Give me liberty or give me…

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Although it’s not necessarily a good thing for Israel, two days without rain and I’m a much happier camper.

As the hubby davened (prayed), I set off to find Gan HaPa-amon (a.k.a. Liberty Bell Park) again. It really wasn’t that hard – walk out the front door, cross the street and head straight for about 15 minutes. How did we never notice this place before?! Oh, that’s right…we weren’t looking

Much quieter than on Shabbat, I wasn’t quite sure if this was the right place, but the sign on the gate reassured me: “KEEP CALM AND STUDY FRENCH.” The sign stating I was in the Koret Liberty Bell Park was also helpful…

Entering the park I took note of two older gentlemen sitting at a picnic table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. With a friendly, “Boker Tov (Good Morning)!”, I began to explore…

Walking further down the path, I discovered an iron gate leading to the outdoor amphitheater.

Not sure who Shams is, but he/she/they kinda ruined the beauty of the stone, don’t ya think?

Directly next to the amphiteater is the Train Theater, a puppet theater situated inside an old train car. Although there were no shows that day, I definitely want to check this place out at some point.

https://www.traintheater.co.il/en/about-us

Searching for that darn bell, I passed by the wormy sandbox missed the day before and met up with Jerry the Dragon as promised…

…and there it was again…an exact replica of the Liberty Bell – from crack to quote…

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“No one recorded when or why the Liberty Bell first cracked, but the most likely explanation is that a narrow split developed in the early 1840’s after nearly 90 years of hard use. In 1846, when the city decided to repair the bell prior to George Washington’s birthday holiday (February 23), metal workers widened the thin crack to prevent its farther spread and restore the tone of the bell using a technique called “stop drilling”. The wide “crack” in the Liberty Bell is actually the repair job! Look carefully and you’ll see over 40 drill bit marks in that wide “crack”. But, the repair was not successful. The Public Ledger newspaper reported that the repair failed when another fissure developed. This second crack, running from the abbreviation for “Philadelphia” up through the word “Liberty”, silenced the bell forever. No one living today has heard the bell ring freely with its clapper, but computer modeling provides some clues into the sound of the Liberty Bell.”

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/stories-libertybell.htm

The inscription is from Leviticus 25:10:

“Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.”

Then it was time to explore some more – an abandoned can of olives leftover from a Shabbat picnic, Jerusalem stone walkways supporting archways of hibernating greenery just waiting to bloom, random baby bells envious of their namesake, an exercise playground for kids and adults alike, very loud and aggressive Israeli crows (we witnessed one steal someone’s lunch last year), tables of Chutes and Ladders, checkers and chess pining for someone to play and uniquely sculptured birdbaths…

I was truly enjoying the tranquility of this space removed from the hectic streets outside…until the very creepy dude who stared down the feral cats like Rasputin showed up…

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Forgoing the skate park, I decided it was definitely time to head back to the hotel after hanging with the ladies doing yoga on the playground and the creepy dude made his getaway.

As I wondered if the dozens of feral cats hanging out in the area leading to the exit gate met there for their daily morning dose of Rasputin, a little old lady pulled up in a small beat-up sedan. Like some kind of underground feline radar had been detected, cats came running from every corner of the park to eat breakfast, as the little old lady strolled around the park leaving piles of wet cat food throughout the trails. Perhaps Rasputin was the price to pay for daily rations? Either way, I was done and headed back to the hubby…

For today’s adventure, the hubby and I agreed we both wanted to finally see The Knesset Building, having missed it on every other trip. The Knesset is the house of representatives of the State of Israel and is unicameral, composing of 120 Members representing numerous lists that are elected in general, country-wide, proportional elections once every four years.

https://knesset.gov.il/birthday/eng/KnessetBuilding_eng.htm

*Tip of the day: For the most part, in Israel, English-speaking tours at various sites are conducted at 12:00 noon – you snooze, you lose (as we would later find out).*

Hailing a taxi from the hotel, we took a quick 5-minute drive and were dropped off at the security gate from where visitors are required to walk the rest of the way to the Knesset building entrance. Passing inspection without incident, we strolled passed Gan HaMenorah (the Menorah Garden) and took pictures of the giant menorah, as well as the sculpture of the original entrance gate to the Knesset and a representation of the Burning Bush adorning the anterior of the grounds…and, of course, I noticed the bike parked on the sidewalk…

Attempting to cross the road in order to reach the tour office, we were again stopped by a very serious security guard. Although small in stature, we weren’t about to mess with the guy holding an uzi…

Guard (blocking our approach with his uzi): “Hizmantem?” (Were you invited?)”

Us: “Umm…no? Were we supposed to be?”

Guard: (with a look of utter disdain) “Bo (come).”

Personally escorted to the tour office like royalty and dismissed in front of a large antechamber-like structure, the hubby knocked on the door and was greeted by another much larger and even more serious security guard…although he only had a handgun.

Guard (cracking open the door an inch): “Ma?! (What?!)”

The hubby: “Umm…we’d like to take the noon tour?”

Guard (in broken English): “You’re too early!”

The hubby: “I realize that, but we were hoping to buy the tickets now and come back.”

Guard (again, that look of utter disdain while opening the door wider): “Bo…”

Managing to convince the doorman to sell us two tickets for the noon tour, our uzi-packed buddy suggested we visit the The Wohl Rose Garden back across the street and behind the Menorah Garden.

http://projects.jerusalemfoundation.org/heritage/parks-gardens/wohl-rose-park-of-jerusalem.aspx

Although it was a bit early in the season for roses, we managed to find a few here and there, along with some colorful wildflowers and winter leftovers…

…and we wondered who thought of the brilliant idea to put fires out with Coca-Cola.

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Translating signs into English will be steady employment if and when we make aliyah.

We also checked out the various sculptures and other artwork throughout the park, as well as the ornamental pool and its adjacent Japanese garden.

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And then we were asked (more like commanded) to vacate the grounds for wandering a little too far into the forest and a little too close to the snipers hiding on the other side of the fence looking for interlopers…smile and wave, boys…

Narrowly escaping, the hubby and I made our way back to the antechamber where we waited once again to be searched one last time. Face contorted as to what could possibly be in my bag, the x-ray technician called over her supervisor and questioned what she was seeing on the screen…

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Mr. Haymon

Okay…so exactly how do I explain this one?

Here’s the ADHD version because I don’t know any other way to tell a long story…

On our first trip to Israel back in 2011, I decided to bring along a couple of traveling companions who would accompany our journeys and help tell our story on Facebook.

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Since then, I’ve brought someone along who had some kind of significance for us at that particular time – Tony the Tour Guide (Milwaukee 2015) because my brother, Michael, was the best tour guide there ever was; Mr. Gnome (Vermont 2015) because Travelocity was all the rage; Screaming Man (Maryland 2015 and Pennsylvania 2017) who I bought during our Milwaukee visit and who pretty much reflects how I feel when traveling solo with the kid; Flat Mom and Dad because we were on a food tour and mom and dad would’ve loved it and Moses (Israel 2016) because…well, he’s Moses and it’s Israel; and Batman (Israel 2017) because we were visiting the kid, who’s a big fan…

Mr. Haymon (a play on words from Haman in the Purim story), a clacking noisemaker, was our little friend on this particular trip because we would be in Israel for Purim.

Now, back to that x-ray technician…

Asked to unzip my bag, I reached in and revealed Mr. Haymon. With no explanation required, I was told to move along and join the tour…nowhere else in the world would you get away with not having to explain a clacking wood hand puppet shoved in your backpack…

Passing security for the third time, we exited the antechamber onto a long esplanade leading up to the Knesset building.

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Not quite sure where the tour began, the hubby and I simply followed the people before us like lemmings in hopes of being on the right path – off the side to the left, down a flight of stairs, through the portico, off to the right, through the doors, up the stairs, across the foyer to several rows of chairs waiting for the noon tour. As we looked for two seats together, I noticed that the chairs were set up directly in front of the main entrance…

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We were then greeted by our tour guide, a chirpy, petite young blond oleh (someone who has made aliyah and became a citizen of Israel) hailing from South Africa. Briefly explaining the tour ahead, the guide suited each of us up with a headphone system and walked the group across the foyer to a large screen displaying individual photographs of all 120 Members of the Knesset and showing which representatives were in the building at any given moment.

The term Knesset is a derivative of the words Knesset HaGdola (Great Assembly). According to Jewish tradition, the Great Assembly was composed of 120 scribes, sages and prophets who convened in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile in the fifth century B.C.E. The current Knesset’s structure is influenced by the First Zionist Congress lead by Theodor Herzl and held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, as well as the Assefat Hanivharim (Assembly of Representatives) of the Jewish community in mandatory Palestine established in 1920 and to some extent the British Parliament. The first Knesset Members were elected after Israel gained its independence in 1948. Provisional State Council meetings were held at the Tel Aviv Museum (of Art), the Kessem Cinema building and the San Remo Hotel in Tel Aviv until the end of 1949 when the Knesset moved to Beit Frumin (literally House of the Frumins, the family that once owned the building) on King George Street in Jerusalem. In 1966, the current Knesset Building at Kiryat Ben Gurion (and area of government offices named for Israel’s first Prime Minister) was finalized and its Members moved for the last time to the Givat (hill) Ram neighborhood in Jerusalem.

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Ben Gurion
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Close up of The Seven Species
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Full view (Knesset photo)

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I don’t recall the name of the piece above, but it had something to do with the circle of continuity. The hubby was wondering where we were when I took a picture of the fussball game…oy…

First we got to see the inside of a committee (of which there are many in the Knesset) room, which anyone, citizen and tourist alike, can observe any time meetings are being held.

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Our guide made a point of stressing the openness of the Israeli government; that everything is full disclosure and nothing hidden from its people. Unfortunately, there were no meetings being held during our visit.

Next stop – Chagall State Hall – completely designed and constructed by Russian-born Jewish artist Marc Chagall, the columns of the hall are made of polished marble containing fossils, the ceiling is covered with wooden blocks, and the floor is made up of twelve separate mosaics.

However, this hall is most famous for its three Gobelins or tapestries – immense textiles splattered with vibrant colors hanging the length of the eastern wall.

Depicting biblical themes – the center tapestry portrays The Exodus, the left illustrates the Return to Zion and the right epitomizes the End of Days.

Photographs do no justice – I could have spent all day examining this beautiful masterpiece…but the tour guide grew somewhat impatient waiting for me to rejoin the group so we could end our tour with Plenum Hall.

Here the Members of the Knesset sit according to the parliamentary faction to which they belong and the seating determined by the Arrangements Committee. Typically, the largest group chooses its place first and sits to the left of the Speaker with the second largest sitting to the right, the Speaker sitting in the center.

The hall is divided into two parts – the lower half for members of the Knesset and Government and the upper for visitors. In the lower part there are 116 seats arranged in the shape of a menorah (a seven-branched candelabra). The center table is shaped like a horseshoe and reserved for the members of the Government with the Prime Minister sitting at the center. The upper balcony is divided into two parts by bullet-proof glass – the lower portion open within the hall is reserved for VIPs and invited guests, including a special area at the left corner reserved for the president and his/her entourage. The area to the right if reserved for the press. The upper area behind the glass is the public gallery, which is open to anyone from the public who wishes to listen to and watch the proceedings.

With the tour coming to an end, we made one last stop at large glass enclosure.

Inside the glass stood a replica of the Megilot Ha’Atzmaut (Declaration of Independence of 1948). Although the original as been archived due to deterioration, our guide reassured us that this copy was precise, right down to the color of the ink in the signatures.

After schmoozing with our guide for a few more minutes, I convinced the hubby to walk back to the hotel – a five-minute drive can’t be that far of a walk, right? According to Google Maps it wouldn’t be more than a thirty-minute walk. Of course, I neglected to listen when the hubby reminded me that we were in Jerusalem…which historically was built on top of seven hills. Okay, so maybe it would take a little longer than that…or maybe a lot more longer than that…

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Photo by Vos Iz Neias

Flashback to this morning while we were getting ready in our hotel room…

The hubby: “I was looking at the traffic to see what would be the best time to grab a taxi so we miss rush hour. I see something here about some rabbi’s funeral taking place around 11AM. They’re expecting thousands of people to be in attendance and that some of the roads will be closed off – the roads around the Knesset.”

Me: “So let’s leave by 10AM and we should be okay.”

Just to be safe, we asked the hotel front desk clerk if he knew anything about the funeral and/or possible traffic issues for the day, of which he knew absolutely nothing.

Fast forward after I’ve convinced the hubby to walk the walk despite his warnings and obvious reluctance. Although expecting complaints and a few “I-told-ya-sos” the entire way, I was willing to put up with a little belly-aching and save 40NILS. Besides, it was a beautiful blue-sky day with 70-degree weather and a nice breeze – the makings of a really nice stroll…

Passing the security gate, once again without incident, we rambled down the hill to the main thoroughfare leading us back to the hotel and noticed a lot of cars parked along the side of the road that were not there when we arrived at the Knesset. As we walked further, we came across cars parked everywhere – at the curb, on the curb, over the curb, on the sidewalk, on the median, on the grass…amid absolute standstill traffic.

That’s when the hubby recalled our conversation earlier in the day about the funeral – the one for “some rabbi” who just so happened to be Rav Schmuel Auerback…

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Radical-haredi-leader-Rabbi-Shmuel-Auerbach-dies-suddenly-543524

Despite the funeral having taken place while we were on our tour of the Knesset, we waded our way through tens of thousands of people aimlessly finding their way back to their vehicles and managed to locate the correct road back to the hotel…which was uphill…all the way…of which the hubby reminded me and my comeback, pointing to the miles-long row of parked cars behind us, “Would you have rather gotten a taxi?”

I love being right all the time…

And if that walk wasn’t enough, I again convinced the hubby to go further and find Pomeranz Bookseller, where I knew that Artscroll Chumash would be in stock and much less expensive than the shop in the Old City…and I was right…again…

http://pomeranzbooks.com/default.asp

On the way back to the hotel, we took a detour to the building that is someday destined to be the Knesset Museum and where a number of bill posts have been comically altered.

With a quick pit stop, it was time to meet the kid for dinner at a wonderful dairy restaurant called Piccolino, located off Hillel Street near Ben Yehuda.

http://www.piccolino.co.il/en/

As we ate our handmade pasta and French onion soup served in giant loaf bowls of fresh-baked bread, the kid updated us on her weekend with Garin Tzabar and her upcoming plans for Purim. And, as promised, we reserved a room at the hotel for the kid to get away and rest up after coming down with a severe respiratory infection. It’s not so easy for an only child to live in populated settings. Plus it gave this mother an excuse to spoil her only child for a couple of days.

“The night is young
And full of possibilities”

You Can Ring My Bell – Anita Ward

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

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My boyfriend’s back

Ornat – Represents people with high verbal expression, understanding and intuition who are gifted, charismatic and kindhearted; who have a tendency to innovate and are dynamic, supportive and understanding; often they think about others and not about themselves; they are kind, sympathetic, generous and supportive and help and direct with confidence; they may be too stubborn and dominant…

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thanks to our neighbor Hildy’s broken old-school Hebrew and excellent negotiating skills, we managed to share a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem without too much collateral damage to our wallets. Dropping the hubby and me off at our hotel, we wished Hildy and her mom a wonderful visit and waited in the lobby until our room was ready. I reminded the hubby that we NEEDED to stay awake and NOT sleep before nightfall. Anyone who’s traveled long distances knows this fact – when you fly through several time zones in one trip, you need to force yourself onto the host country’s time schedule as soon as you land or you’ll never physically adjust. It’s painful but necessary.

In less than an hour, we were unpacking in the room and convinced ourselves to take a walk in order to resist the Sandman’s evil temptations of slumber. Zombie-eyed we dragged our exhausted bodies out of the hotel in search of food, heading north toward Ben Yehudah…or maybe it was east toward the Old City…or…did we find food at all?! These photos taken along the way tell me it was probably Ben Yehudah…

The horse statue stands in a park where there’s an occasional pop-up craft market and where you can find a mobile lending library – borrow a book and return it at any of the dozens of kiosks located throughout Jerusalem. One of the things I LOVE about Israel is the artistic expression seen around every corner, particularly the graffiti – it’s everywhere and it’s beautiful! The other thing the hubby and I love about Israel is the English translation on street signs – “COATION! TRUCKS CROSSING!” I’m thinking it was a “caution” to others that trucks were crossing; however, it is quite possible that Croatian trucks were crossing as well…?

Next thing I knew, we were passed out in bed back at the hotel…dammit!

Woken up by the buzzing of WhatsApp messages from the kid alerting us of her impending departure from Tel Aviv (i.e. “I’ll be there in about an hour”), the hubby and I were forced to get out of bed. That’s when the hubby found that all-too-familiar envelope attached to a small box of chocolates that was missed once again when unpacking – and that the hubby, once again, took it upon himself to open and read aloud despite being addressed to yours truly (November 12, 2017, Israel: Part I – The path to acceptance) – yup, it was from my hotel boyfriend…and this time I got a free dinner for two (perhaps the hubby wasn’t included in this one?)…

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Me: Hmmm…what time is it?!

With barely enough time to hightail it out the door to meet up with the kid, we made a quick pit stop at my boyfriend’s lounge (hey, when it’s free, one must abide!) before heading to the kid’s choice of restaurants, our treat – Crave. Of course I took photos along the way….

Bicycles, feral kitties and orphanages hiding around corners, Hello Kitty hukkahs and marvelous alleyway graffiti…

Ethiopian restaurants, scarcely supplied army/navy surplus shops, costumes waiting for the upcoming holiday of Purim, bill posts dedicated to the Rebbe, street musicians earning their keep and colorful flowers popping out from a local merpeset (porch).

However, my most favorite mural was what we later dubbed “The Cat Wall…”

Never a dull moment…until we realized we had no idea where we were going, which, of course provoked an argument of whose fault it was that we were “lost,” along with the reminder of why the purchase of an Israeli SIM card was imperative ASAP.

Being a man, the hubby refused to ask for directions. I, on the other hand, used whatever elementary Hebrew I could conjure up. Approaching one of the stalls inside the shuk on Machane Yehuda, I asked, “Ayfo Crave? (Where is Crave?)” Thank goodness for the Jews inability to not speak with their hands because my question was answered completely in Hebrew, but I understood where to go simply based on directional hand signals. Just around the corner on a small alleyway street, we found ourselves at the restaurant waiting for the kid to arrive.

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https://www.facebook.com/gotcrave/menu/

This place was an artistic funk palace. Colorful graffiti on all the walls, including black and white portraits of famous rock musicians and playful frames on the bathroom mirror.

On the way back to the hotel after dinner, we caught sight of these gorgeous murals painted on the side of a storefront apartment building.

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I was also on a mission to stump a Facebook friend on a can-you-figure-out-what-this-food-item-is-in-the-shuk game…

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Kohlrabi – happy to say, my friend was stumped…

And the first of many kitties who knew I was a total sucker…

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Back at the hotel, after saying goodbye to the kid until Sunday, I found myself WIDE AWAKE thanks to our little catnap this afternoon. My brain was just not willing to settle down and allow my body some much needed sleep. To make the situation worse, the cord adapter to my cricket chirping sound machine necessary to drown out chronic tinnitus fried when plugged into the electrical outlet, and we had no AA batteries as a backup. I attempted to listen to some classical music on my Amazon kindle as a means of lulling my brain into sleeping but with little to no success. Next thing I knew it was morning…and it was cold…and it was raining…an experience I have never had in Israel before…

“He’s been gone for such a long time
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)
Now he’s back and things’ll be fine
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)
You’re gonna be sorry you were ever born
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)
‘Cause he’s kinda big and he’s awful strong
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)”
My Boyfriend’s Back – The Angels

 

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Israel – Part Deux: Returning to the originally-planned-before-the-kid -decided-to-make-Aliyah-last-year trip

June 2017

Me: So when do you think we should visit?

The kid: I dunno…

Me: Do you think you’ll wanna see us by December?

The kid: No…you really don’t need to visit at all. I won’t need to see you.

Me: Umm…sorry kid, we’re coming to Israel whether you want to see us or not. If you decide you don’t need to see us, we’ll just have a really nice vacation without you.

So the originally-planned-before-the-kid-decided-to-make-Aliyah-last-year trip was booked by the beginning of July. The consensus (at least between the hubby and me) was that we would visit the kid halfway through her gap year, which landed at the end of February. Of course, despite her confidence, the kid was ready to see us by the time we visited in November (December 12, 2017, Israel: Part III – “Soul to soul”) and probably could’ve used a visit in December and January for that matter…

Way back when, on November 15, 2017, the hubby and I witnessed the kid being told she had ninety days to “change your mind” about making Aliyah with “no consequences,” resulting in a temper tantrum every time we (okay…mostly I) reminded her of this emergency exit loophole. And she reminded us (yeah, okay, mostly me) that there was absolutely…positively…NO…WAY she was rescinding this decision…until she had thirty days left…

By January 15th, after sobbing daily through September and October and maintaining as much control as motherly possible throughout November, by December I was finally capable of accepting the kid’s decision and resigned to the fact that we would live over 6000 miles apart until one of us gave in and returned “home.” But on January 15, 2018, I was challenged with one of THE MOST difficult parenting days of my life…

The kid (sobbing on the phone): I’m so stupid! What was I thinking?! I’ve made a terrible mistake!

Me: You’re killing me…

By the end of that conversation, we had it all figured out. The hubby and I would visit in February, the kid would visit for several weeks during Passover and then she would return home at the beginning of June, forgoing any final exams, since none of her credits would transfer to the U.S. anyway (why stress over it, right?). I’ll admit it – being the mother of an only child, a daughter mind you, I was beyond ecstatic that she was coming home. I couldn’t bear the idea of being separated from her for an unspecified length of time – months, years, perhaps decades. What happens when she gets married and has children? I won’t be there to watch my grandchildren grow on a regular basis and help out annoyingly even when not needed. I wouldn’t be a regular part of her life for long and painful periods of time. Not to mention the army! OMG…I couldn’t even begin to think about my only daughter in combat in a country where conflict is a daily circumstance for its soldiers. And what happens when I get so old I can’t travel anymore?! Will she come back to nurse me on my deathbed? Or will I die alone, forgotten so many thousands of miles away…?

And then I started to panic about what would happen after she returned this summer. Having turned down an acceptance to Drexel University, along with the other eight schools she got into and their generous scholarships, could she get into any other school at this point?! Does she even want to go to college?! Will she work? Can she work?! We’re starting from Ground Zero again…holy shit…

While my brain was taking a ride on the Kingda Ka, the kid was calling her lone soldier* and Nefesh B’Nefesh advisors to discuss her ninety-day term limit and how it would effect any future decisions of returning to Israel. She was informed that, although there was indeed a ninety-day grace period, if her permanent residency and/or citizenship was rescinded and Aliyah not made, she would be considered a draft dodger and not be able to return to Israel without arrest and/or immediate induction into the army. This is when I made the hubby take over the phone calls…

Thankfully, by the end of January, all was right with the world again and the kid was back on track. In a nutshell, the kid didn’t want to fail, her biggest fear being broke and homeless with no social or emotional support. Making Aliyah has been her life plan. Much to my chagrin, there was never any other plan. In an attempt to convince me that her “plan” was to go to this school or that and study whatever seemed like a sure thing for the future, the kid had no desire toward following through (too bad she couldn’t have told us this before we spent thousands of dollars on testing, applications and acceptance fees). All in all, after years of refusing to ask for help from anyone, the kid finally found the massive support system she needed to get her through the day – she was going to stay and finish the Aliyah process. By February 15th, ninety days after declaring her intentions to make Aliyah, the kid was applying for her Israeli passport and became an official Israeli citizen with permanent residency.

So the-originally-planned-before-the-kid-decided-to-make-Aliyah-last-year trip went from an I-won’t-need-to-see-you visit to the interim we-need-to-talk-her-off-the-ledge intervention to the let’s-celebrate-this-amazing-woman’s-journey journey.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 – EWR (a.k.a Newark Liberty International Airport)

Thanks to the learning curve of monosyllabic responses, we breezed through check-in and security without incident…and then our flight was delayed 1 hour and 15 minutes…dammit…

So we entertained ourselves with free wifi, eavesdropping on nearby conversations and foraging for whatever kosher food the terminal had to offer…until the cops showed up…well, two police officers to be exact, who had a strange resemblance to Mutt and Jeff…

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While “Mutt” brandished his firearm and loudly threatened little old men because they “abandoned” their luggage while attempting to daven Mincha (afternoon prayers), “Jeff” slipped away before being associated with Manic Mutt. Several different men unsuccessfully tried to explain the situation to Mutt – the men were praying and Mr. Mutt was being downright rude for interrupting their service, the baggage was not “abandoned” and, quite honestly, at over 6′ 5″ tall and pure muscle, Mr. Mutt was absolutely scary. Some of the older gentlemen were Holocaust survivors and scenes from WWII Nazi films flashed through my mind. I’m not sure what convinced Manic Mutt to finally relinquish his post, but we were all glad to be rid of him. I briefly chatted with an older woman who was heading to Israel to visit her children and grandchildren and agreed to watch her baggage while she visited the little ladies room lest Manic Mutt should return.

Climbing into our Israeli Time Machine, we finally began the originally-planned-before-the-kid-decided-to-make-Aliyah-last-year trip. Having booked our flight back in July, the hubby managed to reserve two seats in Economy Plus – a row of three seats that have no seats in front. The only downfall to these seats is that you’re on the wing (which can be quite noisy) and you have to promise the flight crew that you’ll “take charge” if the plane should crash…gulp…

Our take charge crash buddy was named “Bella,” a woman our age who was going to Israel ahead of her husband who would be flying the following week so they could visit four of their eight children and more than half of their twenty grandchildren shown to me in hundreds of photos stored on her cell phone while she ate constantly because it helped with her motion sickness…and the “conversation” continued for more than half the 10-hour flight until she literally talked herself to sleep. I can’t complain – she actually made the time go quickly and was quite amusing.

The only other downfall to Economy Plus is that the space in front of you is a social hub. Being a social butterfly myself, this is certainly not a downfall. I thoroughly enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and hearing their stories about why they are flying to Israel. There was our neighbor Hildy and her mom who we discovered the week before would be on the same flight. She was going to visit her daughter who had been in the same army program as the kid and was instrumental in helping talk the kid off that ledge of potential failure. There was the Russian woman who made Aliyah years ago with her parents and now resides in Brooklyn, her parents remaining in Israel. She was traveling with her son who was also born in Israel. Together they were heading to Afulah for her father’s funeral. There was Shirley who was born in Israel and attempted to live in Brooklyn where her family’s textile business was located; however, she returned to Israel because she and her father didn’t get along and now has two sons. In between all this frivolity, two separate minyanim (Jewish prayer services) were held, one in the galley in the back of the plane and the other in front of our seats, as I wondered how the pilots adjust to the sudden weight changes within the cabin. Then there was the flight crew – post-military Millenials with the attitudes to match, the one male who viciously bit his nails during take off and landing, refusing to assist passengers with their luggage and to whom all the fashionably coordinated female attendants giggled and swooned over.

Aside from the “oozy juice” pouring from the freezer and splattering all over the fashionably coordinated female attendants while the cute nail-biting resistor laughed, the flight was fairly uneventful…

When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse
Fix You – Coldplay

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

*A “lone soldier” refers to any foreign soldier with no family ties in Israel. The kid is currently involved with the Garin Tzabar program – https://www.garintzabar.org/

Abandonment

Boy oh boy, Old Man Winter is really sticking it to me. Seventy-four days into 2018 and I’ve only had one bike ride…ONE! By this time last year, I had been on Old Bessie nine times! It’s just not okay as far as I’m concerned.

So my one and only ride of 2018 occurred on February 14th. The temperature slowly climbed into the low 50s and the sky was that perfect blue with fluffy white clouds. On the usual route to my go-to place, I passed the former First Baptist Church on Pennsylvania Avenue and discovered it had officially become the Y.A.L.E. School (a special needs school for children with developmental disabilities):

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I thought about the post I wrote last year (April 28, 2017), Is G-d dead? , questioning the abandonment of religion in America.

Taking the short cut through the parking lot, my mood lightened somewhat and I questioned whether or not I really wanted to know what kind of waste was being dumped there…

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As I neared the river, the sky turned an ugly grey and a fierce wind began to howl. Defiantly, I carried on, determined to get in that one and only ride of the year and found myself exploring another building that had been abandoned around the same time as the church. Once a thriving private school, the Living Faith Christian Academy now lays in waste, succumbing to the Hoodlums of Cherry Hill – windows and glass doors shattered by rocks, wooden doors ripped from their hinges, graffiti- laden walls attest to the guilty parties and air conditioners plucked from their casings…

Outside, the playground stands desolate in mile-high grass and the hopscotch and four-corner boards lure the eye with their surprisingly vibrant colors miraculously preserved despite the elements while evidence of residency hides behind a concrete wall…

A former hotel and restaurant, the building directly next door was also vacated shortly after the school. Despite the owner’s attempts to close off the area with wire fences, the Hoodlums of Cherry Hill have managed to find their way over and through the boundary.

Feeling thoroughly depressed and not wanting to fend my way back home as the temperatures and the sun began to plummet, I made a pitstop to photograph the hibernating boats at the marina and longed for warmer weather…

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…which I got exactly one week later when we abandoned New Jersey for the mother land – Israel.

Oh, and I lied – I did manage to get in another “bike ride” this year…

“I walk this empty street
On the boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one, and I walk alone”
Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

It only hurts when I burp

Lying on a gurney in the PCCU (Progressive Cardiac Care Unit) there was only one detail I kept focusing on – my heart was at peace.

For those of you who know me and/or have been following my blog, for over 20 years I have suffered from SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) (May 7, 2017 – Thank you Pearl and fuck you heart! May 16, 2017 – Me Day…June 25, 2017 – My life is going down the toilet…Israel: Part I – The path to acceptance):

“Atrial or Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a fast heart rate that starts in the upper chambers of the heart…Electrical signals in the heart’s upper chambers fire abnormally, which interferes with electrical signals coming from the sinoatrial (SA) node — the heart’s natural pacemaker. A series of early beats in the atria speeds up the heart rate. The rapid heartbeat does not allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts so blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.” – American Heart Association

At some point in my 20s, I had an EKG (electrocardiogram) administered for no apparent reason and discovered an arrhythmia (a condition in which the heart beats with an irregular or abnormal rhythm) in my heart. After being told it was a common occurrence and knowing that mostly every member of my family had some kind of irregular heartbeat, I wasn’t concerned at the time. Several follow-up EKGs over the next few years pretty much repeated what I already knew – the arrhythmia wasn’t going away. If not for those EKGs, I never would’ve known I had this issue. And it wasn’t effecting my health in any way…until 1995…

As I mentioned in my last blog (January 12, 2018 – Go the f**k to sleep), in 1995 I was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition known as pseudotumor cerebri after two years of misdiagnosis while living in a painful hell. Electing not to have a stent surgically planted in my spine, I was prescribed the only medication that was going to alleviate my symptoms and get me back on the road to recovery – a medication that took advantage of the arrhythmia residing in my heart, setting forth the beginning of SVT over the next 22 years. Even though this medication was stopped when I got pregnant with the kid, SVT became a permanent fixture during the third trimester, landing me for the first time in the emergency room. A new medication helped to control the abnormal rhythm during pregnancy, but after giving birth my heart rate plummeted to 40 BPM and the medication was no longer an option. As SVT worsened over the years, I learned to control my heart rate by completely cutting out caffeine and it worked…until last year…

A year ago an endocrinologist prescribed levothyroxine (a generic form of Synthroid) due to a long-term battle with hypothyroidism. Unbeknownst to me at that time, its number one side effect is heart palpitations. Five months later, after arguing with this doctor ad nauseum about daily episodes of SVT (three of which were very serious episodes while riding my bike long distance), I took myself off levothyroxine and finally called my cardiologist…who was no longer practicing…now I needed to find a new endocrinologist and a new cardiologist.

At this point, you’re probably asking,”What the hell were you waiting for woman?!” Trust me, I’ve repeatedly asked myself the same question over the past year…and my reasons are quite simple:

(1) I “don’t do sick.” (March 30, 2017 – Death defying…) That’s just me and my genetics, plain and simple.

(2) About 15 years ago I had a cardiologist who performed a treadmill stress test and concluded that I needed a pacemaker – I wasn’t even 40-years-old and had a toddler at home. Needless to say, I ran from his office never to be seen there again.

(3) Ten years ago I was forced to find a new cardiologist who could perform a nuclear stress test prior to having laser surgery to eradicate some cancerous growths. Making the “mistake” of mentioning a history of heart issues, my oncologist insisted on the test before undergoing the laser to make sure I could handle the anesthesia. Luckily, my heart cooperated that day, and I passed the test with flying colors – hence my belief that I had SVT under control and surgery was no longer necessary.

(4) Seven years ago I had to have the same laser surgery, but this time the oncologist only wanted a treadmill stress test. Although the cardiologist was able to induce some palpitations and recommended cardiac ablation, he deemed my heart healthy enough to undergo anesthesia without incident. Of course I followed through with the laser surgery, but didn’t return to discuss the ablation.

(5) People die in hospitals…which I’ve witnessed firsthand. After 36 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing the kid out of my body at 11:30am, I was ready to leave by dinner time. Following my hysterectomy, I could’ve easily jumped from my hospital bed dragging my morphine drip and urinary catheter behind me. Don’t get me wrong, most days I’m a really good patient…until you put me in the hospital.

(6) Anxiety – I’m that 1% who suffers the “worst case scenario.” It’s my track record and just my plain dumb luck…

So after 20 years of denial reinforced by doctors, EKGs, stress tests, echocardiograms and ultrasounds, I convinced myself that I could live with it.

The good news was that I had found a new cardiologist last summer who I liked and trusted, mostly because he agreed that the levothyroxine had been the culprit in bringing my SVT out of hiding with a vengeance. However, he also strongly recommended cardiac ablation. I agreed to follow up with the electrophysiologist within the same practice and go through with the cardiac ablation by the end of 2017…until the kid called about making aliyah and we impulsively flew to Israel…and then I came down with a respiratory infection that last over a month…more excuses…until that last trip to Israel when I had that hour-long bout of SVT before takeoff. On that flight I promised the hubby I would call the cardiologist as soon as we returned to the states.

And I kept my promise and scheduled a cardiac ablation for January 16th.

Barely capable of sleeping the night before and fasting since midnight, the hubby drove me to the hospital. Arriving fifteen minutes early, the hubby made a B-line for the toilet and I signed in as a receptionist slapped onto my wrist a red plastic bracelet with bold capital letters reading “ALLERGIES.” Okay, the first hurdle of anxiety has been jumped – someone has actually read my chart and knows of my numerous and potentially lethal allergies. Before I could sit down and make myself comfortable, I was whisked off to an office where a woman slapped another plastic bracelet onto my wrist, this one white and containing personal information. Second hurdle of anxiety jumped – no one’s going to confuse me with the patient who’s getting prosthetic testicle implants…

Fifteen minutes later I was called back to prep for the procedure. Walking by the nurses’ station, my escort was asked by her supervisor what my name was, to which I announced in a sing-song voice with jazz hands, “Alice!” My escort followed suit and all the staff giggled. Anxiety hurdle number three – everyone’s nice and easily entertained.

Changing into a hospital gown and hopping onto a gurney, I was greeted by another nurse with a fabulous sense of humor and an ability to avoid pain through distraction – wiggle your toes while I shove this IV needle into your vein…and it actually helped. Fourth anxiety hurdle – limited pain through genuine kindness. Another nurse administered one last EKG confirming the long ago diagnosed arrhythmia lived with for over 20 years…and the hubby was allowed to wait with me…and we waited.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had met the electrophysiologist only twice – once eight years ago and the second back in August of 2017…what he hell did he look like?! What if some dude came over and claimed he was my physician?! What if I did end up with testicular implants?! Thankfully, all the staff confirmed his identity as he approached my little corner of pre-op. Anxiety hurdle number five – doctor recognition.

The doctor proceeded to walk us through the procedure – how they would sedate me, insert catheters into veins in both sides of my groin and thread these tubes to my heart in order to deliver energy in the form of heat to modify the tissue in my heart that was causing the arrhythmia. After years as a psychiatric social worker with a few years of medical transcription in between, his words didn’t phase me in the least. When he started to explain the possible “down sides” of the procedure, that’s when my brain got stuck…

Bleeding or infection at the site where the catheter was inserted – okay, I could deal with this one…wouldn’t be the first time.

Damage to your blood vessels where the catheter may have scraped as it traveled to my heart – okay, just try to visualize this one…that’s when the brain stops thinking…

Damage to my heart’s electrical system that could require a pacemaker…See! That cardiologist way back when was right!

Possible stroke -I had nightmares of this days leading up to the procedure.

There was no turning back…and the doctor literally evaporated…okay, so maybe not literally…

…and then I made it known loud and clear that I.WAS.ANXIOUS

By the end of the night, I was known as that “one who said she had anxiety…”

That’s when one of the OR nurses introduced herself (and when I started paying attention to names for some unknown reason at the time).  Her name was Holly, and she explained what her role was as well as all the other women (except for one man who she kinda blew off) that would be in the operating room with me. Obviously recognizing my anxiety (perhaps because of my repeated exclamations of feeling anxious), Holly managed to calm me down after answering the routine virally paranoid  questions about traveling abroad, to which I answered, “Yes…Israel” and to which she exclaimed her pending visit with her church group this coming October. Anxiety hurdle number six – interfaith love of Israel and a topic I love to talk about.

After meeting one of the anesthesiologists, Tom, who in the end had nothing to do with my surgery, Holly and I chatted about Israel as she wheeled me through a labyrinth of hallways to the OR. The last stop before D-Day, I waited and watched in the hallway as the ladies prepped the operating room…and, holding back sobs of fear, I clearly announced, once again, that I was ANXIOUS and guaranteed my heart would go into SVT upon request…and Holly, ever my savior, came back to reassure me that all was good with the world and we continued to talk about Israel. And then I met David (King David?!), the lead anesthesiologist who reminded me of my meeting Tom (doubting Thomas?!) and mentioned that Leah would be my anesthesiologist for the procedure (who, I would later find out, had a lunch break during my ablation?!) Wait…how many anesthesiologists do I need for this “quick” procedure?! Carefully sliding me from gurney to operating table, I made a note of all the names of the people present in the room – Holly, Kathy, Karen, Benjamin, Leah…and I reminded them about how anxious I was, trying to link their names to some personal significance…

Kathy! My oldest sister’s name is Kathy! Karen! Several of my best friends are named Karen! Benjamin (who was Asian and I referred to as Benyamin, which produced a giggle), the hubby’s paternal grandfather! Leah! Beautiful Leah, our matriarch and wife of Yacov! Anxiety hurdle number seven…as my vision got blurry and my speech slurred, I told Leah how sneaky she was for slipping me a Mickey when I wasn’t lookin’…

One of the things about my brain is that I dream very vividly – if I put my mind to it, my dreams would make fantastic screenplays. In essence, I sometimes have to consider whether or not my “dreams” are real or imagined. So when I found myself having conversations throughout my surgery, I thought nothing of it. I was simply “dreaming” about my experience. Only later did I come to find that I was actually conversing with the medical staff in the OR during the procedure.

Oh…the two things I failed to mention earlier:

(1) Warning the cardiologist that I was a sleep talker, and

(2) Asking Tom, the anesthesiologist, what would happen if I woke up during the procedure. Answers:

Cardiologist: “Can we record?!”

Anesthesiologist: “No problem! The drugs are so good you won’t even know what’s happening.”

I remember talking about Israel with Holly and having a conversation with Leah about being a red head. I “dreamed” about my mother and her family…did I discuss this out loud?! (Side bar – my mother’s father is buried across the street from the hospital Meemaw – December 5th).

Next thing I knew, Leah was talking to me about the procedure and I was WIDE awake…which apparently freaked out the entire medical staff…because I had been loaded up with twice the required sedation for someone my size…the words “elephant tranquilizer” whispered throughout the OR…

Although the procedure itself only took one hour (thanks to my cooperative heart going straight into SVT), apparently, it took almost an hour to get me sedated because I kept waking up throughout the procedure. Leah explained how I went under almost immediately…and then I opened my eyes and started talking again…repeatedly – something the hubby and the kid have experienced numerous times over the past several years. Yeah, it’s freaky for those witnesses, but I have no recollection whatsoever of these events. Leah explained that some people can metabolize chemical enzymes quicker than others. Who knew?! Either way, anesthesiologist Tom was right – I didn’t feel a thing and honestly didn’t give a s**t…

Doing better than anyone had expected, I actually skipped two levels of recovery because I was so alert. Four hours after surgery, the hubby was driving us home.

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Two days post-surgery, I feel awesome…although the “elephant tranquilizers” are drastically wearing off and occasional chest pains remind me of my ordeal…but it only hurts when I burp…

I can’t get over how calm and quiet my heart feels. For the first time in 23 years my heart isn’t struggling and I barely notice it’s even there. Me and my happy heart are ready to live again.

I’m eagerly looking forward to my next bike ride…without incident…if only the weather would cooperate…

“Wo! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I got you”

I Feel Good – James Brown

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Go the f**k to sleep…

“The cats nestle close to their kittens now. The lambs have laid down with the sheep. You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear. Please go the fuck to sleep.” – Adam Mansbach

When I was pregnant with the kid, the hubby and I “planned” the course of her life over the next nine months with precise judgment, Dr. Spock and What to Expect When You’re Expecting in tow. You see, my pregnancy was going to be “perfect” – there was no room for failure.

When I was a little girl, my “plan” was to have six children – yup, just like the Brady Bunch, three girls and three boys…minus the death, divorce and optional indentured housekeeper. As an adult, having worked with some of the most damaged children as the result of the most messed up parents in existence, I swore off children forever. The hubby wasn’t much keener on the idea either, thanks to Family Court pretty much zapping him of any desire to procreate. But then it happened…after seven years of marriage, me having transferred to the adult unit and the hubby becoming a managing attorney, we sat on the couch and admitted to one another through a waterfall of tears that we really wanted to have kids together…and then we discovered that I couldn’t get pregnant…

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” – Man plans and G-d laughs…

In 1995, after two years of multiple physicians telling me, “It’s just allergies, hun,” I was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition know as pseudotumor cerbri. Two physicians have earned street cred here – Dr. Howard J. Gross, Ophthalmologist (for catching it) and Dr. Robert Sergott, Neuro-Opthalmologist/Wills Eye Hospital (for successfully treating it).

“Pseudotumor cerebri literally means “false brain tumor.” It is likely due to high pressure within the skull caused by the buildup or poor absorption of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The disorder is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 50. Symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri, which include headache, nausea, vomiting, and pulsating sounds within the head, closely mimic symptoms of large brain tumors.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

That “buildup or poor absorption of (CSF)” does quite a number on your head – headaches like you’ve never experienced ever in your life (and that includes migraines, of which I’ve had a number). Close your eyes and envision the inside of your body – your heart pumping blood, your lungs filling with oxygen, your kidneys filtering impurities, your bladder filling and releasing. Now imagine the fluid that runs up and down your spine into and out of your brain…and it gets stuck inside your head…that head that contains your brain…inside a skull made of inflexible bone. There’s only so many openings in the skull allowing fluid to escape…or get trapped. Enter the sella turcica:

Sella-turcica-anatomy

Not only did my CSF push its way through my eye sockets, causing temporary blindness and frightening vertigo, it decided to form a pool inside my sella and, in turn, drowned and pulverized my pituitary gland into a pancake. Biology 101 – a mammal needs a pituitary gland to procreate. But my pituitary gland didn’t know that because it was a hot mess smashed against my sella wall.

Luckily for me, in 1997 the particular medication I needed in order to get pregnant had finished its trials and was available for use – cabergoline. It was the easiest medication I’ve ever taken in my life – half a pill once a week and no side effects whatsoever! Within two month’s time, I was miraculously pregnant with the kid. Eight years later, following my hysterectomy, the obstetrician would tell me how baffled he was that I ever got pregnant in the first place – numerous fibroids (one as big as a grapefruit) had grown like fungus on an old rusty pipe and severe endometriosis had left me hemorrhaging, my uterus having fused with my bladder and both fusing to the back wall of my abdominal cavity (which would explain a very painful pregnancy). By that point, we all believed the kid was a true miracle…

One of the greatest things about the kid is that she has slept through the night since the age of five weeks and in her own bed. She unquestionably takes after her father, who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat without warning. Since day one, every night at bedtime the hubby would take the kid to her room, read a book to her and she would fall asleep mostly without incident. What the kid sucked at was napping, which completely ceased the day we took away her binky at 18 months-of-age. In the end, it was a godsend – she was definitely going to sleep through the night for sure!

I can’t say I’ve ever been that good at going to sleep. And the kid takes after me when it comes to napping – they’re nonexistent…

When we were little girls, Regina and I shared a bedroom. Tucking ourselves into bed at night, we patiently waited for dad to come upstairs to turn off the lights. Begging him for a bedtime story, my father would reluctantly fabricate some kind of tale to get us to go to sleep: “Once upon a time there were two girls named Regina and Alice and they went to bed. The end.” Other times he seemed to be telling a story, but inevitably the “story” was just a lengthy joke with punchlines we seldom understood. And sometimes he liked to play pranks…

One of the big fads back in the 70s was baton twirling. On a regular basis the kids on my block would gather together (girls and boys alike) in someones driveway and practice various twirling routines. We even formed a “class” at one point, two older neighborhood sisters being our “teachers.” But the real rage of baton twirling at that time was the glow-in-the-dark baton – a green plastic rod with rubber glow-in-the-dark balls on the ends. Hours were spent in darkened rooms twirling away to watch the streaks of light flashing through the air.

Back to our nightly bedtime routine and that occasion when dad played a prank so worthy it sticks in my mind to this day. After telling whatever “story” of the night, my father turned off the light and pretended to leave the room, closing the door “behind” him. As Regina and I drifted off into la-la land, we heard the soft moanings of a ghost lost in purgatory. Sheepishly peeking from behind my covers to see the entity in the dark, all I could see were two small green eyes floating in the air…and then…”BOOGETY, BOOGETY, BOOGETY!” those small green eyes jumping up and down in some kind of ritualistic dance performed prior to devouring its prey. Unbeknownst to us, dad had secretly grabbed the glow-in-the-dark baton before turning off the lights and stayed in the room long enough to convince us he was long gone downstairs…

Now, decades of fear sleeping later, I can’t sleep. Between the hot flashes and mind-racing anxiety, I pray for one solid night of rest…waiting for those small green eyes to perform one more time…

“Scary monsters, super creeps
Keep me running, running scared”

Scary Monsters – David Bowie

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Baby it’s cold outside…

A year ago today it was 51 degrees, so I went for a bike ride to my “go-to place.” I don’t think that’s going to happen today…

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It’s 23 degrees outside with a windchill of 9 degrees and 20-40mph winds – we are not leaving the house. Thankfully I thought ahead and stocked up on the necessary snow day goodies.

Last night I snuggled up with my little Latke and a quilt made by my mother, the temperatures outside plummeting into the single digits. Having forgotten a DVD purchased last year, I chose to watch the original Poseiden Adventure (1972), one of my (many) all-time favorites.

With an all-star cast of the decade, the movie is based on Paul Gallico’s novel of the same name. According to IMDB:

“Paul Gallico was inspired to write his novel by a voyage he made on the Queen Mary. When he was having breakfast in the dining room, the liner was hit by a large wave, sending people and furniture crashing to the other side of the vessel. He was further inspired by a true incident which occurred aboard the Queen Mary during World War II. Packed with American troops bound for Europe, the ship was struck by a gargantuan freak wave in the North Atlantic. It was calculated that if the ship had rolled another five inches, she would have capsized like the Poseidon.”

Until last night, I never knew the movie was based on a real novel. This is definitely on my next-to-read list (and hopefully won’t ruin the movie for me after all these years)!

What I didn’t know about the DVD was that it has a “Special Feature” showing the escape route of the survivors as they travel through the boat while watching the movie, and I was thoroughly entertained. I decided to look up some trivia about the movie and came to find there was a remake in 2006 – how did I not know this?!

I immediately rented a copy from Amazon Prime and continued on with what seemed to become a Poseiden Adventure marathon and then compared the two…

In the original 1972 version, the story was much more social. We are provided enough information about each character, either from themselves or from others, that you get a sense of who they are. There is also more of a collective interaction between the personae to the extent that they actually know something about each other. However, I was bothered by the 2006 adaptation and couldn’t quite put my finger on it until about halfway through the movie – it was social inept. Lacking any particular insights regarding a bunch of self-absorbed knuckleheads, I found myself truly not caring if anyone survived.

What I did notice was that the 2006 movie gets to the point, producing a true sense of urgency to stay alive and get the hell off the boat. And then I was reminded of something I said to the hubby when we were in Israel recently – what I love about Israelis is their no-beating-around-the bush approach to life – they get to the point. When surrounded by perpetual and hateful tension and children are raised knowing they will fight for their country (many with their very lives), there’s no time to waste – get to the point. Taking this to heart, the hubby and I have decided to embrace this recent empty nest of ours…which brings me back to July 4, 2017…

The last fireworks display in my township was in 2013 and gratefully the kid and I were present, albeit sitting on a muddy rain-soaked football field where we gagged on massive smoke plumes and were deafened by loud explosions along with thousands of other human beings. Needless to say, Fourth of July fireworks ended that year for the last time in over 30 years due to the strain imposed on emergency personnel in guaranteeing public safety. Many people have complained, but the mayhem of that night still sticks with me – it was true pandemonium.

Every effort to see fireworks since that night had failed year after year for some reason or another, so in 2017 the kid and I planned to see the Fourth of July fireworks in the next town over…but then I got sick and the kid got an offer she couldn’t refuse from a friend whose wealthier locality promised to be a much better event. The highlight of my evening was when an anonymous neighbor presented us with an illegal display of fireworks observed from our porch (most fireworks are illegal to purchase/own in the state of New Jersey) . Then I turned to the hubby and advised him that we would see “real” fireworks by the end of the year.

That night I sat at the computer and devised a plan revolving around Philadelphia New Year’s Eve fireworks. Discharged off a barge on the Delaware River along Penns Landing, many people from southern New Jersey go to the Camden waterfront to view the fireworks. Not knowing what the weather would hold, I decided to research places where we could watch from indoors and decided to get to the point – I was going to get a hotel room on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware waterfront with a window facing the river in full view of the fireworks, the Hilton…which I discover had no reservations available. Not yet ready to give up, I found the Holiday Inn Express a couple of blocks away and resigned to call. Providing a brief history of my love of fireworks followed by years of viewing suppression, I stressed the necessity of my scheme. I managed to evoke a giggle from the reservationist, who gleefully assisted in fulfilling each and every request. Pleased with my success, I also bought two tickets to the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra’s annual New Year’s Eve concert.

Arriving around 4:30pm to our little hotel nestled under the Ben Franklin Bridge with Interstate 95 in its backyard and the constant rattle of the commuter trains, the hubby and I settled into our room. Much to my delight, we were informed that there were TWO fireworks displays  – one at 6:00pm and the second at midnight – so we munched on fruit, nuts, cheese and crackers, washing it all down with a nice bottle of red wine while waiting for the first show to begin.

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As the sun disappeared behind us and the windchill dropped into negative numbers, I was thankful to have had the foresight in 90-degree July to be indoors for New Year’s Eve. And I thanked G-d for all my fortune…and that I wasn’t homeless…

And at exactly 6:00pm, the fireworks began!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_New_Year%27s_Concert

“I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)”

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Frank Loesser

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Israel: Parts VII and VIII – So long, farewell…

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

November 20, 2017

With only two days left in Israel, we found ourselves quickly running out of time in the site-seeing department. Looking at our options, I declared today to be King David Day – an all-day excursion focused soley on his majesty…

Located inside the Old City walls next to the “traditional” entrance at Jaffa Gate (photo on the left), the Jerusalem Citadel is mostly famous for its Tower of David. Looking to the right, it’s the first thing you walk by as you enter the Old City walls.

An interesting fact about the “Tower of David” is that King David never stepped foot in his alleged tower, having been built by the Hasmoneans over one hundred years after his death.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-the-tower-of-david-a-glimpse-into-a-citadel-touched-by-everyone-but-the-legendary-king/

The Citadel also houses The Tower of David Museum – the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to the history of Jerusalem. Beginning with the Canaanite period, assorted rooms fabricated within the original walls of the Citadel follow Jerusalem’s history through the First and Second Temple eras and ends with the Six-Day War, each room covering a specific time period. We were delighted to see a new room being added that will cover modern-day Jerusalem and anticipated it being open by our next visit.

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Chandelier in the entrance foyer
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David slays Goliath
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Miniature of Jerusalem in 1873
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Mohammed ascending to heaven on a flying horse

Although a fascinating museum, I wanted to spend most of my time outside exploring the ancient ruins thousands of years old, the Citadel’s history told through each and every stratum…

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Archaeological Garden
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Ancient manuscripts
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Inside the Citadel

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Tower of David from outside the Old City walls

 

Carefully climbing the narrow and slippery stone steps on my way to the Tower, I came upon an enormous sukkah in the process of being dismantled. I was saddened to have missed the festivities that had taken place only a few weeks before our visit. And then I was informed that climbing to the top of the Tower was no longer permitted…

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At least the views from the ramparts are worth the hike!

 

Continuing on our day-long excursion in honor of the king and meandering our way down the labyrinth of stone streets through the Armenian Quarter, we headed toward Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem and believed to be the final resting place of Kind David. Quickly passing the swarm of tourists surrounding the infamous statue of David playing the harp, the hubby and I made our way to Kever David (Tomb of David).

My next mission was to find the overlook above the tomb leading to the Cenaculum (“Upper Room”) a.k.a. the “Last Supper Room.” Once at the overlook, the view was dominated by the Church of the Dormition, believed to be where “the Virgin Mary passed from earthly life.”

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Church of the Dormition (on right)

Peeking over the railing enclosing the rooftop, I cringed at a pile of neglected bicycles and resisted the temptation to visit a stranger’s sukkah…

Entering the Cenaculum, I studied the Christians who stood in awe and recalled the first time I discovered this place…

Israel was not an actual place for me when I was a child. When learning Bible passages, I imagined a magical land in some nether region of the world that no longer existed. Considering the State of Israel was created when my parents were teenagers and the Six-Day War occurred when I was two-years-old, my vision was not exactly fiction. And being fairly new to the Jewish religion in 2011, my Christian memories were definitely piqued my first visit to Israel. Almost 15 years since my conversion to Judaism, I too found myself in awe – for years I had learned about Jesus, the Last Supper predominant in my memory. But the following day, exploring Eir David (City of David), my mind would be forever blown – the Bible was brought to life and I’ve never been the same…but that’s a story for next time…

Having purchased package tickets earlier in the day allowing us access to the museum and a light show at night, we decided to have dinner and make our way back to the Tower of David for The Night Spectacular. Viewing the show from stadium seats, one is taken on a journey through the history of Jerusalem via giant images projected onto the walls of the Citadel accompanied by music. If you’re ever in the Old City, this exhibition is a must see!

With King David Day coming to a close, the hubby and I wandered back to the hotel where we discussed our plans for our last day in Israel…

November 21, 2017

Waking up to pouring rain and 40-degree temperatures, we resolved to be indoors for the day and agreed on the Bible Lands Museum, staying in our hotel room until the very last second before checkout. The highlight of our morning was watching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s motorcade drive by, his home being a mere two blocks up the street from our hotel. Every time I’ve been to Israel, “Bibi” (as Israeli’s like to refer to him) has made an appearance…well, at least his limo has…

First you hear the spastic honking of the police car warning that the motorcade is approaching, followed by a police officer’s voice over an intercom telling everyone to stop driving and the police car is planted in the middle of the intersection. Always to my astonishment, people actually stop (albeit their car horns expressing dissatisfaction with the inconvenience), as the officer’s voice continues to urge drivers to “stay put.” That’s when you can hear the motors of the patrol roaring down the street, whizzing through the intersection like bats out of hell. Depending on who’s traveling with good ole Bibi is reflected in the number of cars, limos and SUVs hauling behind.

As checkout rolled around, we stored our luggage with the front desk and hailed a taxi to the museum. Taking the kid’s advice, I ordered the hubby to sit in the front seat and demand “HaMetre!” after a lame attempt to haggle a price based on what we paid the last time we drove to the same neighborhood, the driver blaming the traffic (of which there was none) for the hike in charges and refusing to “HaMetre!”. And off we went to the Bible Lands Museum.

http://www.blmj.org/en/

The hubby was somewhat annoyed with the museum, primarily because of its title of “Bible Lands.” I think we both assumed the museum focused on the Bible, plain and simple. However, the title of Bible Lands Museum is actually fitting – the museum covers the people, places and things that existed in the time of the Bible and explains what life was like in relation to Israel and the Bible’s narratives. Of course, I wanted to see every.single.little.thing, but the hubby’s disappointment and the museum’s imminent closure, no other hints were necessary in convincing me to move along…

Having four hours to kill until our sherut arrived, we opted for dinner at a cafe up the street from the hotel. We had eaten at the same cafe upon our arrival to Jerusalem and were very pleased with the results. However, tonight was definitely an off night – our waitress was no doubt in the top three worst food servers we’ve ever experienced. As soon as she took our order, she went on break, sitting at the bar eating her dinner and playing on her smart phone. As we waited…and waited…and waited we managed to get the hosts attention and questioned the whereabouts of our meals. Running back to the kitchen and swiftly bringing out food, we informed the poor chap that it was not our order and yet another waitress appeared to straighten things out. Needless to say, the hubby refused to leave a tip, but I insisted on leaving a tip that was more direct and to the point – a few agorat (equivalent to pennies in American money).

Disappointed with our last meal in Israel, we walked back to the hotel and made ourselves comfortable in the lobby while waiting for the sherut to pick us up. Reserving our ride the day before, we knew our driver was due around 7:45PM, a little over an hour wait. Surprised at his promptness, our chariot to the airport arrived precisely on time…and stoned…this was not a good sign…

As we stopped to pick up each passenger, we endured the driver’s complaints about passengers not being ready, along with some other expletives in Hebrew we didn’t quite understand. As far as taxi rides go, that ride BY FAR was the most scariest one I’ve ever encountered. Driving what I believed to be the speed of light with a dash of psychedelia , all I could think about was Harry Potter on the Knight Bus…

The hubby and I nervously chatted with the girl behind us who had moved to Israel the year before but never made aliyah and ended up meeting a man from South Carolina and was now moving back to the States to live with him. Thank G-d for this woman! If not for her, I definitely would’ve had a stroke…

Breezing through security and customs, to the mild amusement of our ticket counter representative, we questioned if any Economy Plus seats had miraculously opened up. Hey…it never hurts to ask…And even though the hubby had changed our seats prior to leaving the States so that we would be sitting together on the aisle, they were reassigned – a religious gentlemen who didn’t know English and slept the entire flight…not to mention the nasty lady from Philadelphia sitting in front of me who kept reaching around and poking me awake to complain about me pushing her chair. Aside from a few choice words on my part, I just reminded myself that our next trip would be during Purim…and we definitely had Economy Plus seats…or else…

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight”

So Long, Farewell – Julie Andrews/Bill Lee

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Israel: Part VI – Dread and beauty

November 19, 2017

The overly generous hubby made the mistake of giving $10USD to the housekeeping dude who cleaned our room once…okay, maybe twice over a seven-day period. Daily, starting from 6:00AM we are bombarded by the little old man who sings outside our door, staff yelling up and down the hallway while standing in front of our door, doors around us, along with toilet seats, slammed repeatedly until we finally emerge from our cave.

Advice from a friend: “Next time tip the dining room staff…”

I was in no mood today – the kid was leaving early this morning and I was dreading every second. It was hard enough saying goodbye when she left home back in September, but I knew this time would be just as painful as the last. My only saving grace was realizing how competent a person she had become. As she packed up the Batman blanket and Kinder Surprise egg toys into the hubby’s much beloved hiking backpack he humbly handed over, she handed Dolly to me…and of course I started to cry…and off she went…

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Israel Museum

Planning ahead, the hubby needed to keep me busy today. Having been to the Israel Museum before, I knew we could make a day of it. This is another museum with extensive grounds outdoors (much to my delight). With rain expected later in the day, I convinced the hubby to walk around outside before the weather turned gloomy. Our first stop was the Shrine of the Book, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Facing the complex with the blindingly white Shrine to the right, a massive black obelisk stands to the left – out of darkness there is light. Entering through the top of the white dome, we worked our way down into the story of the Scrolls and the history of the Judean desert through a multitude of ancient artifacts, finding ourselves in the structure’s inner circle containing the oldest Biblical manuscripts in existence, as well as a full-scale facsimile of the Great Isaiah Scroll and other ancient archaeological artifacts (no photos are permitted inside).

Looking at the time and having not heard from the kid, I desperately strained to shush the Little Voice by reassuring it that she had survived the bus ride and was back at her dorm and sent my first text – “All okay?” Even when the kid didn’t answer right away, I swept all anxiety aside, telling myself the wifi in her building must’ve went out again…

Exiting the Shrine, we were lead down a path to the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period…

…and still no word from the kid…my second text – “Hello?!” No answer…

Remaining calm, we made our way to the Zen Art Garden, where outdoor sculptures are added on a regular basis.

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My favorite of the sculptures is the one above entitled “LOVE,” a Hebrew version of Robert Indiana’s original LOVE sculpture displayed at the Indiana Museum of Art. What I love (no pun intended) about this work of art, is that it can be read from left to right, top then bottom or from top to bottom, left to right. At first we automatically see the alef and hey at the top and then vet and hey on the bottom – the letters forming the word ahava or “love,” for which the sculpture is named. However, when read top to bottom and left to right, you see alef and vet on the right and hey and hey on the left – Av Adonai – G-d our Father…love is G-d and G-d is love.

Another sculpture I hadn’t explored last time we were at the museum was something called “Space That Sees” created by James Turrell. Encountering a unassuming stark white structure, I was baffled by its title and couldn’t quite figure out what it meant.

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And then I noticed a gravel path off to my left and heading down a small hill in front of the “building,” the hubby opting to wait on a bench while I explored further. Coming across a doorway dug into the stone, I walked through a short hallway and found myself inside a sanctuary surrounded by gray and white concrete and limestone. My eye was suddenly drawn upward to a square opening cut into the ceiling  – and all I saw was that beautiful blue sky with the puffy white clouds, creating “an ever-changing abstract picture of the sky.”

 

Briefly misplacing the hubby and finding him sitting on a bench looking dehydrated in what turned out to be a rather hot day with no rain, we decided to head indoors to grab some lunch and gulp some much-needed water. On our way to the museum cafe, we stopped to take pictures of our reflections in Anish Kapoor’s “Turning the World Upside Down” sculpture. I also attempted to convince the hubby to sit in the giant apple, but grumpiness had taken over…

Ordering a couple of sandwiches and grabbing big jugs of water, we decided to sit outside in a shaded section of the terrace. As we ate, some very Israeli hooded crows plopped themselves on the table next to us and consumed the scraps left by a former patron and posed for the camera. Apparently one like the cheese and the other the bread…

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Finally the kid responded with her customary, “Yeah” and all was right with the world…

Before heading to the floors upstairs, we briskly perused the Youth Wing for Art Education, whose current exhibition was a colorful exploration about cats and dogs.

The abundance of exhibits throughout the museum are innumerable. This is my third time here and, once again, I exhausted myself with wanting to see every.little.thing. I try to remind myself every time to just pick a section to scrutinize for that one visit, but I never seem to listen to the Little Voice. Either way, the museum was closing soon, so we needed to hustle.

I have to say, I’m a sucker for Sephardi synagogues – brilliant white walls and columns with crisp accents and simple lines. The Tzedek ve-Shalom (“Justice and Peace”) synagogue, fashioned in typical Spanish and Portuguese style, was founded in 1736 and located in Paramaribo, Suriname, a small village on the northeast coast of South America. It was deconstructed from its homeland and later restored inside the museum.

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Working our way to the exit, we came across a sukkah (“booth”), a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. Created in the town of Fischach, Bavaria (Germany) for the Deller family in the early nineteenth century, this elaborately painted structure was smuggled out of Germany in 1935 and now stands in the Israel Museum.

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And, of course, we had to stop by a few masterpieces on the way out…

Thoroughly exhausted, we went back to the hotel to freshen up before heading to dinner.

We promised one another that we would not leave Jerusalem this time without eating at Burgers Bar and found our way back to Ben Yehuda once again.

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The first time I ate there in 2011 was the hubby’s second. He had forgotten that it was a cash-only establishment at that time and, although we had no cash, the server gave us our food based on the honor system, telling the hubby he could go to the ATM up the street after we finished our food (the kid and me staying back as collateral). Things had definitely changed over the past six years – now they took all kinds of credit cards. The hubby ordered his “usual” burger with me choosing the fancier lamb burger and a beer, of which the cashier spilled all over herself upon opening and handed me a new one. Waiting some time for our food, I was approached by a young woman who asked me if I was Alice. Wondering how we possibly knew each other, she giggled and told me that the cashier had called my name several times (I guess I really look like an Alice). As I approached the counter, the cashier told me that they were all out of lamb, so they made a burger from entrecote at no extra cost. Despite not having asked me if I minded the change, I wasn’t going to complain…and then the hubby said, “I make you lamb!”

And I managed to get through the rest of my day without worrying about the kid…

“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy”

All You Need Is Love – The Beatles

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Israel: Part V – Just another Shabbat in Jerusalem…

November 17, 2017- Shabbat

I LOVE Shabbat. Twenty-four plus hours of unplugged bliss and freedom from the daily grind. I’m guaranteed uninterrupted time with the hubby and to see my friends at synagogue and often for lunch. Time just ceases to exist…and this Shabbat I got to spend with the kid for the first time since September 9th.

Last night the kid announced she was meeting classmates from her high school who are also attending a “gap year” (the year between senior year of high school and first year in undergraduate school) in Israel, most of whom live in or near Jerusalem. So off she went to Ben Yehuda where young adults like to hang out before Shabbat and the friends gorged on pizza for lunch and caught up on each others lives. The hubby and I opted to do one of our favorite pre-Shabbat activities – walk through Machane Yehuda – a neighborhood in Jerusalem known as the shuk, a marketplace of multiple stalls filled with food, drink, merchandise, bars and restaurants and jam-packed with people shopping for their Shabbat meals.

Being there in person is the only way one can truly experience the flavors, aromas, colors and people interaction of this place.

Since meals were provided at the hotel we didn’t purchase any goods, but it was still fun taking in the action and stopping at our favorite falafel stand before heading back to home base.

The hubby and I decided to eat our falafel sandwiches on the hotel balcony overlooking King George Street when we heard a woman singing on the street below. Finishing our lunch, we strolled over to the railing and searched for the secret serenader.

Draped in an Israeli flag and wearing a crown made of foiled Magen David stars (Star of David), the lady singer wrapped crepe streamers around the electrical poles on the corner. Joined by another occupant of the hotel asking if we knew what was going on, the hubby hypothesized it had something to do with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War. This seemed to satisfy the man’s curiosity, which I figured made as much sense as any other reason…but then the weekly Pro-Palestinian protestors appeared on the opposite corner…and the flag-draped crooner started dancing up and down the sidewalk and into traffic…so I guess there may have been other alternate theories…

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This is when my interrogation of the stranger began (I’m really good at this – I can get people to confess some of the most personal stories of their lives, which at times can be very awkward). Upon introductions, his name is “Jeremy” and he is a “retired geological engineer” now living in Washington D.C. but comes to Israel to “consult” several times a year. This time he was joined by his “two buddies from down south” who decided to do some “exploring” around Jerusalem. Questioning why a retired geological engineer would consult several times a year in Israel, I pretended to understand Jeremy’s explanation of basics hydraulics and water technology. Feeling bold, I then questioned if he was originally from Washington, D.C., having detected an accent of southwestern influence, to which he admits he is a Native American from New Mexico. And then the hubby suddenly declared exhaustion and left me alone on the balcony with Jeremy. After a little small talk, Jeremy decided he was going to see if his buddies had returned and wished me a Shabbat Shalom.

Here’s where I’m the trustful one and the hubby more suspicious. Schooled in anthropology and becoming a social worker later in life, I was trained to listen and take notes. I’m also naive – I need to believe that what you are telling me is real (or at least I believe that you believe it to be real). The hubby comes from a very different educational background. He proclaimed that “Jeremy” (if that’s his real name) works for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and is “full of shit,” stating that Mr. Secret Agent’s story is “too clean” – that being a geological engineer who consults on water projects in Israel is too easy and a substandard fabrication. And where are these “buddies” of his?! “Buddies, my ass…” As for D.C.? Apparently that’s where Jeremy blew is cover…

Grabbing a bottle of wine, I headed for the balcony off our hotel room and sat to watch the pre-Shabbat chaos while waiting for the kid to return from her pizza outing. Surrounded by the incessant honking of car horns, people were frantically racing to make it home in time for Shabbat (which was at 4:03p.m.), one of whom was a man carrying a mattress on his head…only in Israel…Around 3:30p.m., I became riveted by a middle-age man dressed in a suit and holding a bottle of wine as he stood on the median in the middle of the busy intersection trying to hail a taxi. Worried for him, I vowed not to leave the balcony until he caught a ride. I could feel the panic in his face. As the clock ticked louder and louder, I prayed he would find someone to offer him a lift to his Shabbat host. With ten minutes to candle lighting, a taxi pulled over and the man was on his way! Let’s go eat!

November 18, 2017- Yemen Moshe

Having the whole day to ourselves while the kid caught up on some much needed sleep, the hubby and I decided to walk down to Yemen Moshe. A small village built in the 1890s as a response to overcrowding, it is made up of the first Jewish properties built outside the Old City walls. Yemen Moshe is named for its original builder Moses Montefiore, for whom the famous Montefiore Windmill is named.

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Being that it was Shabbat, I was unable to take photos. However, these photos are from our visit last year. It’s one of my favorite places to go in Jerusalem (and if I had a million dollars, I’d totally buy a piece of property there).

Returning to the hotel, we were greeted by “Jeremy” standing on the hotel stairway outside flanked by his “buddies” (who appeared more like bodyguards)…hmm…

Once Shabbat was over, we headed back to Machane Yehuda. I had recently read about Solomon Souza, a graffiti artist who started painting portraits and other figures on the doors of the stalls in the shuk beginning in 2015, and I was dying to see them for myself.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/young-artist-turns-jerusalems-market-into-gallery-of-famous-faces/

Only visible when the shuk is closed, dozens and dozens of doors are colorfully decorated with whimsical characters…

And dozens more of famous Israelis splattered across the market…

And then doors began opening and the bars and restaurants slowly came to life…

After heading to Ben Yehuda for some dinner, we wandered back to the hotel and enjoyed the little shops along King George Street before turning in for the night…

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Israelis take their candy very seriously

 

…and we never saw “Jeremy” again…

“Mr. cab driver won’t stop to pick me up
Mr. cab driver I might need some help
Mr. cab driver only thinks about himself”

Mr. Cab Driver – Lenny Kravitz

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump