COVID 19…you suck!

No offense to my Philly friends, but there is one sure way we Southern New Jersey folk know you’re from Philly – you speak very loudly while talking to another very loud person on speaker phone and every other word is s**t or f**k and you’re most likely talking smack about a mutual acquaintance. A more recent way we knew where you were from is when our governor mandated everyone must wear a face covering in public. After your governor shut down all the liquor stores, y’all came to South Jersey to shop for booze. I watched too many of you angrily and rudely argue with store owners about wearing a face covering, but our store owners are united – no face covering, no service. Eventually, and thankfully, you got over it and now begrudgingly comply. I guess the thought of not having booze in the house while practicing social distancing for an indefinite period of time was one you could not endure. I get it.

I’ve also noticed a lot of you coming to New Jersey to grocery shop as well. I don’t blame you. The lines in Philly must be awful. It’s okay. Aside from your very loud talking, incessant speaker phone conversations, cussing and smack talking, you’ve become less angry and more respectful. We appreciate it.

I mention all this because of the experience I just had at the local Shop Rite. Due to its relative proximity to Philly, many of you have chosen to do your grocery shopping at this particular store. It’s okay. I’ve gotten used to your very loud speaker phone cussing smack talk. So, when I heard someone talking very loudly while scanning my groceries at the self-checkout register, I simply assumed it was one of you. Sorry.

Turning around, I saw three men walking shoulder to shoulder toward the exit, yelling at one another, the man in the middle not wearing a face covering and snickering under his breath. Not much social distancing going on there, which I found unusual because the staff at Shop Rite have been very compliant with state regulations. The one yelling the loudest I recognized as a manager. It was when he hollered, “GET THE F**K OUT OF MY STORE!” that I realized it wasn’t three employees joking around. I also figured out that the other employee was with security. Ultimately wedging himself between the customer and the manager before any physical damage was carried out, the security guard politely asked the unmasked customer to leave. The customer refused, threatening the guard bodily harm if touched. At this point, the guard informed the customer he could and would touch him if needed in removing him from the premises and proceeded to do so. That’s when voices grew louder, and I quickly finished my order and paid. If this guy was pissed off enough and had a gun, I didn’t want to be here if/when he retaliates. Some might consider my thought process irrational but it’s not. Every day I see these a**holes on the news, guys refusing to wear masks, carrying guns while standing on government property. Not irrational at all on my part.

I want to assume the customer was not from Philly; however, his behavior was reminiscent of what I’ve witnessed over the past two months – he was loud, angry and rude. I’m sick and tired of these anti-mask people. Shut the f**k up and just deal with it. As one employee pointed out, he’s been wearing a mask while working nine-hour shifts six days a week for the last two months, risking his own and his family’s health while thousands of customers swarm around him daily. From listening in on several other conversations between customers and staff, I’ve discovered the defiant customer somehow entered the store without a face covering. Finding his way to the back of the store, he was questioned by one of the butchers about not having his face covered. Stating he didn’t have a face covering, he was offered one free of charge, which he refused. The manager was asked to assist, at which time the defiant customer spat at him. Thankfully, the manager was wearing a face shield. This completely explains and justifies his angry outburst.

What point was this man trying to prove?

Sure, you’ve got the right to refuse to wear a face covering, but you better be ready for the consequences of not wearing one in public in New Jersey – I can’t speak for other states. The government isn’t asking you to cut off your limbs and shove them up you’re butt. They’re simply asking you to cover your nose and mouth for the few minutes it takes you to shop for groceries. It’s not an infringement of your civil rights or liberties. No one is being discriminated against – everyone must wear a face covering in public. Wearing a mask has nothing to do with free speech, invasion of privacy, remaining silent, unreasonable searches, fair courts, marriage or voting. You are simply wrong in your thoughts and actions.

Sure, it could be a hoax or some perverted conspiracy theory, but why take the chance.

And as for the confusion over the effectiveness of wearing a face covering? I’ve got one word: AIDS. This was a subject that came up often when the hubby and I talked about COVID 19 in the beginning. Even now, two months after shutting down, we still don’t fear COVID 19 as much as we feared AIDS. It was MUCH scarier folks. Even early on, we knew that coronavirus was similar enough to the flu virus that we had some idea of how humans might react to it and how it might mutate. We have people on this planet who can tell you firsthand about the first time something like this happened one hundred years ago, people who got it and lived to tell about it. COVID 19 has and will unfortunately provide these same stories. But for those of us who lived through the early years of AIDS, it was a completely different story.

After two decades of free love and parties, by 1981 gay men in America were dying from some “new infectious disease.” Over that first year, it was dubbed the “gay disease” or “gay plague” because only gay men were coming forward with symptoms – big sigh of relief from the heterosexual community, along with seriously profound discrimination toward the gay male community. Gay men were told to wear condoms and/or refrain from sexual activity, while the rest of us heteros continued with the free love party because we still had no idea how the disease was transmitted. That was just the first year…

By 1982, an elderly heterosexual male with hemophilia tested positive for AIDS, hundreds of other heterosexual hemophiliacs following in his footsteps. And then the female partners of the heterosexual hemophiliacs starting contracting the disease as well. Two years after the first case, we finally knew AIDS was somehow transferred through blood, not yet knowing about the possibility of other bodily fluids providing a conduit. By 1984 it was a pandemic. It was the scariest four years of my life. By 1985, we knew how the disease was transmitted, but that didn’t mean you were free.

Attempting to donate blood for the first time while attending college, I was informed I would never be able to donate unless a cure for AIDS had been discovered, simply because I had lived with a man who injected cocaine. Three decades later, there’s still no cure or vaccine. That event caused me to get tested. It was negative. However, at that point, some people were being tested twenty years after and coming up positive. I was doomed.

Because of my past, I tested again before marrying the hubby and before I got pregnant with the kid, both times coming up negative. I can (hopefully) say that I’m safe forty years down the road.

Just today, I learned that the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in 1959. I wasn’t even born yet. It didn’t affect me. I wasn’t scared…until those three different days in 1985, 1989 and 1998 when I got tested. From 1984 forward, I knew what to do and not do, but whatever happened prior was up for grabs as far as HIV/AIDS was concerned…for a decision I made 36 years ago. If I had known decades ago to have protected sex, I definitely would have complied. Sure, it was a choice, but why take the chance.

I can’t say that COVID 19 is more serious than HIV/AIDS because the hubby and I knew and buried one too many acquaintances affected by HIV/AIDS…for years. Coronavirus has been around since the 1960s. It, too, is nothing new. However, COVID 19 is a much more powerful virus than ever before and is proving to re-infect and mutate at surprising levels. I have friends whose family members have suffered and/or died from COVID 19. This is why the hubby and I have been talking about HIV/AIDS lately.

So, I say to that defiant man in Shop Rite and all his cronies, “None of us like wearing masks…just ask our illustrious president.”

But if you wanna shop in my town, you better put on that f**king mask.

“My posse in the Brooklyn wear the mask.
My crew in the Jersey wear the mask.
Stick-up kids doing boogie-woogie wear the mask.
Yeah, everybody wear the mask, but how long will it last?”

The Mask – Fugees

COVID 19…you suck!

חלק חמש עשרה וחצי

March 17-18, 2020

Escape from the Holy Land

Well, the day has come – it’s our last day in the holy land and there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do. Seems Bibi has caught up with all the naughty and disobedient folks out there. Everything is completely shut down…everything. We have about 15 hours to kill today and there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do. To make matters worse, it’s supposed to rain all day. So, what does one do when there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do and it’s raining? I’ll tell you what one does…NOTHING. Our original plan was to check out the beach and some museums in Tel Aviv while the hotel holds our luggage but that ain’t happening. All beaches have been closed, along with all the museums and everything else. The only thing that is open is Petah Tikvah Park next door, so I’m going to walk around and get some fresh air while the hubby chills in the hotel room. We’ve been permitted to have breakfast at the hotel this morning, but we’ll have to find a place to eat later on in the day. We even checked out the business lounge to see if there might be some leftovers…nothing. Looking for a take away restaurant will definitely be on my walking list this morning. Aside from the two restaurants inside the mall that will only meet you at the door after ordering online, the mall is completely shut down. We certainly aren’t trying that one again.

Before taking off, the hubby and I have agreed to reserve our room for one more night, regardless of price. We’ve got nowhere to go otherwise. So, on my way to the park next door I stopped at the reception desk to ask about extending our stay. After explaining to the hostess that we had nowhere to go and a flight not leaving until midnight, I was informed that we could stay and would only be charged half price. I was also told that we were two of a dozen guests (us being the only Americans) at this point and that the hotel would be shutting down as soon as we all left. Despite her calm, cool and collected demeanor, the hostess clarifies that Israel is a very small country and that COVID 19 is a serious threat to its population. It’s pertinent that all non-citizens need to leave. I’m not offended in the least. I want to get back home too.

Although no one is wearing masks in the park, everyone is maintaining the 2-meter required social distancing. I’ve decided to sit in one of the Adirondack loungers and watch whatever passes before me. Despite the call for rain today, the sky is a beautiful blue and the temperature very pleasant with no humidity, no signs of rain whatsoever. The background noise of cars driving up and down the highway helps with the belief that people are still going about business as usual while I observe the sights and sounds of nature that surround me – the shrill of children playing on the playground, the soft conversation of mothers walking their toddlers around the lake, Poi fish gobbling up whatever crumbs are thrown their way, water trickling through the lilies.

And then the sky suddenly turned gray…very gray…

Quickly hoisting myself from absolute comfort, I decided to head back to the hotel down Shimshon Street on the opposite end of the mall, where the Small Claims and Family Court was actively in session and where I discovered Cookie, a schnitzel chain restaurant that has take-away. Getting back to the hotel room before the skies opened up, I grabbed the hubby, told him we were getting schnitzel for a late lunch/early dinner and needed to get out ASAP before the rain. Dutifully obeying, he put on his shoes and followed me downstairs. As a slow drizzle speckled our glasses, we speedily walked around the corner to order some food and managed to get back to our room before the rain settled in for the day.

There’s nothing left to do but watch T.V. Compared to Jerusalem, there’s more English-speaking shows in Tel Aviv, although there’s not much to choose from aside from the news. Israel has closed its borders to all foreigners, Israelis coming from other countries being granted the only entrance, along with olim (people making aliyah/becoming Israeli citizens) who can guarantee a place to quarantine for 14 days or being relocated to one of the hotels being used as quarantine housing. Israel is also working with Peru and India to bring back citizens via El Al Airlines. In return, Bibi is asking all tourists to leave, which we will gladly do if and when our plane takes us. After my discussion with the hostess, I get it. Most countries are closing their borders to non-citizens, Australia is next on the list and shutting down. Closer to home, Lakewood, New Jersey is also shutting down. On a brighter note, weddings are being performed in the streets so neighbors can witness the nuptials. I’m finally getting the magnitude of this coronavirus.

Watching the pouring rain from the window, all we need to do at this point is pack, wait for our taxi and try not to fall asleep. The hubby has stolen the last two rolls of toilet paper and shoved them into his suitcase – we have no idea what awaits us at home. He says it’s not stealing because we technically paid for it. I agree, but stealing toilet paper makes for a better story.

Our Gett driver is very friendly but asks that we both sit in the back seat. He is wearing a mask and vinyl gloves, all four windows rolled down. I think he’s happy just to have a paying fare. Public transportation is taking an especially hard hit. Only ten people are permitted on any busses or train cars at one time, the drivers having to determine and control who gets on. Most people are working from home at this point, so there doesn’t seem to be a problem with this set up. Taxis are a last resort at this point due to the closeness of driver and passengers. The city is quiet and the highways clear, a strange occurrence for Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is like New York City – it never sleeps…ever.

At the airport we are greeted with a very long, but calm, line leading up to the check-in counters. I’m kind of surprised, considering how desolate both the Newark and Ben Gurion airports were upon our arrival two weeks ago. Has it only been two weeks?! At this point, all yeshiva and seminary schools have been shut down, forcing all American students to return home. In addition, all American tour groups have been cancelled and asked to leave the country. I feel bad for those people who visited Israel for the first time and got handed this coronavirus deal. For many, this will be the only time they get to see the holy land. Despite my desire to go home, I’m already planning our next trip in my head.

The only thing saving us from that long line is our premium status. You definitely do get what you pay for – the premium line was empty. Even with all the students and tourists leaving enmasse, two outgoing flights to Newark have been combined and there’s only one flight to JFK in New York City. The downfall is that we now have several hours to kill before boarding and all businesses (except take away food) in the airport have been shut down. At least we have Susan and David, who have safely made it through security and have joined us for late-night snacks and drinks.

I can cut the tension in the air with a dull butter knife. Everyone is anxious to get back home. Thankfully, everyone is also calm and respectful. The Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing and it’s time to Escape From the Holy Land.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, for 31 years the motto in our house has been “You Get What You Pay For.” Of course, this is the case 99% of the time…except when it comes to flying premium class: minyanim (a group of 10 or more men in a prayer service) meeting arms-length from your seat; two different angry men on separate flights who suffered with dementia and don’t speak English or Hebrew and are taking their frustrations out on you; the boy who vomited for several hours before landing; the drunk man blaming your “excessive talking” for his losing sleep (which didn’t happen). And why should this flight be any different? Behind us is a sick baby that is coughing, crying and whining. Any other time, I wouldn’t care about the coughing, but now I’m wondering if the family behind us is infected and will get us sick. Then again, half the flight is wearing masks and gloves, including the entire flight crew. I feel sorry for the crew because they have to clean the bathrooms every time someone uses them. I guarantee this is not what they signed up for when they thought they’d be travelling the world. It reminds me of my career as a social worker. “Helping people” comes in many forms. I’ve wiped enough butts, pulled up enough underpants and kitty-littered enough vomit to end a career tenfold. They’ll get over it…someday…

The girl sitting to my left switched seats with another woman upon request to sit with her husband. I can’t believe she’s given up a two-seater for a three-seater. I’m upset that the hubby and I were expelled from our two-seater that is now occupied by two strangers. Why should we give up our seats as a couple for two people who don’t even know one another?! The girl is a seminary student flying home to New York. She explains how most of the plane is made up of yeshiva and seminary students, some of their parents having been pressured to pay for premium and first-class seats in order to get their children home in time for Passover. She has never flown premium before and questions the kashrut, opting not to eat or drink anything not given to her by her friends in economy for the entire flight. If this was my kid, she would be in heaven! And I would tell her to take full advantage. You get what you pay for. I’m feeling sorry for her mother who shelled out thousands of dollars to have her daughter hunger strike. Oy!

Aside from the whiny baby behind us, I’ve managed to get some sleep here and there. The flight even feels like it’s going faster than it is, a beautiful red sunrise greeting us as we pass over Canada. On our descension, a girl from first class attempts to use the toilet. I don’t think she’ll ever do that again…ever. Although the flight crew was not exactly pleasant in their reaction, it was a pretty stupid maneuver to do after the pilot has told us to sit in our seats, fasten our seatbelts and not move whatsoever. I mean, the flight crew is buckled in, so what do you think you should be doing as a 175,000 lb. plane is landing? You sit the f**k down.

I think this is the first time an El Al plane has landed and no one clapped. This is so depressing…

Aside from the 300 souls departing our Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the airport is empty.

Finally navigating our way through the new electronic customs, we have found our luggage, contacted the parking lot shuttle, located our car, loaded up and started the hour-and-change drive back home…and it’s still raining…

Before leaving the apartment in Jerusalem, I decided to wash all my clothing – that way I would not have to do laundry when I got home. Genius…except when your suitcase has been left out in the rain…twice…and is completely soaked through…

COVID 19…you suck!

“I can’t sleep tonight
Everybody’s saying everything is alright
Still I can’t close my eyes
I’m seeing a tunnel at the end of all of these lights
Sunny days, where have you gone?
I get the strangest feeling you belong”

 Why Does It Always Rain On Me – Travis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXatLOWjr-k

 

COVID 19…you suck!

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.

IMG_E7402

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?

IMG_7820 (2)

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.

Trump

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfrC8PAQtlg

COVID 19…you suck!

חלק שלוש עשרה

March 15, 2020

It’s our last day in Jerusalem and it’s finally sunny with clear blue skies…but now there’s no water in the apartment. The hubby thinks he found a man in the lobby who seems to be the manager of the building. Unfortunately, the man only knows Russian and Hebrew, but I think the hubby was able to articulate our need for running water. As I waited for any updates while standing in the apartment doorway, I met our four neighbors who had also come out to see what was wrong with the plumbing while reminding me to stay six feet away. Our next-door neighbors are also renting. They’re here from New York to be with their son who has cancer and undergoing treatment in Jerusalem. Our other two neighbors are olim (people who became Israeli citizens), a single man from the United States and a divorced woman from Missouri whose children made aliyah, prompting her to move to Israel to be with them and the grandchildren.

And then the electricity died…twice…

In an attempt to entertain ourselves while waiting for water and electricity, we spied on a group of people doing tai chi in the Rose Garden across the street, while a local woman fed the stray cats and birds on the sidewalk. In response to a potential lock down, Americans are hoarding essentials and buying up all the toilet paper. In Israel, the people are just chillin’ and taking it all in stride. Once the water and electricity return, we’re heading to Machane Yehuda for some Levy Brothers falafel before the entire market gets shut down.

Although not the usual overcrowding, Machane Yehuda is still open for business, the message from Bibi obviously not having gotten through to the vendors. The people here don’t seem overly concerned. At least there’s plenty of toilet paper! No issues here. On the way back to the apartment, we walked through Ben Yehuda out of curiosity. There’s definitely a lot less people. All the restaurants have only take-out food, their tables and chairs stacked against the buildings. Everything else is closed, police officers swarming to ensure cooperation. Looks like we’ll be hanging at the apartment again tonight. At least Katzefet ice cream is open.

I’m really starting to worry about our ability to get back home, but I’m also trying to think and behave like an Israeli. At this point, it’s just one day at a time. With Bibi’s trial conveniently being delayed, we’re hearing stories of some religious communities where citizens are defying restriction orders and clashing with police. American students are beginning to leave the country in anticipation of a full lock down and wanting to be back home with family before that happens, especially with Passover in two weeks. Back in the states, Brooklyn and Teaneck are being asked to self-quarantine in hopes of stopping the spread of coronavirus. And despite all this, people are still making aliyah, willing to quarantine for two weeks before making a new life here.

Now that all the restaurants with take-out are closed by 8:00PM (the new curfew), we find ourselves overwhelmingly grateful for the fully stocked fridge and pantry and will take advantage of it for the first time on our last night. Tonight’s dinner is a simple pasta primavera ala the hubby. And we just got an email from the airline – our flight has been merged with another flight and is leaving an hour earlier than expected. Although our seats have been moved, we’re still in Premium Class front row.

All we can do at this point is clean up the apartment, pack our bags and pray we can get to our next destination tomorrow – a hotel in Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv and only 20 minutes from the airport.

“When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you”

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrcwRt6J32o

COVID 19…you suck!

חלק אחת עשרה ושנים עשרה

Shabbat 

March 13, 2020

We woke up to more rain and crazy wind. When we were here two years ago for Purim and the kid’s birthday, the weather was a little wishy washy with some light rain here and there, but it was nothing like this. I know this is not typical for Israel this time of year because all my Israeli friends say this is seriously out of the ordinary. At this point, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is starting to overflow. Needless to say, we’re staying put today. I’m just going to hang out and cook for Shabbat.

Although this weather isn’t helping my mood, the news is starting to depress me. More schools and communities throughout the United States and Europe are shutting down. All my Israeli friends who are in the tourism business are now applying for unemployment. No one wants to take the chance of coming here and having to quarantine for 14 days. Honestly, I don’t think Israel wants anyone here either.

I need wine…

*************************************************************************************

March 14, 2020

Today’s weather was absolutely insane. Finally waking up to a sunny day, the temperature suddenly plummeted and the rain returned. By the afternoon, we watched a thick fog approach from the horizon and take over the entire city. Nothing could be seen beyond the windowpane. It was intriguing to watch, considering there was nothing else to do today anyway. After several hours, the fog finally moved through and left us with a gloomy grey sky.

The one thing I don’t like about Shabbat during times like this is the disconnection from the rest of the world. Anxiously wondering what changes would meet us at the end of the day, my phone was on the second after finishing Havdalah (end to Shabbat). Considering the whacky weather and hearing news that Bibi would be giving a speech tonight regarding COVID 19, we opted to stay in the apartment and watch television.

Starting tomorrow morning, all cultural and leisure activities, including theaters, malls and restaurants not providing take away, are closed indefinitely. No more than ten people/employees can be in any facility at any given time and must adhere to the two-meter distancing. All day care, kindergartens and special education schools have been ordered closed indefinitely. Banks, gas stations and grocery stores will remain open with limited customers and social distancing.

We’ve also learned that Israel now has 193 active coronavirus cases – up 187 from two days ago. This shit is getting serious…

“Hey window pane,
Tell me, do you remember
How sweet it used to be?”

 I Can’t Stand the Rain – Ann Peebles

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A09GZeORYlo

COVID 19…you suck חלק עשר

March 12, 2020

I woke up this morning after sunrise, realizing it has been a few days since the call to prayer has disturbed my sleep. The hubby has been getting up early to daven (pray) the past few days and told me that there has been no call to prayer at all. The silence in Jerusalem is starting to unnerve me. To break the tension, the hubby and I are now referring to this whole thing as “The Zombie Apocalypse.” At least that’s how people in America seem to be reacting, like some kind of doomsday movie. Apparently, Zombies use a lot of toilet paper and like to drink hand sanitizer. Who knew?!

All kidding aside, the hubby and I believe G-d is trying to tell us something – something that I’ve been missing here…but what? It all started Erev Rosh Hashanah when that macroburst hit my neighborhood, the entire thing occurring within the eruv (boundary). We would find out several days later that the downdraft reached the surface of the highway at the entrance to our street, its horizontal winds spreading throughout the one-mile radius of the eruv. The damage was staggering. One home had a tree crash through their roof into the bedroom where two of their children were sleeping. Miraculously, the tree landed in between the beds, although one of the children needed to be extracted from the rubble. Dozens of trees were uprooted like twigs, my next-door neighbor’s tree shattering into pieces as if detonated by a military-grade explosive device. We would also later find out that the tree was one of the horizontal bursts resulting from the downdraft, which also blew up a tree in our yard. We lost power for two days, however, our Rosh Hashanah feasts were not disrupted thanks to our other next-door neighbor who loaned us his generator while he and his family went camping. Needless to say, it took weeks for everyone to clean up the devastation. The house that was hit is still being repaired.

And now we hear our community back home is shutting down. No schools, no religious institutions, no libraries, no entertainment establishments, no stores, no nothing. Only grocery markets and restaurants selling food that can be carried out are permitted to remain open. What is G-d trying to tell us? We’ve already had our hail during this visit and waiting on the other nine. Is this some kind of eleventh plague?

To make matters worse, the kid has to leave today. The IDF is apparently working on getting all soldiers back to their bases and will be locked down for at least 28 days. She’ll have to get home to drop off and pick up her belongings before heading to base. The kid is not happy, but I keep reminding her that we at least didn’t have a wasted trip, and she got her required eight days to be with us, something many lone soldier parents and children didn’t get, including her best friend’s mother. Walking the kid to the corner on her way to catching whatever bus she could find, I also reminded her to pack enough socks and underwear. What else would any mother say?

Attempting to get over my malaise, the hubby and I headed to Machane Yehuda for some Shabbat food, stopping off at our now favorite hummus joint, Hummus Arbase, as well as the Levy Brothers falafel stand, not knowing if either would be open 24 hours from now. We aren’t leaving Israel without one more taste!

Stopping at the apartment to drop off our food, we reserved a Gett (taxi) to take us to the Malha Mall, our mission to replace the two Luminarc plates I broke last Shabbat. Remember those? Yes, I did find two replacements in gray the other day, albeit the wrong color, so I’m determined to find replacements in white. There’s a Hamishbar in the mall, the place on Jaffa Street where I bought the wrong color ones, along with several other home goods shops claiming to sell Luminarc. I’m feeling super confident, and the hubby is being super supportive. After 30 years of marriage, he knows to humor me. Besides, there’s pizza and ice cream reward for him waiting at the mall.

Tomer, our Gett driver, speaks excellent English and shows no signs of corona paranoia, arguing that the virus is out there in the air and that there’s nothing we can do about it. Tomer agrees that G-d is trying to tell us something, but he refuses to panic like the people in America. And, despite our current president’s lunacy, Tomer loves Trump. I don’t think I’ve yet to meet a taxi driver in Israel who doesn’t like Trump. I guess when every single one of your neighbors hates you, you’re willing to hang on to whatever support you can get. I like Tomer, mostly because he’s blasting Billie Eilish. Did I mention my obsession with Billie Eilish? Yeah, it’s serious.

It’s good that we decided to come to the mall because now it’s raining outside. We’re surprised at how empty the mall is compared to the last two years we’ve been here at this time. I refuse to feel paranoid and will not let it bring me down. Besides, I’m on a mission to find those plates.

First stop, pizza at Greg Café. Greg Café is a chain restaurant in Israel, each one offering a different menu. I’ve been to three other locations, Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, Grand Canyon Mall in Be’er Sheva and one in Cinema City across from the Supreme Court of Israel. Greg Café has never let me down.

Next stop, ice cream. Although Katzefet Ice Cream has a number of branches throughout Jerusalem, selling ice cream, frozen yogurt, crepes, waffles, shakes and smoothies, as well as other assorted hot drinks, this is our first time trying them and are not disappointed.

Now it’s time to get serious – find a store that sells white Luminarc plates. Hamishbar was our first stop, since we know for a fact that they sell it but are hoping they sell them in singles. Walking around the store, we finally located the dinnerware section, narrowing our sights on the Luminarc display. Although it looks as if they only sell the set, I decided to press my luck and ask a sales clerk, only to be criticized for not knowing enough Hebrew.

Sales woman: You are in my country! Why do you not know Hebrew?!

Me (to self and whispered to the hubby): You just lost a sale lady.

Didn’t matter anyway. They only sold single plates in gray – been there, done that.

Disappointed with every other home store we visited, the hubby noticed a dollar-type store hidden at the back of the mall. With no other leads and me dreading that phone call to the landlord telling him I broke his plates and could only replace them in gray, we decided to check it out. And guess what?! No only did they have Luminarc plates, the sold them as singles! And guess what else?! They were 50% off today! Someone is smiling down on me. Let’s go home!

Returning back to the apartment, the weather is taking a turn for the worse, which is not a good thing because we are scheduled to meet up with friends who made aliyah last August. I’m not looking forward to going out in this mess. I don’t like rain at all, let alone cold, windy rain. The wind is so violent, we can hear it whistling through all the windows and are waiting for the building to buckle under its bullying swells. The landlord also sent me a message suggesting we close all the motorized roller shades to protect the windows from damage. The fact that he knew how windy it was from America tells me I should heed his call.

Lucky for us, the rain subsided, so we’ve decided to keep our date with friends at the Waffle Bar, which is next door to their ulpan and a very reliable place for dessert. Despite the dryer weather, the wind continues to be relentless and the temperature has dropped to 40 degrees. Needless to say, we ordered a Gett to take us to the restaurant because there’s no way we’re walking 20-30 minutes each way in this crazy cold wind. Our Gett driver is completely paranoid, the antithesis of Tomer. All the car windows are rolled down, he wearing a parka with the hood wrapped around his face in an attempt to ward off corona cooties while leaning his head out the window as he drives. Not a single word is spoken. I miss Tomer.

Not unlike last night, the streets are even more deserted tonight. Malaise is starting to creep back in, along with my anxiety over what will happen to us while we’re here and whether or not we’ll be able to get back home next week. Something is definitely happening here. Catching up with our friends who we haven’t seen since last August helped shake the tension. Of course, dessert and wine never hurt either.

I feel sorry for the Gett driver on the way back to the apartment. In broken English, he angrily lectured us on G-d’s message about coronavirus – how “corona” means “crown” in Hebrew and how the Jews in America were being put in their place. Not quite sure of the connection, I completely missed the boat on this one. I “agreed” with him and starting talking about the toilet paper shortage in the United States, to which he grew angrier, questioning me as to why I would be talking about toilet paper with regards to a serious discussion of G-d’s wrath.

You can let us off at the corner here, dude. I’m done talking about corona.

Back at the apartment, I sent off that long dreaded email to the owner of the apartment about my breaking of the Luminarc plates last Shabbat, but not without telling him of our successful replacement. Not only was he stunned by our honesty, he was even more surprised by our search and rescue mission. One less thing to worry about. Now, if only COVID 19 would just go away, I’d be a much happier camper.

Give me a break

Yeah, I made a mistake

For G-d’s sake

Hope my train ain’t too late

My skin is in a state

Sorry ‘bout the broken plates”

 Broken Plates – Aardvark Asteroid

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hqDupi_xs0

COVID 19…you suck! חלק תשע

March 11, 2020

Today is Shushan Purim and the kid’s 21st birthday. I’m feeling sorry for her and for me. It seems like something happens every year on her birthday, stealing her thunder, but COVID 19 takes the winner’s circle this time. The cancellation of all Purim events is certainly adding to this depressing day. And, to make things worse, I discovered that the costume I bought last year no longer fits me, thanks to a 10-pound weight gain since buying it. This seriously sucks. All I wanted was to celebrate the kid’s big day, along with Purim, recreating the fun we had two years ago. I need to shake this off.

Catching up the latest corona news, the U.S. is starting to restrict incoming flights and more schools and synagogues are closing. We’re also hearing that a number of other countries are following suit. As of today, Israel has restricted gatherings to less than one hundred people. Although we fantasize about being “stuck” in Israel indefinitely, deep down inside we know we need to get back to America and be home for what might be coming our way, whatever that is. A lot of tourists are starting to panic and leaving Israel in droves, but we’re determined to stay. I feel like the Health Ministry knows something we don’t. As of now, there’s only six cases of coronavirus in Israel. Considering there’s almost nine million people living here, I can’t see what all the hoopla is about. And there’s only 1267 cases in America. What percentage is that of 328,000,000? What am I missing here?!

Against my objections, the hubby and the kid decided we should head to the Old City to see what’s happening. Two years ago, aside from the megillah reading at the Kotel, the Old City was total buzz kill. The hubby reminded me that Shushan Purim two years ago was also Erev Shabbat, so everyone was getting ready for Shabbat. Taking this into account, I agreed to follow their lead.

Cutting through Yemin Moshe, we met a couple sitting on the porch of their home and chatting with a neighbor. Having made aliyah from America a few years back, they were fortunate enough to purchase a home here. Being that Yemin Moshe is where I romanticize living upon making my own aliyah, we asked the couple how much a home would cost, to which they replied, “You can’t afford it. Nobody can afford it. We can’t afford!” Oh well, back to playing the lottery.

Working our way out of Yemin Moshe down it’s multiple stone staircases, we entered Teddy Park, named after Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 until 1993. Passing by the giant sun dial and the metallic globe showing Jerusalem as the center of the world, I finally got to see the fountains at work where kids are encouraged to play in the water. There’s only a few kids today. It really isn’t that warm enough to be playing in the water outside anyway. I’m hoping to make it back some night to witness the music and light show I’ve read about and keep missing. I also noticed that since the last time we were here, archaeologists have discovered more ruins of ancient homes facing the fountains. Teddy Park is one of my favorite places to hang out in Jerusalem, and the beautiful weather is definitely helping to lift my spirits.

The park is directly across the street from Jaffa Gate, where we listened to a very talented man playing electric acoustic guitar before heading into Mamilla Mall. The mall was mostly devoid of people, the restaurants only serving a handful of customers. Working our way through the Armenian Quarter to St. James Street, we encountered a group of young men dressed up for Purim, drinking beer and singing, their voices echoing off the Jerusalem stones. This is also helping my mood and giving me hope that Purim is actually being celebrated somewhere in the city.

Stopping at the Hurva Synagogue to determine our next move, the kid informed us that she wanted birthday falafel, the idea striking her thanks to the falafel stand in front of us across from the synagogue. As we ate, we were entertained by a group of yeshiva boys dressed up, playing bongos, dancing and singing in the square while hundreds of people walked around lacking in the 2-meter social distancing recommendations. Despite the civil disobedience, I’m secretly happy that there are other people out here who also desperately want Purim to happen as much as me.

After walking around a bit and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd, the hubby and the kid agreed to walk up Jaffa Street to Ben Yehuda, where we passed the entire cast of the Wizard of Oz heading to the Old City, witnessed a man sitting on the curb with a plunger on his head while waiting for the train, watched a large gathering of teenage boys dancing with Minions, and came face to face with a dinosaur walking down King George Street, all followed up with the purchase of some iced coffees before heading back to the apartment to rest up before the kid’s birthday dinner.

Something I keep seeing on Facebook has me baffled – memes about toilet paper…lots of them. Thanks to Mr. Google and my friends on Facebook, I have learned that there is a toilet paper shortage in America. I can’t even wrap my brain around this one. Toilet paper? Although there have been extremely rare cases up until now, the CDC has assured us that diarrhea is not a symptom of COVID 19. So why are Americans hording toilet paper? I’m being told it’s because people want to be prepared in case they have to quarantine for 14 days. Okay, I don’t know about y’all, but I personally don’t go through a case of toilet paper in 14 days. No one in Israel is freaking out about toilet paper. I am definitely missing something here…

Working through my anxiety regarding the current lack of toilet paper in my home back in New Jersey, we headed to Nocturno for the kid’s 21st birthday dinner. Trying not to let the atmosphere bring me down again due to there being only a handful of us in the restaurant, I prayed it wasn’t a bad sign and that people were just staying home at this point. Thankfully, we were welcomed with an excellent menu of vegetarian and vegan options. We then “surprised” the kid with a birthday cake, a festive sparkler inserted in its middle and sang the traditional Doherty Happy Birthday song out of key. She was humiliated of course, but I didn’t care. I need this day to end on a high note.

“I’m comin’ up so you better you better get this party started”

 Get the Party Started – Pink

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW1dbiD_zDk

COVID 19…you suck! חלק שמונה

March 10, 2020

Today is Purim outside of Jerusalem and in the diaspora throughout the world. However, since we’re staying in Jerusalem, we won’t be celebrating until tomorrow, which is known as Shushan Purim.

https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/645278/jewish/Shushan-Purim.htm

Either way, Purim is pretty much a bust at this point with all events completely cancelled. At least the stores and restaurants are open, serving as some kind of entertainment.

Tomorrow is also the kid’s 21st birthday. If she had gone to college in America directly after high school, she would be getting ready to graduate in a couple of months and be out with her friends having her first alcoholic drink as a legal adult. I can detect that she’s not especially happy about her birthday this year, thanks to coronavirus stealing her thunder. Before we came to Israel, the kid had called and asked that we go to a bar together to have a drink. Despite the fact that the legal drinking age in Israel is 18 and the kid has been drinking in bars for three years, she simply wanted her customary rite of passage into true adulthood. Now we’re not even sure if the bars will be open tomorrow, as the government is hinting that any establishments not capable of providing take away food may be closed in the near future as a means of stopping the spread of COVID 19.

We’re also hearing about more religious school and synagogue closings in some of the larger American cities, with one town in upstate New York becoming a “containment zone” due to so many of its citizens testing positive for coronavirus. New York State is getting slammed with this thing and is leading the U.S. with the most cases at 173 as of today. At this point, there’s so many cases in the world that Israel is now quarantining anyone who enters the country for 14 days, regardless of country origin. Over the last week, I’ve learned that once contracted, the virus can take anywhere from 2-15 days to incubate and manifest symptoms, the average time being 5 days. I was wondering where the seemingly random 14 days had come from. As a result of the sudden and rapid spread of coronavirus cases, airlines throughout the world are starting to cancel flights, including El Al – the airline we are scheduled to take back to the United States. I’m trying desperately not to worry about our situation. We still have another week until our flight, and the hubby seems to think this is all going to blow over by that time. I want to believe him because he’s usually 99% right with his predictions.

Despite the current atmosphere, I am determined to have Purim. There’s got to be something going on somewhere. At the very least, we’re going to visit Machane Yehuda in order to pick up some food for our Purim seudah (festive meal) tomorrow. I’m also morbidly curious to see how people are reacting to the increasing corona paranoia. However, before heading to the shuk, we need to drop off a Purim costume to a friend’s son who lives in the Old City, agreeing to meet behind the Hurva Synagogue. Traditionally on Purim, we give money to two needy people and at least one shalach manot (gift basket) to someone. With his pockets now empty of saved up coins, the hubby has definitely met the quota, so we’ve decided to stop at Ben Yehuda on the way to Hurva in order to find a nice gift basket for our friend’s son and his family.

Successfully finding a shalach manot, the hubby and the kid reluctantly agreed to walk down Ben Yehuda to see what was going on. Two years ago, we could barely make our way down the street, hundreds (or possibly thousands) of costumed people partying along the way with non-stop entertainment throughout, but today the streets are empty, with a scattering of teenagers in tutus and a lone pirate playing guitar and singing over a microphone. I want to cry.

Making our way to the Old City, we met up with our friend’s son, successfully delivering the costume and shalach manot, standing the currently suggested 2 meters distance apart. This whole “social distancing” seems very strange to me and a bit over the top. I’m still missing something here but can’t quite figure out where I’m missing it. I’m not looking forward to seeing how desolate the shuk will be.

Aside from the candy stores filled with the last-minute purchase of shalach manot goodies, Jaffa Street was just as empty as Ben Yehuda. The one positive to the lack of people is how easy it was to shop for our seudah food.

Thoroughly depressed, we headed back to the apartment, where the hubby and the kid promptly found their beds while I put away the food.

Still determined to make something of this wretched Purim day, I decided to visit The First Station. I could hear the music blaring from across the street and just knew there was a party going on. So, while the hubby and the kid napped, I walked over, only to find a few families with children playing random board games set up along the boards and a single flamenco dancer attempting to entertain what audience she could muster.

However, all the restaurants were opened, and I discovered a small grilled cheese stand (yes, a grilled cheese stand) called Blondie. After sampling the three on-tap beers, the sole employee, a young woman drafting into the army soon, asked me questions about America while she made my grilled cheese sandwich, her bad English being better than my bad Hebrew. However, she allowed me to practice what little Hebrew I had learned recently, correcting me on occasion and praising me for my basic knowledge of the language. As I ate, an obnoxious hipster type dude and a young woman approached the stand to order food. I quickly discerned they were on their first date, the obnoxious hipster type dude endlessly talking about his many talents and accomplishments in an attempt to prove his worthiness.

Obnoxious hipster type dude (asking the sole employee about the various sandwiches): “I see you haven’t changed the recipe in six years.”

 Sole employee: “I wouldn’t know. I’ve only been working here for three months.”

 Me: (insert HUGE eye roll while thinking to self: “Dude…it’s grilled cheese…how does one change the recipe to grilled cheese?!”)

For the record, not only did Blondie have excellent home brews, my grilled cheese was one of the best I’ve ever had.

blondie

Not sure I could feel any more disheartened, I made my way back to the apartment to sulk while the hubby got ready for maariv (evening prayers) and the subsequent reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) in the building shul downstairs. I wasn’t sure whether or not to go to the Megillah reading. Considering most of the residents living in the apartment building are retirees, many of them way past 70-years-old, we are constantly reminded to use the hand sanitizer in the lobby as soon as we entered the lobby and many residents were beginning to wear facial masks. After hearing a person can be a carrier of COVID 19 without exhibiting any symptoms, I’m starting to feel my own paranoia and wondering if I could be positive and not know it. I seriously don’t want to risk getting any of the elderly residents ill. Needless to say, I attempted to attend the reading, but it was too crowded and too hot with absolutely no seats available on the women’s side. Opting to leave after 15 minutes, I hung out with the kid in the apartment until the hubby came back. Most of our discussion was consumed by COVID 19. What the hell is going on?!

Technically being the start of her birthday tonight, we let the kid pick a restaurant for dinner. Since the kid is a vegetarian, I whittled my extensive list of eateries to those providing vegetarian options, her choice boiling down to Gabriela. The hubby and I had eaten there four years ago and still talk about the awesome meal we had there, so we were excited by her selection. Unfortunately, to our dismay, Gabriela was no longer living up to its legend. Despite being the only customers, the service and food were terrible. The hubby and I were devastated.

The kid asked to revisit Mike’s Place to see her friend Zach before heading back to base the day after tomorrow. Jaffa Street was deserted – no costumes, no music, no parades, no nothing. Once inside, after wandering downstairs, the kid discovered that another friend from the U.S. named Hannah is now working as a waitress at Mike’s Place. Hannah is still dating Ben, a classmate of the kid’s from high school, who is also in the IDF and discharging in August. Hannah is scheduled to draft next month, having been postponed several times after making aliyah. Zach and his girlfriend have joined us in the festivities now that we are finally in a bar and buying the kid her first legally American alcoholic drink. Slowly, more and more young adults dressed in costume are making their way inside, Jaffa Street spilling over into the bar, along with random flash mobs and street entertainers. We have also learned that there’s a band. Yay, music! Purim has arrived!

The hubby (referring to the band setting up on stage): “If they play Steve Miller or the Dead, I’m outta here.”

The band: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future…”

 We made him stay…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd7uv38WsT4

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