Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jerusalem Week 7--Israeli "Show"

Relatively speaking, this was an uneventful week.  We went to our Ulpans, I walked my usual 2 K each way to do laundry at a friends, we ate well, we studied hard.  I got to see an old childhood friend.  For those who know me, that's an almost every week occurrence.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Childhood friend Martin Lowenstein, who now lives in Israel.
The Show--Ballet at Safra Square
We  went to a ballet at Safra Square, which is a large outdoor area near the Old City where they have all kinds of concerts.  The ballet was Gizelle.  Karen tells me the dancing was excellent.  The atmosphere was a baala-gan (a crazy zoo).  Though entry and security was orderly, once inside, it got "Israeli crazy."  There were no assigned seats, so people rushed to the front.  After about 20 minutes, those who did not get seats near the front brought seats from the back and placed them anywhere they could find them in the front--in the aisles, on the sides, anywhere they could.  Apparently, this is the usual way it's done at Israeli concerts.
This is not the ballet, but part of the overall Jerusalem Arts Festival.
While waiting for the ballet to begin, I walked up to Ben Yehuda Street
and found a large crowd watching these dancers on gigantic stilt-like poles.
 Buying a Suitcase
Another thing I did this week was buy a suitcase.  We have had very bad luck with them, with 3 out of our 4 needing to be replaced.  We bought two in China, and they were very cheap but actually pretty good quality.  In Jerusalem, they are very expensive except in the Arab Market in the Old City, where you have to bargain heavily, and they are very poorly made.  Not surprisingly, I opted for that approach (I only need to use it once to get back to the States).  I bargained well enough, but when I brought it home (it's a 30 minute very hilly walk each way), it turned out it was actually too big for some of today's airline requirements.  So I had to walk 30 minutes each way again carrying the suitcase in the blazing heat and exchange it for a smaller one without getting any money back.  I had no bargaining chips left, so while I got a good price for the big one, it was not a great price for the smaller one.  It's not that I care about paying an extra $10 or something, but I find the bargaining process exhausting, and to have "wasted" it was a pain. Really, not a big deal, but it will be memorable enough to want to write down, and this is the closest thing I have to a diary.

Learning Hebrew--Still a Bit Frustrating
I am just not good at conversational Hebrew at all.  Often, I know the meaning of every word that is said to me, but I still have no idea what is actually being said. I'm not immersed enough in the language (I still speak English most of my day), but I also think my skills are just really poor.  I'm an extreme visual learner, which doesn't help with conversational skills.   I'm trying, and I'm at peace with the fact that I likely will never have real fluency in Hebrew, but it's still a bit sad for me.  All in all, though, any new language skills I acquire are a bonus, and I'm thankful for them.

Shul of the Week--Moreshet Avraham
This synagogue was a bit far away (a 45 minute walk) and is the main "regular" Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem.  It is mostly Anglo, but the service, sermon, and announcements are all in Hebrew.  They have great family programming--kids' services for both 4-10 year olds and 11-12 year olds.  Micah actually has a couple of friends there, so it was easy to get him excited for shul this week.  The tunes are Carelbach-ish on Friday night and fairly standard Conservative on Saturday morning.  It was very standard during Shacharit, since I actually led it.  Ruach was a bit mediocre.  We have made some friends who go there, which was nice, but the overall atmosphere was not quite as warm or cheery as at our sister Conservative synagogue in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar, where we were the week before.

Wine of the Week--Recanati Reserve Shiraz
This was about an 83.  It was a little too sweet and a little too grainy for my tastes.  It actually tasted bgetter the next night after some time in the refrigerator, which is unusual.  Still, you could tell it was relatively high quality, just not quite perfect for my taste buds nor as good as the last two weeks, Psagot and Barkan Reserve.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

1 Camel, 1 Kibbutz, 3 Museums, and Obama

Quite an eventful week in Israel--both for the Blooms and Israel itself.  We took a "tiyul," which is the Hebrew word for trip, though it usually means within Israel itself and often involves some hiking.  All true for us.

Camels in the Negev
We began with a drive to the Negev Camel Ranch at Mamshit (very far in the South of Israel) where we spent the night.  The boys and I had fun on our one hour camel ride, but man are those creatures uncomfortable.  However, the boys promised their friends they would ride camels in the desert, and since most of our activities in Israel are directed toward the adults, we thought this was an appropriate indulgence. The place was great.  The staff was spectacular, and the "Shepherd's Dinner" was delicious.  Micah and I also did a great hike to the top of a hill where we could see the nuclear reactor in Dimona on the other side of the mountain. The only problem was sleeping.  You have your own cabin (they call it a hut, but it's a cabin), and it even looks quite comfortable.  But the bugs and the sand made us so itchy that it was nearly impossible to sleep. We had a beautiful day, but a very rough night.

Careful there boys!
Enjoying tea in the desert
Kibbutz Gamal and Lag b'Omer
Our next stop was at Kibbutz Magal, which is the Kibbutz where our good friend Adi Schacker grew up. We were hosted by her marvelous parents, who heaped gobs of both hospitality and food upon us.  They have a gorgeous upstairs apartment, and they stocked it with food fit for an army.  Plus they fed us every meal--huge Shabbat meals of chicken, fish, rice, roasted vegetables, lentils, breads, pasta, and home-made techina.  The Kibbutz is stunningly beautiful.  The buildings are well-kept, the grounds are beautiful, the atmosphere is idyllic, and the feeling is marvelous. We ate avocados, loquats, and passionfruit grown right there.  They also have one of the most successful factories in Israel; it  makes the equipment for drip irrigation.  One thing I did not realize was how close it is to the West Bank. Talk about a stone's throw!  That is no exaggeration.  Kibbutz Gamal is one of several Kibbutzim along the border with the West Bank at the point where the border between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea is only a few miles wide.  Initially, these Kibbutzim were among the first lines of defense in pre-state and pre-1967 Israel.  You can clearly see the separation fence from the Kibbutz and realize its vital importance even today in preventing suicide bombers from crossing into populated Israeli areas.
David and Bahira Yaron, Marvelous Hosts
One of the most special things about our visit there was the celebration of Lag b'Omer.  Lag b'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot.  Historically/spiritually, this period was a time of great anxiety for farmers and for the Jewish people, having been freed from Egypt but not yet having received the Torah.  Today, the period is marked by a certain solemnity--weddings are not held, hair is not cut, and, for some, other joyous celebrations and activities are not held.  But, on the 33rd day, there is a break, and these restrictions are suspended.  There are two explanations for this holiday.  The first is that during the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, a plague had spread among Rabbi Akiva's disciples, which, on the 33rd day of the Omer, was stopped.  The other is that Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, who many believe was the first Jewish Kabbalist, died on that day.  Legend has it that before he died, he told his disciples not to mourn on the day of his death, but to celebrate life and God instead.  So this is what people do, only the celebration is not quite what you might expect.
Lag b'Omer Bonfire with roasting potatoes
Rabbi Akiva or William Tell?
Yes, hair is cut, weddings are held, and people have parties.  Mostly, though, Israelis have giant bonfires, where they roast marshmallows and potatoes.  Children make their own bows and arrows out of sticks (our guys did it, as you can see), and they practice makeshift archery as if they were part of the Bar Kochba rebels.  The Kibbutz really did the celebration up right, and we had a ball.

3 Museums--Latrun, History of the IDF, and the Yitzchak Rabin Center
Each museum we visit seems more spectacular than the one that preceded it.  This weekend's theme was understanding the Israeli military.

We began with the Armored Corps Museum at Latrun.  Latrun is situated between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and played a key role in the 1948 War of Independence.  One could not get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without passing through Latrun, and it was controlled by Arab armies.  Jerusalem was besieged and unable to get supplies.  The Haganah (the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces) regularly sent convoys of trucks to bring them supplies, but they were regularly ambushed at Latrun.  Eventually, they built their own bypass road (called the Burma Road), but not until after many lives had been heroically lost trying to relieve Jerusalem.  For years, tanks and armored cars that had been casualties of these ambushes were simply left on the side of the road as a testament to these battles.  Today, they have been formalized into a museum with dozens of tanks, which Micah and Jonah enjoyed climbing on.
Our next museum was the History of the IDF Museum in Tel Aviv.  It is divided into 19 stations devoted to different aspects of the Israeli Military (communications, uniforms, Ministers of Defense, tanks, rifles, and several more).  The amount of artifacts and facts is overwhelming.  I had never been to this museum, nor is it a regular stop of any of the many tours I have been on, but it was really, really fascinating.
Finally, we went to the brand new Yitzchak Rabin Center, which is really two parallel museums in one.  One is a history of the State of Israel and the other the life story of Yitzchak Rabin, undoubtedly one of the great heroes of our time.  The museum is in a spiral format, and the audio-visual displays are mesmerizing.  This was one museum where we did not have to use any tricks or bribery to capture our children's attention.  Rabin was not only one of the great Israeli soldiers from pre-state Israel on, but he served as Prime Minister at two very different times in Israel's history.  He is best known for the Oslo Accords and being assassinated by a right wing, extremist Jew in 1995, when it seemed Israel and the Palestinians were on the very cusp of making peace.  I'm not entirely sure it would have happened even had he remained alive, but he remains one of the greatest heroes in Israel's history.  We were moved to tears at several points during our visit to this incredible museum.
Rabin receiving the Nobel Peace
Prize with Peretz and Arafat
Part of the spiral shape of the museum
and story of Rabin's life.
Service of the Week
Because we were not in Jerusalem, we had to drive to synagogue this Shabbat, and we drove to TBA's sister synagogue in Israel, a Masorti/Conservative synagogue called Hod v'Hadar in K'far Saba.  It was nice to be able to sit together as a family, and even nicer that Karen got the Aliyah instead of me this week.  There was a Bar Mitzvah there, but an Israeli Bar Mitzvah is incredibly informal, really just a small part of the service.  The kid was sweet and adorable.  The place felt like home to us, very similar to a TBA service and atmosphere, and the degrees of separation in the game of Jewish geography were very small there.  We ran into both a former Cantor of Torat Yisrael in Rhode Island, where I used to work, a man named Shimon Gevirtz (we were there 20  years apart so we knew each other only by name), and a woman who was married at TBA many years ago named Beverly Shulster, who had none other than the Pencovic's sign her Ketuba!  It was a lovely Shabbat.

The Obama Bombshell
Against this backdrop, enjoying today's Israel, Obama increased the anxiety of many an Israeli's view about tomorrow's Israel.  Many people have asked me "what did Israelis think of the speech?"  That's a bit like asking "what do  people think about gefilte fish?"  Opinions are usually strong, and they run the gamut.  That said, most Israelis I talked to were very, very disappointed.  Their expectations are low; they believe that the rest of the world always places the onus for everything on Israel alone, from negotiations about land for peace to the need for self-defense to the very right to exist.  So they were not terribly surprised that Obama's remarks about future borders being based on 1967 with landswaps certainly appeared unfriendly to Israel. What he actually said was not fundamentally different from traditional U.S. policy regarding Israel's borders. The way he said it, however, was significant.  As a student of Aristotelian rhetoric, I am one who believes firmly that words matter. See my sermon on "The Rhetoric of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."   You have to scroll down to find it, but it explains a lot about how I view all this.  And using the words "future borders" and  "based on 1967" together was potentially very damaging to Israel.  Abba Eban called the 1967 borders "suicide" borders.  Israel will never go back to them, for no matter how great Israel's military superiority is, the borders are indefensible for the civilian population.  Obama knows that, and, in point of fact, everyone knows a land-for-peace deal will be somewhat similar to the 1967 borders.  To Obama and in practical terms, the "land swaps" he mentioned are of the utmost significance here, but all too many will focus on the 1967 part of the statement he appeared to emphasize.  Obama clarified this point in speaking to AIPAC, when he said:

"That is what I said. Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides."  
Had he said that in the first place, such furor would not have erupted.  But he did, and from this point forward, the rest of the world and, especially, the Palestinians, will take that as a given in any negotiations. They have actually refused to negotiate for almost a year now.  But why should they?  They can do nothing, and the world seems to negotiate for them.

I do not believe Obama is anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel.  I just think he naively believes that he can "carrot" the Palestinians back to the table.  The problem is that not only will it not bring them to the table, but it sets up Israel to take even more of the blame than they already receive.

The road to peace and Jewish law, literally.
That's about all for my soapbox today.  Hopefully, I can get back to enjoying the reality of Israel rather than defending it based on the ideality of the world's unrealistic expectations.  One day, as this fabulous road sign says, peace and halacha (Jewish Law).  We can dream, right?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jerusalem Week 5

This was a relatively uneventful week.  We continue to feel blessed to be here, and every moment seems to be infused with a certain holiness.  Shabbat is especially beautiful.   On Fridays I usually go by myself, while Karen and the kids go with me on Saturday morning.  I don't really feel alone, though, since at least a half a dozen perfect strangers wish me "Shabbat Shalom" on my walk to synagogue every Friday night.  We ate Shabbat lunch this week at Diane Bloomfield's house, who is the sister of one of our TBA members and the teacher of "Torah Yoga."  She and her family provided wonderful food and company.  One of the teachings she shared with us which she learned from someone else is that the most important way of creating a feeling of unity is through a shared calendar.  Nowhere does that ring truer than in Jerusalem, where nearly everyone observes Shabbat in some way, shape, or form.  The Talmud tells us that if the Jewish people would just observe one Shabbat in unison, the Messiah would come.  On Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons in Jerusalem, it sometimes feels like he/she is already here.  Plus, my boys got along perfectly today, so it REALLY felt Messianic.

Har Herzl Cemetery
Perhaps the most moving thing we did this week was visit the Har Herzl cemetery, where most of Israel's msot important leaders are buried, as well as the military cemetery right next to it.  Placing stones on the graves of Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Levi Eshkol, Teddy Kollek, and soldiers who died in the wars from 1948 through today in terrorist actions, was really an awe inspiring experience.  It's very hard for most of us to relate to the idea of people that are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of defending their nation, but seeing the graves caused me to think about the depth of those feelings.  It was really quite an afternoon for all of us.
Gravestone of one of the famous Golda.
Gravestone of Michael Levine, recent
American immigrant and Camp Ramah
Counselor.  His grave has become almost
a pilgrimage site for many American Jews.
Shul of the Week
This week we attended Mizmor l'David, a very modern Orthodox synagogue in the Talpiot neighborhood.  They have a side by side mechitza, so women feel much more comfortable here, and a woman takes the Torah and carries it around the women's section so all have the opportunity to kiss it.  The ruach here is tremendous, with people singing in wonderful harmonies at the top of their lungs to mostly Shlomo Carlebach melodies. The people also try to dance after Lecha Dodi, both the men and the women, though separately.   If I hadn't attended another Carlebach style synagogue called Kol Rina the week before, this would have been amazing, but It's hard to compare anything to the ecstatic feeling created there.  This was just an energy notch below.  However, the Saturday Musaf at Mizmor l'David was the best Musaf I have ever seen.  The person davening had an amazing combination of good voice, ruach, and sincerity.  Unfortunately, the 3 1/2 hour service which preceded Musaf didn't enable me to enjoy it fully.  Still, I have to give many kudos to the men and women sustaining this shul.  It's certainly a great one and, as I said, would have felt even greater had I not had the even more amazing experience the week before.

Wine of the Week
This week's wine was the 2008 Psagot Shiraz.  This was not a winery with I was familiar, as it is not widely available outside of Israel (though their website says it is sold in the United States).  This was a 91.  I liked it almost as much as the Barkan Reserve.  Its color was especially beautiful--like a perfect plum.  It was smooth and rich with very soft tannins.  It is made in the Jerusalem Hills, and Karen remarked that this was her favorite so far.

Shavua Tov, a good week!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jerusalem--Week 4 and Israel's independence Day

The most amazing/eventful thing about this week were the two holidays:  Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) followed immediately by Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).

Yom Hazikaron is an incredibly solemn day.  Since nearly all its citizens serve in the Army and Israel is perpetually at war, nearly every resident has either lost a loved one or knows someone well who has lost a loved one.  So it is a day of sadness and reflection, not a day of barbecues and appliance sales as in the U.S.    There are also all kinds of programs.  We went to one for a unit of soldiers near our house at night, and one at the kids' school in the morning.
Yom Hazikaron Ceremony for Soldiers
"Tekes" Ceremony at Boys' School
The most dramatic element of the holiday is the moment of silence at 11 AM, where an alarm sounds and nearly the entire country stops everything.  Cars stop in the middle of the road, and people get out and stand in quiet solemnity.  It is really a poignant moment, as you can see in the video below.

Then, the next day, commemoration turns to celebration and solemnity turns to silliness with Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day.  This day is marked with free concerts, free museum admission, and the oddity of people bopping each other on the head with giant plastic hammers and shooting silly string and shaving cream at one another.  We joined the throngs of people on Ben Yehuda Street, listening to the free concerts, eating cotton candy, and watching fireworks (they started an hour late at 11:30 PM!).  Occasionally I have been asked if Israelis feel at all guilty that their country's independence represents another people's tragedy, as Palestinians call this day "Al Nakba," the great catastrophe.  And while I do have great sympathy for the Palestinians as a people, I often wonder why nobody asks me as an American if I feel guilty celebrating July 4, given that so many British died in the Independence War and our land was essentially just taken from the Native Americans.  Virtually all the countries in the world were established at another's expense, yet only Israel's establishment seems to be questioned.  In any case, Israel is rightly proud of all they have accomplished in its 63 years, and it was very meaningful to witness the celebrations.
Decorations at the Kids' School
Bloom and Greyber Boys
People We Know
We got to spend Shabbat with three young adults (18/19 year olds), Emily Pascal, Rebecca Rosenthal, and Hannah Sosebee.  It was truly special getting to spend Shabbat in the holy city of Jerusalem with 3 girls who I both "Bat Mitzvahed" and confirmed.  It's the kind of stuff we rabbis dream about.

About the only thing more fulfilling will be participating in their weddings, God willing, in 10 years or so.  They were all pleasant company and doing amazing things here in Israel during their "Gap" year before college.  And Micah and Jonah decided to put on many performances for them from the "Key of Awesome," a not always appropriate set of Youtube videos.  But they are hilarious (both the videos and the boys performing them), if I do say so myself.

We also got to spend Friday brunch with my good friend Brenda Ganot. In High School, she went by Brenda Fishman, and we were co Regional Presidents of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization in the Bay Area.  She made Aliyah right after High School, and it always great to catch up with her.
Shul of the Week
This week we attended Kol Rina in the Nachlaot neighborhood, a good 35 minute walk from our place.  For those who know Jerusalem it is relatively close to the Machane Yehuda "Shuk."  Friday night was one of the most uplifting, spiritual services I have ever attended in my life.  The ecstatic spirit of 200 people singing at the top of their lungs and then ecstatically dancing around the room in the middle of a prayer is really an amazing experience.  Many, many synagogues try to have this style of service, but they often feel forced.  This one was the opposite--really authentic, spontaneous, and awe inspiring.  It was impossible not to get swept up in it.  Their tunes come primarily from the late Shlomo Carlebach, which .are very popular these days,   When not everyone is participating, they can fall flat, but and when done right, are incredibly beautiful and exciting.  About two thirds of the group appear to be English speakers, but the overall diversity was impressive.  There were teenagers, black hatted ultra religious Haredim, tatooed hipsters, old time hippies, and plenty of "regular" folks all in attendance singing and dancing their hearts out.

After such a stirring Friday night, Saturday morning was a disappointment.  It was much more sparsely attended (except there was a BBYO group from "March of the Living There," which was fun), and, though they tried, it lacked the same spirit evident on Friday.  The 20 or so regulars there, though, were very friendly.  They offered me an Aliyah, struck up many conversations wtih us afterward, and had a wonderful warmth about them.  They wanted my boys to lead "Anim Z'mirot, " an extremely long Psalm done at the end of the service, but they do not know it yet, so they had to decline.  It is very, very difficult, but Micah wants to take up the challenge.  Well, I am bribing him, but I'm still proud of him.  The view from the Mechitza was:  "They tried."  It's a sheer curtain, which they open for the sermon, and they bring the Torah to the women's section for them to kiss it, but it's still in back of the men and can be hard to see.  But on Friday night, the women sing and dance as well, so they are clearly participating openly.

Wine of the Week
This week's wine was a Barkan 2007 Reserve Shiraz.  It was very, very good, like a 92 or so on the scale.  I have had Barkan wines before.  As one of the first non Manischewitz style Kosher wines, they have been readily available in America for quite some time, but in the past, I could really only call them good for Kosher wine.  They have really improved in recent years, however, and this Reserve wine was very good.  Great body, smooth flavor, but with good Oak and Cherry overtones, almost Cabernet like.  I was very impressed.  It's definitely the best one I have had yet here, just ahead of the Dalton Shiraz. I gave that one only an 83, but that was because it was the first one I tried.  In retrospect, I'm changing it to 89.

We are counting the Omer right now in the Jewish calendar (days between Passover and Shavuot, and it's a time of solemnity in the Jewish tradition), but for me, I was too busy counting all my blessings.  What a wonderful week!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jerusalem Week 3--School Starts

First, the slide show thus far set to Doug Cotler's beautiful "Shir Hamalot."  I also just bought a new camera, because my pictures were getting worse and worse.  That should improve for the next slideshow, whenever that may be.
The new "normal" began today, with all of us attending the schools we will attend through late June.  All of us are in Ulpan, which is intensive Hebrew school  in Hebrew.  Micah and Jonah call it "school-pan," because that's actually what it is.  There is no Math or Social Studies or Current Events--just Hebrew.

School for Micah and Jonah
Micah and Jonah are in a school called "Ulpan for Youth Olim."  Not a fancy name, but it is a school subsidized by the Israeli government to prepare new immigrants to eventually move on to regular schools.  This provides a unique experiment in integration and culture clash, as the students come from America, Russia, Ethiopia, France, and Australia.  They accept tourists, though they have to pay twice as much.  In our case, they made us pay the whole year's fee for only two months, but it's still a bargain--less than $200 per kid.  That's about 3 hours of a private tutor, so we don't care.  It was no easy task finding the Ulpan for them; this was the only school that would accept them!
The boys jumping for joy at their new school.
Micah is in a class of middle schoolers, which just began, so he is comfortable and learning.  Jonah is in a class of 2nd graders that began in the Fall, so he can barely follow.  They initially didn't want to take him, but after they saw our determination and his smile, he was in.  He also has a friend in the class, Benjamin Greyber, son of Camp Ramah Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber, who has been very helpful.  The biggest challenge for both of them is that everything is in cursive, and while they read well in block, this is a whole new ballgame.  Jonah doesn't even write in English cursive yet, but he's adapting as he always does.   We'll see how much conversational Hebrew they learn (so far, the results are not great), but they're so happy to be around other kids and in a routine, it doesn't really matter all that much to us.  It's also less than a 15 minute walk from our house.

Grown Up Ulpan
It wasn't easy to find one for us either that started on our timetable.  The most heavily advertised one is called "Ulpan Or," Ulpan at the speed of light.  But it's mega-expensive and lasts for only 10 days.  We found one for all six weeks, though it only meets for one hour a day.  It is called "Ulpan l'inyan,"  (Ulpan l'Inyan), which means straight to the point.  I'm in Level 3 out of 5, and Karen is in Level 1. Both of us know more words than anyone in our classes, but understanding when Israelis speak is a huge challenge, so we are in the correct levels.  And while we might have preferred more hours per day, this gives us even more time to enjoy Jerusalem as well as take care of the kids.

End of Passover
We had two kinds of Pizza on Emek Refaim Street (Big Apple Pizza and Pizza Sababa) in the hour after Pesach as well as Chametz candy bars.  A pleasure and one day earlier than in the diaspora.  This was the easiest Passover ever!
Israel Museum
This is the most extensive museum in all of Israel.  Great exhibits on ancient Near Eastern History, Jewish life, and the "Shrine of the Book," which contains fragments of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the Aleppo Codex .  We did some advance scouting work and set the kids up on a treasure hunt looking for certain objects (thanks for the suggestion Eric Friedman).  It was a big hit, though we managed to turn a 30 minute walk into a 90 minute walk with one wrong turn.
The Shrine of the Book at the Israel
Museum, which contains parts of
the Dead Sea Scrolls and Aleppo Codex
Shuls of the Week
We went to another neighborhood modern Orthodox synagogue for the 8th day of Pesach, once again just following the people.  This one was called Ezrat Yisrael ("Help of Israel").  It was very similar to the other one, "Har Horeb," except that Karen could see better from this mechitza, and I was given Galila (Torah dresser and roller) rather than Hagbah, and I did a very poor job.  There was no slit in the cover, and it had writing on both sides, so I put it on backwards, and we had to change it, plus there was an extra piece with the word Pesach on it that kept flipping around).  It was still a very nice, enjoyable morning with lots of people davening with Kavanah (intentionality).  The best part was that there were kids playing outside in the courtyard the game called "Chayei Sarah," a sort of Israeli dodgeball, so Micah and Jonah were happy.

On Shabbat we went to Moreshet Yisrael, the "Inheritance of Israel," (, which is the synagogue attached to the Conservative movement/USCJ facility in the center of Jerusalem.  We were welcomed warmly by Rabbi Adam Frank, the brother-in-law of TBA member Debbie Weinstein.  The service feels just like a Conservative synagogue in the U.S.  They use Sim Shalom and Etz Chayim, and give the sermon in English.  We also saw many other people we knew, including Kayla Ship, who is in charge of the congregational Israel trip through Keshet, Rabbi Jerry Epstein, past Executive VP of United Synagogue, Rabbi Danny Schiff, who is a rabbi I have known in both Pittsburgh and Australia and, a man named Yehiel, who used to frequent TBA but now lives in Israel  (he wears white and looks very Chasidic; many of you would recognize him).  I was roped into doing Haftarah, which I don't mind, and it was a very comfortable place to be.  When we arrived 5 minutes after the service started, we were literally the only people in the room besides the person leading and the Rabbi), but the place eventually filled up with regulars (mostly elderly) and Day School groups from Florida and Connecticut.  With all of the visitors, it's virtually a different shul every week.    This was our week, as next week, I think we'll try the more Israeli Conservative synagogue.

Wine of the Week.
This week's Shiraz comes from the Tzuba Winery (Tzuba Winery Story), which is in the Judean Hills West of Jerusalem.  All the other wines so far have come from the Galilee Region, where the majority of Israel's wines are grown and bottled.  It is made on a Kibbutz where they have found the remains of 3000 year old wine presses.  They are not in use today, but the idea that this wine is made in the same place that our ancestors were making wine is a spiritual experience in itself,
The actual wine was not quite as cool as the idea.  It was full-bodied, which I liked, and it was even flavorful (think /black cherryish with a little pepper), but it was a bit syrupy, almost like a Port Wine, and I am not a fan of port wine,  The alcohol content seemed a bit higher than usual, as Karen reported feeling tipsy after just a couple of sips and wanted to go to sleep immediately.

Another great week, and for the next several weeks, we get to experience a "normal" routine.