Monday, November 13, 2006

Middle Israel

This weekend we went to visit Israel, the real Israel that is. It's all well and good to live in Jerusalem and indeed it feels much like Israel, and certainly on most days, quite enough of Israel for me. But, driving up K'vish Shesh/Road 6, heading North, I looked around and noted the difference as soon as we descended the mountain.

First of all, the weather is immediately different. Jerusalem is hilly, and is surrounded by the other J'lem hills. It's rocky all around you (well, most of the country is rocky) and the weather while lovely, is cool, especially in the mornings and evenings. There is that much vaunted breeze that Ira so loves to talk about, especially in the summer. Indeed, today in Ulpan we read a great story by Shai Agnon (famous Israeli fiction writer of 20thC, who lived and wrote in Talpiyot, right near us and in fact, a shul that is named for him is right up the way) where he says, "there is nowhere in the land (of Israel) with a wind/breeze like in Talpiyot." A great story and a great writer, by the way, very humorous and very inventive use of language. Even in translation, I'm sure alot of his humour will come through. I digress.

You head down the mountain, down into the valley - we drive on the Begin Highway out of town and exit the city at at northern point as opposed to Route 1, the main entrance/exit which is at the western edge of the city (we live south). We head out from Begin onto 443, which cuts through the West Bank, passing various small Arab villages and eventually close to Ramallah. We pass the fence - modest in some locations and tall and imposing and unattractive in other spots. We reach 444 right arount Mod'iin, a cluster of towns on the busy J'lem-Tel Aviv corridor that are growing daily. I believe that there are presently 60k people in Mod'iin but they're planning for 200,000k people within the next 5-10 years and everywhere there is construction - roads, buildings, gas stations. Mod'iin is within easy commuting reach to Tel Aviv and to J'lem which partly explains in popularity. We have friends that live in Lapid, one of the yishuvim in the Mod'iin area and while they agree that it's a backwater for the moment, like the quiet, the commuting ease (he works in J'lem and she in Petach Tikva), the lovely Reform shul in their area and the decent schools they found for both of their kids. Ira's accountant is in Mod'iin and Ira finds Mod'iin scarily hard to figure out in the car - everything built in a hidden cul de sac it seams, no visible coffee shops and stores for a quick bite unless you know your way to the local mall.

We continue on our way to Route 6, which comes up shortly after our turn onto 444. It's a lovely road, wide and pleasant to drive on - Israel's first toll road. It came with major fights and it's hard to drive it and not reflect on the fact that it cuts through beautiful land that many environmental groups thought should not have been developed. Nonetheless, it quickly cuts through past sister Sarah's town of Rosh Ha'ayin and Petach Tikvah, and Shoham (where Arielle Blumenthal lives, I think). The land is flat, things smell agricultural through the windows. We see clementine trees, avocado trees as we gaze upon land sown by a few of the local kibbutzim that we pass by. Olive trees, my favorite tree - gnarly and nasty. We drive past the exits for Ra'a'nana and K'far Saba and then it's on to Kochav Yair, where my brother, Jonathan and sister-in-law, Barbara live.

We have arrived in Israel. Although, Kochav Yair has the requisite amount of English speakers, it is most definitely an Israeli town, a Hebrew speaking town. When you go to shul, people speak hebrew to each other. When you walk in the street, you hear hebrew. Shocking, really, for us townies from J'lem. The town feels different in so many ways from our life in J'lem. It's smaller, more provincial in style. Small town center - cafe, pizza, felafel, small grocery store with silly name, great swimming pool (ok, but it's a well to do town), school.

Still, we had our own english speaking shabbat with Barbara and Jonathan. Arrival heralded by Barbara standing by the stovetop as she is wont to do on Friday. She stands, barks orders as needed, cooks, talks, laughs and drinks beer. We all drink beer, taste the poppyseed cake that I found by chance at a bakery in J'lem. Very good. About 2 inches of poppyseeds with just a light bottom and top crust. Shul on Friday night and then home for a lovely meal with your basics of chicken and rice (Akiva has come to expect that when he sits at anyone's table other than his own of Friday night that he should receive chicken and rice), assorted pickled salads, lentil/potato stew, I can't remember what else and excellent biscotti with tea for dessert. Scotch. Bed, as soon as Akiva was settled down.

Morning in Middle Israel. Sunny, warm and lovely. It's dreadfully hot at their house in the summer but in the fall, it's downright great. We all wear summer clothing - why not when you still can but at least the weather allows for a light sweater as summer clothing gets boring after a while. Shul late for me and Akiva. Home by 11:00am, I think and kiddush time - herring, chips, nuts, humous, crackers, scotch with which to wash it down. Naptime/playtime for all. I sit outside, moving my chair around to catch the sun as it shifts. Akiva alternates between bothering people, playing pool on Uncle J's "special pool table," and reading his books. Lunch finally comes together around 3:00pm. We are all relaxed and actually hungry. More good things to eat and brownies for dessert. I made an excellent mushroom strudel for lunch. Everyone likes it. We nap a bit again - that is, those who didn't nap during the first naptime. Shabbat is over at 5:20 or so, yea! More food prep as the past weekend marked the 21st birthday of J&B's oldest, Dena. Rather shocking, really. Ira and I were first getting friendly in a boy/girl fashion around this time 21 years ago. I remember telling him that Dena was born and we both remember that in mid December that year, my parents and Jess, who was 16 I think, went off to Israel for a couple of weeks to see the new grandchild and I stayed at home - classes and work and my mother said to Ira, "Take care of Beth while we're gone." He did a good job.
Anyway, Sarah and Michael, Noam and Benjy and Michael's mom, Lillian, come on by at around 7:30pm. We attempt to eat once again - salad, jachnun (yemenite bread), rice pudding, cheesecake and upside down apple cake. We sing Happy Birthday and Akiva is pleased and Dena, all dressed up for a night out on the town with friends, prances around in an out suitable for a 21 year old. Ah, to be 21 again. Actually, don't want to be but enjoyed watching her.

We drive home and talk about how we're glad that we chose to live in J'lem, even if it's not Middle Israel. We climb the hill and look at the lights twinkling as we approach, glad to be home.

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