COVID 19…you suck!

חלק שלוש עשרה

March 15, 2020

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

And then the electricity died…twice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

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

COVID 19…you suck!

חלק אחת עשרה ושנים עשרה

Shabbat 

March 13, 2020

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

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

I need wine…

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

March 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

 I Can’t Stand the Rain – Ann Peebles

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

COVID 19…you suck חלק עשר

March 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give me a break

Yeah, I made a mistake

For G-d’s sake

Hope my train ain’t too late

My skin is in a state

Sorry ‘bout the broken plates”

 Broken Plates – Aardvark Asteroid

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

COVID 19…you suck! חלק שמונה

March 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blondie

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

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

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

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

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

 We made him stay…

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

COVID 19, you suck…חלק שבע

March 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Us: Time to go…

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

 The Sound of Silence – Paul Simon

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

 

 

COVID 19, you suck…חלק שש

March 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7507_Moment(2)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Complaining – James Gardin

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

COVID 19, you suck חלק חמישי

March 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus began the Saga of the Broken Plates…

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

Broken Plates – Magneta Lane 

My Ten Plagues

Waters turn to blood

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

Frogs

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

Lice

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

Flies

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

Disease of the livestock

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

Boils

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

Hail and Fire

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

Locusts

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

Darkness

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

Death of the First-Born

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

COVID 19, you suck חלק רביעי

March 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still feel like I’m missing something…

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

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

COVID19, you suck…חלק שלישי

March 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song for the Sun – Namaste