Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A slow day

I was supposed to get together with a Facebook friend today, but she called to say she was having stomach problems. Alona's in Israel with her family, but apparently they are also having stomach problems. I'm choosing to think none of this has anything to do with me being in the country, but it leaves me with some free time today. Which, since I'm on vacation, is perfectly fine.

So how has my trip been? I got to Newark airport hours before my flight -- I don't know why they make you arrive so early, but fine. There was a kosher meal on my flight to London. Unfortunately, it was not kosher for Pesach, but I brought some snacks. British Airways gives you a pretty good selection of new releases and "classic" movies (didn't know "Ice Age" was a classic, but whatever), so I watched "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (which seemed to take as long to tell the story of his 80-odd years as it took him to live them), "Doubt" (I liked the nuns' funky hats), "Life is Beautiful" in the original Italian with subtitles, and most of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (an actual classic).

I knew I was feeling better when I deplaned at Heathrow, went to find my connecting flight, and realized I had regained my will to shop. I passed by several duty-free stores. Normally I'm not tempted to buy cartons of cigarettes, let alone anything I'd actually use (airport markups are horrific), but I eyed everything covetously. I ended up getting a couple of books and enjoyed the improved mood.

I landed in Tel Aviv and realized I'd forgotten several things in the more than a decade since I've been here:

1. How they interrogate you when you're coming in. "What are you going to do in Israel? Who are your friends? Where do they live? Where in Jerusalem?"
2. How disgusting the toilets are.
3. How rugged and beautiful the countryside is.

I got to my friends' house and had a little breakfast, then we drove into the "territories" to go to a crafts fair. Shiloh was the seat of the Tabernacle, pre-Jerusalem and pre-Temple. The current residents apparently practice some of the same crafts that the original residents did, including spinning, weaving, making incense, and assembling paper models of the Ark of the Covenant. I hung out with Dov and Tovah and watched their kids dabble in yarn and clay.

All of us went on a nerve-wracking (for me) jeep ride in the semi-desert. I say "semi" because much of the land is being cultivated. Primarily with olives, but there were a few vineyards and wheat fields.

Our driver/tour guide, who was extremely hot -- as are 97.2% of Israelis in their early 20s -- very nicely tried to give me the gist of his patter. He would speak for about 5 minutes in Hebrew, and I would understand roughly one word in 50. "Son..." "king..." "field..." "olives..." Then he would say something like, "Em, so the son of the king, he planted olives here."

I just enjoyed the view, when I wasn't panicking that the jeep was going to plunge off the road and down into a steep, rocky canyon. Apparently jeeps really are built for that type of terrain, because it never happened, but I was glad I had a seat belt. There were tons of gorgeous wildflowers everywhere, in shades of vivid red, yellow, purple, and blue. I took some photos with my camera phone but they don't do justice. And I set myself to relaxing and enjoying.

Back at the ranch, I took a shower and then a bus into town to meet my friend Sheina. She lived in the US till she was a teenager and then made aliyah with her family, so her English is perfect (i.e., American) but she's more Israeli in outlook and character. First order of business was sunglasses, which took about five minutes, and changing money, which took even less. I admired some gorgeous chayalim -- in every shade of skin, from Ashkenaz to Ethiopian -- to her amusement.

"They look like little boys to me," she said. We're the same age, a few months apart.

"I'm a pedophile, I guess," I said. "They look hot."

"You could try for one of their commanders," she said.

"They're what, 21?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said.

"Old enough," I said.

Then we walked to the Old City and decided that of all charedim, only the Litvish are actually hot. They tend to be a lot less beefy and bearded than the others, and their fashion sense is much sounder.

"Who are the guys in the shtreimels and gold striped caftans?" I asked.

"No idea," said Sheina. "Charedim who were Sephardim in a past life?"

The Old City was crowded with the extra-frum, all dressed in holiday best, almost all with numerous offspring in tow. Sheina and I went into the Arab shuk to buy gifts for my co-workers, Malka, Shira, and Oedipus.

The co-workers got evil-eye/hematite bracelets. I was attracted by their bright blue stare, and as soon as I stopped to look, the salesman materialized.

"Look how beautiful," he said. "Perfect with your skin. Twelve shekel."

"They're not for me," I said, "they're for my the people I work with. But they're too expensive. I don't want to spend that much on them. Besides, some of them are men."

"They are unisex!" he cried.

"Ayelet, you don't have to buy anything yet," said Sheina.

"How much you want to spend?" he asked. I got him down to 6 shekels per bracelet. Which, judging by how happily he rung up the sale, was probably still a little too much, so the co-workers aren't getting any Israeli chocolate.

"Your mother is hard, sweetheart," he said. "Next time you come by yourself."

My mother? Sheina is my age! We laughed about that as we walked through the narrow streets. I bought a bunch of refrigerator markets for my nieces and nephew -- I just remembered now that one is the same that my niece got for me during her last Israel trip. Oops.

Then we tried to go to the Kotel but couldn't get very close. It was mobbed.

"I've never seen it this full," said Sheina. "Not that I come here so often, but it must be because it's chol ha-moed." We plunged into the crowd, trying to get next to the wall, but it was futile, so we started back.

"Tzedaka! Tzedaka!" cried a few people, dressed a little too well to be beggars and a little too poorly to be professional fundraisers. I dropped shekels into a box. The woman took me by the hand.

"I give you a bracha that you should find your zivug very soon," she said. That spooked me, but only a little. I was wearing a purple baby-doll dress with a fairly low neckline, and my hair was riotously uncovered (the water is very hard here, and the anti-frizz product I bought in a travel size wasn't doing much). I guess I looked very young and unmarried, or at least very unmarried.

Then she turned to Sheina. "Your daughter should find her zivug soon." Ouch.

"No, no, she's my friend, she needs a zivug too!" I said. Unfazed, the woman said, "And for you too." Very Israeli, to calmly pull your foot out of your mouth and go on talking. Sheina, fortunately also being Israeli, took all this in stride and we moved on.

We dropped a few more coins into another bucket. "Kallah, kallah!" cried the recipient. Bride, bride. At least she included Sheina. We walked through the Old City and into an area that's slightly less old -- settled by Jews in the late 1800s, the first area of Jerusalem to be built outside the old city walls.

"Vous etes tres belle," said a man walking past us.

"What did he say?" asked Sheina. The only time I needed to translate for her. Not that I speak so much French, but I know that much.

"Do I look French?" I asked. "Or receptive? That guy could be my father."

"Apparently I could be your mother," she noted.

"Maybe he meant it for you," I said.

Sheina is another spectacular single girl. Smart, accomplished, attractive, and guys don't give her a second look. I didn't get close enough to the Kotel to leave a note, but if I had, it would have been for her to get married. Then again, I don't think my prayers are answered except in the vehement negative, so maybe it's just as well.

I do feel a lot better than I did during the first days. It's dangerous for me to spend so much time alone with my thoughts. I know I feel much more sorry for myself than my situation actually warrants, and ruminating does me ill.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. It sounds like you're having a lovely time, and I'm happy that you're relaxing and soaking up the springtime gorgeousness. And contributing to it :)

    Chag Sameach!!

  2. ayelet,

    very happy that i came across your blog. well written, enjoyable, pithy and to the point.

    i found it because i was looking for something on tzedakah...funny.

    anyway, enjoy your time in israel - if you need anything, give a shout. happy to help.

    arnie draiman
    soochaz (at)yahoo.com

  3. Welcome, Arnie, and thanks for reading! If I ever make enough money to become a philanthropist, I'll definitely seek your services. (I'm a social worker, so don't hold your breath.)