Life Since WUJS

Received word from some of my old friends from the program I attended in 1973 in Arad, Israel that we are going to attempt a class reunion. They asked for an update on what we’ve done since graduating. This will likely be repetitive for many of my friends and family, but here goes…

The reason I enrolled in WUJS was that I had been accepted to Graduate School in History at Tel Aviv University, but at that point knew only the Hebrew that was taught in two semesters at my undergrad institution, the University of Wisconsin (Madison). It was a terrific way to build my Hebrew and also participate in a program designed to introduce college graduates to the entire country. Almost a half century later I still treasure the memories of our visits from Rosh HaNikra in the far north to Beersheva and the agricultural settlements south of Arad.

The indelible memory of that year was seared in place by a major conflict known to most people as the Yom Kippur War which effectively ended WUJS instruction for me. Despite offers of repatriation from the US embassy, along with many others in WUJS, I signed up to do what I could. It wasn’t much–one of my memories from that experience was a kibbutznik too old to bear arms who would lean over and tell me in the dining hall, “You eat more than you’re worth.” And friends, I was skinny in those days!

When the war ended, some students remained at WUJS, but it was time for me to begin my studies at Tel Aviv U. My favorite class was elementary Latin (“You mean you want to study ancient history, but you have no Latin?!”). We were the first class at Tel Aviv U. which enjoyed learning Latin via a textbook written in Hebrew. Before that, students had to use a teaching book written in English. Lucky me! But really, it was a huge boost in my Hebrew comprehension.

At the end of that school year, I accepted an offer from the U of California (Berkeley) and began studying for an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies in the Fall of 1974. I completed that degree in December, 1976 and received “permission to proceed” to the Ph.D. But first, I felt that I still needed more coursework, and there was nothing left to take, so I applied to and was accepted as graduate fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem beginning in the Fall of 1977.

That academic year, Anwar Sadat stunned the world by coming to Jerusalem. I sometimes quip that my two years in Israel were, “War and Peace.”

I took as many course as I could at Hebrew U, and then it was time to return to the States. But my graduate advisor at Berkeley told me that given that only 4 PhDs in History at UCB had managed to find positions, I ought to consider other alternatives. So I applied to the Rabbinical program at HUC – Cincinnati. Oddly enough, they advised me to join the History PhD program there because I would receive a much better fellowship that way. And so I went from Jerusalem to Cincinnati. The most important scholar there for my interests was Samuel Sandmel. When I got to Cincinnati, I was his only student. During the semester he informed me that he had accepted a position at the U of Chicago and asked me to consider joining him. But the chancellor pulled me aside and cautioned me that Sandmel might not be alive much longer, so I declined his offer and indeed he passed away in February having made the move to Chicago just a month before.

Without Sandmel, staying in Cincinnati didn’t seem worthwhile although I did very much enjoy my studies in Talmud with Ben Zion Wacholder. Life intervened and I received word that my mother was in dire straits and needed my help. So I returned to Berkeley, made arrangements to settle my life down a bit, and then went to New York City to see how I might help my mother. She had had a severe episode of her long standing bipolar disorder and as a result lost her job. She was in danger of running out of money for the rent. My father, her husband, had abandoned us years before–ironically perhaps to move to Israel. I was an only child to her (my sister was born to a different mother) so it was me or no one. I packed her up and took her to California.

Continuing with the PhD program was now out of the question. I took a job as the Assistant Director of the Berkeley Hillel Foundation which involved leading religious services, teaching Hebrew courses and running the rather extensive Hebrew language program of the Lehrhaus Judaica which was co-housed in the Hillel building, and being responsible for the financial part of the foundation. To do that effectively I enrolled in Accounting classes at a local community college.

This was supposed to be a stop-gap until I got my mother settled, but we all know how that goes. I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed having the stability of a real income. In 1979 I purchased my first house in Oakland with the help of the Lehrhaus director. A couple of years later I met the woman who would become my wife of now 36 years.

We sold that first house to buy a house in Berkeley (this time together with our Hillel office manager who went on to be the leader of the Unitarian Universalists west of the Mississippi). And 1985 saw the birth of our first child, Shoshana. In 1987 the University of Michigan offered Terri a tenured position in their Psychology Department, and as much as I loved our lives in the fabled San Francisco Bay Area, we both agreed that moving to Ann Arbor was the sensible thing to do. So in 1988, Terri’s mom came out and helped Terri, Shoshana and our pet rabbits move to Michigan. I came a couple of months later with our dog. And a couple of months after that I moved Momma to Michigan.

Of course I was hoping for a job teaching Hebrew, but Hillel was staffed up and my mere M.A. wasn’t good enough for the U, so I was unemployed for awhile. I had learned a considerable amount about both accounting and database management, and a friend mailed me–quite out of the blue–a T-Shirt emblazoned with the word “Oracle.” One day, I felt a tap on my shoulder as I was picking Sho up from day care, and the father of one of the other kids asked me, “Do you know anything about Oracle?” I replied that “Yes, I had successfully deployed an Oracle database at my former employer in California.” He hired me on the spot to do a training session for his group at the University’s IT department because they had just paid $600k to license Oracle, but no one knew how to use it. After the session, he hired me as an external consultant to help them design databases, and after three years of that they decided it would be cheaper just to give me a job. That’s how I became an employee of the U of Michigan in 1992. In 1995 Ephraim joined our family, and shortly thereafter the College of Engineering hired me away from the IT department. I rose through those ranks and eventually was leading three departments within the College.

I decided to retire from the University when I turned 58 because I was qualified for benefits, they were running an early retirement program, my investments had done well, and really, I didn’t need the headaches any longer. I accepted a voluntary position as the first Executive Director (unpaid) of the County’s NAMI program.

2011 was a momentous year for our family. Ephraim had decided to make aliyah and complete his education in Israel. My mother sadly left us that year. And Terri received an offer to become the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the U of Tennessee, Knoxville. After a visit to check it out, we decided to take the offer. We sold our Ann Arbor house at which point Ephraim changed his mind and decided he would stay in Ann Arbor, but we held to our plan and we went to Knoxville while he remained in Ann Arbor.

A few months after our arrival, the Religious Studies Department was notified that faculty members they had hired to teach Hebrew had elected not to come and the director of Judaic Studies and the Head of the Religious Studies department asked me if would teach Biblical Hebrew for the year. And after that first year, they have hired me ever since, seven years now.

Of course they really wanted me to have a PhD, so I was approached by someone who offered to be my mentor for completing that project. She averred that given all my prior course work, it would probably only take me a year to start writing my dissertation. But the Grad School had other ideas about whether they were going to accept decades-old courses. I stuck with it and earned my PhD in History in December 2019.

Our daughter Shoshana now lives in Albuquerque, NM with her husband Karl and our two grandchildren, Clara and Alexander. My son Ephraim joined us in Knoxville after completing his BA at U of Michigan. He’s now in the later stages of a PhD in social geography and spatial statistics, and he is engaged to a woman who is also working on a PhD in the biological sciences.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Added 4/13/20:

My father was a child of the beginning of the Soviet Union, his father was a highly educated Orthodox Jew (musmah Kishinev). My grandfather came to the States first and established a business selling second hand steel in Cleveland, OH. Then he was busted for selling stolen property and after spending everything to avoid jail moved to Detroit. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather, my grandmother’s father, found the cash to ship my Bubby and her three surviving children (three others seem to have died of Tay-Sachs) to Detroit. It’s not entirely clear that my grandfather, the Grand Rabbi, was all that happy to see them.
My mother of blessed memory was born in Brooklyn. Her mother had five children of whom my mother was the youngest. She passed when my mother was 14 and my maternal grandfather (who was a Sanitation Dept employee) fostered her out to people who were cousins of ours. Through Facebook I have been able to make contact with that branch of the family and they are all wonderful folks. In those days there was no healthcare and no real pension for city employees, so when my grandfather couldn’t work owing to a savaged back, he eked out a living as fortune teller setting up on the street. He passed the year before I was born. My middle name, Francis is for my mother’s next-in-line sister Frances  who was electrocuted in shock therapy at a Brooklyn hospital, also the year before I was born. I know, many of you don’t want to hear details like this, but if you want to be honest about life, these are the kinds of things that happen.
After my pretty typically Orthodox bar-mitzvah, I didn’t want to have anything to do with Judaism. Like Perry, I was impressed with the events of the 6-Day-War. My father decided to make Aliyah–I think as a way of getting away from us as we were not invited to accompany him–and that was the last I saw of him until I got to WUJS (he was in Tel Aviv). In 1971  I had a serious health emergency and my life was literally saved by the invention of colon fiberscope. I was only the 3rd person to undergo that procedure. The doctors found the polyps that were the cause of my issue and extracted them. I’m telling you this because when I woke up the town (Madison, WI) hazzan was waiting by my bedside. A doctor had asked him to come because he recognized that I was reciting the Sh’ma in my delirium.
After my recovery, I started hanging out at Hillel and discovered that the rabbi there was both brilliant and not crazy. It was the first time I think I realized that one could be intelligent and religious at the same time. We became lifetime friends–just spoke with him last week–and I’ve been part of Conservative Judaism ever since. It was at this Hillel that I met the “shaliah” who recommended that I go to WUJS. Not to say that “I got religion”–I was agnostic before, during, and after all this. But I found great comfort in being part of a community, and I discovered that I love ritual even if I don’t think it’s going to save any possible soul I might have.

Shoshana and Karl Join us and Travel to Jerusalem

Shoshana and Karl arrived for the last phase of our vacation, so our entire nuclear family is intact. As I write this, Sho, Karl and Ephy are all crowded into our small apartment. Terri has just made an Israeli scrambled breakfast for all of us, and who knows, perhaps some of these new culinary skills will be reflected back into our American lives.

Yesterday Shoshana and Karl arose after about 3 hours of sleep following their 20 hour journey to join us. That long because they had an 8 hour layover in Istanbul. We decided to make Jerusalem the focus of the day, but first there was the need to see our own little area of Paradise. So we walked along the Yarkon River to the Mediterranean Sea and sat at a pleasant bistro for coffee.

From there we headed off first to the Sheirut (shared taxi) for the number 4 line, then the Sheirut to Jerusalem. We arrived to a sun drenched day. Ephy and Karl split off (don’t ask) and met up with us later. We arrived promptly at the Jaffa Gate to the old city and had a pleasant conversation with one of the perennially stationed guides who turned out to be an Armenian who is married to a Jewish woman and living in the Jewish Quarter. We took the usual path to the Western Wall where we reconnected with Ephy and Karl. As we walked along the wall, we realized that they were letting tourists up to the Dome level and we hurried over to ascend. Terri and I had attempted this a half dozen times only to find it closed, but here we found it wide open just as our entire clan assembled.

We spent an hour strolling around the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa. The only wrinkle in an otherwise perfect day: I began shedding my shoes to enter the Dome, but I was immediately stopped by an Arab guard who told me, “Muslims only.” I briefly thought about claiming to be Muslim, but decided not to make a scene. But the guard decided to make a scene for me loudly speaking about what “Sharon had done in 2000.” Although call of reason suggested to me that I would like to talk to this guy, I realized that this would be among the many things beyond my abilities. So we walked off to more areas of the Temple Mount. Eventually an Israeli security guard shooed us back into the city, and I was delighted that this put me through a new gate I had not experienced before. We traveled a bit in the area of the Via Dolorosa and heading south came to a different tunnel-entrance to the area of the Western Wall. From there we briefly exited the city via the Dung Gate so that Karl could have a view of the City of David (he was hoping to see more since he had prepped for our trip by reading the Shanks book on the subject). But we didn’t have that sort of time and January weather isn’t really conducive to a walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel.

We backtracked through the Dung Gate and made our way through the Jewish Quarter stopping for lunch at a Felafel/showarma stand. From there it was a matter of a little shopping along the Roman Cardo (I finally the found the pocket edition of Siddur Rinat Yisrael I had been seeking) and then through the Armenian Quarter to the Tower of David. Karl was hoping to visit the Citadel, but it was already closing time.

We walked to the pedestrian mall at the intersection of King George and Ben Yehuda. Sho and Terri went shopping, Karl, Ephy and I spent the time listening to street musicians (better than usual, especially the saxophonist) and talking about the themes that come to mind when one visits Jerusalem. Call it of rabbis and Judaism and such. 🙂

We had dinner in a dairy restaurant (I had the “Mediterranean Pizza”, a concoction of a flat bread, sprinkled mid-Eastern cheeze, olives and tomatoes).

We got back to Tel Aviv about 9pm and enjoyed desert at our favorite fro-yo place (Igloo) and collapsed about an hour later. It was a very pleasant day.

Three Days in Eilat

I’m writing this sitting on a lovely balcony overlooking the city of Eilat and the Red Sea. Terri, Shoshana, Karl  and I elected the less expensive but not at all unpleasant route of vacationing in an Israeli “youth hostel”.  I put “youth hostel” in quotes for the obvious reason that even Sho and Karl would be stretching the notion of “youth” much less Terri and me, but the Israeli Youth Hostel association is happy to host us old fogies as long as there is sufficient room.

A room for four, including breakfast, is about the same cost as the hotel room for two we had in Arad, and this place is in its own way magnificent. The rooms open to interior corridors that then open to this wide public balcony with fabulous views towards the hotel district and out to the sea. The breakfast isn’t quite as good as what we had in Arad, but it has fresh, healthful food so there is nothing to complain about. Well, maybe the coffee. 🙂

The weather in Eilat has been fabulous. Crystal clear with temperatures in the mid-80s. We arrived last night about 9pm after a five hour bus ride from Tel Aviv. We didn’t know much about how such a long distance route would be handled. They actually provided two rest stops where we could use the facilities and purchase food. At the second, unfortunately, there was such a mob scene that we had no time to get any food. But that just meant we would be pretty hungry when we did find a good restaurant in Eilat.

As I said, we arrived about 9pm and after a brief get-acquainted session with our new digs, we headed out to the restaurant recommended by our host called Pago Pago. It turned out to be a floating sea food restaurant in the heart of the hotel district, but that was just fine with Terri and Karl. Shoshana and I ordered chicken and Thai vegetarian salad respectively. Terri had a local fish and Karl the sushi banquet. Everyone was very happy. The French onion soup was particularly good. I also had my first sushi—one of the vegetarian varieties made with egg.

The evening cooled down nicely and we slept without need of an air conditioner.

After the perfectly serviceable hostel breakfast we headed for the wonderful coral sea aquarium. The glass bottom boat was not operating on Sunday, but they explained that if we purchased the full ticket we could return on Monday for the voyage out into the Red Sea and enjoy the aquarium both days, so that’s what we did. The aquarium is beautifully done with a few nods to Disney. There is a film in which the audience moves (literally) into the action. The theme is a little hoaky and clearly kid-oriented, but our family is used to Disney, so I think we all enjoyed it. The techs held a number feeding demonstrations throughout the park, so we went to the shark, turtle and various other fish feedings. Most of the exhibits were signed in both Hebrew and English.

The heart of the aquarium is a view of the coral reef achieved by walking down into an undersea observatory.  We spent about an hour marveling at the fabulous views of fish and coral.

After a quick snack we exited the aquarium and after a short walk discovered a shop that sold drinks and such right on a rocky beach. We dawdled there another couple of hours and everyone except me headed into the waters of the Red Sea. I did get my feet wet, but that’s about all I could stand.

From there a quick cab ride got us back to the hostel (I love traveling with four because that’s the point where the taxi is the same or even less fare than the bus). We dined at a Brazilian restaurant that featured unlimited portions of a variety of mostly kosher meats. The deserts that followed probably violated the spirit of the Law. But we’re on vacation in Eilat, after all.

Monday 1/11/10

We retraced our steps to the aquarium and viewed a few exhibits we had not seen yesterday, then it was “all aboard” for our one boat ride of this trip–the “glass bottom” boat view of the coral reef. Actually it wasn’t so much glass bottom as portholes-below-sea-level, but it was fun. Our guide Anat was young, serious and reasonably knowledgeable. She told us afterward that she acquired her knowledge “on the job”–but Karl was impressed enough to quiz her about the nature of what is killing the coral in some detail. Actually so much detail that the boat was in the process of casting off for the next group before we could get off. Terri and Sho were mildly annoyed at the “boys”–they thought we had got Anat in some trouble with management but I’m pretty sure everything was fine.

From there back to our favorite beach/lunch spot. Sho And Terri went for a brief snorkling session, Karl went out for about an hour. We had a nice lunch of hummus and Israeli style pizza. The hummus was served with zhug, my favorite salsa.

Then it was time for me to get in the Red Sea. I desperately wanted somewhere where I didn’t have to worry about my feet, so we agreed to go over to the public (sand) beach. When we arrived, on closer inspection there was broken glass everywhere, so I was sorry I had not gone in where they did. But getting in seemed mandatory so I slowly made my way across the sand in my new Crocs and then slowly entered the chilly Red Sea. Once I was all the way in, it was clearly not cold–just seemed that way due to the difference between the air and water temperature. Finally acclimated, I took a nice little swim that probably didn’t amount to more than a swimming pool length, but there I was.

That evening we set out for a restaurant called Eddie’s Hideaway, and hidden it was. First of all, we left early so we took a stroll through the hotel district not realizing that this would put us on the wrong side of Eilat’s airport. We briefly contemplated climbing the barb wire fence to cross the airfield, but the thought of being shot by snipers alleviated that notion. So we backtracked much of the length of the airport to get around the other side.

From there we climbed a steep hill past the Central Bus Station. Terri had done a great job of steering us towards the street (“HaAlmogim”). Even better, she realized at exactly the right moment we were lost and I entered a hotel to ask the clerk where the restaurant was. It turned out that Almogim Street makes a left turn. We had only passed the turn by a few steps and soon enough we were at the location described by the clerk–a little square with Eddie’s located at the end of the alley.

Eddies is outfitted nicely with a quaint bar and many tables covered with white linen. After drinks (I overindulged on two shots of Jameson) our dinners arrived. I had the pasta carbonera (yes, it was authentic, after all we were in Eilat). Karl had the meat lasagna, and Terri had the Denis fish, a whole fish served but without the head in deference to my silly sensibilities. At the moment I can’t recall what Shoshana ate. We split a wonderful apple concoction for desert. And then it was time to venture home. At least it was downhill!

Tiberias 1/5/09

Why People Take Shared Taxis (Sheirut)

We decided to visit the lakeside town of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee today. We headed for the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station at about 8am. When we arrived at the bus stop for our Dan #5 bus, the bus had just nosed away from the bus stop but was stopped perhaps 3 feet from it. We tapped on the door to be admitted, but the bus driver just looked at us and turned his hands up in mock despair–he seemed to be saying “What can I do, I can’t pick up passengers away from the stop.” But of course they do all the time, so he was just being a jackass.

Buses at that hour are supposed to arrive every 4 to 6 minutes (as posted), but we waited at least twenty minutes for the next bus to arrive. While waiting, two sheiruts (shared taxis that charge about the same fare as the bus) passed by, but I wanted to wait for the bus so we could purchase a daily bus pass. I had neglected to do this the previous day and of course that meant that we either had to pay multiple fares or walk a lot. When the bus finally arrived, the driver refused to sell me the daily pass saying something about how it could only be sold after 9am.

Of course not only did we have to wait a long time for the bus, but the bus takes far longer than the sheirut to arrive at its destination, so it was about 9:30am before we finally got to the Central Bus Station. We purchased our tickets to Tiberias and the ticket agent told us to go to the 7th floor, platform 3 and waived us in a general direction. Terri found the closest escalator to floor 7, and we quickly found platform 3. Unfortunately, this was platform 3 for the Dan bus company (Tel Aviv local) not Egged (the inter-city bus line). I realized this when I looked at the guide on the door which was for bus line 51, not Egged 835 which is what we actually needed.

And of course there is no way to get from Dan to Egged on floor 7. You need to descend to floor 6 and find the correct escalator to the Egged section. So we had another tense moment as we scurried from the one to the other, but we did land at the correct platform at the correct time.

But this should go a long way towards explaining why so many people prefer shared taxis to the buses.

From there the day would improve considerably. But not before we had one more surprise. As Egged 835 pulled out of the Central Bus Station, it headed over to Namir Boulevard and began picking up passengers along that street. This meant that it actually stopped less than a mile from our apartment–we could have walked over there and boarded a bus 2 hours earlier. Live and learn.


The guide books talk about seeing the beauty of the lake as you pass the last mountain ridge, but the day was a bit hazy so we did not have a view of the lake as we pulled into Tiberias about 3 hours later. It probably takes a little over an hour to drive from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, but the bus (labeled “express”) stops at many little towns and multiple stops within those towns, including a 15 minute break at Afoula. The central bus station of Tiberias is easily the most dilapidated we have seen so far. But the restrooms were clean and staffed by a woman who collected a shekel for the service of providing one with their own individualized toilet paper.

After that bit of refreshment, we began the descent from the hill on which the bus station is located to the lake, a few blocks away. Along the way we encountered “Felafel Row” and stopped for lunch. The felafel was hot and tasty, the pita very fresh, and the salads very good. All for the bargain price of $2.75 (10 shekels) each. Cans of soda were $1.50, also a good price for Israel where American-branded soda tends to be overpriced.

Refreshed and fortified, we continued our walk towards the lake and eventually found the tourist office which is located in a Crusader-period building. The staff were very friendly and when we expressed an interest in archaeological sites, they sent us about a mile down the road (along the lakeshore) to the excavation of a synagogue complex that dates from the early years of the Common Era. The excavation has been made into a national park and we found there the usual excellent care of the Israeli archaeological services. The site includes several outlets for the area’s hot springs, the excavation and a small museum. The excavation includes a lovely mosaic floor with Greek and Aramaic inscriptions, and the features that allow identifying the site as a synagogue such as bima, geniza, etc. The museum is primarily concerned with a Turkish bath house at the site which took advantage of the hot springs.

Tiberias is also famous for its Christian connections and purported burial sites of a variety of Jewish personages including Rachel, the fourth wife of Jacob in the book of Genesis, Rabbi Aqiva, and several others. All of this is in the category of “shtoot” (nonsense-no one knows who’s in these graves) so we elected to ignore all of it and decided instead to have an early return to Tel Aviv.

We arrived back about 6pm and the bus driver let us out on Namir Blvd about a mile from our apartment. I gloated that we actually benefited from the Dan driver’s refusal to sell us a daily pass–because we could easily walk home, we wound up not needing any further fares. Had the driver sold us the two passes, Dan would have received about 30 shekels from us. As it stood, they got only 12. In the immortal words of Curly, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuck!”

Our walk home took us past the chic little restaurant called Zurik, and we decided to try it. Its a very trendy place, but we discovered to our delight that the prices are reasonable and the food excellent. Terri and I both elected the daily special which was meatballs and sauteed vegetables over rice with a fresh garden salad in a light olive oil dressing. Yes, they were just meatballs, but they were delightfully spiced and the dish was very tasty and filling for a total of about $12. We’d like to go there again!

Tomorrow will be a low-key day getting ready for the arrival of our Wisconsin kids. Ephy will be coming up from Arad, so we will be five in this little apartment. We’ll spend a few days here and then head down to Eilat for a few days. Updating my blog may get a little haphazzard…

Jerusalem 1/4/10

First of all, I need to backtrack to the last trip to Jerusalem (mostly because Terri insists I need to talk about this). On our way to Jerusalem on 12/31 there was some sort of road problem and our driver diverted us to Modi’in. Modi’in itself was not particularly interesting but the route we took followed the now famous or infamous (depending on your perspective) wall of separation between Israel and Palestine. The portion we could see was roughly divided in two. A lower half that was variously fence, tile or concrete but everywhere topped with barbed wire.

The sense it provoked in me was one of profound sadness that the political situation could not be better resolved. I do not intend any criticism of the wall here–since I and my family are not in daily, imminent danger I don’t think it right to intrude my views on the people who are in such danger. I will admit that my feelings are that however necessary the wall may be, Israel should have some obligation to ease the effects on the Palestinians. I feel that it is in Israel’s best interests to avoid the sowing of hatred in new generations of Palestinians. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that since the wall has been created, the violence against Israelis (and that means non-Jewish as well as Jewish Israelis) has been greatly reduced.

So today it was back to Jerusalem. We had hoped to walk the ramp up to the top of the Temple Mount, but despite arriving at the entrance an hour before the listed closing, we discovered that it had just closed. We were told to come back at 12:30. So we backtracked through the Jewish Quarter to our first museum stop of the day, Migdal David (the Tower of David). As is commonplace with Jerusalem sites, Migdal David has absolutely nothing to do with King David. Its actually a medieval structure. But there is a larger enclosure which is usually referred to as the Citadel which has a fascinating history and archaeology and which has been adopted as the primary municipal museum of the history of Jerusalem.

We entered the Citadel and followed a combination track for history and archaeology. When you climb to the top of the Citadel you can see beautiful vistas of Jerusalem and its topographical highlights (more when I can upload photos). Many of the restored rooms of the structure have been converted to exhibit halls. Each major period of Jerusalem’s history is given its own room. In the middle of the enclosure are the archaeological dig(s) which have uncovered buildings and artifacts as early as Hasmonean times, a few Herodian structures (perhaps the Phasael, one of three towers named for Herod’s intimates, in this case his brother). and then a series of medieval and Ottoman period layers.

We stopped for lunch in the new mall outside the Jaffa Gate (food was OK, but we would have been better off in a family owned restaurant in the city). From there we took a cab to the Israel museum. Our driver was an Arab from East Jerusalem who claimed to have been born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and who was fervently pro-Israeli. His basic comment on politics is that Arafat screwed everything up. Anyway, he cheerfully took us to Givat Ram.

The Israel Museum is the Smithsonian of Israel and almost as vast in scale. Unfortunately for us, the museum is undergoing a major renovation and most of it is unavailable until July 2010. There were three major exhibits open: the model of Jerusalem in the era of Herod, the Shrine of the Book, and the Rose Sculpture Garden. The model was originally part of the grounds of the Holy Land Hotel and was moved to the museum in 2006. I had visited the model back in 1977 with my friend David Halperin and I probably would never have seen it without his urging. At the time that I visited the discovery had recently been made that Robinson’s Arch led not to a bridge across the valley, but rather to a monumental staircase down to the floor of the valley. The crew had just finished replacing the bridge with a staircase. I was a little surprised to see that the southern wall contained only double gates rather than a triple gate, but perhaps I am not remembering that part of the story well enough.

The Shrine of the Book is as awesome now as when I first viewed it. It’s still a little strange to realize that the centerpiece exhibit, the Dead Sea Scroll version of the full text of Isaiah, is just a facsimile. There are two security guards stationed to guard the fake which is clearly labeled a fake. But at least we know that the original exists and is stored for safekeeping in a highly protected vault of the museum. Most of the other scrolls are the originals, and I could just wish for better lighting in the facility so that one might attempt to read them.

Aside from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Shrine of the Book is hosting a lovely exhibit of the Aleppo Codex, and it is the original that’s on display. The Aleppo Codex was one of the few reasonably complete Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, but it is no longer complete. It was as recently as 1948, but it barely survived riots that broke out in Syria related to Israel’s struggle for independence. Most of the Torah is gone, some material at the end of the Bible and a few pages in the middle. Occasionally a page or a fragment turns up, so perhaps some day more of it will be restored. The Aleppo Codex is likely the version that Maimonides used for his “model Torah scroll” so it is possible that all modern Torah scrolls are based on the Aleppo.

From the Israel Museum we found a bus to downtown Jerusalem and then walked to the King George/Ben Yehuda mall where we tried the dairy side of the Rimon Cafe. I didn’t think they did as well on the dairy side as our prior meat based meal, but the food was plentiful and reasonably priced. From there we made the quick trip to Rav Kook Street and took the sheirut back to Tel Aviv.

Back in Tel Aviv, Terri insisted on a shopping trip which resulted in both of us buying Na’ot shoes. A two mile walk home allowed us to reach the total of just shy of 12 miles on the day. And a good day it was!

Tomorrow, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee.

Akko is Well Worth the Visit! 1/3/10

Today we returned to the Israel train system for another ride up north, this time past Haifa. Three stations north of Haifa is the modern city of Akko. Although there are many taxis, buses and sheiruts happy to transport people from the train station, Terri and I opted for the walk (turned out to be about a mile and a half) to the ancient walled city of Akko.

A short walk from the “Land Gate” through which we entered and we were in a small but lovely compound set up for visitors. We purchased a “combo pass” that would allow us to visit several of the area’s attractions. The most spectacular of these is an underground complex that was originally built by the Crusaders. Akko was the most successful of the Crusader locations and was controlled by Christians for about 200 years. Unfortunately for their reputation, they were known for having massacred the local Jewish and Muslim population, but the Mamelukes returned the favor and slaughtered most of them in the mid-thirteenth century.

There were two Crusader groups running most of the city–the Knights Hospitaler and the Knights Templar. The Hospitalers were responsible for housing Christian visitors to the Holy Land while the Templars were responsible for their defense. Much of the Citadel belongs to the Hospitalers, but just down the road you can find a 200 meter (more than 600 yards) tunnel that was created by the Templars. The tunnel presumably allowed the defenders to make their way quickly and secretly from the coastal beach to the interior of the city.

Another nice exhibit shows a typical Turkish bath of the 18th and 19th centuries. The accompanying commentary and film is on the hoaky side, but provides enough information to be worth a grimace or three.

We made a quick side trip to the synagogue of the Ramhal–a rabbi who was tossed and turned and even thrown out of Safed for being too mystical. Given Safed’s reputation for attracting wacky people, that must have taken quite a bit of effort! But the synagogue has real charm and the docent was pleased to demonstrate how the Ramhal wrote his own Torah scroll. Definitely worth the short walk to see.

After all this we were famished and Terri basically demanded that we sit at the first place that looked remotely acceptable. This was just outside the Citadel write next to a beautiful mosque. We ordered typical Arab/Israeli items (felafel, hummus with showarma, salads) but accompanied by diet Colas. Instead of a felafel sandwich, they provided a plate with about 15 felafel balls, each was a fine toasted brown on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. The hummus was rich and creamy and the showarma smokey and nicely spiced. The quality was absolutely top notch and the price turned out to be extremely reasonable==about $16 for both of us. I wish I had remembered to write down the name of the place, but alas, I didn’t.

After lunch, Terri was gung ho to see even more. Akko offers a site sacred to the Bahai which includes one of their marvelous gardens and there is also a famous mosque. But we had to be back in Tel Aviv to make an appointment with the telephone delivery person (again). The truth is that I was tired–we had already walked almost 8 miles. So we decided to leave the other sites of Akko for another trip and we headed for the train station for the 90 minute return to our Tel Aviv apartment.

New Year’s Day

A quiet day for us. Our original plans were for another try at Yaffo, but we wound up waiting for Israel Phones to deliver a new cell phone to us as our first phone no longer can produce a ring. After about four hours a messenger showed up with the new phone. I suggested to Terri that she test the phone. Sure enough, the new phone was actually worse than the old one. The old one wouldn’t ring, but the new one didn’t work at all. So we sent the messenger away with the new phone and a new round of complaining to the phone company ensued. Purportedly we will receive yet another phone on Sunday and they will arrange for us to be the last delivery so we can be out and about on the day without wasting the whole day waiting.

While Terri awaited the phone, I took a stroll down ibn G’virol and decided to take a haircut (as they say in New York). My first try was at “Figaro” where the proprietor informed me in exaggerated motions I would have to wait for “hours” since he was booked up. So I continued down the street where I found “Robert” (French pronunciation) who looked a bit like Sully (Joe Lando) in Dr Quinn Medicine Woman (don’t ask me how I know this). I told Robert to take off 2 centimeters but perhaps I said something wrong as he left me with 2 centimeters instead. Israeli barbers still use a razor to clean the neck and although it will be a little difficult for my family to get used to me with this little hair, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the experience.

After the phone kerfufle we did something we haven’t had much time for–taking naps.

After much needed rest we headed for our Conservative shtibl on Bograshov St (Congregation Sinai). Services were very pleasant and we already feel like we belong there. We decided to honor the spirit of the day and make up for lost steps by walking the 2.5 miles back to our apartment. Despite the telephone kerfufle, it was a very nice day!

Lemon Flavored Food in Israel 1/1/10

We solved a long standing mystery today. Since our arrival, all of the food we cooked had a distinct lemony flavor. Among the theories we had to explain this was that the olive oil contained lemon (no), and that some or all of our pans were impregnated with lemon or lemon oil. There was much smelling of the pots and pans with no conclusions. There was much scrubbing with soap of all our plates and pots and pans, but the lemon flavor persisted. We began to dislike the flavor of lemon. Terri proclaimed that the lady of the house (from whom we rent) must put lemon in everything.

Tonight our third Shabbat in Israel began and we sat down for a delicious dinner–just Terri and me as Ephy is back in Arad and Shoshana has not yet arrived. Terri made our now customary Shabbat dinner–“schnitzel” chicken (which is basically a chicken breast pounded flat), rice, peas and a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, onions, mushrooms and other yummy veggies. I made a fresh green salad and we had a nice challah as well. I didn’t notice much of a lemon flavor, but Terri said that her peas tasted strongly of lemon.

Terri had arranged the spice containers we had available on the table. There was black pepper, crushed red pepper and salt. All but the salt were labeled clearly in English, but the salt had only a Hebrew label. I said to Terri, “Have you been using the this salt for cooking our food?” “Of course,” she replied. I pointed out to her the the Hebrew label on the bottle said “melah limon” which means “lemon salt.”

Yad vaShem and the Western Wall Tunnels New Year’s Eve

Back to Jerusalem. Today we scheduled our trip to Yad vaShem, the main monument to the story of the Holocaust in the world. There are many wonderful museums which have paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, but there is only one Yad vaShem. We timed our arrival so that we could take the one tour available with a live tour guide as opposed to using the audio player type tour and we were not disappointed. Our guide was terrific. I wish I could report his name, but he was of Polish origin and it was an unfamiliar name to me. He wore an identity card around his neck, but the card was always turned backwards so I couldn’t read it. So he will have to remain anonymous. He began his disquisition with an explanation of the universality of the message of Yad vaShem and the difficulty of painting things in black and white. The world exists in shadows and grays, and we cannot assume that people on one side were all evil and on the other good. That message plays out in many ways through the museum.

One of the mysteries of Yad vaShem is the name itself–which is not really explained until almost the end of the journey. But it is perhaps more important to me as teacher of the Bible and Biblical Hebrew. The words literally mean “hand and name”. But what does that mean? It is taken from Isaiah 55:6 which reads “I will give them within the walls of my house a memorial (yad) and a place (vaShem) better than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will never be erased.”

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So Yad vaShem is the place where the victims of the Holocaust will be remembered forever.

The museum’s main exhibit follows a time line from the beginning of the German conquest of Europe through the creation of the State of Israel. In addition to the main exhibit hall, there is a beautiful garden in which trees have been planted to memorialize the people who sacrificed their own safety and even that of their families to save Jews. There is a sanctuary used to provide a place for the world’s dignitaries to visit and participate. And there is a memorial to the one and a half million children who perished.

I do not believe it is possible for anyone to visit this place and not be moved. I’m going to limit my discussion to this at least for now. Of course there is so much more that could be said, but materials about Yad vaShem are readily available on the Net if you are curious.

We left the museum in somewhat of a state of shock which I guess is pretty normal for the place. A brief shuttle ride brought us to the top of a hill from which we could take a bus to the city center. Our next scheduled appointment was at the Western Wall tunnels, but we had five hours. We could have worked another museum or archaeological site into the day, but I thought that Yad vaShem and the Western Wall site would be enough of that type of thing for one day, so we had to find a way to kill those hours.

The bus took care of the first hour. There were traffic jams everywhere and it took that long to make the usual 20 minute ride into the city center. We walked around looking for a place to eat and as Terri was getting ready to kill me (I was saved only because she was too tired to do so), we stumbled into Cafe Rimon where the hostess stumped Terri by asking the famous question “Halav oBasar?” I saved Terri from further embarrassment (and also made sure we ate what I felt like eating) by replying “Basar” for her. That meant that we would be seated on the side of the restaurant that served meat dishes rather than the dairy side of the restaurant.

Terri had fetuchini with chicken and grilled vegetables. I had a small bowl of gulash followed by something called a “Philadelphia sandwich”. The meal started with a wonderful freshly baked bread of vegetables with a number of tasty spreads including egg/tofu, tahini, and roasted vegetables. Terri pronounced her pasta dish wonderful. Gulash, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is basically vegetable beef soup. But the vegetables are large pieces that are not overcooked and the meat comes in very large cubes. A slightly larger serving could be a full meal. This gulash used whole chili peppers which I love so I would have to give it an A+. The “Philadelphia Sandwich” is nothing that anyone from that city would recognize. First of all, Philadelphia is famous for cheesesteaks which is antithetical to Jewish cooking. The Cafe Rimon version features a fresh, homemade full grain roll piled high with thick cuts of tender beef in a very tasty barbeque sauce. Added to this were a number of Israel’s famous tomatoes and leaves of Romaine. The “chips” were perfectly cooked although I suspect they may have come from a bag of frozen potatoes. But they hit the spot!

Cafe Rimon is a somewhat expensive place to eat dinner, but they allow their lunch menu to continue through 5pm and the lunch prices are very reasonable. So we ate well and for a very reasonable price. Add to that line of characters parading in and out of the place and in front of the restaurant (which is a pedestrian mall) and you have a wonderfully satisfying and entertaining experience.

The weather in Jerusalem had turned chilly and windy and we were ill prepared. Clothing in Israel is mostly imported and pretty expensive (and quality is a problem), so I was not optimistic we would be able to find an easy solution to our problem, but I am happy to report that I was wrong. Just a few steps from Cafe Rimon we found a clothing shop where they had major markdowns on jackets and Terri and I walked out of there with perfect solutions to the weather problem cheap. Newly fortified against the cold, we set off for the Old City.

It was a path I had made many times 30 years ago, but Terri too is now getting to be an old hand. Down David Street to the Street of the Chain. Quick jog over to the right, through the security gate, and onto the Western Wall plaza for a trip through the Western Wall tunnels.

Our tickets were for 7:10pm, but we got there at 6pm. The cashier kindly offered to get us into an earlier tour and so it was that we found ourselves in the very capable hands of Rabbi David ben Meir, originally of Chicago but now a resident of Jerusalem. He let us know that he was a father of nine and considered himself only an amateur historian/archaeologist although he has been leading tours for many years now. David had a very pleasant manner–not in the least bit overbearing as (unfortunately) many Israeli guides can be. Since I do have an academic qualification in the materials he was presenting I might have been hypercritical, but I am pleased to say that I found nothing about which to be critical–his presentation was factual and accurate to the best of my understanding.

The tour is well worth the wait. If you are going to Israel for a short time, you should consider making the reservation ahead of time or there is a good chance you won’t get in. The tour is very popular and each guide can only accommodate about 15 people for a tour that takes an hour and half. As with Yad vaShem, there is a vast amount of material available on the Web, so I won’t waste space describing the tour. But for me, the best part was seeing the Wall’s northwestern extent which I had not been able to get to 30 years ago. New for me then was the “foundation stone” — the phenomenally long stone that weighs about 600 tons. I was also interested to see a section of the underlying rock of the mountain which had been carved to look as if it were made of blocks. The water capture system (first built in Hasmonean times) had been sealed by Herod’s engineers and the water that could no longer move inside the Temple was instead collected in pools. Not only were those pools available to see, but they were filled with water (nicely lighted in the exhibit) just as they had been in the time of the Temple.

One of the signs of the control of the religious authorities was the fact that I was not allowed to view the wall section that contained Wilson’s arch. That’s because the tour only passes by a place where it can be viewed from the “Women’s Gallery”. David informed me that if I wanted, I could view it from the men’s area after the tour. Terri saved me the trouble by offering to photograph it for me–that photo will be one of the ones I post later.

We had some good conversation with our guide and one of the couples we met on the tour and then it was time to return to Tel Aviv.

We found Tel Aviv in full holiday mode for what Israelis call “Sylvester’s Holiday” (New Years Eve). The girls were out in their risque clothes dazzling the young men. Terri and I headed for our favorite cafe, the Hurkanus, but the music was too loud for us old fogies and the cigarette smoke a bit dense. So after saying hi to the wait staff we knew, we beat a hasty retreat to our apartment.

Happy New Year everyone!

Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea 12/30/09

We had a lovely day at one of the loveliest parts of our planet, the Ein Gedi nature reserve. Located immediately opposite the Dead Sea, about half way north/south, Ein Gedi is a true oasis. I’m a wimp, so we took only the mostly easy Wadi David Trail. Pictures to be uploaded when I have more time and a better connection.

Ein Gedi has numerous ibexes roaming about who are not very skittish around people (kind of like the cats in Tel Aviv). We also caught a view of some rock hyraxes and many small birds. Terri threw a crumb to the birds while we were sitting there and we were soon completely surrounded by at least two kinds of birds demanding more.

After a snack, we headed for an archaeological dig just a few steps away that has uncovered a marvelous ancient synagogue. You know it’s a synagogue because some of the features included two sunken pits clearly usable as ritual baths (mikvaot), a mosaic floor with an Aramaic inscription acknowledging donors who all have Jewish names, and structures that resemble today’s podium (bimah) with a large stone seat for the congregational dignitary (president-type, most likely). The mosaic floor is remarkably well preserved.

From the synagogue we continued along a path which led us to the highway but degraded continuously as we went until finally it was just a mudway. We had to climb over the barrier onto the highway, but then it was a short walk to the public beach. Terri wanted to put her hands into the Dead Sea, but as we approached the shore, she noted two folks both with bleeding feet (cut on the rocks on the beach) and decided discretion was the better part of valor. So we got close, but did not put any part of our bodies in the water.

We caught the bus back to Arad and arrived with about 5 minutes to spare before the direct-to-Tel Aviv bus was scheduled to leave. Unfortunately, we needed to go back to the hotel to retrieve our backpacks. Fortunately, the bus driver decided to let us in even though he had already left the station when I pounded on the door. Getting that bus cut about 45 minutes off the trip back to Tel Aviv. We arrived at our home away from home about 4 hours after leaving Ein Gedi. We dined at Hurkanus (our local cafe). All in all a successful and very satisfying day!