Monday, February 6, 2006

Disengagement - Part 1 - Our Farewell Tour

2 February 2006
Millburn, New Jersey

For our last few days in Israel we crammed in several good, expensive meals that my cardiologists would definitely not approve of (and then probably go eat there themselves hoping no patients walked in the door). We started with a train ride to Jerusalem, twisting through narrow valleys of farms and olive groves that can’t be seen from the highways, to spend the day at the Israel Museum. We went for the art (Chagalls and Magrittes that you don’t see in New York or Paris) and not the archeology, though a walk through the Shrine of the Book is mandatory. The real reason for another swing through Jerusalem is Liz can’t go home without having the sweetbreads at Hess, the Sausage King of Germany, Switzerland and, now, Israel. We gorged ourselves on veal (sausage and chops), goose breast and the sweetbreads. Mr. Hess took the good wine glasses out of the cupboard (the restaurant is decorated to give the atmosphere of a farm house/wine cellar for our Tishbi Cabernet (try the 2002 or the 200 if you can get it – Metrowest suspects can get Tishbi at Wine Library but you’ll have to wait for next week’s shipment as I got the last two bottles of the Cab).

Friday night we had the DiCastros over for Shabbos dinner. Keren’s quiet younger brother Daniel joined us. He’s the sort of teenager who doesn’t seem to speak or eat. It turns out he does both (if you only count appetizers and dessert) and his English is much better than he lets on. One thing I notice about the meal is that we are managing to have a long dinner conversation without having Keren constantly translating. Liz’ Hebrew has reached the point where she can communicate pretty well, especially if we are talking about cooking. At the same time Nurit, the biological mother of Keren, is more willing to use her English than she was when we first met last March. I even manage to get in 6 or 8 words, which is about the extent of my usable vocabulary. Give us a few more months of going to Ulpan and dealing with taxi drivers and we may be functional in a second language.

On Monday, 30 January, we go on our “farewell tour.” Remember the band, Cream? Their farewell tour lasted about 3 or 4 years and would still be going on but for the fact that the drummer overdosed on amphetamines. Well, our last full day in Tel Aviv was something like that, only without the amphetamines. We managed lunch with Marcia and David (dropping off a few items for them to hold onto for Becky – including the laptop which will live out the rest of its binomial life in Israel) and then headed out for Beit Noar Kadima.

Beit Noar’s staff and students put together a good-bye party for us. We were thanked by a number of children who had made thank you cards. Now I have to keep studying Hebrew just so I can read them. Those who wanted to got up and read them to the entire group. It was a bit like having the Lollipop Guild from Munchkin Land honor us for killing the wicked witch. We are definitely going back next year. It didn’t take much for Yael, the center’s director, to get me to do a couple of songs with the kids, including a reprise by my talent show group (next time, Jeff, my Gibson gets to go to Israel). You don’t get this kind of satisfaction, or learn as much, on the packaged tours.

Then its one last Ulpan class with good wishes coming in 12 or so languages. After class we go have what may be the ultimate in comfort food, Hungarian blintzes. The restaurant is small and half the place is taken up by a post-wedding party gathered to sing and recite the Sheva Brachot. The blintzes were the size of large manicottis and stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, cheeses, onions, mushrooms and lots of paprika (so you’ll know its Hungarian). Dessert includes a blintz stuffed with chocolate mousse and drowning in whipped cream (I told you my cardiologists would not be happy but I’m going with a smile). More wine and we stumble back to the apartment to start packing.

Leaving the country began as a depressing affair. Yossi, our Persian cab driver, got us to the airport without incident. We got past the first security officer, the pleasant young woman who engages you in a pleasant conversation. She finds out about your trip and whom you know (I give up my cousins in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Yagur) and where you stayed and probably has a decent-sized dossier in the making before she decides you are harmless and lets you through. As this is my third (Liz’ fourth) trip to Israel, and this was the longest by far, the conversation with the nice security woman went on far longer than previous encounters of this kind. But finally she concludes that I really am a harmless, middle-aged tourist from New Jersey (who has packed his own bags and not taken anything from anyone) and we get to the x-ray machine. And then it happens.

I have a history of almost getting arrested. Its not that I live such a moral life, it's just that I’m not very good at criminal enterprise (I once failed to get arrested at a demonstration where the whole idea was to get arrested). From time to time, however, my wife or one of my friends will manage to put me right in the path of law enforcement. Like the time Liz got me stopped at the Canadian border for having peaches and then made me eat a dozen peaches while sitting at the US customs station at the border between Montana and Canada. Or the time Burt Solomon, the most honest, law-abiding, stickler for following the rules no matter the consequences, an attorney of the highest integrity and a pillar of our community, came within a hair’s breadth of getting us both arrested for grand theft auto. This time I get stopped by Israeli airport security for carrying – strawberry jam.

Liz had two jars of the stuff in one of her bags. They will either be a present or, more likely, get spread on the muffins when Mark Chodrow comes over to shmooze or push wood around a chessboard. But in Ben Gurion Airport two jars of strawberry jam must look mighty suspicious on an x-ray. The third security person of the evening is still polite but not quite as laid back as the first two. He brings up the x-ray picture on his monitor and tells Liz to open the bag. He carefully pokes around and finds, the package. He asks Liz to open the package. This takes longer than you would like because the jars have been wrapped in lots of paper in the hope that the baggage handlers won’t spread the jam before its time.
Apparently two jars of jam look sinister on an x-ray and lead to the following conversation:

Security: What are these?
Liz: Strawberry jam.
Security: How did you get these?
Liz: I bought them.
Security: Where did you buy them?
Liz: At Supersol
Security: Where?
Liz: In Tel Aviv?
Security: What was the purpose of the purchase?
Liz: To have something to go with the muffins when my husband tries to play chess.
Security: OK, you may go.

I may have embellished the last couple of quotes but you get the idea. Not long after, I tell more security people that I can’t go through the metal detector because of my pace maker/defibrillator. They tell me to stand aside and ask for my card (us wired up folks carry cards that describe what we are wired with and when we got so lucky). A large gentleman walks over, looks at the card and, as I brace to be frisked which is what always happens at US airports (air travel since 9/11 has, for me, become a more intimate experience), he hands me my card and says, “Have a nice trip.” They spent far more time on Liz and the jam. Yes, the Israeli security apparatus has decided that I am completely harmless. The former SDS member/union organizer part of me is actually disappointed. The rest of me just wants to have a nap and eat the jam.

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