I came back from Israel last week and have spent the time debating how I’m gonna portray my trip.
Usually Bun Boy would come back from a journey lambasting the country’s sanitary standards, questionable foods and odd customs.
Besides a few situations (which I will gladly share) Israel pleasantly surprised me.
The streets are relatively clean, the air appears pollution free, I always felt safe, poverty appears non-existent, the food was fresh, delicious and did not cause frequent toilet visits.
How on earth am I gonna make this interesting and utterly hilarious and perhaps not grossly offend anyone??
Then I stopped underestimating myself and realized people don’t read the crap I write anyways.
You all just come here for the pictures.
So….my adventure began at the JFK airport.
I knew that, at some point, I’d be asked a series of questions before my arrival into Israel to determine if I was going to attempt some sort of terrorism.
In LA, I had been given both sets of boarding passes, so I thought I was done or that someone would have told me what the hell I should be doing.
While sitting calmly at my gate at JFK, I overheard “Ladies and Gentlemen, if you did not check in upstairs, please report to the gate.”
I was the ONLY one standing up to “report to the gate”.
There began my 30 minutes of intense questions by 3 different security staff.
Then they began the call to begin boarding.
I had never in my life felt like a criminal, until today.
My mouth became devoid of moisture, my hands shook as I handed the lady my itinerary when she asked what cities I’d be visiting.
While the entire line of travellers watch.
“I’m not sure, it says here-“
“I don’t need that, sir.”
They also had issue with the fact that all my luggage was being carried on.
“You’re going to be gone all that time and that’s all you packed??”
This question was asked by several individuals.
“Have you ever been to the middle east?”
“Do you keep in contact with anyone you met in Egypt?”
“Why isn’t the rest of your tour group with you?”
I was also led away from the gate to the other end of the airport, which seemed to take forever!
“Am I gonna miss my flight?”
I was really starting to panic and get angry.
I was contemplating just buying a ticket back to LA and enjoying a nice staycation.
After my third round of questions upon my eventual return to the gate (the gal that led me away got to our destination just to say “Oh, I guess we didn’t have to come here”), I was eventually led to the front of the line, which had barely moved during my traumatizing ordeal.
Mouth moisture began to return but I think the shakes lasted for a bit longer.
My second tribulation lay ahead of me.
As I make my way to seat 39J, I realize I’m stuck in a MIDDLE seat.
Sandwiched between two unbathed individuals on a sweltering, 11 hour flight was my punishment for some unknown crime in a past life.
Mom had warned me to take an aspirin before the flight, which I forgot, so now I was sure to die of a blood clot.
Deep Vein Thrombosis, here I come!
I arrived in Tel Aviv and took a taxi to my friend’s house in Herzliya to spend the night before our tour was to begin.
I met Audrey last year on my India trip, she was an absolute hoot. She was with her husband, Freddy, this time.
We had dinner that night at an upscale Iraqi restaurant (Iraqi??) called Etnika and gorged ourselves until we nearly passed out at the table due to jet lag.
The next morning (after sleeping on the world’s narrowest bed) I sneak a peak at the house’s bomb shelter which they use as a laundry room (every house in Israel has a bomb shelter, I learned) and visit one of Freddy’s relatives who lives next door.
She’s a sweet but odd duck who make miniatures (like doll houses and all the parts for them) and holds workshops in her basement instructing people how to do the same.
Eventually, we make our way to the airport where we meet the rest of our group and bus our way to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, the city I most closely associated with the word “bombing”.
Interesting that doing something as benign as eating at a cafe or riding the bus could prove deadly here.
The unfortunate thing is that many people still equate this city with suicide bombers even though there hasn’t been a suicide bomber in the Israeli controlled part of Jerusalem in 7 years.
Israel has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, averaging about 140 murders a year for the whole country. The city of LA has already had 509 murders this year alone, so far.
It’s been a slow year.
Before dinner, we grab our hotel-provided yarmulkes (which all the men must wear out of respect) and head out to visit the Western or Wailing Wall.
The only surviving portion of the Second Temple (King Herod’s Temple -the 1st being King Soloman’s temple) which was derstroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The wall surrounded the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which all three major religions consider very holy.
It’s nearly impossible for non-Muslims to visit the Dome of the Rock (the golden domed structure covering both the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven and the Holy of Holies, the holiest part of the Jewish temple).
A place I can’t go??
Get me there!
I kept asking if we could figure out a way to go and was rebuffed each time.
I soon became obsessed with going to the Dome.
…and just as soon, I forgot all about it.
Sabbath at the Western Wall is a trip. Orthodox jews praying and bobbing and weaving and singing and dancing in circles. Almost like a wedding except with no women or drinking.
Women must go to their own section of the wall as not to distract the men.
I felt like such a stranger in a strange land at that moment, wandering through the crowd. It didn’t appear that there were any other tourists there but me. I felt like I had stumbled upon an ancient club or fraternity.
I made my way up to the wall which had become ultra smooth from everyone’s touch and attempted to find a place to cram my handwritten prayers.
Let’s just say, there was no room in the inn.
There were hundreds of prayers that had fallen out of the crevices and laying on the floor. But I managed to find a spot in the wall for mine, knowing they would blow away into oblivion moments later.
I later found out that twice a year, all the prayers are removed and buried so that not a single prayer is ever destroyed. I found that touching.
There is a section of the wall called Wilson’s Arch (pictured above) and you walk through what appears to be this giant cave like aquaduct and there it became even crazier. If outside was the club, this was the secret clubhouse!
Lots more praying and Torahs and Synagogue paraphanelia (not to mention too many people, lots of heat, a few unpleasant smells. Get me outta here!)
I had felt so out of place but made myself stay for at least five minutes.
It felt so foreign to me, like discovering a new Alien race or going to NASCAR for the first time.
I wondered if this is what it would feel like for an athiest to come to a Catholic church but what made it so surreal was that everyone was dressed alike.
These were the ultra orthodox Jews and their outfits were intensely specific and layered and did not seem adequately constructed for Israeli temperatures!
Ok, back to the hotel for my first Shabbat dinner!
This button baffled me. I pushed it and nothing happened. And then two hotel staff appeared at my door with chocolates asking if I needed anything.
I soon learned just how many things you cannot do on the Sabbath (Friday night through Saturday night) as a practicing Jew.
We sat down in one of the hotel’s conference rooms and enjoyed dinner with our guest speaker, the former Israeli Ambassador to Canada.
A moment to speak about my group. Besides one couple from New York, they were all from Canada.
When they had their orientation meeting in Toronto, I was present via a cell phone sitting on a chair and would listen in.
The tour that I was on was referred to as a mission. The purpose of which was to bring people to Israel and show them what its all about. To break stereotypes. To Educate Christians about Judaism, and vice versa. To bring business to Israel.
They occur once every other year and the folks that organize the tour are (and half of the group in attendance) some heavy hitters in the Canadian Jewish community.
Many in our group spoke Hebrew and had been to Israel dozens of times.
About 8 non-Jews out of the 29.
Many were also quite wealthy.
Everyone kept talking about their summer homes (which they all called their “cottages”) and their nannys.
I remember sitting with one of the gals as she described her real estate job. “We do mostly condos and shopping malls.”
I’ve BEEN to shopping malls and RENT an apartment….
Ok, enough about all this.
We all stood up and said a few prayers in Hebrew that everyone in the room seemed to know (except me and a few others) and then sat down to eat.
The food was pretty tasty but as it was kosher (and going to be for the next two weeks) I kept thinking something was missing.
I’m not sure I ever got used to it, even though everything was tasty, for the most part.
I wonder if anyone would have noticed if I would have snuck a slice of contraband cheddar from my pocket?