August 31st, 2011 by Melina

Was I really there? 

It wasn’t that long ago. Not even two weeks ago, actually.

But the whole trip feels like a dream.

Luckily, I have photos, lots of them, to prove it actually happened! I finally, after eleven years, went back to Israel.

I’d been there twice before. Once for my junior year abroad (at Hebrew U) and once for a visit. I’d forgotten how much I missed it.

Here’s a recap:

I left Heraklion, Crete, where I was visiting a friend, at 3 something a.m.

I flew to Athens.

I went through El Al airline security, where this Greek chick named Irini tried to trip me up while getting me to tell her about my Jewish upbringing. Really, the whole process was fascinating.

A few hours later I landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and found it was remodeled. Who knew?

Then, I took three trains to Be’er Sheva. The trains were so crowded I never did get a seat. I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was going, but a soldier took me under her wing and helped me get from train to train.

Are you keeping track? So far, that’s 1 car, 2 planes, 3 trains.

I’m not done.

Then, I found the bus station and took a bus to Arad. Then, I found a taxi and got to my final destination.

Total: 1 car. 2 planes. 3 trains. 1 bus. 1 taxi. 14 hours of travel.

1 VERY useless, exhausted Mel. Too exhausted to even be cranky. Imagine!

Anyway, point is, I finally got to Arad. Which is in the Negev Desert. Behold:

After Arad, it was time to go to Jerusalem and visit friends and old haunts. I left on a Saturday night and dragged my suitcase, in the dark, through deserted streets in the desert.

I was so lost. And about to miss my bus.

But then I heard my name. Well, actually, my last name preceded by “Ms.” Which, in the summer, in the desert, just seemed. . . wrong.

It was two of my students and their mother, who’d recently moved to Arad. They appeared out of nowhere, I tell you!

I got in the car, and they made some phone calls and tracked down my bus. We got to the bus stop just as the bus was pulling out.

The mother, being a tough Israeli, had no problem pulling her car right in front of the bus and blocking it.

Then, somebody banged on the door, and I was let in.

If you’re going to have a miracle, it might as well be on the way to Jerusalem, I guess.

Anyway, this bus was a “special” bus, otherwise known as a “Manhattan Bus” which, turns out, means it’s for the Ultra Orthodox. So, I sat in the women’s section in the back.

I fit right in. After all, most people on that bus were from Brooklyn.

But moving on. . .

The next morning, my first stop in Jerusalem was The Kotel (The Western Wall):

I went back the next day too. It happened to be Tu B’Av, the closest thing Jews have to Valentine’s Day.

Imagine the brides praying at the wall in their gowns, and single girls crying into their prayer books, praying for a match. I even saw a wedding procession!

My (happily married) friend put a book of Tehillim (psalms) in my hand and practically flung me towards The Wall, with the instructions to “daven hard for a shidduch” (pray hard for a match).

Which I thought was kind of funny. We’ll see what happens. . .

Stop two, right after the wall, was the Arab Quarter of the Old City. I can’t help it. I’m drawn to that place like a magnet:

The best spot in there? The coffee bean place. They add spices to the beans before they grind them. I just wanted to stand there and breathe for the rest of my life.

One more special place in Jerusalem – Machane Yehuda (aka The Shuk):

Did you notice the stall with pet stuff? I don’t know why, but I got such a kick out of that. Don’t mention it to Creature though. I didn’t get him anything.

Oh, come on. Like a hole in the head he needs another toy. . .

A note on surviving in Israel:

Israelis are wonderful, helpful people who will give you the shirts off their backs. But they’ve got a very “survival of the fittest” attitude.

For example, when standing in an Israeli “line,” which will most likely resemble a pile of squirming puppies rather than an actual line, use your elbows or whatever you need to to keep your spot, and when you get to the front, put your stuff and / or your arms on the counter as soon as you possibly can. Otherwise, I promise you, people will shove themselves in front of you, from all angles. And the store clerks will do nothing about it.

You may feel bad about it at first, but eventually you won’t be able to stand being stepped on and your attitude will shift. I swear!

My last day in Jerusalem, I happened to spot the Alyiah and Klitah (Immigration and Absorption) office and I almost went it.

Maybe someday. . .

Now, I’m back in Greece, just for a few more days. I was happy to return to village life with some very special souvenirs from Jerusalem: Books in English, People Magazine (don’t judge, I’m on vacation), and Totally Twisted Herbal Essences shampoo. Thanks Super-Pharm!

And no, I’m not ashamed.

A few more days, and then, G-d help me, it’s back to reality.


Posted in Mel's In Greece!

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