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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.

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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: , ,

Four Months

I have now been living in Israel for almost four months.  I’m busier than ever trying to get things normalized.  Why the rush?  I’m hoping to be working soon and I’m trying to get things in order while I have the time.

We spent four days in Eilat last week.  Eilat is the southern most city in Israel. I was very happy to go to Eilat because it was starting to get cold here in Ra’anana.  When I say cold, I’m talking about less than 20 degrees!  I actually need to wear a jacket at night. I think 20 degrees Celsius is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Eilat was a lot of fun, but it was also cold there at night.  I don’t think the pool was heated, so we only used it a few times.

Our hotel in Eilat

While in Eilat, I went SCUBA diving for the first time in about 15 years.  I stopped diving because of an ear injury — I wasn’t sure if I could equalize properly.  I was on a forty minute dive at a maximum depth of about 28 feet, so I think my ear is okay.  I’m going to try and add SCUBA to my list of activities.

I’ve been focusing my attention lately on getting an Israeli driver’s license.  Because I’m already a foreign licensed driver, the process is pretty simple — I think it is a 12 step process.  I’ve been working on it for three weeks and I’m already at step 5!

I find that when I have too many things to write about, I tend not to write about any — too many choices! I’m going to do battle with this problem and try to write blogs more often.

Categories: Israel, Trips Tags: , ,

The Bike Trip

Last week, I started using my bicycle. I was riding north with my son. We were on a paved road that had almost no traffic. The road cut through fields of crops. Eventually, we came to an intersection — the road continued north and another road headed west.  There was also a paved bike path that followed both the northbound and westbound roads.  We continued north on the path and travelled for about a mile. Suddenly both the road and the bike path ended at a gate in a grapefruit orchard.

This seemed really odd that a bike path would end (or start) literally in the middle of an orchard — I always thought a bike path should both start and end at a place where people actually wanted to go.

We found a dirt trail around the gate and managed to continue through the orchard. This was much harder than it sounds because, in Israel, a dirt trail is mostly a sand trail with almost no traction.  We eventually found our way back to the Ra’anana industrial zone by traveling through the orchard.

Yesterday, I decided to spend a few hours riding west. I wanted to see if I could find a faster route to the sea. I wend back to that odd bike path with the hope that the westbound trail would go somewhere.

I travelled on this westbound bike path for about a mile. It suddenly turned south and ended in a road on the northwestern portion of Ra’anana. This bike path is really the strangest thing. It starts nowhere and dead-ends a mile and a half later at a place less desirable then nowhere. I guess there was extra money budgeted for a bike path and no one could figure out where to put it.

Anyway, I found another road heading west and I followed it for about half a mile until it turned into a sandy-dirt path through more fields. Eventually, it ended at a gate. The gate had a sign which I imagine said something like, “KEEP OUT” or “TRESPASSERS AT RISK OF ELECTROCUTION” or “MAD DOG RESERVE.” Since it was written in Hebrew, I had no idea what it actually said.

As I stood there trying to decide what to do, a guy on a moped drove past me and went around the fence on a little path. At that point, I realized that the sign probably said something like, “TWO-WHEELED VEHICLES WELCOME — TAKE PATH AROUND GATE.”

Persimmons!

Beyond the gate was another orchid — this orchid contained persimmon trees. The dirt path continued for a while and eventually turned into a paved access road. This road crosses the tracks of a commuter train. As I approached the train tracks, I was lucky enough to see a train pass.

The train travels quickly and it doesn’t take long to pass, so the wait is not a big deal. The crossing is a standard train crossing. It has the flashing lights and the ringing alarm bells and the gate that automatically drops on each side of the track to block traffic.

Keep in mind that this road is an access road to an orchard, so there really isn’t any traffic, but it is still really important to take adequate safety measures.

I guess it is really, really, really important to take adequate safety measures on this nearly deserted access road that turns into a dirt road through an orchid ending at a closed, chained gate, because in addition to the standard safety measures (flashing lights, ringing bells, and automatic gates that drop down over the road), there was also a second gate on each side of the road. The second gate, however, is not automatic. There is a little hut on each side of the track and when the lights start flashing and the bell starts sounding and the gates drops down, a man walks out of each hut, walks to the second gate, and manually swings it closed across the road. Later, after the train passes and the bells and lights stop, each guy opens his gate and walks back to his hut.

There are two guys, one on each side of the track, handling the important job of opening and closing the second gate by hand on a nearly deserted road. Incredible. In Israel, there is no excuse for not having a job.

Beyond the railroad tracks I found the communities of Shikun Rasko and Shikun Amidar. I continued west in my desire to find the sea. I knew that I would eventually run into Route 2 (a major north and south highway) and I assumed there would be no way to cross over it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a pedestrian bridge crossing the highway. Unfortunately, I could see from the top of the bridge that there were no real roads (at all) on the other side.  The bridge exists because of a bus stop.

I went back to the east side of the bridge and started riding south. I travelled through a number of communities and parks until I finally reached a bridge that I could use to cross Route 2.  These communities are really beautiful.  Flowers in November!

Blue!

Purple!

Red(ish)!

Orange(ish)!

Pink!

Multi!

After crossing Route 2, I headed north into the community of Nof Yam and then turned west trying to get to the sea.  I discovered the sea at Apollonia. This is an Israeli National Park that protects the remains of a castle built by the Crusaders.  I had previously walked almost to this location along the shore, but I had no idea how to drive there.

I didn’t enter the park, but I found (yet another) dirt road that brought me to the edge of the cliffs that overlook the sea. In fact, I was located directly over the “Hermit’s House” that I wrote about last week.  There were trails running along the cliff edge, so I carried my bike along the trails for a bit.

The Hermit's House from above!

The sea from the top of the cliff

Looking down from the edge of the cliff

After I returned to the road, I continued south along the sea through Herzliya Pituah until I arrived at the marina.

After the marina, I continued south along (yet another) dirt road heading towards Tel-Aviv. This was actually a gravel road and after a while I became concerned about my tires. I turned around and headed back to Ra’anana.

The whole trip took about three hours and covered about twenty miles. I am more amazed by this amazing (and confusing and lovely) country every day.

Categories: Flowers, Israel, Trips Tags: , , ,
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