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The Trip to Germany

The only way to fly

A few weeks ago, I had to go on a business trip to Germany. I’m not really big on “seeing the world”. When I was six (or seven) my parents did the European vacation. I’ve been to Hawaii and I’ve been to the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico a few times. Otherwise, all my travels have been within the continental United States (which, admittedly is a pretty extensive place.)

Germany.  I’ve already been there and I wasn’t that interested in returning. Besides, Germany gives me the creeps. However, it was a business trip and sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

It actually was a nice and successful trip. It was a very quick trip.  I think I was away from Israel for only about 36 hours.

The initial security checkpoint

I was dropped off at the airport in Tel-Aviv at about 7 a.m. Airport security is taken very seriously. There is a security checkpoint that all vehicles must pass through to gain access to the airport grounds. The soldier at the checkpoint asked the taxi driver a few questions and then turned to me. Where are you going? How long are you going? Why are you traveling there? Where do you live? How long have you lived there?  Why can’t you speak Hebrew? I think he pretty much just made the questions up on the fly. I don’t think the questions matter. He watched me as I answered and then waved me on. I’m not the typical traveler.  I don’t look Israeli, I don’t speak Hebrew, and I’m traveling alone — I probably warrant a few extra questions (and profiling and investigator intuition are used as effective screening tools).

If I looked suspicious while in the taxi, it had to be worse when I got out. I wanted to bring a small carry-on suitcase, but I don’t own one (yet). As a result, I stuffed everything into my large, notebook-computer backpack. That includes two changes of clothing, tallit, tefillin, notebook computer, accessories, toiletries, etc.

As I approached the main airport entrance, I noticed a metal detector, a table, and a soldier situated about 30 feet from the entrance. It looked like something out of a Monty Python skit — a metal detector in the middle of nowhere. I really wanted to take a picture, but I’m not sure it would have been appreciated and I want to keep my camera.

As soon as I noticed the metal detector, I realized it was there for people just like me.  A guy with a big, overstuffed, backpack traveling alone. The soldier beckoned to me with a serious face and I couldn’t help feeling amused. He started with “the questions” and asked me to open the backpack. He lost interest when he saw the tefillin and didn’t bother checking the rest. A quick trip through the  metal detector and I was on my way…. to the next security checkpoint inside the airport.

Eventually I found myself on the plane. The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Frankfurt at around noon. I was traveling with a work associate named K’fir. We picked up a taxi and went straight to the customer’s facility which was located about a 20 minute drive away.

I’m pretty sure the taxi driver was an Arab. Why do I think this? Well, he just gave me that feeling from his general appearance. However, it was his driving that really convinced me. He drove as if he could become a martyr by taking out two Jews in an automobile accident. It is pretty established that “texting” while driving can be dangerous, but this was ridiculous. He must have been driving 70 miles an hour, weaving through traffic, and then took the off ramp at 50 mph — texting the whole time. We arrived at our destination considerably faster than I originally expected.

Arab driver "texting" at high speed

See the approaching off ramp on the GPS

Dude! Slow down and stop texting!

We stayed until about 7 pm and then headed to the hotel to check-in.  But first, I had to stop at a grocery store to buy some food (I had only brought a few snacks). I really thought finding kosher food at a grocery store (in Germany) would be easy. Aren’t all the products pretty much international? Apparently not. K’fir knew this; he brought his food supplies with him. Then again, I would not have had room in my backpack. Anyway, I bought a lot of fruit and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream — a great dinner combo!

The hotel was adequate.  The fact that my non-smoking room smelled like cigarettes was irritating, but I slept with the window open and the smoke kept the bugs out.

The next morning we left early for shul and then headed straight to the customer’s facility. I had a quick breakfast (more fruit, yum) and then had a few hours of meetings.

The best option when there is no chocolate spread available

Lunch time was the best part of the whole trip. K’fir was running low on food, but he had enough to make a sandwich — a chocolate sandwich. I started laughing at this sight and he didn’t realize why it was so funny to me.  He explained that he didn’t have any “spread”. I laughed even harder. When he said that he didn’t have any spread, he meant “chocolate spread.” The chocolate spread sandwich is a popular Israeli invention.

I told him that Americans don’t typically put chocolate spread on bread and he was shocked. He was shocked again when I said people put peanut butter and jelly on sandwiches. Quite dreadful sounding to the Israeli ear.

By 5 pm we were back in a taxi heading to the airport.  We made a quick hop to Vienna on Austria Airlines before heading home with El Al.

Categories: Food, Trips, Work Tags: , , , ,

The First Pesach

I felt like such a goof-ball.

Until moving to Israel, I had never lived in a large, observant Jewish community. I learned most of my Jewish practices from the small Chabad in Columbia, MD. On the morning before Pesach, we would gather our remaining chumatz, bring it to the shul, and burn it.

A handful of families would show up at the appointed time for the burning. The burning always seemed ad hoc. It rains a lot in Maryland at this time of year; we never had dry wood or cardboard. Hopefully, we had kerosene. Eventually, we would manage to get a fire going and toast some of the chumatz, hoping all the while that the fire department would not show up.

This year, I’m living in Ra’anana. The city has about 80,000 residents and maybe 30% are observant. I am on the e-mail list for a couple of shuls and both shuls send weekly announcements via e-mail. The announcements specified the time by when the chumatz must be burned, but they didn’t specify the location.

I had a meeting with our Rabbi to arrange the sale of the chumatz that would not get burned. While there, I said to him, “Back in Maryland, we burned our chumatz on the morning before Pesach at our shul. Do we do that here?”

Our Rabbi definitely follows the notation that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I was asking if we burn the chumatz here at the shul, but he responded with, “Yes, we do that here in Israel too”. I had goof-ball written all over me.

I tried the question again: “Do we burn the chumatz here at the shul?”

The response: “No, the closest burning location is at the corner of Akiva and Swartz.”

At first, I was confused by this, but then it dawned on me: “Oh, it’s a public burning?” (Now there was goof-ball running down my forehead.)

He had a half-smirk at this point as he explained: “Yes, the municipality sets up several areas where the residents can burn chumatz.”

I thought this was really cool. It was one of those only-in-Israel moments, until I found out that most large Jewish communities have public burning locations set up by the fire department. It’s still very cool.

At the appointed time, I left with our box of chumatz. You could smell the smoke from two blocks away. Within 30 feet of the location, the smoke was so thick it burned your eyes. Burning chumatz is popular. It was not only the observant residence — people were pouring from apartment buildings and walkways carrying bags of bread and cereal. It was truly amazing to me. Some Jews in Israel don’t attend shul, but they still burn chumetz before Pesach.

In the evening, I attended my first seder in Israel. It was very exciting. I arrived home from the shul to the buzz of an excited household — literally. Moments before my arrival, we had some unexpected guests. A swarm of flying queen ants, seemingly attracted by the lights, flew through the screens and descended on our table. It was our very own mini-plague. It took us a while to figure out what to do. By the time I arrived, the windows were already closed, but the ants were crawling all over the table and flying around in the dining area.

Once we figured out that the ants were attracted to the bright lights over the table, we were able to move and reset the table.

It was a different experience this year reading the Haggadah. For instance:

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining (at the Seder) in Bnei Brak.

I’ve read this many times before, but “Bnei Brak” was just a name of some place in Israel. Now, I live a 10 minute drive away from Bnei Brak. I literally complain about the traffic on the highway around Bnei Brak. I know children that go to school in Bnei Brak. Wow.

On the topic of Passover and seders, I really have to say Obama is an easy person to despise. He makes it way to easy. How any Jew can support this destroyer is beyond my ability to understand. Wasn’t it just last year, after following the entire traditional seder reading (why is he doing it anyway?), that he refused to include the very last line which reads “Next Year in Jerusalem”. He didn’t want to make the seder “political”. This year, he equates the Muslim uprisings around the world with the meaning of Passover. What an ass. Obama’s new Passover message is here.

Yesterday, we decided to finally visit “Monkey Park”. Monkey Park is a monkey zoo and play area. It has a rustic feel to it (like most things in Israel). We had to drive on a narrow, dirt and gravel road to get to the dirt and gravel parking area. The area was pretty ad hoc, and I had serious fears that we would become boxed-in and would not be able to leave until most of the cars had cleared.

We had a nice time in the park. There were lots of crazy monkeys along with peacocks, goats, and an assortment of children-friendly play areas. The real adult “fun” began when it was time to leave. My fear that our car would get boxed-in was unfounded. However, we had to deal with a different problem. The parking areas must have reached capacity, because people parked on the side of the narrow gravel road leading to the parking area. This effectively left one lane for cars to both enter and exit — which they attempted to do.

About a quarter mile to go...

It was a huge log jam. No one could move back or forward — it was complete dead-lock. I think they had to back out most of the cars trying to enter. Some of the cars were able to advance with maybe a half-inch clearance. I’m sure the observing monkeys were very amused.

We finished the day with a trip to the mall. The food court was open and I couldn’t help but notice this:

Kosher for Passover Burgers!

You’ll notice the top-right corner of the signs: “ארוחות כשרות לפסח” — “Meals Kosher For Passover”. I think mall food courts that sell kosher for Passover fast food can only be found in Israel.

Burger!

Categories: Food, Holidays, Trips Tags: , ,

The Frozen Yogurt Store

The frozen yogurt shop

My wife and I enjoyed frozen yogurt today. There is a store called לבן (la’van: white) on the main street in Ra’anana. The yogurt is unflavored and you add a variety of toppings to satisfy your taste and mood.

We were tempted to enjoy the yogurt at the outdoor tables, but we ate inside instead. Two weeks ago we ate it outside even though it’s the middle of winter, but today it was too cold to eat frozen yogurt outside.  Other customers started outside and then moved inside.

The yogurt is very good, but it depends completely on the toppings. One wrong topping can ruin everything.  I stay very conservative with my frozen yogurt — strawberries, kiwi, chocolate, flax, and raisins — always a good combo.

While at the store, an item on the English menu caught my wife’s eye: Goat Cheese Smoothie. Why would such a thing catch her eye? Certainly not because she would order it. It caught her eye because recently I have been fascinated by goat milk products. She thinks the whole idea of consuming goat milk is gross; I suspect she was joking with me to see if I would actually be interested in a goat cheese smoothie.

On a side note, I have found the most amazing chocolate goat milk. It is the best chocolate milk ever… and as an added bonus, no one else in the house wants to drink it.

Back to the goat cheese smoothies: Truth be told, it sounds gross. What the heck is a cheese smoothie?

Before ordering such a thing, I had to find out what it really was. The guy behind the counter opened a refrigerator and removed a bottle of goat yogurt. The yogurt in the bottle is a very thick liquid.  He explained that the yogurt is dumped into a blender along with “toppings” and blended into a smoothie.

In other words, it is not a goat cheese smoothie — it’s a goat yogurt smoothie! Not gross after all! That sounds awesome.

I didn’t order it.

I have the same bottle of goat yogurt in my refrigerator at home. In fact, last night I tried to make a chocolate goat yogurt drink with it. The experiment failed because the goat yogurt is too thick and I could not stir the chocolate powder properly. I was thinking last night that I should mix it with a blender. Now, I can make my own goat “cheese” yogurt smoothie at home.

Categories: Food, Stores Tags: , , ,

Pizza

I like mushrooms and extra cheese on my pizza. Pretty simple, but that’s what I like.  My children do not like mushrooms nor do they like extra cheese; they just want a plain cheese pizza.  How can you have too much cheese on a pizza?  My wife seems to think that having only mushrooms is boring, because she often gets pizza loaded with veggies.  Fine. Different people like different things, but it all seems pretty standard.

It seems reasonable that there should be regional differences in pizza toppings.  For instance, Hawaiian pizza has pineapple slices. Fine. So what odd toppings are available on pizza in Israel?

All the “normal” choices are available and seem to be popular.  Corn is also a popular choice (although I haven’t tried it).  There are a few other odd or strange choices (which I also haven’t tried.) Im not afraid to try them — they just seem uninteresting.

Having said that, all the topping options seemed generally reasonable until I discovered… sunny side up eggs cooked on the pizza. Curiously, this is a disgusting enough idea that I strangely feel somewhat compelled to try it.

Yummy -- eggs cooked on pizza!

Categories: Food, Israel Tags: , ,

Eggs

I guess I was sheltered. I always thought raw eggs needed to be refrigerated unless they were used right away. I was really surprised the first (and second and third) time I entered a market and discovered this….

Look Mom, no electricity required!

Just to be clear, these are egg cartons, filled with real eggs from real hens.  The cartons are wrapped in plastic and stacked on the floor in the market.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that the boxes contain a picture of a happy, smiling egg walking around waving.  The picture does not contain a sickly egg groaning and dragging itself across the floor.  The picture is clearly a healthy egg and, in fact, these eggs are fine.

Hmm, maybe these eggs are okay because they are wrapped in plastic…

Wrong! Take a look at this….

Egg cartons on shelves with no plastic

More eggs stacked in cartons, but this time there is no plastic. If you look carefully, you’ll see that there is some sort of device above the eggs. I’m not sure what the heck that is. It didn’t look important, but maybe it is some sort of high-tech anti-bacterial disruption field generator that keeps the eggs fresh.

More eggs just sitting around in the hot room-temperature air

You can’t get more basic than this.  Here in Israel, eggs are placed in cartons and stacked at room-temperature for sale.

If you think about it, this even seems reasonable.  Eggs must have a built in mechanism to prevent bacterial contamination. After all, the hen lays the egg and then sits on it for three weeks before the chick hatches. I bet that’s not a clean environment and it certainly isn’t a cool environment. If bacteria could easily infect the eggs, the chicks would not survive.

Even so, it still seems bizarre to me.  Eggs should be in refrigerators, right? Apparently that’s not the case.

I had to do a bit of research to figure this out. I discovered that there is a thin film surrounding each egg that protects it from contamination.  In the United States, the eggs are washed (and perhaps bleached or colored) so that they look nice. The washing removes the film and, as a result, exposes the egg to contamination.  That’s why eggs need to be refrigerated in the States — so that they will look pretty. In the United States, unrefrigerated eggs look nice, but they can kill you.

I wonder how much energy is used to process the raw eggs and then refrigerate them in the trucks and in the warehouses and in the stores. I guess people in California need to fear electricity rationing on their expensive, high-definition, televisions so that the egg shells can look pretty.

It seems like Al Gore should be doing something about this. I can picture him trying to explain it:

We have a vicious cycle. Pretty eggs are causing climate change because of all the electricity needed for cooling. As the Earth becomes hotter, we need to use even more electricity to cool the pretty eggs. Break the cycle by purchasing carbon-free dirty eggs from my company that I don’t own. Keep in mind, I don’t directly receive any money from your purchase. This is about saving the Earth… one egg at a time.

Anyway, we buy the eggs at room temperature and promptly put them in the refrigerator at home. I am, after all, an American.

Categories: Food, Israel Tags: , , ,
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