Tuesday, June 28, 2011
We are up relatively early and dine on a breakfast that I would say is the only short coming of the Abraham hostel. I struggle with some variations in the coffee situation, but more on that later. Bernard’s hip has gotten quite troublesome so he ops for a day in the Israeli museum. I head off for the “free” walking tour of the Old City.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Getting to Jerusalem from the kibbutz requires two buses. The first, a very short ride in to Be’er Sheva. But even before that it requires getting up a little earlier than we have thus far. So we stumble a bit bleary-eyed to the bus stop in the circle by the post office at the entrace to the kibbutz. We are early and watch other people leave in a sharout, a van-like taxi that individuals will share to go to a joint destination. Eventually the bus comes but it is full of air force people and zooms by to drop them at the base next door before returning to pick us up. Along with us are several other civilians and a bunch of army people heading off to begin their work week.
As the bus approaches the final stop I can see the length of the central bus station with a dozen or more stalls for buses to destinations all over Israel. What is unique is that each bus stop is filled with soldiers — army, air force, paratroopers, combat, brown boots, black boots, kaki, tan, and green uniforms, berets of every color. A sea of military people moving from one place to another. And, I learned, they all ride for free.
While waiting for our bus we indulge in a variety of train station delicacies. I have a crepe smeared with nutella. There’s schwarma with French fries, falafel with French fries and so on. Enough to keep up our energy for the 2 hour ride, or perhaps to lull us each into sleep for the duration.
On the trip, between naps and listening to my Hebrew language lessons, I watch the landscape, the incredible contrast between the sandy soil and the lush green the springs from it.
And as we get closer to Jerusalem the terrain begins to change from flat desert to rocky hills. And then the hills are covered with a mat of sand stoned colored cement buildings. The suburbs turn into the city and before you know it we are at the central bus station. We are now out of the homogenious environment of the kibbutz and immersed in the grand diversity that makes up Jerusalem. Black hats in black hats and heavy black coats. Muslim women in black head coverings and long dresses. Students with back packs and bags. Travelers with suitcases and packs. Soldiers. Arabs guys in plain street clothes and Arab women colorful skirts and head scarves. Business men, although rarely in a suit or tie. And everyone moving, through check points, through shops, and coffee stands, up the escalator, down the street, everyone is on the go.
Via foot and cab we eventually make our way to the Abraham Hostel. More on that layer. And to the market where Bernard and I stop for some nourishment. We end up at a little kurdish restaurant nestled between a judaica chachkah shop and an olive stand. Fried kuda (?) filled with meat or rice and meat or veggies and a beet soup with meat filled dough balls. Topped with a beer in my case and a lemonade for Bernard. Delicious. Our waiter, half American, half Israeli with some Romanian and Bulgarian thrown in was also delightful.
Later that evening the whole family regroups with the addition of Ben’s friend Daniel, a Laplander who has made Aliyah. We eat at Sami’s, a classic middle eastern style restaurant where the meal starts with the waiter covering the table with a zillion small dishes of salads, enough to be a meal whole group. But then we get entrees — schwarma, kabobs, steak, an the Jerusalem special — every kind of chicken part cooked up together. It was another feast.
Another travel day comes to a close. The youth head out to the bars. The elders head up to bed.
Hazerim is one of the most successful and largest kibbutzim. There are about 1000 residents currently of which 400 are adult members. There are lots of children. Other residents include solo soldiers like the ones in Ben’s program, Ulpan students, and guests like us.
Yesterday we spent some time with the woman who coordinates Ben’s program here on the kibbutz. Her name is Tali and she and her husband, Zev(?) talk with us over coffee after lunch. After meals, or at least after some meals, the cafe next to the dining hall is open. Inside there are tables and chairs and an espresso bar. Without the exchange of money you go and order a coffee, help yourself to a few cookies and sit and talk. So we did this and we learned a lot about the history and structure of Hazerim.
Afterwards Tali and Zev took me, Bernard and Sasha on a tour of the Netafim plant that is on the kibbutz. It is where they make the irrigation drip hoses that are a central part of their economy. The technology belongs to the kibbutz. While all the drip units are made here in Israel they are shipped to 12 other plants around the world where they are installed in to the hoses. The hoses are sold and used everywhere. There were few places we could think of that don’t sell them. The tour started in the corporate offices in a room that featured big black and white photos from the first days of the kibbutz. They showed a barren and empty desert landscape with the hard working and committed young people that started this place 60 years ago. Quite a contrast to the green and developed campus of today with neighborhoods, gardens, trees, and criss crossing pathways used by kids, dogs, couples, elders in this electric carts, baby carriages, bicycles — all to say it is a teaming and lively environment.
The other business that Hazerim owns is a jojoba company — growing and processing the oil. Hopefully we will get a tour of that before the end of this trip.
By the time the tour of the plant was over we walked through the heat of the afternoon back to our apartment. Along the way Tali pointed out the first building constructed, in the days when everyone was living in tents. It has very small windows and very thick walls intended to provide protection from possible Egyptian bombings. It has since been the medical clinic and several other things. On it is a sculptural tribute to a young Syrian Jew that came in the early days. Having grown up in an Arabic culture he provided a bridge between the Russian Jewish settlers and the local Bedouins. He was shot before he reach 20 years. When you sit in the cafe and you look at some of the people who are clearly in their 80s you know that they have seen this place through much change, challenges, growth. It is something to have a vision for a different way of living — kibbutz life — but then to build that life here in what is really not a very hospitable environment is really something impressive.
The rest of the afternoon included coffee on the porch, some time at the pool — a very active spot on a shabbat afternoon. Saturday is the end of the weekend here. Sunday people return to work.
After sunset we walked to Michal’s house where we were treated to an Italian dinner at a long table outside under a meandering tree that would have provided shade had it been daytime. We met Michal’s husband Avi and her son, too. Her two daughters had already left to return to the places where they are working, one or both of them in the army now.
So our first Shabbat at Hazerim comes to a close. We finish the evening finalizing our travel plans for the next few days. Jerusalem on Sunday.
This entry, this special day for Ben, is captured in this email Bernard wrote, complete with special spellings!
This kibbutz is like the garden of Eden. Roasting hot sun, flowers all over . Mickey Mouse cactus. Pomgranites growing right on bushes. Birds singing .Why din I have sense to move to Israel when I was a kid? Because I din have sense for anything when I was a kid. Now I would be a brown alte kaker hanging out with my friends in the dining hall. (Actually, I would prolly be sick of everyone and hiding in my apartment.)
Our own kids are like gods, tall, handsome, beautiful. They are not totally intolerant of their parents, and nice to be around.
The trip to the ceremony was a wonderful tour the length of Israel from the desert in the South to the mountains in the North and the ceremony itself was wonderful. Israeli folk music blared over the loudspiker instead of martial music. Ben was sunburned , tall, handsome, mostly serious. Rows and rows of perspiring young men in their green uniforms standing in the sun with their weapons. The other soldiers’ families were such a variety , from Druze to Yemenite to Russian to Ethiopian to Sabras.
I din have to block out the spiches because I couldn’t understand the Hebrew. Besides , I was too busy jostling and being jostled by the other pipple standing in the audience. I now have complete and intimate knowledge of the topography of the typical Israeli scalp.
The ceremony was @ the Golani Center, not actually a town itself. Its a grassy field, a couple boulders and defunct tanks , a few flags, a wooden stage and some wall plaques.
I originally thought the plan was:
Ben goes to the army. Trains, learns Hebrew. There is a war and he gets shot up or killed. I weep for him for the short rest of my life. (What does psychoanalysis teach us if not that everything that happens is actually about ourselves, rather than those it might be happening to?)_And, in fact, there is a wall behind the speakers with the names of Golanis who died fighting.
But there usually is another plan. Most guys train, learn Hebrew, become as fit as mountain goats, make close friends and come home without ever firing live ammunition at anyone. Most guys, most. Ben, I hope.
We went to an Arab restaurant afterwards. Our long table was covered in dishes and flatbread and liters of lemonade with fresh mint.So many salads few of us ordered entrees. We ate and ate and when we finished eating, the waiter moved us to a fresh table for coffee and desert rather than deal with the mess we had made. And imagine, our forbears ate like that while riding on camel back in the desert and neatly.
Addendum from me (Elena). We owe so much of the success of the day to Michal. She arranged to get us there driving the van full through the heat of the day and some heavy traffic and complicated directions, all the while attending to our comfort and needs. She is delightful, competent, and direct. A pleasure to talk to. A true caregiver. She managed to get us there with perfect timing. And to deliver us to the post event dinner, a perfect choice of restaurants. And then, while the rest of us dozed in our state of over full bellies, she soldiered on driving through the night and returning us to the kibbutz. Thank you Michal. Ben is veery fortunate to have here as is Israeli mother.
Boker tov. We wake in waves. Our room is cool. Outside it is hot. Breakfast is served in the lounge where the pool table is turned into a smorgasbord of goodies: chop salad, hard boiled eggs, hummus, cabbage, beets, breads, a spicy egg dish, potatoes and probably a few things I can’t remember. The coffee: Israeli instant, sort of Turkish-style without bringing it to a boil several times. Just pour in the hot water. And the juice: pink kool-aid. All good. Filling. Ready for a day out. Sasha, Isaiah and Sam head off to the beach after procuring some sun screen. I change dollars for shekels, that I learn you don’t do at a bank, rather at a change place. I am changing Dollars that I withdrew from the cash machine the night before thinking I would get shekels instead. Lots of little customs to figure out. Bernard grabs a taxi and heads for the Diaspora Museum. I start walking. My favorite way to explore.
I walk down Ben Yehuda past shops of all kinds. The sidewalks are crowded but there is a steady stream: women pushing baby carriages, people on bikes, men and women walking with packages, tourists, stray cats. I stop to look in the window of a music store. I can see they sell guitars and accordions. Scandalli accordions no less. They invite me in — the owner, I think, and his mother. We talk accordions. I tell them about my backstraps. We exchange websites. We talk about New York. The mom hasn’t been there but she has heard of the Catskills, the Borscht Belt no doubt. Perhaps I will have a chance to stop back and leave a back strap.
Eventually Ben Yehuda turns into Allenby. And in just a few blocks I turn right into the Carmel Market — a street closed off to traffic and filled with food and wares of every kind. It is crowded with people, also of every kind. I walk. I look. I stop and buy some cherries (ILS 9.99 a kilo). I walk on to the end. Out into the bright hot sun.
We are essentially here in Israel to see Ben. We haven’t yet, because his army duties have prevented him from joining us right away. I get a text from him saying he thinks he’ll meet us tonight.
Now that I have passed through the Yeminte quarter I work my way past the busses and a lot of parking lots until I find a road into the Neve Tzedek section. I’d call this a hip and cool area of narrow streets, well kept and clean. Old buildings with small shop entrances. Very few have big glass windows. This area is know for it’s arts. Hand made items. Local designer clothing. Quaint little cafes. Itis very pretty and quite calm after the bustle of the market. I stop in a jewelry makers shop, Ronit’s. Beautiful pieces. I am taken by two different pairs of earrings. One are hoops with little jangly things hanging down. The other incorporate unusual mother of pearl. The later are made by Ronit’s daughter who is tending the shop and working at her bench. Partially because I like that they are different ( I hear Sasha reminding me that I always buy a version of the same thing) and partly because I am talking to their maker, I choose the mother of pearl. Further down the road I stop in a shop called Badim that my friend Michelle has recommended. There I buy a very light weight white shirt — a very cool cover up, protection from the sun, that I have already been grateful to have. The first clerk is an Israeli. We talk about my trip and she recommends a guest house in Eilat. The second clerk is from Australia, recently married to an Israeli. We talk knitting and sewing, something she says is not big here in Israel. Eventually I move on making my way back to the promemnade the traverses the coastline. It is mid afternoon and the sun is hot. I stop every so often and sit in the shade. I can tell I’m getting a bit sunburned. I witness two of the many bikes that zoom up and down the promenade collide, one of them admitting he was texting while peddling. at a certain point I look for the kids but I never see them. From this distance they all look too much alike and there are many groups sitting along the beach. An icy lemonade is refreshing. Heading back to the hostel I sit on a shaded bench on a street corner. And eventually make my way to a falafel stand where I not only get a falafel but also learn that I can add “raba” to “toda” in order to say thank you very much. Back to the hostel.
I have already purchased our train tickets. My first real opportunity to use one of my four Hebrew phrases. I ask if she speaks English and she actually understands what I am saying. On to the train. About an hour and a half to Be’er Sheva. The landscape is desert in colors, interspersed with the lushest green agricultural patches. Now and then a few stray camels or herds of sheep or goats. Upon arrival we watch the master haggle with the drivers to get us two taxis to The Black, the local burger place Ben has chosen for our reunion dinner! A lot of burgers later we do the taxi thing again and head to Hazerim, the kibbutz that Ben lives on. It is dark by now so it is hard to see much. First, lots of lights in the town, many high rise apartment buildings, all concrete and sandy colored. Soon it is quite dark and then we approach the kibbutz. Through a big guarded gate to the drop off point. We unload and start walking through what feels like a college campus. Lots of intersecting side walks with benches and evidence of some events (stacked chairs and tables). As we enter a residential area we are met by Michal. She is the Mom of Ben’s Israeli family. She has so clearly been a great mom and a source of comfort to us as well as to Ben. She greets us all. And takes us to our apartment on the second floor of one of the residential buildings. She has arranged this lovely place complete with snacks and coffee. We are her guests. She leaves us and we sit and talk for awhile. Ben goes to his place. He has to return to his army group early in the morning. The rest of us talk or sleep for a while longer until we are all snoozing through our second night Israel.
Arrived Ben Gurion airport after the inevitable long flight with cramped seating, stiff neck, lack of sleep and over cooked food. Had some lovely seating companions not the last of who were my daughter. Also a young Turkish woman (did i mention the first leg of the flight was to the Istanbul airport) going home after two years in NY. Her excitement to see her family and be back in her motherland was moving. The layover in Turkey was short. It involved schlepping luggage, drinking Turkish coffee and a little bit of waiting.
After deplaning at the Israeli airport near Tel Aviv we got on the foreigners line for presenting our passports. Even in the foreigners line the Israeli method of line forming is already inaction. Shoulder to shoulder, belly to back, jostle for a better position in a formation I would call a mass rather than a line. When it was finally our turn we went up as a group shared our main reason for visiting Israel: to see our son/brother on the occasion of his tekkes or graduation ceremony after many months of training in the Golani 51. We call it playing the IDF card because there is clearly a respect for the fact that one of our family members has made this enormous commitment to their country.
Post the passport business is collecting our luggage and the require hassling over the cab fare to Tel Aviv. While I have been the group leader up to now I relinquish the reins to Bernard who snaps into action demanding to know the fare and if the meter will be running and so one. Later, of course, we will get more refined instruction in this procedure from Ben!
We go through the hot afternoon in our little taxi, radio blaring including a Israeli-style rendition of shalom alecheim. We arrive at our hostel, the Gordon Inn. I over tip the gruff taxi driver who suddenly gets a bit softer. Later we are instructed not to tip the driver. The Gordon is great for a cheap night’s accommodations. Aside from being on the fourth floor (walk up, not good for Bernard) our tiny room rally does fit us all and there is wonderful terrace just outside our door that looks out across the two blocks leading to the beach and the is the sea sparkling in the sun!
Sasha now steps up to be our leader and takes off leaving us to laying on our bunk beds in a state of mostly exhaustion sprinkled with exhilaration and excitement. She returns in short order with beers (tuborg and carlsberg, the ubiquitous coke, and an assortment of Israeli ice pops). We lounge on the terrace. Eventually the decision is to leave Sam a note as to our where abouts and head out to find some dinner.
We walk along the promenade that follows the coast lone and the white sandy beach. It is dotted heavily with beach chairs, lounges and umbrellas owned by the various restaurants that supply food and drink. Every son often, in-between, there are also public beaches. We go to Le Mer as recommended by Gidan, the helpful concierge at the Gordon. And not much after being seated on low plastic chairs, driving our feet into the still warm sand, we are joined by Sam. Now we are the group of five that are making this journey to see our Ben! Dinner is good. Lamb kebabs, merguez sausage, hummus, chopped salad, liver, fries, falafel. A feast. Bernard tops it with a Turkish coffee (Israel-style, I think I’ll devote an entire post to coffee in Israel latter).
Some us go back to our room and others continue to lounge on the beach. Eventually we are all snoozing, snoring and even a bit of sleep talking according to Sasha, stacked in our bunk beds in our little room on the fourth floor of a sandy colored building on the corner or Gordon and Ben Yahuda Streets in the teaming and vibrant city, Tel Aviv. What a day.