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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bienvenidas a Israel!/Bruchot ha-Baot! (Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, and Netanya)

After that relatively icky flight, we arrived at Ben Gurion airport, and went through a very long and disorganized immigration line in which I met about 20 people from Mexico who were friendly and nice to talk to and on a religious pilgrimage. There was a 'march of the penguins' into a separated line. Finally we went through and the Israeli immigrations official was not at all interested or concerned about my passport including several Muslim countries. And customs was a nonexistent thing where no one declared anything and everyone just went through and the three guys there looked to be having a very boring afternoon.

And then, there was Shmuel/Eduardo, my wonderful Couchsurfing host, holding a sign that said "CAROL" in big letters on it, welcoming us to the Promised Land! Actually a different person named Carol had approached him, wanting her to take him to the Hilton in Tel Aviv ... but he declined since she looked nothing like my photo.   Instead he ended up bringing us to his home in Kfar Saba.  In his *fabulous* brilliant blue Prius, which even my mom has now fallen in love with!

I mention both names because he is originally from Argentina, and immigrated with his family to Israel when he was 11, at which point I think everyone except his mom started calling him Shmuel. He is a lovely man who pioneered and patented a series of notebooks for schoolchildrent that is very innovative and sold in many many stores in Israel. His terrific wife Aliza runs a company which makes electrical connectors and sells them to the military. But each of them has another amazing talent/love -- Shmuel is a fabulous glass artist, in addition to a musician and Aliza makes the most gorgeous quilts --each one different, vibrant, and filled with color. So if you can imagine their house as a beautiful conglomeration of the two in Kfar Saba (a Tel Aviv suburb), you've imagined pretty accurately! It was a paradise in which to recover from jet lag.



The first afternoon, Shmuel took us to "a little mall" near his home that was stunning and impressive and had a beautiful square in it with decorations left over for Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day which was a few days before we arrived).


He then also took us to the "green line" which is the border wall between Israel and the West Bank, only a few miles from his home. You could look right across and see an Arab village named Kalkiliyah on the other side. They used to have free trade between Kalkiliyah and Kfar Saba and many of the people from Kalkiliyah were employed in Kfar Saba ... but when the Intifadas happened and enough suicide bombings happened, that normal neighborly relationship was normal no longer. This actually screwed the people living on the other side even more, financially. Very sobering to look at this sad evidence that neighbors just can't get along. And no one really has a solution for these issues...



In keeping with my feeling and belief that world domination and relationships between nations should, of course, be based on food, in the evening he and Aliza took us out to a YUMalicious restaurant called "Achlah" (which means cool in Hebrew) where they bring out like 15-20 different plates of different mezze type dishes and you just help yourself to that and the most delicious bread ever and they keep bringing out more to replenish whatever you've just eaten.

Since at least 5 of these dishes contained eggplant in various permutations, I was literally in heaven. I had to close my eyes at times to savor the experience with enough respect. This is the type of restaurant that the Israelis would refer to as an "Oriental" restaurant. This has nothing to do with Asia whatsoever, but their word for "oriental" or "eastern", Mizrachi, refers to the Middle Eastern region, not the far eastern region. So because I had read up ahead of time, I didn't feel like it was a bait-and-switch at all ;-) After the meal we got to go behind the scenes and watch them make up all those mezze plates, throw the bread against the wall of the tandoori-style oven, and chat with the Indian guy who makes all the hummus. I got some great photos.

The reason why I have entitled this blog entry like I did is that whenever Shmuel, whose English is actually quite good, could not think of how to say something he would say it in Spanish or Hebrew.  Both of which I understood.  And when we met his 84 year old mom, she speaks only Spanish and Hebrew but mixes both of them into a sentence not quite realizing what she is doing, but it was totally cool because I understood the whole sentence because of knowing both languages -- in the US we call a weird mix like this with English "Spanglish" -- so I guess I was hearing "Spebrew" in Israel!  We also got to meet his son Nir (another redhead!) and his girlfriend Inbal, who were cute young people in their early 20s just out of the army.  They showed us some Facebook photos of Nir's experience in the army, a reminder of how this pervades all young people's lives there.  All except the ultrareligious, who everyone else resents for getting an excuse out of serving in the army.  And we got to meet Aliza's lovely cousin Miri, who was amazingly fluent in English too! 



But in general I feel like I arrived in Israel with a language chip implanted into my brain.  I very rarely travel in countries where I actually speak the language well (with the exception of Mexico of course).  And it was interesting because in my current life I get almost no practice speaking Hebrew, but given my bilingual school background in the deep dark past, I have been able to understand 90% percent of what has been said (and simultaneously translate it to my mom who understands no Hebrew).  It is totally cool -- like I've internally downloaded an app.  I'm a lot less worried about map-reading and such.

On the morning of the 2nd day we took the bus into Tel Aviv to Shuk ha-Carmel, an amazing produce (and everything-else) market, and the Nachlat Binyamin pedestrial mall area crafts market which is held on Tues and Fri.  Of course there I met a vendor who had moved here from Mexico to follow a boyfriend 4 years ago, learned Hebrew fluently, but was delighted to speak Spanish with me.  We saw a lot of cool items, and ended up buying some apricots, dates, baklava, a freshly baked bread with olive oil and herbs, and cheese.  And falafel. 





Outside the market, Tel Aviv is an entirely modern city with very lovely white Bauhaus period architecture and a huge diversity of people.  Something much beyond anything my mom expected but which didn't surprise me. 









And it is completely secular and nonreligious.  After the markets, we walked to the beach promenade (Tayelet) which runs down the whole length of Tel Aviv which is bordered by the Mediterranean on the west.  It was gorgeous. 




We walked for a while, then caught the bus back to Kfar Saba in time for a special Shabbat meal which included Persian rice, stuffed grape leaves, an interesting beet dish, etc., etc. 




This morning after a delicious breakfast of shakshuka and other Israeli treats, Shmuel and Aliza took us on a fantastic driving tour of Tel Aviv.  We saw the very cool architecture in the hip downtown which is being restored with gentrification, we went to Kikar Rabin where Rabin was murdered in 1995 by an ultrareligious guy, and is now a monument to peace,




and then we went to the very hip/artsy/and yet oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv which is called Neve Tzedek, walked around there, and then had wonderful ice cream -- a brand called "Glidah Savtah" which literally translated means Granny's Ice Cream -- motto being "60 years of quality" which is kinda wild since the country was itself only founded 62 years ago!












Our first hosts then were kind enough to deliver us very directly into the hands of our second hosts, Iseec and Leah, who live in a beautiful seaside community of Netanya, about a half hour north of Tel Aviv. 



They gave us a warm welcome and a delicious lunch including yet another variation on eggplant :)  And then some really detailed and useful tips and advice regarding my upcoming drive into the Negev desert tomorrow.  And then we walked to the stunningly gorgeous beach promenade with all sorts of Gaudi-esque statues of weird fantastic sea creatures, made with mosaic tile and glass.  And featuring an equally stunning sunset!  We noticed while walking around that Netanya has very large Ethiopian and Russian recent-immigrant populations ...  And then it was back home for a yummy dinner and more delightful discussion.
















In addition to the language being wonderfully familiar, I feel that way about the people I've met so far.  They have treated me, and my mom, like family.  Actually better than family.  The kind of family you'd have if you could actively *pick* your family members.  I guess this is another plug for couchsurfing :)