Friday, June 24, 2016


Monday, June 20, 2016
[I fixed the problem with the type face last week.  Sorry.]

We made the one hour and 15 minute drive to Haifa on Saturday to do some sightseeing.  We visited the Israel National Museum of Science, Technology, and Space, which fascinated Huey, Dewey and (Ms.) Louie as well as some older folks, too.  For lunch, we made a world class discovery, Elkheir Druze Cuisine, Sderot Hanasi 139, Central Carmel, Haifa.  Mind you, it's not a secret; it's at the top of the list for local restaurants.  But, the menu is quite special, even if you are familiar with other Middle Eastern cuisines.

The Druze speak Arabic and follow a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion, which is otherwise distinct from Judaism and Islam.  About 140,000 live in Israel, about one-tenth of the estimated worldwide population.  Israeli Druze are generally cooperative with the state and serve in the army and the police.  And, they cook good.

To start, seven "salads" were served, including hummus, cole slaw, bulgur (cracked wheat) in tomato sauce, rice, and olives, which the owner insisted he grew personally.  There were fewer salads than Benny the Fisherman offered, but it left more room for the meal.  I shared "Suniya with Tahina" (75 NIS, $19.40), veal and lamb and bulgur, covered in hot tahina cooked in a taboon (an oven), and "Mk'rodah" (65 NIS), a sausage made with veal, lamb, bulgur, onions paprika and bharat (a word that seems to defy translation).  I also had some "Fatayer Za'tar" (49 NIS), pita covered with Za'atar leaves ("an aromatic perennial herb in the mint family"), chopped onion, olive oil and "homemade" cheese.  Just wonderful.

Sunday afternoon we took a walk into the center of Tel Aviv where there was a book fair and an outdoor show for children.  Leaving, we came upon the exact spot of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1994, an event that changed history, as the assassin Yigal Amir wished.  Dan Ephron wrote an excellent book on the subject, Killing a King, if you wish to pursue the subject.  JFK's assassination also made a significant difference, at least domestically I believe, but we have no way of knowing how that met Lee Harvey Oswald's intentions.  Another contrast between the two events was their foreseeabilty.  No one, with the possible exception of his wife, had any idea of what Oswald planned.  (I never joined the ranks of the conspiracy theorists.)  Amir, on the other hand, made his intentions known at several times to several people, including his brother who was convicted with him.  Also, even in retrospect, the cautions surrounding Kennedy seemed reasonable, while Rabin was notoriously imprudent regarding his security, which seemed to foster laxity in his minders.

I grew up believing that tattoos were forbidden to Jews and they were applied involuntarily only under the worst of circumstances.  Indeed, the Torah teaches (Vayikra 19:28): “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for a dead person; you shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves."  Cf.

I remember a bakery in Brooklyn where a woman behind the counter handed over a bread to my mother, exposing a set of blue numbers on her arm.  Now, in Tel Aviv and Haifa, the secular centers of Israel, not to speak of downtown Manhattan and gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods, Jews with tattoos are omnipresent, and I am old-fashioned enough to be put off by the sight.  Some young people have gotten numeric tattoos claiming to link with the past.  However, the flora and fauna that I have observed most often on exposed skin seem to say "Look at me," rather than "I remember."

Today, I went to the Palmach Museum, honoring the ideological opponent of the Irgun.  The Palmach was formed in 1941, with the cooperation of the British, to fend off a Nazi invasion of Palestine.   It served as the strike force of the Hagana, the central military arm of the Jewish independence movement.  

The Hagana, founded in 1920, generally took a defensive posture against the British and the Arabs, while the Irgun actively sought confrontations.  The Palmach eventually blended into the Hagana, which, in turn became the Israeli army, the IDF.  In June 1948, shortly after Israeli independence, IDF troops opened fire on Irgun forces manning the Altalena, a ship carrying troops, weapons and ammunition that the new Ben Gurion government wanted to keep out of Irgun hands, not yet responsive to centralized authority.  16 Irgun fighters and 3 IDF soldiers died in the battle.  This ugly incident was isolated, though, unlike the murderous rivalries among the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Beside the Etzel and Palmach museums, Israel has several other military museums:
Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum, Haifa
Israel Defense Forces History Museum, Tel Aviv
Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase in the Negev desert
Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum, Latrun
Lehi Museum, Tel Aviv (Lehi -- the Stern Gang -- was a more radical offshoot of the Irgun)

Ghetto Fighters Museum, Nahariya

Additionally, there are other important historic sites, such as, Yad Vashem - Holocaust Memorial, Ayalon Institute Museum (a secret bullet factory during the British Mandate),
 Masada, Ammunition Hill Memorial and Museum, and Independence Hall, where you also might regularly find groups of schoolchildren on tour.  (I don't know whether Israeli Arab schoolchildren customarily are included.)  Given the relatively small size of the population, this seems like a heavy dose of chauvinism.  However, most of the Jewish children are destined for national service after high school, the IDF or other options, so reminding them of their country's history of strife may serve a practical purpose.  In the US at present, only "Hamilton" seems to remind younger generations of life before Wi-Fi.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2016  
“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns or explosives,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor on Monday.  Just that some of us are not willing to do anything about it. 

We had dinner with our cousins Donna and Judah Haklai, who live in Ramat HaSharon, a northern suburb of Tel Aviv.  One of their two sons and a granddaughter joined our crew for a festive evening.  The Natick Delegation left for the airport and return to the US immediately afterwards, leaving us  grandparents all on their own, but not idle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
I reported last year that Eli and Hana Gothelf, an Israeli couple, moved into an apartment directly opposite the main entrance of the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  With four children of their own, all of whom have young families, the Gothelfs chose to have a New York City nest to enjoy frequent visits.  I informed Eli in advance of our trip to Israel, but I was surprised to receive along with his welcome greetings last week an announcement of the birth of his latest grandchild and an invitation to the bris (circumcision ritual) this morning.  A bris is an event that Jews strive to attend, a celebration of new life and community growth.  Also, a chance to connect with a whole bunch of Gothelfs, not begrudging them the loss of a T.  In fact, my crude research points to my original family name possibly being Gotelf, an extra T and an H picked up along the road from Zuromin, Poland to New York, New York.

The event was fabulous, well over one hundred in attendance.  A lavish feast, desserts by the dozen.  Eli and Hana pulled us all over; meet a sister-in-law, meet a grandchild, meet a brother, meet a great grandmother.  And, we were given special attention by everyone we encountered.  They did not even need to know who was America's Favorite Epidemiologist to offer warm embraces and sincere greetings.

The corker was meeting a niece who lives on the fourth floor of 27 Nordau where we have rented an apartment on the second floor for our two week stay.  How about that!

After starting the day so well, we retreated to our apartment to escape the midday heat, emerging again at 4 P.M. to go to Old Jaffa, sort of the Greenwich Village of Tel Aviv.  We reserved a table by the window at Kalamata, 10 Kedumim Square, recommended by several sources. We tried to explore Old Jaffa first, but the heat drove us into the restaurant a bit early.  The Greekish menu looks somewhat conventional, but the dishes delivered were mostly special.  First, at no charge, we were given a plate of babaganoush, dotted with feta cheese, chopped olives, and small pieces of red pepper.  We  also shared a salad of artichoke hearts, radishes, cranberries, fennel, slivered almonds, parmesan cheese, parsley and olive oil (40 NIS, $10.40), going near the top of the best salad ever list.  I had "Greek lamb gyro" (70 NIS), or a deconstructed version thereof.  It had shredded spicy lamb on a flat pita, spread with yoghurt, onions and mint.  Madam had fish kebab (62 NIS), really sea bream croquettes with chickpeas and tzatziki, not as interesting as the other items we tried.

A major attraction of Kalamata is the view.  It sits on a high spot in Old Jaffa, right on the Mediterranean.  Patrons are given a two-hour time limit to allow others to share the view of the sea and the sunset.  Unfortunately, we sat down at 5:25 P.M., more than 2 hours before the sunset, so we had bright, bright sun reflecting off the water during our meal.  So, plan ahead and reserve about 30-45 minutes before sunset.  Note that there are only about 7 tables inside where you are able to enjoy the view.  Another 7 or 8 tables are in front of the restaurant, on the square, pleasant enough, but lacking the wow factor.

Thursday, June 23, 2016
This morning, days before it appears in print, I was able to read on-line this personal essay by Ralph Blumenthal, another distinguished CCNY graduate.

Jews, Holocaust, Israel.  Is that all you people ever think about?  Others have suffered and continue to suffer; what about them?  Maybe it's a rationalization, but I am only one degree separated from those millions of Jewish victims.  While that does not make their destruction more important than what others suffered, it simply hurts more.  They were mine and it could have been me. 

Our plans to go to Jerusalem for a day of sightseeing were quickly abandoned when we saw the forecast of temperature reaching 95 degrees.  Tel Aviv has been recording temperatures "only" in the high 80s, but the cloudless skies get you feeling uncomfortable pretty fast.  The beautiful waters of the Mediterranean are only about 1/4 mile away, but, as the original Pale Male, I have stayed away so far.  At best, I can imagine walking down to the sea shore, taking off my sandals, walking into the sea (but not as far as James Mason did in "A Star Is Born"), turning around, putting my sandals back on (which qualifies as dressing formal in Israel), and returning to our air-conditioned apartment. 

We waited until after 4 P.M. to head out to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, a minor major museum with an eclectic collection.  We then walked the few blocks to the Sarona Market, the site of a deadly attack on June 8th to have dinner.  It's a big complex, about 2 dozen buildings containing restaurants and retail stores spread around a park setting, and a big indoor section containing food stands, food and wine shops, and other small retailers, packed underneath three high-rise residential towers.  

The exact site of the shooting, leaving 4 Israelis dead and 16 wounded, was as busy as almost all the other businesses tonight.  It seemed that we weren't the only ones who waited for evening and lower temperatures to get out.  Other than guards wanding people entering the indoor space, the scene was disgustingly normal.  That's what I found so strange and wonderful about Israel right now.  People were living, not cowering.  While I don't know what the local politicians are saying, the Israelis that we have spent time with (three different family groups) and the voluble taxi drivers all spoke of the need for a peace settlement.  Cynicism hasn't triumphed, at least not yet, and that is so encouraging.

Friday, June 24, 2016
At the suggestion of Mossad Moshe, we visited Beit Bialik, the home of Chaim Bialik (1873-1934), considered Israel's national poet, although he spent only the last nine years of his short life here.  Aside from the quality of his thoughts, Bialik made a vital contribution by writing in Hebrew, then struggling to be revived after thousands of years in hibernation.  He moved to Israel in 1924 and had a custom-built house made for him, looking stately even 90 years later.  Imagine that, a poet being treated like a big shot.  

When traveling, we have tried to attend Jewish services in order to experience the universal and the particular aspects of Jewish life.  So, tonight we did what few people in Tel Aviv usually ever do -- we went to shul.  We went to Beit Daniel, a constituent of the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism and found a full house.  Well over two hundred people, all apparently homies, showed up, attracted by two special events -- an aufruf, the blessing of a couple before marriage, and the welcoming of a new baby boy, son of a single male member of the congregation, born to a surrogate in America.  There will probably be empty seats next Friday night, but we were so fortunate to again participate in a happy gathering of Israelis, building and expanding their lives.  It helps keep a glimmer of optimism alive, me and the taxi drivers. 

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