Saturday, August 6, 2011

Jerusalem Week 16--Blooms are Illegal, Hadassah, and another wonderful Shabbat

It's no fun being an illegal alien
Anyone remember that 80's song by Genesis?  It turns out that our family was in Israel illegally for about 3 weeks.  When an American enters Israel you get an automatic stamp for a 3 month visit.  We are in Israel a total of 4 months and 3 days.  Despite my thorough checking for entry and exit requirements for Fiji, Australia, China, and Dubai, I was quite careless with Israel.  I come here so often without incident that I didn't think to check about the time limits here.  The stamp in the passport says 3 months from date of entry, but I didn't bother to look.  When I was renting a car, however, they looked at my passport and told me:  "you are no longer a tourist according to your passport, you have to pay the higher fee that includes the tax."

At that point I realized that our family was actually here illegally, having overstayed our official welcome.  What to do?  We could have just gone to the airport on our way out and maybe paid a small fine, but that could endanger any future trips to Israel.  So instead we went to the Misrad Hap'nim (the Office of the Interior) to apply for an extended tourist visa.  I tried calling, but as with many bureaucracies you can't reach an actual person, so I had to go in person.  I did, but all I could do there was make an appointment for two weeks later.  They also told me that I would need to bring a letter from a rabbi stating that I was Jewish.  I write those letters for others, but I wasn't allowed to write one for myself.  Rabbi Dardik from Beth Jacob happened to be in town, so fortunately, he wrote one for me.

When we arrived two weeks later we were supposed to see Miri at Window 5.  When we arrived, the woman at Window 5 was surprisingly pleasant and smiley, so I was not concerned.  We approached her at our appointed time, and she informed us that we did not have an appointment with her, and that Miri now worked at Window 9,  So we went to Window 9, and Miri was not smiling at all.  "Did you hear your name called?" she asked/shouted.  "No," I replied.  "Then please go sit in the waiting room until you are called."  Another person who had come from Window 9 was practically in tears.  At this point I started to worry.  Perhaps I would need some divine intervention or, at least, some good karma.

Thanks for the good karma!
A moment later an Ethiopian woman approached me and asked if I could help her fill out her forms for her daughter who was applying for citizenship.  Her 9 year old daughter, like her, had arrived a few years ago on foot, believe it or not, so she didn't even know her entry point.  She spoke only Hebrew, much better than mine, but she really wasn't able to write Hebrew.  So, together, we filled out her form. At this point, I felt that karma or Hashem was with me.  Our name was called, and we approached Miri again.  She told me to sit down.  I said: "Where?  My boys are in the chairs."  "Send them to the waiting room, then."  She couldn't have been more miserable.  Nevertheless, 30 minutes, about $200, and several questions later, we had our extended tourist visas.  And Miri even cracked a smile or two along the way.  She wouldn't let us take her picture, or she'd be in here too.

Hadassah Windows
It took us nearly 4 months, but we finally got to see the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem.  Not only did we get to see them, but we got a personal tour from Past National President and current Executive Director of Hadassah Barbara Goldstein.  She also showed us the magnificent facilities and even gave us a ride home.  Karen was especially thrilled with this particular afternoon, having spent so much of the last 10 years volunteering and organizing for Hadassah.
Karen and Exec. Director of Hadassah Israel, Barbara Goldstein

Friends and Caves in Beit Shemesh
Mark with BBYO buds Zev and Brenda
We got to spend time with two of my good friends from my high school days in BBYO, Zev Landau (formerly Bill London) and Brenda Ganot (formerly Brenda Fishman), both of whom live in Beit Shemesh, which is about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem.  Zev and his wife Monica fed us a nice brunch, and Brenda and her husband Steve drove us around to visit the caves of Beit Guvrin, most of which were from the early 2nd Temple Period, and .included columbarium caves (for raising pigeons), bell caves, and olive presses.  I had never seen them before, and they were marvelous.  It was also great to spend the time with old friends.

Repeat Shabbat
As it was almost our last weekend, we decided to return to one of our favorite synagogues during our time here, Kol Rina in the neighborhood of Nachlaot.  There were a lot of bashert moments to this Shabbat.  First, we couldn't find a bus stop near the Central Bus Station to take us back to our house. so we ended up at the Machane Yehuda market, where I picked up my favorite challa in the world.  I went on Thursday as well, but they were out, so it looked like I was going to have to pick up my challa somewhere else this week.
The challa and other treats at this bakery called Ugat Chen are so sweet that bees literally swarm all around the place.  This week there were an especially large number of them, I was afraid to hand the shop owner my money.  He exhorted me not to be afraid, and that they wouldn't harm me.  The first word in this week's Torah portion, D'varim, is reread by the rabbinic sages to say D'vorim, which means bees.  The words of Torah are compared by these sages to bees.  The sting is sharp, but ultimately, they produce sweet honey.  It was as if the shop owner was telling me not to be afraid, ever, of teaching or living the words of Torah, as challenging as they can sometimes be.

We then made our way to services at Kol Rinah, which are long but extremely spirited.  The boys joined me in the dancing during the Calrebach melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat.  It really was a spiritual and "ruach" high that I have not been able to replicate at a service in the United States, not even at our own Rock & Roll Shabbat (though we sometimes come close).  Anyway, the night was getting a bit long, though, so we left a little early.  On our way out we ran into Avi Margolin, who lives outside of Jerusalem, but despite our best efforts, we had not been able to see him yet.  Had we not left early we would not have run into him, so there was Divine Providence or serendipity or whatever you choose to call it giving us another sacred moment.

We returned there on Shabbat morning, where Micah proudly led Anim Z'mirot.  Anim Z'mirot is an extremely long and difficult prayer at the end of the service.  When we had gone there three months ago he was asked to lead it, but he didn't know it yet, so he had to decline.  He decided he would learn it if the occasion should ever come up again, and he did it beautifully.  I could not have been prouder.

We then went to lunch at people we were matched up with over the internet.  We went to and requested to be hosted somewhere near the synagogue.  We lucked into meeting a wonderful family with four children.  It turned out that the host was the Torah reader at the synagogue, the kids went to the same camp as Micah and Jonah, and we all had a wonderful time and a delicious meal.  All in all, it was a very special Shabbat.

Wine of the Week--Carmel 2007 Limited Edition

This is one of the top rated wines in Israel, a Bordeaux style blend from Carmel (not your Grandfather's sweet wine).  It was a very good wine with a smoky flavor.  Daniel Rogov gives it a 93, though I give it only an 89 (which is still very high).  The quality was there, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'm in love with the unique smoky flavor that infuses this wine.


  1. Just what type of Rabbi would you be if not a Jewish one?

    Safe travels home....

  2. An enjoyable and enlightening read--thank you.Jenn Chidsey

  3. Much fun reading your post. Brings back memories from way long ago. Enjoy your final week!