COVID 19, you suck…חלק שבע

March 9, 2020

Well, we’re leading up to the second reason (the kid, of course, being the first) as to why we came to Israel at this particular moment in time. Two years ago, we came here to celebrate our first Purim in Israel, along with the kid’s 19th birthday. We had so much fun, I told the hubby that I never wanted to spend Purim outside Israel ever again. And, of course, we were stuck in the U.S. last year because we already had a trip planned for April to see the kid’s graduation from medic training that ended up being postponed until May, at which time I flew solo for the first time in five years. It took the rest of the year to pay off those two trips, but here we are!

I was woken up this morning around 4:00AM by some sort of loud “music.” Knowing Purim was right around the corner, and having experienced the intensity of Purim two years ago, the hubby suggested that The First Station, located across the street, and the place we had spent Purim two years ago, was still celebrating from the night before.

Me: Who the f**k is playing that loud music so early in the morning?! It’s 4:00AM! WTF?!

 Also me (slowly waking up and recognizing the “music” as Arabic singing): Oops…it’s the call to prayer.

 And I realized that no music had played the night before and was still not playing this morning – unusual for The First Station. The previous three nights, the hubby complained about the music waking him up, but not today.

Checking in on the latest news, Israel has decided that all visitors from America must quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival, following the closures of schools in the United States amid this whole coronavirus thing. Although (Shushan) Purim won’t be celebrated for two more days in Jerusalem, there’s talk of live-streaming Megillah readings, as well as the cancellation of Purim activities throughout the country. I am not a happy camper right now. I get the precautionary mindset, but I still feel like I’m missing something here. There’s only one case of COVID 19 in Israel right now, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor with numerous pre-existing health issues. No one is walking around looking concerned…

Today is the Fast of Esther, so we’ll be spending the day not eating or drinking. Whatever shall we do? Well, the kid has decided she wants to check out the Christian Quarter – something she experienced only once nine years ago and doesn’t remember. I mean this with all due respect, but the thing about a Jew going into the Christian Quarter is that they have to travel through Muslim areas and parts of the Muslim Quarter in order to see some of the Christian holy sites. What the kid specifically doesn’t remember from nine years ago is that we walked through the Muslim Quarter and were cursed at and spat on by the people working in the shuk stalls. Needless to say, the hubby and I were not major fans of the kid’s decision.

Ultimately volunteering to go with the kid on her exploratory expedition (the hubby opting to visit the Kotel), we first headed to the Holy Sepulchre. Not remembering how to get there, I suggested we visit the Visitors Center at Jaffa Gate and ask for directions and pick up a free map. Thankfully, the kid agreed, which seriously didn’t matter because we still couldn’t figure out which alley to take regardless of verbal directions and a map. Attempting to choose between two separate alleyways, a young man approached us, asking us where we were heading. Explaining to him that we just needed to know which of the two alleys accessed the Holy Sepulchre, he attempted to lure us into his shop to show us his wares in the hopes of us buying something. Again, explaining that we weren’t shopping and simply wanted to see the Holy Sepulchre, our friendly young man suddenly became hostile and asked us to leave.

Saddened by the experience, the kid and I took one of the two alleys in hopes it was the correct one, which, of course wasn’t the most direct route and completely in the Muslim Quarter. However, fortunately for us, we found ourselves walking with the tail end of an American Christian tour group from the Midwest.

Me (catching up to a young woman at the back of the group): You guys going to the church?

Young woman: You mean the church of the Holy Sepulcher?

Me (to myself): You idiot…there’s more than one church in the Christian Quarter (insert face slap emoji here please). It’s like asking someone in the Jewish Quarter if they’re going to “the synagogue.”

Either way, not being offended by my ignorance, the tour group was very friendly and allowed us to walk with them.

As we walked along the corridors of the Muslim Quarter, I slowly started to recognize some shops and knew we would soon spill out into the plaza of the Holy Sepulcher where hundreds of tourists were waiting with their guides to enter the church complex. For those who may not be familiar with the Holy Sepulchre, it is believed among Christians to be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus and is one of Jerusalem’s most visited tourist attractions. It is the home to Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic Christians.

Thanking our Christian guides for helping us find our destination safely, the kid and I made our way inside the Atrium. Upon entering, the visitor first encounters the Stone of Unction, a stone slab believed to be where Jesus was laid and anointed after his crucifixion. I remember our last visit here and watching the multitudes of visitors kneeling beside the stone, prostrating themselves and praying over the stone. We also got to witness the clerics replacing the oil in the overhanging lamps. This time there were significantly less people.

Not having a map of the complex, we aimlessly wandered in and out of the numerous chapels, tombs and cloisters while masses of the three Christian denominations popped up amongst the latest construction. Making our way around the circumference of the building, we kept questioning each other as to why there was a line of dozens of people wrapped around a large structure appearing to be a tomb, not realizing it was believed to be the Holy Tomb (of Jesus).

We discovered this after asking a priest, explaining that we were not Christians and had no idea what we were looking at. Quickly responding and whisking off into the crowd, the kid and I decided it was time to move on. These pilgrims certainly did not look overly concerned about catching one another’s cooties and probably had never quarantined upon their arrival.

Exiting the church, we wandered if we should go back the way we came, not completely sure exactly how to get back to Jaffa Gate, or do we trust my navigational skills and head the opposite direction, which I believe to be a direct route to Mt. Zion, our next stop on the tour.

I was completely wrong. Making our way deeper and deeper into the Muslim Quarter, having no idea where we were and our paranoia growing exponentially, we made the decision to turn around and take our chances with the original route. Along the way we were approached by several shop owners who attempted to persuade us to buy their merchandise. Choosing to ignore them and find our way back ASAP, we were than verbally accosted and told to leave the area, of which we gladly obliged. Thank goodness the kid has better navigational skills than mine because she managed to get us back to Jaffa Gate within minutes.

Quickly making our way to Zion Gate, the kid asked to see Dormition Abbey, believed by some to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary. It is located on Mt. Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem. As we approached the church, the haunting music coming from the bell tower created an eerily peaceful mood. Normally this complex of buildings would be packed with tourists, but not today.

As we entered the upper sanctuary of the basilica, we found ourselves completely alone, surrounded by gorgeous mosaics covering the walls, ceilings and floors, as well as the half dozen chapels tucked away throughout the main sanctuary. Finding our way to a spiral staircase descending to the lower sanctuary, we discovered a large group of English-speaking tourists kneeling around the crypt of Mary and reciting the rosary in responsive prayer. Not wanting to disrupt, the kid and I sat on a marble bench to observe and show respect until they were done. Once again, completely alone, we examined the multitude of mosaics and paintings in an attempt to decipher them as Mary’s statue lay quietly in the center of the room.

Not remembering her visit from nine years ago, the kid also wanted to see The Cenacle, the room believed to be the site of The Last Supper, located on the upper floor of the Tomb of (King) David. This time we’re not alone, finding ourselves among a group of friendly Jamaican tourists as we climbed the stairs to the second floor. Inside the large and mostly empty rectangular-shaped room, the Jamaicans are singing Christian hymns and praying while a European tour group strains to hear their guide explain the history of the site. The crowd is so overwhelming, the kid and I decided to finally meet up with the hubby, texting him to meet us at the Tomb of David downstairs.

After getting volunteered for mincha (afternoon prayer service), the hubby met up with me and the kid to head back into the Old City to visit a store in the Cardo called Rina because the kid wants to buy a new ring. As we walked through Hurva Square, we watched some local children attempting to fly a drone but repeatedly crashed it into people sitting on the benches enveloping the plaza. Rina is owned by a man named Chanan, who was introduced to us by our tour guide (and Chanan’s neighbor) four years ago after discussing my need to by a new wedding band. Rina specializes in personalized and handmade jewelry, particularly sterling silver. The store also carries unique artwork and Judaica made by local artists.

While the kid perused the rings, a small group of American tourists stormed the store and buzzed around busily looking for souvenirs to bring home. I struck up a conversation about the sudden changes emerging daily as a result of the coronavirus with one of the husbands. They are due to leave the country tomorrow and have yet to hear of any flight modifications, so I’m feeling somewhat hopeful about our return situation. After spending thousands of dollars, the Americans departed and the kid has found two rings she likes but can’t decide on which one to purchase, one ring being significantly more expensive than the other. Unbeknownst to the kid, for her 21st birthday, the hubby and I have already secretly agreed to buy whatever ring she chooses. Informing her of our decision, much to our surprise, Chanan announces that he will give the less expensive ring to the kid for her birthday and as a thank you for being a chayalet bodedet (female lone soldier). After Chanan engraved a psalm of the kid’s choice onto the purchased ring, we headed off to Yafo Street to see what’s cooking for Purim and hopefully replace the plates I shattered over Shabbat at Hamishbar.

In the end, we’ve decided to tell the owners about the plates, but first I want to at least have a fighting chance at finding replacements. Walking past Safra Square (City Hall), the signs advertising Purim events are still hanging on the surrounding buildings. According to these signs, the Purim festival began today at 10:00AM. I have a feeling that’s not happening today.IMG_E7692The square is empty. Two years ago, this square was completely packed with people and entertainers, everyone dressed in costume. Aside from the old man sitting at the piano and allowing the occasional child play along with him, the place is dead. No one needs to tell me that Purim has been cancelled at this point. Now I’m REALLY not a happy camper.

Finally managing to locate Hamishbar, I have discovered that they only sell Luminarc dishes in white as sets in servings for twelve. In a panic, I momentarily considered buying the whole set. I truly did feel bad about breaking their dishes, but the set was almost $100. As an alternative, they have grey versions of the dishes on clearance. Resigning to purchase the wrong color dishes, I now realize the owners must be told about the breakage. There’s got to be another place that sells these damn dishes in white and as singles. I’m determined to find one. My other purchase was a lucky one. After hearing news stories about the hoarding hysteria of essential items over in America, namely hand sanitizer, I found small bottles of this liquid gold at the counter and bought two, just to be safe.

Heading back to the apartment, the kid stopped off at a pharmacy so we could buy her some other essentials to take back to base upon her return. While she and the hubby were inside, I painfully listened to a street musician butchering the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” However, I was surprisingly impressed that the one line he got correct was the song’s most difficult and misquoted: “And the sign said, ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.’” As a bohemian-type man carrying a large turquoise case and a portable stool walked by, I was reunited with the hubby and the kid.

One of the things the hubby and I love to do while in Israel is EAT. Before leaving the U.S., I asked some friends where to buy for Purim the best hamantaschen in Jerusalem. Kadosh Café Patisserie won hands down. Not quite sure where it was located and not planning to visit today, we miraculously walked by without even trying. And hamantaschen they had with six different and unique flavors! On our way back to the apartment, I’m feeling less panicked about the whole coronavirus thing. The restaurants are packed and people are going about their business as usual. And the bohemian-type man is now sitting on his portable stool playing a harp on the sidewalk outside.IMG_E7598Touro Chef Restaurant, located in Yemin Moshe, is one of our absolute favorite meat restaurants. Aside from their amazing food, every seat has a view of the Old City walls. And the kid was even able to find something vegetarian to eat. As always, dinner was perfect.

After dinner, the kid asked to stop off at Mike’s Place to see her friend Zach, who was now the night manager. Catching up in between costumers, a loud and obnoxious group of young American boys sat at the table next to us.

Boy #1: Are we sitting outside? I don’t want to.

Boy #2: Yes, we’re sitting outside. I wanna roll one.

 Us: Time to go…

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

 The Sound of Silence – Paul Simon

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJViT8BKq9k

 

 

COVID 19, you suck…חלק שש

March 8, 2020

So, the latest news is that Israel is considering travel restrictions for U.S. citizens. We’re starting to feel a little worried about our situation. Having missed the quarantine order by two days, we’ve been free to travel throughout Jerusalem, but we’re somewhat uneasy about whether or not we’ll get back home. I’m thinking about a friend who is scheduled to travel to Israel tomorrow to see her daughter, who just so happens to be a BFF of the kid since childhood and lives with her on the kibbutz while they serve in the IDF. The mom has no issues with quarantine and can stay with her sister in Jerusalem; however, if she has to quarantine for 14 days, then she won’t be able to see her daughter – the number one reason why she’s coming to Israel. Right now, there’s a little over 200 positive COVID 19 cases in America. Considering there’s over 328,000,000 people living in the U.S., I’m not terribly concerned about getting sick. And there’s only 39 cases in Israel, so what are the chances? We’ve only been here for three days. How much is this vacation going to suck? Enter that nagging question: What am I missing here?

The only thing keeping me from completely losing it is the fact that the kid got her mandatory eight-day leave from the army to stay with us. Today we’ve decided to head for Ben Yehuda to see how this whole corona thing is affecting Jerusalem, a sure measure, considering that Ben Yehuda is always packed with people all day, all night, every day. I’m also staying hopeful about Purim not being “cancelled” and want to see if I can find some additions to my costume. I decided to be a leprechaun because St. Patrick’s Day is next week, plus I have the genesis of this costume, my purchases beginning last March thanks to the clearance rack at the local Target. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been collecting pieces of this costume over the past year. We were in Jerusalem for Purim two years ago and had a major blast. I’ve been looking forward to this for two long years.

Our first stop is the kid’s choice – Ben Sira Hummus, a restaurant off Ben Yehuda that is everything hummus. Be forewarned, Google Maps is not very helpful in finding this place, but we managed thanks to the kid’s indelible memory regarding her visit several years before. Aside from a few small tables, the place is completely packed. Okay, I’m starting to feel a little better about this whole corona thing.

A group of six Americans entered the restaurant and noisily found their way to the tables next to us. Not only do I know they’re Americans because of how loud they are, their accents and incessant complaints give them away. I know, I know. Israelis are loud and incessantly complain as well, but it’s a completely different level of loud and incessant complaining – trust me. One of my favorite terms I learned in Intro to Psychology class was “cocktail party phenomena,” (now referred to as “cocktail party effect”) a form of selective auditory attention, whereby a person is able to focus on another conversation of which they are not a participant, a malady I suffer to great extents.

So, what have I learned from the loud, complaining Americans? They are most definitely part of a bus tour group and are not all related to one another – three single middle-aged women, a couple with a baby and a young man who thinks he knows more about Israel than he actually does and has absolutely no speaking knowledge of Hebrew based on his “translations” of the menu. The middle-aged woman sitting next to the kid is, by my summation, a victim of celiac disease or hard-core gluten free:

Woman to waiter (while asking her table mates repeatedly about the ingredients of hummus): Do you have raw vegetables for dipping (because she won’t be eating, hence dipping, the pita in the hummus)?

Waiter (pointing to the menu): Emm…we have Israeli salad.

Woman: No, I mean, like, raw vegetables I can dip in the hummus.

Waiter: Emm…we just have what is on the menu.

Woman: So, like, you don’t have any raw vegetables I can dip?

Waiter: Emm…we have onion…let’s move on now…

Woman: Do you have a fork that has never touched bread?

FYI – Ben Sira is a hummus joint. They make hummus with different toppings and serve it with pita. That’s all she wrote…

Finishing up our hummus and pita, we made our way to Ben Yehuda Street. It isn’t crowded, but it’s not exactly dead either. I’m not really finding anything to add to my Purim costume, but we did get to watch Pikachu run down the train tracks and dance with a street performer playing his guitar.

IMG_7507_Moment(2)

Finding our way to the Old City, we headed to the Kotel so we could check out the Western Wall Tunnels. We haven’t been in the tunnels since 2011 and read that they have significantly expanded over the past nine years. From its Plaza, the Kotel (a.k.a. Western Wall or Wailing Wall) is seen as a massive 70-meter (approximately 230 feet) stone wall where visitors pray and often leave written messages of prayer in the cracks and crevices of the stones. Normally, the Plaza is overflowing with tourists and natives alike, the Kotel area practically impossible to reach through the swarms of people crammed into its space. But today the plaza and the Kotel are nearly empty – something none of us have ever seen. Here comes that nagging voice again…

There’s a large group of us on this tour, not one person seeming to care much about catching any cooties. I’m starting to feel some “normalcy” in this space.

Despite the 70 meters of stone wall aboveground, the Western Wall actually extends almost a half kilometer (a little over ¼ mile) underground, starting in the Jewish Quarter and stretching through the Muslim Quarter. In this tour, we will see segments of the Wall hidden from view, along with archaeological findings such as massive stonemasonry, arches, mikvaot (ritual baths), pits leading further into the earth and water aqueducts. Not remembering our last visit, it feels like my first time here, and I’m pleasantly surprised.

Now that we found our way back out of the tunnels, we’re heading to one of the local shops to get something to drink while we watch a mother and her three children repaint the lions at the top of the stairway leading to the Kotel Plaza.

We’re heading to Piccolino for dinner, one of our favorite restaurants in Israel. Not only is their food amazing, we also like patronizing them because of their kindness toward lone soldiers, providing free meals for Shabbat and holidays and often visiting soldiers in the field. We made a reservation this time, having learned from past experience that a long wait to be seated was expected without one. However, upon our arrival, we discovered the restaurant almost completely empty. What?!

 

Nagging voice: You’re missing something here my friend…

There you go complaining
Look in the mirror, who are you blaming
Head under water, you ain’t maintaining
Quit all that talking ‘cause you can change it

Complaining – James Gardin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb9CkyfGAds

COVID 19, you suck חלק חמישי

March 7, 2020

For Shabbat we just hung out in the apartment, the hubby and the kid catching up on some much-needed sleep and me reading a book my sister Kathy mailed to me right before I left for Israel (The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom – a must read). Not having access to television, computers or newspapers, we wondered how the world was doing outside and decided we would walk to The Eucalyptus for dinner, hoping to get glimpses of other human life along the way.

The hubby and I were looking forward to checking out The Eucalyptus again after eating there last year. On that first visit, neglecting to make a reservation, we arrived to find the restaurant completely packed – floor to ceiling, wall to wall, upstairs and downstairs. We couldn’t even get in the door. To us, it was a very good sign that it was worth the wait. And it was! Just our luck, we were offered two seats at the very small bar next to the entrance. For the “inconvenience,” we were immediately given free shots and appys. Next thing we knew, the chef/owner was sitting with us at the bar, knocking back shots and talking about food and celebrities, one of whom was in the restaurant at that exact moment. Her name is Jude Demorest…and we had no idea who she was, despite the over-the-top excitement of the staff and other guests. See, we haven’t had television since 2014 after realizing there was absolutely nothing left worth watching anymore, my only issue being Survivor, which I can watch the next day online – problem solved. So, bye-bye T.V., along with any knowledge whatsoever about who’s who in Hollywood. Needless to say, the atmosphere was intoxicating as we watched Ms. Demorest assist the chef in unveiling a giant couscous cake. Hoping to have a similar experience this time with the kid in tow, we set our sights on returning.

However, this time we walked right in and were seated immediately. We were one of three occupied tables. There’s that persistent underlying voice in my head again: Am I missing something here?! No free shots or appys. No chef. No Hollywood stars. Just us and a few other people who are also missing something here.

Now let’s talk about those plates I broke over Shabbat…

See, Israeli platta (electric hotplates used on Shabbat and religious holidays) are WAY hotter than American ones. This is important to know when placing items on an already hot platta. Say, for example, you thought using a Corelle-type dish would be a safe receptacle to warm up some food. Well, you’d be wrong. While sitting in the living room with the kid and the hubby, a sudden and loud “snap, crackle and pop” came from the kitchen. More specifically, the snap, crackle and pop came from the platta. I was paralyzed. Not knowing if I should walk, run or hide, I finally inched my way into the kitchen and checked the platta. Sure enough, two of the three plates I decided to use had shattered into pieces. Dammit!

I knew right away that I had to replace the dishes before departing the apartment. I immediately looked to see if there was a name on the dishes so that I could Google where to buy replacements – Luminarc…made in France. Oh shit…

Luminarc 12PC Carine White Dinnerware Set P1861 - The Home Depot

A flicker of hope later, I find that Luminarc is sold in a department store called Hamishbar, and there’s two in Jerusalem, one walkable, the other reachable by taxi. Worse case scenario, the third is in Ramat Gan, our next stop on this trip. Bingo! There was no way I wouldn’t find two replacement plates, right?

But the real nagging question: Do we tell the owners?

Scenario #1: Say and do nothing. Maybe they won’t notice.

Scenario #2: Don’t say anything unless you can’t find replacements.

Scenario #3: If we find replacements, don’t say anything. Again, they won’t notice.

Scenario #4: Being overwhelmed with guilt, you decide you’re going to tell the owners no matter the scenario.

Thus began the Saga of the Broken Plates…

Look I’ve never broken plates
Always kept the faith
Never treated life like a damn game
So this haunts me haunts me haunts me haunts me

Broken Plates – Magneta Lane 

My Ten Plagues

Waters turn to blood

There’s a park I used to frequent called Cedar Lake Wildlife Management Area in Buena Vista, New Jersey. The lake itself has a tea-colored (or cedar) water as a result of the tannic acids present in some of the flora surrounding the lake, as well as some naturally occurring iron. Although it’s not truly red, it resembles something more of a coagulated blood that will also stain your skin and clothing when you swim in it. Yuck and eww!

Frogs

This would have to be my all-time favorite. Back in 1983, I was travelling with my then boyfriend and our male friend, returning to Phoenix, Arizona from Tucson where the friend had supervised visitation with his two young children (that’s a completely different story for another posting). On the way, I really needed to use the bathroom, holding my bladder as best I could. I don’t know what that route looks like today, but 40 years ago there was nothing on that highway, except a gas station or two, one of which we stopped at for me to use the facilities while the menfolk peed amongst the cacti. We were in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. If you’ve ever been in the desert in the middle of the night, you’ll know how dark it gets. The ladies’ room light wasn’t on, so I had to fish my way around the walls to find the light switch – yuck and eww! After nearly wetting my pants and feeling every and any kind of germ known to man festering on my hand, I found the light switch…and one bazillion frogs! I had and have never seen that many frogs in one place at one time. Naturally, I ran screaming from the bathroom, sat in the car and held it in until we got home.

Lice

Okay, don’t get me started on every lice epidemic I have witnessed and, thankfully, have not suffered personally from. The worst scenario occurred at summer camp in 2006 when I was the parent liaison for the 15-year-olds. For those of you who haven’t been to a Jewish summer camp, the first thing they do when you get off the bus is sit you down and check your head for lice. One boy came from Israel with a pretty bad case, he deciding it was easier to shave his head rather than go through treatments, which was a very difficult choice on his part because he had a beautiful frock of hair, black and full, falling down to his shoulders. In solidarity, his entire bunk decided they would shave their heads as well, which meant I had to call every single one of their mothers and ask permission to have their sons’ heads shaved. All in all, that event went very smoothly. And then it was time for the girls…one of the American girls came off the bus with a head full of spiders – holy shit! A head full of fucking spiders! I had and have never seen that many lice on one person’s head at one time. And, of course, the girl’s mother refused to admit her daughter had lice (G-d forbid), making treatment very difficult. And, of course, several other girls in the bunk ended up with lice. And, of course, every single one of them had thick hair down to their butts that they refused to cut. I spent the entire summer helping nitpick these girls’ heads. Yuck and eww indeed!

Flies

Back to summer camp for this one too. Remember the story about the old lady who swallowed a fly? Well, this was a cross between that and the introduction of rabbits to Australia. I think it was about my third or fourth year in when camp was taken over by moths. Not really sure why, but the suckers were everywhere, making it almost impossible to walk around at night, there dead lifeless bodies covering the grounds each morning, the maintenance crew driving around on their golf carts shoveling up the debris – yuck and eww. I had and have never seen that many moths at one time. So, by the next summer, someone had discovered that flies are the natural predators of moth larvae – enter Mr. Fly. And guess what happened? Yup, that’s right – camp was infested with flies that summer and, for the record, they don’t die daily… I had and have never seen that many flies at one time. The following years introduced black bears, but I don’t think they count as livestock.

Disease of the livestock

Mad cow disease, swine fever, avian flu, West Nile Virus, rabies, anthrax, botulism, just to name a few. And the list is endless. Shall I continue?

Boils

Okay, come on, who hasn’t had a boil or two in their lives? Even a sty on the eye is considered a boil folks. My worst boil episode occurred after having a spinal tap and a ridiculously humongous boil developed on my lower back. After suffering great pain for about 10 years, I finally decided to have the thing exorcised from my body. I won’t go into detail, but, in the words of the surgeon, “Oh man this is one angry guy!” That sucker spewed forth for at least a week – yuck and eww for sure.

Hail and Fire

Although I’ve witnessed hail many times, I can’t say that I’ve seen hail and fire at the same time. However, while in Jerusalem last month at the peak of the corona breakout, a freak hail storm developed out of nowhere. Perhaps COVID 19 counts as fire? Hmm…

Locusts

The 17-year cicada swarm in New Jersey, 2013. The kid and I were joining my sister and her friends on a cancer walk three years after my sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was amazing on that walk. Despite the pain and side effects from chemo and the unrelenting heat, she walked the entire 5km, even stopping to take a shower when the fire engines sprayed us with their hoses. Ever present that entire walk, the noise the locusts made was deafening. I had and have never seen that many locusts in one place at one time. And what about the locust plague in Africa right now?

Darkness

Aside from that frog-littered gas station in Arizona, the darkest I’ve ever experienced happened in Inishmore on the Aran Islands, Ireland. A friend and I were walking back from a pub where they were filming a documentary about island life (my friend actually got to dance with the director). It was 3:00AM and we were certainly not not a little tipsy. As we moseyed our way back to the bed and breakfast, we talked about how safe we felt, despite the late hour and the complete darkness, me holding my hand in front of my face and declaring, “I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face!” I had and have never felt that safe in my entire life.

Death of the First-Born

My brother, Michael, October 27, 2015. Today is his birthday. He would have been 65 years old.

COVID 19, you suck חלק רביעי

March 6, 2020

Many homes in Israel are equipped with motorized roller shades on their windows, mostly because the heat of the sun is unbearably hot throughout most of the year; however, in some cases, they could potentially provide some protection from rocket attacks. In our case with the apartment, it also provides shelter from the crazy high winds we get on the 12th floor. Either way, these shades create complete and utter darkness in whatever room they’re installed, which would explain why we didn’t wake up until after 9:00AM. What finally woke us up were our upstairs neighbors who we have lovingly nicknamed “the chair people.” At all hours of the day and night, regardless of what room we’re in, all we hear are chairs being dragged across tiles. If not for them this morning, we wouldn’t have gotten up at all.

The worst thing one can do while staying in Jerusalem is to wake up late on a Friday when you didn’t go shopping for Shabbat on Thursday. To make matters worse, it’s pouring rain…and hailing Biblical proportions. What’s next, locusts?! Naturally, motivating ourselves to even get out of the house to shop at Machane Yehuda for our Shabbat food wasn’t working out so well. Sure, we had a fully stocked fridge and pantry, but for us it’s tradition to shop for Shabbat at the local shuk. Besides, we hadn’t gotten our Levy Brothers Falafel yet – the best falafel in Israel! And we would arrive just in time for a late lunch.

Getting back to that unbearably hot sun – I have been told to never pack a raincoat because it is sunny with a 0% chance of rain at least nine months out of the year. On six of my trips to Israel, I did not pack a raincoat, but this time I did. Remember that conversation with the taxi driver two days ago? The rain this past winter in Israel was insane. Not only did it fill the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the only potable water source in the country, it overflowed and water had to be diverted to the Jordan River through the Dganya Dam. Knowing this ahead of time, there was no way I wasn’t packing my raincoat.

Opting to take a taxi, we made our way to Machane Yehuda, me donned in my full-length raincoat visiting Israel for its first time ever. First stop, on the kid’s insistence, Hummus Arbase (Chick Pea) on Shilo Street across from the shuk. According to the kid, it is the best hummus in Jerusalem. Believing in my daughter’s taste in hummus, we ordered a large container with sautéed mushrooms. Not only was it the best hummus I’ve ever had, I went back the following week to tell the owners that it was the best hummus I’d ever had after being told it was the best hummus in Jerusalem, the old man next to me declaring, “It’s the best in Israel!” And it is.

Second stop, Levy Brothers Falafel, the best falafel in Israel. For several months I’ve been learning Hebrew online, most of my ability being the ordering of food. Not only did I order for me and the hubby in “perfect” Hebrew with my “perfect” Israeli accent, the falafel guy was truly impressed and understood every word I said. I was proud of myself, despite major eye rolling from the kid cuing me to stop trying. Shoveling down our falafel in the pouring rain while standing under a tiny awning of the restaurant next door, we were amazed by how many other people had not shopped for Shabbat and were willing to be out in this weather. Within minutes we were walking up and down the streets in search of Shabbat food while fending off vendors who insisted we needed whatever they were selling. Not only did we need to get out of this rain, the clock was ticking louder and louder, reminding us that we also needed to cook the food we were buying. Opting, once again, to take a taxi back to the apartment, the frantic cooking began.

The issue surrounding my hysteria was thanks to the kid deciding she was now a vegetarian. Being able to slap together two complete meals as carnivores is a piece of cake, but coming up with vegetarian ideas requires at least a day’s notice for me. Thankfully, she decided to help cook…an hour before candle lighting. As we cooked, we listened to the news about the new cases of COVID 19 cases cropping up throughout the world. So far, so good in Israel – no cases whatsoever.

I joked that Purim would be cancelled, which it can’t because it’s on the calendar regardless of corona, right? Then we started to hear that Purim events would most likely be cancelled. What?! It’s the only reason we came here! Well, that and the kid’s birthday. And now they’re talking about closing the borders?! Will we be able to get home in two weeks?! The hubby reassured me that “this will all blow over by then.” On the other hand, I guess being stuck in Israel indefinitely wouldn’t be such a horrible thing – the apartment was available thanks to the next tenant’s inability to occupy upon our departure. And now schools in America are starting to close…

I still feel like I’m missing something…

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’,
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world…

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan

COVID19, you suck…חלק שלישי

March 5, 2020

While the hubby davened (prayed) in the hotel shul (synagogue), I made myself my very first Nespresso (Mr. Clooney would be proud) and watched an old lady feed the stray cats and pigeons across the street while I checked the headlines and caught up on whatever English-speaking news I could find on the television. The United States had already shut its borders to most Southeast Asian countries a month ago, but now various flights to/from and events in Israel were being cancelled in response to this new, quickly spreading coronavirus. I began to wonder if we had made a mistake in travelling while all this is going on, yet secretly wished we would “get stuck” here.

In just the past 24 hours, COVID 19 has spread to most western European countries, Italy being hit the worst. Why Italy? And now anyone coming from outside Israel must quarantine themselves for two weeks, a situation we missed by one day. Gatherings of more than 5000 people are now prohibited. This would explain why the michve alon tekes was cancelled. I also heard there was a new case of corona in New Jersey, a woman just having been in Jerusalem last week, and a case in New York, a man who also had been to both China and Israel in one trip. What am I missing here? Everyone’s walking around Israel like nothing’s happening. I’ve done my research. Coronavirus is nothing new. It’s been around since at least the 1960s, and that’s just when it was finally given a name. I lost a great number of relatives in the 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) epidemic, which killed between 50,000,000-100,000,000 people. My parents still talked about it decades later. H1N1 was much worse in 2005. People still die from H1N1, and we have a vaccine for that! H3N2, which is the vaccine we can get now, has killed more people this year than COVID19. So what am I missing? I need to walk away from this…

Since we wouldn’t be able to occupy the apartment until 4:00PM, we decided to have brunch at a restaurant called Roladin located in the Mamilla Mall next to the Old City – the perfect distraction. The hubby and the kid had eaten breakfast there last year while I stayed at the apartment nursing the respiratory illness passed from the kid to the hubby and then to me. They made sure to send me multiple photos of the wonderfully fun time they were having, along with all the food they were consuming in my absence. For the past year, the hubby has promised to take me there so we could have our own wonderfully fun time. I was looking forward to it.

With Bibi announcing a 2-meter social distancing today, the streets are almost completely empty, including the restaurant, which has always been packed with a line out the door every time we’ve come to Israel. Today there were a few people eating on the patio and inside we had to spread out – not a difficult task, considering we were only one of three couples in the entire place. If this had been my first visit to Mamilla Mall, I wouldn’t see this as a raving endorsement, wondering why there were so few people in the restaurant. However, I will tell you it is definitely worth checking out.

Still needing to kill some time, the hubby and I decided to visit the Old City. We were swiftly turned away from our usual portal without explanation and redirected to the one and only entrance to the Kotel. At the security check, two b’nai mitzvah were in progress and holding up the line to enter. Once inside, dozens of b’nai mitzvah were taking place in every nook and cranny imaginable. What is going on here? We’ve never seen more than a couple at a time, if any at all during our visits. Do these people know something we don’t? My mind keeps wandering off to World War Z. I’m not liking that thought process…

Needing to have some fun, I suggested we walk over to Mike’s Place. In case you’re not familiar with my story about Mike’s Place, I’ll give a somewhat brief synopsis: My brother, Michael (for whom I started this blog in the first place), was a big beer aficionado. After he died in 2015, my sisters and I have looked for pubs with Michael, Mike or Mikey in their title and have a beer in Michael’s memory. On March 1, 2018, Purim day, the hubby and I walked by Mike’s Place while shopping for costumes, me immediately telling the hubby that we were going to go inside at some point during our visit so I could have a beer on Mikey Bro. Mentioning the bar to a friend who was studying in seminary, she took us later that day to check it out, saying she wanted us to meet a friend of hers who was bartending there. In the end, I learned that the bartender, Jamie, went to high school and graduated with my sister, Kathy, both having seen one another three years earlier at their 40th class reunion. The other bartender on that day was the son of Rabbi Mike Stern (Rabbi Without Walls), who the hubby knew from the Philadelphia area. And sitting at the end of the bar was Chaim, a man from Ohio who knew the parents of a friend/neighbor of ours back home. This wasn’t all just simple coincidence – this was meant to be! What are the chances?! Needless to say, we have gone back to Mike’s Place during every visit to Jerusalem.

IMG_2814 (2)

Arriving at Mike’s Place, I immediately attempt to hug Jamie, only to be informed that “Bibi says, ‘Namaste’,” both Jamie and Chaim making “folded hands” (two hands pressed together with fingers pointed up). Getting away with a quick hug, the hubby and I sat down for a “quick beer” before heading back to the hotel to meet the kid, collect our belongings, move into the apartment and make our way over to Zappa Jerusalem for Shushan Fest, a four-hour music fest with an open bar and kosher chow featuring the Moshav Band, Portnoy Brothers, NURIEL and Solomon Brothers…but then the hubby met Travis, a U.S. Marine working at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. For the record, the hubby was in the U.S. Army as a young man and loves to talk about the military with other comrades-in-arms, thereby turning our “quick beer” into several beers, wines and whiskeys in honor of Michael and Travis, who was celebrating his last day working at the Embassy, leaving Israel the next day and returning to the United States for the first time in three years.

Then a man with a guitar case slung over his shoulder came in to tell us that the Shushan Fest was being cancelled because the crowd restriction was now changed to no more than 100 people in one gathering…and on the way back to the hotel, we started noticing face masks and vinyl gloves strewn throughout the city. I’m beginning to think again that this might have been a really bad time to travel…

Meeting up with the kid at the hotel, we took a taxi to the apartment in Talbiya, where the owners left a special package for our little lone soldier, a fully stocked fridge and pantry and an arrangement of nuts and dried fruits to welcome us back. Now that the concert was cancelled, we decided to check out Luciana for dinner, an authentically Italian dairy restaurant with fresh ingredients and homemade pastas. And the place was packed, no one seeming to care anything about coronavirus. Am I missing something here?!

I was walking alike a zombie toy
They gave me pills to kill with joy
They said it’s alright

Song for the Sun – Namaste

COVID19, you suck חלק שני

March 4, 2020

Our flight somehow only took 9 ½ hours. I do believe this is the fastest flight to Israel we’ve ever had. Either way, the hubby and I were very comfortable in our two ridiculously reduced priced front row premium class seats where absolutely nothing went wrong. We were in heaven! So maybe this trip isn’t cursed…

I already discussed (i.e. you’re doing what I say and that’s that) with the hubby about us taking the train from Ben Gurion Airport to one of the stations in Jerusalem in order to save some cash. “Piece of cake!” I kept telling him, “Everyone we know has done the train to Jerusalem and had absolutely no issues.” I spent my entire trip last May riding the train all over the country. “It’s great!” I kept telling (read: convincing) him. You can sleep if you want to, charge your phone while looking at social media or look at the beautiful scenery. Then we would simply take a taxi from the train station to the hotel where we would be spending the night.

Slowly passing through customs, we managed to retrieve our luggage without incident and found our way to the train station outside the terminal. I knew exactly where to go and how much we would spend after reading another traveler’s blog about his family trip to Israel and taking the train to Jerusalem from the airport. If two parents can manage two young children and their luggage, what could possibly go wrong?

Getting the train to Jerusalem was a piece of cake, us easily finding the ticket machine and the elevator that would take us down to the platform. Unfortunately, the train was running late for some unknown reason, but we managed to figure out which side of the platform to stand thanks to Martha and Joel’s older son who lives in Tel Aviv, reassuring us because they were heading to Tel Aviv, the opposite direction of Jerusalem. Piece of cake…and then both trains arrived at the same time…

Let me start by saying, both of our suitcases weighed almost, if not exactly, 50 pounds, the hubby also dragging along his carryon suitcase and a suicidal hat box that leapt to its death and shattered every time we moved. As the train doors opened, we noticed that there were two steps leading up into the car…ugh…and then two yeshiva boys knocked me and my suitcase down as they frantically tried to board the train. Naturally, everyone was pissed at me for blocking the doors. Once inside, after scraping my body off the train car floor, there was a sudden commotion. A number of people looking confused and distressed abruptly began running back to the doors, the yeshiva boys, once again, shoving and pushing me and my suitcase back to the floor in an attempt to exit the train before it took off. And then there were more stairs…

Barely executing the stairs with our heavy loads and the suicidal hat box, we sat in the first seats we could find…and then we noticed the LED sign telling us the next stop was Tel Aviv. Fortunately, sitting next to us was an English-speaking man who could obviously read the uncertainty on our faces as to whether or not we were on the right train and informed us that we were, indeed, on the train to Jerusalem, he further informing us that the trains had been all mixed up all day today for some reason. Oh, I can tell you why. Because we’re here, that’s why. Because I convinced the hubby to take the train, that’s why. No further explanation necessary…

Schlepping our baggage up and down stairs took so much time that the 26-minute train ride passed in the blink of an eye, leaving us navigating the up and down once again, along with the suicidal hat box. Pouring our bodies out of the train, we soon discovered that finding our way out of the train station was like tackling an Escher Relativity drawing – stairways, escalators and elevators, oh my! Up feet, down feet, here comes clown feet! – only to be stuck in an elevator with Tangina Barrons screaming, “Oh my god, oh my god!” in response to the recent recommendations regarding social distancing of 2 meters (6 feet).

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I have no idea how we found the exit from that train station, but I found my memory pulling me back to April 2019, our last trip together to Israel. Our first Shabbat, 24 hours after arriving in Israel, we had gone to the kibbutz in the Negev where the kid was now living. We had hired the same driver (Ari) from Friday morning to return us to Jerusalem on Sunday morning. Come Sunday morning, some guy named Benny was waiting for us, informing us that Ari’s car had broken down. The hubby quickly called Ari to confirm that a new arrangement had been made. As we entered Jerusalem’s city limits, Benny notified us that he would be stopping at a nearby bus station so that his brother could take us to the hotel, Benny explaining that he was late for court. At this point, succumbing to exhaustion and defeat, I would take three taxis over stairways, escalators, elevators and an hysterical Poltergeist lady.

Finally receiving a Gett acceptance informing us that he was at our pick-up location, the hubby and I attempted to figure out where the taxi was parked, as the suicidal hat box made one last attempt at destroying itself. Several frantic phone calls later, we found our driver, who proceeded to berate us regarding our actual location and not what the Gett app pulled up. Within seconds, our driver was no longer angry with us and began talking about President Trump. For the record, I do believe that every single taxi driver in Israel is pro-Trump. They LOVE talking about Donald Trump. Our 10-minute drive that turned into standstill traffic covered conversations from the miraculous rainfall in Israel this past winter filling the Kinneret for the first time in almost 30 years to the sudden onset of COVID19. Frustrated with the traffic jam coming from every direction, our driver asked if we didn’t mind getting out a block from the hotel and walking up, to which we gladly obliged.

During that month of frustration leading up to the purchase of our airplane tickets back in January, it didn’t really register that this “novel COVID19” might be the reason flights kept booking up fast, with only two flights departing from Newark to Tel Aviv daily – very unusual. The original plan was to fly on March 4th and land on March 5th, arriving just in time to occupy that already paid (in full) apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place…hindsight is always 20/20. And, of course, both flights on March 4th had been booked weeks prior, leaving us no choice but to fly on March 3rd and stay in a hotel. In the end, we saved several hundred dollars flying a day early, only to spend most of it on the hotel. I honestly didn’t mind. We were staying at our favorite hotel in Jerusalem, where I have apparently been carrying on a secret love affair over the last three years with the manager, Avi, my hotel boyfriend once again leaving me a letter inviting me to the executive lounge (i.e. free endless food and booze), along with a free dinner for two.

In the end, after 48 hours of travelling time, the hubby and I unanimously agreed that burgers were on the menu for tonight. We also agreed that Burgers Bar was not going to be on this trip and that McDonald’s wasn’t even a remote option. Lucky for us, I do a lot of research when it comes to food in Israel. Segev Burgers outside of Machane Yehuda claims to have the Best Burger in Town – I’m down with that! As we made our way through an empty Machane Yehuda, I began asking myself again, “Am I missing something here?” Being the only patrons in the restaurant, we wondered if indeed these would be the best burger in town. I will say it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten out, period, end of story. But where is everyone? Am I missing something here?

Completely drained of any energy, we returned to the hotel and attempted to find something on television. Having to choose between Russian, French, German, and Hebrew on channels such as ONE and ONE2, I ultimately gave up, the hubby passed out beside me. And then I got the notice that the michve alon tekes had been cancelled as a result of the new restrictions prohibiting gatherings of more than 5000 people due to fears of spreading COVID19. I immediately texted Martha. This was the only reason she and her husband had flown to Israel. And so it began.

COVID19, you suck…

She packed her bags left me behind
She bought a ticket on the Central Line
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain
And I feel like I’m a rider on a downbound train

Downbound Train – Joe Pug

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNMNmcaw28c