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Noah is a great boy in many ways. In addition to his obvious good looks and smarts, he is very funny.  Often, in order to get him to pose “regular,” we have to indulge him in a silly pose of his choosing. (Thank goodness digital cameras have reduced the marginal cost of opening the shutter.)  The Ramon crater insufficiently magnificent?  Not to worry, here’s a little goofball in front of it. And what photograph can’t be improved by holding up a stick?  Sometimes, we get into the act, too, especially when he’s the photographer.

Here are some of the best examples from our year in Israel:

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To end the school year, Noah’s class had a mesibat siyyum, a big party to celebrate their graduation. They performed songs and choreography to show off all they had learned this year about modern Hebrew.

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This was the event where it sunk in that we were leaving Israel. We had been in denial for the couple of weeks leading up to our departure. When we saw how much Noah had learned this year and how much he loved his friends and they loved him (after the show all the girls wanted to take their picture with Noah), well, the tears just wouldn’t stop. Roy didn’t really cry, but he couldn’t form a complete sentence either.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsZHzEY8BJo&feature=related] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrjSHbANr_0&feature=related] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nciBSvXffc&feature=related] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pt_3AHhSfBc&feature=channel_video_title]

About 3 weeks ago, we spent another Shabbat with Aunt Deborah, Uncle Dani, and all of the Jerusalem cousins.  Afterwards, we went to Yad Lashiryon, in the town of Latrun a few miles west of the city and met Maya (one of Sarah’s friends and University of Haifa colleagues) and her family.  In addition to being the memorial to members of Israel’s armored divisions, it is a museum of tanks. Israel has contributed a lot to their development, through hard experience over the last 63 years. When we explained to Noah that it was a memorial to Israel’s soldiers, he asked “Even Judah Maccabi?” “No,” we explained, “he didn’t serve in a tank unit.”

Noah was mostly interested in the tanks.  Fortunately Maya’s husband Avishai knows a lot about tanks from his time in the army, so Noah and I learned a lot.  He put Noah and his daughter through their paces. Afterward, they had us over for a lovely brunch–homemade shakshuka!

Ever since seeing these posts, last fall, Sarah has wanted to visit Ramla for herself.  Whenever I told an Israeli this, I was asked “Why?” It’s a pretty run-down town just off the main highway connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For a long time it had been a very important town, passing from hand to hand as different conquerors controlled the area.  It has also been destroyed by earthquakes several times. The small city museum has a very nice exhibit of the history of the city, including 3 separate stashes of gold coins that were discovered during modern construction. This was taken as evidence of the city’s important economic and commercial history. And the idea of long lost treasure was very intriguing to Noah.

At present, it’s pretty run down, but has a very authentic shuk, with a little of everything: pet stores, clothing, discount toys, and, most importantly food.  We went to what is billed as the best burekas shop in Israel, or perhaps we went to the burekas shop two stores down from the best one.  Anyway, we went to a good one.  We got a cheese bureka, a big phyllo pastry filled with cheese.  When you order it, they slice it open and shove a cut-up hard boiled egg inside.  It was very tasty.  Here is photographic evidence:

A plate of burekas

and fifteen more

We also saw evidence of spring – these lovely bags of green almonds, although we still haven’t found any good use for them.  Somebody must though…

Another interesting thing about Ramla is a 1300 year old undergound reservoir built by an early Muslim ruler.  You go down some stairs, and row around the eerie vaulted columns.  It’s the stuff of Indiana Jones movies.  Watch out for the giant mass of electric eels! (Okay, I made up that part.)

While we have loved the food in Israel.  I, at least, miss some of the varieties of foods from home.  I was very happy when Sarah told me there’s a community of Jews from India in Ramla, and an Indian restaurant. I was very excited for lunch.  We got there about noon, after asking the men at the Bollywood DVD stall in the market where it was. Sadly, they only started serving lunch at 1pm, which is strange for a Friday.  We needed to get to Jerusalem to see the cousins, so we bought some samosas to go.  Funny how food from somewhere I’ve never been reminds me of home. We should have stopped in one of the restaurants advertising “Tunisian sandwiches.”  Maybe we’ll have to go back…

So, what is Lag BaOmer? The Omer period, the 50 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a sacred time of year for religious Jews, in which many activities such as weddings are forbidden. It commemorates the 50 days the Israelites wandered in the desert before receiving the commandments.  Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day, is an exception, and it’s considered an especially auspicious date to get married, and to give your son his first haircut.

Lag BaOmer  commemorates the death of Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashi), one of the great rabbis of old.  Many religious people celebrate by visiting Mount Meron, to Bar Yochai’s tomb in the North of Israel. Other sources say it commemorates the failed Bar Kochba revolt against Rome.  This is the war of the Masada story, and the one that led the Romans to ban Jews from Jerusalem.

Noah told us a nice story he learned in school about Bar Kochba and a green donkey.  He decided, as an adult that he should learn Torah, but was afraid that people would laugh at a grown man in a school full of children.  His wife, who was very wise, told him to plaster grass all over a donkey.  They took the donkey to the market, and everyone laughed at it.  The next day they did it again, and only half the people laughed.  On the third day, they took the donkey to the market, and nobody laughed, so that’s how bar Kochba learned to get over his fear of mockery and go learn.  Noah told the story very well.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that Lag BaOmer is a day for bonfires.  Noah’s class organized a bonfire for 5pm on Saturday. Everyone had to sign up to bring something.  I didn’t notice the signup sheet until late, so all that was left was cucumbers, but it’s okay, because I know a place that sells them.

The other tradition, somewhat strangely, is archery.  This is either because (a) the Rashi was so holy that no rainbows appeared in his lifetime, rainbows, of course being a sign that the world’s people are being sinful and need punishing or (b) because the Jewish rebels used bows and arrows.

At the appointed hour, we brought our cucumbers to Noah’s bonfire on a scrubby vacant lot within walking distance of our apartment. It’s hard to get used to how much trust and independence five and six-year-olds are given here. People are much more laid back about letting children near a fire than in the US.  It took some self restraint to keep myself from taking on the role myself. The parents cooked potatoes in the fire, covered in foil and threaded onto a long piece of clothes-hanger wire.  Perhaps the wire was clean–the potatoes were tasty. There was corn and hotdogs, marshmallows for roasting, cake, and most of Noah’s class and their friendly parents.

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Sarah is hard at work on an NIH proposal and is having trouble keeping up the blog all by herself, so she’s asked me to come out of retirement and tell you about our Lag BaOmer.

Noah’s class had a bonfire for Lag BaOmer, so we needed to stay close to home Saturday. We decided to start the day with one final trip to Akko for a boat trip on the Mediterranean. Google said that there are boats that take twenty minute tours that leave whenever they fill up, so off we went.  As soon as we got to Akko harbor, there was a man with a megaphone pointing people to a rickety old wooden motorboat painted red and blue, 10 shekels a head, for a 20 minute cruise around the walls of the old city.   Well, the water was choppy, and Noah didn’t take it well and spent the ride in Sarah’s arms waiting to throw up over the edge.  In the end, 20 minutes is fast, and we got off before any damage was done. And doesn’t the word “tour” usually imply that someone is going to say something about what you’re seeing? Walking around the harbor, we saw that, perhaps, we got on that boat too fast.  There are at least two more licensed-looking boats that you can take, one about the same size as ours, and another that could hold a hundred or so people.  Next sabbatical…

However 10 shekels per person left us with enough money for a pony ride, from the boy walking around the town with a pony.

Fortunately, Noah does not get pony-sick

Did Jonah sail from Akko? Noah did.

Old Akko is still an Arab town, and walking around, you really feel like you’re in a foreign country as you never do when you’re in Jewish areas.  We ended at Uri Buri, one of Israel’s top seafood restaurants.  At first they turned us away for lack of a reservation, but as we were debating what to do, came out and said we could stay if we could be out in 90 minutes.  No problem, and so good.

Our friend Menachem is President of the Israel Rugby Union, the organization that oversees Israel’s national team, its 12 local clubs, and its youth program. Last weekend we attended the match against Austria. It turns out that the Austrian ambassador to Israel is a rugby player/fan and attended with an Austrian contingent. Plus, he brought some of his ambassador friends.  After watching one game, we still don’t quite understand the rules.  Still, we can tell when one team or the other has scored, and it’s fun to watch when the players hoist each other high in the air.   Israel Rugby has a small but very devoted fan-base.  The team has won something like 13 games in a row and is moving up the rankings in the European Nations Cup. “El! El! Yis-ra-el!”

The team’s home field is at the Wingate Institute, a sports science research & physical education institute, just south of Netanya, so we decided to visit Netanya before the game.  Having spent an hour there, we can report that the primary attraction is its nice beach, but since we have beaches aplenty in Haifa, there seems to be no compelling reason to visit Netanya. When we told Yaffa that we stopped in Netanya before the game, she couldn’t understand why we’d do such a thing.

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We were at the Megabool supermarket on Friday and wanted to get some meat to grill on skewers for our weekend barbecue ritual. There was some beef cut in chunks and we asked if it would make good shishlik (kebab here always means ground meat), and were told no.  The butcher then showed us a piece of meat wrapped in plastic that would be “the very best” on the barbecue, and took Sarah behind the counter to show her the poster showing the different parts of the cow and that this part (cut #15, if you’re wondering) was recommended for barbecuing. We asked for half a kilo, but he said that since it was shrink-wrapped, we’d have to take the whole thing.  Okay, we’ll freeze half, we decide.

The whole conversation unfolded with him speaking very simple Hebrew and us speaking even simpler Hebrew: a combination of illiteracy and shyness had backed us into a corner.

When he cut open the shrink wrap, we realized we were buying filet.  While he cut it into steaks, he made small talk and asked where we were from, and welcomed us to Israel. When he finished wrapping it up, he came out from behind the counter and shook our hands. Our first thought was what a nice butcher to welcome us with a handshake. How sweet!

When we got to the checkout we realized why he had been so friendly: we had just spent $75 on meat, and were probably his best customers of the day. Well, as long as we have such nice food, we should have someone over.  We called Sarah’s friend and collaborator Osnat and had her family over.  It was without doubt the best meat we have ever cooked and it’s nice to have people to share it with when we’re so far from home. Suddenly, overspending turns into a very nice evening.

Noah played with Osnat’s kids and is fluent. FLUENT!  It’s really amazing when your child learns things you could never have taught him yourself.

Sarah and I are about the meanest parents in the world with respect to TV and computer games.  As a result, Noah will watch absolutely any movie that he can.  As I’m looking up how long to roast beef bones for stock, he sees the site’s list of cooking instructional videos and asks to watch this video teaching you how to make an apple swan.

Two days later, I ask what he’d like for a snack.  Without hesitation: apple swan.  Okay, why not.  He took a picture of it which we put up on his photoblog.  Here’s the happy customer nibbling on the head and neck.

Galgalatz continues to make car trips baffling.  It’s like listening to an iPod set to shuffle, but the iPod is maybe only 15 gigabytes, so the owner keeps deleting recent hits in favor of new ones.  He never gets around, however, to deleting the older songs, so it keeps playing a few minor hits from the past 40 years while leaving out songs that made a lasting impact.  Maybe he only has The Who on vinyl, so he never ripped “My Generation.”

Yesterday, I heard “The Age of Aquarius” from Hair for the umpteenth time, then last night, it was “Summer Nights” from Grease.  Sarah still fantasizes that one day she’ll play Sandy, or at least Rizzo, on Broadway, so that I couldn’t hear much of the actual radio over her enthusiastic vocalizations.  We were almost home when this came on, so she was very glad that we got stuck at a red light. This was followed without pause by “Grenade” by Bruno Mars (really, this is what passes for lyrics?). Then today, You Don’t Own Me, by Lesley Gore, for the third time since we’d been in Israel–in my previous life, I only knew “It’s My Party,” but her deep cuts live on in the cars and shopping malls of Israel.