Monday, May 31, 2010

Yalla, bye

My very special year in Israel is coming to a close; this June blog will be my last from what my friend and tour guide Zvi Levran calls "The Over-Promised Land". It is almost impossible—no, make that it is impossible—to describe how transformative being in Israel has been: to live here and not be a tourist; to make new friends; to join a synagogue and become part of that community; to try experience Israeli life as fully as possible; to become fluent again in Hebrew; to not just see but to be. The year has been all that we hoped for and more. Now as I prepare to come back to Toronto, I am thinking about the best and the worst of life here, and have compiled for this last blog my list of hits and misses. These musings are in no special order of importance.

What will I miss most about Israel?
  • Real humus, and people pronouncing it correctly (versus middle Americans who call it hum-us instead of hoo-moose)
  • Living on Jewish calendar time
  • Not having to explain what Shmini Atzeret is
  • Throwing Biblical and Talmudic expressions into every-day Hebrew
  • Making reference to what portion of the week it is and people being interested
  • Being an hour away from the Mediteranean (and 2 hours away from Greece and Turkey, 4 hours from Paris and London)
  • Fruit trees in public spaces
  • Never having to try and “pass” for not being Jewish
  • Never having to say your sorry for being Jewish (though sometimes what Jews do here will embarrass and distress you, see below)
  • Eating locally and in season all year long without having to eat only potatoes and turnips from November to March
  • Intense Shabbat dinner-table conversations about politics, people, passion, power
  • Intense bus conversations with total strangers about war, women, weather, work
  • Intense feelings and intense experiences
  • A shul on every corner (and most of them quite good)
  • Being invited by almost total strangers for Shabbat dinner or Pesach Seder
  • The parade of monks, nuns, and other assorted religious types in in the Old City in their various robes, cloaks, and hoods
  • Being able to study any day of the week with any number of “celebrity” Torah teachers
  • The Friday night walk home from shul
  • The joie de vivre of most Israelis, and of Tel Aviv
  • Interesting caves and springs where you least expect them
  • The feeling that you are part of something large and historic and important
  • Feeling like everyone is family
  • Beggars who use Bible quotes to get at you
  • The ability to speak your mind freely and not be considered impolite
What will I miss least?
  • Feeling like everyone is family
  • Beggars who use Bible quotes to get at you
  • The ability to speak your mind freely and not be considered impolite
  • Constant pushing, shoving, yelling —and the excuses people make for incredibly bad, rude behaviour under the rubric of “well, thats Israel...”
  • The scandalous behaviour of the government
  • The infighting, power struggles, and near-enmity between almost all sectors of Israel
  • The car-honking that follows as soon as the light turns green and you haven’t had a nano-second yet to put your foot on the gas
  • The incompetence, attitude, and inability of most public servants to see past their own buracracies.
  •  The frustration of not being smiled at, served, or even acknowledged in a store or restaurant
  • The opposite: being hounded, harrassed and hassled by overly aggressive salespeople and shopkeepers
  • Being yelled at while trying to daven at the Kotel and not being able to wear my tallit there freely
  • No seasons and no leaves changing colours
  • Overly salted food
  • Bus drivers who see you running for the bus and then pull away
  • Bad singers and even worse musicians playing downtown on the pedestrian mall
  • Constant comments and questions about my being a Rabbi
  • Large groups of religious Christian tourists blissfully unaware of the modern Jewish connection to the “holy land” they are touring
  • Those same groups laughing and taking pictures of how funny they look in paper yarmulkes at Jewish holy sites
  • Large groups of (“what? There’s no Starbucks here?”) Jewish tourists who act as if they “own” the hotel, the restaurant, the site; in fact, the whole country
  • Taxi drivers who overcharge and then yell at you for being difficult
  • The Jerusalem light-rail that may never be
  • Fundamentalists on either (or any) side
  • The conflict and all its complications

Yikes, looks like its about even...

So what am I taking with me from this year? (You mean besides a jar of cherry tomato jam, some real stone-ground tehina from the Old City and some new jewelry?) The feeling of understanding so much better what being a part of Jewish history is; what it means to struggle, and to triumph, and to be a victim and a victor; the danger of being a triumphalist or a victim or a victor; what it means to long for peace and what it means to work for peace and what it means to compromise for peace; how to dream bigger, and how to live smaller; how to reach higher and stand more firmly planted; in short—what the “real” in Israel means.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it monthly. As they say in Israel- “yalla, bye.”

And now...some personal "faves":
Favorite humus place in Jerusalem: Ben Sira (on Ben Sira Street)- really the real deal; 2nd prize goes to Pinati on 13 King George but don't think to linger there, its just for a quick bowl of warm yummy humus.
Favorite humus place in Tel Aviv: Bahadunus on 175 Dizengof
Favorite Tel Aviv hotel: Alexander Suites near the port or Cinema Hotel in town. Also Park Plaza Orchid on Hayarkon has a gorgeous view from the lobby and a nice breakfast but only stay in their renovated rooms.
Favorite Jerusalem Hotel: Mt. Zion (renovated rooms are better)
Favorite BEST EVER spa: Carmel Forest Spa near Haifa
Favorite bed and breakfasts: Villa Lilya near Rosh Pina; second place goes to Yekev Smadar in Zichron Yaakov
Favorite Emek Refaim sushi: Sushi Bar
Favorite downtown veggie restaurants: Tmol Shilshom or Village Green. For a "fancier" veggie meal go to Te'anim on Emile Botta.
Favorite Machane Yehuda fishmonger: Dagim shel David
Favorite Machane Yehuda breakfast place: Emil (try the shakshuka; see below) or Mizrachi (try Moran's leek-apricot quiche.)
Favorite BEST EVER Challah covers, tallitot, and many other great souvenirs, too many to name,  is Yad Lakashish (Lifeline for the Old), 14 Shivtei Yisrael. Beautiful hand made products done with love by 80-90 year olds. Shopping is a pleasure and a mitzvah.
Favorite shops on Ben Yehuda mall: Vizon (ask for Rami) or Bat Sheva gifts (ask for Oved). Worth going around the corner to Ganz on Rivlin Street; ask for Suri. There are so many places that have lots of chazerai, these have some finer things.
Favorite jewelry stores: Thats a hard one; there are so many. Our fave is Nahalat Benyamin crafts fair on Tuesdays or Fridays in Tel Aviv. Also check out the hand made jewelry at Yad Lakashish (see above.)
Favorite health food store: there aren't that many, but among the better ones is Z'mura on Amatzia (off Emek Refaim) or its sister store with a little cafe on Yad Harutzim (off Rivka.) Anise is more common and overpriced; Teva Net in Machane Yehuda leaves alot to be desired.
Favorite shakshuka: hands-down best is at Moma in Jaffa (Oleh Tzion 7). Second prize goes to the green shakshuka at Emil's.
Favorite croissant and hot chocolate: Cafe Betzalel on Shatz Street, across from Betzalel Academy. The hot chocolate is made with hot milk and truffles, need I say more?
Favorite bakery: Bet-Lehem on Derech Bet Lehem. Say hello to Sigal for us.
Favorite Friday flowers: the guy at the gas station on the corner where Keren Hayesod becomes Emek Refaim. Also sometimes the guy in front of Super Moshava on Emek Refaim. Actually any guy selling flowers on any street corner.
Favorite ice cream: Arlequin in Tel Aviv. Forget ice cream in Jerusalem; Aldo is everywhere and its just ok.
Favorite Old City humus: Abu Shukri, aboslutely. The small one across from Lina (its direct competition) is better than the big one near the Austrian Hostel.
Favorite Old City shopping: Just wander around. Go deep into it to get past the more touristy places, and then forget about ever finding the same place again.


  1. It's interesting to read your perceptions - thanks so much for sharing your year there.

    Will you be doing tours of Israel this year and next? My partner and I are thinking about a trip, but need to plan well in advance becasue of work. Will there be a tour in December 2010 and/or January 2011?

  2. Wow... sounds like an amazing year. Highs, lows; of course. Toronto will be a holier place with you back in it. Hope it's an easy transition.

    (We stayed right next to Yad l'Kashish when we went to Israel last year! Sadly, I only spent two days there. Posts like yours give me hope that there is a place for us back in Israel. Thanks!)

  3. having lived in & loved that place for 6 years ('66 thru 70's -- obvously not consecutively), i not only could have written your blog, but can tell you that the longing to be back there will be forever a part of you. if i were a single lady, i'd be back in a flash. i did, however, take my daughter there about 8 years ago, at which time my ex-high school male students from beersheva thru me a 30 year reunion. robin, my girl, was able to experience my "other life" first hand and meet the men who had only been story characters until then. she understood completely the hole in my heart all those years & actually went back with her now-husband on the birthright trip a few years ago. i have kept up with my hebrew any way i can-- though it's a real challenge here in western florida. (i'm originally from long island.) i love your sight, which i happened upon recently while researching my next d'var torah for our chavurah which meets monthly in our senior community. your sermon regarding "dvarim shero'im me-sham, lo ro'im mi-kan," hit home... i spent the 6-day war in beersheva & still remember looking around for the bombs & fires that the egyptians claimed destroyed our city. what i saw there, my family didn't see (or hear about) here... all that got thru was arab news.
    anyway, thank you for your wonderful web site. i am learning so much from it. it's so easy to navigate & very comprehensive.
    mary sacher

  4. Wait, not so fast! the light rail *IS*.