Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Holy Moley Land

Monday, May 14, 2012
I am a celibate. By choice, a condition that I usually had thrust upon me by circumstances in the past. This new phase of my life began Saturday night when we went to see a delightful revival of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" at exactly the same time that the New York Rangers were playing the deciding game of the semi-final round of the conference championship. I even left my smartyphone home to avoid the temptation of glancing down every few minutes to track the progress of the game. Until I got home at about 10:50 PM, I had no idea of the result.

Now, the Rangers, having won on Saturday night, are proceeding to the conference finals against the demonic New Jersey Devils starting tonight at 7:30 PM. That is the exact departure time for British Airways flight 0176 to London, where we connect to a flight to Tel Aviv. We will land in Israel about 3:30 PM, local time, 8:30 AM honest time, which will be 9 ½ hours or so after the end of the first game of at least four, maybe seven. Given our experience in Hong Kong and Saigon trying to follow the Giants on the way to the Super Bowl, I am not optimistic about the quality and quantity of ice hockey information I will be able to get in Israel and Jordan. So, I have become a celibate, an ice hockey celibate. I will desist from the mental and physical pleasures, and occasional pain, intrinsic to a relationship with the New York Rangers. Instead, I will gaze upon historic plains, ancient ruins, and holy sites; I will look over the River Jordan without allowing my mind to drift to events immediately in the vicinity of the River Hudson. I will raise my vision higher and higher from the petty squabbles of goonish athletes, and think of humankind at its highest level, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Another unfortunate coincidence in my path to celibacy is the offer by generous Jeff G. to sell me a pair of tickets to this critical round of the playoffs when I will be 5676 miles or 9133 kilometers away. As you well know, in 1994, when the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup, the conference finals between the Rangers and Devils, which went to seven games and included the immortal triple-overtime Rangers victory in Game 6, was a harder-fought battle than the actual Cup finals. So, short of self-flagellation with barbed wire, I am practicing my new faith with considerable pain, but bathed in the joy of righteousness and the wisdom of following the path that will allow me to enjoy the company of America's Favorite Epidemiologist in domestic tranquility for time immemorial.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
We flew to Tel Aviv via London, which probably explained the excellent chicken curry served on the Transatlantic leg. I only wished that they served a human-sized portion, quite the opposite of my usual reaction to airline food. For diversion, we brought most parts of Sunday's New York Times to read as we flew. I found particularly interesting the interview with Jeffrey T. Housenbold, president & CEO of Shutterfly, an on-line photo-sharing service, printed in the business section. He recalled how, at age 17, he saw "Wall Street" and "it changed my perception of the world because I had never known anyone who made more than my father's $19,000 salary. I decided that finance was where I wanted to work." This teenager saw a movie that exposed greed and exploitation and found his life's work. Amazing. If this guy saw "The Untouchables" he might have become dedicated to alcoholic beverage distribution or "The Sopranos" bringing him to waste management. Now, I have to share a secret about the highly suggestible Mr. Housenbold. He went on a wild shopping spree after seeing a double feature of "Tootsie" and "La Cage Aux Folles."

Israel seems expensive at first glance, very First World. However, you can get a real bargain in car rentals. I got a Daihatsu Sirion, a small, four-door hatchback with airconditioning (a necessity) and automatic transmission (unasked for) for $70 for one week with unlimited kilometers from Hertz at the airport. That is a great rate, but you only pay $70 if you leave the car on the lot untouched. Fees and surcharges brought the one-week total to $250 including a GPS add-on. That's really not bad all together, but maybe they should have started at $250 and left it at that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
We are comfortably settled for the next several days in the home of cousins Donna and Judah, in a northern suburb of Tel Aviv. Today, we went on our own to the Museum of the Diaspora, an historic look at the Jewish people as a migrant population. Afterwards, we went to the Tel Aviv port, a redeveloped area on the Mediterranean Sea, and had a late lunch at Benny Hadayag (the fisherman), right on the pier, a well-known seafood restaurant, with half the tables inside and half outside. I had a yellow snapper filet, baked in olive oil, and my bride had grilled mullet (89 NIS each, new Israeli shekels, about 26 cents a shekel). A small portion of oven-fried potatoes came with the very tasty fish, but the real deal was the 11 salads and a portion of Haraime, a North African, spicy braised fish, that was served gratis. The salads included hummus, babaganoush, beets, carrots and potatoes, cucumbers in yogurt, tomatoes and cucumbers, and cole slaw. It was very hard to make all gone.

At our waiter's suggestion, we went a few meters (when in Rome) up the pier to Aldo Gelateria Italiana, a name that did not tax my knowledge of Hebrew. Because one scoop was 14 NIS, you had to order two scoops at 19 NIS. I strongly recommend Halva, the only time I've seen that Middle Eastern delicacy as an ice cream flavor.

Thursday, May 17, 2012
We visited the beautiful grounds of the Baha'i Temple, a universalist religion founded in the early 19th century, that encompasses all the major religious figures that preceded it, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, with space reserved for the later arrival of Casey Stengel. Nine is a magic for the Baha'i, so the grounds, set on a steep hill in Haifa, have nine terraces completely without shade. After taking the noon tour, I thought that I might have erred in traveling with America's Favorite Epidemiologist instead of the Upper West Side's Cutest Dermatologist. We then went further north to the Ghetto Fighters' House, the first Holocaust museum in the world but also the first of its kind to be founded by Holocaust survivors, located maybe 10 kilometers south of the Lebanon border. It has a smaller facility on its grounds dedicated to children victims of the Holocaust. The two buildings were empty, no tourists, no Israelis.

Now, it's true that many Jews have Holocaust fatigue, while non-Jews often think that it's enough already with the Holocaust. I considered this as I wandered through the exhibits today, which displayed the desperate efforts of a doomed people. Here's my equation: We Jews will stop expending time and effort on the Holocaust when that time and effort amounts to only 50% of the time and effort that Gentiles have expended on persecuting Jews. OK?

We had an early dinner at El Babur Restaurant in Yokneam, one of the best Arabic restaurants in Northern Israel. They served 14 salads plus pickles and olives with dinner, which might have left Benny in the sand dunes except I think El Babur charged for this array of appetizers, although I was unable to understand the bill. This photograph was taken before the last plates hit the table.

I ordered the mixed grill with lamb chop (90 NIS), which really was unnecessary after 14 salads, olives, pickles and laffa, an excellent bread, a cross between pita and naan. They did not serve beer or any alcohol, but I was happy washing this all down with pomegranate juice.

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