Wednesday, June 25, 2014



“Have a good day,” said the American who sold us the newspapers this morning. I looked at the headline as I have taken to doing recently and replied, “How can I have a good day with this headline?”

Day 10. That is the way it appears in some of the media.  The three young yeshiva students have been missing for 10 days. Every day before going out to have another wonderful adventure I, along with most of the rest of the country, check the computer looking for the latest news. No matter how good a time anyone is having here, no matter what good things are happening, the kidnapping casts a pall.

 A few things people have said to me since the kidnapping: These kids did not ask to move to the territories. It was their parent’s choice, not theirs. The government or the major bus company should provide better and more frequent transportation. Kids are impatient and want to get places quickly not wait around for a bus. They should not have been hitchhiking in that area. Sure…blame the kids!

We have a 17 year-old grandson who is a yeshiva student. Thankfully he does not need to hitchhike. He can walk everywhere from his yeshiva in the Old City to his nearby apartment or to the homes of his parents. That, however, does not mean there are not problems: threats/fights/knives/damage to bikes and on. It’s not easy to be a kid in this part of the world.

Daniel Gordis (a Koret Distinguished Fellow, chair of the core curriculum of Jerusalem’s Shalem Institute and former professor at Columbia U) who sees everything so clearly, said in Friday’s Jerusalem Post, “Hitchhiking is a rite of passage here; it’s a way in which those young kids spread their wings and learn that even though their families are not going to buy them cars, this tiny country is their oyster, and they can get anywhere they want—because of the goodness and decency of those with whom they share the roads.”

He went on to add, “Goodness and decency. Really? Well, yes. On its deepest level, the hitchhiking is actually a desperate attempt to preserve a sense of normalcy, a gesture designed to convince ourselves that we don’t live in the jungle.”

Today’s headline really got me. The newspaper lady suggested I was naive if I thought otherwise. I replied, not naïve, it just pains me to hear it or see it in writing: Fatah leader: Most Palestinians support kidnapping of three youths.  And under it, “Abbas aide: Israeli measures are ‘collective punishment’.  And it goes downhill from there.

I don’t mean to sound depressed. The title of Gordis’ piece, Between the symphony and the jungle says it all. Following are photos and information on the incredible performances and events we have attended since my last blog. They are in no particular order and each was spectacular in its own right.

Strings of red, blue, white and green lights were festooned on and between the buildings and plazas of the Old City walls to designate the different routes. Walls were transformed into a circus, Cuckoo clock and toys, a House of Cards, a Fish Pond and the two main gates Damascus and Jaffa were spectacularly lit. The artists came mostly from Israel and France with a few from Italy, Canada and Portugal. In its sixth year, the festival drew people from all over the country. It appeared to me on my three visits that it was a boon to stores and in particular, restaurants. Exhausting but wonderful!

Some of my favorites:
Jaffa Gate: The Garden of Dreams


House of Cards

Jerusalem Circus of Light

Cuckoo Clock

Damascus Gate Chrysalis

Entrance gate to old Paris; stage on left, cafes all around.
Not being opera fans and not wanting to spend what the tickets cost, we opted to go to the one night performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with an all Beethoven program. Led by Kent Nagano who began his career with the Berkeley Symphony, the orchestra concluded the evening with Beethoven’s 9th and surprise fireworks. Against the backdrop of Masada this was a performance of indescribable beauty.

For half the price of La Traviata, we heard four opera singers, a chorus, viewed the lit up sets and the mountain. Furthermore, the little French food stalls/restaurants, the entire Paris atmosphere were the same as was the entire setting. A win-win situation! An unforgettable experience!
Interior street of old Paris for Il Traviata
Tables of all sizes and decor.
Blue, red and brown lights alternately focused on Masada


On June 12, just 13 years after the brutal murder of 13 year-old Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran by terrorists, we were sitting in the theatre at HUC having fits of laughter listening to four comedians.

After their son’s death, “…Koby’s parents Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell established The Koby Mandell Foundation to provide social, emotional and therapeutic support to thousands of people who have lost an immediate family member to terror or tragedy.” This summer will be the 13th year of Camp Koby & Yosef , “a sleep away camp that provides a safe and nurturing home where bereaved children enjoy the wonders of summertime fun, connect to each other and their counselors and begin to heal…”
Bobby Slayton,Koby's parents, Avi Lieberman, & Brits Kevin Meany,& Gina
In 2008, Avi Liberman, an American stand up comic and actor who has appeared on various late night shows, started Stand up Israel. He teamed with the Mandells and Comedy for Koby was born.  He has been able to attract top comics who perform free of charge. This year the three comics were here for the first time. I am not fond of stand up comics but I cracked up along with everyone else. The black woman from the UK took the cake! I wish I could repeat some of her lines but they were in combination with hilarious facial gestures and body movements. If ever you see the name Gina Yashere, get tickets!

At the end of the program, the comedians returned to the stage together and discussed what they saw and felt about their trip. And being Jewish, Bobby Slayton, the only one I had ever heard of, wove some of his thoughts into his act as well.

We spent last Friday evening in the Florentin area of Tel Aviv on a tour called Streetwise Hebrew. Israeli Guy Sharett along with his small white erasable board explains Hebrew through viewing graffiti.  He has been featured in the travel section of the NY Times as well as in the Israeli papers.

The idea came to him during the 2011 protest movement on Rothschild Boulevard. His Hebrew students were asking the meaning of all the signs and from that grew the idea for incorporating street art into his curriculum.

What a delightful 90 minutes. There was a larger than usual group of 20 or so. Guy led us through the streets of this partially gentrified neighborhood. The part of it that is scheduled to be torn down and to be replaced by high rises has a plethora of graffiti. These few blocks are home to small industrial businesses and are open to graffiti artists without fear of prosecution.

We learned about TRA, the talented 12 year-old whose name, in case you haven’t guessed, is ART
spelled backwards and whose trademark besides his name is a Botox syringe. His mother appreciates his art and ignores the subject matter. Guy predicts he will be one of the best and most in demand artist as he gets older.

He explained that the TA Municipal Government has ruled that half the text on every business sign has to be in Hebrew. Business owners are not thrilled because Hebrew is considered provincial and English is considered hip and cool! Now I understand why we see so many posters around Israel advertising various concerts and other events in English.

Kristina & Alexandra
We ate dinner in the neighborhood with two young Russian women from the tour. Kristina is a programmer and is not Jewish, Alexandra, in Israel to participate in an international Capoeira competition in Caesaria. is half Jewish (no idea which half!) In case you are wondering,  "Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music, and is sometimes referred to as a game." Google told me!

We spent a delightful time with them and they even drove us to the bus station in the smallest car I have ever ridden in! They are from two different Russian cities and met on line when one wanted a travel mate to go on a camping trip. They had such a good time that they continue to travel together. Their biggest problem seems to be their inability to remember where they park their rental cars in all countries! They plan to come to CA which we would welcome.

Jennifer, Benjamin and Daniella; Simone unable to join us.
We spent the afternoon with Jennifer, Daniella and Benjamin in another new TA up and coming neighborhood. In the center of modern Tel Aviv, “…is a large architectural throwback to the Holy Land’s pre-Zionist era. For the past half century, the buildings of Sarona, a 140-year-old Templer colony, served as government offices or part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Kirya headquarters, the very tall intrusive tower that can be seen from kilometers around.

Now the area is being converted into a contemporary “lifestyle center” combining luxury shopping with residential high-rises and cultural activities – while preserving the former agricultural colony’s unique character.

“The Templers, a breakaway German Protestant sect with apocalyptic visions, sent hundreds of families to settle in the Holy Land in the 19th century to prepare for the Messiah’s coming. They founded outposts in the Galilee, Jerusalem, Haifa and at Sarona, on the road between Jaffa and Nablus…they brought with them an architectural style then unknown in the region: sturdy homes built of stone, with red-shingled instead of flat or domed roofs.”

Blending the old and the new, the people …”behind the new project were inspired by projects like Los Angeles’ famous The Grove, which was built on the ruins of an old farmers market.” Future plans include ten high-rise buildings surrounding the original preserved low-rise German style buildings.

It is possible to just sit and relax for hours devouring delicious gelato and people watching. One of the best scenes, however, was provided by a night heron catching a large goldfish from one of the beautiful lily pad ponds!

though the kidnapped boys who could be our own grandchildren are always in our thoughts, we, along with most other Israelis continue to live and enjoy, a very Jewish trait.

With only a week left of our two-month stay, we are packing in all we can.

To be continued…

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