Part One A: The Plane
It's a very long flight to Israel, and these days with the extra security and all, it's even more important to get to the airport early. So, for a 5PM flight, we got to Newark Airport at 2PM. And that was a close thing because, while we'd arranged ahead of time for a car to take us there, the stupid car service forgot. Luckily, I was antsy and had remembered a similar thing happening to me in the past, from a different car service, and had Jonathan call. We got to Newark in 45 minutes. No problem.
We stood on the security line waiting to be checked out. We were asked the normal questions: "Did you pack your bags? Did anyone hand you anything to take with you? Have they left your possession since packing them?" "No, no, no." "Why are you visiting? Do you have family?" "Vacation. Yes, both of us." Normal stuff. Then the guy asked where we learned Hebrew and if our parents spoke Yiddish and, if so, where they learned it. Jonathan wears a ponytail. Maybe that was suspicious. And then they asked about electronic equipment. "None except for our cellphones - mine and the rental." "Rental?" Next thing we know, we're still waiting on line for the guy to come back to look at the rental cellphone. He checked it and the recharger thoroughly when he did show up again. This is, imho, a good thing. Cellphones are good for carrying in bombs. My own was okay because it was mine. The rental was not so good since we'd only had it since yesterday.
But it checked out fine, and we were passed for baggage check. We handed in everything but my purse and our backpacks, including one bag clearly small enough for carry-on. We needed nothing in it, so why make life hard? And it held my cross-stitch, which I would not be able to do on board the plane - scissors, after all. And then we ate lunch - steak sandwiches I'd made at home - and went to the gate where we waited. Okay, we each wandered around alone while the other watched the bags. And Jonathan said afternoon prayers by the windows. *Then* someone started a real minyan (quorum of ten men) so he hung around for the stuff he couldn't say by himself.
Neat bit - the airport put in a circle of rocking chairs where the gates intersected. As soon as one chair emptied, someone would come to fill it. It was very nice.
The flight was full, but the plane was a 767, not a 747. We were in the center seats, but, well. Shrug. It's about a six hour flight. We spent it watching the movies, eating, reading and trying to sleep. Eating was interesting. The food on El Al is kosher, but not strict enough for some people. For the rest of us, though, it's amazing getting the regular meal. There were "special kosher" meals provided for them, and one man near us didn't even want *that*, but ate his own food from home. Probably ate better. :)
It was full night by the time we'd reached cruising attitude, so a man began moving down the aisles saying, "Ma'ariv!" That's the evening service and we already knew he had a "chiyuv" - that it was the anniversary of someone's death (the "yarzheit") and he was obligated to say Kaddish, which can only be said with a minyan. There were plenty of men, but Jonathan grabbed his prayer book and joined them. I found this amazing. Later, when we were over Europe and it was full daylight, you could see a bunch of groggy men fishing out their prayer shawls and phylacteries for the morning service. Jonathan was among them. There were so many men that they had to form two minyanim - one in the galley and one in the aisle - because the people in the aisle couldn't hear the people in the galley. At 2AM New York time, 11AM Tel Aviv time, we landed, got through immigration and baggage claim and got our luggage to go to a taxi and to our hotel, where I promptly fell asleep.
Part One B: Sheraton Tel Aviv/Towers
We won this trip in a drawing - Jonathan had registered at the Jewish Week website to get email updates. So, not only did we get our airfare, we also got a week's stay at a luxury hotel. We got a fruit basket, turn-down service - the maid comes to the room every night and turns down the bed, leaving offerings of chocolate - bottles of mineral water - just lovely. And the balcony overlooked the Mediterranean, which was beautiful. We got phone calls from Jonathan's sister Lori and from our Shabbat hostess, a woman we only knew from online, but what of that? She's family. The whole country is family. Shoshana wanted to take us to a Chinese doctor she swears by for infertility, and we'd said yes, but now we were rethinking.
See. I'm a skeptic when it comes to alternative medicine. It's just how I am. I'm sure some of it works, but I want to have some idea why on a concrete, scientific level. And Jonathan didn't want to waste much of Friday or get up very early while still jetlagged. And he was getting upset. So I spoke to her about the doctor, and the things she said didn't reduce my skepticism. He does herbs (some herbs work, some don't), diet (ditto), accupuncture, of which I'm deeply skeptical, and accupressure, which I don't believe at all, it being a thoroughly modern thing so far as I know. When her daughter was ill, and the Western doctors could find nothing wrong, he diagnosed the daughter (with the disease she thought her daughter had) and cured her. This is classic snake oil to me. I suspect the daughter would have gotten well all by herself, and, indeed, did so. Shoshana was also convinced he could cure any illness - he was not a specialist. This also bothered me, since nothing cures anything. He's also very, very expensive, both for appointments and treatments. And Jonathan was crying.
I thanked her quite sincerely and turned her down. If there is a component of belief in these cures, well, I don't have it. Later on, when we spoke to her husband, who is quite brilliant and also wise, and who is the only member of her family who will not go to him, he said, "It couldn't hurt." And the subject otherwise never really came up during the Sabbath, which was very lovely indeed, and we hope to spend another Sabbath in Ramat Gan (Garden Heights), which is a suburb of Tel Aviv. The Sabbath ended with an attack just after sunset in a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, and subsequent retaliation.
Before going to Ramat Gan, we looked at used books and had lunch with Jonathan's sister and her husband, catching up on their kids. Verly, who is out of the army, is saving money so she can go to the far east with her boyfriend before starting college. Oran is starting to get tested by the Army.
Sunday, we went out and purchased the books we saw. And then we went to the Diaspora museum, but it was nearly closed so we saw very little, although it was enough. It was nearly closed because the twenty minute bus ride took two hours, because there had been an attack and the bridge was closed. There was also a news report of the names of the Israelis killed on Saturday night. People on the bus cried. Monday, we went to the art museum, but it closed early that day. However, the gift shop was open and I bought a gorgeous pair of candlesticks.
I've been looking for the right pair of candlesticks since we got married - on Friday night and holiday eves, married women light at least two candles - some traditions have unmarried women living at home lighting one, some light an extra candle for each child. A large family with many daughters over three can have a spectacular display. I light two candles. For most of my marriage, I've used the brass candlesticks my husband brought home our first Shabbat together in our apartment, but they're scratched and dull and too short for a dinner table, although I love them very much. Soon after moving here, I bought a very cheap pair of fake silver candlesticks that were tall enough for the table and have been using them, but they look like everyone else's.
The pair I got are a little shorter but still a good height. They're a pair of solid aluminum blocks, square at the bottom but becoming rounded at the top. One is indented slightly on top, the other has a tiny projection. They're perfect. They're elegant and different, and with the little Israeli glass cups and little candles I just got, they looked perfect on my Shabbat table. They're also quite heavy.
And the library next to the museum, which had an exhibition on Oz, was open, so we went there. The Oz exhibition was wearable art inspired by the books. Most were imaginative and beautiful or at least interesting. One produced in me a visceral reaction of "Wrong. Bad. Not good." Not because it was ugly, although it was, but because it not only had a non-standard view of the characters but presented it in a way that was not disturbing as in thought provoking but disturbing as in "abuse." It was a sexually provocative bdsm outfit for Dorothy and a sort of harness/leash array for the Lion, with a mane and a tail. And it just affected me viscerally as something off - degrading not only Dorothy and the Lion, but the people wearing those costumes. The Lion and the man playing him looked beaten and broken, and Dorothy looked...like some one paid to do that. None of the strength was there. None of the dignity.
Yes, I find BDSM less than exciting most of the time, and I don't like degrading humans, and that may well be part of my reaction, and I'm aware others might well see it differently, and obviously it stayed with me, so maybe it succeeded, but it made my stomach hurt in away that the upside down dress that hid Dorothy's body and face did not, even though that bothered me, too. I really got the impression that the artist thought this costume she already had on hand/played with could be easily modified and used for this exhibit, with some thrown together words.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the exhibit.
We saw the museum itself the next day. We like museums. We also got our laundry done.
We also have a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant. Now, we'd been eating the hotel food every day because breakfast is almost always included in Israeli hotels. Breakfast is a lovely buffet with eggs and borekas and cheese and yogurts and salads and fresh breads and juice and cakes and cereal and unlimited coffee or tea. You get very used to vegetables for breakfast. But the hotel also had a lobby that served light meals and a full scale, full service restaurant. One night, we had dinner in the lobby - he had a fancy salad, I had a fancy grilled cheese. But this night we had dinner in the restaurant.
The theme was Mediterranean - fresh fish and meats, olive oil and herbs. No fake creams allowed, no masking of the true flavors of the food. Jonathan had a smooth and light gazpacho, I had a fish soup that came with a piece of grilled fish on a crouton on the side. Truly delicious. Then he had something called "Mullard", a cross between duck and goose that tasted *beefy*, and I had a smoked Cornish hen over gnocchi, and it was all quite wonderful. We shared a half bottle of wine that went perfectly with both dishes. The service was perfect, the food was perfect and we've been recommending it to anyone who wanted a fancy restaurant.
And on Wednesday, we packed up everything and got in a taxi for Jerusalem, loaded with books, artwork and the candlesticks.