Monday, November 13, 2017
The Israeli work week is typically 5 1/2 days, beginning on Sunday and ending midday Friday. Even in Tel Aviv, a relatively secular city, Friday is pretty quiet and Saturday is dead, commercially that is. Few restaurants are open, but local beaches and outlying resort areas are busy, and we met heavy traffic returning to Tel Aviv Saturday night. You could describe it as a city of Jews, but not a Jewish city.
Physically, I've observed three Tel Avivs. Most evident are the glitzy high-rise apartment houses. There must be hundreds of them rising in the last decade, with office towers and hotels nearby. While the coastline has been a popular target, open spaces to the north and west of the center city have seen the greatest development for these expensive residences, often owned by foreign Jews.
The more established Tel Aviv consists of over 4,000 International Style, multi-unit buildings constructed between 1930 and 1954 by European architects of Jewish origin, who fled Europe. They are typically four-story, whitewashed, boxy stucco buildings, with large windows, but no external ornamentation. While some were torn down over time, most seem to have been extensively renovated or even rebuilt to house an expanding middle class.
Finally, on Sunday, I became exposed to a third Tel Aviv, the crammed slums and public spaces occupied by about 20,000 refugee adults, predominantly from Eritrea and the Sudan, and their uncounted children. About an equal number are in other parts of the country. To escape genocidal conditions, these people move north, either into Egypt or Libya, usually relying on smugglers. If they get to Libya, they attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, thousands drowning in the process. If they get to Egypt, they try to cross the Sinai Desert into Israel. Even though they are mostly Muslim, none Jewish, they view Israel as a safe haven.
Tamara Newman, Director of Resource Development of the Hotline for Refugees and Immigrants, an Australian Jewish immigrant, described the Hotline's work and the conditions addressed, when we met her on Sunday.
Once, the Israeli government gave these African refugees a welcome reception, seeing a parallel with the plight of European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. However, as their numbers grew, they gravitated to South Tel Aviv, next to the central bus station where they were deposited after release from administrative detention. South Tel Aviv is a neighborhood occupied by poorly-integrated North African Jews, who already felt underserved by the government. Now, thousands of Africans are either in administrative detention or walking the streets, unable to work legally and subject to detention or deportation, which the Jewish conscience, at least, has been reluctant to carry out.
Hotline offers vital counseling and legal services, once to Asian and European victims of sex trafficking in Israel, now to these Africans, who are being labeled infiltrators instead of refugees. Headline in Haaretz, August 31, 2017: "Netanyahu on African 'Infiltrators': We Will Return South Tel Aviv to Israelis"
While we Americans have little to teach the Israelis about handling refugees from tyrannical regimes ever since the Tsar fell, we have one humane policy that they lack. Children born to refugees in Israel do not achieve Israeli citizenship, but are admitted to public schools.
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Columbia University 7-2
New York Jets 4-6
New York Giants 1-8
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
One thing that I love about Tel Aviv is the street names. Almost every Jew imaginable has a street named after him. I will resist the temptation of providing an almost endless list of Aronsons and Epsteins and Goldbergs and Kaplans and Rothschilds and Steins, but no Gotthelfs, alas. Welcome variety is provided by Da Vinci, La Guardia, Lincoln, Rembrandt, and Toscanini.
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Visiting law professor David walked us around the sprawling campus of Tel Aviv University today, covered with modern buildings for almost every imaginable discipline. Additionally, Beit Hatfutsot - The Museum of the Jewish People is centrally located on campus. On our previous visit to the museum 4 years ago, we had just arrived in Israel and were kind of gaga from the flight and time change. I can recall only about three minutes of that visit. Today, we were well-rested, alert and relatively energetic, a good thing because the museum had so much to offer.
Part of the permanent exhibition is a fascinating display of 21 scale models of synagogues from all over, past and present. Since there never has been a "Jewish architectural style," the exteriors vary greatly and tended to reflect their time and place. The interiors, however, followed denominational ritual standards, often combined with a decorative veneer that approached psychedelic heights.
The museum also has four excellent current exhibits:
- Forever Young -- Bob Dylan at 75
- Operation Moses -- 30 Years After (the mass movement of Ethiopian Jews to Israel)
- I’m Ready My Lord – A special performance art display, in memory of Leonard Cohen
- Capturing History: The Photography of Chim (David Seymour, a Polish Jewish photographer, who recorded everything from the Spanish Civil War to Sophia Loren; killed in the Sinai Desert during the Suez Crisis). https://www.bh.org.il/event/
I'm surprised that I got out of there on the same day.
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I just got the news that Tel Aviv has been named the vegan capital of the world. Fortunately, this occurred late enough not to ruin my visit.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Annette Crohn, a member of West End Synagogue, recently relocated to Israel to be near her family, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She also shares a birthday with America's Favorite Epidemiologist, so we made our way to the suburb of Ramat Hasharon for a visit this afternoon, taking buses just like we knew what we were doing. She has a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, with a drop dead view reaching to Tel Aviv and even beyond to the Mediterranean on very clear days. In her 90s, Annette swims daily, reads avidly and was eager to hear about our mutual friends on the Upper West Side. I can't decide who was happier to see whom.
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Okay, it's what you've been waiting for. While Israel technically is an Asian country, I don't consider the hummus and shawarma that I've been eating serious Asian food. So, tonight, we had dinner at Nam - Thai Cook House, Dizengoff Street 275, a real Asian restaurant that lived up to its reputation as one of the best in the city and, by default, the country. It's a casual joint, which you can say about any restaurant I've seen in Tel Aviv in four visits. It also got busier as the evening went on, the seats at the bar, the tables on the sidewalk and the dozen or so tables inside all filled up by the time that we were ready to leave.
The food warranted the activity. I had chicken egg rolls (29 NIS each or both, the bill was muddled), served with a thick hoisin sauce; and Pad Si U (63 NIS), very wide rice noodles cooked with sweet soy sauce, broccoli, green onion, coriander, spinach, garlic and sliced beef. Madame had Pad Prik Pao (73 NIS), crispy fish filets cooked with cashew nuts, onion, green onion, dry sweet chili, Thai basil, celery, and carrots. While the noodles were good, the fish (I poached some) was excellent. Both were served in very generous portions, not a bad deal at roughly $18 and $21 respectively.
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My brother just sent me the following article, which so well illustrates the adage that hard cases make bad law. Actually, I would describe this as a rotten, stinking case. https://www.theguardian.com/la
w/2017/nov/15/court-hears-tran sgender-womans-appeal-over- access-to-her-jewish-children
Thursday, November 16, 2017
The plan was to go to Jerusalem with David and Irit; Phyllis, dear family friend; Nir and Oshrat, cousins several times removed; and Uri, local friend, for an extensive walking tour. Believe it or not, we all got to the Jaffa Gate to meet our guide Yomi on time, and spent the next 5 hours weaving through the narrow streets and up and down the stairs of the Old City.
I won't try to repackage the sights, sounds and smells of this fascinating place. Whatever your belief system (and I would recommend agnosticism), there is so much to experience and learn even after many visits. I will provide one tip, although it may lead you on a wild goose chase. A little Arab man, in an alley off an alley of the Christian Quarter, bakes mutabak, a very thin crêpe wrapped around a tablespoon of goat cheese, brushed with olive oil before baking and drizzled with honey.
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If you are lucky enough to find Zalatimo, you won't want to rush off to another destination.
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Back in Tel Aviv for dinner, we had very good fish and seafood at Shtsupak, Ben Yehuda Street 256. No, I don't know how to pronounce it.
Having made one gesture towards my Asian food obsession last night, after dinner I stopped at Vaniglia, Yermiyahu Street 23, one of a small chain, to make a dent in my ice cream Jones. I had two scoops in a cup (21 NIS), Snickers and chocolate chocolate chip, the latter probably replacing Berthillon Glacier, 29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, 75004 Paris, France, as the all-time best chocolate ice cream in the galaxy.
Friday, November 17, 2017
Our return flight is near midnight, so I have a chance to look back at some of our better meals.
Yashka - Binyamin, Nahalat Binyamin Street 73 -- Middle Eastern, Kosher, walkup counter. I had shawarma. One of two branches.
Jeremiah, Dizengoff Street 306 -- Pub/café, non-Kosher. I had chicken schnitzel sandwich.
Micha's Hummus, Ben Yehuda Street 191 -- Hummus, hummus and more hummus, vegetarian, Kosher. I had Hummus Mangold (mixed with spinach).
L'aile Ou La Cuisse, Ben Yehuda Street 226 -- Beef and chicken, Kosher. I had half a roasted chicken. Translation: The wing or the thigh, named for a 1976 French comedy film. Sister restaurant at 33 Rue Greuze, 75016 Paris, France, owned by the manager's father-in-law.
The Bakery, Dizengoff Street 262 -- French bakery and café, one of 5 branches.