Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Was An Israelite for 10 Days!

I lived in Israel for 10 days in Nachlaot, a neighborhood that includes the Machane Yehuda "shuk" and Ben Yehuda Street, that tourist trap with delicious confections and kitschy shopping. I say lived because that's what I did. There was an apartment on Yosef Chaim where I planted my head every night (except for a Shabbos spent out in Ramat Shlomo), it's where my clothes were hung, it was also where my toothbrush was. I didn't feel like I was visiting, I was living. I was an Israeli for a mere 10 days, and it felt marvelous.

I woke up each day and got ready in the world's smallest shower, brushed my teeth, walked on the cold floor, kissed the mezuzah, and schlepped off to one of the Yehudahs for breakfast. There were pastries, bagels, and interesting concoctions that you'd never find in the U.S. One morning I ate at Aroma in the "shuk," starting the day with an Iced Coffee (that's actually more like a frappucino -- there is no real iced coffee in Israel) and a sandwich comprising gigantic slices of white bread, an omelet, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and cheese. Oh, and there was also some cream cheese on there. Yes, you read that right. For breakfast. And? It was outstandingly delicious.

After food, Tuvia and I would schlep to our destination -- Caesaria, Tzfat, the Old City, the Jerusalem zoo, you name it. We ended up walking almost everywhere we went, but considering how much decadent food we ate there, I didn't shed a single pound. Thank you sufganiyot! In fact, I noshed a Roladen one that was Melon-Vodka flavored. That, folks, was rich and beautiful. After shopping and photos and a lot (we're talking knee-breaking) of schlepping, we'd hit up some deliciously kosher restaurant for lunch. This was probably the biggest treat of all -- kosher restaurants at every turn! Dairy! Meat! You name it. We ate a a falafel place, a schwarma place, an amazing burger place next to the Kotel, and even an Argentinian steakhouse near Ben Yehuda (it really wasn't that good). Our evenings were packed with meeting friends, family, and moonlighting at the Kotel, followed by more schwarma. Then, at night I'd crawl into bed, listening to the sounds of the small street, and -- as usual -- not sleep.

One of my favorite nights was spent listening to the street cats in an interesting chorus. At first, it was a loud, howling MEOWWWWWW. Then, surprisingly, came a wailing baby. I'm assuming the baby was woken up by this incredibly loud cat, but I can't be sure. Either way, the cat and the baby exchanged howls for about 10 minutes. Then, about two hours later, the cat was at it again -- this time with a dog. It was MEOWWWWWW! BARKKKKK! MEOWWWWWW! BARRKKKK! It got to the point where the choruses were too amusing to sleep, so I laughed. At every  hour of the day in that little room in Nachlaot, I heard the conversations of tourists, men singing outloud to themselves, children running along speaking Hebrew at a rate that I can only dream to reach. There were bikes and scooters zipping by in the alley, and one night the people across the way had their door wide open while they wined and dined, Fido sitting on the stoop watching passersby.

Spending so much time in the city -- I'd say about 3/5 of our time there was spent in Jerusalem proper -- allowed me to really experience what it must be like to live there. We walked through Machane Yehuda (the shuk) almost every day, including early in the morning when vegetables and bread were arriving on carts and in the evening when men were checking receipts and closing shop. The smells and the textures and the colors were something I could learn to live with, without a doubt. To be able to shop in a fresh market like that daily? Wow. Talk about a privilege. Also, being able to walk to the Kotel at midnight without a care or fear in the world was something unbelievably powerful. Come to think of it, being able to walk anywhere in Jerusalem at any hour felt so empowering. I felt safer in Israel than I ever felt in Chicago, Washington, or even Lincoln. I stood at a bus stop on a busy street at 12:30 in the morning, waiting a half-hour for a bus, people walking by, zipping by in cars and on bikes, and I didn't think twice about how late it was or where I was. I just knew I was safe.

After just two days, I felt relaxed. I knew the city from my trip there last December -- I knew where certain shops were, I knew how to get places, my internal compass was set back to Israel in no time. I felt so proud leading Tuvia all over the place in confidence. Jerusalem is my city, it's city plan mapped on my heart. It was a beautiful feeling. Did I mention that Jerusalemites love my hair? Yes, I got a lot of compliments. That, too, was a beautiful feeling!

I have much to say about the rest of the trip, outside of Jerusalem, but it will take some time. My photos are up (mostly) on Facebook, and I'll be throwing some up on Flickr, too. There are a lot -- about 1,001 of them. A lot from the Wedding, a lot from Caesaria, and an abundance of them from everything in between.

Stay tuned, as always! (And yes, in the shuk that is a baby being carted around in a ... well ... cart.) I leave you with this stellar Kashurt certificate to one of America's beloved restaurants at which, yes, Tuvia and I ate. And, for the record, it wasn't that great.