Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2007

Eve rejoiced recently when Darlene Marshall won two "Eppie" awards for her on-line novels Captain
Sinister's Lady
and Pirate's Price -- perhaps because she and Darlene are one and the same person!

Salad For Breakfast by Eve Ackerman

Illos by Julia Morgan Scott

Many of our friends were concerned when we said we’d be spending two weeks in Israel this autumn.

Let me start this by saying the only casualty of our trip was my sunhat.

It got black mud on it at the Dead Sea, pomegranate juice dripped on it on the Golan, a bird did a flyover at Masada and it got rained on on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Otherwise, the only other damage on this trip was to my wallet and my waistline.

This was my first trip to Israel, as well as the first trip for my brother Steven and his wife Helen. Howard went in 1987 when I was too pregnant with Micah to keep up the intensive schedule of the United Jewish Appeal mission. This trip came about because we’d traveled in the past with Steven and Helen, and found each other to be sympatico travel companions.

I suggested doing a cruise again this year, but Steven said he wanted to visit Israel.

“I’ve never been. If I don’t go now, I’ll never go,” he said.

Steven has multiple sclerosis. It’s getting worse, as the disease does, and it will kill him someday. It’s already limiting his mobility, so we agreed this was the right time to go to Israel.

I called my travel agent and we arranged a tour with our own tour guide and car for the four of us. While this is naturally more costly, it allowed us to tour on our own schedule.

Most tours start in Tel Aviv where the international airport is. That’s fine, but Howard and I weren’t interested in spending our first Shabbat (Sabbath) in Israel in secular Tel Aviv, so we arranged to go down to Jerusalem while Steven and Helen spent the first weekend in Tel Aviv recuperating from their trip.

We arrived without incident and were met by our tours’ VIP service, which was a dream. They had a wheelchair for Howard, who was still recovering from his broken ankle, and whisked us through Customs and baggage claim. Then we were put on a van and driven to the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. The Sheraton is across the street from the Great Synagogue and is considered a “shvartz” (black) hotel. This has nothing to do with the race of the guests, but how they dress–religious Jews are referred to as “shvartz” as in “we went to my cousin’s wedding and it was so shvartz–the men and women had separate wedding receptions.”

I showered, changed into my “shvartz” Shabbat outfit of long skirt, high-necked, long sleeved shirt and hat, and headed with Howard across the street to evening services at the Great Synagogue, which is known for its choir. The choir was a treat, and one advantage of sitting up in the women’s balcony was the great acoustics.

Out Shabbat supper that evening was in the hotel dining room. They were overcrowded because there was a bar mitzvah and two sheva brachot (post-wedding “honeymoon” suppers) being hosted there, so we agreed to share a table with another couple.

Ronit and Yoav didn’t speak much English, but we managed to muddle through, sometimes with the help of a friendly waiter supplying a word or two of translation.

Ronit is a professional baker and of Moroccan origin, while Yoav is from Kurdistan and a shopkeeper. They have seven children. Ronit told Yoav she wanted a weekend off, so they came down to Jerusalem for a little R&R, which in their case means a Sabbath stay at a religious hotel with Friday night study sessions with their favorite rabbis.

They were absolutely charming and made us feel right at home. And that was the overall theme of our trip to Israel. I have never traveled anywhere where I felt so much like I was at home. Shopkeepers, soldiers and hotel employees all treated us like their long-lost (if slightly slow) cousins, patiently listening to our stumbling attempts at Hebrew even though most of them understood English.

The next morning we opted to get a real taste of home, going to the Masorti (Conservative) Seminary synagogue around the corner from our hotel. As we walked in, a lady in the back looked at us and did a double take.

“Howard? Eve?”

It was our friend Renee, an attorney from Las Vegas whom we’d met when she’d visit our former rabbi. Renee had recently made aliyah (Literally, “to ascend”, i.e. a Jew who emigrates to Israel) and she made a date to meet us after Shabbat and join us for supper.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly. Another friend joined us for lunch at our hotel, then we took a short walk towards the Old City, but Howard’s ankle wasn’t up to too much uphill walking.

Renee picked us up later that evening and we went to Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem for supper and shopping. All the stores in Israel open after Shabbat for late night shopping since Sunday is the first weekday. The normal schedule is to close early on Friday to prepare for the Sabbath, re-open Saturday night, and some stores close early on Tuesday afternoon to give shopkeepers and employees some time to take care of business since there’s not a two day weekend.

We dined at El Gaucho, a kosher Argentine steakhouse, and then walked up past the shops on Ben Yehuda. Renee made it a point to take us to her favorite shop for Judaica, Danny Boy Gifts at 17 Ben Yehuda. As we walked in, Renee said, “Danny, I’ve brought you some visitors,” and Daniel Ben-David, the shopowner, greeted Renee as “My sister!” and went to work making us feel welcome and free to spend major American dollars on the folks back home.

The shopkeepers around Israel had signs in their windows saying in six languages “Thank you for having the courage to come to Israel and spend your money” and they weren’t being cute. They were overwhelmingly gratified to see tourists after a summer of war and missile attacks.

We did some preliminary shopping for gifts and Danny said he’d hold onto everything and ship it all together when we were done. We told him we’d be back during the week when we returned to Jerusalem.

We did return to Danny’s shop, two or three times, and made a trip next door to his brother David’s jewelry store. I only bought some designer costume pieces, but lusted after some of David’s designs, including a sterling etrog (citron) box. Maybe on the next trip.

The next morning there was a mix-up over our ride to Tel Aviv, but we finally got it straightened out with our tour company and met up with Steven, Helen and our madrikh (tour guide), Effi (Efraim).

Being a tour guide in Israel is a prestigious job and it’s difficult to get accepted and licensed by the Ministry of Tourism. Effi was about our age, a retired sergeant major in the IDF, an archeologist, a scribe, a physical therapist, and most unusual for a madrikh was dati–religious-- or what we’d term in the US, “Modern Orthodox”.

We piled into Effi’s mini-van with the Tourism Ministry logo on it and headed out to our first stop, the Diaspora Museum. Effi started by giving us the “Judaism 101” lecture but figured out by the end of the afternoon that we knew our alef-bet-gimel’s (ABC’s). By the time we were a few days into our tour we were arguing the merits of rulings of various 1st century rabbis and whether or not the mass suicide at Masada was good for the Jews.

The Diaspora Museum was cool, showing what life was like for Jews around the world. One of the more fascinating exhibits illustrated how you could walk into a Jewish home at any time over the last 2,000 years from Yemen to China to NYC and essentially find the same objects–Sabbath lamp, mezuza on the doorpost, kiddush cup, chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah).

Afterwards we continued to Cesarea and saw the ruins of the ancient theater, harbor and aqueduct, a marvel of Roman engineering. We finished the day in Haifa at a hotel with a splendid view of the harbor.

The title of this report is “Salad for Breakfast”, which I’ll explain: Each hotel we stayed at offered a breakfast buffet, which is one of the attractions of travel in Israel. Whether it was a five star hotel or a smaller inn, the buffet was a lavish spread featuring cheeses, fish, eggs, yogurt, leben (another cultured milk), goat cheese, fresh breads and pastries, fresh fruit including citrus, figs and dates, bourekas, Israeli spiced eggs in tomato sauce, and lots of salads, especially chopped tomatoes and cucumber salads. There was no meat at breakfast ‘cause all the hotels were kosher, but the buffets were large enough to keep us going well past lunchtime.

So after enjoying our Haifa buffet we joined Effi and hit the road again. This time we stopped at the world famous Bahai shrine and gardens, walked through the Crusader city at Akko (Acre), headed to Tzipori to look at stunning mosaics, and made a detour to Rosh HaNiqra at the Lebanese border.

Rosh HaNiqra has cable cars that descend down to magnificent underwater grottoes. It also boasts a lively restaurant where we ate lunch. The restaurant and cable cars were closed during the war this past summer, but the restaurant owner came every day to cook food and carry it to the soldiers on duty at the border. He too was glad to see us and have some tourists returning, ‘cause when I say it’s at the border, I mean that literally. The fence separating Israel from Lebanon was a few yards from our van.

We passed through lots of agricultural land on our drives–banana farms, truck farms, date farms, olive groves, citrus groves–everywhere we looked there was farming going on. We also quickly got used to seeing lovely young girls in uniform with automatic weapons slung over their backs, and boys in jeans and t-shirts with their own weapons standing by the side of the road, hitching rides to their army bases, or home from the base for a day off. You cannot enter a building without opening your bags for a security check, and most times you have to pass through a metal detector as well. After a point, it becomes normal.

We spent the night in Safed, a holy city in the northern part of Israel and home to mystics for generations. It’s also known for its artist colony and we took some time to tour historic synagogues and do a bit of shopping.

Let me just add that the weather on this trip was absolutely perfect, even though we were officially in the winter rainy season. Most days the weather was cloudless with highs in the 70'sF, and cool nights. We had one day of rain, but it was on Shabbat in Jerusalem when we weren’t touring anyway.

At one point I burst out, “Who do we thank for this lovely weather?”

Effi just gave me a look, and I said, “I know, I know Who we thank, but I thought maybe the Tourism Ministry had ordered it special for us.”

We went up through the Golan to tour the Yarden Winery, and got a first hand lesson in Israeli political realities. Effi drove a switchback road through the mountains where each side had barb wire fence and red triangle mine field warnings. These were mine fields left by the Syrians when they held the Golan prior to ‘67, and they’ve refused UN orders to give over maps showing where the mines are. We stopped at a Syrian pillbox so Effi could show us how you could practically lob hand grenades underhand and hit the kibbutzim below, on Israel’s side of the pre-‘67 border. We also stopped at a lookout over Lake Kinneret (Tiberias) which had a rusted out Syrian machine gun which was used to take shots at the fishermen on the lake.

Lest there be any doubt, this trip totally recharged my Zionist batteries, and part of that was because of the people who live there:

When you look around Israel, the typical Israeli is a security guard with skin like bittersweet chocolate. Her parents were brought to Israel from Ethiopia in the covert airlift, Operation Moses, in 1984 (I remember Howard on the phone banks a few days before the airlift, calling big donors in our community and saying “I can’t tell you why, but Israel needs you to increase your donation. Tonight.” And they did). She’s the first person in her family to learn to read, and is earning a master’s degree.

The typical Israeli is white-blond with wide cheekbones. He’s from Russia, and is a garbage collector. His family was free to emigrate after the fall of the Soviet Union. He’s not religious, but he’s proud to be able to publicly say he’s a Jew without it hindering his children’s acceptance to college or future job opportunities.

The typical Israeli is a doctor whose family has lived in Israel for generations and who has relatives from North Africa, Yemen and Bagdad, giving lie to the claim that Israel was colonized by Europeans.

When we stopped at the Theodore Herzl museum there was a gaggle of women soldiers on the steps waiting for their bus. We heard one cluster speaking English and asked them where they were from. Manchester, England; Vancouver, Canada; Melbourne, Australia; and Miami, Florida. All are now new Israelis doing their service in the Israeli Defense Forces.

But on the way south from the Golan to Jerusalem we also heard about the cooperation between Jordan and Israel, how workers cross through the border daily back and forth, and how the Jordanian king works with Israel to keep relations stable. So it’s not all bad news from the Mideast.

We stopped on our way down to Jerusalem at an oasis (Really. It was in the middle of the Judean desert and there were palm trees all around) nicknamed “The Peace Stop”. It’s a roadside attraction of restaurants, shops, gas stations and camel rides, run by Israeli Jews and Arabs working together. The rest area was full of Arabs, black garbed religious Jews, tourists, Israeli soldiers and the occasional camel. I got a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice for 10 NIS (New Israeli Shekels – a little over $2.00), made with what would have been $9.00 worth of pomegranates in the States. We declined the offers of camel rides, but after we got in the van, Steven said a gentleman had come up to him and told him he could cure his limp and need for a leg brace with a massage. Steven declined, but we joked about it the rest of the trip. He’s in the land of miracles! Who knows what could happen! Maybe it was Elijah the Prophet in disguise!

It was on to Jerusalem, and our stay at the plush David Citadel Hotel with its view of the Old City. We were glad to be able to unpack for six nights and not be living out of our suitcases. Supper that evening was part of the tour, and prearranged at a charming restaurant called the Olive and Fish. I didn’t have a single bad meal the entire time I was in Israel, though I did buy some stringy lamb shashlik for lunch once that made me eye the feral cats with some concern for the origin of my supper.

Jerusalem is surrounded by forested hills, the legacy of all the millions of trees planted by Jewish children around the world over the last 100 years through their contributions to Keren Kayemet, now the Jewish National Fund. I recall vividly saving my dimes and putting them into a slotted card, and when you had $2.00 you’d turn it in and receive a tree certificate. We still do tree donations as gifts and memorials, though the price has gone up. The reforestation of Jerusalem has lowered the city’s temperature in the summer and increased the amount of rainfall the city receives. Every year on Tu B’Sh’vat, Arbor Day in February, families and schoolchildren picnic in the hills and plant trees, continuing the reforestation projects.

Our first full day of touring in Jerusalem started with a trip to Hadassah Hospital to see the famous Chagall windows and hear the presentation on the symbols and stories in the windows. There’s also a repaired window, damaged during fighting in 1967 when the Israelis retook Jerusalem. A telegram was sent to Marc Chagall who replied, “You win the war, I’ll worry about the windows”. When he repaired them, he left a bullet hole in one as a reminder of the war, and it’s still visible today. Now the windows are protected behind bombproof outer glass.

Walking through Hadassah hospital you see Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, Jews of all stripes, all working and suffering together, with medical care available to everyone. Yes, there are problems of racism and discrimination in Israel, but the daily life is much more harmonious than the news reports would lead you to believe.

And Steven wryly said if someone in Hadassah Hospital offered to cure his MS with a massage, he’d take them up on it.

We went to Yad Vashem next, the Holocaust Museum. It’s recently rebuilt and the exhibits are state of the art. Steven got a wheelchair so he wouldn’t slow us down, but even so we spent so much time there we had to cancel a couple items off the rest of our day. Yad Vashem tells its stories through the taped testimonies of survivors, and diaries and journals kept during the war. I saw horrific evidence of the evil men can do, but I also saw tales of courage including some I hadn’t heard before, like how Bulgaria managed to save almost all of its Jews because the Metropolitan of the Bulgarian Church and the civic leaders refused to cooperate with the Nazis.

I also saw Oskar Schindler’s list. The original. And the trees in the Grove of the Righteous planted in memory of Oskar Schindler and his wife.

We went to the Herzl Museum to see the presentation on the life of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, whose most famous quote is “If you will it, it is no dream.” Then we headed over to Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery with the graves of Herzl, Israeli leaders like Yitzchak Rabin, and soldiers killed in the wars. Effi strolled through with us, mentioning that half his platoon had been wiped out in the ‘73 Yom Kippur War, and pointing to various graves–“He was in my school, he lived two doors down, I knew his sister...”

We also went to the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, and saw the Jewish holy sites in the old city–King David’s Tomb (“I don’t know if it’s King David,” Effi said. “There’s someone buried in there, but he’s not wearing a crown.”), the Western Wall (Kotel), where we left prayers and messages stuck in the cracks, the restored Herodian Mansions from 2,000 years ago, and what turned out to be the highpoint of the holy sites, the Hasmonean Tunnel.

I didn’t get the feeling of sanctity I’d hoped for at the Kotel, but I got it in the tunnel. The Hasmonean Tunnel include a portion of the Wall, underground. For some reason, away from the noise and the confusion of the activity at the Kotel, you “get it” when you’re underground at the original site of the streets of Jerusalem. It was truly awe-inspiring, and you can see what a feat of engineering the Temple was when you examine the size of the building stones and how smoothly they fit together to create a structure that was 14 stories high, 2,000 years ago.

We went shopping in the Cardo, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem and still a busy shopping district. Effi recommended a silver shop to us owned by a Yemenite family and their work was stunning. There were lots of things I lusted for, but Howard had his heart set on a wine fountain, the new hot item in religious Jewish homes. A wine fountain is used for making Kiddush, the blessing for the wine on the Sabbath and holidays. You have a large cup which sits in the middle of the fountain, and you fill this with wine. After you make the blessing, you pour the wine into the cup holder and it flows out into six or eight little cups ringing the base of the fountain. All the guys seem to love these things. So we got one, in Yemenite design, our major purchase on this trip.

The next day was Friday and we knew we’d have to be out and about early so Effi could get home to B’nei Brak in time for Shabbat. We hit the road and headed south–and down–to the Dead Sea and Masada. Along the way we passed Bedouin encampments in the desert and the caves of Qumram where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Masada was much larger than I thought it would be, and again illustrated marvels of Roman engineering such as the heated baths and aqueduct system. Masada was built as a fortress for Herod the Great, who despite all the nasty things you could say about him certainly had a vision of how to build for the ages. I could have climbed the snakepath to the top of Masada, but because of time constraints we took the cable car.

Masada was and remains a rallying moment in Jewish history. During WWII, when it looked like German troops were poised to invade Palestine from Egypt, the Haganah (Jewish forces) had a “Masada plan” in place to fight to the last man, woman and child rather than fall victim to the Nazis. After independence various branches of the IDF would swear-in their officers atop Masada as a reminder of the high cost patriots are willing to pay for freedom.

When we left Masada we headed to the Dead Sea where we got a lecture of Do’s and Don’t’s–Do wear rubber shoes (the ground is rocky); Don’t get any of the water in your eyes (they’ll swell shut); Don’t let your head get underwater (it’s the heaviest part of your body and you could drown); etc.

It was cool bobbing in the water, like sitting in a lawn chair. We rubbed ourselves with black Dead Sea mud that we scooped up from shore (you’d pay a fortune for it in a spa), and relaxed for an hour or two, just enjoying being there. We were told there was little chance of a sunburn because it’s so far below sea level that little radiation gets through. Supposedly too, oxygen levels are higher there for the same reason, making it a destination for people seeking some healthful R&R.

We spent Saturday and Sunday relaxing and sightseeing on our own, and I made it a point to spend some of our money at Yad Lakashish, the “Lifeline for the Elderly”. This is an organization that gives pensioners and elderly immigrants needed services, along with the opportunity to earn money doing crafts which are then sold in the shops. Because of the range of immigrants we were able to choose between various designs done by Ethiopians, Russians, Germans, Yemenites and more. Some of the items are kind of kitsch, but others were quite stunning. Howard bought a gold and white prayer shawl for the high holidays, and I bought some religious objects, knit skullcaps for the boys, noisemakers for the holiday of Purim, and a ceramic wall hanging illustrating the seven species mentioned in the Bible, a symbol of Israel (olives, wheat, barley, pomegranates, dates, grapes, figs). We celebrated our last evening in Jerusalem with the best supper of the trip at a famed Moroccan restaurant, “Darna”, then Effi picked us up again the next morning for the final leg of our trip, Tel Aviv.

On the way we stopped to see Nathan Rappaport’s bronze monument “The Scroll of Fire” high in the Martyrs Forest, six million trees planted as a living memorial of the Shoah. There was a group of fourth graders there on a field trip, and they looked and sounded exactly like fourth graders anywhere. They even had parent volunteers along to help out.

The difference was, these parents had weapons slung over their backs to protect their children.

We joked about how those kids weren’t going to throw spitballs on the bus, but it was a sad reminder of the cost for Israelis of living in their land.

We visited more museums in Tel Aviv–the Hagana Museum, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Latrun Tank Memorial, and a delightfully tacky tourist stop, Mini Israel.

We were staying at the Sheraton on the beach and had a great view of the promenade and shoreline. The next day was our final day of touring and we drove over to Yafo (Jaffa), and Neve Zedek, the old part of Tel Aviv to admire the architecture, see the artists’ shops and do last minute buying, and catch our flights home.

It was my first trip to Israel, but it won’t be my last. I miss it already, and I understand why my son talks about making aliyah. There are problems, sure. Aside from the obvious ones of your neighbors trying to destroy you and the need for some accommodation with the Palestinians, there are the same problems any industrialized nation has–pollution, economic issues, disparities between have’s and have-nots, but the overall impression you get in Israel is vitality and energy. We passed a coffee shop in Tel Aviv that a couple years back was blown up by a suicide terrorist. Today there are people sitting outside the re-built café drinking coffee and chatting on cell phones, and that’s the lesson of Israel. It bounces back, survives, and grows into the future.

 

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Challenger is (c) 2003-2007 by Guy H. Lillian III.
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