most activities were closed for Shabbat, but they kept the stocks open.
Wonder what kind of message that sends.

Water lilies and pirate ship.

On Sunday we went to the City of David. We've been there before, but the dig is on-going and it seems every week another critical object is unearthed from the rubble. It's still not agreed among all archaeologists that this is where King David ruled, but there's all kinds of evidence pointing in that direction. Altho we've been there before, this was a completely different tour. Instead of going all the way down to the bottom of the site, we made our way through a very narrow tunnel to the Western Wall. The guide was very good and we were a small group - just 8 of us.

Tunnel to the Western Wall from the City of David
That evening we had dinner in the plaza outside the Music Museum at a restaurant called Kinor in the Plaza. It was fabulous. My new favorite restaurant here. Afterwards we went to a comedy show called the Aliyah Monologues, about the foibles and eccentricities of living here. The comedian (standupist in Hebrew) is originally from Rochester NY. It was so-so, and at times he was a bit antagonistic to the audience. Glad we went but I wouldn't go again.

Dinner at Kinor in the Plaza with Jenny and Dave

Then there was Monday, my birthday and the reason for coming here in the summer. I decided if I have to be 70, it might as well be in Israel which is also 70.

We started the day with a Shuk tour, given by the person who originated the tour in English. An interesting character herself, it was very informative. She talked about the history and pointed out the various vendors and restaurants she likes. It took two hours, after which you can't help but be hungry. We had a light lunch at Azura, a very well known Iraqi/Kurdish restaurant famous for its kubbeh soup and various ways of serving hoummous, and the fact that everything is slow-cooked on kerosene stoves like they did in the old country.

Tour guide Sybil Kaplan, who lived in West Rogers Park at one time.

Pots simmering on kerosene stoves at Azura

There was just enough time to nap, then it was off to the Rimon restaurant. We had 26 people and TONS of food. It was lovely, just what I wanted.

Before the guests arrived

And after 

AND in the middle of the party I got a call from Jessica. It was noisy and I couldn't hear her, but I did hear her say something about a phone and a what'sapp. I looked at my phone and there was a message that someone had found my lost phone! It was missing for a week and I had given up all hope of ever seeing it again. How it surfaced and who found it remain a mystery, but whoever left the message said it would be at a restaurant on the Music Museum plaza, ironically right next to the restaurant where we ate the night before. After the party we walked over and picked it up. People said it was a birthday miracle, and indeed it was.

After getting my phone back. Truly a birthday miracle.

Because you can never have too many happy occasions, the following evening we went to Julia and Don Aaronson's grandson's wedding. It was in a garden in Kfar Etzion, a place that has seen its share of tragedies, about 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem. Every wedding has magical moments. The one that particularly resonated with me was when the 7th wedding blessing was recited. It's the one about the happy voices of brides and grooms being heard in the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. It comes from Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of the Temple, and out of the depths of despair prophesied that one day people would again celebrate marriage and life in the very places of devastation. And there we were, facing the Judean Hills as the sun set, and the words of the prophet weren't written on subway walls, but were in fact coming true on this hilltop.

Sid and Julia

I've said it before and can't say it enough. Nobody puts on a show like the Israelis. Last night we went to the Wine Festival at the Israel Museum. We didn't know this was a thing until a couple weeks ago when a friend mentioned it. And we're never here in the summer so there's no reason we would have. It was amazing. About 30 wineries, plus makers of cheeses, olive oils and chocolates participated. And there was a terrific band. It was wonderful and we got to try some of the lesser known boutique wines that we can't get in the States.

They had a frites food truck. I have no idea where they dug this old model up.

This is the artist who decorated the metal doors in the Shuk

And so we ended the week. One more to go.

Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem,
Peggy and Sid

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Lost . . .

Yes, this is late.

It's been a busy couple of weeks.

Saturday night, July 21, was Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month Av), a day that will live in infamy for the Jewish people. The list of calamities that occurred on that date goes all the way back to Biblical times.

The Hebrew slaves left Egypt in the month of Nissan, roughly April on the solar calendar. Seven weeks later they reached Mt Sinai and received the 10 Commandments. There followed a period of about a year during which a portable tabernacle was built. When it was completed they were ready to set out for the Promised Land. The distance from Sinai to the Promised Land was only a matter of a few weeks. So far so good. When they got close to the border, Moses sent 12 scouts to scope out the land they were about to enter. When they returned from their reconnaissance mission 10 of the 12 reported to Moses that the land was unconquerable. It was inhabited by giants who would wipe out the Jewish people. When news of the report spread throughout the encampment people were distraught and, not for the first time, said why did we leave Egypt? Slavery might not have been a picnic, but at least we weren't going to be crushed like bugs. These same people had witnessed the 10 Plagues, the splitting of the Reed Sea (not a typo - the actual name of the sea is Reed, not Red), they'd eaten manna and fought the Amalakites and won. But when 10 of the 12 scouts reported a land of giants, they fell apart. Well, this was the last straw for the Ruler of the universe. If the people who left Egypt and experienced all those miracles didn't have faith that they would prevail in the land that was promised to them ... well, that generation simply didn't get to inherit the land. That's why it took another 38 years of wandering in the desert; the slave generation had to be replaced by a new generation that didn't know Egypt. And when did all this crying and complaining take place? Yup, the 9th of Av.

Other notable events that occurred on that fateful date:

Both Temples were destroyed. The first in 586 BCE, the second in 70 CE.

The Battle of Beitar, the final losing battle of the revolt against Rome.

In 1095 CE the first crusade was declared. Crusades weren't very good for the Jews; hundreds of thousands were killed by crusaders on their way to the holy land.

In 1290 CE the Jews were expelled from England, and in 1492 from Spain.

The liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began in 1942.

And for anyone who doesn't believe in coincidences ... 9/11. The 11th month of the Hebrew calendar is Av.

So with all these events to commemorate, the 9th of Av is a national day of mourning and a fast day. Although observed by Jews worldwide, the date has a more visceral feeling here in Israel. We can actually see where these events happened. It begins at sunset with reading the Book of Lamentations, and there are some very creative locations where this takes place; it's not just in synagogues. There are public readings at the Western Wall, at a promenade overlooking the Old City, and at Herodium (see last week's post), from where the flames of the fires that burned Jerusalem were visible. And for the past 24 years an organization called Women in Green has sponsored a reading of Lamentations in Independence Park followed by a walk around the Old City Walls. We never knew about the walk; we're never here in the summer. So we had to go and it was quite an event. Several hundred people participated, and all the streets along the route were blocked. Naturally there was a large police presence and very few onlookers. Women in Green is a Zionist movement dedicated to safeguarding the Biblical Jewish homeland.

Setting off from Independence Park

Speeches at the end. Too many speeches at the end. It was around midnight.

On Monday the 23rd we went to the Hebrew Music Museum. Sounds boring as hell, right? Well, next time you are in Jerusalem be sure to visit, and don't do the self-guided tour, go with a docent. The museum itself is gorgeous and the collection of instruments is eye-popping. The plus of going on a decent tour is that you get to play the instruments. It was delightful.

Plaza outside the Museum.
Half a dozen great restaurants + an art installation.

This is a "psantranit", which is a precurser to the piano.
It's a72-string instrument described in the Book of Daniel.
There were 12 of these used in the Temple.

This is a Jericho trumpet, as in the walls came tumbling down.
It was also used in the Temple.
The example above comes from Bukhara and sounds like the Swiss horns in the Ricola commercial.

This stringed instrument is a camenche and is covered in fish skin.
The thinking is this is the kind of lyre played by King David.

The flutes on the right are of the type played by King David; also used in the Temple.

Yeminite shofar

This kid was adorable.
He was "volunteered" by his parents when the docent asked if someone wanted to play the instruments.
That's why you want to take a docent-led tour. 

This is a bagpipe. They were made of small goats or cows, and used by merchants in Egypt and Persia to announce their arrival in local markets. The sound is very much like a Scottish bagpipe.

Wood ceiling in the Moroccan room. Hand carved in Morocco by the King's master craftsmen. 

No reason why kids should have all the fun.

The final part of the tour was an astounding virtual reality experience. It was a tour and explanation of the Temple.

And then the roof fell in.

We got home and I couldn't find my American phone. The Samsung 8, which isn't even a year old. We tore the house apart. Then I reconstructed our steps. I know I had it at the museum. From the museum we stopped at a grocery store. Then home. Could I have left it at the museum? The grocery store? I called the museum and they didn't have it. We walked back to the grocery store and they didn't have it. I was beyond inconsolable. The phone is gone, and with it a lot of data that I wouldn't want anyone to get their hands on. I called AT&T and had them block the number. Then I got busy changing all my passwords.

And apparently losing a phone wasn't enough for one day. I was checking emails and lo and behold I had one from Nordstrom. There's no reason to get a Nordstrom bill, since the last time I was there was in May. I opened the bill and saw a $716 charge. No way was this possible. So I called and explained that I'm out of the country and there had to be a mistake. The guy I spoke to checked and said my card was swiped at the Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue on June 26 ... for a pair of designer shoes. How could this be? My Nordstrom card is safely tucked away in Chicago. Well, it seems that my card was due to expire and they sent a new one. Apparently someone got hold of it, activated it and used it. But very cleverly. I have an $750 spending limit, and the charge was just below that threshold. The really bad part was that in order to activate the card whoever took it had to know my social security number. And he or she obviously knows my address, and with the internet it's not hard to find my date of birth. So my next call was to Experion to put a block on my credit report. There's someone out there who could be opening all kinds of credit cards in my name. I've been monitoring my accounts and so far haven't noticed anything odd. But I wouldn't know about any new cards.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was too much for one day. But it was only one day of a week that was too busy to sweat the small stuff.

On Tuesday we went on a tiyul (outing) to a place called Ga'ash. I'd never heard of it. It's a kibbutz located over a natural mineral spring near Netanya. It's a big attraction for everybody, and I do mean everybody. Old and young. Families. Jews and Arabs. The ultimate melting pot. It was the first time I saw women (Jews and Arabs) in burkinis, which are modestly designed swimming suits.

On the way home we stopped at the music museum, hoping maybe someone found the phone. No luck.

On Wednesday the 25th we met our friends Doris and Norm Levitz and Timna Hurwich for lunch. Doris and Norm are, literally, the accidental immigrants. They came here for Passover and never went home. Fortunately they have someone back in Chicago who is taking care of emptying and selling their house. And they have kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren here who are taking very good care of them as they settle in. At least one of the kids comes over every day. They are waiting to move into a retirement complex in Shoresh, which is a kibbutz about 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. Kibbutzim these days aren't just agricultural and manufacturing. They have diversified, and several have gone into the geriatric business. Doris and Norm both look fabulous and are very happy with how things unfolded.

And on Thursday the 26th my niece and nephew, Jenny and Dave, arrived from London. The first place they wanted to go was the shuk, of course. In the evening we went to an amazing dance performance at the Jerusalem Theatre - Flamenco and Classical Spanish.

We took a fascinating walking tour of the Tower of David on Friday morning. Things I learned ... 

It's called the Tower of David, even tho it was built long after King David. Medieval Christians toured the area with their bibles and knew that King David ruled from the "high place". This was a high place with a tower. Unfortunately the tower was a minaret, and the "high place" King David ruled from was across town. But the name stuck.

It was mostly a palace built by Herod, after he reconstructed the Second Temple. Ever the politician who used architecture to make political statements, he built his palace on a hill that was slightly higher than the Temple Mount, and it had the same dimensions as the Temple. The message was unmistakable - I'm the boss.

The moat around the palace never had water (understandable in a desert) or wild animals. The purpose was an early warning system. The moat is too narrow to be effective in an attack. The walls angle outward for a better defensive line of sight. 

Water was always an important feature in Herod's buildings. He was able to channel underground springs into the cisterns that held water for drinking and for his pools and bathhouses. 

I always thought the word kishle was Turkish for prison. Turns out it means barracks. During the 500 year Turkish occupation, they built a police station and barracks. That same police station was used by the British who followed the Turks, and by the Israel police today. The barracks were used by the British as a prison during their rule here. 

The archaeological dig at the site has been slow-going, but they've dug down to 1st Temple times, again confirming various portions of the Bible.

I'd love to post photos, but I couldn't get my Israeli phone to work. 

And so the week ended ... stay tuned for the next installment.

From Jerusalem,
Peggy and Sid