The Land of Milk and Honey, Work and Play, Religiosity and Secularity: A Year in Review

A little over a year ago, Doug and I left for Israel. We knew we were going to stay until January 2012, at least, but were hoping to find jobs and stay longer. Luckily, we did find jobs, allowing us to stay through June 2012.

When people hear we spent a year in Israel, they ask, “So… how was it?” They watch me eagerly, seeming to expect some sort of grand story. I usually just smile and say, “It was amazing.” What else can I say? It’s hard to sum up nine month’s worth of experiences succinctly, especially considering the wide range of experiences we had in Israel.  But at this point, I’d like to reflect on some of the most memorable moments.

Arrival

We landed in Ben Gurion Airport on September 8, 2011. We made our way to a sherut (taxi service) to Jerusalem, where we needed to go to join our Career Israel group orientation.  To say we were exhausted, hungry, and disoriented would be an understatement.  So when security officials began shepherding people away from the airport exits, we were incredibly confused and frustrated.  As we stood with our four suitcases and watched the security personnel doing their thing, we couldn’t help but wonder what was going on.

We eventually managed to hear the story:

As the doors of a train that runs through the airport were closing, someone had thrown a suitcase onto the platform.  A “suspicious package.” So, as we waited and chatted with fellow travelers (one Oregonian, who had admired my Powell’s Bookstore T-Shirt, managed to get a picture with a security guard despite the prohibition on taking pictures of them), security personnel brought over one of those bomb-deactivating robots and rendered the suitcase harmless.

The sherut “lines” were terrible after that. Masses of people rushed to get on one and there was no rhyme or reason to who got on which.  Whenever we told a driver where we were going, we were turned away.  We eventually boarded a sherut.  We spent the next few hours on the sherut as it drove to Jerusalem and then zigzagged its way across the city, dropping off passengers until we were the only remaining riders.

As we sat on the sherut, I looked over at Doug, for whom this was the first trip to the country, and said, “Welcome to Israel!”

Slichot Tour

The night before Yom Kippur, Career Israel took us to the kotel (also known as The Western Wall or the Wailing Wall).  People were packed so thick that we only managed to get within a quarter of a mile of the wall.  The group of us stood huddled together, listening to the Rabbi over the loudspeakers. With all the excitement, I almost forgot that we were at a religious, very solemn site.  Despite the fact that many of the people at the wall that night would soon be fasting for 25 hours, there was an atmosphere of glee.

Yom Kippur

We returned to Tel Aviv after our amazing slichot tour just in time to prepare a pre-fast meal (it ended up being a little saltier than it should have been, considering we were about to fast, but it turned out ok).  After eating and going to a local, overflowing Sephardic synagogue, we walked back to our apartment.  Since it’s illegal to drive on Yom Kippur, the streets were taken over by bikers, skaters, and pedestrians.  The holiday has unofficially become known as the national bike day.  We got back to our building and spent some time playing card games with friends.

Our strategy for getting through the fast as easily as possible was to stay up incredibly late and sleep in incredibly late—that way, when we woke up, there would only be a few hungry hours left.  So, in an effort to keep busy while staying awake, we took a late-night stroll with a friend.  We walked around the then-quiet streets of the city, awed by the silence that lay over Tel Aviv like a blanket.  We ended up by the Azrieli Towers, where Doug and I enjoyed a short dance in the middle of the intersection while the traffic lights changed colors to direct non-existent traffic.  Little did I know that I would soon be working for Playtech, whose offices were in the round tower.

Little did we know, as we danced in the middle of the intersection, that we would soon be working in the round tower.

We frolicked a little on the deserted Ayalon highway before peacefully strolling home, where we promptly fell asleep and stayed asleep through the late morning, just as we planned.

Goofing around on the Ayalon highway during Yom Kippur

Playtech

I went to Israel hoping that I would be able to work at the Praklitut (Tel Aviv’s district attorney’s office).  Getting through all the red tape involved in working for the Israeli government was a time-consuming process (/non-process), though, and time was one thing I did not have.

While I was waiting on some paperwork from the Praklitut, I ended up babysitting for an attorney who worked for Playtech, a high-tech company that does software development for online games. She passed my resume along to the legal department and, within a week, I was offered a full-time position.

My time at Playtech was amazing, despite sometimes-stressful conditions and frustrating encounters (i.e. providing technical support for officemates from home without internet access, having my office phone line stop working every other day, having my internet inexplicably die while at work).  I am incredibly thankful to have spent the year working in an office where my coworkers were wonderful, the environment was dynamic, and every day was different. As if that wasn’t rewarding enough, I loved that the company had fresh made waffles for us for New Years, threw an amazing Purim party, and distributed lovely presents for Passover.

New Year’s waffles!

Purim Party

Oh, did I mention we got fun souvenirs? Say hello to my Pink Panther flash drive.

Release of Gilad Shalit

On October 18, 2011, Gilad Shalit was released after more than five years of being in captivity.  His abduction and imprisonment moved the nation.  People saw in him their own brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons.  For years, people prayed for his release; some protested in front of the Prime Minister’s house in an effort to get negotiations going. As I already wrote about his abduction and the exchange for his release (you can read it here if you’re interested), I’ll refrain from going into too much detail.

I will say that it was truly lovely to be in Israel when he was finally released, though. Netanyahu’s words to Shalit upon his return to Israel still ring in my head: “How good it is that you’ve come home.”

Bedouin

In 2007, I visited the Bedouin for the first time.  Through Birthright we stayed overnight in a large tent, hosted by local Bedouins.  It was a lovely experience (besides the less-than-spotless communal bathrooms and somewhat grimy sleeping bags), full of desert stories told over tea and good food.  In the morning, we took an early morning camel ride through the desert.  Unfortunately, our idyllic visit wasn’t representative of the actual Bedouin experience and lifestyle.

Our program arranged a visit to an unofficial Bedouin settlement.  The bus dropped us off a short ways away from the settlement since it wasn’t accessible by paved road.  A few minutes’ walk from the collection of lean-tos was their central “plumbing” area, if you will.  As the settlement isn’t connected to government infrastructure, they have to obtain water in an unconventional manner.  Somehow, they tap into the state water system and run rubber/plastic pipes to their homes.  But the pipes they use are all exposed, above ground, and without insulation.  This means that they are completely susceptible to breakage, leaking, and over-heating/freezing.  In the summer, the water is scalding; in the winter, the water is ice-cold.  Nevertheless, they record water usage using rudimentary meters.  One person in the settlement is responsible for recording each family’s water usage (the meters are located between the main road and the dwellings; each is covered by a little wooden box) and collecting payments.  Who they pay for the water is beyond me—it would seem odd if they paid the Israeli water supplier company, considering they were illegally taking the water, but I didn’t question it at the time.

Bedouin plumbing system

After a short walk, we arrived at the dwelling of a woman who agreed to have us over.  Our guide, who was studying the Bedouin, knew her.  In exchange for a small sum of money, she provided groups with tea and spoke with them.  She also graciously told us her story:

When she was a young girl, she went to school.  She never obtained her high school degree, though.  After marrying, she decided she wanted to continue her education.  She obtained her high school degree and was taking classes in Hebrew Literature part-time at a local university.  While she loved studying, she was frank about some of the difficulties she encountered.  Not owning a car, she would often need to get rides back home from university after classes ended as no public transportation serviced the route she needed.  But as a woman, she could only get rides with other women or her closest male relatives, lest someone accuse her of adultery.  She said that her husband had always been supportive of her, but that other people in her settlement were critical of her.  Her desire to be educated was looked down upon; women were meant to give birth to and care for children, home, and husband.

Despite this, the woman we spoke with said she was determined that her daughters obtain their degrees before marrying, a goal uncommon in the community.  When we asked if she would ever leave her community to live somewhere else, where equality between genders was greater, she replied with a resounding, “Never.”  Her community was her family and she had no desire to leave it.

Her story was simultaneously inspirational and upsetting.  This woman was clearly incredibly motivated, but the obstacles she encountered were great.  Despite everything, she had such an optimistic view of the world and had a wonderful sense of humor.  As a mother of several, including one set of triplets, she joked: “For my greatest enemies, I wish that they, too, have triplets.”

Tea with an inspiring Bedouin woman

Kibbutz Netzer Sereni

In January, Doug and I went to kibbutz Netzer Sereni with a small group of people in our program and our madricha (counselor), who was engaged to a kibbutz member.  We spent the day hearing about the kibbutz’s history and touring it on a tractor.

Our ride around the kibbutz

Our madricha’s fiancée told us how he moved out of his parent’s home and into kibbutz dorms when he began high school.  He relayed stories of evenings spent drinking in the kibbutz’s orange grove, explaining how they would squeeze fresh juice into their glasses of liquor.

Picking oranges at the kibbutz

As if we didn’t appreciate his kibbutz roots enough, he later gracefully scooped up an agitated calf that managed to escape its pen and plopped him back inside it, letting the calf suck on his thumb to calm him.

Scooping up the escaped cow

Depositing the escaped cow back in his pen

Letting the cow suckle on his thumb to calm him

Afterwards, he took us to his parents’ home, where we had tea and were able to amass lemons and limes to go along with the bushels of oranges we took from the grove.  The day was absolutely lovely, heavenly in the stereotypical way kibbutzim once were.

Yom HaZikaron Sirens & Yom HaAztmaut

I was sitting at my desk at work at 10am on Yom HaZikaron.  I had never spent it in Israel before so, while I expected a solemn mood, I didn’t quite expect to see the entire country stop for a minute of silence as a siren sounded.  I looked out my office window, down onto the busy commercial area below, and was shocked by the sense of solidarity I felt with the men and women who stood below.

Drivers stopped their cars in the middle of the intersection and stood silently beside them.  Store merchants stopped working and customers stopped ordering.  People stood facing all different directions, scattered along a pedestrian walkway by Tel Aviv’s Savidor train station.  A shared history of loss united us as we remembered relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, who were killed serving the country.

The view from my office window

As the siren wound down and people proceeded with their days, I understood the common thread Israelis shared, all religious and ethnic divides aside.

(The siren starts at 0:57)

It was also a privilege to be in Israel on Yom HaAztmaut (Independence Day). Weddings

Oh the weddings… What are weddings about, anyways? Love? Marriage? Family? The happy couple? Family? No; no; no; and maybe a little. Weddings are about eating, drinking, and dancing.  Luckily, Israelis have mastered those activities (particularly the first one).

The two weddings we went to were beautiful.  They were also incredibly different.

The first wedding we went to was one of a distant maternal relative who I had never met before.  The only people I knew were my late grandfather, his caretaker, an uncle I wasn’t close with growing up, and Doug.  Despite this, we had a wonderful time.  The location was beautiful, like a little orchard fairyland.  The food during the reception was amazing.  The meat was delicious, the fish was delectable, and the French fries were absolutely perfect!  We spent the hour bouncing between the stations and the bar, occasionally checking in with my grandfather.  The ceremony was blissfully sweet and was followed by dancing and good humor.  My 91-year-old grandfather even spent a little time on the dance floor.  By the end of the night, we were exhausted. But lo and behold, just as we ran out of energy, a “midnight snack” of fries, pickles, and mini burgers was brought out.  Smart folk, those newlyweds!

My late grandfather at the wedding

Looking out at the reception area from the dance floor

At the wedding

The second wedding we attended was also beautiful.  The venue was also outdoors, but less nature-y.  The pre-ceremony treats were arranged around a large circular area, making it easy to go from one to the next.  The food had an around-the-world theme, each station serving up something different (Israeli, Asian, Mexican, etc.).  We were able to socialize more at this wedding.  The groom was my grandmother’s cousin’s son—pretty distant, sure, but a lot of my dad’s family was there.  It was amazing to see some of my second cousins.  I reminisced with one in particular, who I remember watching the Aristocrats countless times with as a child.  As we finished reveling in nostalgia and I went to grab some more samosas, I ran into a co-worker who went to high school with the groom, my distant cousin.  Small world? I think so!

Holidays

Rosh Hashanah with my dad’s family

With my baby cousin on Rosh Hashanah

Sukkot

The dog is going for the abandoned food on the high chair… even she wants in on the delicious food we ate in the Sukkah!

Channukah

Channukah in Jerusalem

Shavuot, my favorite holiday!

———-

I’ve organized these gems of memories onto a virtual shelf in my brain.  This shelf holds dusty memories from before Israel, going back through my time at NYU, my experience studying abroad in Madrid and all of the traveling I did in those short months, my high school days, and my pre-NJ life in northeast Philadelphia.

My Israel memories are slowly but surely gathering their own layer of dust as I place new ones from law school beside them.

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The 6-Day Trip (to Israel)

It’s been some time since Doug’s parents’ visit to Israel in January, but with the recent end of my own parents’ visit, I can’t help but reminisce.

It was their first trip to Israel.  We were excited to show them around, but were at a loss as to where to start.  Their trip was relatively short (only 6 days) and we had to work during their visit, so scheduling was very tight.

Thankfully, my organizational instincts kicked in quite quickly—I threw together an itinerary that covered most of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods and had us in Jerusalem for a day.  I don’t know about Doug’s parents, but I was definitely exhausted by the end of the week!

Tuesday

Doug’s parents arrived in the afternoon, so Doug made his way to the airport to pick them up.  He took them to their hotel, where I later met them.  We walked along the tayelet for a short time before making our way to dinner at Piccola Pasta (a restaurant absolutely worth checking out! Read about the food here).  It was close to their hotel and we figured it was a safe bet for their first night.  We had an early dinner and took them back to their hotel, where I think they promptly fell asleep.  Mission: retrieve parents from airport and ferry them to sleep late enough to avoid jet lag = success!

We had a lovely dinner at Piccola Pasta

Wednesday

We originally planned to spend Wednesday in Tel Aviv and go to Jerusalem on Thursday, but the weather forecast for Thursday indicated rain all day.  In the interest of not spending a day soaked and unhappy in Jerusalem, we switched our schedule around a little.  We met up bright and early and made our way to the Central Bus Station, where we hopped on a sherut to Jerusalem.

For those who don’t know what a sherut is, it’s basically a taxi van.  Prices are comparable to buses.

  • Cons: Depending on the time of day, you may have to wait a bit for it to leave. They wait until they’re full before heading off to their destination.  They also don’t offer any monthly/weekly pass, as far as I know.
  • Pros: They can be quicker than buses since they only stop to drop people off (or pick people up, when they have empty seats). They also run on Shabbat.

We made it to Jerusalem with enough time to stop in at an Aroma and grab something warm to drink before making our way to the Old City.  In the interest of seeing as much of Jerusalem as possible in a short time, we took them to the Old City via Mamilla Mall.

Mamilla Mall is a modern construction built very close to the Old City.  A pedestrian walkway cuts through its center, allowing you to stroll along while looking in at the posh stores and contemporary sculptures than line the walkway.

Although not from our trip to Jerusalem with Doug's parents, here's a picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

Another picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

At long last, we came upon the Old City.  While we planned to enter through Dung Gate since it was closest to the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall), we ended up going through Yafo Gate.  Initially, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the narrow, winding, indistinguishable streets of the Old City.  We had tickets for Minarot HaKotel, a tour that takes you into the tunnels under the Old City by the Kotel.  I looked at our map and craned my neck left and right, trying to find the street signs tacked onto the sides of walls.  I quickly grew frustrated by the complete lack of any side streets on my map.  As I did so, though, I realized I didn’t need the map.

While my memory usually fails me, it was astonishingly impressive in getting us to the Kotel.  I couldn’t tell you what turns to take, what stores to look for, what streets to go down—but somehow I just remembered where to go.  Within moments, we were by the entrance to the tunnels, with a few minutes to spare.  Doug’s parents finally had a moment to look around and take in the splendor of the Old City.  The cobblestone streets, secret doorways, and little stairwells charmed them.  The Kotel itself, the likes of which they had never seen before, impressed them.

Minarot HaKotel impressed them further, providing a wealth of historical information about Jerusalem and the Kotel that put things into a contextual perspective.  It emphasized just how remarkable the second temple was, of which the Western Wall was only a fraction of a much larger piece that only served as its architectural base.  We emerged from the tunnels on Via Dolorosa, each of us a pound heavier from the incredibly educational tour.

We tried to follow the Stations of the Cross (the path Jesus took, carrying the cross, from the place of his trial and condemnation by Pontius Pilate to the site of his crucifixion and burial) for a little bit, using Fodor as our guide.  Unfortunately, even the 7th edition of Fodor’s doesn’t have a built-in GPS, so we ended up giving up somewhere between where Jesus addresses the women in the crowd and where he is stripped of his garments.

Luckily, Jesus’s final path took us right through the Arab Market, which we planned to check out anyways.  There’s really nothing like it—vendors smoking in their tiny shops, hookahs laying out left and right, lemonade and pomegranate juice being purchased by thirsty tourists, all immersed amidst countless Jerusalem-themed souvenirs for people of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

The Arab Market in Jerusalem

By 11:30, we were hungry from the day’s walking and sightseeing.  We went to eat at Abu Shukri, a famed hummus restaurant in the Muslim Quarter.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as delicious as we’d heard, but the restaurant itself was pretty cool (it felt cave-like, in a way) and it was energizing enough (check out my post about Abu Shukri’s food).

Lunching at Abu Shukri in Jerusalem's Old City

From there, we went back to the Kotel.  We spent a few minutes at the wall, saying our private prayers.

The Kotel

People's notes are scattered all around on the ground--there are simply too many to fit in the wall's cracks

We then made our way to our next tour: Sharsheret HaDorot.  It took more than 5000 years of Jewish history and condensed it into an itty-bitty 45-minute audiotape tour.  If that wasn’t impressive enough, the varyingly-constructed glass pillars that were representative of the many chains of Jewish history definitely were.

Glass pillars representing the first generations of Jews at Sharsheret HaDorot

The pillar of glass with missing pieces represents the loss of millions of Jews during the Holocaust at Sharsheret HaDorot

After the tour, we left the Old City through Dung Gate.  We made our way on foot to Mount Zion, where King David’s Tomb and the site of the last supper are located.  I don’t know about Doug or his parents, but I was shocked by the lack of large masses of tourists. I actually had trouble finding the right building (they’re in the same place) because it was so deserted. For now I’ll chalk it up to drizzly weather, which reared its cold and unavoidable head.

King David’s Tomb was tucked away in a small synagogue.  Whether King David’s remains truly lie there is debated; even so, it drew a small crowd of pious individuals who hoped to pray by the great king’s resting spot.

The half of King David's tomb in the women's part of the synagogue

With King David

Just a hop, skip, and jump to a room upstairs and we were in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his last meal.  To be honest, what intrigued me most about the room were the cats that took residence there.  One sat stoically by a golden tree sculpture while another huddled atop a light on the floor, seemingly trying to keep warm and dry despite the weather.

The room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

A (blurry) picture of a cat sitting stoically by a golden tree sculpture in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his final meal

A cat huddled above a light in an effort to keep warm in the room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

I was soon to envy those cats, dry (if not warm) under a roof.  Our next stop on the itinerary was Shuk Machane Yehuda, which meant we needed to take a cab, which meant we needed to go outside to hail one.  Unfortunately, many people were hailing cabs, given the terrible weather.  By the time we got one, I was uncomfortably dampened.  Tired from the day’s sightseeing so far and cold from the rain, I enjoyed the ride in a catatonic state.

We got out of the cab and made our way into the heart of the shuk, stopping at the famed bakery Marzipan on our way.  We grabbed a few rugelach before heading over to Melech HaHalva on Eitz Chaim Street.

The famed rugelach at Marzipan in Jerusalem

Doug’s mom, Patty, had been looking for a suitable, non-denominational present to bring home.  Of course, an edible gift is almost always welcomed, so she loved the idea of getting halva, a sesame-based dessert. In fact, she loved the idea so much that she bought a kilo of halva… a KILO of halva.  For anyone who’s wondering, the chunk she bought was about the size of a cantaloupe.  I’m pretty sure that’s more halva than my entire family consumes in a year.  But on the bright side, it meant she didn’t have to gift shop for anyone for the rest of the trip.

Halva options at Melech HaHalva

Our kilo of halva in tow, we went to our second Aroma for the day to grab something warm to drink while recapping on the day’s activities.  We munched on our rugelach and some cookies while pouring over various maps of the city and reading little pieces out of the guidebook about things we saw during the day.

Relaxing and regrouping over coffee at the Aroma in Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem

Somewhat re-energized, somewhat exhausted, we made our way to Ima’s for dinner.  We initially planned to eat at Machneyuda, but our reservation was for 11pm and we knew our internal batteries weren’t going to last until then (if only we were the Energizer Bunny!)  Had we been able to stay busy and go to the Night Spectacular Show at the King David Tower after the shuk, maybe we would have been able to make it to a later dinner.  But unfortunately, the show was canceled because of bad weather. So, instead, we had a lovely dinner at the Kurdish/Iraqi-themed restaurant (check out my post about Ima for more details about the food), before making our way to the Central Bus Station, hopping on an intra-city bus, and heading back to Tel Aviv.

Thursday & Friday

Stay tuned and check out Doug’s upcoming post about exploring Yafo, Shuk HaCarmel, Nachalat Binyamin, Namal Tel Aviv, and Neve Tzedek!

Saturday

Saturdays in Israel can be tough if you don’t have a car.  While we could have taken a sherut somewhere, we would have probably needed to take a cab at some point… and the majority of things are closed regardless.  How lame would it be to take a sherut to Jerusalem only to see empty streets?  Or getting to Haifa just to find out that you can’t tour the Baha’i gardens on Saturday?

So I decided to keep things local and stay in Tel Aviv.  HaTachana (literally “The Station”) was open on Saturday, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to check it out.  Doug and I had never been, but were curious about it: it was a 49-acre compound just a mile away from us, after all, and we hardly even remembered hearing about it in passing.

HaTachana was once the terminus of the railway line that traveled between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Its use was discontinued in 1948 and the station fell into disrepair.  In 2005, the renovation process began; by 2010, it had been restored to its former glory.  While there is still an old-school train car outside the station and another one just behind it that you can watch a short, informational show about the station on, HaTachana is no longer in operation as a train station.  Instead, it is a shopping complex full of fun stores to roam about in aimlessly.

Upon arriving, we went straight into what I imagine used to be the main building at the station.  It was restored and converted into a café/souvenir shop and had an array of Tel Aviv souvenirs.

The entrance building at HaTachana which now serves as a souvenir shop

Another model train at HaTachana in Tel Aviv

Once we finished perusing the gift shop, we entered the shopping complex area.  It was smaller than expected (definitely not 49 acres, although I’m thinking not all of it is a shopping complex and we may not have seen it all), but was incredibly quaint.  Stone paths led to posh stores with glass-front windows, which sat across from stores tucked away into stone edifices.  It almost felt like we were in a small, medieval village gone modern.

My favorite store was what I now call the Dumb-Dumb store.  Why, you ask? Because it makes you feel dumb.  The store carries countless puzzles and mind-exercising games and gadgets.  Upon entering, they give you puzzles to solve. While at first you may think there’s no way two pieces of wood that combine into a pyramid could stump you, you soon realize you’re not as smart as you thought.  I could probably have spent hours trying out all the different puzzles… but unfortunately, time was short (and, as I later discovered on a separate visit there, the staff doesn’t take well to people trying the puzzles just for fun—if you aren’t going to buy anything, they won’t let you loiter long).

We had brunch planned at Manta Ray, a restaurant along the tayelet that Doug and I often ran by.  I’m not sure if it was the obviously amazing view, the renown of the restaurant, or the achingly delicious smell we inhaled every time we ran by, but we knew we wanted to take Doug’s parents there (check out my post about Manta Ray for more details about the food).

Manta Ray in Tel Aviv

After a meal enjoyed overlooking the tumultuous Mediterranean Sea on an overcast day, we strolled north along the tayelet.  Doug’s dad had some leftover seafood from his meal, which we took to go in the hopes of feeding stray cats.  We told Doug’s parents about the monster cat countless times during their short trip and were hoping they would be able to see him.  Unfortunately, the monster cat was not in his usual area (he was probably busy ordering his henchmen to off disloyal cats).

Nevertheless, we weren’t disappointed.  Cats crawled out of every crevice and nook along the tayelet once they smelled the food.  They descending on Doug before he even managed to open the leftovers box and dump the contents on the ground.  While several cats went for the food once it hit the ground, one of the monster cat’s henchmen (black and white like the monster cat, but smaller) batted them away.  He feasted alone while the other cats watched anxiously.  Three black cats ringed him, waiting for their turn, while the rest of the cat colony sat further away.  Once the henchman cat had his fill, the three black cats had their turn (I like to think of them as the second most powerful clan in the colony, often challenging the monster cat’s clan).

The cats of the Tel Aviv tayelet colony were racing to get a taste of the seafood leftovers

With our new perspective on cat dynamics, we continued our walk along the tayelet.  We stopped for a cup of tea at a café along the beach.   While there, we replanned our evening.  We initially planned to eat dinner at Raphael’s, but we decided that our big breakfast, followed shortly after by Manta Ray, left us far too full for a big sit-down dinner.  We decided to grab pizza for dinner instead.  Doug and I promptly concluded that HaPizza would be an excellent place for a light pizza dinner, so we began our stroll down Bograshov.  We enjoyed a nice, quite dinner while reminiscing over the previous days’ events and lamenting that their stay was so short—Sunday was going to be their last day in Israel.  We couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.

After dinner, Doug’s mom was hankering for dessert.  Remembering that a well-known ice cream store was just down the block, on the way to Doug’s parents’ hotel, made ice cream the natural conclusion.

We walked over to Vaniglia and enjoyed a fair number of samples before picking our sweet treats.  It was a lovely way to end our last full evening together in Tel Aviv.

Sunday

Check out Doug’s upcoming post about the visit to the Rabin Memorial and the Eretz Yisrael Museum, the final destinations his parents visited before returning to Ben Gurion Airport for their flight home!

Hey Purim… it’s me, Mario!

Growing up, I never did anything for Halloween.  My parents simply wouldn’t let me.  Some years they at least bought candy for trick or treaters, but other years they were the ones in the neighborhood who turned off the house lights so no one would come to the door.  Part of their logic was religious—it wasn’t a Jewish holiday, so we didn’t celebrate it (despite the fact that the holiday is now virtually void of any religious meaning).  I think part of it was also unfamiliarity.  Halloween was simply foreign to them.

When I was a kid, it was always sort of a bummer.  All of my friends would spend the days leading up to Halloween talking about what they were dressing up as and the days following talking about all the candy they got.  But by the time I got to college, I was over the idea of getting dressed up for Halloween.  I threw together a 60’s outfit (read: wore mismatched bright clothes) my freshman year because my roommates were going to the Halloween parade all dressed up and I wasn’t sure what else to wear.  My junior year I was in Portugal, where I quickly gathered that Halloween was perceived as a much darker, more sinister holiday in Europe than in the States.

Last year was the first time I ever put any real effort into a costume.  Doug and I had started dating not long before and I was itching to dress up as Jasmine and Aladdin.  So we did. But it still just wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Dressed up as Aladdin & Jasmine, Halloween 2010

While the comparison between Halloween and Purim isn’t entirely sound, I’m going to make it anyways (getting dressed up in costumes is really the only similarity).

More than a year since my short bout as Jasmine, I celebrated my first Purim in Israel.  And it was amazing.  Throughout the week, people got dressed up.  It was like being in New York again for a week—seeing someone wearing something ridiculous and wondering if it’s a costume or their actual style.  Costume stores sprouted up left and right, but in a far more encompassing way than they do in the States for Halloween… random household goods stores, grocery stores, and shuk stalls expanded their usual commerce to include costume goods.

The atmosphere was wonderful, especially since we planned to get dressed up for our office Purim party.  With about two weeks to put something together, we decided to be Mario and Luigi.  It was surprisingly easy to gather blue overalls, a long sleeve crew-cut red shirt, and a properly shaped red hat for my Mario costume.  Doug’s Luigi costume, however, was far more challenging.  While I’m well aware that overalls are not in style, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be to find a pair of men’s overalls (don’t even get me started on finding a pair that might fit a man of Doug’s dimensions).

I checked countless websites, called tons of stores, and asked lots of friends before finding a workers’ goods store in Tel Aviv that was accessible by bus and that supposedly had blue overalls.  We planned to leave work early to arrive at the store before it closed, but got stuck in terrible traffic and didn’t manage to make it in time. Instead, we picked up hats from the shuk (they didn’t have a green one for Luigi, so we got a white one and planned to somehow make it green) and found a crew-cut sweater in the right shade of green for Luigi.

On our walk to the bus, we passed a thrift store called Vizeo located right next to our old apartment building on King George.  Thinking they might have something we could use for our costumes, we popped in.  Seeing the overwhelming amount of stuff they had, I asked in Hebrew while motioning somewhat hopelessly at the taller than average Doug, “would you happen to have overalls that would fit him?”  Without hesitation, she replied that they did.  A store employee promptly showed us where they were located.  I excitedly pulled every pair they had off the rack, led Doug to a fitting room, and pushed him in with the overalls in hand.  The first pair he tried on was an excellent shade of blue, but only reached mid-calf.  The second one, while a lighter blue than ideal, fit Doug like a glove.  Not only was it perfect for his height, but it was also perfect for his width… a surprising combination considering how thin he is for his height.  With a green sweater and overalls in tow, we headed home.  Mario and Luigi were successfully in the making!

Over the next weeks, I dyed Luigi’s hat, cut the M & L logos for each hat and sewed them on, bought chocolate gelt, made character-specific puffy mustaches, prepared gloves, and sewed fireballs, ice balls, and mushrooms.  I completed the final props the night before the party.

The night of the party, we got dressed at a friend’s apartment.  We put on our overalls, donned our gloves, wore our hats, tied on our mustaches, and taped our gelt in our pockets so they stuck out.  We looked pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself.  Our friends dressed up, too: Freddy Kruger, a prison inmate, a cowgirl, a pirate, and a guy in a dress.

The crew, dressed up, before the party

Mario & Luigi, dressed up, before the party

We headed over to the party, which was pretty empty when we got there.  But by the time we had eaten the available burgers, fries, hummus, and sandwiches, took advantage of the open bar, and taken a few pictures in the photo booth they had set up, the party was getting warmed up.

Our Mario & Luigi photo booth shot

Group photo booth shot

At some point, the head of the office’s finance department came over and gave me a flashing ring that indicated that Doug and I were in the running for the best costume prize.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited.  We continued schmoozing until the contest.  While we ultimately didn’t win (although I’m pretty sure our costumes were more labor-intensive than all but one of the others in the competition), I was happy to have gotten that far.

Being told that we were in the running for the best costume prize

Mario & Luigi, officially in the running for best costume (see indicator ring on Mario's pinky)

Mario & Luigi in the best costume contest line-up. Mario's adjusting his 'stache

Afterwards, people started dancing and really loosened up.  We spent the next few hours rotating between talking to people, taking more pictures in the photo booth, and dancing.  Ultimately, I had a great time—free food and drinks, friendly coworkers, time with friends, and dancing with Doug? How could I not (despite our loss)?

Mario & Luigi take on Freddy Kruger

The next day was similarly fantastic, although we spent a good deal of it on buses. In the morning we went to what’s known as an “Adlayada” (essentially a Purim parade; Hebrew עַדְלָיָדַע; Aramaic עַד דְּלָא יָדַע).  I was later told that the word Adlayada came from a combination of the words (slightly altered to make sense in modern-day Hebrew) “ad shelo yada,” which means, “until one doesn’t know.” Historically, the parade is supposed to involve a LOT of drinking… so much so that by the end, those in the parade don’t know what’s going on (hence the name).  There were lots of dance troupes, a few floats, and different types of strange figures.  While the parade itself wasn’t particularly notable, it was nice to see how much of a family event Purim was.  Children in all sorts of costumes (my favorites probably being babies in chicken and duck costumes) ran around as parents distributed bamba, bisli, and popsicles to their kids.

A float in Ramat HaSharon's Purim 2012 Adlayada

A random, odd figure in Ramat HaSharon's Purim 2012 Adlayada

Random figures in Ramat HaSharon's Purim 2012 Adlayada

A human ostrich in Ramat HaSharon's Purim 2012 Adlayada

Acrobatics on a float in Ramat HaSharon's Purim 2012 Adlayada

From there, we went to visit my mom at my grandfathers.  She was flying out on Sunday, so it was nice to spend a little time with her before she left.  In our usual pre-Shabbat rush (mostly driven by the knowledge that buses stop running at sundown), we hurried off so that we could catch a bus home.  From there we went to my uncle’s house for Shabbat dinner.  It was the first time Doug and I got to have Shabbat dinner with just my uncle and his immediate family (usually, more people come too).  The quietness was nice and the meal was certainly more intimate.  The kids sat through most of it, too, and were quite talkative.

After dinner, we had our usual cup of tea with dessert.  Ten minutes later, we were already dozing in front of the television. With that, we took our cue and headed home, where we promptly fell asleep to happy thoughts of Mario & Luigi, costumes, funnily attired children, family, and food.

The Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you Christina (http://saltpepperbrilliant.wordpress.com/), for awarding me The Versatile Blogger Award! Check out her blog for amazing recipes, pictures, and stories!

You’ll find the rules below:

1. Nominate 15 fellow bloggers.

2. Inform the bloggers of their nomination.

3. Share 7 random things about yourself.

4. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

5. Add the Versatile Blogger Award pic on your blog post.

7 things about me:

  • I do not like peanut butter, mint, or onions.
  • I speak Hebrew fluently, but am largely illiterate.
  • While I’m starting law school in the fall, I think I’d be an amazing professional organizer (H&G style) and would probably immensely enjoy being one.
  • I love French fries. And breakfast. And having French fries as part of breakfast.
  • When I was 7, I went to a birthday party at a skate rink.  During the backwards skating time, a much larger, older person barreled into me and knocked me over.  I haven’t been able to skate since.
  • I love making something new with random leftover ingredients.
  • Peter Schmitt, here’s your shout out: the land of Nuzzopolis will crush the Gilltopians and the Schmemmanites at all future rounds of Settlers of Catan.  LONG LIVE NUZZOPOLIS!

I would like to pass this on to the following bloggers:

  1. http://budapestivities.wordpress.com/ – Following Elen’s Budapestivities, one adventure at a time!
  2. http://www.marathoningtothefinish.blogspot.com/ – Run Jacob, run!
  3. http://wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com/ – Three women writing about whatever their hearts desire.
  4. http://samantharosephotography.wordpress.com/ – Looking for some great photos? Check out Samantha’s blog!
  5. http://mypearlproject.wordpress.com/ – I LOVE the idea behind this blog. Cassie is cooking her way across the world, one recipe at a time…
  6. http://pastaprincessandmore.wordpress.com/ – This blog makes me want to buy pasta-making equipment so I can attempt to make raviolis as beautiful as Cheryl’s.
  7. http://roxyvespa.wordpress.com/ – Taking Israel by vespa, one ride at a time!
  8. http://parttimehousewife.com/ – Amazing recipes… and pictures!
  9. http://foodimentary.com/ – Thanks to John-Bryan Hopkins, I know exactly when the most important holidays are (National Eat Italian Food Day, National Eat a Brownie Day, National Potato Lovers Day, World Nutella Day… and of course, National Fettucine Alfredo Day. I’m pretty sure that should be a Federal holiday)
  10. http://whatifoundwhilewalkingaround.com/ – As someone who recently ran their first race, I’m rooting for Blair as she prepares for a triathlon!
  11. http://thefauxmartha.com/ – The Faux Martha? Please Melissa, you’ve got Martha beat.
  12. http://bowlofrecipes.wordpress.com/ – This blogger had me at brownies with homemade vanilla ice cream.
  13. http://pantrychef.wordpress.com/ – I love reading about Sunny’s creativity in the kitchen!
  14. http://2minicooks.wordpress.com/ – Check them out for some great recipes!
  15. http://mythineats.com/ – How to eat tons while still being healthy.

Thanks for great posts! I hope you all participate!

Our Journey to the Land and Milk and Honey

As they would say in Hebrew, ברוכים הבאים (welcome)! Doug and I (and whatever lovely readers may be living vicariously through us) are finally in Israel.  What an adventure it was to get here—a long, arduous, and frankly unenjoyable adventure.

It all started at John F. Kennedy Airport.  We arrived about seven hours before our flight (for a number of unimportant reasons) and had to wait until ElAl strung together enough stanchions to create a labyrinth-like maze leading to the check-in counter.  The lines were set up in such a manner that a wall of ElAl representatives stood in front of the check-in line, waiting to question each traveler before they passed along their luggage.

After waiting for about two hours, Doug and I got into the check-in line. When our turn arrived, we approached an ElAl representative we now call “Miri the Inquisitor.”  I expected the normal gambit of questions, which usually includes such inquiries as: “who packed your luggage,” “did anyone give you anything to pack,” and “have you left your luggage unattended anywhere but your home.”  The answers to these questions are obvious; I’ve always wondered if anyone ever responds, “I paid a random sketchy stranger to pack my bag. He asked me to place some ticking item into my suitcase at the last moment—said something about delivering it to a distant relative who would pass it along to a friend in Libya. I put it in my suitcase, but maybe someone took it when I left my luggage open and unattended at that rundown café at the rest-stop at Exit 20X on the turnpike…”

In any case, Doug and I were asked those questions, but only after we received a different sort of interrogation first.  Miri the Inquisitor seemed skeptical about our relationship. She kept asking when we met, where we met, how long we had been together, why we were traveling to Israel (telling her about Career Israel wasn’t sufficient since she had never heard of the program—or, for that matter, the Jewish Agency and/or Masa, it seemed).  She was so skeptical that she brought over a fellow inquisitor, whose name I didn’t catch during my mini-panic/confusion attack, to question us further.  He asked similar questions about our relationship and, after a few minutes, determined that Miri the Inquisitor raised an unnecessary red flag over a cute and innocuous couple traveling to Israel to participate in a long-term program.

The experience left both Doug and me quite paranoid, though.  When an Israeli wearing a Ben Gurion University jacket began talking to Doug and me at the gate about Israel, America, and (here’s the significant part) Doug and my relationship, we couldn’t help but feel he was sent to check up on us.  Nevertheless, by 7pm we made it onto our plane at long last.

To start the long, generally unenjoyable flight off was an hour delay.  My exhaustion had me dozing in and out while we waited for take off… but it also had me getting increasingly frustrated as, each time I woke up hoping I had slept a couple of hours, I found we were still on the ground waiting for take off.  Eventually, the moment of glory arrived and we were finally in the air with the fasten seatbelt signs off.

Phew, I thought.  I reclined my chair back and began to settle in more comfortably.  I got my headphones out, shifted some bags by my feet around, sat back up and reclined my chair back to settle in.  But… wait a second… hadn’t I just reclined my chair back a moment ago? Hm, I thought, I must be really tired and forgetful.  Alas, exhaustion was not to blame.  What was to blame was my broken chair, which insisted on remaining in the upright position.  It occasionally reclined a little when no one in my row moved much, only gradually moving forward on its own.  Unfortunately, the continuous movement of the person sitting next to me in the window seat only helped my chair along in its forward-moving progression throughout the flight.  I swear, the kid did not sit still for more than 5 minutes… and if he leaned forward, he was apparently obliged to slam himself back against his seat, moving the entire row in the process.

Needless to say, it was not a pleasant flight.  This was further augmented by the fact that the ElAl staff almost forgot to feed us dinner.  Only about 15 minutes after serving everyone else food did a flight attendant notice that we didn’t have any.  This realization prompted her to say “Oh, did you guys want to eat too?”  Well, I thought, I will be stuck on this plane for 12 hours and… I did pay a small fortune for this flight so… I think I will take one of those dinky trays of airplane food, thank you.  So she gave us trays of chicken, the default meal.  When we asked for the vegetarian meals we had ordered when we purchased our plane tickets, she informed us that we had not ordered them in advance and consequently could only have the default meal.

For all the praise ElAl has received for stellar service, I cannot help but be incredibly dissatisfied with our recent flight.

Complaints aside, Doug and I arrived in Israel safe and sound.  We got through passport control and proceeded to get our suitcases without incident.  Per the instructions we received from our program, we followed signs to get to the taxi-pick-up area and search for the Sherut (shuttle) to Jerusalem.  It wasn’t too hard to find—we just had to run into the mass of unorganized people waiting in a cluster that defied all notions of potentially orderly lines.  Israel, eh? So we joined the mass and waited for the next shuttle to arrive.

A few minutes into our wait, we were suddenly cleared from the area by airport security.  Everyone in the taxi and shuttle lines was herded away without explanation as security personnel quickly surrounded the area.  Eventually, as we learned from a Northwestern-hailing woman who saw my Powell’s Bookstore T-shirt and began speaking with me, someone on a train from Jerusalem had thrown a suitcase onto the platform at the airport station.  Talk about suspicious.

A few little explosions later (the good, disarming-bomb kind of explosions), we were allowed to re-mass up for the taxi and shuttle services.  Only now the masses were much, much larger as the people needing such services accumulated during the bomb-disarmament process.  After much chaos and frustration, yelling and pushing, Doug and I managed to get on a Sherut to Jerusalem.  The ride from Tel Aviv to our hostel in Jerusalem, which should usually take about 45 minutes, took far, far longer.  We arrived at our hostel about 3 hours after getting onto our Sherut.  Unfortunately, our Sherut driver determined it would be best to drop us off last.

All of these circumstances contributed to our late arrival on Thursday, causing Doug and me to miss the program’s tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.

C’est la vie.

Thankfully, none of these things has influenced our trip negatively.  We met the group on Thursday evening, after being served a mini-feast at the hostel’s dining hall by the fantastically friendly kitchen staff chief.  After filling out some paperwork and socializing as much as our exhaustion allowed us, we passed out, knowing that we would wake up the next morning for our first Friday together in Israel.

As an Israeli would say: sababa (meaning “cool” or “great”).

Hala Madrid! Hala Cape Cod! Hala August! Hala Food!

9 days…

The summer is winding down, which means September 7th is drawing ever-near.  I’m excited, but pretty nervous too.  The packing process is daunting… just the thought of picking a suitcase to travel with tires me out.  So, instead of making headway on packing away 5-months-worth of clothes and essentials, I’ve decided it is a worthwhile task to assemble a collection of 3oz refillable bottles of our trip—just in case.  In addition to the little TSA-approved treasures, I’ve saved miscellaneous containers and boxes to utilize as bobby pin/safety pin/jewelry/whatever-else holders.  I may have gone overboard with it though…

Army of TSA-approved bottles

Mercifully, I’ve done more than just assemble this assortment of transportable containers over the course of August.

In the middle of a wonderful Cape Cod vacation with Doug’s family, Doug and I drove down to New Jersey to watch the Real Madrid v. Philadelphia Union soccer match.

The crowd at the game was surprisingly energetic, despite the fact that it occurred during an awful heat wave (on par with some Israeli heat waves I’ve experienced, even).  As I sat motionlessly in an effort to avoid sweating, I watched the game unfold.

Real Madrid scored its first goal within two minutes of the game starting and followed it with a second goal less than nine minutes later.  Consequently, I expected the match to be an embarrassment to Philadelphia Union.  Surprisingly, this ended up not being the case.  The score remained 2-0 until the 79th minute, when Philadelphia scored a goal.  With 11 minutes left on the clock and Philadelphia putting more pressure on Madrid than expected, I was pleasantly surprised by increasing intensity of the game.  Ultimately, Madrid held strong and won the game 2-1.

Barring my disappointment about the less than ideal weather, I was very pleased that Real Madrid brought their star players to Philadelphia.  With no Kaka or Ronaldo in sight during the first half, I consoled myself with the presence of Casillas as goalie and Alonso and Ozil on the field.  But the second half of the game brought a continually changing line-up of players from both Real Madrid and Philadelphia Union.  It seemed like every player from both teams made an appearance by the game’s end.

Kaka and Ronaldo waiting for Philadelphia to take a corner kick

Ole to the friendly football match!  And a shout out to our new drunk friend, who “sat” across the aisle from us and spent the entire game with his head between his knees in what appeared to be an effort to avoid an untimely alcohol-induced demise.

The man across the aisle from Doug is clearly enjoying the game

After the game, Doug and I returned to Cape Cod and continued to enjoy a relaxing vacation full of running, bike riding, visiting the beach, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games, haircutting, watching babies, and exploring the Cape.

A round of 7 Wonders

Giving Doug a haircut under his niece's watchful supervision

Exploration sites included:

The Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory (which was disappointing, but at least we got free potato chips at the end!)

Provincetown (a perfect day full of bouncing around toffee stores and munching on free samples).

The Sesuit Harbor Café (thanks to my friend Shannon, Doug and I had a beautiful brunch overlooking the harbor here).

Chillingsworth (a fancy restaurant that wasn’t too vegetarian friendly but had great service and was fun nonetheless).

The Chocolate Sparrow (mmm Frozen Mocha Sparrow, Caramel Frappe, and Caramel Turtle Frappes! Even Doug’s one-and-a-half-year-old nephew couldn’t get enough, refusing to let his mom take back her frappe after she gave him a taste).

Nickerson State Park (where we watched what appeared to be some complexly hierarchical duck interactions).

Chatham (talk about over-priced souvenirs…)

And… the local movie theatre (hey, the last Harry Potter came out!)

Throughout all these adventures, Doug and I have made an effort to cook new things as often as possible.

Resulting treats:

Creamy Smoked Salmon Sauce atop Sweet Red Onion Pasta (adapted from a Papperdelle Pasta recipe)

Chocolate Pudding Cookies with Walnuts

Caprese Sandwiches (ok, this isn’t a new recipe, but the tomatoes and basil came from Doug’s mom’s garden so it deserves a mention)

Light-as-air Potato Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce (adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe) and a side of garlic knots

Salt Baked Potatoes with Garlic & Rosemary Butter (adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe) and a side of Cheese & Mint Cigars (a Middle Eastern Basic's recipe)