Tuesday, June 26 - Old Yaffo, Chinese Food & Burgers

Woke up early, very early. Disoriented. Difficult to move, back tight, something heavy on my arm. Not Jennifer next to me. Not my bed. Not my bedroom. Sound of the ocean. Confused. I remember loud Reggae music. A little bit of crying. Quick inventory of my surroundings: okay, that is Shayna on my arm (in an Israeli twin, by the way, that means narrow and no box spring). Nadiv is in the trundle on the floor – 1st prayer of the day: ‘Blessed is the world, that Nadiv didn’t need me to sleep with him down there!' There, in my room, sleeping like perfection, 2 angels on a big comfortable bed – Jennifer and Maital. (I wanted to include a wonderful picture I took in this log, I was encouraged not to. Also, I was encouraged not to share the threats of violence that accompanied my being encouraged not to include the photo.)

Quick glance at my watch, as the blood returns to my arm, 4:40. So, if there is a 10 hour time change, 4:40 in San Diego that means it is 2:40 AM, here. Oh wait, another memory, good news, I changed my watch. Phew, it is 4:40 AM here, I was afraid I had woken early! (Little parenthetical parent note: Tried to teach Shayna about sarcasm, wasn’t our most effective lesson. She still believes that fussing trumps sarcasm as a way of expressing displeasure or disappointment!)

So the day begins. Shayna woke up not too long there after. Maital and Jennifer a few minutes later. Nadiv slept . . . and slept . . . and slept . . . and slept . . . and I believe set a new Meltzer children record: 9:15 AM! In other families that may not sound impressive, that might even be considered early to rise, for us, that is almost breakfast! In fact, we worried he would sleep through breakfast!

Ahhh, breakfast. Eating breakfast at our hotel was the healthy equivalent of yesterday’s Shwarma in Mellawach Nirvana. All the associations of Israel, previous trips, plus delicious food, and in the case of Israel breakfast – delicious.

Israeli salad, cheeses (salty, hard, spreadable, all kinds), slice your own bread right from the loaf, watermelon, peaches, grapes, some kind of unidentifiable melon, kugels (it’s a fancy hotel), cottage cheese, odd yoghurt, hard-boiled eggs (only in Israel would I get a hard-boiled egg rather than a made-to-order omelet!), and a juicer next to a big bowl of sliced oranges and grapefruits. Truthfully, I think I would sit the whole day, listen to Hayam Hatichon (the Mediterranean), and eat! Israeli breakfast, shwarma and chips (french fries) for lunch, glidah (ice cream) on the beach for a snack, shwarma and chips for dinner, and ugiyot (cookies) for a bedtime snack. Did I mention I could grow old and happy (and quite large) in Israel. Also, Shayna and Nadiv are learning a lot of Hebrew, and it is all ingestible!

Sof-sof (finally), done eating and in a cab to visit Old Yaffo. Now, I remember my first morning in Israel: 1990, arrived in the middle of the night, picked up at the airport by a friend’s friend, drove through the Judean desert, drizzled, flash flood warning, arrived at Massada, could not enter until morning, drove around to the other side, climbed the Roman ramp in the dark, had to shimmy up a pipe the last fifteen feet, on Massada to watch the sunrise. Emblazoned in my memory and associated with Josephus’ mythic story of the defenders of Massada, and the image of Israeli paratroopers being sworn in and pledging that Massada will never fall a second time.

What will Shayna’s be? Riding in the back of a cab, heading for Old Yaffo, hearing the story of Andromeda, Perseus and the Kracken. Yep. That is now the favorite story of our Israel trip. It has a princess, a flying horse and a hero – what could be better? Please, let some story in Jerusalem bump that from her memory!

Here we are, on our way to Old Yaffo, with our babies, to show them the ancient ruins, Andromeda’s rocks, the port, the old stone pathways through the city, all home to modern Israeli artists and with the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the background – this is Israel.

First Andromeda, and then, it was hot. Did we mention that the streets were cobblestones made from Jerusalem-stone, and lots of steps? I’m sorry, it was not just hot, it was hot and humid. Kids were liking the story in the air conditioned cab, but walking, climbing, bouncing over the stones and steps of Old Yaffo? Not so much.

But the kids had fun, with red faces and parents nagging them to drink water. They liked walking and jumping on the stones of the streets. And for Jennifer and me, seeing them surrounded by Jerusalem stone, the old city (of Yaffo) with the Mediterranean in the background, it was enough to bring tears to our eyes!
Did I mention it was hot? Also, an old city offers lots of opportunities for curious children looking to climb and jump!
Walking through an ancient/tourist site, also gave us the opportunity to learn more Hebrew. Shayna now knows that “histori” in Hebrew means historical. I am not sure she knows what historical means in English!
And of course, any day that includes popsicles can’t be all bad.
Finally, our sweaty, bumpy, passage through Old Yaffo ended, walking the narrow passageways, and finding Gabrieli’s store.
Looking at her beautiful woven tallitot, Challah covers and tapestries, gave us an opportunity to talk about the commandment “lihader mitzvah” – to make beautiful the fulfilling of commandments. Which is why candlesticks and Kiddush cups are supposed to be artful, and not simply functional. And so too a talit. (You will see the new ones when we return.)

That was supposed to be how our Old Yaffo adventure ended, but instead, we waited and sweated, waited and sweated, waited and sweated for a cab. Then, finally, we justify Old Yaffo.

And I knew where I wanted to go for lunch: China Lee. A famous Tel Aviv establishment where the Oriental waiters all wear kippot. Fortunately, the cabbie knew the restaurant, because it has recently moved and wasn’t where I thought it would be. And the waiters no longer wear kippot. But no disappointment.

Beautiful restaurant, comfortable booth, delicious food. We could have stayed for hours, and I think we did. Our waitress was a very nice, very young 20-something, who made Aliyah from Miami. Very friendly, very personable, and the kids loved her!

Sitting in China Lee, also gave Jen the opportunity to explore a wonderful book that a friend recommended, filled with easy, time-filling games while sitting in a restaurant and the like.
The kids loved the “Guess What I Have Hidden Under the Napkin” game.

Also, sitting, dining comfortably slowly in the restaurant, gave Shayna the opportunity to further develop her photographic skills. Please notice in this lovely composition, how she balances the frame with my arm, Maital and a lovely plate of cut-up Sweet & Sour Chicken and Something-or-Other Beef.
Only in Israel can a sweet brisket with onions be served as a specialty in a Chinese restaurant. Sorry I can’t remember the real name of Something-or-Other Beef, but man was it yummy!

The restaurant itself is located in an area with fabric vendors. I love being in Israel, walking into fabric store after fabric store, explaining to the merchant (in Hebrew) that we are looking for white tablecloths with patterns on them that include holiday symbols and words like “Shabbat Shalom” and/or “Chag Sameach” and they look at you like you have just asked the most absurd thing. If you can’t buy fabric like that in Israel, where can you buy it? Ironically, I am willing to bet you can find it in Chinatown in New York!

Much easier to find a cab from Tel Aviv back to our hotel. Though at this point, it was late in the afternoon, and traffic wasn’t great.

Driving back in an air-conditioned cab after a long hot day, everyone started dropping off to sleep. First Maital, then Nadiv, and Shayna, and Jennifer. Sitting in the front seat, I became aware that I was doing head bobs. Then I noticed the light turned green, and the other cars started going, but not us.

I looked over at our driver, and his eyes were closed as tightly as any in the backseat. “Slichah adoni, hakol beseder (Excuse me sir, is everything okay)?” I asked.

Came the reply: “Oy, mitz’ta’er, chalamti (Oy, sorry, I was dreaming).” Clearly! But I never thought he would say so unabashedly. Guaranteed I stayed awake for the rest of the drive!

Back at the hotel, bathe the kids, and what do you do for dinner after a long hot day, knowing that nothing could compare to our stupendous lunch? We decided just to order in some room service. Burgers, fries and pasta! Did I mention this was a health food junket?

Room service turned out to be inexpensive, and wonderfully delicious! The hamburger on the children’s menu, for about $5, turned out to be spiced more like a chicken shishlik patty on a bun. Did I say patty, I meant patties! Yep, five buck brought up a delicious, middle eastern spiced, double patty chicken burger on a sesame seed bun (that sounds vaguely like an old fast food hamburger commercial), and yes, we had it our way. Did I mention that it included a generous serving of delicious, crispy, still warm, french fries and salad?

Now remember, we didn’t expect the kids to eat much. We had a very large, very late lunch. And Nadiv does not tend to be a big eater. But you know what they say about Chinese food, delicious but a couple of hours later . . . there you are macking delicious burgers!
See what I mean! And Jen and I may have tasted a little bit!
Definitely made Israel feel like home to have a day of Chinese food and burgers!

And so our first complete day ended in Israel. Well-fed, well-shopped, well-sweated. Please let us wake up tomorrow well-rested!

P.S. A cousin of mine in Jerusalem put me in touch with a distant cousin who lives here in Herzliyah. A Holocaust survivor named Masha who we will hopefully get to meet this week!

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