Baby it’s cold outside…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Frank Loesser

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

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

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

Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archaeological Garden
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Ancient manuscripts
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Inside the Citadel

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Tower of David from outside the Old City walls

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Church of the Dormition (on right)

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Long, Farewell – Julie Andrews/Bill Lee

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

Israel: Part VI – Dread and beauty

November 19, 2017

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

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

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

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Israel Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All You Need Is Love – The Beatles

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

Israel: Part V – Just another Shabbat in Jerusalem…

November 17, 2017- Shabbat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 18, 2017- Yemen Moshe

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

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

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

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

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

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

And dozens more of famous Israelis splattered across the market…

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

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

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Israelis take their candy very seriously

 

…and we never saw “Jeremy” again…

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

Mr. Cab Driver – Lenny Kravitz

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

Israel: Part IV – This is why…

“To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 56:5

November 16, 2017 – Jerusalem: Yad Vashem

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“I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.”

Ezekiel 37:14

http://www.yadvashem.org/

First rule of thumb – don’t ever go to a museum with the kid. I knew that one and still forgot to take it into consideration today. The kid has never been a very good museum goer, quickly breezing through each exhibit with a rare (if ever) stop to look (never read) something that might possibly catch her eye (if she’s paying attention). At two months of age, my very first museum attempt with the kid was to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City – my ABSOLUTE favorite museum of all time. When I was a child, my parents frequently brought me and my brother and sisters here to visit. It’s a great place to bring a large family because you only have to pay a “donation” – that is, whatever you can afford. You don’t even have to pay at all if you have no money thanks to huge endowments. Since that time, I have always paid full price to thank that wonderful institution for fueling my love of anthropology. Later rooting through old copies of National Geographic my father inherited from his father, I discovered that on the month and year of my birth the cover highlighted Louis Leakey and his discoveries in Africa. That was it – I was hooked! I would later gain a baccalaureate degree in anthropology and attempt a masters at the New School for Social Research with the lifelong dream of working at AMNH and following in the footsteps of Margaret Mead…a dream that would remain just that…sorry I let you down Lou and Peggy…

But I also remember that our trips to the AMNH (as well as most museums), were not always pleasant. Dad insisted on seeing every.single.little.thing. By day’s end, we were all exhausted and grumpy and couldn’t wait to leave. However, my memories of annual school trips left me exhilarated and yearning for more. Aside from everything being better with peers and friends (sans parental units), I realized the reason I loved it more was because the guide only hit on the “wow factors” – the stuff that would compress all information into a nutshell for us to crack open and explore in one spot. No endless meandering resulting in swollen feet and aching backs for hours…and hours…and hours…and hours…

Hence the first rule of thumb – don’t ever go to a museum with the kid. My bad…

This was my second time at Yad Vashem and this time I was determined to see everything (what can I say – the spirit of my father lives within me). During our last visit in July of 2016, we arrived in Jerusalem on a Tuesday with the plan to see Yad Vashem that Friday before Shabbat. Unfortunately for us, our tour guide, Asaf, received a message that week that he had been accepted into a masters level archaeology program outside of Tel Aviv and had to attend a meeting on the same day. Of course we were very proud of this achievement (having only known him for six days); however, being that his father, Arie (pronounced ah-ree-ay), was also a tour guide, he agreed to provide his services in turn. Having heard about Arie over the past week, the hubby and I were excited to meet him.

Arie was the grandson of a German Jew who was a high-ranking official in the German military as the Nazis were rising to power. As Jews were being forced into the ghettos, Arie’s grandfather was “advised” by his comrades to leave with his family and only with whatever he could carry. After escaping to England, the grandfather later emigrated to Israel. Asaf also told us of how his great-grandfather had somehow snuck back into Germany during WWII to collect the belongings left behind without getting caught by the Nazis. Many of these possessions included a number of religious artifacts made of silver, some of which are now displayed in the Israel Museum. Needless to say, with Arie as our guide at Yad Vashem, it promised to be an impactful morning. And it was…except…it was just like the tours we used to get in grade school – just the highlights…and I wanted to see it all.

So this time I forewarned the hubby and the kid and they agreed to allow me the time to examine every.single.little.thing…

Expecting temperatures in the 80s, the hubby and the kid also agreed to indulge me in walking the grounds outside before it got too hot. Upon entering the Yad Vashem complex, there is a fork in the road – you can either go left into the Holocaust History Museum or to the right where multiple footpaths wind throughout the entire complex to various gardens and monuments. So to the right we roamed…

Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations

Its first trees planted in 1962 (before Yad Vashem was even an architectural plan), the path is now lined with multiple carob trees honoring the non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Next to each tree is the name of those being honored, along with their country of origin, it’s most popular site being Oskar Schindler.

Then I remembered the story Arie had told us about the significance of the carob trees and why they were chosen:

The Talmud relates the story of a sage named Choni HaM’agel who was traveling on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked the man how long it would take the tree to bear fruit, and the man replied, “Seventy years.” Choni then asked him, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” to which the man replied,  “I found carob trees in the world, as my forefathers planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children.”

Beautiful!

Warsaw Ghetto Square – Wall of Remembrance

Here is where the path ends, depositing the wanderer into a large square surrounded by trees, benches and picnic tables to the left, administrative buildings to the right and a giant brick wall directly in front.

The brick, symbolizing ghetto walls, is embedded with two large sculptures:

The first, “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” portrays the leader of the uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz (24-years-old when killed), surrounded by other members of the resistance. The second sculpture, “The Last March,” portrays the mass deportation of Jews to the death camps. During WWII, over 1,000 ghettos were established by the Nazis as a means of dividing the Jews in Europe and separating them from the general population, the Warsaw Ghetto being the largest of that period in time. In these ghettos, Jews lived in miserable conditions closed off from the rest of the world and rarely (if ever) permitted to leave, living on a mere 134 calories per day in some places. If they didn’t die from disease or starvation, Jews were shot or deported to killing centers. The residents of the Warsaw Ghetto resisted deportation but were ultimately murdered or deported and the entire ghetto completely razed.

http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/combat-resistance/warsaw-ghetto.html#narrative_info

Memorial to the Deportees

Looking to my left, I noticed a sign that read “Memorial Cave” with an arrow pointing toward a parking lot. Ever the curious one, I demanded we follow the arrow, despite the lack of enthusiasm from my compatriots…

Walking down the road for some time, listening to the hubby and the kid complain about the unnecessary exercise they were being subjected to, we were suddenly greeted by a large red cattle car on train tracks hovering over the forest below…

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I was flabbergasted, to say the least! We soon learned that it is a German cattle car donated to Yad Vashem by Polish authorities in 1991 and dedicated in January 1995. Awe struck, I couldn’t figure out where to begin – there were inscriptions on the walls surrounding the car and stairs leading in different directions. I just couldn’t take my eyes off that cattle car and its track floating in the air. And this cattle car had actually been used by the Nazis to transport Jews to the death camps. Reading the inscription carved into the marble wall standing in front of the car, goosebumps formed all over my skin. Written in pencil on the wall of that railway car were these words:

“Here in this carload I am Eve with Abel my son. If you see my other son Cain son of man, tell him I…” Dan Pagis

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I was elated to learn that the boy who wrote these words survived the camps! A Romanian Jew, Dan Pagis (October 16, 1930 – July 29, 1986) was interned in a concentration camp for several years until its liberation, making his way to a pre-State Israel in 1946 and becoming a teacher on a kibbutz. He later received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and became a professor of medieval Hebrew literature. He is also known for his poetry and other writings.

That’s when the kid announced that her freshman-year English Lit teacher would be proud of her interpretation of this monument and said, “Jews had two choices – go over the cliff or crash into a mountain.”

She was two-thirds correct. On one end of the track, the cattle car is suspended on the brink of the abyss and on the other we are presented with a hill of solid rock – obliteration and nonexistence either way. However, what the kid (and we) failed to see at the time, was that the monument faces the hills of Jerusalem, conveying a sense of hope and renewal after the Holocaust. Man, this place is killing me!

The Memorial Cave

Oh, right…we were looking for a cave, remember? Continuing on our way down the road, we finally came to a sign pointing us in the direction of the cave. Representing a final resting place for the people whose grave sites are unknown, the Memorial Cave is formed out of a mass of stone with a labyrinth of passages, its walls filled with brass plaques dedicated to loved ones lost in the Holocaust.

No words…

As the temperature began to rise, we “collectively” agreed to head to the museum. I was eager to go explore more of the great outdoors, finding signs along the way for more monuments and gardens, but the pressure to succumb to the requests of my trollish partners decided otherwise…next time…

The Holocaust History Museum

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Stock photo

Much to my chagrin, photography is prohibited in the museum. However, this ban forced me to pay attention. Upon entering the museum, we were swarmed with a multitude of IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers in “training.” Despite the kid’s impending enlistment a year from now, it didn’t dawn on me that we were in the midst of basic training, which starts with daily tours of Jerusalem as a means of reminding young Israeli men and women why and for what they are fighting. Swimming amid the multitude of soldiers, I attempted to look at and read every.single.little.thing. and listened in on their tour guide lectures. I managed this task until the third room when the hubby and the kid hunted me down and informed me that I had “a long way to go.” Hint, hint…

In customary fashion, the kid rushed through the museum, dragging the hubby behind her and lecturing him on her highlights of the museum. I reluctantly whisked through the remainder of the exhibits toward the exit with the hubby promising to indulge me on our next trip (without the kid). However, the pinnacle of our visit was when the hubby took me to the Hall of Names.

(Stock photos)

A memorial to each and every Jew murdered in the Holocaust, we entered a brightly lit circular room with a dome dangling over a pit in its center surrounded by shelving containing millions of file folders encompassing the testimonies of survivors and records of the deceased. Looking down into a pit of bedrock leading to oblivion, one is compelled to look upward into the dome overhead where thousands of photos line its surface – photos of those who have perished. Leading me to a computer, the hubby told me how he looked up his father’s paternal grandmother, Zlata Gershuny nee Trapido, who was murdered in Kovno, Lithuania in 1941 at the age of 75…

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The hubby showed it to the kid…and she wept…

The kid is (and will always be) a slap in the face of every Nazi and every anti-Semite who dared test our people. It was at that moment that it all came together – the kid was meant to be here…and I was proud…

And the view off the museum balcony brought it all home…

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Pillar of Heroism

Ejected once again to the outdoors, I dragged my reluctant ogres down yet another path where we were faced with a shiny towering column with Hebrew writing commemorating the Jewish Resistance throughout the Holocaust:

“Now and forever in memory of those who rebelled in the camps and ghettos, fought in the woods, in the underground and with the Allied Forces; braved their way to Eretz Israel; and died sanctifying the name of G-d.”

Children’s Memorial

Moving onward, we come to my dearest place at Yad Vashem – the Children’s Memorial.

For those of you who have not been here, these photos in no way do justice to this place. In a blackened space in an underground cavern, numerous candles are lit behind glass and reflected off mirrors to represent the 1.5 million souls of the children murdered during the Holocaust while the recorded voices of a man and a woman enumerate the names, ages and countries of each and every child...you will not leave dry-eyed.

Uziel – “G-d is my power”

Hall of Remembrance

Continuing on, we find ourselves at the Hall of Remembrance:

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A “tent-like basalt structure” commemorating the martyrs of the Holocaust, twenty-two of the countless camps and killing sites are embossed on the floor of the hall. A perpetual flame burns next to a tomb containing the ashes of victims brought to Israel from the extermination camps.

Janusz Korczak Square

Working our way toward the exit, the final monument pays tribute to Dr. Henrik Goldschmidt, a Polish-Jewish educator who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Repeatedly refusing to leave the orphans behind, he was later murdered along with the children at Treblinka.

As we departed, I was overcome with sadness, incapable of comprehending the hatred portrayed throughout the complex. I would later have a conversation with a friend who had just completed a DNA test through 23 and Me, to which he responded, “Imagine if Hitler had this technology…” and I was frightened…

Har Herzl (Mount Herzl)

To the east of Yad Vashem, a few miles down the road is a military cemetery named after Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State.

http://herzlinstitute.org/en/theodor-herzl/

As far as cemeteries go, this is by far the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.

Meticulously cared for by members of the fallen soldiers’ families, each military grave site is unique in its own right –  tombs adorned with flowers, ivy, rosemary, shrubbery, personal belongings and ornaments, watering cans hung on the ready for visitors to quench the multitude of mini-gardens. National leaders are buried here –  Shimon Peres, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, to name a few and numerous memorials are scattered throughout the grounds. Herzl’s tomb lies on the crest of the mountain range overlooking the Judean Hills on the side and both old and new Jerusalem on the other. Dozens of IDF soldiers wandered about, eyes glazed at the tombstones of past comrades who died at the same age as their onlookers, some weeping as they come upon the resting place of a loved one. I was suddenly reminded that the kid will be in the IDF a year from now…talk about sobering up…

As dusk abruptly cut off our tour, the kid assured us of a reliable and tasty chain restaurant a short walk away.

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Agreeing to stock up on breakfast at the hotel each morning, skipping lunch and only eating dinner out, the long day had left us famished. And the kid was right – the restaurant was very good! As I sat in my capri pants and tee shirt, soaking up the 70-degree weather while my Israeli counterparts froze in their parkas, I noted a window sign off to my left:

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A sale in the store next door displayed a collection of umbrellas – “winter” in Israel = rain…I was not looking forward to returning to the States and the impending (real) winter snow that awaited us…

That’s when the kid announced it was time for ice cream…

Grabbing a taxi and heading back to Ben Yehuda Street, we walked the short distance to Aldo for some gleedah (ice cream) and watched the street performers as we window shopped.

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Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hotel and into the Kings Lounge for a nightcap. Among our many conversations, the kid calmly reported, “My anxiety is challenged here.” This was one of many fears I had for the kid traveling alone to a foreign country over 6000 miles away…but she was unruffled even when stating a fact. For the first time in her life, the kid had managed to take The Bully by the horns…

31713288604_231e0217fd_cand I wasn’t so worried anymore…

“You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I’m made of glass
Like I’m made of paper
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground
Like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper”

Skyscraper – Demi Lovato

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

Israel: Part III – “Soul to soul”

November 15, 2017

Dehydration…every time I go to Israel. It’s an awful feeling. In July 2016 I became so ill I was plastered to the bed for 48 hours. I just can’t seem to get enough water when I’m here – a testament as to how much water I must drink at home and how precious water is in the desert…

But today was not the day to be sick, so I chugged as much water as humanly possible without floating away and we were on our way to a busy morning of site seeing and an even busier afternoon of paperwork and interviews. Not feeling one hundred percent, I sucked it up in true Doherty fashion, knowing it was the most important day of my daughter’s life. We told the kid that our first stop must be the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, a.k.a. Wailing Wall) – it was necessary for her to know exactly why she was making such a courageous decision that will truly impact the rest of her life. Passing the mighty lions standing guard at the entrance to the long and winding stairway with the magnificent view descending to our destination, we passed through security and walked onto the Kotel Plaza.

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Looking toward the Temple Mount
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Looking away from the Temple Mount
After Herod was appointed king of Jerusalem in 37 BCE, he initiated a renovation project for the Second Temple, the First Temple having been destroyed by the Babylonians in 70 BCE. Architectural plans included widening of the Temple Mount by flattening its peak and building four support walls, one of which is the Western Wall. Many events are believed to have taken place on the Temple Mount, known to Jews as Mount Moriah and where Haram al-Sharif (The Dome of the Rock or the Noble Sanctuary where the Muslim Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to the Divine Presence on the back of a winged horse) now stands surrounding the Foundation Stone. In Jewish tradition, the Foundation Stone located at the peak of the mountain is where the creation of the world began, as well as the creation of Adam. It is where Abraham bound Isaac in preparation for sacrifice and Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder. Originally, the Kodesh HaKadashim (Holy of Holies) was located within the Inner Sanctuary of both temples. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Foundation Stone, upon it an Ark containing the Ten Commandments, relics long ago lost. Needless to say, this place is quite significant…
One of the “agreements” we came to (or perhaps I demanded), was that the kid was going to be our interpreter so she could practice her Hebrew. So far we were fairly impressed with her ability to order food in a restaurant, but I hadn’t really seen her engage in a full-fledged conversation. And then a tiny old woman approached us as we stood before the Wall.
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As most of you may know, it has become a custom for Jews and Christians to write a note and place it within the cracks of the stone that make up the Wall.

The tiny old woman, not knowing any English asked us for a pen, of which I promptly retrieved from my backpack. The woman then handed the pen and a small piece of paper to the kid, asking her to write a prayerful message for G-d to bless her children and grandchildren and that her grandchildren would be happily married and provide her with great-grandchildren – all completely in Hebrew, verbally and written. Man…did my motherly pride glow powerfully that moment!
Next stop was a mutually agreed upon choice – the Temple Institute where we could envision the splendor of the Second Temple…in miniature…

http://templeinstitute.org/

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed, but this place was fascinating. Several rooms are encircled by oil paintings depicting the history and daily life during the temple period according to Scripture. After scrutinizing the miniature Temple, the museum is chock full of artifacts created according to Biblical requirements specifically for use in the future Temple…wow! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded…

Our third stop of the day was one the hubby and I were curious about and the kid convinced us to visit – the Four Sephardic Synagogues.

Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue

Eliyahu Ha’navi Synagogue

Istanbuli Synagogue

Dating back to the late 16th century, the oldest and largest of the four is Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue, the other three (Emtsai, Eliyahu Ha’navi and Istanbuli respectively) being added throughout the following centuries. Taken over and all but destroyed by the Jordanians in the 1948 War, all four synagogues were painstakingly restored to their original design after the Six-Day War in 1967. This place was SO beautiful I took way too many pictures to post. (However, I failed to get pictures of the Emtsai Synagogue (Middle Synagogue).) There is a multitude of information online tracing the history of this amazing structure. Needless to say, I pretty much drained my iPhone’s battery taking photographs…

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/travel/tourist-tip-of-the-day/.premium-1.573400

The kid declared, “I’m davening here on Shabbat.” We’ll see about that…

Last up – the Hurva Synagogue to view the city of Jerusalem from its lookout.

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Twice destroyed over a 300-year period, the Hurva Synagogue in the center of the Jewish Quarter was restored to its original structure in 2010 and continues to be an active synagogue to this day.

http://www.rova-yehudi.org.il/sites/the-hurva-synagogue/

Encircling the top of the dome is a veranda with a 360-degree view of Jerusalem no words could possibly describe…

I definitely challenged myself climbing that spiral staircase in an ankle-length skirt. Climbing down was even more frightening, but the view was worth the terror!

After a jam-packed morning in the Old City, we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up before heading to the Nfesh B’Nefesh office elsewhere in Jerusalem.

For those unfamiliar, Nefesh B’Nefesh was formed in 2001 “in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel (and) is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from the USA, Canada and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah and the move to Israel.” Prior to its creation, making aliyah was a very labor-intensive and difficult task only to be followed by the multiple challenges an oleh (new citizen) would face trying to settle into their new home. This program has made it possible for thousands of English-speaking Jews to realize their dream of living in Israel.

http://www.nbn.org.il/

Not taking any chances with traffic (or any other unforeseen calamities), we collectively agreed we would start hunting down a taxi outside the hotel by 2:00p.m., but not without a lecture from the kid about dealing with taxi drivers. We were sternly advised, “Don’t say a word! Keep your mouths shut and I’ll do all the talking.” Nice, kid…real nice. First rule of them, we were informed, was to tell the driver “HaMetre,” which means you want the ride “on the meter” and not just given a number before driving. As luck would have it, the doorman was talking to his friend who just so happened to be a taxi driver and we were offered a ride. As instructed, the hubby and I kept our mouths shut tight as the kid looked at the driver and said, “HaMetre.” After trying to convince the kid that he knew what the cost would be and attempting to haggle a price, the kid again looked at the driver and said, “HaMetre,” to which the driver mumbled an annoyed, “B’Seder, B’Seder (Okay, Okay)!”

No longer having to keep our mouths shut, the driver asked us why we are going to Nfesh B’Nefesh. The hubby and I enthusiastically told the driver that the kid was making aliyah. His response was the same as all the others we had received every time we told an Israeli that the kid was making aliyah, “WHY?!” with the follow up of, “It’s hard, you know…” This is really not what the parents of an only child (let alone a female child) who is moving over 6000 miles away from home at the tender age of 18 1/2 want to hear. Of course after every conversation, each individual did manage to muster up a “Mazel Tov (Congratulations)…”

With a change in topic, the driver entertains us with his wit and humor, asking us how it is possible that all the roads in Jerusalem are named after Ashkenaz (Eastern European) Jews when there are so many more Sephardim (Mediterranean Jews) in Israel. He then asked the kid what her plans were after becoming a citizen and tells her that it will be much easier for her because of her young age. That was something I did want to hear…

Finally arriving at the Nefesh B’Nefesh building, the driver attempted to pull over to collect his money and allow us to exit the vehicle. Now, anyone who has been to Israel, especial Jerusalem, knows the roads were not made for large vehicles, let alone multiple vehicles. That’s when the fight between cabbies ensued. I’m not sure what was said, but I don’t think they were nice words telling by the anger on both their faces. Either way, I think our driver won that one…

After waiting for the kid’s friend to arrive from Beit Shemesh, we all boarded the elevator and found ourselves at the doorstep of the Nefesh B’Nefesh processing center. The first table was manned by her current advisor who would no longer be her advisor as of that night. (Each phase of the aliyah process provides applicants with a new advisor familiar with the tasks of that particular phase to make it easier on the potential citizen as well as the employees.) Being asked to fill out a packet of papers to get the ball rolling, the kid presented hers already filled out online months ago, eliciting an excited smile from her soon-to-be-ex-advisor.

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We were told to have a seat until the kid would be called to the next table and helped ourselves to the coffee, soda, pastry and bourekas free of charge. As the clock ticked past 3:30p.m., the kid was surprised by the arrival of one of her advisors from her gap year program. We were then notified by the staff that they were “running a bit behind schedule” and would be “changing things up” to get the process moving. Being told we could not accompany her, the kid was whisked away to a room downstairs where she and a few other applicants met with the supervisor of the program and discussed logistical matters such as banking, Israeli passports, health insurance and the like…topics completely unknown and foreign to the kid…and then anxiety snuck its way into the fold…and the kid heard nothing that was said. This is why I’ve always insisted on being present when anyone wants to speak to my daughter – she doesn’t listen very well. But this was my and hers reality now – she would need to handle matters on her own from now on. We had successfully launched a child. Now it was up to her to navigate the world she was entering and it was up to me to allow her the keys to the rocket ship.

As I waited for the kid, I met dozens of people from all walks of Jewish life, the youngest a young woman from Canada named Rivka who had just turned eighteen and was born in Israel but moved to Montreal at the age of one and decided she wanted to “move back home.” The oldest applicant was in his sixties making aliyah to be with his aging father who had made aliyah 40 years prior. Sisters, brothers, parents, couples, families and friends all wanting to live in Israel – 57 altogether we come to find…and that was just today. This processing occurs on a Wednesday every two weeks all year round except holidays. I was in awe at how many people wanted to do this and even more amazed by the staff that tirelessly worked more than 10 hours that day – all with smiles on their faces the entire time. That was the other thing I couldn’t get over – everyone was happy. I don’t mean fake happy for the cameras – I mean genuinely happy about what was going on there.

After returning from her group meeting and our attempts to squelch The Bully who had taken over the kid’s brain and blocked her from apprehending any of the information given to her, the hubby and I brought the kid over to the supervisor and had him explain everything again (in a nutshell) so that we could make certain the kid knew exactly what she needed to do next. Right up to that moment, the kid was convinced she would not be accepted and have to return back to the U.S. – and fate worse than death in her mind. She was afraid of doing just one wrong thing that would award her a big red rubber stamped “DENIED” on her application. We managed to calm her down and she resumed socializing with her friends and spoke about her lifelong dream of making aliyah to the cameras as they live streamed on Facebook.

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Now the kid was on to the third table of the night – the interview.

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I have no idea what she was asked or how she answered, but less than 30 minutes later the kid was done. She would later find out that her interviewer is notorious for very difficult and long interrogations, sometimes turning people away and denying their citizenship. But that didn’t happen in the kid’s case – on to the fourth and final table.

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Before we knew it, the kid was being handed her temporary citizenship card and teudah zehut (personal identification card)…and that was it…she was officially Israeli. Her lifelong dream had come true…and my reality as an empty nester started to sink in…

In celebration of all her hard work, we took the kid and her friend to Papagaio Jerusalem. The only word to describe this restaurant is meatpalooza with it’s crowning glory the “Papagaio Conjunto” – a sample of the various meats and poultry available are brought hot off the grill to your table and served the way each individual personally requests. Once you’ve tasted all, you choose your favorite…and then it comes to your table until you can’t possibly eat anymore, forcing you to turn the green button provided at the beginning of the meal to red – the waiter’s signal to inform the grill master to stop cooking for your table. We were definitely up for the challenge!

As we ate ourselves to gluttony, for the first time in the kid’s life it felt like I was talking to an adult…and I felt proud of her and me and the hubby – launch successful…and then a server dropped a tray full of glasses that dramatically crashed to the floor followed by a collective “Mazel Tov!” from all the patrons. Mazel Tov indeed!

Home again
Home again
One day I know
I’ll feel home again

Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka

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

Israel: Part II – Sweet reunion

November 14, 2017 – Jerusalem

Nine months after our 25th wedding anniversary in July of 2016, the hubby and I finally had the honeymoon we never had (due to elopement), hiring a private guide and renting a car for the entire two weeks we were in Israel and breaking the bank on whatever inheritance I had left. On the top of my To Do List was to buy a new wedding ring because the last one from my fourth wedding no longer fit my finger (see A Letter to My Woobie, September 28, 2016). Mentioning my mission to our guide, Asaf, informed us of his neighbor, Chanan, who owns a jewelry shop in the Old City. As soon as we arrived in Jerusalem, Asaf brought us to Chanan’s shop where we purchased a simple sterling silver band engraved with our Hebrew names and the date of our fourth (and final and halakhic) marriage. Several days later we picked up the ring and the hubby and I “remarried” in the parking lot outside the Armenian Quarter with Asaf as our witness to our “fifth wedding.”

Not knowing the next time we would be visiting Israel, I announced that, upon our return, I would have my engagement ring reset in a similar ring to the one we bought.

Walking through the Mamilla Mall in order to access the Jewish Quarter through the Armenian Quarter, I stopped to take pictures of the various sculptures on display and for sale along the way.

The first thing we did upon entering the Jewish Quarter was to relocate the jewelry shop…but it wasn’t there. The hubby texted Asaf to ask where the shop had disappeared to and was informed that the shop had moved to the Cardo.

http://www.israelinsideout.com/Things-to-do-in-Jerusalem/the-cardo-the-ancient-heart-of-jerusalem.html

Phew! Walking along the Cardo, we magically found the shop without any effort. Entering the store, I ask Chanan if he remembered us, to which he shook his memory. Once I showed him my wedding ring and reminded him of his neighbor, Asaf, he gleefully recalled our interaction from last year. After extensive discussion about why Chanan could not make the ring requested and meeting his friend from England who made aliyah years before and is now a tour guide and has the sense of humor of a Monty Python t.v. skit, we settled on purchasing a gift for the woman who is house/cat sitting for us while in Israel.

Searching for the nearest sherutim (a.k.a. WC [water closet] or toilet), the hubby waited for me in the Cardo where he was startled by a pigeon suddenly dropping dead off a pipe of the ceiling structure and splattered itself on the cobblestones below. This can’t be good…

Having planned a trip to the Davidson Center/Archaeological Park next to the Kotel, the hubby promised to let me take my time and explore the surroundings. So much had been added since the last time we were there in 2011, I relished the ancient ruins.

The Temple Mount – thousands of years of rock strata relaying the history of the Temple Mount from the Babylonians to the British, burial caves, remains of extravagant Muslim palaces, living quarters that would cost millions by today standards, ancient vessels that once held grains, the Mount of Olives, mikvaot (ritual baths), Robinson’s Arch, gates blocked off from ritual sacrifice, wild rosemary bushes, rubble strewn overboard like trash, olive trees, crumbling staircases, cisterns that once provided water to its residents… and barbed wire…

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On our way back to the hotel, we again walked through the Mamilla Mall as the hubby lectured me about stopping to talk to strangers. Noting a man carrying a sandwich board reading “No Dividing Jerusalem,” the hubby defied his own advice and engaged in conversation with the sandwich board man. I immediately reminded the hubby that we were scheduled to meet the kid and could not be late. After several minutes of persuading, the hubby managed to break away and we found ourselves back on track for the impending reunion with the kid.

Shortly after our arrival to the hotel, the kid texted that she was not far away. I cringe every time at the thought of my baby girl traveling by herself…on mass transit…in a country where Jews are hunted and murdered…simply because of who they are. The kid repeatedly requested that we promise to wait for her in the lobby – she needed this visit as much as we did…

Our reunion was emotional to say the least. We escorted the kid to the room we reserved just for her, knowing how much she needed the privacy and space as an only child used to such privileges having to live in cramped quarters with a multitude of aging-out teens. We quickly decided to have dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend located two blocks from the hotel.

Catching up on the last two months, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner of kosher pizza, pasta, beer and wine – no questions asked. Afterwards, heading back to the hotel, the kid and the hubby traditionally held hands as if from day one…

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and, being my child, the kid had to make it silly…

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“It’s been a long, long time
Since we had a chance to get together
Nobody knows the next time we see each other
Maybe years and years from now”

Family Reunion – The O’Jays

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

 

Israel: Part I – The path to acceptance

Never help a child with a task at which (s)he feels (s)he can succeed  – Maria Montessori

November 1, 2017

The kid (holding back tears of joy in her voice): “I’ve been accepted…they accepted me…I’m a citizen!”

Me: “Wait…what?!”

There ya have it – she did it…the kid made aliyah. In exactly seven weeks to the day of arrival, the kid managed to pull all her resources together and gain Israeli citizenship. I was flabbergasted, to say the least. As I told her, I’ve never seen the kid more motivated and driven ever for anything in her life. After 18 1/2 years of “not fitting in,” for the first time in her life the kid said, “I feel normal here mommy.” Daily she would text me: “I’m really happy mommy.” How could I not be happy for her?! I finally stopped crying after the first month (or so) after the kid left and thought I had come to terms with the permanency of her quest. Mommy intuition told me at the airport that our good-byes would be “forever,” but it still hadn’t sunk in quite yet…

The kid informed me that the ceremonious event would be either November 15th or November 29th and that one of her best friends was going to be with her as “family.” As we talked on the phone, I emailed the hubby and suggested we impulsively fly to Israel to be present for the kid’s crowning glory, instinctively knowing what his answer would be…

Me (texting on WhatsApp): “How about me and daddy are there as your family?”

November 8, 2017

The kid: “They just called me. We’re on for November 15th.”

As we talked, I frantically booked two seats (not together) on El Al for Sunday, November 12th, not really caring about the logistics. It was exactly two months since the kid had left for Israel and I was ready to see her again. Over those two months, there were a few occasions when reality set in – those moments when the kid was sobbing on the other end of the phone and just needed a “mommy hug” that I couldn’t bestow – occasions that broke my heart…

November 12, 2017 10:00AM – Newark Liberty International Airport

Approaching the El Al ticket counter, I pointed out the representative who had magically upgraded us to Economy Plus last summer for a mere $150 U.S.D. Upon questioning today’s ticket representative about getting seats together (and, of course, mentioning our child making aliyah, hence our trip to Israel), I mentioned the Magical Upgrader Lady and come to find she has been promoted to supervisor…BINGO! We quickly found ourselves standing in front of the Magical Upgrader Lady attempting to remind her of our flight in July 2016 when she managed to finagle Economy Plus seats for us while begging for seats together with the possibility of another miracle Economy Plus opening up. No such luck this time, BUT the Magical Upgrader Lady was able to move people around to give us seats together. We would later hear complaints after the flight from those passengers who had been moved for our sake…and we kept our mouths shut tight…the kid was making aliyah!

Somewhat thankful that we were at least sitting together, as the hubby was swiftly recruited to daven Mincha (afternoon prayers) I chanted my mantra over the next hours before boarding: “Please G-d…do not put me next to someone wearing heavy cologne/perfume and/or who has bad body odor…”

 

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Der mentsh trakht un got lakht – Man plans and G-d laughs…

My other pet peeve I forgot to pray for? LOUD NOISY CHEWING…although a very sweet man, my aisle seat companion had no front teeth and slurped his food very loudly…and slowly…for a very long time…G-d help me…

And, of course, before even taking off, my heart decided it was time to have an hour-long attack of SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) thanks to the Starbucks coffee I stupidly decided to consume on the way to the airport.  Due to the flight attendant’s poor English and my lack of Hebrew, I was failing to explain how I needed to lie down on the floor of the galley. The flight attendant had me sit in one of the galley seats while phone calls were frantically made and questions asked in an attempt to understand what was wrong with me. Finding myself suddenly alone, I quickly took advantage of the opportunity to bear down long enough to catch a normal heart rhythm when the flight attendant returned to ask more questions…

November 13, 2017 6:00AM – Ben Gurion International Airport/Tel Aviv, Israel

Ten excruciating hours later we found our way “home…”

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The hubby refers to these flights as “the time travel” – somehow you leave New Jersey on Sunday morning and arrive ten hours later in Israel on Monday morning. On the return trip, you leave Israel on Wednesday morning and land in New Jersey five hours later on Wednesday morning after a twelve-hour flight…

And what could be better after all this time travel then searching for a ride to the hotel? Enter the sherut – a shared taxi, typically an eight to ten seat minivan, which runs from the airport to Jerusalem where we will be staying for the next nine days. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of riding in a sherut, there is no way to explain it – it must be experienced.

Luckily, our driver is pleasant and provides us with a comedy routine for the hour-long drive, joking with the little old lady sitting towards the front of the van about not being granted a driver’s license after she criticized his “reckless” driving and asking our opinion on the matter. As we entered Jerusalem, the driver and his friend who “tramped” (i.e. hitched) a ride and was sitting across from the little old lady began arguing over directions and street locations, only to be joined by several other passengers. After driving through ancient narrow streets not designed for modern day vehicles and almost running down a man in a wheelchair, we finally arrived at the hotel several hours after landing.

First rule of thumb when flying to/from Israel – sleep on the plane…which I never do and suffer the consequences later. Second rule – do not go to sleep when you get there. In order to adjust to the time difference, it’s crucial to stay awake until a “normal bedtime.” This was not going to be a difficult thing to do because our room was not ready yet, forcing us to either hang out in the lobby or walk around the city. Stowing our luggage in storage, we opted to walk down to Ben Yehuda Street and decided to have an early lunch at the Cafe Rimon.

Repeatedly reminding ourselves to stay awake until nightfall, exhaustion got the better of us and we decided to return to the hotel. Thankfully, our room was ready and the front desk clerk informed us that we had been upgraded to a room with a balcony at no extra cost – BINGO AGAIN!

Forcing ourselves to wake up in time for dinner, the hubby discovered an envelope attached to a small box of chocolates that we must’ve missed when unpacking. Despite being addressed to me, the hubby took it upon himself to open it and read it out loud:

 

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The hubby: “Looks like you have a new boyfriend…”

Me: “What time is it?!”

Taking full advantage of our surprise upgrade, we made a B-line for floor M. All the chow and booze we could eat! Of course, that didn’t stop us from heading back to Ben Yehuda for some midnight sushi…

As we approached the sushi and salad restaurant spotted earlier in the day, we were the only customers. Sitting outside, we noticed the Cafe Rimon was packed with people and booming.

The hubby: “Is there something they all know that we don’t?”

Apparently not – it was the best sushi I’ve ever had!

We spent the next hour people watching and commented on how excitingly diverse Jerusalem has become, along with it’s modern downfalls such as excessive cigarette smoking everywhere, numerous more cars than years before and obvious prostitution now taking place out in the open street.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at the local Supersol to purchase water and other necessities (i.e. wine).

Me: “Shalom (Hello)!”

Cashier: “Shalom (while putting a different bottle of wine on the belt), you don’t want this wine (grabbing mine), it’s too expensive. You want this one.”

Me: “Umm…lo (no)?!”

Cashier: “Then you buy both!”

Me: “Haha! Lo! Only the one I picked!”

Cashier: (smirking) “Okay, but you want these granola bars!”

Me: “Lo, todah (thanks)! Maybe tomorrow?”

Cashier: (big smile) “Laila tov! (good night)”

(I later discovered the other bottle was much more expensive…)

As we entered the hotel lobby, a group of bus tourists were sitting around a piano being played by a hotel employee and listening to their guide sing “Hallelujah” while reading the lyrics off his smartphone. Heading back to our room, the hubby immediately passed out while I sat on my surprise upgrade balcony drinking wine and munching on the chocolates left by my boyfriend. Enjoying the chaotic rhythm of the city, I was excited to be seeing the kid the next day…

“Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord”

Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

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

Believe

It dawned on me today that it’s been over a month since my last bike ride. I have a vague memory of October 22nd – I remember the weather promised to be unseasonably warm with abundant sunshine, so Old Bessie and I made sure to take advantage of the day.

Riding along Elbo Lane towards my parents’ former neighborhood, something caught my eye at the local fire department and prompted me to turn around after passing it.

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It was a large piece of twisted metal rising toward the heavens against a beautiful blue sky. Now, I’ve ridden by this facility dozens of times and never noticed the 9/11 Memorial on display in front of the building and questioned my awareness. After learning that the memorial had just been erected the month prior on the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, I was reassured of my knack for acuity.

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Not knowing from which tower it fell, the twisted metal was recovered at Ground Zero and donated to New Jersey to be put on display. Other artifacts included a piece of limestone taken from the Pentagon and a rock from the crash site of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

It reminded me of that day and how much I really don’t like to think about it. September 11, 2001 was the kid’s “half birthday” – she was exactly 2 1/2 years old. The kid was busying herself with play while I worked out to a video in our living room. A few minutes after 8:46AM the phone rang. Still working out, I listened to the answering machine as it recorded my mother’s voice on the other end. Panic was in her voice, and she demanded I respond to her call. Picking up the receiver, I asked her what was wrong. “Turn on the t.v.! We’re under attack!” As ordered, I turned the channel to CNN and watched as the North Tower burned. Now it was my turn to panic. The kid could tell that something serious was going on as I desperately attempted to calm my mother down. Trying to figure out what had happened, I watched as a jetliner crashed into the South Tower at 9:03AM…then the Pentagon at 9:37AM…and finally, a crash in rural Pennsylvania at 10:07AM. In memory, most of that day was an emotional roller coaster of hysteria and complete terror. And then the skies grew quiet…very quiet…and it stayed that way for 48 hours. For weeks I was glued to CNN, paralyzed by the incomprehensibility of events on that mild Tuesday morning with the beautiful blue sky. It took months before I didn’t cower when planes flew overhead, and the kid became so frightened by our reactions she refused to leave my side for over two years. At some point I turned off the news and never watched it again…

And then I saw something in the parking lot that delightfully lightened the mood:

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A practice dummy lying face down after being “rescued” during a drill…time to move on!

Heading toward Church Road and making the usual pit stop at Johnson’s Farm, I found myself passing Kirby’s Mill (Seeing, May 25, 2017) and discovered a small house behind the mill.

“This simply detailed, 1 story, three bay wide frame house with a shed roofed porch across the front was built in the late 1700s. It may have been a tenant house on the Jonathan Haines farm. Jonathan was one of the men who petitioned the New Jersey Assembly for permission to build a dam, a gristmill and a sawmill on the land bordering the South Branch of the Rancocas Creek, “one end abutting on the land of the said Jonathan Haines.” In 1778, the mill was completed and started operations. This building became the home of the sawmill foreman and therefore was called the Sawyer’s House.”

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMA6G2_The_Sawyers_House_Medford_NJ

After a cautious look around, I decided to explore the road further, not having ever ridden it before – Fostertown Road. A little over a mile later, I came upon an airport.

It’s called the Flying W Airport and Resort:

“Flying W Airport & Resort was built in the 1960s by Bill Whitesell; hence the “W” in its name. Mr. Whitesell initially envisioned a place to provide air transportation services to those involved in building the Alaska Pipe Line. He also wanted to provide a place where both travelers and local families could dine al fresco in a restaurant that also doubles as a bar and cafe, stay in the quaint Flying W Motel, and swim in the famous airplane-shaped swimming pool. Over the years, the restaurant, lounge and swimming pool have provided enjoyment and wonderful memories to many who still visit.”

http://www.flyingwairport.com/

What a quaint little place! Thinking about how much Michael would have loved this place, I looked at the small single-engine planes and remembered hearing how some of the 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons at little airports like this one in order to gain the knowledge they would later use to kill thousands of people…time to move on!

Continuing down the road, I pulled Old Bessie to the side of the road so as not to miss the perfect photo op of all rides:

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Yup…some days, when everything is right with the universe and the sun is high in that beautifully cloudless blue sky and you’re just coasting through life feeling groovy without a care in the world, a huge pile of shit is going to find you. So why the challenge? I believe that G-d gives us what we can handle and maybe sometimes we need a little humility to remind us of our fortune in life. But how does one explain pure evil? Why do we need the challenge of men full of hatred turning jetliners into weapons of destruction and killing thousands of innocent people? Perhaps we need an occasional reminder as to why we all need to be better human beings. Some would say that if the test is passed successfully, we are rewarded in the end…

Four days after 9/11, on a quiet Saturday morning with a beautiful blue sky, a friend decided to go ahead with the wedding she had planned over the past year. This friend spent decades dating all the wrong guys until she happened to meet up with an old acquaintance from elementary school when in her late 30s. In a storybook fairytale, they fell in love and got engaged two years later during a romantic getaway somewhere along the Florida Keys. Originally planning to exchange vows on the beach, the ceremony was transferred to a little church on the main drag due to public restrictions being enforced throughout the region. Wearing her fantasy wedding gown purchased on ebay months before, she and her husband exchanged vows to a tearful congregation. I had known this woman for ten years and watched her struggle from one relationship to the next. I was truly happy for her, but couldn’t stop thinking about the collective sorrow resonating silently throughout the chapel. For a year we helped plan the perfect wedding never anticipating something as horrific as 9/11. As we gathered together to leave the church and head to the reception, we thanked our friend for providing a moment of peace and love desperately needed after a long week of tremendous despair.

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan

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

We need a good, smart bear…

“If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.” – Yiddish Proverb

thanks

Michael’s wife, Liz (a.k.a. my fourth sister), is Chinese. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my sister-from-another-mister was the BEST thing that ever happened to my brother. Her natural ability to interact with Michael in a way no other human being has come close to achieving speaks volumes on the beautiful soul that exists within this extraordinary person. If her only purpose in this lifetime was to make the last years of my brother’s life happy and comfortable, she has succeeded ten-fold.

Over the years our family has tried their best to learn and speak simple Chinese phrases with little to no success. To be expected, mom was the most entertaining member of the class. My mother took the cake when it came to jumbling up pronunciations. For example, throughout the entire OJ Simpson trial, mom referred to Barry Scheck as “Barry Skank” regardless of how many times we corrected her misnomer. And, as to be expected, her faux pas didn’t end with the English language.

One of the phrases mom wished to learn was how to say “thank you” in Chinese so that she could thank her server when eating at a Chinese food establishment.

https://translate.google.com/?um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&client=tw-ob#auto/zh-CN/thank%20you

In her defense, Chinese is a difficult language to learn and speak, especially for us Americans. However, for mom, “xie xie” became “shit shit.” The inaccuracy of her pronunciation is something we speak of often and always hardily laugh about when remembering our mother…which brings us to my secret-now-empty-nester-getaway with the hubby this past week…

As summer was quickly coming to a close with the inevitable departure of the kid to Israel, I frantically began planning things to do so that the hubby and I could actually have a relationship once again that didn’t involve a child or anything to do with a child (sorry kid). So on July 12th I planned a getaway post chagim (Jewish holidays) in order to get the ball rolling…destination- Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Locating a B&B two blocks from the beach that was affordable enough not to take out a second mortgage, I paid the deposit toward a minimum two-night stay on a room with a private balcony overlooking the lake. Researching “things to do,” along with kosher eateries (a must), every hour of 48 was arranged to guarantee non-stop pleasure. The Weather Channel promised me clear skies and temps in the 60s – perfect! Of course, the one thing I didn’t think through thoroughly was the fact that we would be leaving the day after month-long chagim as well as Shabbatbefore I knew it, the day of retreat was among us…

Having gained at least 50 lbs. over the holidays (okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration), I insisted on going to the gym in order to impossibly lose the weight I had gained over a four-week period of non-stop eating. In the interest of time, I instead decided to walk up to the local pharmacy to purchase travel toiletries and convinced myself to do a quick workout in the garage. And then, of course, having forgotten to color my hair days prior, I tacked on an additional 30 minutes while desperately trying to control the giant pimple that had decided to plant itself on my chin. The “plan” was to be in a kosher friendly neighborhood by lunch time, so around 12:00 p.m. we ventured out (my family, often in cahoots with the hubby, used to lie to me about the startup time for gatherings, knowing I’d be at least 15 minutes late), but, of course, we had to turn back because I forgot to pack my sneakers that I purposely planted at the garage door so I wouldn’t forget them. Managing to take two hours to arrive from what should’ve been a one-hour drive, we arrived in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Getting my much-needed kosher sushi and finishing lunch around 2:00 p.m., we continued down the road, The Bully ever-present and taunting me about how imperfect and horrible the next two days would be. Twenty-five minutes later we found ourselves at what we have now affectionately dubbed “The Hotel New Hampshire”:

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Photographs do no justice when it comes to seeing something with one’s own eyes. I can visually document The Grand Canyon for years and never quite capture the beauty of what is seen face to face…but this time I actually looked up reviews and all were “reliably” promising (a 4.1 out of 5 on Tripadvisor – I’m thinking the Grand Canyon gets a 10 on that scale of 5).

With no signs of a parking lot or signs directing us where to park, we abandoned the car between two white lines believed to be some kind of parking space and walked up the stairs of a gorgeous wraparound porch surrounded by colorful fall mums and bleached white chairs with vibrant pillows.

With no signs of reception or signs directing us where to check in, we wandered through the foyer, looking this way and that, and found a structure resembling a “front desk” with several individuals behind and around it – a young heavyset woman with straight shoulder-length blond hair, significant cleavage and glasses as thick as Coke bottles, a tall and sickly thin-looking young man with big teeth, a goatee and a man bun and a petite young boy with giant hair and adolescent facial hair. With no signs of life, the woman, not looking up from her computer screen, asked if we had a reservation – no hellos, no welcomes, no how-are-ya’s. The giant-haired boy asked, “Yous guys need help with your bags?” to which we responded in the negative.  With the boy’s response of “Awesome!”, a key is grabbed by our hostess off a hook on the wall and she began walking…no explanations, no follow-me-this-way, no nothing…

Thankfully, we are two fairly intelligent human beings with a lot of common sense. Eyeballing one another, the hubby and I followed the woman up the first flight of stairs…then the second…then the third to room #7. Jackpot! Seven’s an awesome number! Shabbat is the 7th day of the week. We have 7 Days of Creation, 7 days of the week, the 7 species of Israel, 7 Laws of Moses, 7 Patriarchs and 7 Matriarchs. There’s 7 wedding blessings, 7 times a bride circles her husband when getting married,  we have 7 sheva brachot (wedding meals) after getting married and for 7 days we mourn our loved ones. The first verse of the Torah consists of 7 words…WOW! Lucky number 7!

Okay, granted it’s an old Victorian home near the ocean that was no doubt affected by Hurricane Sandy – I get it. But the place was run down. We tried to be positive. Maybe the housekeeping staff is just too exhausted to care after a busy and prosperous summer. It’s off-season, so maybe the staff is less meticulous. Perhaps I’m just too picky about my standard of cleanliness…

As we unpacked our belongings and hung clothing on hangers too tight to fit around the closet pole, I checked furniture for wear and tear, the bed for critters and the bathroom for mold, my inspection barely passing my old school grade of “S” (Satisfactory). I informed the hubby that we were going to go for a walk on the boardwalk and then drive north along the shoreline to dinner at a steakhouse that was 100% approved by one of the pickiest meat eaters in our community. Granted it was a little warm and the humidity too high for mid-October, but the hubby reluctantly agreed and we started for the door…and it didn’t open…and the door knob fell limp…and it was 4:10 p.m…and the “front desk” staff left at 6:00 p.m…and we didn’t know what time they came back in the morning…because they didn’t mention it…

The Bully: See…this little vacation’s gonna suck!

Me: Shut up…

For more than 15 minutes the hubby and I tugged and turned and attempted to screw back in the door knob, he on the house phone calling the front desk and me on my cell phone calling the hotel’s main line…but no one answered. Panic set in. As the hubby repeatedly called the “front desk”‘ on the phone, I ran to the balcony, thinking, “It’s beshert (meant to be) – perhaps this was the reason I reserved the room with the balcony…?!”

Me: “Hello?! Hello?!” (shouting to no one below).

A teenage girl parked her car across the street.

Me: “Miss! Miss!”

Girl: (pointing a finger toward her chest).

Me: “Yeah, you! I have a HUGE favor to ask of you. We’re locked in our room and would appreciate it if you could go to the front desk and tell them we need immediate assistance.”

Girl: (without hesitation as if it’s happened before) “Sure, no problem,” and enters the hotel upon request.

Minutes pass like hours and the hubby continued to pull on the door knob as I ran back and forth to the balcony looking to see if the girl followed through on my request. Suddenly, we heard a voice on the other side of the door…

Voice: “Take the key out of the lock.”

The hubby: “There isn’t a key in the lock.”

Voice: (opening door with master key) “This fuckin’ place…”

A stocky-built individual with brown hair piled on the head, a faint moustache, serious man hands and wearing navy blue hospital scrubs entered the room. Kat (whose name we later learned), in attempting to contact the “front desk” via inter-hotel cell phone, proceeded to tell us why the hotel sucked as much as it did – “The staff is stupid.” Precise and to the point – the hotel sucks because the staff is stupid. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Kat continues to explain to us how the hotel is actually a kind of time share, whereby each room is owned by an individual and rented out through the property owner. In other words, the state of the room is dependent on “how much the owner of the room gives a shit.” Kat’s words, not mine. Perhaps another reason why the hotel sucks…

Finally free from our prison hell, I descended the stairwell toward the “front desk.” Meeting me halfway, the heavyset woman with the sickly thin-looking man by her side, asked, “You’re locked in your room?” Okaaay…this is going to be an interesting conversation…Kat attempted to tutor the “front desk” staff on the mechanics of door knobs to no avail and demanded we be “upgraded” and the woman and man were gone. After several minutes, Kat received a message letting us know that we were being moved to room #14…one more flight up. Quickly repacking our suitcases, Kat, waited patiently and continued to give us more reasons as to why the hotel sucks. Turning the bolt lock out so as not to have the door lock behind us, she escorted us to our new digs. Kat showed us around the room, repeatedly insisting it was “much better” than the last one. Needless to say, it wasn’t terrible (definitely an S, but not much better)…and at least we still had a balcony…

With the Hotel New Hampshire behind us, I dragged the hubby reluctantly to the boardwalk. As the humidity and temperature began to lighten up, it was a perfectly beautiful day to walk on the beach and observe the shidduchim (Orthodox system of matchmaking couples for marriage) being conducted along various benches and frum (religious) families playing along the shoreline before loading up soaking wet and full of sand into their minivans.

As the sun set, we drove north along the ocean through all the towns we were familiar with thanks to the Bruce Springsteen references provided to us as kids growing up. Like seasoned early-bird-special retirees, we arrived at the restaurant in Deal 15 minutes before opening, but the wait was worth the food and service.

Returning to our room at the Hotel New Hampshire after dinner, I made my way to the balcony overlooking the infamous Spring Lake as the hubby hibernated under the covers staring at his iPad. The air was crisp with a soft ocean breeze. Crickets and peepers chirped all around as I listened to the ocean tide ebb and flow with an occasional quacking duck or honking goose. The sky was clear and replete of stars with a splendid view of the gorgeous hotel on the boardwalk I enviously wished I had booked instead.

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Leaving him no choice, I convinced the hubby to join me. Not completely miserable, I downloaded a stargazing app for him and he attempted to find our way around the heavens. Being on the top floor affords a balcony without any obstructions – score!

Looking for sleep. we made our way to the bed…a VERY squeaky bed. As we drifted off to sleep around midnight, The Bully reminded me that the staff had left at 6:00 p.m. –  it was just us and two other guests somewhere else in a large 28-room mansion with no staff to speak of in the off-season whose exact return was uncertain. Making reference to The Shining, the hubby’s slowed and steady breathing advised me I was all alone in my thoughts…

The Bully: Sleep tight my dear!

Delighted to have woken up alive with no signs of axed-force entry, the hubby and I strolled down the four flights and two landings, past the “front desk” and into the breakfast nook (and the only reason we knew where we were going is because one of the two other guests staying at the hotel had asked the “front desk” woman the day before as we were checking in). We were greeted by the petite boy with the big hair and adolescent facial hair who asked if we were going to have breakfast. Not quite sure of the kashrut (kosherness of the food), we scrutinized the “Continental Breakfast” and managed to find some hard-boiled eggs and a couple of instant oatmeal packets with an OU, assuming the baked items were most likely a no-go. I suggested the hubby ask the boy if we could see the packaging that the baked items came in (believe it or not, most hotels have no issue doing this). The boy very happily took the hubby to the kitchen where he discovered that the English muffins had a reliable hechscher (kosher symbol), to which the boy asked many curious questions, eager to learn.

Having eaten our money’s worth of hard-boiled eggs, plain instant oatmeal and dry English muffins, I informed the hubby that we were going to take a walk around the infamous Spring Lake. The temperature had plummeted 20 degrees since the day before, so the hubby had no complaints…until we got to the lake…and started walking…and it started to rain. Offering him an umbrella, the hubby adamantly refused and grumpily made his way up the path that encircles the lake. As I took photos with my smartphone, the hubby had a “lively” discussion on his flip-phone with the kid who was calling from Israel to complain about not having access to her Amazon Prime video account after the hubby changed the password because he thought he’d been hacked following an alert showing someone had attempted to access the account from an unknown device. At least we know she’s alive…

Halfway around the lake, as the rain got heavier, I joked that we might get lucky and it wouldn’t be raining on the other side. Turning onto the bridge that crosses the lake, the rain suddenly ceased…and it wasn’t raining on the other side…

About a half hour later, we found ourselves back at the hotel trying to figure out what to do next. My original plan was to take the hubby to Allaire State Park, do some light hiking, have a picnic and possibly check out the museum or take a train ride. Having rained all night and all morning, we decided the park wasn’t going to be much fun in the mud, so we chose to get some complimentary coffee and sit on the porch and enjoy the cool air. While the hubby ran to the bathroom, I started pouring a cup of coffee and was greeted by a tall, thin young woman with hair tied into a bun, wearing leggings and a hoodie and whose willowy legs reached to my waist. As she piled a basket of baked goods onto a plate, she loudly began interrogating me about my stay – “How was your night?!” “Did you eat breakfast?!” “When did you get here?!” What’re ya doin’ today?!” Thinking she was an overly friendly guest who really liked donuts, it finally dawned on me that she was an employee in some capacity.

Casey, as I learned, was with housekeeping, has been working at the hotel for a number of years and lives in Point Pleasant with her 7-year-old daughter. Asking her advice on things to do on a rainy day at the shore in the off-season, Casey was a walking directory of attractions. However, with every nomination, her follow-up response was, “But you better call first because businesses are always going under or close for the season.” Having also planned to check out a place called Monster Mini-Golf, Casey provided me with the same advice – call first. We sat back down on the porch to drink our coffees while I called the mini-golf location mentioned and discovered that they were indeed open, but not until 2:00 p.m. – it was currently 10:30 a.m…

Revolving our day around mini-golf at 2:00 p.m., we decided to head to the local Whole Foods to purchase picnic food that was kosher and didn’t require heating up. Driving the few miles to the store, we discovered a rather kosherless stock of food items and thought to cross the street to the local Acme, but lazily convinced ourselves to drive back to Deal where we knew there were a number of places to have lunch along the main strip. Finding our way back up the road along the shoreline, getting lost a few times and riding in circles, we discovered that every restaurant that posted hours of operation online were closed for the season. Taking one more look on Google and making one more phone call, we found an open pizza joint on the other side of town. Upon arriving, we discovered it was a little take-out place inside a community center that was not to our liking. As we stood in the parking lot believing we would have to suck it up and forgo lunch, I noticed the sign on a restaurant across the street was a name that had popped up when perusing Google – Sheng Mao Sakura.

It looked familiar to us both, but we couldn’t figure out why. Checking the window for a reliable teudah (kosher certificate), we settled on eating Chinese. Again, as we entered the lobby, the hubby and I simultaneously experienced deja vu – it’s familiar because we’ve been here before! Michael had taken us to this restaurant years before when he was living in Neptune and the kid was a little girl and his wife was not even a twinkle in his eye. The hubby pointed out the table where we had sat and instantly remembered what we ate that day. We wondered if the waiter was the same waiter who had served us so long ago but couldn’t recall his face.

We ordered our food, consumed all we could manage to stuff in our bellies and asked for the check, after which I said to the waiter, “Xie xie.” Slightly correcting my pronunciation, the waiter was impressed that I even knew how to say thank you in Chinese. I told him about my sister-in-law and how she has attempted to help my family learn simple words and phrases over the years and how mom used to say “shit shit.” Producing a broad smile and a hardy chuckle, he presented me with a fortune cookie…and I laughed out loud…

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Now off to Monster Mini-Golf, an indoor monster themed glow-in-the-dark 18-hole miniature golf course. As you know from previous posts, I’m a miniature golf addict. On every vacation I’ve managed to find a miniature golf course, whether it be indoors or out. Anticipating rain for the entire day, I chose this particular course because it was inside (of course the sun came out and the sky was blue by the time we got there). No matter – I was determined to get some tee time!

Ashamed of our scores, we started our trek back to the hotel, where we cleaned up, changed and went to dinner.

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I’m Forrest Grump!

After an uneventful evening at the staffless hotel, we fell into our squeaky bed, passed out and awoke with the sunrise (and a view of the hotel I still wished we’d booked)…IMG_20171017_071807109_HDR

Returning to the breakfast bar scarcely loaded with the previous day’s goods, we again consumed our money’s worth of hard-boiled eggs, plain instant oatmeal and dry English muffins in the company of the petite boy who was having a conversation with a short older-adult woman with red bob haircut, glasses and a slight southern drawl. Apologizing for my rudeness in not asking his name previously, the boy introduced himself as Daniel. The older woman continued her conversation to include me and the hubby. Her name is Mary Catherine and she grew up in East Orange, New Jersey where she spent all her formative years in Catholic schools and retired to Williamsburg, Virginia with her husband six years prior. Mary Catherine explained to us that she had attended her 50th high school reunion over the weekend – the only reunion she has ever gone to, we learn, because she truly never had any interest in finding out whatever happened to her classmates – it was just an excuse to come back to “come home” and stay in her favorite place on the Jersey shore, Spring Lake. She warned us of her candid personality as well as her Tea Party support and proceeded to tell us her life story up until that moment – how, to her father’s disapproval, she married her husband who had been married before and refused to have the first union annulled in order for them to get married in the Catholic church, which lead to the description of her current spiritual state and her regrets about never having children; how some of her classmates were dead and that the girls she had befriended in high school would never be her friends now and the girls that were not her friends in high school would be her friends now…and on and on she went…

Mary Catherine excused herself to get her belongings so she could go for a walk on the boardwalk, sit on the beach and check out the quaint shops on Main Street across the lake. As we attempted to head home, Daniel informed us that check out was at 11:00 a.m. and asked we wait until then because he was not permitted to check guests out of the hotel and wasn’t sure what time the rest of the staff was due for work. Assuring Daniel that we had paid for our room in full, we handed over the room key and bid our farewell. We were again joined by Mary Catherine, who had locked herself out of her room and begged Daniel to lend her the master key, which he reluctantly handed over. Trying to make our escape, Daniel then asked the hubby about the Star of David and proceeded to hypothesize the spiritual interconnectedness between all things in the world based on the theory of plutonics. As Kat returned to a new day of work and asked “Danny” if he was “bothering these poor people,” I reassured her that he was not and insisted Daniel continue our conversation. Possibly disclosing something very personal and private, Daniel then asked if we had “ever been in an institution” and suddenly appeared embarrassed, lowering his head and gazing up at me to see my reaction. Informing him that I had been in several different institutions over the past thirty years (in a social work capacity), Daniel began to tell us about a woman he knew who used to rock back and forth when she was upset, which reminded him of the Israeli men in the area he has seen rocking back and forth when they pray in synagogue, and he told the woman, “Maybe you’re trying to find comfort in getting closer to G-d?” I told him he was exactly right in his thought process and wished him well. The ride home was a lot less adventurous…

Two years ago today, after a hug and a kiss and “dancing” to his favorite Christmas tunes, before heading to bed I said good-bye to my only brother and asked him to say hello to everyone when he got to heaven, to which he nodded his head. At 2:40 a.m. while the rest of us slept, my brother Michael, holding his nurse’s hand, opened his eyes, looked at her as if to say, “I’m ready,” quietly and peacefully left our world. He is missed beyond words…

“Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'”

Hotel California – Eagles

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