Saturday, April 11, 2015


A busy time with most Israeli's driving themselves nuts getting ready for Passover! For all these years I thought it was just our family but discovered differently this visit. For those who observe the week long holiday according to the rules, they must not only forgo anything made with leavening agents but must rid their homes of any crumbs that might have come from bread, cookies, cakes, etc.  Where there are many children in the family, they usually do the work and it can become a game. It's called Spring Cleaning elsewhere!

A new industry was born and people can hire others to rid their homes of hamatz or the forbidden foods. This can take many hours and some get their homes ready the week before and are then forced to either picnic outside or go to restaurants. Some restaurants close for the week and others get their places ready to accept patrons who wish to eat out during the holiday itself. Its been a real eye opener and its why we choose to visit at other times of the year! What do we do, you ask? We only eat items made with matzah, potato or other unleavened flours but don't do any special cleaning. Kind of like being a little pregnant!

Passover or Pesach as it called in Hebrew, lasts for an entire week. Because it ends on a Friday night, this year, it seems longer as it goes right into Shabbat (which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Anyone who wishes to know more about the meaning of the holiday—that's why we have Google!

We were amongst the first kids on our block to visit Gazelle Valley Park that had opened two days before. The newspaper, Haaratz, had a wonderful title to its article—"50 shades of graze: Gazelles get their own nature park in Jerusalem." Its a victory for local activists who conducted an unprecedented campaign against the construction of a neighborhood on the site. The bad news is there is a view of the much maligned Holyland development, a blight on a nearby hill (the project that has caused jail time for the former mayor and PM, Olmert). The only real justice would be to tear the whole place down!

There was originally a good sized herd of Mountain Gazelles (only found in the Middle East) roaming this 64 acre tract of land near the center of Jerusalem. There are only four remaining as the rest was decimated by dogs and cars. However, there are two new ones from a zoo in Tel Aviv. that are in a roped off area becoming acclimated.  Our guide explained they will only add gazelles that are already in captivity, never from the wild.

We took a leisurely walk admiring the ponds, streams, wildflowers and the general peacefulness
surrounding us but we did not see any gazelles. By the way, a gazelle is not in the deer family and the Hebrew name Yael we gave our daughter Jennifer does not mean deer as we always thought but ibex!

This is a wonderful place to de-stress from the hectic life most Israelis live. Our grand kids loved it and hated to leave. There is no entrance fee and large kid friendly binoculars can be had for two hour stretches, also at no cost. May this place and those who inhabit it live long, healthy and happy lives in this little piece of heaven in the middle of a bustling city!

Natalie, Judy, Jennifer
Up until a couple of days before the Passover Seder, we all thought we were spending it at the Langs in Raanana. However, Jennifer's friend from childhood Judy Balter SeriLevi had other plans. Her usual family seder was cancelled due to illness and she literally demanded we all come there! One
is unable to refuse Dr. Judy and her incredible husband Amos! There was a total of 19 ranging in age from 13 to late 80s and we have never had such fun! There was Judy's college roommate (also a friend of Jennifer's) and her family, us and our family, and Amos' parents from Jerusalem. Aviv, Judy and Amos' eldest, drove his grandparents and us from Jerusalem to Moshav Mazor, about an hour away and inland from the airport. Judy had arranged for the Langs and us to stay overnight at a friend's house nearby with enough bedrooms for all seven of us (plus a hilarious small dog that could jump up and open the front door when we least expected it!).
Judy's daughter, Naomi's two and Daniella and Simone

I will have to describe the seder table as I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture. Obviously it was a long table and large lettuce leaves and long celery stalks dotted with radishes spread the entire length of the white table cloths. There was matzot, small bowls of Yemenite haroset (apple, nuts and wine) made by Amos' mother, to dip the veges and the matzah in and bowls of hard boiled eggs, a plate of sliced horseradish and a plate of cut up chicken pieces. In other words, in a Yemenite seder the table becomes the seder plate that we Westerners use. We could partake of the food shortly after the beginning of the reading of the Haggadah (the Passover story). Every time someone of any age read a portion in Hebrew or English perfectly, Judy passed them an egg. No one went hungry as the story progressed!

Everyone thought Elijah had finally paid a visit when a neighbor appeared for Dr. Judy to look at his hand that had a staple in it!

The Yemenite seder usually ends after the first course of chicken matzah ball soup that includes a large piece of chicken as well as large pieces of potato and carrot. There were too many vegetarians at this dinner so Judy, Jennifer and Philippe made numerous vege dishes and Amos made fish as well as several other items. Natalie, Aaron and us brought desserts galore, all for Passover. It's pretty amazing what the bakeries come up with without using leavening agents and using mostly potato flour. Lots of yummy chocolate in many of the desserts.

We returned to the Seder table for Saturday lunch minus Natalie and family. Since the backyard flows into a park, we sat outside and felt like we were in France! Then some went hiking and some sat and read. A delightful way to spend Shabbat.

For any of you who might remember the Balter family, they first lived in Piedmont which is where we met. Judy's mother Ruth and I used to walk our boys in strollers. After they moved to London and then settled in Rheem when it was orchards, and not a city, we used to drive WAY out to visit . The girls really became best friends in religious school at Temple Isaiah and have remained so ever since.Amazing how they both ended up in Israel!

Judy is an Israeli trained pediatrician. She met Amos when he owned a tea house in Jerusalem and was her boss. In the beginning of her medical career she worked in a neonatal unit and elsewhere in pediatrics.  In recent years, she and some of her colleagues opened a clinic in the religious community of B'nai Brak.  Currently Judy is teaching other doctors. She is a jeans and bare feet girl so she takes her white coat and privately transforms herself in the car. This really makes her Superwoman as if she is not already! She found the perfect husband in Amos and they have two handsome Amoses and one gorgeous Amos! Apparently if one half of a couple is Yemenite, the kids get the dominate genes!

By the way, we attended their wedding 27 years ago if I recall correctly. Judy came riding in on a donkey! And she would do it all over again!!! We all love her.

This time I only took pictures of Batsheva who is 15 months old. Both girls were wearing the dresses and hats we brought from the Montclair Art Show last year. But Yael was so tired from walking all afternoon that she didn't want to pose. (see her below)
That's me!


Before leaving for Israel,  I received an email from Helen, our neighbor for seven years in Silverado, saying that their cruise was skipping Egypt and would be in Israel instead for two days. Helen and Elvon visited us in 2009 and loved the country so were quite excited to return. Aviva, the widow of Harvey/Zvi who went to college in Canada with Helen hosted them and we all met for an in depth tour of the Israel Museum.

Aviva is an editor for the Israel Antiquities Authority with offices at the museum. What an incredible experience seeing the model of the Second Temple and the antiquities section of the museum with an expert!

We left our house at noon, took a cab to meet them at the museum and didn't return home till nearly midnight. After the tour of what seemed like the entire museum, we went to the First Station, the old train station that was renovated before our last several trips and about which I already wrote in a prior blog. We had a delicious Pesach meat dinner topped by a very yummy chocolate souffle and chocolate mouse which we shared. I am still marveling at how the Passover desserts have improved to downright excellent! (no one who knows me would be surprised that I am marveling over desserts!)

A wonderful day shared with wonderful, knowledgeable and fun friends!

Another but much different tour of the Israel Museum three days later! The impetus was to climb the Big Bambu (as I had done last year alone) before it was to be taken down after the holiday. As I explained then, American artists Mike and Doug Starn  build these temporary climbing structures all over the world. No two are alike as they must fit into the space and location. We had also visited a way smaller one on the roof of the Met in NewYork.

This time, owing to the stamina of the kids, we must have climbed every path, up and down, around and back up and down and sat on every bench for a photo op. We seniors were exhausted from climbing in 86 degrees but it was exhilarating!
Shalom Simcha has male company as his brothers are out of the house!

The ladies are definitely a majority!
Artists' Statement
"The concept of Big Bambu has nothing to do with bamboo: it represents the invisible architecture of life and living things."

10,000 bamboo poles, 80,000 meters of climbing rope, 28 rock climbers from abroad and Israel, 7 weeks and not a single architecture sketch. It's 80 meters high and named 5000 'Arms to Hold You.'

We went inside the museum and toured quite a few rooms, many different than the ones we had toured a few days earlier.

Yael with Aunt Chana Tsipora and her talking parrot!
With plans to meet Alexander, Zalman, Rivi and the girls for dinner after, we went directly to the restaurant. To make a very long story short, the restaurant was not open as it had advertised in the newspaper. Thus, it being Passover for the whole week and many places closed, we ended up eating at Batya's, a pretty amazing feat! Batya and the kids literally threw together a delicious dinner and a fun time was had by all.

Yael, 3, and Batsheva, 1, kept us entertained and Yael cracked us all up with her parting shot! As she walked by me to leave, she looks up at me and I quote: "those are the milkies for babies"!  Only laughter followed, no comments! She then asked Nana if Chana Tsipora could have a sleep over on her third trundle bed. The answer, yes!

Yitz and Hilda Applbaum of Oakland invite groups of friends to join them in various countries to spend Passover. This year it was Haifa for the first Seder and Jerusalem for the rest of the holiday.

Rabbi Dardik holding a discussion
Their Jerusalem apartment is quite spectacular with the bedrooms downstairs and a Great Room up with the kitchen, a large bar and wine cellar and a view of the city.  They are the host and hostess with the "mostest"! The wine was flowing, the food plentiful and delicious and the vibe warm and friendly. Our former rabbi, Rabbi Dardik was there along with his family. They live outside of Jerusalem in Maale Adumim  and our former Counsel General Akiva Tor along with Naomi and one of their daughters. They too live outside Jerusalem in Bet Shemesh.

Jennifer and Daniella were in Istanbul for a few days over Daniella's 18th but Philippe, Benjamin and Simone came to the party. We all had a wonderful time visiting. Former BJ members even came from Boston and Zondra and Charleigh from NYC. There were a couple of mothers who remembered Simone had played with their daughters and couldn't get over how tall and grown up she is. No one would expect tall kids in our family but obviously Benjamin and Simone got their father's genes! All three enjoyed visiting with old friends.

Host Yitz with Philippe

Because Passover this year began at sundown on a Thursday and ended Friday, it flowed right into Shabbat.  That actually made it one day longer as all the food and food prep was still for Passover. We spent our last big meals with Marc and family, Thursday dinner thru Friday dinner. Marc's cooking is getting better and better! Played games with the kids and read. Very relaxing!

Saturday lunch we ate at the infamous Steve's! The Friedmans have been talking about his fabulous cooking for years and he loves having company.  He is a former Brooklyn and Bronx high school social studies teacher. His ex-wife and kids live in the states and he made aliyah about 20 years ago. They became friends when Marc was his teacher at Aish Ha Torah. I can understand why they all enjoy eating at his apartment. He has impeccable taste in everything and is an outstanding cook.

We just had a lovely visit with Ann and Jon Reynolds who live five minutes away at home. Our kids went to school together and we had both been active in AFS in the late 70s, early 80s. Also, M&M Graphic Design designed Ann's business identity in the 80s and we see them at Cal basketball games. A mutual friend told them we were in Jerusalem, their first stop on a Stanford trip, and since they are staying at the King David Hotel, a short distance from our home, we brought them here after our thankfully last Passover meal!

It is pouring freezing rain, a very inhospitable welcome to Israel. We spent a couple of hours shmoozing about their itinerary, our respective kids and lots of other matters while shivering in our Jerusalem stone house. While in Jerusalem, their itinerary covers all the bases from the Old City to Bethlehem to Ramallah, to Gush Etzion. The leader is a Jewish professor of Mid East Studies at Stanford and numerous other Jewish and Palestinian leaders will speak. I wish we could join them as it sounds fascinating!

Before leaving for their welcome dinner tonight, I had to take the required photo at our front door.


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