The Sabra got her travel documents yesterday. That means we have cleared yet another hurdle in this arduous Green Card process. This is good news; she is now free to move about the world, and she is already talking about going back to the Holy Land for about a month (this, too, is good, as I will go for 2 weeks to visit--I could use a vacation and a good fixin' of Shawarma!).
We're thinking sometime in November, but I have a launch then, so I'm not sure how that will play out.
Now we are waiting for the temporary work permit (which will be temporary for 2 years...then we will have a second interview and it will be permanent). We are also waiting for the first interview.
So, we wait. But in the meantime, thanks to ICE for not forgetting about us.
I was, again, stuck in Florida with a shuttle that wouldn’t launch. So, again, after several days, the Sabra decided to come down and join me. And, again, she proved to be the good-luck charm we needed, and that little Shuttle launched.
Since she was in FL anyway, we decided to take a vacation, and we stayed in Orlando for a week. It was nice; we went to Disney World, which was pretty fun. We only had one day there, so we just went to Magic Kingdom. Then we spent the next morning listing to the benefits of buying a timeshare. We were strong and didn’t buy, but we DID get a free breakfast and 2 one-day passes to both Universal Orlando parks, so I guess we did OK.
I started back at work this morning, and I noticed that even though schools are all officially back in session, the Metro was surprisingly empty. Then I got off the train at Gallery Place/Chinatown to transfer. As I walked down the platform, there was a mass onrush of people walking the opposite direction. Someone had opened the floodgates and people were pouring out and over the walkway. It occurred to me that this is exactly how salmon feel as they fight their way up against the currents of the raging rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Where once I felt like drone in the subway, today, I better appreciated the plight of the salmon. Unfortunately for me, I did not spawn at the end of this river of people; however, fortunately, I did not die as do the fierce salmon who make the difficult trek to perpetuate their species.
I merely went to work.
This is a bit of a catch-up post…
The Sabra is back, living in the same state, and indeed, the same house as yours truly. She received official word that she was laid off a few weeks ago, and after an unfortunate series of events, she finally accepted the severance package her office offered: 2 more paychecks, relocation money, and 10 days’ worth of COBRA while we waited for my insurance to pick her up. I flew up on July 2, and we drove back on the fifth, car loaded with all her worldly possessions.
Now that she is unemployed and almost without a status, we have submitted the paperwork for her Green Card…and what an experience that has been. It was actually easier than we thought to get all the papers together, and I got my bonus at work at just the right time—for it ain’t cheap to get permanent residence status. She also had to get a physical from a US Citizenship and Immigration Services recognized doctor. This physical included a TB test, which, due to her being immunized as a child, she promptly failed. So, she had to go to another place to get a chest x-ray to verify that she is TB free. But, since we live in the District, we had to take an extra step.
I took yesterday off thinking that I would get some well-deserved rest and get some things done around the apartment. Instead, I spent the better part of the morning at DC General Hospital at the TB clinic where the Sabra had to get clearance from the DC Department of Health. It was a bit creepy hanging out with so many consumptives in one room. I will definitely need to get a TB test at my next physical!
With clearance in hand, we returned to the CIS approved clinic and had all the paperwork finalized. We put the papers, applications, and checks (yes, there were 3 of them) in the mail this morning.
Now we wait for the next step in the process, which I believe is the interview…stay tuned!
Yea, so, it's been yonks since I've written anything, so I decided to start writing and see where it takes me. I'm not really sure what I'm planning to write in this post, but we'll see what comes out.
I've been worrying lately that I've completely lost what little shred of talent I have for writing and being creative. I've been saying it for years now that NASA has been making me dumber, and now I'm completely convinced. I've not written anything since last year, and I've had nothing to write about. I've tried; oh, believe me, I've tried. I sit on the Metro and look at the goings-on around me and think, "What is going on here that I can write about?" I thought about blogging about the wedding and preparation and all that, but nothing (not to mention that the Sabra didn't want me to write anything personal on the blog). I just didn't have the ambition.
Now that we're separated, you'd think I've got loads of time to write...but again, what do I write about? I could blog about me trying to find a job in Beantown, but who wants to read that crap?
I finally got around to buying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so I decided to start back at the beginning and read straight through. I thought that that would be cool to write about...my feelings after reading each of the books--not my opinions of what's going on or anything like that, but the beauty of reading entertaining books, of the feelings, emotions, and memories that J.K. Rowling is able to evoke from me. But, nope, nada, nothing doing. Oh, that's not to say that I'm not experiencing emotions and feelings and memories from reading the books again, but I'm not writing about them...can't be bothered.
I'm going out tonight...maybe something exciting will occur to me to write about them.
Well, wish me luck!
After a lot of stressing, the Sabra and I finally decided on a date: 29 January 2009, we will tie the knot.
So there you go.
We've started telling folks.
Since my sister lives in Portland, OR, and she feels like she's not with the family on special days, we decided to tell her before anyone else. We called her last night, and I led with "can you keep a secret?" She immediately guessed that I was calling to tell her that I was engaged.
This afternoon, we called the Sabra's parents to tell them officially. They already knew it was coming since I talked to them the other day for their permission (actually for their blessing because I don't know how to say "permission" in Hebrew), but we still wanted them to know that the deed had been done.
I am hosting Rosh Hashana this year, and my parents and oldest sister came here for dinner. Before we started making dinner, and before my sister got here, we told my parents. I said, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it might take you a little longer to get to Japan, but the good news is that you are still going to get to go to Asia." When my sister arrived, we told her as well.
I guess it's becoming official now that the family knows.
I had the ring in the car when I picked up the Sabra last night, but the moment just wasn't right to do it.
Tonight was the night.
One of our first "dates" involved a rather long walk down Wisconsin Ave. At one point, we stopped at a church to sit on the step and rest for a bit. Before I knew it, we were talking about weddings and what we liked and didn't like in the weddings we'd been to, and what we would want and wouldn't want in our own weddings. Since then, we'd always joked that we should get engaged on those steps.
As fate would have it, the church lies just south of the Metro station we use to get to the gym. So, I'd been trying to see how I could manage it to walk past the church on our way back to the Metro, but we always seemed to switch sides before we'd get to the church.
Tonight, however, was different.
After our workouts, we took showers and changed clothes. Before I left the men's dressing room, I took the ring out of the box and put it in my pocket. These are relatively new pants, but I was convinced that I would suddenly and spontaneously get a hole in the pocket and lose the ring before we got to the church.
As we headed to the Metro, I kept us on the correct side of the street (the lights were also on our side and they were green most of the way so we didn't need to switch sides). When we got to the church, I asked the Sabra if she wanted to sit for a minute "for fun and old-time's sake." She said sure, and we sat.
I tried to steer the conversation toward the topic of marriage, but it just wasn't working too well. I was nervous, and I think she knew what was coming and was nervous too. I had already made a big deal that I wanted to go out to dinner, so after my stuttering to try to start the conversation, the Sabra said she was cold and hungry and wanted to get moving (she did have goose-bumps).
We went to Neisha, a Thai place in Tenley Town. I broached the subject again. This time I said, "what do you think? Can you see yourself with a ring?" and I took my ring off, and put it on her finger with the shank up so it looked like a wedding band. She said she didn't know. I pulled out the real ring and said, "well, what about with this one?" and put it on her finger.
She was a bit dumbfounded for a minute and then realized that this was it, I was really proposing. She was so happy, she almost cried. She didn't, but she did get up and hug and kiss me.
I think it was a very nice way to propose, but it wasn't the way I had it in my head. That's fine. We're both happy. Also, since it wasn't the official engagement ring, I still have a second opportunity to "officially" propose.
I played hookie from work today, and I went out to lunch with Shining Starr9. We talked about how the Sabra and I are seriously talking about getting married in January. I told her that I didn't have a ring yet, so I couldn't propose because I don't want to do it without a ring.
She suggested that I buy a "promise ring." I wasn't so sure, but I thought I'd give it a try. So, we dropped her car off and headed over to the mall. It was PG Plaza (or the Mall at Prince Georges as they prefer to be called now). We looked at some nice stuff, but it was more than I wanted to spend. Please don't misunderstand, I'm happy to spend as much as I need to, but since this isn't the engagement ring, I just wanted something nice to do what needs to be done.
So, after excluding anything out of my price range, I didn't find anything nice. We ended up at Macy's, and I did a panic purchase. I bought a ring that looked really nice at the moment, but as I looked at it and looked at it, I came to realize that I didn't like it at all.
I headed over to Montgomery Mall, which has a different class of clientele. I went into Helzberg and found a really nice ring that had the Sabra written all over it. I returned the ring to Macy's without even thinking about it, and bought the one at Helzberg.
Now I need to give it to her...
I recently received an email from LtL. He decided that he needed a respite from the hustle and bustle for New York City; he needed to rejuvenate, renegotiate, and recreate himself. Like cars, we all need to pull off the freeway of life and refuel once in a while. Many of us have a special place where we can sit and let our batteries recharge (or refill the tank if you’d prefer I didn’t mix a metaphor—unless you have a hybrid). For some it’s going back to their childhood home, or a grandparent’s house. For others it’s communing with nature by hiking and camping. I prefer to go to London or Jerusalem. There is something about those two cities that I really like. A nice vacation in either city will allow me to come home and be able to deal with all the bullshit that is my daily life.
This is not so for LtL. He has decided that in order to fulfill his calling he must leave NYC, break up with his partner of a number of years, sell what he has, quite his job, and drive ½ way across the country to a state and city he’s never been to. His special refilling place is the American Southwest, and the desert. As such, he has decided to head out to New Mexico with no job prospects, no housing, not even any friends.
I think it’s insane. He’s not getting any younger, and still he’s willing to quit his job and seek out a new one with no prospects. I continued to think of all the things I’d say to him when we talked about this decision…like that I thought he was absolutely crazy and it was pretty much one of the dumbest things he’d come up with yet.
Then, in one of those rare moments of introspection that I have, I realized 2 things: 1) I still thought that he was absolutely insane for doing this, and 2) the only reason I was planning on being so disparaging was that I was in fact jealous. I wasn’t jealous of his decision to go to New Mexico in the hopes of working at Spaceport America, but rather, I was jealous of LtL’s courage. I know that he isn’t the type to make rash decisions, and if he did in fact decide to do this, then a lot of thought went into it. I was jealous that I’m not as brave or adventurous as I’d like to be. Every night I lay in bed with the Sabra, and we talk about moving to San Francisco or Boston or Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or London, and every morning when the alarm goes off, we both get out of bed and trudge back to jobs we hate.
But not LtL. He put is money where is mouth is, as the saying says, and got off his ass and did something about his unhappiness. Do I still think he’s crazy? Yep. But I also think that whether he finds what he’s looking for or not, he will be happier for having tried it. I wish him well. I support him to the fullest I can. I hope that his courage and conviction will inspire me to do more of what I want to do than my comfort level will allow.
His journey reminds of a great line from an otherwise mediocre song:
Somebody once asked could I spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change
-- Smash Mouth
Where do pieces of luggage go when they run away? What does one do when it happens? Should I contact the milk industry to have a picture put on the cartons? Should I tack flyers to the telephone poles? Would John Walsh be interested in producing an exposé on my baggage?
I worked ½ a day on April 10th, then met the Sabra in front of the building formerly known as the Department of Transportation at L’Enfant Plaza. We took the 5A to Washington Dulles International Airport. Once we were at the airport, we checked in at the British Airways desk, deposited our luggage, and headed to security. Once past security, we hopped onto those fun busses they have out there at Dulles—they are actually called Mobile Lounges if you really want to know—and went to the gate to settle in while we waited for the plane. We sat and talked for a bit, availed ourselves of the services (if you know what I mean), and watched the young women who were returning to London after touring New York City and Washington, DC with their school. Once we boarded, we discovered that one young lady was sitting in the window seat next to us. Apparently, she was afraid not of the flying, but of take-off. Several of her school friends came by to see how she was doing, and she said that she would be fine. I offered her the Sabra’s hand to hold during ascent, but she assured us that her stuffed animal would be fine. A few minutes before we taxied onto the tarmac, one of her friends came round and told her that there was an empty seat near her if she wanted to sit there. After the Sabra and I assured her that it wouldn’t be a bother to us if she got up and came back, she did in fact get up, and after we could move about the cabin, she did in fact return to her seat by the window. She put her headphones on and slept almost the entire way.
After dinner and a glass of red wine, I wrapped myself up in an overly staticy blanket and turned on the in-flight entertainment. I watched The Golden Compass. I have to be honest, I was somewhat disappointed. I don’t really remember the book so well, so I’m not sure it followed the script, and to be fair, it was sort hard to hear and the screen was quite small. After the movie, I went to sleep. I woke up about an hour and a half before we landed at Heathrow Airport. During the interim, I watched an episode of Futurama.
Heathrow was quiet when we arrived, and we thought about sitting down and having a proper English breakfast, but alas, we didn’t have enough time for that, and yet we had too much time to do nothing. After finding our gate and going to the bathroom, we walked around Terminal 4 and bought some candy…for little other reason than to use up some quid I had from the last trip to Old Blighty.
The Sabra’s friend who works at British Airways helped us get on the same flights so we could travel together. Unfortunately, the second leg of our journey didn’t work out quite as well as we had hoped. Our tickets said that we were sitting in different rows, so, when the folks arrived to work the gate, I went up and asked if they could help us out so we could sit together. The woman informed me that it would not be possible because a) it was a full flight, and b) I was sitting in a higher class of seats than her. So, poor me had to sit in a nice wide, comfy chair with a foot rest abreast a young, attractive Brit, while the poor Sabra had to sit in the last row of the plane with large, snoring guys around her. I actually felt bad that I didn’t offer her to sit in the better seats. Oh, well.
So, once we were airborne and the cabin crew could deliver food, they did. I ate something hot and tasty, and watched another movie. This time it was Enchanted. It was a cute movie, and I thought it was a clever twist on the same ole same ole. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how it ended as I fell asleep almost ¾ of the way through. This is not a critique of the movie, however. I was just very tired from flying for so long.
We finally arrived in the Holy Land. After 16 years of being away, I was finally back. You must understand that I first went to Israel during the winter of 1988–1989. I spent 8 days in country that winter and fell in love. I went back on the same trip a year later. The year after that, I spent 3 weeks, primarily in Jerusalem at Ohr Somayach on their JLE program. Not even a year later, (JLE was in the winter, and I returned in June), I was back at Ohr Somayach, where I stayed for my sophomore year of college. After that, I returned once more the winter of 1992–1993 to visit, and have not been back since. To say that I was overcome with emotion would be stretching it a bit too far, but I was a little saddened that flying on British Airways is a very different experience than when I used to fly on Tower Air, or Chassidish Air as we used to refer to it. Flying with a plane full of orthodox Jews gives a whole new meaning to the expression “a wing and a prayer.” (On one of my flights, someone was transporting a Torah, and it happened to be a Monday or Thursday that we were flying. As such, during the morning services, they opened the Torah and read from it. It is one of my fondest religious memories.) Landing in Israel aboard a Tower Air flight was surreal. As soon as the back wheels made that screeching sound of hitting the ground, people would start applauding and break out into a round of Hevenu Shalom Aleichem. That enthusiasm seems to have died with Tower. I must confess that I did hum to myself. Looking out the window, all I could see was tarmac and the other requisite airport accoutrement, but I know I was back. I knew I was with my people. I knew that I was once again about to set foot on hallowed ground.
After disembarking, we had to separate to go through customs. For the first time since I met the Sabra, I was now the foreigner. We met up again on the other side of customs and headed to get our luggage. As we were walking, we saw a young woman standing and appearing to be waiting for something. As we approached, the Sabra realized that it was her friend who works at Ben Gurion International Airport. I was introduced, and they chatted as I labored to handle our two overflowing bags (Israelis always bring tons of American shit back with them because stuff is so much cheaper here). After I got the bags, we said goodbye to her friend and headed out the door. My heart was beating hard and fast. The moment had come.
As the electric doors that separated international arrivals from their loved ones and hired drivers swooshed open, I spotted her mother immediately. She was jumping up and down with excitement. It had been many months since she had seen her daughter and her first time meeting me face-to-face. She also knew that her son and daughter-in-law would be arriving later in the day (actually the next day—at 3 am—to be exact), and for the first time in about 6 years, she would have all of her children again under one roof. She pounced on us like a cat onto cheese and gave us warm, welcoming bear hugs. It was a great way to meet the family for the first time. We walked over to the rest of the family, and I said hello and shook hands with her younger brother and father.
After pleasantries were done, we headed out into the parking lot to go home. The first things that I saw were palm trees and blue skies. I could smell flowers in bloom and cigarette smoke. I heard birds chirping and people cursing. I felt comfortable, safe; I had returned home. I was brought back to reality: honking car horns and people who were in a hurry shoving me out of the way. Yes, indeed. I was back in Israel.
We got out of the airport and onto the main road. We were heading south to Gedera, where the Sabra is from and her parents still live. I sat in the front with her father, and he pointed out interesting sites along the way: kibbutzim, towns, and other places of interest. When we got to Rehovot, we drove past a Moshav where an old friend of mine used to live (and I spent a weekend). Instead of heading straight home, we swung by the army base where the Sabra did her paratrooper training. I found it more interesting than I think she thought I did. We finally reached Chez Sabra, and we took our bags to our room and unpacked some of the gifts we had brought.
It was late in the day, but the Sabra and I walked a bit around Gedera. I got to see the oldest building in town, the street with some restaurants and new stores, and one of the main parks, Gan Bilu. We also went past the school that she attended as a child. The school and the street on which her parents’ house sits are named after a famous Zionist leader, Rabbi Yehiel Michael Pines. This is not particularly interesting until you understand that while his name is spelled Pines, it is pronounced with a long i, and a short e. As such, when saying it aloud, one does not pronounce it like the tree, but rather like the male genitalia. As an immature American, I giggle every time I ask the Sabra where she lives in Gedera.
After our walk around town, we returned to the house where her mother was putting finishing touches on dinner: Israeli salad, avocado salad, and bulbonic (a potato kugel that is very tasty and not unlike something my ain dear mammy used ta make). Since her dad needed to be up ridiculously early to pick her brother and sister-in-law up from the airport, we went to bed relatively early.
On Saturday, we got up and walked around some more. This time, we walked the other direction and strolled through Moshav Kidron. There are some new, hip looking houses there. We saw a house for sale when we crossed back into Gedera, and took down the number to call the realtor on Sunday (alas, it was already under contract). We got back in time to help clear the table and get ready for lunch. We had barbeque. It was insane. There was so much food, and I wasn’t shy about eating, that’s for sure. It was all so good, too.
After lunch, the Sabra, her 2 brothers, her sister-in-law, and I headed over to Ashdod to go down to the beach. It was a beautiful evening with a warm Mediterranean breeze blowing off the water. It was also packed. There were a ton of people at the picnic area grilling on small, portable grills, and equally as many people strolling along the promenade. Everyone seemed so calm and at peace. I took a bunch of pictures, but it was cloudy, so this shot was the best I could come up with (although I do like this one as well). After the beach, we went home, chatted a bunch, then went to bed.
Sunday was a big day—it was the Sabra’s grooming day. It started with walking to the post office to get money changed, then to the manicurist so the Sabra could get her nails done. That was weird. I sat in the waiting room (which was really the dining room of an apartment that had been converted into a manicurist’s studio. She tried to talk to me several times, but as I don’t speak the language, it was kind of hard to understand her—not to mention that everything is made of concrete in Israel, so sound echoes a lot in empty apartment dining rooms that have been converted in to waiting rooms for manicurists’ studios. After her nails were done (French manicure), we returned home and headed out to Rehovot so the Sabra could get her hair done. I chose to hang with her brother and sister-in-law. We ended up at the mall, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking to do, but it was fine. I did find strawberry Bamba. I didn’t think Bamba could get any more disgusting…I was wrong. We returned home and picked up the Sabra’s parents and headed to Ashdod. Since it was her mom’s birthday, we went to lunch there in an Argentinean restaurant. I got pargit (young chicken) kabobs. After lunch, we headed home for a bit, and then went back out to pick up the Sabra’s younger brother from Beit Noam in Kiryat Ono. Then we had to get ready for the party.
As I mentioned, Sunday was the Sabra’s mother’s birthday, so we headed out to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where they had rented the café. The catered food was amazing. It was all vegetarian (so the Sabra was pretty happy). Everyone seemed so excited to be there to help the Sabra’s mother celebrate her birthday. It was a little overwhelming for me as I got to meet the extended family for the first time. Fortunately, the Sabra’s cousins were there with their new baby, so they were more the center of attention than I was. I sat next to a couple who were quite fluent in English (in fact she was from the UK, and he had studied there), so that was nice. After a long day of eating, we ended the night with a nosh and then it was off to bed.
After coming downstairs from showering on Monday morning, I discovered that there was a bit of a to-do in the house. Apparently, one of the presents hadn’t made it home. Now, I was responsible for transporting the gifts from the café to the car, and from the car to the house, so I felt a little guilty as I was afraid that I was responsible for losing it. So, the Sabra, her friend, her brother, her sister-in-law, and I went back to Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and checked with the folks in the café. To my relief, it was there behind the counter, waiting for us to pick up. Since we were at the Weizmann Institute anyway, we decided to head over to Beit Weizmann where Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, lived. After going through the house and seeing his grave, we headed back to the mall, and I had a very authentic, Middle Eastern lunch: KFC. We went to a local schwarma place for dinner and got some lafa and brought it home to eat. It was D-LISH!
Tuesday finally came, and I was so excited because Tuesday was to be Jo Cose’s day. The Sabra’s friend (the same one who met us at the airport) came by and picked us up. And we were off, racing up the highway on our way to Tel Aviv. We started our adventures in Yaffo because I wanted to go through the Shuk Ha-Pishpishim. We tried on some fezzes, I bought a mezuzah for my nephew, and the Sabra tried on some pants that she didn’t buy in the end. I was looking for some Christian-type stuff from a friend at work, and the guy was doing his best to see it to me. He told me that he was a Cohen and wanted to get of all the non-Jewish stuff he had because he wasn’t comfortable with it. I chuckled, and the Sabra got mad at me. I doubt he was really a Cohen, and who knows if he was even religious (even if he was wearing a yarmulke). Again, I only got 2 good pictures at the Shuk, this one and this one. We walked around the port some more and ate lunch at Dr. Shakshuka. I’m not a big fan of shakshuka, but 1) the Sabra loves it, 2) Dr. Shakshuka is one of those world famous restaurants, and 3) it’s a Tripolitan restaurant, and I’ve never had Libyan food before. Like many places, they had an open kitchen, and they had 4 burners set up so that the cook overlooked the customers (clearly designed for us to watch the cook make the shakshuka. The guy who was cooking was definitely hamming it up. He’d crack the egg, then fling it into the pans from across the burners. Naturally, I pulled out my camera and started snapping away. Sadly, none came out. After the cook had made the order he was making, he came out into the dining area. I stopped him to show him the pics I had of him, and he dragged me up into the kitchen. They took my camera, placed 3 pans on the burners, then showed me how he flung the eggs. I did my best to copy him, and succeeded on my first attempt. A group of German tourists who were watching started applauding. Then I tried again with the next pan, and f’ed it up bad. I got nervous, so I cracked the egg too hard, and the shell shattered in my hand. Clearly the cook was afraid that I’d get shells in the shakshuka because he pushed me out of the way and cracked a new egg into it. Either way, I can say that I made shakshuka at Dr. Shakshuka. We also got to see Dana International, who definitely has an interesting story. We didn’t talk to her, but I got a picture of her back. After lunch we went back to the car because the Sabra’s friend had to get to work.
The Sabra and I started walking toward Dizengoff Square, but got sidetracked when we got to the Nahalat Binyamin Market. We walked up and down the sidewalk looking at all the crafts. I bought my nephews some hand-painted Hebrew letters that spelled out their names. We bumped into the Sabra’s brother, sister-in-law, and her brother’s friend. We chatted with them for a few minutes, then we moved on.
We got a cab and headed to Ramat Gan to meet up with an old friend of mine from my yeshiva days. It was really nice to see someone that I hadn’t seen in 16 years, but it was also a little awkward. I wanted to reminisce, I wanted to have a good laugh about the old days. Unfortunately, he didn’t have quite as fond of memories as I did, so it didn’t work out so well for me. No matter, it was still a lot of fun to hang out and talk and see someone that I hadn’t seen in 16 years.
After chatting for a bit and having some cake and drink, we piled into my friend’s car and he drove us back into Tel Aviv and picked up a cab to head over to the Sabra’s friend’s apartment. From there, we drove to Herzliya for dinner. We met 3 of the Sabra’s friends from college. They all lived together in the dorms, and they have remained friends ever since. We went to a place called Bleecker, which is right in the marina, so all the sailboats were lined up. It was a beautiful night, and the sliding walls were all open, and people were sitting outside, but we were still a little chilly, so we sat inside. I had schnitzel. It was mediocre.
Of course we missed the last bus back to Gedera and of course it was my fault for not keeping track of the time. So, we went back to the apartment and waited for the Sabra’s father to drive up and pick us up. As I mentioned, it was a beautiful night, and there was no traffic, so it was a good night for driving.
On Wednesday, we headed back to Ashdod. The Sabra’s father had a meeting there, and the Sabra had a doctor’s appointment. I tagged along. We got dropped off at the mall, right by the guy who thought that urinating on the side of the building in front of God and Country was an appropriate place to whip out his manhood and relieve the pressure on his bladder. We walked through the mall and into the business section, went up the elevator and into the office. I sat in the waiting room where the young (attractive) woman behind the desk asked for my help. She needed me to carry the heavy bottle of water from the storage room around to the water machine and put the bottle in place. Now, this young (attractive) woman was clearly not long out of the Army, so why is she asking an old man like me to do such laborious labor?
After the doctor, we headed back through the mall looking for food. We ended up at a place called Roast Beef Bar. It was like a Subway, but so much better. We sat outside and ate. Meanwhile someone who the Sabra went to school with came walking by with her kid. They exchanged pleasantries, and then the woman and kid went on their way. When we finished, we called the Sabra’s father to come and get us, and we while we waited, we went and bought watermelon seeds (mmm mmm mmm, I loves me some watermelon seeds!).
That night, I got to experience what it was like to be Joe Israeli. We went to the supermarket at Bilu Center in Rehovot. The grocery store was weird! They had normal stuff you’d expect to see at a grocery store, like, say, groceries, but they also had electronics and refrigerators and washing machines. It was quite odd. I bought some yogurt for breakfast and some strawberry Bamba because after seeing it the other day, I had to try it. The Sabra bought some Bamba for my nephew who loves the crap, and I bought some chocolate for the office.
Thursday was by far the highlight of the trip! We took the bus to Jerusalem. When we got to the central bus station in the Holy City, we called another friend of mine, the Gib, that I hadn’t seen either for 16 years. The Sabra and I walked to Machane Yehuda where we met him. We walked through the market, then down to Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem. We walked past the Underground (which, by now has closed its doors for the last time), and had some lunch in a pay-by-the-pound vegetarian place (the Sabra was happy about that). After that, we walked down Ben Yehuda Street past Meah Shearim on our way to Yeshiva. It was absolutely crazy to be there after 16 years. We had to leave the Sabra outside (the have gates now and only one entrance) since she’s a girl and all. We saw the guy who was (and still is apparently) in charge of the dorms. He remembered me pretty quickly, but not the Gib…at first anyway. Once he got it, it all came flooding back (in fact, we think he sniffed the Gib to see if he smelled of herb). He gave us a tour of the place…it’s changed so much since we were there. There were a few bochers around (it was erev Pesach, so it was pretty dead), and they seemed a little frightened. We saw the old cook who also remembered me, but not the Gib (who was somewhat offended, I think). We had a great time talking about the old days and what we did where and with whom. It was exactly what I was looking for. Finally, the tour was over, and it was time to leave. We headed back out, and the Gib took pics of me and the Sabra touching each other in front of the Yeshiva (scandalous!).
From the Yeshiva, we headed down Highway 1 to the Old City. Before we got there, we stopped in the travel agency where another Gibraltarian I went to school with works and hung out with him for a bit before pressing on. We walked through the Armenian Quarter then on into the Arab Quarter before finally passing into the Jewish Quarter. We walked through the shuk and haggled with some of the vendors. I bought my nephews little green shirts with the IDF logo on them. I also bought postcards for them, and I bought a box of holy water, holy dirt, holy incense, and holy spice for a friend at work. The Gib and I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Deir es-Sultan, an Ethiopian church I never even knew was there. It was pretty cool. Finally, we made our way to the Western Wall. For such a drab, old wall, it really is one of the most beautiful sites in the world. I don’t consider myself to be particularly religious or spiritual, but there is something about seeing that wall and knowing that my peeps prayed behind it 2,000 years ago is pretty amazing! I put the prayers that folks from the office gave me into the cracks, and gave a little charity and got a red string to tie around my wrist to protect me from the evil eye.
Finally, we headed out of the Old City and walked to a café to get something to drink. I got tea with fresh mint leaves in it…yummy. The Gib and I continued to entertain the Sabra with our stories from our yeshiva days. I’m sure that we entertained a few folks sitting around us as well. Sadly, the Gib had a party to go to and we had to part ways. We promised that we would see each other again before another 16 years were up! The Sabra and I walked back to the bus station and went home. It was bittersweet to get into bed that night. On the one hand I was so friggin’ tired from all that walking that I was so happy to finely hit the pillow, but I was sad because I didn’t want to leave Jerusalem.
I woke up Friday and decided that I wanted to go back to Jerusalem. An old friend of mine (if you are guessing I hadn’t seen him in 16 years, you are wrong—it had only been 15 years) had called me when we were in Jerusalem on Thursday, but we didn’t have time to hook up and I really wanted to see him. So, the Sabra’s father dutifully took me to the bus stop, and it turned out that we missed the bus at that stop, so we jumped in the car and started to drive to the next stop. From out of nowhere, the bus pulls up behind us at a red light, so now we are racing to get to the stop before the bus does. Fortunately, we made it, and I was again on my way to Jerusalem, this time all by myself. When I got to the bus station I called the Costa Rican, and we arranged to meet for lunch. I had a few hours to kill, so I walked back to Machane Yehuda and took some pictures (see here and here and here). I took the bus down to Meah Shearim and impressed myself because I was able to talk to the bus driver all in Hebrew. In Meah Shearim, I headed over to see if the Olive Wood Factory was open. Sadly, since it was erev Shabbos and erev Pesach, most of Meah Shearim was closed (what wasn’t was all hustle-bustle buying last minute stuff for the holiday and burning chumitz. I didn’t remember so many bonfires to burn your bread [see here and here and here and here]). I decided that I would see if my memory was still as good as I thought. I turned out that it was. I was able to find the back route that we would take to get from the bars back to Yeshiva. Needless to say, I did indeed find my way. I was so impressed with myself.
About the time I found myself back at the Yeshiva, the Costa Rican called me to see where I was. I told him, and we decided on a place to meet. He picked me up, and we headed back into town to grab some lunch. We stopped at a liquor store to buy some wine (which I also did for the Seder), then we went to some hole-in-the-way place where we got hummus and falafel. We talked and talked and talked and got caught up on the past 15 years. Then he drove me back to the bus station, and I headed back to Gedera. I asked the driver to let me know when we reached my stop, but it was still one of the scariest bus rides of my life. When I was going to school there, I would travel from one city to the next, but it was generally from one central bus station to the next. This trip was to a random bus stop I the middle of the street in a random town. But, I did good, and got to where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to.
Saturday was busy with all the last minute stuff for Pesach, which finally came. The Sabra’s extended family came and soon we were gathered around the table, ready to start. Her mother went out and bought 2 Haggadahs that had English and Hebrew: one for me, and one for the Sabra’s sister-in-law. We went around the table reading, and when it came to the two of us, we read in English while everyone else read in Hebrew. Yea, it was kind of awkward, but it was OK. Dinner was, of course, delicious, and everyone had a great time.
Sunday was spent hanging out and packing.
Sadly, Monday came, and it was time to go home. Of course, Monday had barely come. The Sabra’s brother and sister-in-law’s flight was crazy early in the morning, so instead of making her father drive to the airport twice, we got up early and went with them. We left the house around 4:30 in the morning. It made for one long day. The flights were pretty uneventful. I watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which was OK. It was, like most of Nicolas Cage’s movies, exactly what you’d expect. Not too great story, not too great acting, but thoroughly enjoyable. After that, I watched Juno, which I wasn’t expecting to like, but Ellen Page is a hottie, and a good actor. I also fell in love with the soundtrack.
We finally made it home to BWI. My one brother-in-law was supposed to pick us up from the airport, but it turned out that my other brother-in-law was in the neighborhood, so he got us instead. When we got to the curb to meet him, we were 2 suitcases lighter than when left Ben Gurion International Airport. We filled out the paperwork for them to deliver our bags. We headed back to my parents house to see my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who live in Oregon. They were on this coast for Pesach. Finally, after God knows how many hours, we finally went home and went to bed.
Tuesday came and the Sabra’s luggage showed up. Mine didn’t. But, after 2 weeks of calling British Airways every day to find the status of my luggage and over $200 in replacements, I did finally get my bag back. It was wet and my clothes smelled of mildew. One of my gifts was ruined. All I got from British Airways was “Thank you for flying with British Airways.” Not even an “I’m sorry.” These idiots admitted that until my bag got back on a plane, they had no idea where (literally) in the world it was. They thought it was in London, but it could have just as likely still been in Tel Aviv or even in Timbuktu. Now, I have to play the waiting again. I submitted my receipts for reimbursement, but it can take 6-8 weeks for them to process my request (and that’s before they decide if they are in fact going to grant me the privilege of reimbursing me). I was just told today that I can’t call that department, I can only fax or write them a letter…like they’re really going to respond.
BUT, even though I didn’t have my luggage for 2 weeks, and even though it was a short trip, and even though I didn’t get to do as much traveling and touring as I would have liked, I had a great time, and I’m so glad I went. I just hope that it won’t take me 16 more years to get back.