Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday, June 29

Today’s major accomplishment – a successful trip to the grocery store in the mall - without Donna! Donna and Mati took a bus to Jerusalem earlier this morning. Oh, where to start with this one. The clueless trip through the parking garage, fighting for a parking spot? The kids thought it was a good thing their Abba wasn’t here for that, he would not have enjoyed the “adventure” at all. Walking into the mall and seeing all the food you could want? Not in stores, not even in kiosks, but just out in the mall there were stands ranging from a take-out, full meal buffet, to another with 20 varieties of olives, and on and on. Having no clue if any of these were kosher, and also having already gotten take out food for Shabbat early this morning with Donna at a place recommended by the real estate agent, we did not partake. We successfully got Naomi earrings and Eitan and Ilana books, and Sima finally got an iced Aroma (and it was delicious) and then headed to the SuperSol. We have a new appreciation for Schnucks. We could not find a cart, the store was mobbed, and we had to look at everything carefully to make sure it was actually what we thought. The tradeoff is that everything is kosher, and oh what finds we made – teddy bear shaped schnitzel, the Israeli equivalent of beef jerky (we have already finished two packages), ton of pre-packed cold cuts, lots of bisli, cheetos, animal shaped pasta, Clicks, ect. We left with hands full and happy. We also figured out that the reason the parking garage had initially been such a challenge is because we started off in the area where the Supersol connects to the garage. So Noah and Naomi waited by the door with the food, and Eitan and Ilana and Sima quickly navigated back to the car (up two floors in the mall, down to -4 in the parking garage, and then driving back to floor -2 to get to the Supersol door, I love that floors are negative numbers), blocked traffic, threw the kids and the groceries in the car, and headed out with our parking validated. What could be better than that? We got home and helped a nice couple from Houston jump their car. Now we are headed out to the kikar to wander a bit and to look for a wireless connection to post this. And to stop at the makolet to pick up the things we forgot at Supersol. Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom, Sima and the kiddos.

Thursday, June 28

Highlight of the day for Sima – ordering pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner and having them delivered to the door in 20 minutes. No cooking involved. You just can’t get that in St. Louis. Highlight of the day for the kids – getting their official IBL baseballs signed by the Netanya Tigers and the Petach Tikvah Pioneers players. Yes, we went back for another dose of Israeli baseball tonight. The game was at Yarkon field in front of a crowd of about 75 (including us, but not including the players). The Oberlander kids and Mati (who came back from the water park with us and is sleeping over, more on this later) screamed and cheered and chatted with the players and got lots of foul balls.

For the first few innings, Noah and Mati were rooting for Netanya, and Eitan, Naomi, and Ilana were rooting for Petach Tikvah. Netanya was up by 5 after the first two innings, and Naomi asked Donna to take her to the bathroom to wash off the “Go P.T. Pioneers” she had written on her hand – she was changing allegiances. Donna told Naomi that you just can’t change allegiances without a reason, and Naomi looked Donna squarely in the face and said “I have a reason, Petach Tikvah sucks.” Spoken like a true fan. Naomi had soon chosen a favorite player from the Tigers and really wanted him to sign the foul ball she had chased down. The kids ate Burgers Bar from the concession stand, even after the Pizza Hut dinner. After the game the fans and players mingled. We found out that the players all live in the same dorm, that on Saturdays when they do not play they go on teulim across the country, and on Thursday nights they do not have laundry service. Naomi’s favorite player did sign her ball – he even wrote her a little note. Each of the kids got a ball, and they got lots of autographs. On the way home 3 out of 5 fell asleep in the car. All in all a lovely evening.

The sleeping in the car was also most likely related to our day’s activities – six hours in a water park. Sami and Jaqueline Agam found a water park on kibbutz Shafayim which is just south of Netanya and was actually open, and even better yet, we could get discounted tickets for it. The place was amazing – a big pool, a wave pool, a kiddie pool with sprayers and jungle gyms, and every size and shape of water slide imaginable. Plus lots of shade for sitting and relaxing. All of the kids (and often the adults) swam and slid all day long. Even Ilana, under the careful supervision of her siblings and cousins, went down a really big water slide, repeatedly. Her only obstacle was the Israeli teen age girls next to them in line who thought Ilana was adorable and kept trying to pick her up and kiss her. Ilana did nt like that so much. It was a perfect way to beat the heat, and the day flew by. The heat wave is supposed to break tomorrow. We shall see what actually happens as nothing in Israel seems to go the way it is supposed to...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hot, hot, hot. Too hot to hike or do anything outside in the sun. So we begin to look at the long list of places to go that we have compiled, Donna, Sima and Sami (by phone) start what seems at first an easy task - find a kid-friendly, relatively cool for the day. First call is to Shvil Tapuzim near Hadera, highly recommended by several different people. It has "activities for the family including mini-golf, go-karting, adventure playground, pool, art workshop, trampoline" - it sounds perfect. But when we call ahead (the equivalent of a pilot trip), what do we find? It is only open on Shabbat. Next try is Emek Kefer Playtime. Again, attractions for the entire family - again, only open on Shabbat. So then Sami suggests we try out Beit Khamotai near Givat Brenner - they used to go there when they lived in Meskeret Batya and it is open all the time. We get there (an hours drive from Netanya due to taking the not-so-scenic route through Tel Aviv) and it is only open to groups and on Shabbat. Noting a theme, we give up for the moment and go into Mekeret Batya. The country there is beautiful and like nowhere we have been yet in Israel. The green rolling hills and farmlands look almost like the US, nothing like the desert hills of Modi'in which are not so far away. After driving by the Agam's old house, we stop at the old town well for a picnic. All of the gears and wheels are still attached to the well and it is functional. A tour group is also there and as a few men push a horizontal wooden beam in a circle it turns a vertical pole which terms various gears, and voila! The buckets are pulled up out of the well and into the roof above and then back down again. It really was cool. And the entire area was covered with bushes blooming beautiful pinks and reds. It was a lively spot for our noodles and plums, and it was really nice to see the town that we had heard so much about over the years.

After the brief respite, we hunt again for an activity. Sami has called ahead to Kibbutz Tsova, which has a family-themed park that is ...... actually open! To us! It has big inflatable jumping things, bumper cars, a train, all kinds of climbing structures, and more. The kids are off and running. As we walk in the door a madrich calls Tamar and there is Tamar Gerson! It is a small country. So the kids jumped and ran around and rode bumper cars until Noah has 4 blisters on his fingers from steering and Eitan's feet and legs are completely black (from what, I don't know). And then we said our said goodbyes and headed back to Netanya.

Once back we met up with Elianna and Shani, the 2 new St. Louis Sherut Leumi girls. We had dinnner and good conversation with them. Sami made some phone calls and found a water park that is closed the 25th and 27th but open the 28th and is not far from Netanya. So, hopefully, we have a plan for tomorrow.

Monday June 25, 2007 - Sima's Addition

While Mike was traipsing through malls "looking" at shoes, what was happening with the rest of us? Sima started her day with an early morning pilot trip for Israeli bond cashing in Netanya. Wonder of wonders, at the very first bank she entered, she was directed upstairs (only an up escalator, no down, just like in Jerusalem) and then to the back room and straigth to Shirley. Shirley looks over the bonds and says it will be no problem to cash them, and makes an important for 9 a.m. the next day with Sima and Mike. A very successful pilot trip.

Meanwhile back at the apartment, the kids are hanging out with Donna, and Naomi's stomach is not feeling so well. Sima returns. Naomi throws up. Donna and Eitan head out to the makolet to pick up some provisions. Naomi sits on the couch, miserable. Sima is a laundry whirlwind, continuing to work on the seven loads laundry she has done in the last 24 hours. The apartment's washing machine is VERY SMALL. And there is no dryer. Apparently, they actually hang clothes on a line to dry here. But, there is no line outside. Only having read about this in books, Sima is a little weary of this idea but has quickly become an expert at how to hang 6 days worth of 6 people's laundry on 4 clothes lines with 20 clothes pins.

When Donna and Eitan return, Noah and Eitan head down to the sport shop next door to buy a ball (it is impossible to go to the beach without a ball). They successfully buy what they think is a small soccer ball, but is actually a handball (whatever that it is), and are very happy to have Mom and Donna reprimanding them not to play ball in the house. Naomi seems to be feeling a bit better, so we head down to the beach. There is a beach access just down the street from the apartment, but the waves there are quite rough. About a 15 minute walk down the shoreline is a protected beach, which is basically a huge U-shaped swimming pool. We walk down there and set up shop. Ilana is very happy in her innertube. Eitan digs in the sand. Naomi swims and then comes to lay down on her towel and rest. Noah is bored, he forgot his book. Noah walks up the steps to the kikar (town center) and explores, and comes back and is still bored. Naomi throws up again (we bury it in the sand, so watch where you dig in the sand in Netanya). So Sima takes bored Noah, sick Naomi and now grumpy Ilana back up to the apartment. The trip home is interrupted a few times by Naomi lying down on the sidewalk to rest and refusing to get up. When we got home, Naomi cleaned up and went straight to bed. Donna and Eitan returned a bit later, and a bit red. A typical day - errands, boredom, barfing and endless laundry.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday June 26, 2007 (and Monday June 27)

This is Mike only - sitting at Ben Gurion, staring at Duty Free and Chabad (the McDonalds was before security). Traveling alone is a lot easier than with 4 kids in tow.

Today first - it is Sami's birthday! And, to celebrate, she came to Netanya with her kids with the sole reason being to take me and Noah to visit Hela and Mundek, very (very) close friends of the family. Hela and my grandfather were friends from Poland and Mundek carried my father across one of the borders in Europe after the war. Mundek looks good; Hela is looking old and frail and her memory is failing. We had a nice visit with them. Of course, they served us fruit and pastries and cold water and soda. We told them what we were doing and we heard a bit about them. It was nice having that connection.

Before Sami came, Sima and I went to the Bank. Guess what? We were only kept waiting 35 or 40 minutes for our 9 a.m. appointment. Then, it took forever, but we actually got our money. Sami met us there. We had a little cake for her back at the apartment. While we were visiting, her kids, Sima, Donna and our 3 youngers went to the beach. Sami and kids left, and we went to the beach. We all got burned. Can't wait for this flight with a burnt stomach. We walked to a section of the beach with wave breaks, so it was extemely calm. We had to walk awhile and we saw several jelly fish (no big deal) and one dead real fish (big deal for Eitan!). We only say one woman topless (big deal for Noah and Naomi, but for very different reasons) but since she saw us coming her little dog made for a very creative bikini top. The kids played in the sand, floated, jumped, swam a bit and had a great time. But, I think they are done with the beach for a day or 2 as Eitan had to sleep with wet towels on his back last night (he wore his shirt in the sea today). Oh yeah, he lost another tooth!

Then we showered, changed and I packed and went out for Moroccan food at the old Pizza Hut. They did an amazing job in the interior and it was good food. We also so a bride and groom taking picture by the waterfall, etc. Then I got in the taxi and left. I will miss the little buggers and even Sima and Donna.

Yesterday .... so long ago, let's see if I can remember. Oh yeah, I spent 7 hours driving around looking at shoe stores: Givataiim, Ramat Gan, Petach Tikva, Givat Shmuel, Petach Tikvah. Lots of shoes. There is a brand of shoes in Israel called Caligula! Who woulda guessed. While I was having fun, Sima and the kids went grocery shopping and to the beach. When I returned to the apartment the kids were kinda pooped, so just Sima and I went to Zichron Ya'akov; one of the first cities settled by settlers from Aliyah Aleph in the 1880's. The main street has lots of quaint shops, artists, restaurants, etc. We bought the kids some books, Donna a watch to take into the sea and had dinner at a restaurant owned by the Tishbi winery. Getting gas on the way out was a story in and of itself that is best left untold.

I forgot to mention that we saw Mo and Larry Hartstein at the first IBL game - Mo emailed me a pic of Larry and Ken Holtzman.

Going to board soon. Hopefully Sima will continue the blog on her own.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday - June 24, 2007

Shabbat was wonderful with the Gersons. Dov played his piano piece from the recital earlier in the day. Naomi had an immediate attraction to baby Yakir and held him, looked after him, and carried him around the house. Tamar and Ilana hit it off, and of course Elisha played baseball with Noah and Eitan. The boys all went to shul, and the girls walked to shul but didn’t quite make it as they stopped at the playground. Dinner was just us and Gersons. We kept telling Elisha that Lori’s chicken was the best in the world, but he didn’t quite believe us. Our kids slept with the Gerson kids and they were all adorable.

Shabbat morning we went to shul – even Sima was able to make it. The shul just received new seats – made on Kibbutz Lavi. Beautiful to look at, and even quite comfortable, but difficult for traffic. If you blinked your eyes, you could be in Teaneck, or Silver Spring, or Chicago. In Hashmonaim, we heard much more English than Hebrew. The people were friendly, and clearly the groups of children that we saw all over enjoyed living there. The yishuv was begun about 20 years ago but there is a lot of new construction. On Shabbat, the kids can walk anywhere they want as there is no traffic (except the one security truck). On Saturday afternoon, Ilana and Tamar went to play at a little girl’s house. They decided to have a pj party, so the little girls walked home by themselves, got on their pj’s and walked back. We had lunch with the Gersons and another family – the Silton’s from Albany/New York. There were so many connections – Akiva Silton knows Mike Sherman, a good friend of ours from Albany; went to Yeshiva with Avi Orlow, a good friend of ours; knows the Zimands from St. Louis; his sister is friends with Panina in Silver Spring; and his mother, Faye Goldsmith, is from South Bend. A number of Dov’s friends came over in the afternoon and Noah knows two of them from Camp Moshava last year.

Sat. night we went out with Lori (Seth went to bed) – now we know where we were supposed to be in Modi’in on Friday.

This morning we woke up and said goodbye to the Gersons (but not for long …….) and went back to Latrun so Mike could take pictures of the boys on tanks. Sima and the girls went to a cafĂ© instead. Then we went to Park Kofim (Monkey Park), where we saw lots of monkeys and the kids could climb on ropes like monkeys. Ilana made it through the whole course with just a bit of help (we have pictures too, but Sima can’t log in to get the photos on the web, so we will try to get a flash drive tomorrow to put the pictures on Mike’s computer). After that we drove to Netanya. Easy drive (yeah!) and then we felt a breeze. It was close to 100 degrees this a.m. and we were a bit hot and crabby around the tanks and monkeys. Donna met us in Netanya (yeah!!).

The apartment is great – right near the center of town and across the street from stairs to the beach. We went for “lunch” at 3:15 to get pizza from ….. Pizza Hut. Much better than McDonalds. Mike, Donna and the boys then traveled back south to Petach Tikva to watch the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League at Yarkon Park in Baptists’ Village (there was no beer, or mixed dancing). Again, all we heard was English. We spoke to Ken Holtzman, the manager of the Petach Tikvah Pioneers, who used to pitch for the Cubs (and A’s and Yanks) and who grew up in St. Louis and used to work at the JCC. He told us that he only had 45 minutes with his team before the first game, doesn’t know their names, and has 2 pitchers older than 50. (His team looked horrible and lost 9-1.) We met up with Seth and his boys and they sat right behind us. Lori called Seth and told him to tell Elisha to stop ……….. biting his nails. We were on TV every time there was a righty batter. The park was small, the crowd was excited, we sang Hatikvah before the game. The game only goes 7 innings, so Mike created his own 7th inning stretch at the beginning of the 5th. He even started a hearty rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and half the crowd joined in. (Of course, the PA then led it in the middle of the 5th, but by that time half the crowd wasn’t interested in singing it again. Oops.)

During this time, Sima did laundry, took the girls shopping for groceries and took them to the beach for a quick stroll and dip. The girls were in their pjs after having cereal for dinner. The boys would have none of that so we took them to a place ½ a block away for quiche and salad (and milkshakes).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday - June 22, 2007

Today was not our favorite day. But, it got a lot better once we arrived at Hashmonaim and saw Seth, Lori and the kids. They are growing up so nicely (not Seth and Lori) and Yakir is absolutely adorable. Naomi has taken a liking to him and is helping carry him around the house. Even though it has only been a few hours, we miss Donna already.

Back to the beginning: we woke up pretty early to get a decent start on the day. We just had one thing we wanted to do in the city before we left – cash in our old Israel Bonds. So, off we trudge to Bank Discount to get there near opening time at 8:30 a.m. – nice Englishman/Israeli told us that the person who normally does it at the bank is not in that day and tries to find someone to help us. Then he tries to find us another branch that will help us. 25 minutes wasted. So, we noticed that the list that we got from the Israel Bond Office in Chicago lists a bank right across from our hotel – so we walk down. No luck there either. But Kobi, formerly of Connecticut, is nice to us and calls Bank Hapoalim up on King George and they say that they can cash the bonds. Back up the hill (it is now 9:30 or so). We go to Bank Hapoalim and the first person we go to (above her it said “General Bank Services”) tells us that Bank Hapoalim doesn’t cash bonds. We turn around and go to another woman who tells us the same – and tells us to go to Bank Leumi down the street. We tried to explain that we called and were told that Bank Hapoalim will cash the bonds – to no avail. So, off we go to Bank Leumi. Just to find that we can’t find the door. Why? Simple, because the bank is closed. Mike is swearing (not even under his breath) as we cross the same urine-soaked corner for the 3rd time to go back to Bank Hapoalim. This time we don’t even go to the Gen’l Banking Service “apartchiks” (bureaucrats), we go straight to the upstairs to find someone in (middle) management. We are told by a nice woman that indeed Bank Hapoalim does cash bonds, and we should go back down and talk to Monique or Esther and points to where we were before. So off we go back downstairs – but, we can’t find a down escalator (only ups). Things are really starting to get frustrating and we are finding no humor in this, but we find stairs down. We go down to this waiting area and interrupt one woman training another and ask for Monique or Esther. We are met with somewhat blank looks and told that there is no Esther and that Monique will be back in 5 minutes and they point to the desk of the first woman we approached! The one who told us that Bank H doesn’t cash bonds. Mike is really pissed; Sima is silent. We take a number and wait to talk to someone else. Now we know how Kafka could have given life to K in The Trial. We end up talking to a nice woman who explains that indeed Bank H does cash bonds, but not on Friday. She tries to explain, but Mike doesn’t want to listen (he figured it out). The office in Tel Aviv is closed on Friday and they need to get clearance for any transaction. Sunday won’t work as the currency exchange is closed and they can’t get a current f/x quote to pay shekalim for the dollar-denominated bonds. So, we figure we’ll take cash out of the cash machine (we need to pay for the apartment on Sunday). We put in one card in the Bank H ATM – we tried getting 2,500 shekalim. No go. We tried 1,500. No. 1,000. No. 600. No. We try another card – same drill. So, guess what? We go back to Bank Leumi and pop in one card and out come 2,500 NIS. Then another card and out comes another 2,500 NIS. (We are close to how much we need for the apartment.) You’d think we’d be happy? Relieved? No, hot and tired and bothered and it is 10:00 a.m. or so. We take a cab back to the hotel and the cabbie has the nerve to be upset that we don’t have change to pay the 13 NIS. Tough, take the 50 and give us change and you get no tip! We are getting to understand why Israelis are……….Israelis. (Lori helped us understand – everything in Israel should be thought of as a “pilot trip”; then, once you figure it out, you can do it for real next time. Sima will try a “pilot trip” to cash the bonds in Netanya on Monday while Mike is at work – touring shoe stores in Israel – and then we will go on the real trip the last day Mike is here, Tuesday.)

We grabbed some breakfast and head up to finish packing. We say goodbye to Donna as she heads to her grandfather’s for Shabbat. We actually were able to cram our luggage into our very-mini van and head out. We almost make it out of town uneventfully until Mike “almost” runs a red light and has to slam on the breaks to avoid getting into a really messy accident. (Blood pressure cuffs should be mandatory in all rental vehicles in Israel.) We get on Hwy 1 towards Tel Aviv to go to Latrun – the old British then Jordanian Police fortress that overlooks the valley from Jerusalem and commands the passes into Jerusalem. The Israelis tried 5 times in 1948 to capture the place, but to no avail. Not until 1967 did Israel capture it. Now it is a memorial to the armored corps. There are a lot of old (and new) tanks there and memorials. But, to get there, we actually have to get off at the Latrun interchange. Problem is that the signs say “Latrun Interchange” for kilometers and then when you get to the interchange there is not a sign for Latrun, only signs for Ashqelon, Be’er Sheva, etc. Stupid us go right past the exit and have to go 15 km more to the next exit where we can turn around. It was a quiet car ride. We finally got there and it is hot, and the girls don’t want to get out, so we stop for maybe 10 minutes and since the place closed at 12:30 anyway, we figured we might come back on Sunday. If only to take a picture of Eitan on a tank.

So, we head to mini-Israel, which is only 5 minutes from Latrun, very cool and very expensive (especially when Donna has the coupon in her magical, Mary Poppins bag). We “toured” Caesaria again (Eitan was psyched), Haifa, the Golan, Galilee, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc. They built exact miniatures – really exact. Down to the mosaic on the side of the wall by the building in Rosh Hanikra to get down to the grottoes (Noah noticed that). They had all of the main attractions, but Eitan and Naomi noticed that they didn’t have a mini mini-Israel.

We left there at 2:00 p.m. (closing time as Shabbat starts at 7:30 p.m.) and try to get the kids pizza in Modiin on the way to Seth and Lori’s. We get horribly lost in Modiin and finally find a little strip center with a makolet. We get the kids ice cream. Mike is so visible miffed that a nice teenager tries to help us. He tells us that we are nowhere near where we want to be and a nice girl tells us how to get to the road to Hashmonaim. Eitan has his first projectile vomiting experience in Israel, but is able to make it all 4 times straight into a garbage can. He smiled afterwards. Noah was fascinated by the DVD machine so Mike goes over to take a look and asks Noah to see if he can read the titles. On the far right is Miki (that’s Mickey Mouse) and Mary Poppins, the middle section has action, adventure, drama type stuff and then Mike looks to the left…..and, quickly turns Noah around and sends him back to the other kids and calls Sima over. There, out in the open, are several rows of porn with some interesting titles (not for reproducing). Mike was fascinated that one of them was advertised as “All Israeli.”

We found the road to Hashmoniam, or so we thought. We found our way all the way to Hwy 6 and figured out that we missed a turn off somewhere. We call Lori. She helps us and we find our way. We are here. We are clean. We are doing laundry. We are happy.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday - June 21, 2007

Hands down the highlight of today was seeing our cousins! (Actually, our nieces and nephew, and of course our sister who arrived in Israel yesterday.) We began our day going to Eretz Bereishit (Land of Genesis) – a place out in the Judean hills in between Allon and Kfar Adumim that is set up to be like Abraham and Sarah’s time. When we arrived, Sami and her kids and mother-in-law had just pulled up and Naomi shrieked, “Let me out of this van this instant! I want to see my cousins right now!”

We walked into a tent and we were met by Eliezer; Abraham’s most trusted servant. It was the 7 of us, Sami and her family and one other family from Detroit (with an incredibly loud and obnoxious kid). Eliezer explained his relationship to Abraham, their trip from Ur Kasdim to the land of Canaan, etc. He then offered us “clothes” to wear when we went back in time. We then went outside and many of us mounted camels for the trip to Abraham’s tent. Mike walked with Ilana, but everyone else rode (that’s right, everyone – including Sami’s mother-in-law). When we got to Abraham’s tent we were brought water with these strange clear little rocks that made the water cold and some dates, apricots and raisins. We were told that Abraham was off negotiating a treaty with Lot’s shepherds and some other interesting stories. We then went outside where there was a fire going and the kids used balls of dough to make raw pita; Eliezer then put those on the round metal on the fire and made pita for everyone. We (except Mike and Ilana – there was nothing going to get Mike on one of those animals, or Ilana either) then rode camels back. We learned a lot on the trip back, like that camels can drink 200 liters of water in 3 minutes and store fat in their humps. Once the camels where back down on the ground, Ilana jumped on for a quick picture. There was still nothing to get Mike on the camel.

After Eretz Bereishit, we came back to the hotel and met Sami. We wanted to be back so early because we wanted to make sure that we were able to park the car. Many of the streets in Jerusalem were being blocked off during the day in preparation for the Gay Pride Parade (more on that later). We then walked to the center of town to buy more souvenirs (a shofar for Eitan was the big prize for the day – he can make some sounds), shawarma and falafel. Donna, Mike, Noah and Eitan then went visit a Sofer (ritual scribe) to discuss buying Noah his tefillin. The Sofer is out of the country, his son who is getting married in a couple of weeks was not interested in helping us, and the other employee there decided that maybe he could talk to us for a few minutes. Turns out he knows our friends Michael and Selina Rovinsky and is related to the Nitsuns. We will call the Sofer from the US and buy Noah’s tefillin via phone/Internet.

We all then got back together and Donna took the kids back to the hotel to swim and we and Sami walked around looking for souvenirs for Sima (we bought a few). We saw a beautiful havdala set; it was only 45,000 NIS (that’s about $11,000). We decided to wait for a nicer one and moved on. (Actually, it was 1 of 50 made by an artist and 2 of them are on display in Museums in Germany and Chicago.)

We came back to the hotel walking down the middle of Keren Hayesod (usually an extremely busy street) as it was closed to traffic for the parade. We hung out with the cousins and waited for the parade. Turns out that the parade was supposed to cross in front of the hotel but the route was changed to a block away. We went over to see it, and there really wasn’t all that much to see. 8,000 police (including border patrol) to control a crowd of several thousand folks. The scary thing is that some guy who claims to be “religious” was caught trying to plant an “improvised explosive device” along the parade route. Whatever one may feel about the parade, the folks in the parade or what they do in private or public, we just can’t understand how someone who claims to be religious could do something that could kill people (perhaps us!).

We then tried to go to dinner, got blocked a few times, but ended up getting to Norman’s – this place we have heard a lot about (some good, some bad). Norman’s is “famous” for its “sumoburger”; an entire kilo of hambuger (2.2 pounds!). If you eat the whole thing (130 sheks; approx. $30), you get a t-shirt and free refills on your drinks and you get your name in a book. Mati (our nephew) got some burger that had a name that was “only” 500g (it was huge). He ate almost the whole thing, and took the little left with him to eat on the way to the car. Sami and her kids left as it was getting really late. Our take on Norman’s? Good food, a bit pricey, too many Americans (including the waitstaff) and the service was so bad that it alone could keep us from going back.

We then made our way back to the hotel and the kids crashed. We go to the Gersons’ tomorrow and we hope we can blog before Shabbat.

(We forgot to say that we went to Little Italy last night – a restaurant recommended by the Harsteins – thank you for the recommendation!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wednesday - June 20, 2007

Today we dragged the kids out of bed and got an early start to the desert. Getting out of Jerusalem was thankfully uneventful. As we headed east we passed by Maale Adumim, where Sami, Moshe, Mati and Maayan used to live. It looks quite different from how it did 14 years ago, when Sami and Sima hung the border for infant Mati's room in the not quite yet finished apartment, and the area was just being built and was way out in the boonies with no good road. Now the main highway goes right into the community and it is incredibly built up. We continued on past a couple of checkpoints, but despite our best efforts to get questioned (eagerly looking out the open windows) no one wanted to talk to us. I guess it's not very suspicious to travel in a minivan full of kids with Eldan car rental stickers all over it.

We made it to Masada by 8:30 and we all took the cable car up from the beautiful new-to-us visitors center. Up top, we went to the synagogue to do our morning davening. It was a powerful and very hot experience. After davening, we walked down to the North palace and through the bathhouse and storerooms, all the while suffering from the heat. Then Mike, Donna, Noah and Eitan took the snake path down, while Sima, Naomi, and Ilana took the cable car. Only one person fell on the snake path, but we won't say who. After a few refreshing drinks, we headed to Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi is an oasis where two streams come together in the middle of the Judean desert. We hiked a trail called Nahal Arugot, which follows one of the streams up the mountain to a waterfall. We saw a few ibexes (or goats, or something like that) on the way up to the hike. The hike started off dry and hot as we walked over to the wadi, but then we got to the stream. The first part of the stream was warm and filled with long strings of algae -- Naomi kept picking them up and calling them mermaid hair. We then came to an area were water was literally gushing out of two rocks and into the stream at about chest level. Totally cool. The kids loved putting their heads into the spurting water, and watching the snails that lived on the rocks just below the water. We walked up the water and reached a shallow pool that was fed by a very small waterfall, where Naomi, Eitan and Ilana "swam" for a while. Then we continued along the side of the water, up and down the gorge and over some rough terrain. Ilana was a little mountain goat, but it got to be a bit much so we turned back before we hit the waterfall. This time when we reached the pool we were so hot (the temps were about 100F) we all jumped in the pool fully dressed to cool off, and we were bascially dry by the time we reached the car.

Next we headed across the road to a public beach on the Dead Sea. Mike told Eitan to stick a finger in and taste it - Eitan spit, gagged, spit some more and was not happy. He gladly accepted the open bottle of fresh water that Mike offered him. The kids each stuck a foot in the water and had enough. The water stung their various scabs and blisters and they screamed until we were able to get them washed off with fresh water (though they didn't seem to disturb the peaceful bathers in the sea). We think we have the loudest kids in Israel.

Our trip back to Jerusalem took about 45 minutes, and once we were in Jerusalem it took about 45 minutes to get back to the hotel. Too many one way streets and streets that you can't turn onto and streets that curve in the opposite direction of the way you want to go. During the long trip, Naomi and Eitan were going at it in the back and he punched her in the mouth and her other front tooth fell out! She was so happy -- all's well that ends well. The only other adventure of the day was that while Naomi and Ilana were showering Naomi tried to wash out Ilana's hair with a glass and dropped it, cutting her own ankle in the process. Fortunately the hotel has a medic (who is also the parking garage attendant) who came to look at it and took off the nice butterfly bandages that Donna and Sima had put on the cut and replaced it with a huge piece of cotton held by a big white bandage wrapped around her leg. End result -- the cut was not serious. After a nice Italian dinner at a restaurant near the hotel and filled with Americans we are all ready to hit the sack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday - June 19, 2007 - 3 Tammuz

The highlights always seem to revolve around seeing people. Today, Mike spent some time visiting with Rabbi Bienenfeld at Cup O' Joe. (We did find out today that Avi Borow works there in the mornings, but we have not seen him.) Rabbi Bienenfeld looks good, is keeping busy, is setting up meetings to try to become busier and is a wonderful advocate for making aliyah. In case anyone is wondering - he was wearing a tie; but he had good reason as he was coming from a meeting with a member of the Knesset.

This morning we went up to Mt. Herzl. Part of the excitement was how we got there - we took the 18 bus. The kids liked to stand and sway, and we liked it when they sat. First, we went to see Herzl's grave. Then, there is a new museum that is interactive, non-traditional and very engaging. You start off walking down a street in Vienna in the 1890's, go to a room where there are several movie screens - on one is a dramatization of the Dreyfus affair and on another is a modern director interviewing an actor to play Herzl in a play. We learned all about Herzl and the earliest days of modern Zionism through the actor learning about Herzl. In the museum are Herzl's desk and other furniture and some personal belongings.

Afterwards, we went to visit the graves of other Zionist and Israeli leaders, including Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meier and Yitchak Rabin. We also visited some of the memorials and graves in the military portion of the cemetery. It is awe inspiring the number of young men (and women) who have given their lives for this land and our people. Among the highlights (can we write that?): seeing the rows of boys who died in Lebanon since 1982; Hana Senesh - interred with 2 of her female companions who parachuted into Europe; the memorials for the unknown, last of kin (meaning, they were the last of their family), terror victims, ma'apilim (illegal immigrants) aboard the Salvador and other "common graves" for those who died in battle but were only able to be buried years later; and the memorial for the Dakar. The Dakar was an Israeli submarine that disappeared in January 1968. All 69 sailors were lost at sea. For 31 years, the Dakar remained lost; but, in 1999 the sub was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The memorial is reminiscent of a submarine, and very moving.

From Har Herzl we went the science museum. We took cabs for the first time this trip. Mike's trip cost 32 sheks/Sima's and Donna's only cost 22 sheks - hmmmm.... The science museum was engaging for the kids - even Ilana. There was a whole exhibit on optical and other sensory illusions. They had a lot of interactive activities (in Hebrew, English and Arabic). Then we went for lunch on the campus of Hebrew University in Givat Ram (across the street). After walking up, and up, and up, and up (Jerusalem is built on hills), we got to the main gate to the campus and the bus stop for the 9 bus back to "town." The kids and Sima went swimming (on the roof of the hotel); Mike saw Rabbi Bienenfeld; and Donna went to see a friend.

We went to dinner at Burgers Bar - the boys were in heaven. Since Naomi wasn't going to eat a burger, she complained and complained. We offered to get her pizza; nope. We asked her what she wanted and she said that all she wanted was a carrot. On the way to dinner on Emeq Refaim we came to a juice bar. So, we asked for one gezer gadol bli mitz (big carrot, without juice). The guy looked at us as if we were absolutely nuts (aren't we?). We explained. He washed a carrot and gave it to us. When we asked him how much, he smiled and said One Shekel (about 25 cents). That was Naomi's dinner.

Back to the hotel, but instead of walking down noisy, dirty streets, we decided to walk through noisy, dirty Liberty Park. The kids played on an alligator thing with a group of Arab girls. We are glad our kids were polite; we may have done a teensy, weensy bit of bridge building.

We put the kids to sleep (after watching the World's Strongest Man Competition on ESPN) as we are heading south tomorrow - to Masada, Ein Gedi and wherever else the wind takes us.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday - June 18, 2007 - 2 Tammuz

Yet again we will start with the highlight - we ran into our friends Joe and Orit Strauss at the Kotel. They looked great, were in a protracted conversation with someone asking for tzedakah, got Mike to give him $20 for them and then another $10 from us. They walked a bit with us out of the Old City and told us about their son, Irad (sp?), and his induction into the Golani brigade last week. Irad is now up at Tel Faher (do you remember from an earlier blog? The Golani overlook, where there is a memorial for the Golani Brigade, where there was a battle at the beginning of the war in 1967) setting up for some big ceremony this week. We called him on his cellphone and had a nice, but short, chat.

We woke up a bit later than we wanted, had another giant breakfast - this time, we each were able to get pancakes and omelettes, on top of bourekas, cheese, fruit, etc. At this hotel, the kids were able to squeeze their own juice - mitz tapuzim (orange) or mitz eshkoliot (grapefruit). That was an activity in and of itself. We then started walking "to town" - we took the kids to the Great Synagogue - they have a huge and amazing collection of mezuzot. We were right next to Boaz Genut's office and were going to pop in to say hello when Mike checked his email and Boaz had emailed 20 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, he was on his way to a meeting, but hopefully we will see him.

We then walked to Machane Yehuda, a huge and amazing outdoor/indoor market. We bought candy, some grapes, some nuts (American peanuts, of course), more candy, dried fruit, more candy. Eitan kept burying his face into Sima's stomach every time we came near a fish vendor. He just can't bear to see a dead fish. Of course, we didn't quite like seeing all of the flies on the dead fish either. Donna ran into a friend who goes to Wash U - Jerusalem is such a great place! We bought the boys some cheap kippot, and then had to buy them 2 expensive ones (not all that expensive) - Noah got a Chicago Bulls kippah and Eitan got one with ....... guess ......... come on, try a guess...... you got it ....... fish! We bought Ilana a cute dress and Naomi a beautiful skirt (same price as the pricey kippot). Lucky for us Donna knew where to go to get nuts and fruit from a vendor who uses gloves.

We then walked down Ben Yehuda. This street is named after the father of modern Hebrew and used to be The Place for people to congregate. It was not all that crowded, but then again it wasn't Saturday night either. From there we went back to the Old City and went to Migdal David (the Tower of David). They have a really intersting museum of the history of Jerusalem through all the periods of history. It is amazing to think about all of the times this city has been conquered and rebuilt. (At the next stop, a guide told the story of a professor from Hebrew U, who went to the Israel Museum on every Tisha B'Av to yell at the statue of Hadrian (the Roman emperor) - he would yell, "We are still here, where are you?") We spent a lot of time at Migdal David - lots of climbing, lots of vistas, lots to see. One change from the last time we where here - we used to see lots of antennas on the roofs of the houses in the Old City, now all we see are satellite dishes.

We then made our way through the Armenian Quarter back to the Rovah and got the girls pizza and got our first shwarma for the trip. The boys were in heaven. Noah almost inhaled his, and had to slow down. Eitan's ended up on his cheeks, nose and chin. (And, fortunately, it didn't make Mike sick.) We then headed to a play ground in the Old City, near the outer wall. The kids played (and played), we walked a bit along the ramparts, and relaxed. Then, we went back to the Kotel for the tour of the underground tunnel by the Kotel. Noah, Eitan and Mike went to visit Rabbi Shmuli again, and davened mincha right next to the Kotel. Then the tour - the kids were great in the narrow spaces. Enthralled by the huge stones. Rather amazing to be that far underground to what is modern Jerusalem and at street level of what was ancient Jerusalem. Also amazing to be at the place closest to the holiest place in our tradition - the rock that we believe was the foundation rock for the world, where Avraham bound Yitzchak and where the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) stood.

This city is incredibly dusty and dirty. Garbage is everywhere and we carried most of the dirt with us on Eitan's feet. We tried to wash Eitan's feet, but only got down a few lawyers, so we walked back to the hotel. After showers/baths, we gave Donna the pleasure of putting the kids to sleep and we are sitting at Cup 'o Joe on the corner of Keren Ha'yesod and Jabotinsky, enjoying the breeze, the smoke, the screeching breaks, blaring horns and near misses, and of course free Wi-Fi.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday - June 17, 2007 (Rosh Chodesh Tammuz)

We'll start with the highlight of our day again - we are not quite sure if it was the Kotel or seeing Donna. We'll call it a tie.

Shabbat was wonderful - we hung out with the Hartsteins, went on several walks, went to several playgrounds, played battleship, talked, laughed and relaxed. Motzei Shabbat (that's after Shabbat) Mike took Eitan and Noah to Burgers Bar - a hamburger place where you watch them grill the burgers, choose the sauce, toppings, etc. Believe it or not, only the boys got burgers as we were going out with Mo and Elisa. We went to a creperie and had a great time.

This morning we (meaning Sima) finished laundry while Mike took the boys and Ilana for haircuts (Ilana just got her bangs trimmed). We stopped at a bakery for donuts, bourekas, pretzels/bagels. We then went to a makolet (corner market) for plums and Bamba (think cheese puffs, but peanut butter instead of cheese - yuck!).

We then made the compulsory pilgrimage to that culinary hot spot - McDonalds. In typical Israeli fashion, it was supposed to open at 11:30 and we got there at 11:35 and had to wait 10 minutes for it to open. 3 Happy Meals and 3 Big Macs (no cheese) later, and we were all unimpressed. But, the little ones got to play in the McPlayground. We did have a McKebab (we have a picture prove it) - not recommended unless you are really hungry and you have already eaten your shoes and belt.

Then, the trip to Jerusalem. The drive was beautiful, but traffic is really bad. Once we hit the city limits, Mike's blood pressure hit the roof. Too many one-way streets, narrow streets, streets changing names without notice, motor bikes zooming in and out, and a general feeling of despair. Mike hit rock bottom in the parking lot of the hotel. It was a good thing we made it, as everyone else was worried that Mike would have a heart attack. Luckily, he/I didn't. We met Donna in the lobby (yeah!) and made it to our rooms. After settling in, we made our way to the Old City via the Jaffa Gate. It is still a bit weird that we avoided the Muslim Quarter completely (even so far as that when we are at the Cardo - the ancient Roman main street that has been excavated and now has art stores) - as soon as we hit the Muslim Quarter, we turned around. How did we know? You know - you can tell by the stones, the people, the smells, the lights, everything.

Donna put together a "scavenger hunt" for the kids. She wrote out clues about sites in the Old City and the kids took turns reading them and then we went to see them. It is amazing to see the Hurva Shul being rebuilt. As we approached the Kotel (Western Wall), the kids each wrote out notes to put in the cracks. Eitan was going to put in a prayer about his fish, but then decided to write "Moshiach Now". (To explain - Sima's Israeli cell phone must have been used by a Yeshiva girl before her, as she keeps getting text messages like "Meet at the chader ohel with your blue sweatshirt. Moshiach Now"; or, "Pizzas have been delivered. Moshiach Now" or "If you are not here in 10 secs, you cannot come in the middle - Moshiach Now" or "Don't forget your signing notebooks tonight - bring your key to Malky tonight and get 5 shek! Moshiach Now!"

One of Noah's teachers, Rabbi Rubenfeld, gave us a note to give to "the Kotel rabbi" named Shmuli. We were wondering how we were going to find him. Mike took the boys to the men's side, and Sima, Donna, Naomi and Ilana went to the women's side. Mike and the boys davened mincha in the inner room next to the Kotel Plaza. Afterwards, they walked over the Chabadniks trying to get guys to put on tefillin and Mike approached one and asked if he knew Shmuli. And, guess what, of course he did. He called Shmuli on his cellphone and 30 seconds later Shmuli showed up. Turns out that Shmuli and Rabbi Rubenfeld are best buddies and we had a nice chat.

We then made our way back up the Old City and by Donna's dorm and to a makolet to get drink and snacks. We exited (you never quite leave) the Old City via the Zion Gate and made our down the snake path. We walked towards the German Colony for dinner. On the way, Donna told us that she missed her brothers. Six witnesses! She said it and we heard it.

Emeq Refaim is hopping. We ventured towards the end of the street to Pizza Meter to find out that it is closed. We went back to Pizza Sababa. Everyone thought it gross that Mike ordered a piece of corn pizza; Eitan then wanted a bite and took such a big bite that he got Mike's finger too! After pizza, we just had to go to Aldo for ice cream (not sure what all of the fuss is about).

We then walked back to the hotel and bumped into Tom Green and his family. We learned that there was a katyusha attack in Kiryat Shemonah. We were just there 2 days ago. Tom knows several of Donna’ s relatives, but Donna didn’t!

That’s it for tonight.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday - June 15, 2007

We'll start with the highlight for the day - we are at the Hartsteins in Ra'anana! Mo and Elisa look great and are cooking up a storm for us. The kids are amazing and are growing up so wonderfully. You got to love Israeli landlords - they give you 4 walls and nothing else. No oven, stove, light fixtures or even toilet paper rolls. But, the Hartsteins have made their house into a real home. Sitting here and looking at the same artwork that was in St. Louis brings back so many memories.

Today was not our favorite day. The drive from HaGoshrim to Rosh Hanikra was beautiful, but the kids didn't really enjoy it. Noah wanted to watch a movie, but instead did his math homework (he took a test after we printed it at the Hartstein's). Naomi and Eitan played their handheld games and Ilana slept. Sima and I spoke to Sami and watched the changing landscapes. We even saw an eagle swoop overhead.

Rosh Hanikra is the furthest point on the Med.coast and has some beautiful grottos that were created by the pounding of the sea on the soft stone. To get to the grottos we had to wait in a long line with all Israelis for a cable car for the 45 second ride down. We didn't know where to buy tickets, everyone was cutting in line and it was hot. But, once we got down to the grottos, it was beautiful. The sound and smell of the sea. The breeze. The long line to get back up.

At the top, we walked to the border crossing (another photo op). This time we saw some Israeli soldiers. We also saw a lot of UN "troops" waiting to cross. They were wearing patches from Italy, Estonia, Russia, Australia and Noah says he saw one from Italy. One of the vans had a case of French wine in it. It took all of Mike's might to prevent him from going up to the Aussie and asking him to actually do something about preventing Hizbullah from rearming as opposed to getting drunk. We then got glida (and diet coke) of course. The kids now have favorites; the boys like Extreme im aguyot (some cone with ice cream and vanilla cookie crumbles) and the girls like Nibs (bite size vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate).

We then drove south and took a turn off towards Ma'alot because Mike saw something in a guide book about the ruins of a Crusader castle called Montfort. The Knights Templar build the fort in the 1180 somethings and Salah al-Adin destroyed it and it was rebuilt and redestroyed. To make a long story short, we never quite got there. But, we did have a hike (note the absence of adjectives) (and the presence of expletives says Sima) and were able to see the ruins from afar. The hike was hot and a bit arduous (especially for Mike who was carrying Ilana on his back all the way down - and then up - the rock path).

After that, we got back in the car, drove to the coast and then headed south. We passed Akko and drove through Haifa. Only Eitan was awake at that point so he got a few great views of the Ba'hai Temple and and Israeli destroyer in port. We saw the Intel and Microsoft buildings in Haifa and then continued south passed Caesaria, Hadera and towards Tel Aviv until we took the exit for Ra'anana. As we passed through town, we saw Mo on the side of the street. Sima stuck her hand out and almost gave Mo a hi-five.

We are here, now clean and very happy. Shabbat shalom all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday - June 14, 2007

We had an extremely busy day and we really thought we would have tired the kids out by now - but, no luck. It is 9:30 p.m. and the 3 younger ones are still awake - at least Noah had the good sense to go to sleep.

We actually set a wake-up call for 7:30 a.m., and still didn't manage to leave HaGoshrim until 9:30 a.m. Breakfast was at the kibbutz, and we skipped the shakshooka for a change. Sima still made cheese sandwiches for lunch, though. We first headed to Lake Agmon (Hula Lake) in the middle of the Hula Valley. The guide books tell you not to visit unless it is between November and March, when all of the migrating birds make the Lake their winter home. But, we had a great time riding bikes along the 10 Km path around the Lake. We all rode bikes - Ilana rode a "bike" that was pulled by Sima, and Ilana actually pedaled for 2 or 3 minutes. We didn't see any herons or raptors, but we saw and heard a lot of different birds. Most importantly, Naomi had the chance to ride a bike, and she just loves to ride bikes.

After the bike ride the kids (and Sima) had ice cream and Mike had his ubiquitous Diet Coke. (Sorry Dugie, it wasn't Cabernet.) We then headed to Naot Mordechai, a kibbutz in the valley. Why Naot Mordechai? But, of course to go to the Naot/Teva shoe outlet store. Not only did we set a record for spending the most money at the store, but Mike actually ran out of steam looking at shoes before Sima did. 15 pairs of shoes later (you can ask Sima how many pairs were for her) and we were able to leave. We then headed to Nahal Senir.

Nahal Senir was one of the coolest places we have ever been. Nahal Senir is also called Hasbani and is one of the 3 streams that forms the Jordan River. So, since we already hiked along the Banyas (Nahal Hermon) and the Dan, we now have hiked along all 3 streams that form the Yarden. The hike starts off normally enough, until we approached a large "wading pool", where we encountered 100 or so yeshiva boys on a tiyul. We left to get ahead of them, and as we began the hike we found ourselves waking in and beside the stream. Stupid us (?) stopped to take some family pictures in the stream (you be the judge after the pictures are posted) and the boys caught up to us. Really stupid us let the boys walk past. Watching these kids and their teachers navigate their way in water, on rocks and through mud worries us for the future of Israel. We are soft, fat, spoiled Americans - and, we had a much easier time with the hike than they did. (And, what do these rabbis think they are going to do with 1950's era single shot rifles that probably can't even fire anymore?) Even though we waited a good long time (their noise made the hike unenjoyable), we quickly caught up with them. We traversed a 6-9 inch wide ledge by the stream and "fought" our way through them to get in front of them. Mike, carrying Ilana, still was able to help some of the boys. Walking in the stream was amazing, and climbing over and around rocks and roots and branches was thrilling. We all loved the hike. The end, however, was not great. We had to walk down a path to the car. With the sun beating down on us, the views of the Galil and the valley were the only saving graces.

As if that were not enough, we came back to HaGoshrim and Mike took Noah, Naomi and Eitan on a "kayak" float trip. It was actually a big inflatable/boat raft with Noah in the front with an oar, Naomi and Eitan in the middle, and Mike in the back. We floated down the Hasbani (Nahal Senir) for about an hour and a half. It was peaceful, beautiful, fragant and warm. And then, we came across the older brothers of the kids we ran into at Senir. We don't know if they were actually their older brothers, but they too showed no skill at outdoors activities. It cracks us up that we are more accomplished at these types of activities than anyone in the world. We kept getting slammed, splashed, sprayed, yelled at in Hebrew - all for actually going down the center of the stream (when possible). We saw lots of families and groups of kids hanging out on the banks - picnicing, playing, swimming. At one point, a young girl (14 or 15) and boy (12 or 13) were in the middle of the stream yelling to us (in Hebrew). It sounded like they were in trouble so we "stopped" as best we could and they jumped in. They weren't in trouble - they were just "joy riding" by climbing in strangers' rafts and floating to their friends. After we said l'hitraot to those new friends, we came across a group of 20-something males drinking (or something else). One of the guys saw the boys UNC hats (Michael Jordan) and started singing the UNC fight song - neither of my boys knew what he was doing. So, Mike sang Hail to the Victors in return and had a brief, yelling conversation with some guy from North Carolina. After the float trip, the 4 joined Sima and Ilana at the kibbutz pool - a huge, beautiful pool. Naomi was so happy to swim.

After changing, the family humored Mike and let him drive up north (yes, there is still north to go) to Metulla - the farthest north "city" in Israel. 450 families living along the border with Lebanon. Sima and Mike both remembered visiting the Good Fence along the border with Lebanon - a gate that let Lebanese and Israeli Druze families travel to visit each other and for other reasons (like letting Lebanese into Israel for medical care). Well, the good fence is no longer good. As we approached we saw a large sign that said Atzor! (border approaching). No soldiers though. We know that if we went 25 or 50 more yards (meters) around the bend we would have seen a lot of soldiers. We took a quick picture of the boys by the sign and turned back to go to the Dado Elazar overlook, named after David (Dado) Elazar who was chief of staff of the IDF during the Yom Kippur war. Even though it was hazy, the overlook gave us tremendous views of Metulla, Har Hermon, the Golan, K'far Giladi, the Hula Valley, etc. It was strange looking into Lebanon and thinking about what was going on just 1 year ago this month.

After that, we went to dinner at a place called Aysh Baysh - all meat, all grilled. Noah ordered something called Cherev Entrecote (cherev is Hebrew for sword). We were not quite sure if that was a cut of beef, but when the waiter brought out a sword skewered with steak we got it. We skipped the chicken hearts.

Thinking back on the day, we are struck with how few non-Israelis we encountered all day. At dinner, the menu was all in Hebrew and we figured most of it out (with the help of a nice waiter who spoke some English). We are finding our way. Tomorrow will be busy, with going to Montfort (a crusader castle) and Rosh Hanikra (caves in the North-easternmost city in Israel), and then down to Ra'anana to the Hartsteins. Hopefully, we will post before Shabbat.

It will be very sad to say goodbye to the Golan and northern Galil. The breeze, the sky, the streams, the mountains, and even the rocks. Eitan proclaimed today, "I love Israel, except for all of the rocks!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wednesday, June 13

Hi, this is Sima. We forgot some important news from yesterday -- Naomi lost her front tooth! It happened at Tel Dan while we were eating lunch, right after the hike! How many American kids can say that they lost a front tooth in the holy land???

Ok, for today -- we meant to get an early start this morning, but the jet lag snuck up us and I was the first one up at 10. So after a quick breakfast at the tables outside our room overlooking beautiful HaGoshrim, we headed off to Katzrin by way of the Golan and the viewpoint at Quneitra. On the way, lots of gorgeous views and lots of Israelis driving really fast on very curvy roads in big trucks. We let everyone pass us and held our breath at each turn. We did the quick version of the Katzrin tour -- went to old Katzrin and explored a shul and two homes that were from the Talmudic times. One of the homes had been fully restored and was very cool -- the kids were imagining what it would be like to sleep in the loft and to cook in the stone ovens. Then a quick stop at the Golan winery for a picnic lunch on the lawn and Mike to do a very fast stop in the winery gift shop, were he made a few purchases.... Next we headed to The Jordan River park, an expansive park on the north shore of the Kineret. We did a mini-hike along the Jordan, the kids enjoyed the splashing. By then it was very hot, and a mini-hike was all that we were up for. Naomi and Ilana were begging for the beach, so we stopped next a kibbuts Ginosar, along the went shore of the Kineret. Some kibbutzniks there found an ancient sunken ship in 1986 (when there was a horrible drought and the Kineret was really low), which with a lot of help from experts in antiquities they were able to dig and and remove from the mud, and bring to the kibbutz. They have a museum there that explains the process and the possible origins of the boat -- really cool. AND, the museum is right next door to the beach! So after a perusal of the exhibit and some glida (ice cream), we spent some time lounging in the shallow, hot water of the Kineret. Naomi and Ilana were very happy... We continued down the shores of the Kineret to Tiberias for dinner at a gorgeous Chinese restaurant right on the shores of the Kineret. We ate outside, overlooking the water.

Some observations -- most of the tourists we have encountered up here are Israelis; we have heard very little English. That may be why every Israeli we meet seems to ask us when we are going to make aliyah. They've given us lots of good arguments why we should and Naomi is all for it (she did not need much convincing, I think this trip may determine her future...). Our Hebrew is steadily improving, Naomi keeps reminding us to use it and I find that I am much more willing to speak and make a fool of myself now than I was 20 years ago when I was here last. Eitan is intrigued by all of the archeological sites we have visited. Their stories fascinate him and we find ourselves reading and re-reading to keep up wth his questions. Noah says his favorite thing so far has been the hike at Tel Dan, but he very eagerly awaiting our visit to the Naot/Teva outlet tomorrow. A true consumer he is. And Ilana is enoying everything -- she burst out today with "I love Israel!!!!" This trip is truly a gift, and we are all so grateful for it.

To see photos from the last couple of days, try going to

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some other info and correction

Mike here - sorry about the typo - machsanit is the word for magazine in Hebrew. It was weird seeing it just lying on the ground. I made the kids stay away. Stupid, I know. The bullets aren't going to fire themselves.

Forgot to mention in the last post - Naomi has decided to only speak Hebrew while she is here. We need Sami and the kids to get here fast!! There are only so many times we can respond to Ani rotzeh (correction to rotzah for Naomi) lishtot mayim. (For those, like me, who don't speak Hebrew, that means I want (male form) to drink water.) Naomi did teach Ilana to say Ani TZRICHA fluffy. That is I NEED fluffy (her blanket). Noah just wants to know what we are doing tomorrow, next week, next hour, where we will be eating, what we will be eating, when we will be eating. (Mom and Dad - now I know how you felt all those trips with me and Mitch.) Oh, and he wants to play catch - glad we brought our gloves. Eitan is just happy being Eitan.

Airplane Trip and First and Second Days

Sima and I are sitting in the lobby of the guest house at HaGoshrim. Actually, Sima just left to check on the 4 kids we left watching TV. Let's start by saying this - Israel has certainly changed since the last time we were here (1993). A lot for the better, and .....

When I (Mike) was a kid here, we were lucky to get one Israeli tv station and maybe something in English from Jordan. Now, the kids can choose from Nick, to History channel, to French, German and I think even Turkish language stations.

The airplane rides - thanks to Dad Medow for driving us to the airport. Checking in at Lambert at 6 a.m. was not nearly as easy as one would think. One very slow (old) man to check bags for every person flying AA that morning - and there were a lot of folks flying. He "ran out of bags" for the car seat (meaning, he was being lazy) and, guess what ...... our car seat never made it to us in Israel. (No worries, for 3 bucks a day Eldan will lease us a car seat and probably anything else we would need.) Fortunately, the regional jet to Newark was not taking us to Ben Gurion - not much room, but the kids managed to play the DS3 (gameboy type thing) the whole couple of hours. At Lambert, we ran into some friends who were also coming to Israel - Joe and Orit Straus. They are coming for several reasons, including their son's swearing in ceremony (he just finished basic training) at Golani Junction on Wednesday. We may go if we can.

Newark was a breeze. Security was great, but we encountered another sign of change. On top of saying that no one gave us anything, that we packed ourselves, etc., the security officer asked if we ordered an Israeli cell phone. Sima handed ours over and the security officer began pushing buttons - and my wife was worried that we are going to get charged for a call! And she said so! After davening mincha with a bunch of charedim (and Joe and a couple of other folks), we boarded the plane. We shoulda ponied up for Business Class! The 3 girls sat in one row, and the 3 boys were a row behind. The movies on the plane were horrible, the seats uncomfortable, the food was bleh and there was a kid wailing for almost the whole ride. (Sima just came back, with a 4 year old in pj's on her hip and it is 10:45 p.m.) The wailing kid was not ours, but we do know the kid's grandparents from St. Louis. And, a nice steward told us that we received a telex on the plane - one of our bags didn't make it. You now know which bag didn't make it, but on the plane we did not. We all took it in stride and knew that things would work out.

At BG airport, we picked up our real luggage and Sima filled out paperwork for the lost carseat. (Still have not heard from El Al.) We rented our van from Eldan, and that was a trip. The van is tiny - no room for luggage. Have no idea how we will fit Donna and her luggage too.

Sima drove first - we went north to Caesaria. What a change there too. We remember it as an ice cream stand, some tourist shop and an ampitheater. Now, there is a whole area with restaurants, bars, shops and a multimedia presentation on the city and its history. We also toured the excavated ruins - including the ampitheater being set up for a concert, the hippodrome (it was cool walking down the length and imaging the racing horses). The gladiator fights we tried not to imagine. We looked at the sea, had a decent Italian lunch and watched a cool movie/presentation on how Herod built the harbor. They are still excavating underwater.

We then got back in the car, only got lost a bit, and headed to HaGoshrim. Drove through Afula, skirted Nazareth then up to Kiryat Shemoneh. The kids slept the whole way up. Had dinner at the kibbutz after Sima took the kids swimming while Mike was on a conference call. The kibbutz guest house is actually many buildings. We are staying in Spanish House and have adjoining rooms. The kibbutz is beautiful, lush green gardens, has a nice lodge with big buffet meals, and really interesting sculptures throughout the grounds.

The kids slept until 9:30 a.m. today. Had a so-typical Israeli breakfast. The boys liked the shakshooka and bourekas for breakfast. Ilana didn't eat. Sima made cheese sandwiches for lunch. Then, off to the Banias Falls. We all hiked to the Falls - but, another change (not for the better) - the authorities no longer let folks swim/wade in the spring/falls. We crossed the river and walked a bit to an overlook. Noah and Mike took off down a hike that (if we had a map at a time) took us 2/3 of the way to the old Syrian officers' pool. But, of course, that is closed too - so we were not too upset that we turned around. We bought some nectarines, plums and cherries from a guy with a stand by the entrance - the best meal in Israel so far.

Then, off to Tel Dan - we didn't do the longest hike that would have taken us by newly unearthed remains of the ancient city of Dan, but we did hike around the Nahal Dan and went to a wading pool, where we encountered 50-75 boys (shrieking, frum boys as someone might characterize them) playing, horsing around with sticks and throwing rocks. We gingerly played and when those kids left we thought we might be alone, but then 2 minutes later another group of kids came by (they seemed better behaved, but we still left). The kids loved the hike. They loved walking on rocks in the spring, they loved seeing the lush greenness, didn't like the few bugs, but loved the breeze. We had lunch there (cheese sandwiches and fruit - were you paying attention). Then, on to Nimrod's fortress.

We are still not sure if we were there before. We both believe we were, but don't remember. It was really cool for the kids. Seeing the thick walls, ramparts, towers, arrow slits, cisterns, etc. We even "discovered" the secret tunnel that leads from the northwest tower out of the fortress. How anyone ever conquered that place is beyond us. We ran into several tour groups of people taking classes on how to be a tour guide.

After that, we decided to go to some off the beaten path places. We read somewhere that there is a memoral to Sayeret Egoz near Nimrod's fortress - so off we went. It was a nice sign. Not beautiful, and only in Hebrew. It was near some Muslim "makom kadosh", but we have no idea what. The only interesting thing is that we found a full machnasit on the ground. Machnasit we learned is a magazine of bullets - we found that out from soldier we met at our next stop.

Tel Faher - not a Hebrew name (we believe). It was a Syrian post that was captured on June 9, 1967 as one of the first battles for the Golan. 32 boys died taking that piece of rock. Yitzhak Rabin said something to the effect that after seeing the Syrian fortifications up close, it was a wonder that the Israeli forces carried the day. At the post there are memorials to the "Barak"company that took Tel Faher as well as to the entire Golani Brigade. It was eery walking in the Syrian trenches and looking out of the gun holes of the Syrian bunkers. The IDF left a half track at the entrance and the kids climbed up (Ilana with some help) - kids means all 4 plus Mike - and Sima took a picture. (When we figure out how to post pictures, we will.) We were the only people at Tel Faher - we could hear the flags flapping. As we were finishing our visit, several bus loads of Israeli soldiers (not in uniform) showed up for a tour.

After that, we decided to try to find some dinner. After driving around Kiryat Shemoneh for awhile, Sima called 1 of the 2 kosher restaurants we believe are in town. She had some "communication difficulties" so we abandoned that idea (for tonight, at least). We found the other place (a dairy place, so Noah and Eitan are not too happy) in a mall at the Northeast corner of the town. A mall! With a Supersol, Burger King, Steinmatzky (book store, where Sima bought a dictionary because we both forgot the Hebrew word for mushrooms), a shoe store with some truly hideous shoes and a candy store. Then back to HaGoshrim - kids to watch tv and Mike to work.

That's it for tonight/today - laila tov!

First Entry

We have no idea if this will work, but it is worth a try. If this works, we will post again.

Mike and Sima