Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sunday July 17, 2011 - Last day

I let the kids sleep in the morning to try to get them started back towards home time, and then we got all packed up. Somehow, we cannot fit into the suitcases we came in and we have had to make a few adjustments. We will be leaving with lots of carry-ons...
When we finally got our act together, we headed out for one last sivuv of some of our favorite shopping spots -- Ben Yehuda, Machane Yehuda, Yoel Solomon Street. We got excellent falafel/schwarma from Moshiko on Ben Yehuda, and as Ilana was eating she looked up at me with a bloody mouth and said "did I lose my tooth?" And she finally did lose it, it has been loose since we arrived, and as it was no where to be found it is either on the street, or more likely, in her belly with her delicious schwarma! We had the great pleasure of bumping into Tova on Jaffa street, so we sat down to chat and have a cool drink with her before we set off for HaSofer, the tallis and tefillin shop, for Noah to do a little shopping. He needed a new tallis/tefillin bag, and he also wanted tefidanit, a more protective case for his tefillin. The store didn't carry them, but a young man standing at the counter said, I have them right here and I want to get rid of them, do you want them? And he sold them to Noah for 50 nis, quite a bargain. Only in Israel! After all of our last minute shopping was done, we took a bus back to the apartment, showered and cleaned up, and went to dinner in Emek Refaim. The kids then went back to the apartment to watch some TV, and I took one last walk over to Yemin Moshe, now one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. I savored every moment of my stroll in the cool evening air, with gorgeous flowers and greenery, picturesque streets, and an amazing view of the city.
The sense of belonging that we feel here that is manifest in so many ways. The kids refused to play the what I will miss and what I will not miss game, but here is my list for us all.

What we will not miss:
Tiny washing machines
Uncomfortable beds
Traffic and crazy drivers
Walking in the heat of the day
Not understanding understand the language
Museums, hikes, and historical sites
Bad tasting water
The family bickering (but will that stop anywhere???)

What we will miss:
Our friends and "family"
Touring wineries and being able to drink the wine
The eating
iced Aroma
Mamilla at night
Chance encounters with our friends from near and far
Not driving
Experiencing Israeli life in so many different communities
The beauty and diversity of the land
Museums, hikes, and historical sites
The freedom and independence that the kids have here
The magic of the entire country shifting for Shabbat, especially in Jerusalem

We have had an incredible gift for the last five weeks; we are so grateful. Our hope is that we can keep the feelings and memories from this trip strong in our minds and in our hearts until, god willing, the next time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shabbat July 16, 2011

Our shabbat dinner last night at the Messers was wonderful. They have a beautiful home in the German Colony, just a 5 minute walk from our apartment. We ate Shabbat dinner outside on the gorgeous patio, surrounding by flowers, and the weather was perfect. I understand why that spot is one Sara and Hyim's favorite. Despite the fact that only half the Messer family is in town (Barbara and her two daughter's), there were quite a few guest, a bit of an eclectic group. The conversation was interesting and the food was delicious, the boys and I stayed til past midnight. The girls never left. Naomi hit it off with Naomi (age 11), and Ilana hung out with Danielle (age 9 I think), and they both wound of spending the night. Sara, you did well with this match!
In the morning, the boys and I went to the Pinsker shul and then I walked over the get the girls. But they didn't leave. I would up bringing them bathing suits and they went with the Messers to the King David Hotel pool. The boys and I had lunch in the apartment after visiting with Efrat's family at the kiddush. Her grandfather lives in the building and they were celebrating his 90th birthday. We met her brothers, sister-in-law, nephew, aunts, uncles, the whole shebang. After reading and playing games for a few hours we went to pick up the girls at the pool.
The King David is beautiful, as I mentioned a few days ago, and the pool area is amazing. Right smack in the middle of the city, it is huge and lush and green. There are chairs in the pool to lounge, a restaurant, and a huge grassy area with a small playground. As we walked into the pool area we walked right into Stanley Raskas! He looks great, it was nice to catch up, here is here with his wife visiting a couple of his kids. And of course, it turned out that Barbara knows Stanley as well. It is such a small world... So we chatted and bit and then said our goodbyes. The girls had a great time, Naomi and Naomi found a lot of common ground, and we so appreciated the Messer's hospitality.
So then we went from one pool to the next. We took a short stroll over to the Dan Panorama to hang out and swim with the Perlmans, and were with them at the hotel, or at our apartment, until it was almost the end of Shabbat. We all walked over to the kotel for maariv and havdalah. We were wondering how havdalah would work, how all the necessary item would get here. Well, there was b'samim (mint) stuck in bunches in the mechitza and in the back fence, and women peered over the mechitza/fence to be able to see/hear men doing havdalah. No idea where the candles and wine came from. I thought there might be more singing, dancing, festivities but there just were not. We then walked home among falling apart kids, hoping to get them together enough to go over to a Babette's waffles near Ben Yehuda at the recommendation of Sara. And we did it! We made it to the Ben Yehuda area which was bustling with families and lots and lots of teens and young adults. it was defintely a younger crowd. The waffle place is a tiny tiny store, packed with people. The waffles are huge and can be ordered with a variety of toppings including standard fare like chocolate, butterscotch, whipped cream, but also the more unexpected like sour cream or halva. Have I said that I am going to miss eating out? The waffles were delicious but the kids were pooped. So we said our sad goodbyes to the Perlman's and trudged back to the apartment, by now it was well after midnight, but we did make the most of our last night in Jerusalem.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday July 15, 2011

The kids are fatigued and want no more museums, historical sites, or walking in the heat. They wouldn't even play the what I'm going to miss about Israel is... game. I think its about time to go home. Two quick things worth mentioning, one mundane and one anything but. First - the boys and I went to pick up Shabbat take-out at a place called Marvad Hamaksimim. They have a few locations, but we went to the not as authentic one in Emek Refaim. This place is known for plentiful, good, and cheap Israeli food. We got lots and lots of chicken nuggets, some beef, some kebab, stuffed artichokes, peppers, and onions for lunch tomorrow, all for 150 shekels. Probably our cheapest meal yet, that barely covers a burger and fries at Black 'n Burger! Maybe the kids won't play the game, but boy I will really miss that about Israel. Second worth note -- we finally went to the tent across from the Prime Minister's House where Gilad Shalit's family is camped out. All over the street in our area of Jerusalem, their are stickers that say "Gilad is alive!" They are on lampposts, fountains, signs, everywhere you look. we have walked by the street where his family is many times, but a felt a bit awkward about going, not sure what to say. This has been a particularly difficult month as Gilad just passed his five year mark in captivity. So we walked over to the area, which is filled with signs, banners, and ribbons attached to the fence on the sidewalk. There is a table outside the tent (it is not really a tent, it looks more like a pre-fab sukkah with hard sides). Volunteers man the table nad collect donation, sell t-shirts, and give out yellow ribbons. When we first got there, the Shalit family was not there so the kids signed the poster, and took some ribbons. Then we went inside the tent, which is set up with chairs around the perimeter and stocked with water and snacks provided by volunteers. Shortly, Gilad's father came back and we did speak to him briefly, we told him that we are thinking on Gilad in St. Louis and shared with him some of things that B'nai Akiva and Epstein have done to recognize and remember Gilad. In the end, we were all glad that we went to visit and show our support.
The girls and I met the Perlman's in town for a bit; they are staying at the Dan Panorama for shabbat and we will hand out with them on Shabbat afternoon. Tonight we are going to Sara and Hyim's friends David and Barbara Messer for dinner. We have not met them, but Sara hooked us up with them and they so kindly invited us sight unseen!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday July 14, 2011

News alert -- Burgers Bar has been usurped! The new standard for burgers is Black Bar 'n Burger, a place that Noah was introduced to by his Petach Tikvah friends when he dined on a 450 g burger with them. Noah has been raving so much we all had to check it out and we all were happy as it turns out they have a mean veggie burger too. I had the popeye burger -- beef with spinach and pine nuts, topped with mushrooms. Noah had amazing chicken wings, Eitan had a giant hot pastrami sandwich, and Ilana had chicken fingers "to die for". But enough about dinner.
This morning I went on a major shopping excursion. Some of the loot was for us, but most was gifts to bring back. I started in Mea Sha'arim, where I browsed for quite a while in a big bookshop and some other small gift stores. The prices there are much better then the rip off prices on Ben Yehuda. Then I walked over to Yoel Solomon street which I remembered from last trip but up til today had been unable to find. Because of construction on both ends of this very short street, it does not really look like a street til you walk past the rubble to find the cute shops, restaurants and art galleries. I spent a good chunk of time in a game store called Gaya. It is an Israeli company that makes wooden games and puzzles, and they are addicting (more on this later). I also visited the 36,000$ Havdalah set that Mike and I love -- yes it's still there, and the store clerk seemed disappointed that I still wasn't buying it. I then had to hustle back to the apartment to drop off the loot and pick up the kids for our afternoon activities. I thought it would be best not to drag them along in the morning, so I left them a morning note with things on the list like shower, take your medicine, get lunch, clean up the garbage from the floor, take out the garbage and recycling, get your water bottles ready and be ready to go at 1:15! (much like home). When I got back to the apartment, I found garbage everywhere, a half eaten pizza they had ordered in still sitting out on the table, dirty dishes sitting out, no water ready (much like home). We got out the door, but later than I had hoped and we were late to our tour at the Davidson Center, which is an archeological site near the Dung Gate. When we got to the window 10 minutes late the woman told us that we missed the tour and couldn't go. I asked if we could catch up, and she refused to let me but tickets but told me to go ask the guide. So we walked over to the entrance, the security guard let us in and told us to catch up, and we made it! The archeological park is a huge area just outside the walls of the old city, starting at the corner by the Dung Gate and going south from there. Our guide took us to the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount, and described the Herodian masonry, showed us where Robinson's arch (or its remains) is, showed us the Roman street at the base of the wall -- it is excavated here, you can see remains of stores lining the marketplace, and you can even see large stones that were knocked out of the wall when the Romans destroyed the beit hamigdash. The guide then took us inside (thankfully, it was hot!) and to a three 3 computer recreation of the Temple Mount in the second temple period. The kids called it "Sims -- the Beit Hamigdash version". It was really cool. The guide can zoom in and out and go through doorways, move around structures so you can see them from every angle, and add features that show the locations during different times (like how the walls of the old city have moved). He could bring up photos from as things are today and put them right next to the 3-d representation in the beit hamigdash computer animation. He showed us the Roman marketplace/road, the stairs and entrances to the Temple Mount from the south side, and some of the structures on the Temple Mount including where the trumpetor stood. All of the information is based on archeological excavations, so there is not information on the inside of the beit hamigdash itself as it is not permitted by the Muslim's for us to dig in that site. The presentation was fascinating, and even got the attention of my archeology weary kids. After the presentation we walked around outside in the park, looking at some of the features that we had seen in the animation.
Next we walked back up the steps from the kotel and into the old city for a cold drink, before heading back down to the kotel for a "generations tour". This tour is right next to the site of the tunnel tours, and is mostly a walk through glass art that has names etched into it. Each room has different works of art, which represent the Jewish people at various times in our history. The tour was low on content, but the last part which was a story told by one of the soldier's who liberated Jerusalem in 1967 was interesting. After this tour we all davened at the kotel and our timing was great as the girls and I could stand right next to the wall without being pushed and jostled. It was Ilana's first time davening at the kotel (and she used her new purple siddur) and it was very special. We then headed up the stairs and just at the top, near all the falafel stands, there was Sara! Her group of campers had just arrived this afternoon, and was on a bathroom break before heading down to the kotel. With her were Bradely Goldmeier, and Lisa Ast who is also a madricha! They all looked happy and ready to have a blast. What fun to see them.
Now we left the Old City and had our Black 'n Burger dinner, and then I took the kids back to the game store from this morning. I could not get them out. They were in there for over an hour playing various games. And I left with even a few more games... Then back to the apartment, it was already past 10. I love walking in this city, but I have to say that after today, my feet are killing me. I could really use a foot massage... Mike?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday July 13, 2011

Noah and Eitan woke up at 3am to watch the all star game, so I let the kids sleep in a bit thins morning. We left around 10:30 to go to the Underground Prisoners Museum, which is in the Russian Compound. On the way, we stopped at the King David Hotel. There was a limo with tinted windows outside, and when we got into the lobby there was some kind of army official (not Israeli) dressed in a fancy uniform with lots of metals and ribbons on it. No idea who he was. Haven't read a newspaper in weeks. We were looking for a display about the Irgun's bombing of the hotel in 1946 but instead found fancy shops and beautiful lounges and photos of lots of dignitaries and celebrities taken at the hotel, and a small display of historical photos of the hotel, including one from just after the bombing. From there we continued on to the Underground Prisoners Museum, an actual prison where the British held members of Irgun and other Israeli freedom fighters, as well as criminals and some mapillim (illegal Jewish immigrants). The prison was originally a hostel for Russian women making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it is not built like a prison and is not as creepy as the prison in Akko. We met Faye, Earl, Yedidya, and Noam at the gates, and pushed the button as directed to get into the gated compound. After the gate automatically and slowly creaked open and we walked in we were accosted by a security guy dressed all in black who asked to see our passports. Kind of strange as that had not been our experience at other museums. And it may not have been such a serious request as none of us had passports with us and he let us all go in on my driver's license. The museum starts with a movie that describes the experience of the prisoners there, and then leads you on a self guided tour through the prison compound. Most of the the rooms are set up as they were when it was a prison -- cells, workshops, the kitchen, a shul, solitary confinement cells, and a death row gallows that was never used. They had a scavenger hunt and activities with lots of interesting info and though Ilana was the only taker, I really enjoyed it too. We saw the spot where the prisoners dug out of their cell and through to the courtyard. 12 of them then climbed through the tunnel and then dressed like maintainance workers and walked out of the prison. We also saw the cell where Moshe Barazani and Meir Feinstein killed themselves with explosive smuggled in inside an orange rather than be executed by the British.
After the museum we all headed to Mea Sha'arim to find a shofar for Eitan among other things, with the exception of Noah, who walked back to the apartment to sleep. We found ourselves so in the heart of it that we could not find a atore with shofrot, the streets were tiny alleys, and they were filled with people dressed in garb from the shtetl -- we clearly stuck out as tourists. After we found a way to the main street we looked back at the alley where we had come from and their was a big sign hanging over it that said something like, "This is our neight borhood, where we live. It is not for tourists. Please do not enter if you are not dressed in accordance with modesty." One we found the more touristy area with lots and lots of Judaica stores, Earl and Eitan blew many many shofrot looking for the perfect combination of quality and price. Earl was a diligent and patient shofar buying guide. Our search and walk in the heat made the kids very hungry, but it took us a while to find a main drag with food. we finally found a pizza store that had -- I'm not kidding -- separate lines for men and for women, and a men's only eating room (but there were two young women sitting in there with all the men so I have no idea what the story was.) After lunch, Faye and her boys took a cab back home, and Earl and the remaining Oberlanders finally made their purchases. Earl headed home, and we walked over to Ben Yehuda to get some frozen yogurt. One of the kids didn't like it as it tasted too much like yogurt. If you want to know how Eitan's shofar sounds, just ask anyone who was walking on Ben Yehuda this afternoon as he practiced his skills and startled passersby. Chen was in the area and came by to say hi, she looks great and sounds great and is a rosh bus on mach hach, which starts tomorrow. We were so glad to see her! After lots of hugs, Chen headed back to her office and we took a bus back to the apartment (the kids rebelled and refused to walk).
Then another real treat -- Sarah and Carl Ashkenazi and Yacov and Noa came to meet us for dinner! They seem to be so well adjusted to life here; it is hard to believe they came less than a year ago. Carl is working from home, Sarah is working 5 days a week to get her Israeli medical certification, they are loving life on the yishuv. Yacov is speaking Hebrew fluently, and we can't believe how big Noa is! We really enjoyed seeing them and catching up, though our time was much too short as we had to leave for a previously scheduled tunnel tour at 8pm. Dinner was great -- we ate at a sushi place in Emek -- it was incredible. Ilana ate all of her sushi and most of mine!
Naomi was not feeling great -- totally exhausted -- so she skipped dinner and Noah stayed home with her. After dinner we switched and dropped off Ilana and picked up Noah, and the boys and I went to the tunnel tours at the kotel. We were running super late so we decided to take a cab. Riding a cab through the old city, winding our way to the kotel, gave me another perspective on the city. I'm glad that we got something out of it as the ride sure wasn't cheap. I don't really understand how cab fares work here -- one cab we rode in had a meter, but most don't and it seems that the driver just makes up a price and then you are supposed to argue over it until it is all resolved. Too stressful for me, I'd rather walk.
The tunnel tour was definitely worth doing again (we did it 4 years ago). First because it is just plain old cool to be in the depths of the Western Wall, and second because they have added to the tour -- a very cool model of the time of the second temple that can or remove the current structures that are built again the outside of the wall, and add or remove the Roman promenade that ran next to the wall. Also they have excavated a huge mikvah that may have been used by the Cohanim, and a large reservoir at the end of the tour after the walk through the aquaducts. The entire area was bustling even though it was 9:00 on a Wednesday night --It is emboldening that so many of us make an effort to be there and experience. After the boys davened maariv at the kotel, we walked home. Though it is sometimes a challenge with the bickering kids, I am trying to savor every moment. We have so few left...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday July 12, 2011

With Noah away for the day, we decided to some things that the younger three might enjoy and to take cabs instead of the bus as we are only 4 people and can all fit into one cab. So, we left the house by 8:45 (a record early start for us) so that we could arrive at the Biblical Zoo when it opened at 9:00. I had wanted to go there with the kids when we were at Ein Yael last week as we were there anyway at the bus stop, but they refused. After Hili gave the zoo a rave review I overrode the kid vote, and I am glad I did. When we got there it was still cool (relatively) and shady, and the animals were active. The zoo is spread out on a lush campus, and the animal habitats blend in with the surroundings. We were immediately drawn to the Siamang monkeys who live on an island in a large pond that stretches through much of the zoo. They have ropes to climb out on over the water, and can come fairly close to the pedestrian bridge that overlooks them. The zoo is different in a several ways for our famous St. Louis zoo. Often several animals are together in one enclosure, for example the rhinos, hippos, zebras, ostriches, and giraffes are all in one large enclosure with trees and other shaded areas, and with a large pond. Most the animals on display are indigenous to the region, and quotes from Tenach about the animals are on their display signs. The kids favorite animals were the meerkats and prairie dogs as the kids could go through tunnels under the exhibit and pop up into a plastic bubble in the middle and get very close to the animals. Eitan loved the rhinosaurus, and Naomi was very fond of the hippo who at first looked like a rock with a bird on it, but then surfaced to take a breath. And we all loved the naked mole rats. At about noon the zoo started to get hot and crowded with loud and pushy day campers, so we departed with our friendly cab driver, who we called to pick us up, and headed for the Bloomfield Science Museum.
We visited the science museum when we were here four years ago, and the kids loved it this time as much as the last. We spent several hours investigating simple machines, electricity, and basic physics among other concepts. It was also a pleasure to be able to eat at the museum snack bar! As our museum exploration wound down, we decided to take the bus back to the center of town to run a couple of errands before heading home. But I remembered from our last visit that we had a hard time finding the bus stop as there is no bus service directly to the museum, you have to catch it at the University Campus across the street. I still have memories of trudging up a giant hill in the heat, searching for a path to a bus stop. Well, it turns out that elusive bus stop is quite simple to find with good directions -- it is an easy 5 minute walk down the street from the museum. So we hopped on the bus (after a wait, of course) and got off at the center of town. We picked up Naomi's beautiful new siddur and a few other gifts, and then used our transfers to take the bus back to the apartment. After an hour or so of rest, Hili and Maayan and Adin met us at the apartment. We had planned to have dinner together and then go to the Migdal David "Night Spectacular" light show. As we began our walk towards dinner and the Old City, Maayan started to not feel so well, and let's just say be careful where you walk on the sidewalk near the King David hotel. But after leaving her deposit, Maayan did feel much better so she was a real trooper and continued on. We made it to Mamilla and had an extremely rushed dinner at Cafe Cafe, during which both Noah and Sara joined us. More on Noah's adventure later. Hili got some Tylenol for Maayan, who was still hanging in there, and we all hustled off to Migdal David.
The Night Spectacular truly was spectacular. As you walk in through the courtyard, there are various scenes projected on to the walls, showing representatives of the peoples who have lived in Jerusalem through the ages. Eventually our winding walk ended in the main area of the courtyard where seats were set up, and after everyone was seated the lights dimmed and the real show began. It is hard to describe, but basically the show told the story of Jerusalem and its people from the time of creation up through the 1900's, with virtually no words. The story is projected onto the walls and towers and corners and crevices of Midgal David. A huge section of the building itself is the movie screen, and the show uses the shape of the walls to help tell the story. The scenes flowed from creation, to King David building Jerusalem, to the building and burning and building and burning of the Beit Hamigdash, to the Crusaders, Byzantines, and on. It was an amazing show (though hard for the younger kids to follow); Noah, Sara, Hili and I LOVED it.
After the show Hili took a cab back to Pinsker and her car with her very tired kids. We have really enjoyed hanging out with the Zimbalists here, so fortunate that we could be here at the same time enjoy our vacations together, and we are glad that we will see them in St. Louis in another month or so. The Oberlanders and Sara stopped for some Aroma and hung out in Mamilla until Sara had to leave to catch her bus. It was not so easy to say good-bye as we will not see her again this trip. Sara has really taken care of us and made us feel so good and so welcome and so much a part of her world. We are so lucky to have had this time together but so sad it has to end...
I will respect Noah's teenage privacy and not report too many details about his trip except to say that he was very independent and confident, and had a lot of fun. And he ate a 450g burger for lunch. My favorite moments -- Dvir (the kid he was staying with) called Noah while he was on the bus on his way there and said give the phone to the guy sitting behind you. Noah gave the phone to this complete stranger and Dvir told the guy, hey, help my friend get off at the right stop. And of course he complied. Second favorite detail -- Noah and one of the other guys he was in Tel Aviv with today went for walk at the outdoor mall that was part of the beach where they were hanging out. But they did not bring shoes, and the cement was really hot. So instead of getting their shoes, they sprinted across 50 meters of pavement, burned their feet, asked a waitress somewhere for water but then were to embarrassed to not drink it so they put it in their mouths and then spit on their feet. Complete teenagers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday July 11, 2011

Guest blogger:
Today we went to the pool. We walked to the pool but at first we couldn't find it and we asked this couple and they told it where it was. It looked like a restaurant when you walked in but then there were these two doors that would lead you to the pool. The pool was really crowded. It had 2 pools outside and one pool under this roof thing. And there was this really boring water slide that you had to push yourself down. The boys went out to get us New Deli for lunch. Then we went home and we ordered Burgers Bar to be delivered. Noah went to Shoham on a bus to go his friend's party. Pools are so much different here because people they kick you and then they don't care. Also the girls had to wear a swimming cap or put their hair in a pony tail.

Editor's note:
We relaxed in the morning and headed to the Jerusalem pool which is in nearby Emek Refaim, and stayed there for 5 hours. A great way to beat the heat. We got back to the apartment and the 3 younger kids relaxed while Noah planned his trip to meet up with the robotics boys from Petach Tikvah. The plans changed about 4 times, but eventually Noah headed to the bus stop. With phone guidance from Sara about which platform to go to, he took a bus to the Central Bus Station and then picked up a bus to Shoham where one of the boy's mom picked him up. He is going to someone's birthday party there tonight, sleeping over, and then going to the beach with the boys tomorrow. A great adventure for him, and he could definitely use some teenager time.

The 3 younger kids had Burger's Bar delivered to the apartment for dinner (can't beat that) and after they were fed, Hili Zimbalist came into town to meet me for a grown up dinner! We went to an amazing Asian/Israeli fusion restaurant called Ryu on Emek Refaim. The food was great, the atmosphere was fun, and the spiked lemonana was delicious. A calm day without suffering in the hear was very pleasant. I am forcing the kids to go to bed early tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow. Though Eitan is planning to wake up at 2:00am to watch the home-run derby...