May 28, 2019

4:03AM

The taxi just dropped me off at the airport. With a Premium Class seat, I’m whizzing through the first line of security with barely a question, each guard and attendant just nodding me onward and wishing me a safe flight. I could get used to this!

4:20AM

Going through the next line of security. On this line we are all equals, no bypass for anyone…and thank G-d for that! This is why I fly El Al.

4:51AM

Finally deemed not to be a security risk, I am now free to roam the airport. I really don’t want to leave Israel this time, although I feel that way every time I come here, each departure getting more and more difficult. I’m trying desperately not to cry as I walk down the ramp to the duty-free shopping circle. Maybe a little window shopping will make me feel better. At least the anticipation of sitting front row Premium is making this a little less painful.

5:30AM

Sitting at the gate and there’s only about three other people waiting for the flight, except for the five kids with Ramah tee shirts hanging out and a couple of people sleeping on the floor behind a shop. I have to admit, there’s a small tinge of hope that the plane is mostly empty and I get the entire front row of Premium all to myself…what are the chances?

5:45AM

A family of five just sat down across from me. The husband and one of the kids walked away a few minutes ago and are now rushing back telling the rest of the family that the gate has been changed. Quickly asking the mother if they were heading to Newark and getting a positive response, I too rushed over to the new gate – no mention at both security checks or the ticket desk, no emails or texts, no nothing warning me of the gate change. WTF?!

6:05AM

Although Economy is pretty much packed thanks to several youth groups, Premium and Business Classes are relatively empty. I’m about ready to stretch out over the entire front row…

7:00AM

Obviously, I’m not the only one to not get the memo about the time delay or gate and flight number changes. They’re just piling in last minute now…dammit!

7:30AM

Although our flight is now another 30 minutes delayed, I guarantee our arrival to Newark will still be on time. I honestly don’t get this whole time-travel thing…

7:52AM

My mind tells me it’s not right that we get treated better than Economy; however, the hubby’s and my motto is “you get what you pay for.” Still doesn’t make it right, but I’ve flown coach enough times to say I’m done with it and really like the special treatment (as I tuck away the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste, noise cancelling headphones and ear plugs and sleep mask after I don my woolen knees socks with the rubber squiggles on the bottom). I’m being handed a menu and told I can eat breakfast now or just order it whenever I get hungry. A menu?! S**T! I can definitely get used to this…The other perk of Premium? Free WiFi!!!

8:00AM

I just texted the hubby about my experience so far and that I have free WiFi, but he wants to know why he can’t track my flight and is getting worried. Needless to say, with my preschool level Hebrew translation abilities, I managed to find an email telling me about the change of gate and flight number…an hour late…and sent the information to the hubby.

Greenwich Mean Time

The plane is filled to capacity with only a few snorers in Premium and one little baby in Economy Plus crying on occasion. Thanks to my noise cancelling headphones and ear plugs, I won’t be hearing them this flight, although I feel bad for the baby and its parents. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to sleep on the plane – never have, never will. Even Benadryl on our flight last month did nothing for me. Thankfully, I’m sitting next to a woman who also doesn’t sleep. I’ve learned over the past few hours that Rivki, a mother of five married to an ob/gyn is a certified manual physical therapist, a physical therapist who utilizes PT for women suffering from infertility, most of her patients being religious. I’m informed it’s a very new field of PT that her husband got her into and that I find rather intriguing. She managed to get upgraded to Premium because she called El Al and complained about the delay after getting to the airport at 9:30PM expecting a flight at 1:00AM. She was offered a hotel in Ramat Gan or the King David Lounge at the airport for the night. Considering Ramat Gan was a 40-minute drive roundtrip, Rivki opted for the lounge, which was not worth it due to the uncomfortable seating and lack of edible sustenance.

Throughout the flight, Rivki and I have shared many stories, she repeatedly blessing my family for our good fortune and me accepting every brachot she’s got to offer. I like this woman. I’d be her friend for sure if she lived in my community.

Our flight is relatively uneventful (i.e. no vomiters), although there’s two couples behind us who are enjoying way too much booze that they obviously enjoyed before even boarding the plane…

There’s a maintenance woman cleaning the bathrooms…WHAT?!

I think I’ll have breakfast now and watch a movie.

And just like that, the flight is coming to an end. As we approach, Rivki is reciting Tefilat HaDerekh under her breath, and I’m thanking her under mine…

12:35PM

Somehow landing on time, the flight attendant is telling us to allow Business Class to deboard first, me responding, “They paid for it,” not in a condescending way whatsoever and actually believing what I’m saying, as one of the drunk guys of the two couples behind us attempts to exit the plane. When I correct him on his manners, he’s quick to let me know that my “very loud talking with the lady next to me” kept him up all night, so he couldn’t sleep. Despite the fact that he was one of the snorers in Premium who slept off the alcohol the entire flight, I informed him that I had watched t.v. the whole time so he must be mistaken. The flight attendant doesn’t have the patience to bother with this guy, so she’s just telling us to move along even though Business Class is still unloading. After shoving his way through the crowd, drunk guy tells his wife and friends to slow down, “What’s the hurry? Take your time. We gotta wait for our luggage anyway.” What a douche…

Unknown PM

Security, customs, Hertz, rain, rest stop, liquor store, home…I am so fried and done…

8:30PM

Zzzzzzzzzz…flat out on the couch…

 

 

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May 27, 2019

9:00AM
And poof, just like that, the kid is gone again. It’s another painful departure, as I don’t know the next time the hubby and I will see her – three months, six, eight, a year? However, she’s anxious to get back early to finish up paperwork from last week and meet the rest of her team. She’s seriously enthusiastic about this new job, and I’m thoroughly excited for her as well.

12:00PM
I’ve dilly dallied long enough and need to check out. Lucky for me there’s a storage room for luggage, so I can leave my suitcase until heading to the airport tonight. I’m looking forward to just wandering Tel Aviv and sticking my feet in the Mediterranean. But the first thing I’ve promised myself before leaving Israel was to visit Dr. Shakshuka…

12:10PM
Having brunch at Bino, a.k.a. Dr. Shakshuka. It boasts the best shakshuka in all of Israel, and I have to say it’s pretty awesome. Thankfully, I got here right before a group of 50 Birthright kids sat down for lunch, and now I’m ready to leave.

12:45PM
I have a lot of hours to kill before heading to the airport around 9:30PM. My luggage is safely stored and my taxi ordered for later. In an attempt to locate the closest beach, I suddenly find myself entering the Tel Aviv shuk, a place I’ve heard about but could never find. I’m scurrying my way through because every and any youth group from North America is here shopping. I just want to get to the beach!

1:00PM
Finally made it! Way too much construction and not enough signage, but I’m here. I’ve been walking up and down the Promenade, taking pictures and just enjoying this absolutely fabulous weather. Tel Aviv always makes me feel bad about myself, however. Not only is everyone under 30-years-old (or appears to be), every single one of them has the body of a super model, male and female alike. Everyone is always exercising and/or playing some kind of sports on the beach. I’m sitting in the shade getting ready to call the hubby to catch up on the last few days and watching a group of young adult super models playing soccer over a volleyball net…seriously people?! I now feel absolutely horrible about myself…time to wade in the Mediterranean Sea and find some shells for my sister to paint.

3:00PM
Another promise I made myself was to visit Mike’s Place. Having frequented the one in Jerusalem, I’ve been curious to see how different this one is to the other. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous. Although the bombing attack happened sixteen years ago, I’m praying for a peaceful night nonetheless…

3:15PM
Heading towards Mike’s Place, I just noticed the hubby has tried calling me several times, each a minute apart. Dammit! I must’ve turned my ringer off again and forgot to put it back on. When I call him back, he frantically tells me my flight has been cancelled, according to Flightaware. My first response is, “What?!” quickly followed by, “Oh well…” I seriously do not want to leave. Every time I come to Israel I don’t want to go “home.” This could actually be a good thing…

3:17PM
Now I’m frantically checking my text messages, WhatsApp, Gmail and even Facebook Messenger. Eventually, a Gmail message appears from El Al, the only decipherable part of the email being 1:00 and 7:00. I’m standing in front of a surf shop and hoping the woman behind the counter speaks English AND can read/translate Hebrew into English.

3:20PM
After studying the email way longer than I believe she can comprehend, the surf shop woman admits she’s a newer Indian immigrant who doesn’t know Hebrew well enough to translate for me; however, her friend Yuval sitting at the bar next door knows “enough” English and can translate my email message. Ugh…

3:21PM
Yuval, a sabra, knows enough English that he can translate the email from El Al and tells me that my flight has been delayed until 7:00AM. Okay, so six hours…and what am I supposed to do?!

3:30PM
Just to be safe, I’m heading to Mike’s Place anyway. I know for a fact that everyone there knows English, regardless of their born nationality. The first bartender I see, I’ll ask to translate this Gmail message…

3:53PM
There it is! Mike’s Place! Entering the front door, I announce to the first employee I see who asks me, “What’s your pleasure?” that “I’m here for a Guinness and an outlet!” followed up by, “I love it when a customer walks in knowing exactly what they want!”

3:55PM
I have relayed my dilemma to Dianna, the barmaid serving my Guinness quicker than I can ask for it. She and her co-worker confirmed the translation of the El Al email – my flight has been delayed six hours. Just to be absolutely certain, I’m on hold with El Al trying to reconfirm my two confirmations because, at this point, I trust nothing and no one. Dianna is a 25-year-old college graduate from Caldwell, New Jersey who made aliyah four years ago following a Birthright trip – she came to Israel on that trip, never returned to New Jersey and has been in Tel Aviv ever since.

4:24PM
El Al has just reconfirmed for the third time that my plane is delayed six hours. I also made sure to reconfirm my upgraded seat to Premium Class that has already been paid – don’t mess with me people! So now I’ve got twelve hours to kill before heading to the airport…and every hotel in Tel Aviv is booked thanks to Gay Pride Month…but Dianna, my barmaid New Jersey native savior has referred me to a brand-new hotel she worked at recently and managed to get me a room for the night. Thank you, Dianna!

4:32PM
My dilemma has been overheard by Rob and Paul, two Englishmen in Tel Aviv “on business.” They claim to be “salesmen” from England for some “American company” that “deals with plane-type stuff but not the planes or their parts per se.” They say they’re here “meeting with the Israeli Air Force.” As they talk about their “business,” I can’t get Nicholas Cage’s role in the Lord of War out of my head. I’m not going to pry this one open…

I’ve also been reprimanded for referring to them as Brits and swiftly corrected – they are from England, not Britain. However, Rob just admitted that Paul is actually South African by birth…explains why I can’t understand what the hell he’s saying half the time (being on his umpteenth beer doesn’t help his articulation either). Although Paul has been to Israel at least a dozen times, this is Rob’s first trip to the motherland. He’s thoroughly surprised by the quiet and calm atmosphere and the overly friendly hospitality. I’m quick to assure him that it’s all location, location, location as far as “quiet” is concerned but guarantee Rob that hospitality is one hundred percent regardless of location. After telling him of my experiences in the Negev and along the Gaza border, Rob is intrigued by “the truth.” He admits that in England the news stories about Israel are completely one-sided – Israel did something to the Palestinians for no good reason, blah, blah, blah. I let him know that in America it is no different when it comes to the media’s stance on Israel – it’s all our fault. As we talk, I’m noticing a few uncomfortable faces in the room. I have forgotten the number one rule at Mike’s Place – no religion and no politics…oops…and then I take it one step further by mentioning the bombing attack on April 29, 2003. I really need to learn when to shut the hell up…

No matter – the bar has been taken over by a group of kids here to watch the football (soccer) game taking place in England as we speak. Rob advises me that a few of the kids are from England, but he isn’t sure of the rest, so he simply refers to them as Brits. He chuckles at is own inability to decipher the English from the Brits, and I reprimand him for being as ignorant as myself.

7:00PM
I seriously need to get out of this place. I told reception at the hotel that I would be there by 7:00PM and still need to collect my luggage from last night’s hotel.

7:20PM
I’ve got my luggage and now looking for my next digs for the night. Thankfully it’s only two blocks away.

7:23PM
Checking in, I’m offered Sangria, colorful cookies and fresh dates. The receptionist is sad that I will be leaving before breakfast and offers to make me food to go, but I graciously decline. However, she has referred me to two different restaurants located within the next two blocks of the hotel offering late night dinners.

9:03PM
Food! I haven’t eaten since brunch nine hours ago. I’m starving!

10:48PM
I’m back at the hotel and it’s super loud outside. I swear Israel is inhabited by vampires. How the f**k do I work a SmartTV?! I think it’s time to just go to bed…

2:00AM
I’m forcing myself to get up so I can take a shower before heading to the airport. It just dawned on me that I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a hotel room the size of a closet so I could sleep two hours and take a shower. El Al, you’re on the top of my s**t list right now…

4:00AM
Although I pre-ordered a taxi to the airport yesterday afternoon, my anxiety is working overtime. Despite my obsessive worrying due to pure exhaustion, my Gett arrives right on time. The driver is from Kfar Saba and has limited English. With what few English words he does know, my chauffeur enthusiastically tells me how he would visit New York City and California if he can save enough money to travel to America. Otherwise, I’m enjoying the peaceful quietness, cool air and the dimly lit landscape as we travel southeast to the airport.

May 26, 2019

5:45AM
I’m awake for no good reason. No one else is awake, and I don’t want to disturb them. My hostess mentioned she will be driving her daughter to the train at 7:00AM, so I figure the house will be stirring soon.

I was hanging out with the kid and a couple of her friends until late last night. I don’t think I got to sleep until way after midnight. I find that these lone soldiers really need someone to listen to them and help process the difficulties they face being alone and so far away from home. I don’t know how I’m surviving on less than six hours of sleep every night.

8:00AM
All the kids have been shipped off to their respective destinations, and my hostess is busy trying to catch up on work and phone calls. Despite the kid saying she would meet me by 8:30AM, I know she’s not even awake at this point.

8:25AM
Sure enough, the kid’s still in bed and nowhere ready toward leaving. My last two days will be spent in Tel Aviv and the kid has been given permission to join me.

10:30AM
Aside from my deep loathing of buses, we agree that taking a taxi to the train station would be quicker and more reliable than the bus, especially because the next bus won’t be here until 11:45AM.

10:57AM
We’ve got three minutes to get to the train.

11:01AM
Just made it in the knick of time! I sense the kid’s disapproval in taking the train instead of the bus, but her guard is slowly melting as we’re settling into the ride. More than half of the train is filled with soldiers heading back to base, so she shouldn’t feel so out of place. Besides, the ride is only an hour. The bus would’ve been a minimum of 1 1/2 hours without traffic.

12:00PM
We have arrived in Tel Aviv. Some lady just knocked into the kid and started cussing her out and continues to do the same to every soldier in her path of wrath. Lucky she’s a fast walker cause I woulda popped a cap in that b**ch’s ass…

12:10PM
It’s too far to the hotel to schlep our bags, so we’re calling a taxi.

12:30PM
The front receptionist is very kind. He’s talking to the kid about being a lone soldier and hands her his card, offering support for whenever she may need it. I truly love this country! Now off to the kids favorite restaurant for lunch – Pankina, a dairy Italian place owned and run by Italian olim. The food is legit and awesomely delicious!

2:30PM
I convinced the kid to walk the Promenade with me. It’s not too hot and there’s a nice cool breeze. The Mediterranean Sea doesn’t look too blue today, but it’s still beautiful to look at.

3:30PM
The kid is telling me about the Dizengoff Mall up the street where she’d like to go in order to purchase some things for the army. Hey, I’m all about the mall, so let’s go!

7:15PM
I’m taking the kid to my and the hubby’s favorite place to eat in Tel Aviv – Maganda, a Yemenite restaurant owned by several brothers who often make massive amounts of food to take to the soldiers on the borders and out in the field. They are gratuitously respectful of my little lone soldier – makes me proud…and it makes up for that b**ch on the platform…

10:14PM
Now that we’re stuffed to the gills, we decided to walk off the food we ate and are heading to the store for bottled water. Comparing prices of the different brands of water, a woman with a thick French accent comments on how expensive it is. I’m agreeing with her but tell her that the price is actually comparable to the U.S. As we talk about the price of tea in China, the French woman acknowledges the kid’s uniform, commenting on her medic tag and pin. I‘m telling the woman how the kid’s lifelong dream was to make aliyah and serve in the IDF; how she went to college and made aliyah five weeks after arriving in Israel; that she came back and moved to a kibbutz on the border, drafted and trained as a medic and will now be on an ambulance crew right outside Gaza. I explain the role of a lone soldier and what it entails. The woman is now crying. She informs us that she made aliyah five years ago when she was 34 years old. She’s been very depressed lately and thinking of returning to Paris, but her mother told her to suck it up and follow through on her dream to live in Israel. She is hugging the kid saying, “You are my angel! I needed you to be here tonight!” The French woman wishes our little lone soldier angel the best and continues to shop. On that note, let’s get back to the hotel and get some sleep. The day could not have ended any better!

May 24, 2019

It’s 6:15AM and I’m wide awake. The kid is completely passed out, so I’ll just go about my business while she gets some much-needed rest.

8:00AM
Okay, late enough kiddo. The next bit of information the kid is willing to give me involves a party in Tel Aviv this afternoon to celebrate her unit’s graduation. At first I feel annoyed because the whole point of being here is for us to spend time together and so far it’s not happening. However, I know how important this is for her and tell her to go. But, on the other hand, it’s a few hours before Shabbat, which doesn’t leave her much time to be there. She’s going to change her mind a hundred times and regret whatever decision she makes anyway. Right now we just need to make the 11:00AM train to her kibbutz in time for her to catch the bus to step Aviv.

10:53AM
The taxi just dropped us off at the train station. I barely have enough time to purchase a ticket but we manage to make the train just in time. The kid is more of a bus person, somehow preferring a smelly, hot, stuffy cramped mode of transportation, but I definitely love trains…I loathe the bus…

12:01PM
We just arrived in Sderot and have decided to take a taxi to the kibbutz in order to save time so the kid can head to Tel Aviv. As predicted, she’s changed her mind at least a dozen times and still isn’t certain about her plans.

1:15PM
The program coordinator has convinced the kid to forgo the party, and the kid has convinced me to go back to Sderot for lunch. The coordinator just handed me her car keys and is telling me to drive the kid and her friend there, but I have never driven in Israel before. This could be interesting…

2:00PM
I drove in Israel! And the kid and her friend found a really good curry place.

4:15PM
We’re back at the kibbutz and trying to get ready for Shabbat. The program coordinator has graciously lent us her house and, in turn, I have agreed to take care of her dog and pet gecko. Dinner has been provided by the chadar ochel, so the kid and I are going to have a nice cozy dinner at our home for the weekend.

May 23, 2019

4:30 AM
Sooner or later jet lag is going to pass, and I’m going to bed before it’s technically tomorrow.

11:00AM
Wake up! You need to get yourself together woman!

11:45AM
As of today, the kid is mine for the next 96 hours. I’m waiting to hear from her so we can make plans for our time together. I’m also listening for the little Russian man in order to give him a hefty tip for the trouble he’s been going through not being able to communicate with me and for his awesomeness in keeping my room in superb condition (not to mention the extra bon bons). He’s refusing to accept the money, but I insist and shove the cash into his shirt pocket. His smile says it all…

11:47AM
I just returned to the room and flicked on the news channel and all I see are blazing fires in the north. A lone spark from at least one careless Lag b’Omer bonfire in this crazy heatwave has managed to reek havoc overnight. I text several friends visiting or living in the north to make sure they’re okay. Kol b’Seder.

1:15PM
The kid just called to tell me she’s running late and that the next bus to Be’er Sheva is not until 2:30PM. The plan is to meet her at the bus station around 3:00PM. It’s going to be 110° today, so I think I’ll just go to the mall to walk around in the air conditioning while I wait for her bus.

3:15PM
The Grand Canyon Mall is ginormous! It’s got to be one of the biggest malls I’ve ever been to. I just finished up a quick lunch. The kid is almost at the bus station, and I don’t want to keep her waiting too long.

3:35PM
This isn’t a bus station – it’s a mall that just so happens to have buses parked out back! It’s great though because it mostly caters to soldiers who are passing through on their way home or to base. The kid just told me she needs to buy a new beret for her job, so I happily oblige.

4:15PM
Back at the hotel, the kid tells me we’re going to Jerusalem to meet one of her friends and have dinner. I’m not thrilled with the idea of riding on a bus for the three hour round trip, but I’ll do whatever she wants so we can be together.

7:00PM
Holy crap…the bus smells, it’s hot and stuffy and there’s less leg room than an economy airline seat. I loathe the bus…at least we’re heavily armed…

8:30PM
Now the kid tells me the last bus back to Be’er Sheva is at 10:00PM. Needless to say, I’m not pleased. We need to literally eat and run as fast as possible.

10:00PM
I really, really LOATHE the bus…

12:15AM
The kid is already passed out. I need sleep almost as much as she does.

May 22, 2019

11:00AM
So, I’m telling myself that it’s not jet lag. Although I’m going to bed at 4:00AM, it’s 9:00PM in New Jersey, so technically I’m going to bed my regular time, right?

12:00PM
The kid had to start her new job today, so I’m flying solo once again. I think I finally have this water thing down. Not sure what buttons I pushed this time, but I didn’t make a mess and actually got cold water. I’m certainly going to need it today – it’s going to be 104°.

12:15PM
I found a Moroccan restaurant the other day on Kakal Street, Be’er Sheva’s version of Ben Yehuda. This place is ridiculous! In true Moroccan style, they’re putting a load of salads and laffa on my little table, and I still have my main course to come.

1:15PM
Off to the ANCAZ Cemetery and Memorial per Lilach’s other suggestion. It commemorates the British and Australian soldiers who died during the battle to take back Be’er Sheva from the Turks in 1917. Almost all the soldiers were Christian and quite a few tombstones have no names. It took a year to find all the bodies in order to bury them. The memorial has an overlook with a full view of the cemetery. There is also a very old Russian cemetery behind the memorial. I later learned that the British and Australian army used horses in battle. It threw off the Turks, who only rode their horses to the battle and dismounted to fight; hence a win for Israel.

2:10PM
I hurt…my feet hurt from bad socks and my face feels like it’s literally frying in oil. The heat is unbearable and I need to find water now…

2:15PM
Thankfully, I found a gas station shop across the street and bought a large bottle of ice cold water. I feel like people are staring at me because my face is so pink you can tell it’s painful (and I’m obviously not sabra). Needless to say, I’m sitting on a stoop under some trees for their shade and some rehydration.

2:45PM
I think I’m going to cancel Abraham’s Well. I keep calculating how much time I need to get back to the hotel to drop off some food I bought from the Mania store behind the gas station, but I really want to go. My appointment is for 3:30PM. It’s a 15-minute walk back to the hotel and 10 minutes from the hotel to the well…

3:20PM
I’ve dropped off my groceries and now heading to Abraham’s Well. I’m calling the reception desk to make sure they wait for me and let them know of the kid’s cancellation. I’ve been assured that they will wait for me. I’m thinking it’s either not a big group or it’s just Israeli timing.

3:35PM
So it’s a little of both – it’s not a big group but it’s more just Israeli timing…times are just a suggestion. A couple of people look annoyed, but they’ll get over it. Our tour guide is Deanna. I really like her. She is a native born and raised in Be’er Sheva and knows the history from every religious perspective. Her presentation and fluent English and Russian impress me even further. There are nine of us in the group – myself, a Russian woman with her mother (who is wearing a sequence-lettered New York City baseball cap and looks absolutely miserable in the heat), a gay couple from Great Britain visiting Israel for the eighth time, a couple from New Jersey who made aliyah nine months ago and now live in Be’er Sheva and a couple visiting them from the U.S.

3:50PM
After a brief introduction to Avraham and how he ended up in Be’er Sheva, we’re being lead up a dark and winding ramp while an audio voiceover quotes from the Bible. The voice is quite cheesy and reminiscent of Cecil B. De Mille. I feel like laughing, but I’m also suddenly overwhelmed with where I am. I’m also getting annoyed with how slow these people are walking. There’s nothing to see people! It’s dark and there’s handrails so just listen.

3:52PM
At the end of the tunnel, we were handed 3D glasses and are now sitting in a small theater, Deanna giving another presentation showing Avraham’s route on a giant map.

3:55PM
Now the movie is starting. An Israeli man is narrating, his voice dubbed by the same cheesy Jamesian voiceover as the one in the tunnel. I can’t help but chuckle. I seriously wish I knew Hebrew better, although the actor seems a little too dramatic for my taste anyway. The only other thing that’s annoying me is the quality of the film itself. Why is it so weird looking and blurry?! Oh…dumbass…put on your 3D glasses…

4:00PM
As I watch the movie I notice small rays of light coming from underneath the screen. I’m thinking the screen will retract and perhaps we will walk through a door behind it. That’s kinda cool!

4:05PM
The movie is finally over, and to everyone else’s surprise (not mind, of course) the screen retracts up towards the ceiling, revealing a courtyard containing the well on the other side of a wall of glass. We exit into the courtyard via a descending ramp until we reach the well. Deanna tells of the well’s contemporary history – how wells were simply holes in the ground and covered up with stones thousands of years ago, helping archaeologists to find the well based on biblical descriptions of its location and the size of the stones necessary to cover such a large well; how, after its discovery, a fence was erected to protect it and keep people from falling in; how Anwar Sadat has only one request when visiting Israel in 1979, to see the well; and how, in 2012, the mayor of Be’er Sheva decided to erect the current facility in order to encourage tourism to the Negev. It’s a fascinating and beautiful history.

4:40PM
I asked Deanna if there is a store nearby within walking distance, and she directs me to a mall over a small bridge. Despite the heat, the pain in my feet from bad socks is forcing me to purchase some new ones.

5:00PM
Having purchased some excellent Negev worthy Israeli socks and a new hat, I think I’ll look for some dinner.

6:15PM
I found a hummus place outside the Old City in a more modern section of BR7, so I’m heading on over. It dawned on me just now that it’s Lag b’Omer. I remember being excited about being in Israel for chag, but I have no plans for tonight, not knowing anyone and not being able to ask the nonexistent concierge at the hotel where I should go. I heard there’s many fire restrictions due to the excessive heatwave, so I’m not expecting much. Along the way I see large party tents with people sitting at long tables and rabbis reciting prayers. I can see small plumes of smoke and smell the wood burning somewhere nearby. Everyone is just going about their business like nothing is going on. It’s so strange that back home synagogues are lighting bonfires and celebrating with barbecues and jumpy houses for the kids. Here, it’s so quiet…

7:40PM
I’m desperately trying to order my food with elementary level Hebrew when a customer helps me out. I feel like an idiot…and I thought I was doing so well. The staff is very forgiving and give me extra salads and veggies with my meal. I’ll get there sooner or later.

7:57PM
Talking to the hubby on the phone, I can hear a distant band closing in, making it difficult to hear what he’s saying. As the music gets closer I see a pick up truck loaded with a giant neon sign, presumably saying something related to Lag b’Omer. Finally! Someone wants to party! The truck is followed by a few dozen men and a marching band comprised of various musical instruments played by young and old alike. The band is followed up by a flatbed truck with boys and men dancing and singing to the music. Thank you gentlemen!

8:54PM
Slowly making my way back to the hotel and I finally see some bonfires. I’m a little concerned after hearing about the restrictions regarding fires tonight when a log suddenly explodes, spewing embers all around, its fire-makers quickly glancing and then ignoring the smoldering charcoal. I, for one, hightail it outta there. What are these people thinking?! It hasn’t rained for over a month and temperatures have been well over 100F all week.

9:21PM
Safely back at my room, I can hear loud music bellowing throughout the streets of the Old City. I don’t suppose I’ll be getting any sleep tonight…

3:00AMish
My neighbors just got back and are obviously drunk. I’m jealous of the fun they seemed to have had. I hope at some point I actually get some sleep before 4:00AM…

May 21, 2019

4:00AM
That nap yesterday was and never is a good idea. I managed to force myself to sleep around 10:00PM, but the kid called at 11:15PM and that was that. I took some Tylenol to help with my dehydration headache and hopefully will get a couple of more hours of much needed sleep.

11:00AM
What?! The feeling in my head tells me I must’ve taken Tylenol PM. I suppose that’s what I get when grabbing any old bottle in the dark. Oh well, I’m not going to sweat it. The only place I need to be today is the kid’s tekes, so for now I can take it easy.

11:45AM
One of the things I’ve learned since yesterday morning is that the “coffee” maker in the lobby is actually a water dispenser, both hot and cold. What I haven’t figured out until now is how I keep screwing up the settings and ending up choosing a pitcher instead of 8 oz.

12:00PM
I run into a new staff member this morning, a young Israeli man who knows only a few words of English. He asks if I need anything, and I try to explain that my daughter will be arriving tonight after her tekes, so we will need extra towels and toilet paper. I use Google Translate in hopes he will bring what I’m actually requesting. After some Pictionary gesturing and poor Google translation, the little Russian man appears and sets the kid straight. I learn that toilet paper is just toilet paper in Hebrew too. The little Russian man asks me in broken Hebrew if I want the room cleaned and somehow we figure out that I want the room cleaned later and he chuckles. I’m so glad these people find me entertaining…

12:45PM
Before heading out I decided to refill the two plastic bottles left over from yesterday. Once again, I mess up the water dispenser and now it just has Hebrew words I can’t understand (or see without my reading glasses) and a red light with a pause symbol. A woman appears from a room adjacent to the lobby, and I ask for her assistance. She also only speaks Russian but manages to get me back to the little pictures of hot and cold glasses. However, I push the button and the spout explodes (I would later discover that I somehow hit the seltzer button after drinking from one of the bottles). I push more buttons (because I’m a technologically challenged idiot who is a glutton for punishment). This time I succeed in finding a cup of cold water. Needless to say, I’m a good guest by cleaning up my own mess. I also notice another new face in the Reception office. Where the hell were all these people yesterday when I arrived?!

Thought to self: Next time you visit Be’er Sheva, bring Yelena along (even if you have to pay her way).

Today I have decided to visit Abraham’s Well, a well dug by our patriarch Abraham when he arrived in Be’er Sheva 4000 years ago (Genesis 21:31). I’m starting to love this Old City of Be’er Sheva – most of the sites are within walking distance and public transportation and taxi service makes all the sites accessible within a 15-20 minute drive. Abraham’s Well is a mere 10-minute walk.

However, I discovered upon my arrival that there is a heatwave in Israel this week and I have been warned it’s going to be REALLY HOT, (in the 100s), especially down here in the middle of the desert. So far it’s not too bad. The old saying that in the desert it’s a dry heat so you don’t feel it as much is actually true. I lived in Arizona for a year when I was younger, so I have a good idea of what I’m up against.

Along the way, I’m taking pictures and decided to check out a bakery I could smell before I even got to it. Finding what I believe to be a large assortment of different flavored bourekas with signs all written in Hebrew, I asked one of the staff to translate for me. Finally choosing an olive boureka, my translator and another worker begin asking me questions. (Side note: Always talk to the locals, especially people who own and/or work in a local shop/restaurant, and ask for advice on what to do and where to eat.) They want to know where I’m from, why I’m here, have I ever been to Israel before, how do I feel about my only child making aliyah and joining the army, am I excited about the tekes, what is my itinerary, have I liked it so far, etc.? I’ve spent so much time here I have no clue how much time has passed. Thoughtfully, my translator directs me to Abraham’s Well after learning it is my destination for the moment. I thank my new friends for the chat and head back out into the heat – the high for today expecting to be 95°…and it’s already 98°.

I find myself walking through an industrial area, mostly junk and automobile repair shops and reach my destination. Approaching the information desk, I wait my turn while the receptionist is helping another visitor, a man I believe to be American due to his Hebrew accent. Despite my hardy shalom in as much an Israeli accent I can muster, I am greeted with a hello in an English accent better than my ow n (and she’s a born and bred sabra). I’m informed that good ole Abe’s Well is by appointment only, so I decide to make the appointment for tomorrow because the kid will be here, and I think she’ll enjoy the site. I discover that this place is also the Tourist Information Center for the Old City, and the receptionist, Liach, advises me on all the sites I can shove into my action packed week in Be’er Sheva.

2:00PM
I’ve decided to visit one of the sites suggested by Liach, The Train Yard 70414 (a.k.a. The Old Turkish Train Station). It’s about a 15-minute walk, which is normally a piece of cake for me…in normal temperatures. Although it’s hot, there’s a nice breeze with no humidity, and I’m walking on the side of the street with more shade. Plus, I managed to get a refill of water at the Well (no, that’s not the start of a joke).

2:20PM
I stopped along the way to take photos of a whimsical courtyard garden filled with decorations made from recycled materials. It had a workbench area with various materials for the residents to make garden art at will. This is one of my favorite things about Israel – people here do save a lot of the trash to recycle in various ways, especially because there’s not a lot of places to put it.

I finally arrive at the train station. I was told by Liach that it was built by the Turks during WWI in order to import Turkish soldiers via Egypt to fight the British for control of Be’er Sheva. Although authentically Turkish train cars from 1917, they are not original to the site. In 2012, when the mayor of Be’er Sheva decided to rebuild the site, tensions between Turkey and Israel made it impossible for Israel to purchase the train cars directly. The mayor managed to convince the British Prime Minister to purchase the cars and then resell them to Israel…and it worked. Although Turkey demanded their return, Israel refused.

3:00PM
Thoroughly fried and looking like Larry the Lobster from the Spongebob cartoons, the kid’s host mother and I finally agree on a time and a meeting place for her to pick me up and proceed to the kid’s tekes. Fortunately, I have enough time to return to the hotel, peel off and change my clothes, buy a falafel on the corner and meet up with Mom #2 at the art museum up the street.

4:30PM
Mom and Dad #2, along with two of three host siblings and I finding our way down the highway to finally see the kid graduate from her army training.

4:50PM
There is a flurry of activity at the base, a full parking lot and swarms of family and friends flooding the exterior grounds of the campus with carts full of food and drinks. Mom #2 is 7-months pregnant and needs a spot close by in order to race to the bathroom ASAP. With eagle eyes enviable of an eagle itself, Mom #2 sees a parking spot in an entirely different lot about 100 yards away. Once situated, Mom #2 pops the trunk to reveal three pizza boxes and a cooler full of drinks…and there’s a tinge of pain in my heart…

It’s tradition for families to arrive early with a table full of food before their child’s tekes. Coming from 6,000 miles away and not having a fridge and/or transportation to pick up any food, I was forced to resign to the fact that there wasn’t going to be any picnic. As luck would have it, I received an invitation for the tekes last week and it specifically said no food was allowed – I was off the hook! Today I learn that it meant no food INSIDE THE BASE…and I had absolutely nothing to bring to the table…literally. It got worse as other people in the kid’s new life brought other goodies for everyone to share in celebration.

5:00PM
Everyone is speaking Hebrew, making jokes, laughing and carrying on. I sit quietly, having no clue was it being said and no interpretation being offered. I feel alone amongst these thousands of people. But then it dawns on my poor pity self – the kid has officially made a life for herself here and is completely immersed in the culture and it’s language; that was as big a reward as following through on her life’s dream of serving in the IDF. “Come on Alice, you’re an adult…get over it!”

5:27PM
The kid is introducing me to various people in her now army life – first commander, second commander, this friend and that. I am terrible with names and will never remember them all – I don’t need to…these are her people in her life now.

6:05PM
The tekes is beginning, and I have no idea what’s going on. Seems the friends of the kid who know “perfect English” are not and/or are not paying attention to explain what is happening and/or interpret what is being said. No worries…I’m witnessing something the kid, her father and I have envisioned for over 15 years.

There’s organized marching that these soldiers will never have to do ever again in their lives – they’re only on display for tonight. There’s the obligatory let’s-pick-the-best-kid-in-each-unit to honor and make us look good reminiscent of who shall be valedictorian. There’s the verbal oath of allegiance to their respective jobs, mandatory singing of the HaTikvah and the head cheese’s militant speech about responsibility. And then the moment the kid has been longing for since the moment she could talk – the first line of commanders rips off the red tape covering the medic pin that has been fastened to her shirt prior to the tekes. In turn, each of her commanders walks down the line of soldiers, giving positive words of congratulatory encouragement. Up until this moment, the kid has had a shit-eating grin on her face she can’t wipe off for anything. This is it – she made it! And then the commander reaches for the red tape pressed against her shirt. I can see she’s holding back tears and trying not to show any emotion, but it’s not working. Once that tape is ripped off and her commander is on to the next victim, I can see the kid is trying desperately not to cry. She knows she’s got to hold it together for the remainder of the tekes. She needs to stay focused, to pay attention and do what she’s ordered to do. She is now a soldier and needs to behave like one.

7:00PM
And, just like that, it’s over. The kid introduces me to all he important people in her army life. I’m thriving on putting faces to the names I’ve been hearing all these months. I have conversations with her commanders that help me understand the process by which my daughter has been subjected to that she couldn’t quite explain to me or the hubby. It’s nothing I didn’t know but good to hear. And I hug every single one of them, thanking them for supporting my daughter. I don’t let them leave without hearing what I have to say about lone soldiers and how important it is to be there for them. I’m content in knowing that they were there for the kid and pray they will be there for every other lone soldier who comes their way.

7:30PM
I’m sitting at another picnic with another host mom who insists on feeding everyone and anyone at or near the table. I’m now feeling the love and enjoying this Israeli life, despite the language barrier. More introductions and more hugs and handshakes. I’m exhausted…and very pink and sweaty…

8:00PM
Yesterday, the kid informed me of her new job and that she needed to report tomorrow morning at 10:00AM. So, despite my planning that she always tells me not to do, I accept the fact that she’s not coming back to the hotel with me but accompany her back to her kibbutz to have some extra time. As we drive to the kibbutz, the program coordinator is letting me know that she will drive me to the local train station to get a train back to Be’er Sheva. I’m nervous but not afraid.

8:40PM
Back at the kibbutz, the stress of a new job sinks in. Although resisting, the kid takes Mom #1’s advice and works out all the kinks by the time I leave. I have faith that she will once more work through the difficulties of adulthood without me…

10:47PM
The next train leaves at 10:55PM and I’m a little concerned. Granted, the next train is in an hour, but I’m worried about arriving at 1:00AM in Be’er Sheva and looking for a taxi. Somehow the coordinator makes a 10-minute trip in 3 minutes flat and I’m impressed. Thanks to one of the kid’s housemates, I know exactly what to do and where to go.

10:55PM
As I board the train, I ask the young woman next to me if the train will stop at Be’er Sheva Center. I’m reassured it does because that’s where she headed. She follows me into the train and sits adjacent to me. I wonder if she’s sitting close the make sure this idiot American gets to her destination or if she’s sitting nearby because she’s concerned about her own safety. I realize that we are both in the same boat – it’s very late and she is young and attractive and I am old and vulnerable. We make a good team.

11:45PM
We have arrived, me and my safety sidekick, walking the line together and seeing each other through the exit. She scurries off as I contemplate walking the 20 minutes back to the hotel at midnight versus requesting a Gett. I’m concerned about saving money but have been reassured by the kid’s housemate that it will be very inexpensive. However, the housemate also suggested I take the bus from the station because of all the Arab cab drivers. I had assured him of my safety via Google and the hotel owners, as well as a multitude of other locals, but now I’m not so sure. But walking with a wallet full of cash at midnight is not a good idea for any human being regardless of who and where they are.

12:15AM
I’m sucking it up. This is my first time using Gett and there’s no mehadrin request here in Be’er Sheva – I already know this from Moshe. I’m telling myself that the Arabs here have been nothing but friendly and helpful, but the kid’s housemate’s words have gotten me paralyzed.

12:16AM
Someone is two minutes away and has a Jewish name and looks like a Jew according to his photo profile. I think shamefully of my thought process and it makes me sad. I’ve been in many an Arab taxi here and in America without any issues whatsoever. When did I become more worried as a Jew than as a woman? Actually, being a Jewish woman has scared me the most…

12:17AM
I just received a notification that my Gett is unavailable to get me now…ugh…panic is setting in. F**k it! I’m just gonna walk it. This is G-d’s way of telling me to walk and avoid the taxis.

12:18AM
Just got a notification that another Gett can pick me up in one minute – his name is Schmuel…panic squelched…

12:19AM
Schmuel, my knight in black kippah armor, I love you! I feel absolutely safe and all stress has been released. However , in talking with Schmuel, I’m again reassured that if indeed an Arab had picked me up in his cab, I would be 100% safe. Wow! I haven’t felt this safe since 1987 when I spent a semester in Ireland and was walking back to the hostel on Inishmore at 3:00AM. I need to live here…

12:24AM
I’m back at the hotel and feeling like celebrating the kid’s victory but everything is closed. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow. But as I walk through the gate of privilege, I see three gentleman sitting in the chairs by the hot tub and chatting away. They look so comfortable in their surroundings that I assume they’re regulars of the hotel and ask them if they know of any late nights places still open. Now I’m being handed a giant bottle of beer and a shot of bourbon and gladly take a seat with my new drinking buddies.

I briefly tell them the story of the kid and the Gershuny adventures thus far. They too indulge me with their adventures, of how they are Christians from Canada, two having just arrived today and the third two days ago. They are all doctors and are here for the graduation from medical school at Ben Gurion University of the son-in-law of one of the three. I know they have told me their names but can’t recall them, the heat, sun, late hour and crazy day dulling my brain’s ability to formulate information. I warn them of the impending heatwave and pray that they are indoors for this one after realizing I don’t have to tell them about the heat due to my phospherecent face, neck and arms trucker’s tan. I learn that the son-in-law has Israeli parents who moved to America when he was a boy; that he came back to Israel to be a paratrooper in the IDF during the war with Lebanon and returned to the USA to go to college and then medical school at Columbia but finished in Be’er Sheva at Ben Gurion because it is an affiliated school. I haven’t got the details on that one yet – these guys are toast and going to bed.

3:00AM
Why the hell am I still awake?!

May 20, 2019

7:00AM
I realize I’m standing at the wrong baggage claim when I’m the only one there and everyone else is scrambling for their luggage on the other side of the building. As requested, I have texted Moshe, my driver, letting him know I’ve landed and getting my bag. He’s waiting outside for me, but I realize I don’t quite remember what he looks like. I see a man who looks lost looking at me looking lost until he finally yells from across the street, “Ahlees?!” Moshe!

The hubby and I met Moshe in Jerusalem last month when we requested a taxi via the Gett app. He was very friendly and shared much of his knowledge of Israel. He told us about where he lived, what it was like to live in Jerusalem, how he was married and had three sons, one of whom is still in the army and was just promoted to captain. He had offered us his card for future reference, so I contacted him Saturday night and asked if he could pick me up from the airport and take me to Be’er Sheva. He gladly accepted.

With a two-hour drive ahead of us, I apologize to Moshe for the delay. He is gracious and let’s me know he is not bothered by it. He asks about my flight. I tell him it was mostly fine until the vomiter. He chuckled and shrugged it off. We talk about the kid and her upcoming tekes tomorrow. He beams when talking about his captain son and shows me a photo of a handsome young man in uniform with his captain tags and carrying a rifle. He tells me about the different areas we are driving through, I, in turn relating them to America. Moshe tells me he has never been to the U.S. but would like to visit once he has the money and time.

Once in Be’er Sheva he tells me about its history and how it is set up. He advises me that most of the taxi drivers are Arabs but that I shouldn’t be concerned. He also informs me that all rides within Be’er Sheva are only 20 shekels after seeing multiple signs along the road. He tells me to not let the drivers convince me it’s more because they think I’m an ignorant tourist. I like Moshe – he’s good people.

9:00AM
We finally arrive at my destination. Moshe removes my bag from the trunk and walks me to the front gate of the hotel and returns to his car. The front gate is locked and has a sign informing me to contact the manager for entry. I call the two phone numbers listed on the sign, but there is no answer. I remember that I had a WhatsApp conversation with one of the managers last week and message him. Meanwhile, I see that Moshe is still at the curb making sure I get in. He comes back to the gate and notices a door off to the side, rings the keypad and we are buzzed in. Right away I know it’s not the hotel – it’s some kind of business. As I walk through a small courtyard, I find a middle-aged woman behind a desk in an office who only knows Russian. She walks me to the gate and tries to explain to me that she doesn’t know anything about the hotel. This is not going very well, is it?

Suddenly, an older gentleman walks towards the gate and the woman says something in Russian. The little Russian man unlocks the gate and lets me in but doesn’t know any English and points towards the building that I assume is the hotel. The front door is slightly ajar and I walk into a small foyer containing an empty wooden bench, a small round coffee table with a basket of apples and a small credenza with what looks like a coffee machine, along with some tea bags and packaged muffins. There is a door to my left with no signage. On my right I see rooms A1 and A2 and a door that has a sign “Reception” with a laminated note below it. The note is welcoming guests to the hotel and states reception is open 10:00-19.00, so the door is locked. The memory of that Spring Lake inn two years ago pops into my head. This is definitely not going well.

The older gentleman returns with a sad, apologetic look and says in broken English, “I call my boss” and points to one of two names on the door, Elran. As I try to get weird, creepy thoughts of L. Ron Hubbard out of my head, I receive a call from Elran, informing me that he has checked with the housekeeper and my room is ready. So, the little Russian man smiles, grabs my bag and escorts me up the stairs to my room. There is no one else here. I am all alone and want to cry.

I receive a WhatsApp message from Elran, welcoming me to the hotel and providing me with the security codes to access the gate and the front door. This is by far the strangest check in I’ve ever had. I call the hubby, anxious and worried about what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m reminded of that first day of camp fifteen years ago when I called the hubby crying about not knowing Hebrew and feeling completely lost and alone. His message was pretty much the same as then – figure it out because that’s all you’ve got.

I suddenly realize – there’s no restaurant and/or bar like they advertised. What about the so-called breakfast vouchers for the local restaurant I discover is not kosher?! And what about the alleged concierge?! And the little Russian guy? Is he housekeeping? He’s gone for the day! What happens when I run out of toilet paper?! Wait…what about water?! I have to drink it from the bathroom sink?! OMG! There’s no staff or anything at all!

10:00AM
F**k this…I’m going to bed. This is by far THE STRANGEST hotel I’ve ever stayed at…

2:00PM
I force myself to get up out of bed to check Reception again but to no avail. I return to my room and pep talk myself into taking a shower and just going out there, the only problem holding me back is that I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THE HELL I AM! The hubby suggests I simply Google Map the area. I start by looking for a grocer so I can buy food for tomorrow and some water. Thankfully, there’s a small college-size fridge in my room and my backpack to carry whatever I purchase.

Then I start to wonder about my safety. Is it safe for me to walk around alone? Are there bad neighborhoods I should stay away from? The kid texts me to say I should just get a Gett everywhere just to be safe since she doesn’t know where I am either. Most of what I’m seeing surrounds the Negev Museum of Art, so it can’t be that bad, right?

3:00PM
Trusting my gut, I step outside and bring up the map. Confirmation of my fears for safety are present in the abandoned and rubbled buildings around me.

“Shake it off…you checked with Google. The crime rate is almost nonexistent here. You’ll be fine.”

The first market is only a few minutes away, but I am unable to locate it. I decide to make the 15-minute trek to Maadeney Mania, which looks like a real supermarket. Where I’m walking, the buildings are renovated or new. I pass many restaurants, big and small alike, shops for clothing, shoes and home goods, salons, travel agents and apartment buildings, as well as a large colorful playground.

I finally find my Mania store and realize that everything is in Russian and Hebrew – I’ll have to wing this one. An American tour bus has dropped off a bunch of very loud people looking for booze and snacks for the night, but I hear Russian being spoken on the other side of the store. I opt for something I believe to be yogurt and approach the cashier, telling her how much I wished I had paid more attention to my Russian friends when they spoke back home. She laughs and tells me in perfect English that it’s okay and sends me on my way, wishing me luck…

I decide to meander back to the hotel and check out the neighborhoods to see what there is to offer. It finally dawns on me that all the signs are in Russian and Hebrew. I had no idea there was such a large Russian population in Be’er Sheva, nor did my Russian friends.

5:20PM
I drop off my yogurt, cool off with the air conditioning and charge my phone. I’ve already decided I’m going to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant that has gotten rave reviews. And it’s right around the corner!

As I make my way downstairs, I hear voices and see two young men in the Reception office. Woohoo! It’s Elran and Matan, the owners of the hotel. I find out they are new to the business and opened only five months ago. I reassure them that the accommodations are beautiful (and I’m not lying), bringing big toothy smiles to their faces. I can tell this is their baby, and they want it to work. I think they simply need to learn more about running a hotel – like having full-time staff, for starters…

They apologize for any inconveniences and offer me plenty of advice on what to see and where to eat, both reassuring me Be’er Sheva is very safe. We also run into several other people staying at the hotel – I’m not alone!

Off to dinner to a different restaurant at the advice of both Elran and Matan (only because of its expense), I find a street market along the way and chat with the kid while I eat my food.

The hubby, as usual, was right, but this is still the strangest hotel I’ve ever stayed in…

May 19, 2019

8:31AM
My flight out of Newark is scheduled for 1:00PM. The plan was to leave home by 8:30AM, assuming we’d make the usual pit stops along the way and factoring in the time it would take to find a parking space, leaving me enough time to be at the airport the required three hours before takeoff. Only one minute late…I believe that’s a record for me…

9:53AM
Only one pit stop and a rotation around Parking Lot A in an attempt to find B, we find the perfect spot and head inside.

10:00AM
The hubby quickly recognizes Uri from last month – the agent from Tel Aviv who insisted we go to Azura – while waiting for security to ask me the usual questions: Why are you going to Israel? Did you pack your own suitcase? Where was your suitcase from the time you packed it and did it ever leave your presence? Did anyone give you anything to bring with you? Like a little statue or something? What synagogue are you affiliated with? Who is your rabbi? I always get them with stories of the kid – they love it (and sometimes I get them to cry). I tell myself that everything is mine – if I believe it, then it must be true, right? And as for synagogue, the standard answer, “It’s complicated,” and it’s always a good enough answer for them. I finish by asking the security girl to tell Uri he was right about Azura and she agrees with me about the food.

10:05AM
Heading straight from security to no line at the ticket counter, I desperately beg the agent to find me an upgrade to Premium (formerly known as Business Class). Unfortunately for me today, there is no Premium seats left; however, she manages to find one last “comfort seat” (formerly known as Economy Plus – the seats at the front of coach with no seats in front of you) and I happily whip out the credit card.

10:18AM
The hubby walks with me to TSA, and we quickly say farewell so I don’t start crying. Halfway through the line, after making new friends with the Virginia Tech kids going on a “perspective tour through Israel,” I text the hubby that I’m okay with him leaving now that I have people to chatter my nerves away.

10:52AM
I’m so proud of myself! I didn’t call anyone any names at the TSA this time.

10:53AM
Walking down to my gate, I note a Birthright tour group of obnoxious teenagers waiting noisily for their next instructions and another much more well-behaved Christian group I would later find out called Passages.

11:10AM
My cardiologist’s voice echoing in my head to “super hydrate” before boarding, I find my usual convenience store still under construction, narrowing my choices to only two stands selling water. After choosing, I purchase one big bottle of water and a sandwich (forgot to eat breakfast) and gulp it all down.

11:40AM
Suddenly feeling feverish with a pounding heart, I question if the sandwich is making me sick or wonder if it’s anxiety over flying for the first time in 30 years without the hubby. I determine I’m not hydrated enough and buy two more bottles of water from the second-choice stand and realize I only have 15 minutes to drink it all before boarding…and then the cashier sneezes into both her open hands several times, grabs my debit card and hands it to me…

11:41AM
Scrubbing my hands with LOTS of soap and water and bathing my debit card in hand sanitizer…

12:00PM
I’m worried that I’m coming down with something. I wasn’t feeling too good this morning…ugh…

12:15PM
The agent standing guard at the entrance to the platform finally gives up in frustration and just tells everyone to go ahead – this could get ugly…

12:16PM
I’m amazed that no one just got run over, mauled, mutilated or downright killed just then and find someone sitting in my seat – it’s a religious woman holding a very cute baby.

1:30PM
Our flight is now delayed 30 minutes with absolutely no explanations whatsoever. However, the woman with the baby and I become old friends by the time we take off. She kindly asked the two girls behind her from one of the groups to exchange seats with her husband and their 8-year-old son, Yossi. The baby’s name is Avrami, and he is 6-months old. He has never flown before and mommy is nervous about it. The next oldest boy, Chaimie, who is 2 years old, has never flown either. He’s already busying himself by making a trampoline out of the seat cushions between me and his mother and climbing over the back of the seat to see his brother behind. The couple have two girls, ages 4 and 6 left at home with their grandparents. At some point before take off, totti decides it’s best that Yossi sit in front and he take Chaimie for the sake of “this nice lady” (aka moi). I come to learn that the family is from Williamsburg and heading to Mt. Meron for Lag b’Omer. Lag b’Omer is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who is buried there. It also happens to be Chaimie’s third birthday and will have his upsherin on that day, a tradition I’ve come to learn about from mommy. Although his English is not perfect and my Yiddish nonexistent, Yossi and I become total buds over the course of the flight, watching each other’s movies and playing video games as he devours a large salad as if it’s a giant chocolate cake.

Over the course of our 10-hour flight, mommy manages to get some shut eye whenever Avrami finally falls asleep or when totti takes over. Yossi eventually sprawls himself out on the floor below us and falls fast asleep sucking his thumb…but there was no way in hell Chaimie was gonna sleep for any reason whatsoever. I personally don’t care. I don’t sleep on planes anyway. I feel more sorry for totti and the young girl with one of the groups who won’t be getting any much-needed sleep tonight. I take advantage of the now empty seat next to me and attempt to catch some sleep, but it’s just not happening.

9:00PMish
Everyone’s awake. Avrami can’t stop crying and Chaimie’s just not taking this flight very well, either jumping on his trampoline cushions again or throwing toddler tantrums like a pro. Mommy has a concerned look on her face while totti runs back and forth from the bathrooms. Mommy informs me that Yossi just vomited on one of the bathroom floors and won’t come out. But eventually Yossi returns to his seat, moaning and groaning like he just gave birth while mommy insists that he eat the breakfast before him. I question whether or not it’s a good idea, but mommy insists that Yossi at least eat the bagel.

I come to find that Yossi is a vomiter…by choice. Okay, I’ve been down this road with the kid, so I give mommy some strategies on how to handle a forced vomiter. She is receptive to my sage like wisdom and agrees with what I’m saying, all the while me praying to G-d that this kid is done “showing off” this wonderful superpower of his.

Nope, he ain’t! As the flight attendants block both aisles giving access to the bathrooms, Yossi bends over and hurls all over the cabin floor in the aisle behind the food cart, much to the abhorrence of the passengers eating their breakfast nearby. The flight attendants are obviously annoyed with Yossi’s shenanigans at this point and demand that mommy and totti clean it up. But it’s not over folks…

11:20PM (6:20AM Israel time)
One of the flight attendants, who has already been dealing with Yossi’s vomiting situation all morning, is arguing with the very large rude and nasty man across the aisle from me. Aside from being on my shit list for bitching and moaning the entire flight about the lack of WiFi, insisting on storing his stuff in my overhead and snoring loudly when he wasn’t bitching and moaning about the WiFi, he’s refusing to follow the attendants orders to quickly put his belongings in the overhead and sit down because we are descending, which only places him much higher on my list because he being a dick.

And then…? You got it! Yossi just bends over and starts vomiting all over the floor in front of us. Totti quickly covers up the vomit and hands a barf bag to Yossi, yelling at him to throw up in the bag. Drawing whatever objectivity I could possibly muster from the core of my being down to my pinky toe, I act as if this is completely normal and make every attempt to not vomit myself.

6:30AM
After ten long hours, we finally land. I wish the family a hardy Mazel Tov and book for the door, but something is blocking my exit and refuses to budge no matter how many times I say, “Excuse me.” It’s the very large rude and nasty man, and he’s not letting me go for anything, so I climb over the seats to the other side to exit…

6:35AM
Okay, so I managed to be nice to the TSA people at Newark, but now I’m not so proud of myself for telling the large rude and nasty man that he was a dick…oh well, I tried…and he deserved it…

Thought to self – there’s always a price for upgrading …

When I was turning 20: A letter to the kid regarding my thoughts on your 20th birthday…

At the beginning of January 1985, I was a month away from turning 20 years old. My father had dropped me off at the college of my choice (as long as it was an in-state school he could afford) on a Friday so that I would be there bright and early for freshman orientation on Monday morning. Three years had come and gone since graduating high school…three very long years.

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During my freshman year of high school, I informed my guidance counselor that I had absolutely no intention of attending any form of higher education. I loathed school my entire life and couldn’t wait to wipe my hands clean of all things educational. I was in luck – the guidance counselor informed me that it was possible to graduate in three years instead of four, but not without warning me of the difficulties I would encounter doubling up on classes over the next two years. I was in luck again – learning was not the reason I hated school so much. I always earned excellent grades with minimal effort and rarely caused my teachers or the administration any problems (except for the time I lied to my 4th-grade teacher about not really reading Dr. Doolittle, leading the 6th-grade sit-in against an impending teachers’ strike and getting caught smoking in the girls’ room in 8th grade). Well, I was a bit chatty (okay, so I was a lot chatty) and often joked around with classmates in hopes of being popular one day, but I was never an issue to be sent to the principal’s office or to get expelled (except for the time I was caught smoking in the girls’ room in 8th grade…and later twice in high school, once in the girls’ room, the other in the hallway…okay…so maybe I was a bit of an issue…).

Not being popular – that was the reason I hated school so much. Despite being a major extrovert, the social situations throughout my first nine years of institutional education were dismal, to say the least. Depressingly so, kindergarten was my best year. After the summer of 1971, it was all downhill from there. I never had a lot of friends, though I was the one to befriend someone less fortunate than myself, loyal to a fault. And the “friends” I did have were not necessarily the loyal type, me forever choosing the “friendship” of the dregs of society.

I was determined to begin life as an “adult” as soon as possible. So, I graduated in 1982 near the bottom of “my class,” which wasn’t really my class because my class was graduating the following year. I lied to my guidance counselor about career choices. I “planned” to go to secretarial school but didn’t (which I kinda regret because I would have made WAY more cash than as a social worker over the past 30 years). I fudged the career test (I got interior decorator – I would have LOVED to decorate other people’s homes on their dime – and mathematician…what?!). So, I did neither and continued to search for my next dregs of friendship society. Once again, I was in luck – my new boyfriend was the perfect dreg, along with his roommates, one of whom was a previous boyfriend who was dreggier than my then current dreg boyfriend.

Despite not going to secretarial school, I had learned enough in my high school secretarial courses to land a job as a clerk with a local insurance company. Still technically living at home, I pretty much lived 23/7 with my new dreg boyfriend, initially enjoying the freedom a 17-year-old “adult” could have, living the dreg lifestyle with his roommates as well as the other dreg friends that visited throughout the week. But then I grew bored. Life wasn’t fun anymore and my “friends” weren’t really my friends. I then decided to enter therapy in order to find out why I needed my dregs so much…

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I have a vivid memory of threatening my mother about my future. When I was a little girl, I passionately informed her that, as soon as I turned 18, I would be leaving home. I told her (in hindsight too many times) that I couldn’t wait to move out and become my own person; to be responsible for my own self and do whatever I please – all this over an argument as to why she refused to buy me overalls (why the first thing I bought after my daughter was born…now you know mom).

So, in my 18th year of life, having found my therapy a “success,” my brother, who was already serving in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Arizona at the time, agreed to take me home to live with him following the wedding of my eldest sister in 1983. Anticipating my new life far, far away from everything and everyone I knew, I fantasized about becoming the next Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks or Geddy Lee, three of my favorite singalong performers (pre-karaoke) in middle and high school. Within the first month I had found my new dreg boyfriend through a Want Ad looking to form a new band with female back-up singers. In reality, I wasn’t a singer. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t great either – no dogs howled, nor did people cringe when I belted out a tune, so I was determined to become a rock star.

My new dreg boyfriend was the lead guitarist – and a very good one at that. Within our first meeting, I don’t think he cared whether or not I had a voice – we fell madly in love (i.e., lust) with one another…despite his being nine years my senior. Looking back, I realize he was the same age as my brother and, although legal, I was barely out of my teens. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my new dreg boyfriend had a very dark past involving crazy exes and a stint in the slammer…and an IV cocaine addiction that I was completely oblivious of until his sister opened my eyes to the warning signs. In spite of all this knowledge, I was a little girl “in love.” It was too late to turn back and allowed this man and all his dreg buddies to take me through a roller coaster lifestyle I knew existed but had never experienced full throttle…and alone. Even after becoming seriously ill and returning to my parents’ home within the first two months and returning to clerkship at several local insurance companies, I returned to Arizona, seeking out my own addiction – dregs. Thankfully, I would ultimately choose to leave after a year of insanity and move from one apartment of a friend and/or co-worker to another until I finally hit my rock bottom…I had just turned 19.

Having lived “in sin” with a man, my parents refused to accept me back home. I was homeless. I don’t think the thought truly hit me until I was in my twenties, married and living independently and successfully on my own. I don’t remember how long I was homeless, but I managed to barely scrimp enough cash together to fly back to New Jersey – I needed to be back where I knew everything and everyone. Before leaving, I contacted the ex-dreg boyfriend roommate of the latter dreg boyfriend and asked to stay with him until I could figure out my next move. Lasting only a few days, after another roller coaster ride of drugs, alcohol and mental illness, I called my middle sister, asking to let me stay with her, to which she obliged. This arrangement barely survived the weekend thanks to my ex-brother-in-law’s chronic complaints about me being there…that’s when I finally called my mother and begged her to let me come home…I was 19 ½ …

I don’t remember exactly what my mother said that day, but I do remember it had something to do with me getting my shit (my words, never hers, except when she seriously hurt herself in the kitchen) together and having to pay my own way. I also don’t remember how I got home, but I did and was happier than I had ever been in my life.

Once again, I was back working as a secretary in various insurance companies, earning my pay and trying to convince my parents that I was now ready to be an adult. At one point I considered going to nursing school, where I would receive two years free tuition and, in turn, commit to three years of employment at the local hospital. But, alas, I didn’t follow through on that plan either – another decision I regret to this day. I would have made far more money than I ever did in 30 years of social work or as a secretary.

So, here I was on the cusp of my 20th birthday, returning to my former lifestyle and becoming bored real fast. I had nothing to show for myself except how to deal with the dregs of society, their drug addictions, their alcoholism and their mental illness.,,but the one thing I had forgotten was that I was smart. So, I spoke to my father about sending me to college. He agreed, but not without major reservations. I could only apply to in-state colleges, excluding Rutgers, which just wasn’t easily affordable and to which I wasn’t worthy of at the time. Considering a significant trust factor, my father pleasantly and agreeably drove me from college to college, helping me decide the best fit. I also agreed to pay for my first semester, which ended up only being a little over $2000. If I proved my worth, dad would foot the rest of the bill until I graduated. The only nagging feelings that held me back were my still current loathing of school and the fear that the dregs would once again find me in my new hiding place.

The good news is that it was best that I paid for the first semester. Once again, I managed to find the few dregs existing on campus and found myself sinking once again…but not without a fight. I had just turned 20 and knew it was time to truly get my shit together. During my first semester, having claimed a photography major (my current fantasy becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic), I fell madly in love with anthropology after enrolling in a human evolution course. I immediately changed my major to anthropology/sociology with the desire to work with Native American populations (an interest transpired while living in Arizona).  And, having lived almost ten years with some fairly anomalous people, I discovered I had acquired an ability to look objectively at humanity, regardless of their “quirks.” Anthropology would teach me how to utilize those “skills” in a much more serviceable manner.

Although my father would refer to my major as “earning a degree in Basket Weaving,” I proved myself worthy of full tuition after receiving all A’s and working 20 hours a week at the college performing arts center that first semester (later doubling up my coursework while working 30 hours a week). I would later receive my bachelor’s degree after only three years, loving every minute of it and managing to stay clear of any and every dreg that came my way. Sure, there were a few heartbreaks along the way, but these were healthy, typical relationships that most young adults go through. After graduation I became a social worker, guiding the dregs of my society rather than signing up with them. I would later meet my husband of 30 years (the most excellent lead guitarist I’ve ever known) and have our only child…YOU

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Yes, my daughter, you have been through a lot too. For so many years you were bullied by your peers. They left you crippled with anxiety and crushed your confidence in every thought and action. You also hated school as much as I did and managed to get very good grades despite your lack of trying. You never caused any problems (except for the occasional student-teacher conflicts that were merely a prediction of what was to come). You weren’t popular either, but you managed to always steer clear of the dregs of society and found your true (albeit nerdy) friends in high school. You never smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol (accept in our presence) or did drugs and obeyed authority to the fullest regard.

We (mostly) willingly wrote checks for applications, entrance exams and admissions fees and pleasantly drove you to some of the colleges of (mostly) your choice. I just wish you had been more up front about your intentions of not going (some day you can pay us back). However, you had the determination to make a much braver decision in your life – after years of telling us how much you wanted to leave home and be your own person, at age 18 ½ you packed your bags and moved far, far away from everything and everyone you knew – all by yourself.

Before leaving, you were the first openly gay student at your high school, blazing a trail for many to follow in your footsteps. You did this all by yourself.

You were the first female student in the history of your high school to have a siyyum – twice…all by yourself.

Despite being told “not to bother because you’re not smart enough,” you were accepted into eight of ten colleges and wait-listed for the other two, every single one giving merit and academic scholarships, including American and Drexel – all by yourself.

After your own fact-finding, you managed to go to university in another country where English is not the native language and complete the entire year – successfully, all by yourself.

Only six weeks at university, and after four years of your own research and planning, you made Aliyah at the age of 18 ½  – successfully, all by yourself.

Three months later, at age 19, you received your passport and became an official Israeli citizen – all by yourself.

Knowing you would have to serve in the IDF after university, you explored the options you had as a lone soldier and managed to get yourself accepted into Garin Tzabar – all by yourself.

While studying at university, you figured out how to bank, obtain insurance, find a doctor (for free) and a pharmacy to help with medication and a lawyer (for free) to help with legal issues pertaining to Aliyah, along with locating and dealing with all the other agencies and individuals involved in the process and attending all the required monthly seminars and Shabbatons with Garin Tzaber – all by yourself.

At 19 ½, you willingly returned to Israel last year, knowing you would be drafted – all by yourself.

You found a place to live, pay rent for an apartment that you maintain all by yourself, purchase food and other household items that you need and somehow undertake every other facet of being an adult – all by yourself.

You have never been homeless. You have been, and will always be, welcome in our home.

Despite not having any family members living in Israel, you have found a beautiful support system and several host and adoptive families that will last a lifetime – all by yourself.

Even when the chips were down and you found yourself drifting in limbo waiting to draft, you found a job at the kibbutz school teaching English to the children of the place you (and we) now call home – all by yourself.

You triumphantly fought against going to michve alon, even when everyone around discouraged you – all by yourself.

You drafted and attained your first choice in job training all by yourself.

Despite the recent decisions made by your commanders, you advocated for yourself and managed to get a second chance because you’re smart and worth it too. Your life’s dream of making Aliyah and joining the IDF has come true. This is something most Jews on the planet will never be able to say in their lifetime.

And here you are, 20-years-old, with so much more positive accomplishments under your belt. These are your accomplishments. These are the things we are proud of – these are the things you need to be proud of because they are yours. So, the next time you think you’re a “failure,” read this letter and start writing down the accomplishments that will continue into your twenties and beyond. The best is yet to come…

I can almost see it
That dream I’m dreaming but
There’s a voice inside my head saying
You’ll never reach it

The Climb – Miley Cyrus

 המציל נפש אחת כאילו הציל עולם שלם

He who saves one soul, it is as if he saves a whole world