[Tour of Israel: Day 1] Outside The Old City

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 (יום שלישי, 12 סיון)

I got up at 06:45 to an alarm, and answered some social media prompts. Then, I donned my white button-down shirt and striped slacks. Going downstairs and getting the right elevator guess (1 of 1 today!) I saw the big buffet, which included fish and lots of other good stuff in the dining room of the hotel. Food will wait until after services, however!

I walked up west on רחוב קרן היסוד (Keren HaYesod Street), and turned just before the Leonardo in order to get to קהילת מורשת ישראל (Congregation Moreshet Israel), the מסורתי (Israeli-Conservative) synagogue. We started at תהילים ל (Psalm 30), and the prayerbook was actually familiar: it was Sim Shalom—the same one that many American Conservative congregations use! The service proceeded entirely in Hebrew (not surprisingly).

However, everyone spoke English (unlike six years ago at קיבוץ פרוד (Kibbutz Parod), and the דרשה (sermon) was also in English: regarding the action of lighting the מנורה (menorah). It’s a gift that keeps on giving! It was good to do this, even if this will be my only time attending a weekday morning service while I am on this tour.

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I returned and acknowledged people en route. Breakfast had Israeli salad with hummus, bread, and yogurt. There was also a boureka and fruit. I ate with the Hamicksburgs and the Feldmans, but didn’t have much conversation since I had to eat fairly quickly. Then, I went upstairs, employed my mortar and pestle with the urticaria medication and applesauce, and then headed downstairs to the bus, with the current score 3-for-3 on the Elevator Guessing Game.

We got on the bus, meeting Shachar from JNF and Gili, the latter who will be our tour guide for the trip. Our street turned into King George V, named after the English king who brought forth the concept of the Balfour Declaration. The drive took us to רמות (Ramot), past the National Bank, Cinema City, and other attractions. I got to read off some of the Hebrew that appeared on buildings, which I would not have successfully done 6 years ago. We also got to count off with numbers, and the order was according to the alphabetical order of the names. I was the last in line, so I’ll explain in a mini-Hebrew paragraph (and then translate it into English).

המספר נחושת שלי בטייול הזה הוא שלושים. למה לא מספר ברזל? כי מספר ברזל שלי הוא עשרים ואחת! בטייול הזה, סידני היא עשרים ואחת.

(Translation: My Copper Number on this trip is 30. Why a Copper Number? Because my Iron Number is 21! On this trip, Sydney is Number 21.)

The drive required a little turnaround once we got to רמות, because although a car could have turned left into the way we were going, a bus could not. So we had to turn around and make a right turn into the area. The road to the 9/11 Memorial was tortuous and hilly, just like in the Negev, and I’ll say it again: tortuous means winding, not torturesome, people! Jokes about the slow development of the Fast Train project came, as we saw one of the bridges that will eventually be used by the fast train connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. An example of a joke: “The project is slated to be finished in 2018, which is Israeli speak for 2025.”

At the 9/11 memorial, the centerpiece was a metal sculpture that depicted the American flag in the shape of a memorial torch. Each victim’s name was inscribed on several plaques at the rear of the site. Before we looked at the names, a few of us read a reading in English, recalling the victims and what they may have brought to this world. It was hot and sunny already, but we weren’t at the memorial for long. We got a few photos, I saw the inside of the flame which contained a piece of World Trade Center wreckage, and I found the name Jennifer L Howley, better known to the Southeast community as Jennifer Dorsey-Howley.

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On our next drive, we drove toward the Pardes Institute. On our countoff just after leaving the memorial, Shachar gave us a hard time about our lack of speed in counting off: he says that a good time is to have everyone done in 20 seconds, tops. (It probably took over a minute to count off, and it was stunted from the start by #3 (Charlie) not paying attention!) Our drive got us onto Highway 1, after we won the game of chicken against a much smaller truck. We could barely make out the memorial from the highway, but so it goes. The trip then took us through neighborhoods and arterial streets in Jerusalem. Gili told us about the difficulty of navigation here, since street names tend to change every few blocks. We reached the building in a Short 40 Minutes!

At Pardes, we ascended to Level 3, in order to get introduced to our study session leaders. It was warm up there without air conditioning. We also saw the בית מדרש (big study room), before going downstairs for air conditioning and a smaller room for study. Our topic was Jerusalem Above And Below. The idea of the Institute is to engage in intense text study, in a non-denominational setting. I worked in חבורה (chavurah) with Seth.

Our scientific backgrounds looked at the text from a logical perspective, but others used pictures, emotions, and other various methods that didn’t come to our minds. Everyone reads texts differently, and it was nice to think-pair-share. That’s a hallmark of active learning, and I need to figure out how to make it work better in my math classes!

As it turns out, the word “Jerusalem” never appears in the Pentateuch, but perhaps it combines the words השם-יראה (HASHEM Yireh) from the story of the עקידה (Binding of Isaac), and the town שלם (Shalem) from another story. We discussed the conflict of action versus belief, and the idea of concentric circles with the קדוש קדושים (Holy of Holies) in the centre also came out.

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A nice session! After that studying, most of us were hungry for lunch. We drove to תחנה הראשונה (The First Train Station), which no longer serves any trains. Our lunch was at המזנון (Kitchen Station), a dairy restaurant. Food was brought out in shifts, from salad to parsley in a cream, to cheesy pastries, noodles, and fried fish. I tried, but didn’t like, the cheese dishes. At least I tried! Though I should have taken down some of the conversation topics that I had, I didn’t, so that part is sadly missing from the account here.

After custard and mousse for dessert, I led a brief bentsching session. Before leaving the area, we circled up as a group in an open area of the station. One-by-one in the circle, we introduced ourselves by name and then gave one adjective about Jerusalem based on our knowledge. My adjective was “deep,” and others had words like “holy,” “ancient,” “beautiful,” and more. After this, the bus picked us up, and drove us a short distance to the hotel, where we had a three-hour respite. Wow!

I got some time to do some journaling, and got a few paragraphs in for today. Then, I headed up one floor, and found the sundeck. I chatted with Amy, “Nancyla,” and Doug. Topics included medical care, travel, hotels, and a lot more. We also watched the kids having fun with hammocks (but also ensuring that they wouldn’t get hurt). We were under an umbrella so that the temperature was comfortable. At 16:30, I retreated back to Room 601 for some more journaling.

At 17:15, we met in the lobby to get to the bus. Once aboard, we had an awkward count-off and headed eastward. We turned at the five-point intersection near the Leonardo Plaza, and drove past the מסורתי shul that I pointed out to the others. We reached an intersection which used to be under Jordanian control prior to the Six-Day War, and learnt that today marked the liberation of Jerusalem 50 years ago, according to the Gregorian calendar.

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There was a פקק (p’kak: traffic jam) near the Old City, along the west wall of the fortifications (not of the Temple Mount). Gili talked about Ramadan, because we were near a Muslim-owned market, and there were many people who were obviously Muslim walking around. A street market was busy, selling bread and other foods for the iftar meals that they will have tonight (and for many more nights after sundown).

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After we turned onto the north side of the Old City, we descended a hill while seeing the Mount of Olives on the left, as well as a valley. This valley was the site of many prophecies (I think it was the Kidron). He stressed talking about the evidence when arguments regarding claims to the land come up. He also suggested Zedekiah’s Cave as a place to put on the Next Tour list. We can return time and time again, and each time find something new to explore!

We entered the Old City via the “Dung Gate,” and after a short uphill walk, got directly to the Western Wall Plaza. No need for trust walks and tortuous zigzagging this time like what we did on Birthright! Though I already put on תפילין earlier this morning, there is no rule against doing it again. I prayed the מנחה at the Wall, and later Gili told me that I could have joined one of the small “pickup” מיניינים that were davening. Oh well–maybe next time!

We left and caught the bus, which completed the circle around the Old City walls. After getting off at basically the same spot that we got off at on Birthright, we walked down to Eucalyptus Restaurant. There were three round tables at which we divvied up ourselves. A bunch of courses came, starting with some tasty bread that we ate after saying המוצאי (HaMotzi). An eggplant dish I didn’t particularly like, but the lentil soup was good, and I ate without a spoon from the cup! Yep, I’m a savage (not really–no spoons were provided for the soup)!

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Duck wraps (shaped like cigars), beef with tahini, and various other dishes came out. But all of these were merely hors d’oeuvres! All of the items had interesting spices. Sydney was then invited to the front of the room, and everyone counted before she flipped a dish open (with the chef providing supervision), to reveal a dinner similar to what I had at the Bedouin tents (i.e. chicken, rice, and veggies with Middle-Eastern spices). There was also a lamb “pot pie” dish, of which I tried a little bit.

Most of the items included spices from the Bible, including hyssop, mint, geranium, and four other species that I didn’t encode. Chef Moshe [illegible] talked about Chefs For Peace, which is a fairly self-explanatory organization. The dessert was really good too: chocolate cake, a dessert with rose-water with the consistency of custard, and one other item that I couldn’t successfully identify. It was nice eating, chatting, and filling myself up.

Before we returned to the bus, we saw a dancing fountain and Israeli music was playing with lights closer to the Old City walls. After marvelling at both of these, we got back to the hotel when the bus picked us up. The Watches, Seth, and I went to the lobby near the bar, and played a variant on Rummikub using cards. It was fun for a few hands, and there was also a piano player that we heard. I ascended Elevator E, which was interesting: Elevators D, E, and F have you choosing the floor from the outside, not the inside. Upstairs in 601, I brushed my teeth before sleeping at 23:00.

>> TO BE CONTINUED

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(Dirty?) Thirty: 12 days

Nebraska Regional: 46 days

Semester Kickoff: 78 days

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[Tour of Israel: Day 0] All The Airports!

PRELUDE: I left Chicago for Rome on an Alitalia flight on Sunday at about 16:00, Central time. The journal picks up from when I woke up after an extended nap on the flight toward Rome.

Monday, June 5, 2017 (יום שני. 11 סיון)

I didn’t sleep well on the Italy-bound plane. The neck pillow that Dina gave to me wasn’t particularly comfy. Nevertheless, I still managed to sleep about 4 hours. The watch read that 6+ hours had elapsed when I got up to use the lavatory, and I fell asleep yesterday after 2 hours had elapsed (i.e. right after midnight Italy time). My Algerian seatmate also went to the lavatory after me, and I could see morning light from the window.

Nevertheless, I managed to sleep for another hour, and after I got up, I got a pastry with chocolate and black tea and orange juice. We were less than 800 kilometers from Rome at that point, but it got a little bit turbulent. We chatted about the land forms and measurement systems. Skipping past more details, the plane landed after 8 hours and 42 minutes in flight.

The landing was smooth, and I got to exit first despite being in the last row… ramps from all left-side exits were rolled out, and so I got to take the rear exit, taking the ramp down to the tarmac! Then, I boarded a shuttle in order to ride to the terminal. I wonder if this is common at other international airports, rather than getting off the plane directly to the terminal? Once we got inside the terminal, chrome walls led to stairs and an escalator, and I opted for the former.

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I proceeded to Concourse E through a few more halls. My gate was not assigned yet! The time was 08:05, and the monitor claimed that the gate would be assigned at 08:15. After waiting the 10 minutes, the gate was E-18, which must be שער-חי (the Gate of Life)!  I then activated WiFi, which was free in this airport, and checked in on Facebook and also checked my e-mail. After using the loo, I sat on a comfy red couch and waited for boarding. There was a log jam at the jetway, but I still easily got to Seat 29D for my Alitalia plane going to Tel Aviv.

The plane was full of hispanohablantes! They were on an Italy/Holy Land pilgrimage. Before we took off, my journal got updated, and I am now at THIS word! While in flight, I plan to daven שחרית (the Jewish morning prayers), though I might have to make the שמונה עשרה (Shmoneh Esrei/Amidah: the Standing Prayer) into the ישיבה (Sitting Prayer)!

But 18 minutes (there’s that number again!) after push-off, we were still waiting on the tarmac! While I waited patiently, I noticed some mantra being chanted by several nearby passengers, involving Santa Maria and Jesus. Maybe I should have written this paragraph earlier, though: as soon as I wrote this line, we got clearance and we were then off! I waited a few minutes after take-off before I took out my סדור, תפילין, ותליט (prayer book, phylacteries, and prayer shawl).

And I did daven, by muttering and singing the liturgy softly. As I expected, I was unable to stand when it was time for שמונה עשרה, but when praying in an improvised situation, these situations still happen. It is more than what I do on most mornings anyway. The davening was still meaningful anyway. I wonder if the hotel will have a daily מניין (minyan: quorum of 10 Jewish adults needed for public prayer)?

As I finished davening, food appeared–a yogurt, apple muffin, fruit salad, and a sandwich with non-pork meat. I ate everything but the sandwich, and also had Coke and tea. As the 1-hour-and-25-minute mark passed, we were alerted to being in Greek airspace, but were not required to sit down. My aisle seat gave me no chance to see the scenery, unfortunately. אלה חיים (C’est la vie).

A few minutes later, my two seatmates got into the long loo queue and invited me to briefly look at the window and see the islands in view. It was a pretty sight indeed. Afterwards, I read a few chapters of Alienora’s Long Leggety Beasties, reading about teachers’ escapades and the Bottom Set. I had to go to the lavatory, but the Security Restriction on Standing near Israeli airspace was invoked, leading to an uncomfortable endgame of this flight, and sufficiently distracting me from reading. The emotions were probably a contributing factor to my distraction too!

Once the plane docked after 2 hours and 52 minutes, and a brief taxiing period, I made a beeline for the rear lavatory. This made me lose my spot in line, but I had no time limit. Just like the last time that I was in Israel 6 years ago, the deplaning led to an escalator, which I ascended to find a ברוכים הבאים לישראל (Welcome To Israel) mural on the elevator wall. I took an awkward selfie with it. Exiting to the hallway above the gates and the duty-free mall, I continued down the long ramp that led toward the passport control. The time was 14:22 in Israel as I passed the clock that represented the intersection of the inbound and outbound ramps.

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And then, I was directed to Queue 25, which just may have been the SLOWEST LINE IN EXISTENCE! The good news: after this long wait, there was no wait for my bags once I found מסעו (Belt) 8. Before going through the customs line which just let me pass the “Nothing to Declare,” I took a selfie at Smile Tourist Services, just like 6 years ago (well, back then it wasn’t a selfie, but taken for me by one of my fellow travellers). I noticed, as I saw the “Exit” sign and the large sliding doors, that the clock read 15:02. Not bad timing!

Going through the circle to the reception area, there were lots of onlookers on the perimeter of the barrier. I walked around looking at signs, intentionally avoiding KAKAO to gain more steps. Then, near KAKAO, I met שרון ודקל (Sharon and Dekel), who were the trip organizers from Kenes Tours (but not the guides). We chatted, and I checked in to Israel on social media. This trip may be much different from six years ago, since I will have access to social media unlike last time. How will that make my experience different, or will it?

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The time dragged on, and I decided to save money and just wait (my other option would have been to take a NESHER shuttle to the hotel). Near the seating area, I got a potato boureka at La Farina while waiting. I also saw several תגלית (Birthright Israel) groups starting with awkward אחים שמחה (Happy Brethren/Achim Simcha) circles. That gives me some good memories of six years ago! It was quiet at other points of the afternoon, which I guess was a good respite for a long day.

After taking a bathroom break, I chose to daven מנחה (the afternoon service/Mincha), since I had nothing else to do now. After I davened, I learnt that there was a synagogue on the upper level, but had trouble finding it, until someone asked me, “?אתה מחפס משהו” (Are you looking for something?) I responded, “?איפה בית-בכנסת” (Where is the synagogue?) and he pointed me in the correct direction–the other escalator was what I needed to take. Their davening happened at 13:15, so I missed nothing given that it was currently 17:15. The waiting continues! The airport reception area quieted down after the אוטובוסי-תגלית (Birthright buses) left. Eerily quiet, in fact…

The Lincoln crew started with the Watches, whom I didn’t recognize off the bat, and thus there was mutual ribbing about that fact. A custodian later gave them grief for putting their feet on the seats. Eventually, I returned to the circular barrier around the exit from customs to wait for the Greenfield, Corens, and Hamicksburgs. I forgot to write when they arrived. The photo evidence suggests it was around 19:00. As they arrived, I headed toward the opening in the circle, ready to give the football official’s “Touchdown!” signal.

After a bit of recombobulation, we took our tour bus to Jerusalem, and our driver’s name is זכריה (Zachariah).  There are more seats than people, so we can sit pretty much anywhere! My seat on the right side made it hard to get road pictures with the impending darkness, but the pitch of the bus contributed too. We took Highway 1, which included the path where I saw the “Jerusalem 20″ sign in 2011. There was no “Wakey-Wakey” lecture this time from ניצן (Nitzan), however! I failed to get a picture of that sign this time– so it goes.

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Going through Jerusalem, we saw several Magen David Adom motorcycles, narrow streets, and poor driving. The drive eventually led us to the Dan Panorama after we had passed Sacher Park, the Central Bus Station, and the Light Rail bridge, among other places. At the Dan Panorama, we got juice, key cards, and access codes to the wireless Internet there. I lost the Elevator Guessing Game as each party member dispersed to their room in order to unpack or decompress. My room was 601, and starting tomorrow, I will share it with Seth.

After unloading and charging my phone, I ascended via elevator to קומה שמונית (Floor 8), but the Corens were not ready. I saw the swimming pool there (open only from 08:00-18:00, so the door was locked) and went downstairs to my room, only to get a call: proceed to the lobby. I met up with the Feldmans, and the Hamicksburgs. Nanci was having trouble getting WiFi access, and Nancy had trouble in that her suitcase did not make it to Israel: it was in Madrid! Hopefully these glitches don’t derail everything.

We met up with Nancy & Charlie’s son, יהושוע (Joshua),  and ascended רח’ קרן היסוד (Keren HaYesod Street) to find a restaurant, settling on פיצה גבינה ועגבניה (Cheese and Tomato Pizza). We got cheese, olive, and pepper pizzas. Mine was good when I added chili peppers. A mini-glass (which was plastic) broke with Coke, and I talked with יהושוע about possible venues to daven שחרית tomorrow since we have a relatively late bus departure. There are several options: I could go to ישורון (Jeshurun) or קהילת מורשת ישראל (Congregation Moreshet Israel). The former is Orthodox; the latter is Masorti (i.e. Conservative).

This restaurant was actually across from the Plaza Leonardo, which triggered obvious תגלית memories. Our walk back to the hotel ended around 23:00. I returned to חדר שישה מאות ואחד (Room 601), found the desk light switch below my power adapter, and partially unpacked clothes and stuff. I also Tune-Inned to רדיו לב המדינה (Radio Lev Hamedina) and caught up to here at 23:50. Time to go to sleep–the vacation begins in earnest tomorrow!

>> TO BE CONTINUED

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(Dirty?) Thirty: 13 days

Nebraska Regional: 47 days

Semester Kickoff: 79 days

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[M.A.P.L.E. VI-29] Quadruple Bogey

The good news: this is not a post about bad golfers like myself who routinely score quadruple bogeys on any particular hole (i.e. take 4 more strokes than par).

However, it sort of is, as three of the “Bogeys” are related to golf. Let me explain: five pictures will be worth a total of the order of a thousand words.

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[M.A.P.L.E. VI-23] Circa fifty miles

Depending on where you are, a drive of around fifty miles can provide much different time frames.

Much of that can vary, depending on speed limits and traffic. This post, in some sense, reflects on why I am sometimes hesitant to drive to Milwaukee or Chicago for JUST an evening.

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