***Note: this trip was made mid-May. I’m only publishing it now due to the fact that it took a while to put together. ~Rafi***
Israel is a land which many consider to be historic if not holy. The Jewish homeland, Israel is also home to people of a bunch of other faiths. In the past I was lucky enough as a child to visit almost every summer. My mother, who was born there, moved back with her second husband and as a result I always had a ticket for the summer. I’m almost ashamed to say that I began to take it for granted in the end – I was a kid, but still.
That was then, this is now. Now that I’m older and supporting a family of my own, trips to Israel, or anywhere else for that matter, don’t grow on trees. Tickets and general costs cost money and getting the days off from work is always an imposing challenge. In the last ten years I’ve gone a total of twice and the longest I was there for was for six days. This trip would be my third in that span and last a total of four days. This is reality. I’ve since then learned to appreciate each time I get to go. On this trip I only took my older daughter Leah with.
As I explained to my wife afterward, I have three hours worth of stories for four days. Here are some of them.
On this day I took off work and went to the airport with my older daughter Leah. We were getting ready to fly off for a bar mitzvah and come back. As it worked out, it was Yom Yerushalayim weekend and we would be staying in the Old City. Everything sounded exciting.
We landed on Erev Shabbat at 12 something. Being that this was Leah’s first trip, I gave her what I felt was one of the best pieces of advice I got as a child: wait until you are among the last people on the plane before getting up from your seat. The logic is simple: even if you get off the plane and pass security/customs, you still need to wait for the luggage to come off the plane and get onto the conveyor belt for pick up. Therefore, you aren’t really gaining much by being first off the plane.
Next was the cab. I called each of my parents to assure them that I arrived. My mother advised me to take a Nesher cab (a communal cab) over a regular cab. By being in a larger cab with more people it ended up costing us 64₪ (NIS) a head (128₪) rather than being in a private cab which could have come to 300-500₪. There were two guys, an older and younger fellow. The older guy explained that the younger guy would call a second cab once he got to Jaffa gate and the younger guy questioned the wisdom, explaining that it should be easily walkable. The older guy explained to him that we are with luggage and a little girl. Not a good idea to walk.
The first cab took us to the old city at Jaffa Gate where we took a second cab to get to the old city at 30₪. It was worth it; even though the distance was walkable, steps and all, to do this with a child and four pieces of luggage wasn’t worth it.
We ended up reaching the entrance of the Kotel (Western wall) plaza without going in yet. I called my father who was to meet us there. He ended up meeting us 20 minutes later.
Word of our arrival spread and two cousins of mine (with their child) wanted to see us in the old city. We met up with them a couple of hours to Shabbat and communicated in manageable “Heblish.”
Shabbos arrived and I was still operating with jetlag. Aside from the obvious place (the Kotel) to visit, other nearby places/sites we visited was the Temple Institute menorah recreation (replete with its fake base, but hey, details) and Yeshiva Porat Yosef (where R’ Ovadia Yosef learned). What impressed me about Porat Yosef was that at 10:30 PM on a Friday night there were boys learning. I wanted to get a picture of the inside as well as the ceiling, but couldn’t due to Shabbos and the fact that the gates were closed the rest of the week, most likely to curb tourists and beggars.
On Shabbos morning we went to the Kotel to daven Shacharis. There were a bunch of minyanim and lots of people. As a result I ended up davening with one group and my father with another group. My much younger brother was going in between minyanim to see who was where. I got him to bentch Gomel with me and then he ran off. The gabbai gave me the kavod of hagbah and wanted to give him gelilah, but he wasn’t around.
After davening we ate. During the meal one of my much older relatives related that two days before the trip he had an odd dream where he and my Zaida (his uncle who passed away a while back) were arguing over something silly, a piece of steak. In that dream my Zaida told him that he didn’t rely on the kashrus as it wasn’t the greatest. He replied that as long as there was one Rabbi that said its alright it should be fine. The response he got was, if you want to eat it that’s up to you. Your go your way and I go mine. Goodbye. We thought it was a silly dream until two days later. At any rate, after eating we went touring around the old city. We saw some pretty cool sites.
One of the sites was King David’s tomb. It was pretty insane to walk into the labyrinth to find it essentially converted into a Shul, and that some people sing and dance around it.
Across the tomb is a small holocaust memorial called “Chamber of the Holocaust, replete with the statue of a small girl holding a suitcase and teddy bear. While I would revisit the place, the area was too creepy for me to take pictures. I figured that someone must have taken pics before and put them online but I can’t find any. If anyone can take a pic of that statue with the inscription and email me that would be appreciated.
On Shabbos afternoon we davened at the Hurva Shul, a historic synagogue built 300 years ago and destroyed in the 1948 war, only to be restored 15 years ago. The interior is very ornate with the Aron hakodesh giving off the illusion of being two stories high.
After havdalah we took pictures of some of the sites we saw earlier.
Sunday, day 3 was Yom Yerushalayim. We went to daven at the Kotel, at which point I noted that some minyans were saying Hallel with a Bracha and some were saying Tachanun. There was something for everyone. For more on when to say Hallel and with/without a Bracha I urge you to read Rabbi Moshe Bamberger’s book on Hallel.
After that I went with my younger brother to King David’s tomb to get in a couple of pictures. I also revisited the holocaust memorial across but failed to get a picture.
We then went back and I tried waking my daughter up so we could visit my mother. When hailing a cab at Shaar HaAshpot (garbage/dung gate) I tried to make sure that the driver was wearing a Kippa, though in today’s day in age one can never be too sure.
We went in and exchanged hellos. My mother even baked cupcakes for us and prepared coffee. While there we realized that I forgot a couple of crucial items back at the old city. Seeing that it was not possible to mail it we had no choice but to hail a cab back. In this case we utilized the first driver we saw who happened to be an Arab. Baruch Hashem that ride went quietly.
We went up the dozens of stairs which was too much for my mother (or for a lot of people for that matter), so I told my mother to sit at a nearby chair/table while we went on. Leah and I got what we needed and went back down.
The Ranting Muslim Driver
Next stop was the Malcha (Jerusalem mall). We took another cab, also run by an Arab, and in hindsight we were lucky to have gotten out of there alive. For starters, he didn’t put on the “meter” (which is really illegal) and took 70₪ which was a nice amount. Next, as most cab drivers in Israel are talkative, this one also was and discussed his marrying his wife when she was 15, the blatant racism that Israel has on Arabs like him, and how Israelis are responsible for him taking antidepressants. The driver was practically foaming at the mouth.
He even took out a small box and told us those were his “bills” (pills) that he had to take because of the Israeli Zionists. It made for an interesting cab ride to say the least. Since I was sitting in the front seat and my mother/Leah in the back, my mother wanted to know what the box read, to which I replied that I didn’t know nor did I really care.
We made it to the mall. We went to a jewelry store where I got my wife a nice gift. The store also had nice unisex watches in different colors. I bought a black one for my brother as a bar mitzvah gift.
After that we went to grab a quick bite to eat. My mother and I got Leah to eat something despite the struggle as she usually is a picky eater.
After that my mother asked me to help her out with looking at DSLR cameras. She ended up purchasing one on payments.
At my Aunts’ Apartment
After we said our goodbyes, Leah and I took a cab to my aunt’s apartment in Bayit VeGan, driven by an Ethiopian Jew. We arrived in the late afternoon and saw my grandfather as well for the first time in a few years. In fact, the last time he saw Leah was when she was a baby just learning how to walk.
We ate dinner there, though Leah didn’t touch a thing to eat. Her issue has always been with eating meat and needing to wait six hours for milk. I suggested salad, bread, chummus, something that wasn’t meat, but she didn’t even want that. We then wanted her to drink because in Israel, drinking a LOT of water/fluids is paramount.
I went to daven Mincha at my Uncle’s shul downstairs, upon which one of my cousins showed me the Sefer Torah that my Saba in part dedicated. Needless to say, it’s beautiful.
Night came. I then was advised by my father by phone that it was impossible to drive into or out of the Old City due to Yom Yerushalayim celebrations. We had two choices: either sleep at the apartment overnight and wake up super early for the Bar Mitzvah (we’re taking 2-3 AM) or take a cab to Jaffa Gate and walk the rest of the way to the Kotel, which neither Leah nor I did before.
We did the walk and asked for directions when we weren’t sure (though it was by and large straight) and finally made it. Leah was complaining that due to the exercise and the fact she didn’t eat that she was losing her stomach! Poor thing.
We finally made it to the entrance of the Kotel where my father met us. He carried Leah up and she conked out in her bed. I called my uncle who apparently tried calling us half a dozen times. I apologized in that I didn’t hear the phone ring while we were making our way through the crowds.
On the fourth day we awoke early for a 7 AM minyan to avoid the residual crowd from Yom Yerushalayim weekend. My brother lained beautifully although he was criticized heavily about being too quiet. We then went back to the apartment for a L’Chaim breakfast, but not before lots of pictures were taken.
The Dream Realized
Little did I realize then that my second cousin (the one with the dream) had his tefillin checked that day. The Sofer called back to my father and explained that the tefillin were not the greatest, and that while he would personally get them replaced, its ultimately up to the owner to do what he wants. We all saw the parallel between the dream and this incident. To be clear, tefillin is made from a kosher animal, usually a cow. The parchment, boxes, straps and even the twine (cow sinews) to tie the boxes together. Steak is also from a cow. The messaging was also almost word for word. It was just bizarre.
We then went touring a bit more, and also visited the Arab shuk to get some toy musical instruments for my kids. In the shuk there was an array of items, including no shortage of decorative hookah pipes (not that I got one nor do I smoke).
The Arab stated a price which in my mind was fair. My father reached into his pocket and took out some money, coming up a little short on the cash. I, being naïve, told my father that I can help him out with the rest. Right afterward my father called me an idiot since these Arabs wanted you to bargain with them, otherwise they don’t respect you. So for doing the right thing I was made to feel bad. Whatever. At least the kids enjoy their instruments now.
We went to a park that was sparsely inhabited and soon found out why: it was very accident prone. The slide didn’t slide well at all and the park in general was causing top many bumps and bruises. We left after a little bit.
My father had his car parked in a lot near Shaar Tziyon due to practically no parking being available thanks to Yom Yerushalayim. I, Leah, and my siblings went with him and he literally got a ticket for 100₪ by coming two minutes late. I was the blame for it which I (respectfully) didn’t accept.
We dressed for the bar mitzvah and had pictures taken. Leah was the star of the show and the photographers had a nice time getting her to jump off a few stairs a dozen times while they had their cameras positioned on the the ground facing up. They wanted to get the illusion of her flying.
Once the party began, Leah began to behave differently. Apparently the four days of sleep and jetlag caught up to her but she was crying suddenly that she wanted to go home now. At seven years old I cannot blame her. In reality we were slated to leave the party early anyway. What made things more interesting was that lots of my father’s relatives that didn’t see me in 20 years suddenly wanted to chat with me, and each one took at least 5-15 minutes of my time (or so it seemed). I also needed to gain access to my suitcase and quickly change into weekday clothes mid-party in the washroom which meant going into the women’s section (there was separate seating), getting my suitcase, running back to the men’s section, then changing in the women’s washroom (the washrooms were also reversed to accommodate everyone). In the interim, every well meaning relative that didn’t know what was going on wanted to say hello while I was politely trying to pass by. Fun!
My father arranged it so that one of my relatives would drive Leah and I back to Ben Gurion airport. Instead of leaving as scheduled we left an hour and a half later, arriving two hours before departure (instead of the advised three hours). During the long line Leah complained about being cold. I looked in her hag and couldn’t find her sweater. I explained that after we passed security I would try to get her a jacket or sweater at duty free. At duty free though they were only selling summer wear, which meant no jackets. I went to three places, nada. I ended up letting her wear my jacket that I packed which looked ridiculously big on her, but kept her relatively warm. After doing more looking, we literally were down to the wire, reaching the gate ten minutes before boarding. Due to Leah and I each being thirsty (did I forget to mention that I hardly had time to eat much at the party? Yeah.) I went and bought a bottle of water, a couple of cokes and “M&M’s” (מה שבה ליד) as that was all there was time for.
The plane took off and B”H the flight went uneventfully. Leah and I both conked out as soon as the plane left the runway. Right before it landed I davened. The plane landed at 6 AM, my wife picked us up and took us back where I quickly showered and had a quick breakfast, and then went straight to work. When I told my coworkers the story nobody could believe it.