Shushan Purim Shabbat

Friday and Saturday, March 2-3, 2018

Today was a little more complicated than usual. Sure, preparing for Shabbat is a time-consuming event unto itself, but having to fulfill the mitvah of the Purim seudah (meal) by noon in order to bring in Shabbat threw a curve ball harder than one Sandy Koufax ever pitched. Watching the costumed revelers crawling to synagogue to hear Megillat Esther (the story of Esther) after a night consumed by merry making, I set up the food the hubby and I had bought the other day so we could have an intimate seudah on the marpeset (balcony/porch) of our hotel room upon his arrival after hearing the Megillah himself.

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As we gorged on homemade salads with hummus, pickled veggies, fresh-baked bread and (chocolate!) hamantaschen, I informed the hubby that we were going to take a walk around town to see what Shushan Purim looks like in Jerusalem, an opportunity that could possibly never happen again in our lifetimes. Making our way to the Old City, we were entertained by characters roaming the Mamilla Mall who pleasantly posed for the camera, along with a group of Bnei Akiva (a religious Zionist youth movement) students singing and dancing for Purim tzedekah (charity).

However, entering the Old City, we found a mood 180 degrees from the night before. Children still dressed in their Purim costumes handed out Shalach Manot (Purim baskets) to the homeless and panhandlers. Vendors offered free food to destitute parents who asked for tzedakah (charity). Various men read the Megillat Esther aloud for everyone to hear at the Kotel.

Looking for a little more excitement that was saner and more wholesome than Erev Shushan Purim, I suggested to the hubby that we head to a place called Safra Square, a place I had read about online where all kinds of Purim fun was promised for old and young alike. Not realizing it was an area we had walked by two days prior on our Yafo Street excursion…

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…we came across a completely different atmosphere. Safra Square is the space located in front of City Hall – and there was lots of colorful, wholesome family fun going on.

Deciding it was time to start heading back to the hotel to meet the kid who was visiting again for Shabbat, I proposed passing through Ben Yehuda Street to see how different Shushan Purim is from Purim.

Having had his fill of crowds, the hubby opted to go back to the hotel as the mini gay pride parade parked itself in the center of Ben Yehuda, becoming enveloped by hundreds of onlookers who joined in the dancing.

Finally experiencing the Purim fun I was looking for and not wanting to leave, I texted the kid and told her to meet me for pizza on Ben Yehuda instead of going straight to the hotel.

Getting our fill of Big Apple Pizza and bottled beer, I told the kid about our escapades over the past several days and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbat. Along the way we stopped to watch the random rave taking place in the park up the street, along with the usual pre-Shabbat pro-Israel ladies versus the pro-Palestinian demonstrators in front of the hotel and a father-daughter piano/clarinet duet in the lobby.

However, the best part of the day was yet to come – the kid informed us that she had officially received her Israeli passport, solidifying a lifelong dream and months of hard work. The hubby and I couldn’t have been prouder than that moment. Our little girl was not only a legit Israel, she was officially an adult – we had succeeded as parents…the kid was properly launched and ready to make a new life for herself.

After a quiet Shabbat, we headed for a late-night snack on Ben Yehuda and met up with a group of the kid’s friends from her program. Not wanting to stay out too late due to leaving for Tel Aviv the next day, we started back to the hotel, but not without running into last week’s motzei Shabbat (after Shabbat) haggler. This time he didn’t approach us and looked somewhat clean and sober…or, at least, I’d like to tell myself that…

Tel Aviv, here we come!

“Good morning, son
Twenty years from now
Maybe we’ll both sit down
And have a few beers
And I can tell
You ’bout today”

Still Fighting It – Ben Folds 

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

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Wow…just wow…

Thursday, March 1, 2018

So it’s Erev Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, but it isn’t stopping anyone from celebrating the fact that it’s Purim for the rest of the Jewish world.

Earlier in the week the hubby and I made plans to meet up with our friend and “other daughter” from home, Hadar, who is studying in Jerusalem for the year. Yesterday she suggested we go to the First Station (Ha-Tachana Ha-Rishona), because she’s been wanting to go there and thought it would be a fun thing to do. Happily agreeing to Hadar’s proposal, the hubby and I mapped out its location and walked south toward our destination. Along the way, I informed the hubby that we were going to search for a fountain I recalled finding during our 2011 visit with the kid but couldn’t remember exactly where it was located. As usual, the hubby succumbed to my unrelenting memories (that may or may not have been accurate) and questionably followed me down King David Street and, of course, I was right…again.

We also managed to find the Menachim Begin Heritage Center – a museum the kid went to years ago and recommended – and the Jerusalem Khan Theater, a repertory theater.

https://www.begincenter.org.il/?lang=en

https://khan.co.il/language/en/about-us/

We (or I, based on how demanding I feel at the time) will definitely check out both places next visit.

Several minutes later, we arrived at First Station.

With her bus running a tad late due to all the Purim travelers on a holiday schedule, the hubby and I strolled around the grounds until Hadar arrived (i.e. the hubby sat on a bench while I immersed myself in every tablet of history displayed along the original tracks preserved inside the compound).

Here’s my research on First Station in a nutshell: During the Ottoman Empire, between 1839 and 1875, Israel planned to build an iron railroad from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv but failed to raise enough money to complete the project. Towards the end of WWI, the British repaired the tracks 1917-1920, but they were only used for freight trains; however, in 1920 passenger cars were added. By 1936 the trains had stopped due to the outbreak of WWII. After the War of Independence in Israel, in 1948 the tracks/trains were reestablished as the Israel Railways Company, running from Jerusalem to Haifa and Tel Aviv. As new highways were built throughout Israel, less and less people were traveling by train, so between 1968 and 1998 the trains and tracks deteriorated, causing derailments and accidents across the country, and the station was shut down. In 2013 the station became a cultural complex that was preserved and restored to its original state, including stones from the Ottoman Period.

Upon her arrival, I briefed Hadar on the facilities as well as its history…to which she thanked me and suggested we sit somewhere and order drinks…oh, my dear friend…

Filling our bellies with Guinness, ale and Coke Zero as the crowd grew larger, we decided to explore the various shops, my favorite being a place called the Art of Thinking.

This store is full of brain teaser games and puzzles. As Hadar looked for a gift for a friend who would be visiting several months later, we noticed a bottle of wine enveloped by a wooden puzzle. I was handed this contraption and told that the bottle must be “unlocked” in order to drink it and, of course, asking if it was free having solved the mystery. In my frustrated attempts to solve the puzzle, I was just about to hurl that sucker to the floor when a 10-year-old boy came to my rescue and attempted to solve the wine mystery himself.

As a motivator, I told the boy that if he figured it out he could drink the bottle all to himself, to which he replied, “Wine is yucky!” and, to which I replied, “Kid…you’re outta my will!” He couldn’t figure it out either…touche!

Not wanting Hadar to miss her bus home in order to prepare for Shushan Purim, we headed towards Ben Yehuda where she could catch the next ride home. Getting a little sidetracked, Hadar mentioned her desire to check out the Burgers Bar, of which we readily accommodated. While eating our burgers, I asked Hadar if she knew anything about the Mike’s Place the hubby and I had discovered the night before.

Hadar: OMG! I love that place!

And she proceeded to tell us about how she got somewhat lost looking for something on Ben Yehuda and found herself sitting in an area filled with cushy chairs so she could check her GPS not realizing it was the outdoor café of Mike’s Place where she was promptly asked what she wanted to order. I immediately asked Hadar to walk us there on her way to the bus, explaining how I needed to have a beer there in memory of my brother Michael. Being familiar with my story, Hadar happily agreed and led the way.

Hadar: Oh! I want you to meet Jamie. He was the guy who served me. He’s a bartender there.

Quickly finding our way to Mike’s Place on Yafo Street, Hadar introduced us to Jamie who was “just too busy to say hello and couldn’t possibly talk…it’s Purim ya know!” That said, Hadar made her way to the bus stop while I dragged the hubby to a barstool, informing him that we were going to drink on Mikey Bro’s behalf –  that’s when Chaim, a man sitting on the corner barstool whose drink and food orders all the staff knew by heart, started asking questions…

We learned that Chaim had made Aliyah years before but didn’t make his home in Israel until about six years ago when all his children decided to make Aliyah and started producing grandchildren. He just so happened to be living in the same neighborhood as the wedding family from February 26th. Coincidence?!

After brief discussion and informing Chaim of the location of our current home, he told us how he had been raised in the next town over but knew a neighbor from our town. Although he didn’t know our neighbor because he grew up in the next town over, he informed us that he was friends with the parents of our neighbor when he was their neighbor in Cleveland where his wife was born and raised and where he went to college and had met said wife. Coincidence?!

A retired linguistics professor, Chaim cross-examined the hubby about his familial background and where he was from with precise annunciation of every word, making it difficult to not watch his mouth as it spoke and actually hear what he was saying. Once thoroughly satisfied with the hubby’s responses, it was my turn for interrogation…

Chaim: And where are you from in New Jersey?

Me: Bergen County.

Chaim: Where in Bergen County?

Me: Ramsey?

Chaim: Hmm…Jamie’s from Ramsey.

Me: Jamie the bartender?!

Chaim: Why yes.

Me: Jaime, you’re from Ramsey?!

Jamie: Yes.

Side bar: You have to understand here – the distance from Ramsey, New Jersey to Jerusalem Israel is 5685 miles…five thousand, six hundred and eighty-five miles…REALLY?!

Me: (looking at Jamie, attempting to recognize his face but not) Did you go to Ramsey High School?

Jamie: Yes.

Me: (thinking he’s about my age but older) When did you graduate?

Jamie: 1975.

Me: (flabbergasted beyond belief) Then you know my sister Kathy?!

Jamie: I’m too busy to talk right now…it’s Purim ya know…

Finally landing long enough to chat, as Jamie gathered his lunch together behind the bar I quickly snapped a photo of his face and texted Kathy. Yup, sure enough, he and my oldest sister went to high school together and graduated in 1975. Explaining to me that he and Kathy had attended the 40th anniversary of their high school graduation a little over two years prior, Jaime suddenly exclaimed, “Wait! You’re Alice?! Kathy told me she had a Jewish sister now.” I guess that’s one way to put it, yeah…Coincidence?!

While I reminisced about the old days with Jamie, the hubby struck up a conversation with the barely legal bartender, Moshe, who plied us with free shots and Guinness, only to discover he was the son of a rabbi the hubby knew from back home. Coincidence?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPxMrQb-ajY

Five thousand seven hundred sixty-nine miles from “home,” somewhere in the middle of our planet, the hubby and I managed to meet three men in a random bar that just so happens to bear my brother Michael’s name – the reason I began writing about this stuff in the first place – and who just so happen to know people in our lives from back home. Several hours later, I was overwhelmed with the whole experience, my mantra becoming, “What are the chances?!” knowing it was not chance or coincidence -that moment was meant to be and planned a sixfold of millennium ago…

But the most important question of that afternoon was if it was true I would get a free cocktail if I answered the chalkboard quote correctly…

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The answer was an adamant, “Nah…that’s been up there for months.” (BTW it’s Valerie by Steve Winwood.)

Reluctantly leaving our “newfound” friends, the hubby and I headed back to the hotel in order to freshen up and get to the Great Synagogue for the obligatory reading of the Megillat Esther (the story of Esther). Having fallen asleep and missing her friends’ departure, Hadar unexpectedly texted asking to join us at the Great Synagogue. Arriving in the nick of time, I met Hadar in the lobby and quickly climbed the never-ending stairwell to the women’s nosebleed section where I thought I would die of vertigo and/or puke over the railing from the steep height. Settling in with Mr. Hayman and ready to make some noise, we listened intently to the story of the history we knew all too well.

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As we made our way back down to the lobby, I suggested we go to the sushi restaurant next to our hotel.

Picking out every typo and mistranslation we could find on the menu (including their own namesake), Hadar recommended we follow up with a jazz club she had gone to with a friend somewhere off Ben Yehuda, although she couldn’t remember the name of the venue or its precise location. So, while we searched for the nameless and locationless jazz club amidst thousands and thousands of party-goers, I stalked a poop emoji walking with his mom until he annoyingly agreed to let me take a photo and then watched two parrots dance to a pink electric cowboy pianist whose Pikachu partner encouraged the audience to dance the hora with him while I lectured Hadar about the dangers of pickpockets in crowds and the hubby perused the internet in search of jazz clubs in Jerusalem repeating, “What about Birman? There’s a place called Birman here. What about Birman?” and fell upon deaf ears.

https://www.facebook.com/Birman.bistro.bar/

Wandering like Jews in the desert, we suddenly found ourselves standing in front of Birman, a quaint bistro bar providing jazz and blues music on a nightly basis…this time the hubby was right (sorry Woobie).

As the musicians wrapped it up for the night, Hadar informed us that she wanted to meet up with her friends at Machane Yehuda. Being the bubble-wrap Jewish mommy that I am (just ask the kid), there was no way Hadar was going to walk through these crowds alone at midnight to one of the craziest venues in Israel on Purim I could only liken to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. As we battled our way down Yafo Street toward Machane Yehuda following an alligator walking his dog wearing a three-piece suit, Hadar exclaims that she knows this alligator because she recognizes his dog. Sure enough, the alligator – who just so happens to be a security officer at the Kotel Plaza – is the son of a neighbor back home. Coincidence?!

The hubby and I trustingly handed over our “other daughter” to Mr. Alligator and his dog and frantically watched as they made their way through the Machane Yehuda crowd…

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For thousands of young people, the night was just getting started, but for the hubby and me it was time to say night-night…granted, I had a really good time…until sobering up after learning that Mike’s Place is a chain in Israel, its Tel Aviv site being most “famous.”

Coincidence?!…

Wow…just wow…

Tell all the folks in Egypt and Israel too

Please don’t miss this train at the station

‘Cause if you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you

Love Train – The O’Jays

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

 

 

 

 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

The Centerton Bridge in Mount Laurel  was abruptly closed three years ago due to being found structurally deficient. I don’t remember the first time I found this 186-year-old bridge, but I do remember crossing it a couple of times, discovering an historic section of Rancocas Village on the other side, for which the creek is named and over which the bridge spans.

http://rancocasvillagenj.org/wths_history/

My very first blog post was about this bridge. It was the first picture I posted on Facebook for my brother Michael after deciding to photograph my bicycle rides as a means of entertainment while he was in and out of the hospital.

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September 16, 2015

And, for some reason, I return to this site every September 16th, secretly hoping the bridge will be open once again.

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September 16, 2016
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September 15, 2017

In a later blog I vowed to find an alternate route that would bring me back to Rancocas Village and finally sat down to look at a map. I was also inspired by a friend who asked if there was any kind of loop around the Rancocas Creek where he was not required to simply turn around and return home the same way he arrived – there is only one bridge about six miles west of Rancocas Village or an overpass on Route 130, a six-lane highway to hell including multiple entrance and exit ramps. Thanks to a frigidly cold winter followed by days of rain that never seemed to end,  I was also way behind in my training for the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon in less than two weeks – I needed to ride at least 35 miles if I was going to be ready for the 55 miles close on the horizon. Not only did I manage to find my alternate route around the creek, the loop would be at least 35 miles long!

Between MapMyRide, Google Maps and my backup handwritten notes, I managed to find my way to Bridge Street in Rancocas Village…but not without threatening storm clouds that followed my travels the first 15 miles, temperatures in the high 80s with suffocating high humidity for the remainder of my journey, some rather creepy neighborhoods, long stretches of nothingness and frighteningly narrow bicycle lanes on four-lane highways. Oh, and don’t forget the crazy ass bitch who wailed on her horn behind me screaming, “Get the f**k off!” and attempted to run me off the road. Needless to say, I didn’t recommend this route to my friend…

And guess what I found? Pretty much looks the same as the Mount Laurel side…

I once again defied the DO NOT ENTER sign and walked up to the barricade and looked around, finally getting a look to the east I’ve waited three years to see once again.

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I was happy to read a recent article discussing the possibility of reopening the bridge as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge…trust me, I won’t be holding my breath on this one. I have a feeling that on September 16th I’m going to be disappointed again.

As I stood on the bridge pondering my steadfast determination to get through to the other side, it dawned on me that exactly six weeks after posting that first bridge photo on Michael’s Facebook page, he would lose his battle with cancer. He had gotten to the other side, but I wasn’t allowed – DO NOT ENTER. Even in my defiance, a complete crossing over just isn’t in the cards any time soon…and I’m more than happy to wait…

Desperate to get in more long rides, five days later I finally decided to bite the bullet and attempt to ride to the cemetery where Michael is buried with both my parents and our brother Arthur. Remember Thank you Pearl and f**k you heart! (May 7, 2017)? Yeah, me too…

I was feeling equally dreadful this year about the distance. The last few long rides were painful, with me once again questioning if I could do the cancer ride (which is actually a stupid question because I’ve done it). However, I knew that at the core of my anxiety was my heart. Despite not having any SVT episodes since having a cardiac ablation in January (It only hurts when I burp/January 18, 2018), along with a new pair of Shebeest capris with a cushiony chamoise, a new iPhone 7, my portable charger fully charged, a new micro bluetooth speaker to play my iPod tunes and both fully charged, two jugs of water, a bike kit, two extra inner tubes, a bike pump and my backpack filled with the usual ID, debit card, snacks, house key, lip balm, hand sanitizer, wipes, eye drops and reading glasses, I was scared…

So on Memorial Day I headed to the veteran’s cemetery to pay my respects. This time I remembered to keep a slow and steady pace – I would be doing at least 56 miles this time. No devices died in Maple Shade and the little voice didn’t make a peep. Flying by the Moorestown nipper dogs and the Mount Laurel Target, I stopped in Mount Holly to take a breather and accidentally found the oldest active volunteer fire department in America.

Although a cloudy, chilly day with occasional spritzes of drizzle, I made my way through North Hanover Township and stopped at the local farm market to pick up some arrangements for the graves.

Cemetery

Thinking ahead, I brought a map of the cemetery with everyone’s gravesite numbers clearly marked and headed to visit Michael first. With no SVT attack in sight, I was grateful for my big brother’s advice and having gone through with the cardiac ablation – he was right…thanks Mikey Bro.

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Next and last stop was mom, dad and little Arthur, where we had a little snack together.

The ride back was physically difficult, but I did it. It took eight hours altogether, but I listened to my body instead of the little voice this time and managed to ride a total of 60 miles. A year ago I asked myself at what point I would concede before not getting away with defying death. I still can’t answer that question, but I can tell you this – I’m not quite ready to cross that bridge yet…I’m more than happy to wait.

“Well, I traveled a long way
And it took a long time
To find you
But I finally found you”

I Found You – Alabama Shakes

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

Unfolding the past

This past winter was a bitch. She wasn’t giving up on her reins of terror for nothing. But spring wasn’t giving up and finally managed to kick winter’s ass to the curb.

There’s not one photo of evidence to prove that I’ve ridden my bike over the past two months. In fact, if not for iCloud Photos, I wouldn’t have remembered the one ride I took in late March. But I can’t post these photos because they’re pictures I took on my new iPhone…which now saves as heic (high efficiency image format)…and I can’t convert to jpeg…because I didn’t know how to use the camera properly…and somehow saved the photos on my phone as “live” (whatever that means)…and my computer doesn’t understand how to modify the file…

But now we gotta get serious here. I’ve decided to do the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon again this year and Old Bessie’s been sleeping in the garage a lot more this winter than last. The planned route is 55 miles – 61 if I ride from home. I am definitely not feeling as prepared as last year. The last two Sundays I rode 20 and 25 miles and felt like I was dragging my body through quicksand…and this week I needed to do 30…ugh…

Looking for a destination 15 miles away that would give me 30 miles round trip, I was at a loss…until my sister Regina called.

Back in the late 1980s, I started exploring my family genealogy. It wasn’t as easy back then – we’re talking when dinosaurs roamed the earth…there was no internet. My only means of research was to either make contacts on the telephone or through letters of correspondence – right, just like the poor old cavemen had to do. And when Al Gore finally invented the internet, it was S…L…O…W…and most services required large fees. Needless to say, my inability to sustain interest and the impending birth of the kid put my kinship on a to-do-much-later-in-life list. Thankfully, my father was looking for something to do in his retirement and happily took over the research. Once dementia kicked in, however, dad was incapable of continuing the task, his death screeching the brakes to a halt on anything more. When mom died two years later, that was it. I and my surviving two sisters would have no parents to ask about our family history – it was all so permanent…until Regina decided to pick it up again.

Up until that point, most of the genealogy consisted of the Doherty line – dad’s side of the family. My mother was not very forthcoming about her past, so we never really knew much about her family. Separately, Kathy, Regina and I had snippets of information we managed to get from mom over the years, but it wasn’t enough to piece together any kind of life story (Meemaw – December 5th).

Having found my mother’s father’s grave back in December, Regina made another recent discovery – my mother’s father’s mother, Sallie, was buried in a cemetery in Burlington County – 15 miles from my house. Guess where I was going?

I was heading to Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Looking at a map of the area, it struck me that I had been within blocks of the cemetery at some point last year when I got lost on a ride. This time I knew exactly where I was going and easily made the 15 miles to Beverly.

Locating the cemetery, I couldn’t figure out how to access the grounds, briefly contemplating jumping the iron fence until I noticed the spikes at the tip. I stopped in a parking lot to check with Google.

It’s called The Green Cafe at Whitebriar B&B Inn. Realizing it was an old bank building turned restaurant, I walked around outside to peruse the “library” and discovered some old history. And, thanks to Google Chrome, I figured out how to enter the cemetery without impaling myself.

http://whitebriarbedandbreakfast.com/

Quickly putting two and two together, it dawned on me that it was a cemetery for military veterans. One slice of info mom had given me decades ago was that Sallie had been remarried to a German man named Otto, who we now knew was buried next to her. I realized he must have been a veteran but wasn’t sure what his involvement had been. Riding in circles and making all the wrong turns, I finally found their plots. Otto was in the 3rd Pioneer Infantry, army grunts who were used for engineering and construction tasks during World War I.

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Searching cemetery files, I learned a lot about this family – a history of German immigration, divorces, remarriages, blended families, childless unions. I had so many questions for mom that will never be answered in my lifetime. Why so many secrets? Did she know all these people? Did she know their whereabouts when living? Did she realize so many relatives were living and/or buried within a 20-mile radius of her home? Sallie died when I was 9-years-old – why didn’t I ever meet her? Why did I care?

This was a question Kathy had asked me and Regina last year – why did we care where our family came from? I’m not sure I can respond with a clear answer. On the one hand I’m interested in the people of my past. Who were they? What were they like? Where did they live? How did they make a living? Do I look like any of them? Are there any personality traits passed on through our genetics? On the other hand, why do I care? Many of my relatives are dead and gone, having taken the mysteries of the past to their grave. Any remaining relatives are scattered throughout the planet, most of whom I have had little or no contact with for most of my life.

So maybe that’s it – in a world of nuclear families who themselves split up after children reach adulthood, technology has made it easier for us to find one another but it has also thrust us further apart…there’s a need for reconnection. For now, it’s just me and the hubby, two empty-nest orphans all alone in the world…that’s why I care.

Packing up my pity-party-sorry-assed-self, I walked over to the church cemetery next door, meandering through randomly placed tombstones of families dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

I need to find more cheerful places to ride…

As I headed back for the next 15 miles, I stopped along the way to catch some gorgeous views of my perfect blue sky with the puffy clouds.

And I managed to ride 31 miles without too much huffing and puffing.

“Oh, got no reason, got no shame
Got no family I can’t blame
Just don’t let me disappear
I’mma tell you everything”

Secrets – One Republic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHm9MG9xw1o

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

 

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…

index

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

 

I want pizza!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Eating breakfast alone while the hubby went to services next door, I people-watched other guests and imagined who they were, where they were from and why they were in Israel – Jews, Christians and Muslims of varying religious observance, along with the unaffliated tourists visiting a stop on their own personal bucket list. Picking up on Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking diners and staff, I also caught different English-speaking countrymen – fellow Americans, Brits and Australians – Russian, French, Italian, various forms of Spanish from around the world, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian and other African dialects, Polish, German, all kinds of Norwegian vernacular. People from all walks of life from around the globe coming to see one of the most holiest cities in the world…or just checking out a really cool place to visit if you like ancient history and archaeology.

Other times I postulate on the lives of the staff working the dining room – the middle-aged host who flirts with the young ladies and doesn’t need to ask our room number because he remembers all the long-term guests; the station chef who speaks every language but English and has a good sense of humor one can apprehend despite a lack of translation; the tiny man in the kitchen who will gladly give away a recipe if you can transliterate the list of ingredients and preparation; the waitress with the a face so sad I can’t help but suffer her sorrow and the waitress some years older who must be her mother simply due to the same dispirited look; the older waiter who always smiles and generates a sense of hospitality worthy of eating in his own home…oh, and of course, the wine steward who would quickly become my friend over the next two weeks…

Going back to the room to wait for the hubby to return, I sat on the balcony and watched the larks that flew around the building every morning and took note of how crowded it was getting at the Great Synagogue around the corner.

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With a few hours to kill before Shabbat lunch, the hubby and I decided to take a walk and explore two of the surrounding neighborhoods  – Rehavia and Talbiya. Immediately west of our hotel, Rehavia was designed back in the 1920s to be a garden community with very limited commercial businesses, aside from small specialty shops and cafes. Being primarily residential, Rehavia is prime real estate for those wishing to live within peaceful environs, including the home of the Israeli Prime Minister, currently Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

Heading southwest down Azza Street and meandering north through the many side streets throughout the area, we took note of the different pedestrian crossing signs – men wearing suits, some with hats and some without and one even carrying a bouquet of flowers, each one having in common unusually long arms. Of course there was graffiti I most definitely would have photographed if not for Shabbat, which I was reminded of as observant Jews walked up and down the streets, children laughing and playing with pre-Purim gifts and masks along the way, only to be drowned out by incredibly loud car stereos splitting the silence of the day…oh, did I mention we planned our trip to coincide with Purim?! Don’t worry…there’s lots of stories for that one coming up…

https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/645309/jewish/What-Is-Purim.htm

Finding our way back to Ramban Street, we made our way east toward the hotel to make a “pit stop.” Feeling refreshed, we then headed south toward Yemen Moshe to a place I had read about in one of our tour books – Gan HaPa-amon (a.k.a. Garden of the bell or Liberty Bell Park – as in the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States).

http://www.attractions-in-israel.com/jerusalem-area/jerusalem-parks/gan-hapaamon-park-%E2%80%93-liberty-bell-park-in-jerusalem/

The park is named for a smaller-scaled version of the Liberty Bell that was hung inside the park in 1976, honoring the U.S. centennial. [Side bar – when this bell was dedicated in Jerusalem, I was 11-years-old and visiting Disney World with my family on the 4th of July …that was pretty awesome, I might add]. Slowly finding ourselves back at the hotel for Shabbat lunch, I informed the hubby that I would be walking back to this place the next morning while he davened (prayed) so that I could take photographs and that I wanted pizza for dinner that night because I was really just craving pizza…

Falling asleep briefly after lunch and awakened by the anti-“Bibi” demonstrators at the fountain across the street, I reminded the hubby that I wanted pizza, and we headed toward Ben Yehuda knowing I would find the necessary nutrients my body was demanding…

Okay…so passing Burgers Bar is never easy…

https://www.burgersbar.co.il/branch/%D7%9E%D7%A8%D7%9B%D7%96-%D7%94%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%A8-%D7%A9%D7%9E%D7%90%D7%99-%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A9%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9D/

Stuffed to the gills with enough meat and potatoes and Tuborg to feed a family of four, we waddled our way out the exit. However, before I could even get to Ben Yehuda Street, a beggar approached me and asked (in perfect English) for money. Remembering I had some change in my passportfolio, I unvelcroed the pouch expecting to see those not-so-shiny-coins in the zipper pocket (oh s**t), forgetting about the two brand new 20NILS proudly featuring the face of poet Rachel Goldberg I had also hastily shoved in. Once he saw the first 20NILS, he insisted on my being more generous. Quickly doing the math in my head, “20NILS is about $5.00 U.S.” Okay, so I’d NEVER give that much in the United States, but I was feeling a little charitable that night…and then I discovered the 20NILS was wrapped up with another 20 NILS…and that’s when the beggar haggling began, “If you can give me 20NILS, you can give me 40NILS…”

Okay…so that’s like $10.00 U.S. I must’ve been mad, but all I could think of was, “This guy’s English is really good, so he’s probably an American who made aliyah years ago and has now found himself destitute,” along with the hubby’s mantra of, “You never know which one is Eliyahu (Elijah the prophet who will foretell the coming of the Messiah),” along with my father’s never-ending kindness to those in need. Of course I had to put my own personal spin on this altruistic enterprise, insisting that he not spend the money on drugs or alcohol whatsoever because I will know if he does and that he buy food and other items necessary for his survival…and then I got the list of psychotropic medications he requires to keep himself sane…dammit…and then he said, “Well…maybe just a little beer,” forming his right thumb and forefinger into a small C shape. Okay, he had me there – aside from his haggling skills, I felt for his aliyah status, his need for sustenance and his blatant honesty. That’s when I let go of my two brand new 20NILS proudly featuring the face of poet Rachel Goldberg I had also hastily shoved into my passportfolio zipper pocket…

[Sidebar – remember this guy…]

And I sit there
Get stoned
Mellow
Stoned, feelin’ good
Real mellow
Dreamin’
After a while, I looked down the bar
At the bartender
I said, “Hey, what do you want?”
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – John Lee Hooker

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

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.

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