חלק ארבע עשרה
March 16, 2020
Leaving the apartment this morning is bittersweet. Not only is it our last day in Jerusalem, I’m sad that our trip was the least amazing trip to Israel we’ve had in eleven years (seven trips for me and eight for the hubby). In our attempts to be positive, this coronavirus has given us a major glimpse into what life would be like as a citizen in times of crisis. But what distresses me more about leaving is that we won’t be seeing the kid for “an indefinite period of time.” We’re not talking a 14-day quarantine. We’re talking “whenever” – weeks, months…years? Once we leave Israel, there’s no telling when we will see her again…someday…
Watching the news has become agonizing. More and more worldwide events are being cancelled. South Africa is also beginning to shut down. The Rabbinate of the Western Wall have now set restrictions – no more than 10 people in any given area and absolutely no kissing the stones. On a lighter note, people who had big weddings planned are getting creative. At this point, grocery stores seem to be the most favored venue – they’re open and security is making sure that no more than ten customers are permitted in at any given time and most grocers are fully accommodating. Having eloped via landlord-tenant court 30 years ago, our wedding story never gets old, but these couples will have even more interesting stories to tell…someday…
Attempting to push departure as close as possible to our 10:00AM eviction, we decided to request a Gett (taxi) to take us to Petah Tikvah a couple of hours earlier than planned. We really didn’t have to leave at that exact time because the next tenants were no longer renting the apartment for Passover. Despite having broken some plates, the owner has told us to take our time, but I’m more of a rip-off-the-bandaid kinda gal. I don’t want to think about how long it will be before we can return to Israel, let alone see our only child again. Trying to be optimistic and thrust these thoughts out of my head, I’m actually excited to visit a place I’ve never been to before. On my agenda is to explore one of the neighboring towns, Ramat Gan, the city where the kid lived while attending Bar Ilan University the year she made aliyah. Having never been there either (due to the kid’s refusal to have us visit two years ago), I was curious to see where she had lived for the first time on her own.
Despite the current crisis, our Gett driver is prompt and ready for the trip – no paranoia, no mask, no gloves, no social distancing. He’s very friendly and easy to engage in conversation because his English is way better than our Russian or Hebrew. Getting out of Jerusalem was astonishingly easy, which never happens, especially considering it’s technically rush hour. With only a handful of cars on the highway leading to Tel Aviv, we managed to get to Petah Tikvah within the hour. I have NEVER seen Route 1 this empty EVER unless it was after midnight and before 3:00AM. Although it’s nice to be able to breeze up the highway, it’s more than disconcerting and only adds to the pressure I’m feeling about this viral situation. And we have no idea what awaits us in Tel Aviv.
Having had really good experiences with Prima Hotels in Israel, I booked us a room at the Prima Link in Petah Tikva. Driving through the city, there was the hustle and bustle of suburban Tel Aviv, along with widespread construction throughout, including a new railway system. It’s exciting to see Israel growing. I will definitely return to Petah Tikva in years to come to see how much has changed…someday…
Upon our arrival, we bid farewell to our wonderful Gett driver, advising him to take whatever precautions necessary and to be safe and healthy. The hotel is attached to the Ofer Grand Mall, the main reason why I decided to book it – kosher restaurants, convenience stores and a multitude of department stores. If we needed anything, all we have to do is go downstairs and turn the corner, a simple five-minute walk. At the front desk, we were greeted by the hostess, who informed us that our room was ready despite the 3:00PM check in. After giving us our room keys, the hubby asked if we could eat some breakfast because we hadn’t eaten since yesterday evening. With a sweep of the hand and a wink, she casually told us to enjoy. But first we needed to get to our room and unload.
Since we’re only staying one night (our flight is leaving at midnight tomorrow), I booked a standard room. Our room is on the top floor next to the business lounge, which we have been offered free of charge. Man, I’m already loving this place! By the time we dropped off our suitcases and returned to the lobby for breakfast, we were informed it would be the only meal provided for the duration of our stay. No fault of the hotel, the government has shut down their restaurant. Our hostess has informed us that the hotel, itself, will most likely close the day after we check out. Ugh…let’s just hope our flight isn’t cancelled. I’m starting to think about all the people I know in Israel and whether or not they’re willing to put us up and/or quarantine for “an indefinite period of time.” What sucks even more is that the food at the hotel restaurant is really good. We’ll definitely be coming back…someday…
The hubby has been planning to visit Bnei Barak for months and has ordered a Gett. While he’s gone, I’m going to explore Petah Tikva on foot. I get the feeling that Ramat Gan will not be on the agenda this time. Heading out solo, my number-one destination is Donald Trump Square, not because I’m a supporter, but because I find it comically fascinating. I’ve got nothing else to do.
First stop, Calatrava Pedestrian Bridge, a suspension bridge similar to the Chords “String” Bridge in Jerusalem, connecting the mall with the medical center on the other side of Route 481.
Second stop, Petah Tikva Park, behind the hotel, across from the mall and on the way to Donald Trump Square. There’s a lake filled with Poi fish and lily pads of varying colors surrounded by boardwalks, a playground, a bike/walking path, an outdoor TRX area and wooden Adirondack lounge chairs with lots of bird watching. Although no one is wearing masks or gloves, social distancing is noticeably obeyed. I like this place. It’s peaceful and people here show no signs of panic.
Walking through Petah Tikva, I get the impression that the townsfolk haven’t gotten Bibi’s message. Everything is open, regardless of restrictions. I came across the Petah Tikva Market (shuk) – no masks, no gloves, no social distancing. It’s helping me to feel better about corona. If they’re not worried, I’m not worried. Or are they missing something too?
Following Google Maps, I found Khayim Ozer Street, where Donald Trump Square is said to exist. It looks like it’s on a traffic circle, so that should make it easier to find. Walking down Khayim Ozer you would never know that COVID 19 exists. Once again, every single shop is open, regardless of restrictions – no masks, no gloves, no nothing. And there’s a lot of shops here, whether on the main thoroughfare or hidden among the nooks and crannies of the city. No one seems concerned. Although I want to feel as relaxed as these people, I’m not going in any stores or restaurants – just in case.
Not sure what to expect, I finally found Donald Trump Square, as promised, at a circle.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was a bit underwhelming. Then again, he’s lucky he got anything at all.
What I like most about Petah Tikva is the random artwork. I’m a sucker for graffiti and innovative sculpture, and this place has satisfied my obsession.
On the way back to the hotel I decided to stop at a place called New York Pizza, which I’m sure really doesn’t measure up. Doesn’t matter. It’s kosher, it’s pizza, nuff said. However, there’s no pizza available at the moment but “will be ready in five minutes.” As five minutes turned into twenty, I was entertained by a group of boys playing with shaving cream (parents are getting desperate with entertaining their kids who are out of school) and considered walking away without my slice. If the pizza guy hadn’t called me over the second that man with the corona cough sat at the next table, who knows where I’d be today. Needless to say, I’m feeling a little paranoid right now, so eating my slice while walking back to the hotel seems reasonable.
Before I return to the hotel, I wanted to check out some local restaurants, as well as the mall. Susan and David, friends who used to live in our neighborhood, are also in Israel visiting their daughter and her family, so we’ve agreed to have dinner together. They’re coming from Tel Aviv/Yafo after a day of fun in the sun. My mission is to find a place to meet up on their way back to their daughter’s home. With tomorrow being St. Patrick’s Day, my focus is on a restaurant called Patrick’s Rooftop, an Irish Pub in the heart of Petah Tikva. Going to an Irish pub in Israel for St. Pat’s seemed to be a fun idea, but, unfortunately, the building for Patrick’s is closed. Bummer. There’s a Mexican restaurant doing take away that I would love to try, but I know what the hubby’s going to say – an emphatic, “No!” On the upside, there’s a bunch of kosher restaurants being built in the area that I’m looking forward to checking out…someday…
The mall seems to be my last-ditch effort in finding kosher food offering take out, of which there are two Asian places. At this point, I don’t care what they’re serving, although the hubby insists on meat while Susan is a vegetarian. We just need to find a mutually agreed upon place to have dinner together. It’s not like there’s a multitude of choices right now, although I’ve also found a convenience store in the mall that sells kosher food. Worst case scenario, we buy a bunch of stuff and picnic in the park.
Satisfied on our “choices,” I headed back to the hotel room to check on the hubby. While telling me about his visit to Bnei Barak, we took advantage of the business lounge amenities…especially after being informed it would not be available for the rest of our visit. I will admit that after seven trips to Israel and a world of experiences, this is the first time I want to leave. I don’t want to feel this way.
The one thing that is helping me feel better is seeing Susan and David. For starters, we haven’t seen them in months, so it’ll be nice to hang out for the night. They’re also in the same boat as us regarding our return home, although they also had plans to travel France before heading back to the United States. For obvious reasons, they have decided to cancel their trip and are scheduled to fly home on the same plane as us. What I love most about Susan and David is that they are fun people. Regardless of the circumstances, I know they will help this be an eventful occasion.
Three out of four of us have agreed to the sushi place in the mall, Oshi Oshi, an Israeli chain. The hubby’s not a fan, but there’s other Asian dishes on the menu he can consider, so he’s content enough. Unbeknownst to us, all the parking garages in Petah Tikva have closed due to corona, including the mall, which surprised me because I was told the mall would be open until 9:00PM. Susan has called to confirm the mall and its parking lot are closed and are now on a wild goose chase to find parking. Thankfully, the park across the street has not shut down completely and they have found a spot. Meeting them halfway, we walked toward the entrance to the mall where the hubby was waiting patiently at the Basel Street entrance and where a security guard again tells us the mall had closed at 4:00PM. Between our collective broken Hebrew and his non-existent English, we tried to explain that we were told the sushi place was open for business and could order inside for take away. As he insisted the mall was closed and no one was permitted inside, he allowed several different other people to enter the mall, most of whom were wearing masks, including a woman who hastily pulled up a mask from her chin while smoking a cigarette. Is that it? We’re not wearing masks? Or is it because we’re American? Or because we’re American and not wearing masks? Is he afraid we’ll give him corona? We can clearly see the sushi place from the front door, the unmasked staff frantically working to fill its take away orders. What is this guy’s problem?!
Frustrated and fed up with arguing, we attempted to order through some take out app on our phones, only to be told, “Sorry! We don’t deliver to this location.” Umm…we’re literally standing outside the door less than 70 meters away! Thankfully, Susan and David have a good sense of humor and are capable of laughing at the peculiarity of our situation. I guess it’s time to do this the old-fashioned way – we gotta make a phone call. Ugh…not only do I hate talking on the phone, I’m praying the staff knows better English than I know of Hebrew.
Thankfully, the sushi manager has answered the phone and speaks perfect English. Explaining to him that we are standing outside the door with a militant security guard who refuses to let us in, the manager cannot understand why and tells me to simply come in and order, but the guard is adamant. As we all continued to argue, a delivery man from the sushi joint suddenly approached the guard and demanded he let us into the mall. Finally, a breakthrough! But the guard is only letting one of us in. Having seen the menu online and retyped our order several times on the app that wouldn’t deliver 70 meters away, I have been volunteered.
And, of course, nothing is going to be easy tonight. I’ve been informed this particular Oshi Oshi does not offer meat dishes, so the hubby’s choice is not available. Being shown a menu that resembles a James Michener novel, I just didn’t have the energy left to make any decisions. And calling the hubby to read the entire menu was futile. By the time I read it to him, the restaurant would be closed. Praying the hubby would not be disappointed, I ordered the simplest thing I could find: a container of white sticky rice and some spring rolls. At least the staff took pity on the hubby and handed me a bag full of various sauces to make up for the blandness of his meal.
While the cook staff made our food, I chatted with the manager and the waitress, who were intrigued with my thoughts on what it was like to be in Israel during the corona virus and wondered why we decided to come at such a difficult time. I explained to them that we had come to Israel to see our daughter before the current crisis broke out. Questioning why the kid was in Israel, I told them how she made aliyah three years ago at the age of 18 while attending college, that she now lives in the Negev on the Gazan border and is serving as a medic in the army. As is usually expected, the manager and the waitress were amazed at the kid’s bravery. The waitress tells me she is drafting next week and not looking forward to it at all. With the fact that all Israeli kids must do military service, she can’t believe how many young people from America actually choose to serve and feels great pride toward my daughter, a woman she has never met. The waitress is mostly disappointed because she was supposed to travel Europe for a week before drafting, but now Bibi has mandated all Israeli citizens to stay put. I feel bad for her, but she is in good spirits and shrugging it off. She’ll get there…someday…
Wishing one another well, I finally had our dinners and headed outside to deliver the food. Due to the late hour, pure exhaustion and hunger from waiting, we agreed to sit on the wall in front of the mall alongside highway 481. I couldn’t think of many other people we could have done this with and still had a good time. Sitting the required 2 meters apart, I handed out each dinner, praying the hubby wouldn’t be upset with my choices.
The hubby (staring at the giant bowl of plain white sticky rice): “What am I, in prison?”
Me (handing him the bag full of various sauces): “But I got you these!”
Despite offering him half of my fish sticks and French fries, the hubby unenthusiastically doused his rice in layers of soy sauce and opted to eat his spring rolls first, which seemed to cheer his mood a bit. Feeling bad, I promised to find him some meat tomorrow.
And then the woman from the mall, who hastily pulled up a mask from her chin while smoking a cigarette, walked by us again.
Smoking woman (with the mask still on her chin and smoking another cigarette):
“שני מטרים זה מזה!” (Two meters apart!)
Me: “You’re worried about getting coronavirus but not lung cancer?!”
“Sad sack was sittin’ on a block of stone
Way over in the corner weepin’ all alone
The warden said, “hey, buddy, don’t you be no square
If you can’t find a partner, use a wooden chair”
Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley