A Day with Martha and Jim

My question to myself is should I start by going all the way back to the beginning of this story. Or should I simply “cut to the chase?” Maybe I’ll just do a quick intro, to get my faithful readers up to speed.

‘Way back when Barbara was in high school, she and several friends would stand – regardless of the weather – on a certain street corner after school and discuss weighty matters of the world before they had to go their separate ways home in time for dinner.

That’s over fifty years ago, and the women have certainly gone their separate ways: Alice is still in Rochester, NY; Martha is in Columbus, Ohio; and we are, as you are aware, a little bit east of Yerushalayim. Barbara has kept in touch with both of them – if not frequently, at least enough to keep the friendships alive.

Several months ago, Barbara laid it on the line to Martha, something to the effect of “When are you guys (she and her husband Jim) going to come visit us?” My wife astutely points out that none of us are getting any younger, and, as she has patiently but pointedly reminded me on more than one occasion, we should do our traveling before our traveling days are over. I guess that Martha got the message, because shortly thereafter we were advised that they were indeed coming our way, and make them a reservation for the guest room upstairs. Will do!

And so, after a week of seeing some of the sites on an organized tour, the Bowlings arrived at our doorstep in Ma’ale Adumim. Our apartment was kind of crowded because The Levines had also arrived, and we had a Shabbat overflowing with victuals, wine and other spirits, and our usual arrayof witty repartee.

The Levines returned to Har Halutz on Sunday, and it was now Tuesday, the last day of the Bowlings’ sojourn in The Land. Although Barbara had shepherded them around Jerusalem for several days, she had the brilliant idea of contacting Shelley Brinn for her assistance.

Shelley, up until recently, had been the aliyah coordinator for our community, and she had now formed her own enterprise, Tour Adumim, to bring visitors to our remarkable community and its environs. She had the day available and agreed to take the Bowlings and Barbara around the area. Me too, if I chose. Some of the places on the itinerary I had been to, but, what the heck, why not? (There would be a meal in the offing.)

Starting at one of the several lookouts in Ma’ale Adumim that offer a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and wadis didn’t seem that promising, but there is a point to be made. Barbara and I have our routes, places we go to all the time in Ma’ale Adumim. However, there are places in this community of 40,000 people that we never get to, even if we’re just sitting on a bus. Point being that I never knew this rather scenic overlook even existed. It was certainly a perfect place for Shelley – with a few additional comments by me and Barbara – to give a summary of how this community came to be and to describe some of what’s around.

Then off to Eretz Bereishit. Long time readers of my articles with good memories will remember my description of this place – years and years ago. It’s a very small, very low-tech theme park, where “Eliezer” will talk about his employer, the patriarch Avraham, take you on a camel ride, and, for the right price, offer a group of you a simple meal in the hospitality area. (Use of the rest rooms at no additional charge.) One camel ride in a lifetime was more than enough for me and Barbara, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an opportunity for this kind of activity back in Columbus, Ohio. So off went Jim and Martha.

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They’re not in Columbus anymore!

Meanwhile, I was hanging out in the visitors center, when we noticed this little bird sitting on the carpet, all by itself. Was it tired, was it waiting for a buddy, was it waiting for a camel ride? I’ll never know, but I was able to lie down about two feet away and take its picture.

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Little birdie…..

Now things would start getting more interesting. We were off to Ein Mabua, one of several springs in the area. Now you have to stop a moment and consider where we were: halfway to Jericho. Oodles and oodles of sand and a little sparse vegetation, enough for some sheep, goats, and camels to survive, and that’s about all. Oh, and a few ibexes and a hyrax or two here and there. When we went, the place was almost deserted (one couple with an infant and another guy, speaking to each other both in Yiddish and fluent English). In the heat of the summer, this place is mobbed – cars lined up all along the narrow road, so many kids splashing in the pool the Brits built up that you would have a hard time getting your toe wet. Speaking of the Brits, during the Mandate, they built a pumping station to get water from here to Jerusalem, that’s how much of water there is and how clean it is. What’s r-e-a-l interesting is that the water in the pool drains every so often and then gets refilled – as if someone were pulling the plug in a bathtub and then turning on the faucet.

Enough palaver. Shelley, Barbara, and Martha walked across the stream to take a look at…… I have no idea what there was to see because I never made it to the other side. Holding my camera in my left hand, I started crossing the two-foot wide stream, stepping on the rocks so I wouldn’t get my feet wet. Except that halfway across, I did a little up-in-the-air-fall-down-on-my-tuchus routine, all the while trying to cradle my camera to keep it out of the water. Well, it didn’t get as wet as I did, but it did get wetter than I would have liked – or it would have liked. “Grab my camera,” I shouted at Jim, who was behind me. The way I looked at it, a trip to the chiropractor to straighten me out would be a lot cheaper than a trip to Keren-Or to deal with a soggy SLR.

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The treacherous rocks

Once I righted myself and turned around, I saw Jim, my camera in one hand and his iPad in the other, gingerly approach this tiny body of water, ready to make his best effort at crossing. “Noooooooooo,” I shouted. My best estimate is that Jim has 100 pounds on me. If he were to slip and fall……… it was too much to even consider. I sloshed back through the water, and the two of us found refuge in a sunny spot where we could shoot the breeze and I could start to dry off while we waited for the imminent return of the three ladies.

Not only were my pants legs, my shoes and socks, and my camera wet, my spirits were considerably dampened. I had not signed on for an aquatic adventure, nor was I looking forward to visiting the nice people at the camera repair shop. I couldn’t really blame Shelley; she had made it safely across, as did Barbara and Martha. There was no reason for her to be concerned that the rocks were slippery. I could pin the blame on gravity, but what good would that do me?

I remembered the time on another tour when I slipped in the mud with the very same camera in hand. That was much worse! But I also remembered an incident that happened on the recent AACI cruise (the one I’m in the middle of writing about) when a woman who had sort of attached herself to our small circle of amigos managed to lose a lot of money, credit cards, and the like. She was justifiably upset, but there was nothing that any of us could do to help her. (The cruise concierge made the calls for her to cancel her credit cards; that’s the kind of service you get on a super-duper cruise ship.). There was no benefit to anybody for her to mope about and depress the rest of us, but she did anyway, maybe without realizing it. Remembering that situation, I vowed to do better. What good would it have done me to keep grousing or try to shorten the trip so I could get back in time to head into Jerusalem, moist camera in hand? The heck with it. If I brought my camera in to the shop the next day, it wouldn’t make any difference. My clothes would eventually dry, and you can do quite a bit of picture taking (no selfies, please!) with an iPhone. As it turned out, the memory chip in the camera was not ruined, so the few images I had taken that day were still downloadable. So, as I often say, grin and bear it.

Our next scheduled stop was at Mitzpe Yericho, one of the “suburbs” of Ma’ale Adumim, a town with an amazing view, especially from the new lookout station from where you can see all the way to the Jordan River.

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A nifty view from Mitzpe Yericho

From there, we went to visit the studio of Gila Kopel, who produces, as her card indicates, “Stained Glass Art.” Perhaps it was the time of year, but her studio was jam-packed with Chanukah menorahs. Everything she does is made from imported colored glass and fragments from broken domestic bottles. Now if I had the money, that’s the kind of thing I’d want to buy: a beautifully designed object from a local craftsperson. In fact, I suggested to Shelley that she might want to organize a group of people to visit Gila’s shop sometime before Chanukah. I had thought to be part of that group, but it occurred to me that any spare change I had would have to go into the fix-a-camera fund. (The bill to uncorrode my Nikon: 790NIS, the equivalent of twenty pictures of Alexander Hamilton.)

Off again to our next stop, the Inn of the Good Samaritan, certainly a place of interest to the Bowlings. I had been there before and seen what I wanted to see, so I just waited outside, checking my Facebook page on my iPhone to wile away the hours. Just relax; we’re now an hour behind schedule, so there’s no way we’re getting back in time for me to get my camera to the shop.

Finally…….. The highlight of the day, the main reason I agreed to come along: lunch (a rather late one at that) at Ziggiz! This is a meat restaurant that opened recently in Mishor Adumim, the industrial area right below Ma’ale Adumim. If you have a car, it’s a ten or fifteen minute drive down there. We would have to wait for a bus that comes once an hour, making the trip a lot less inviting. The place has gotten some rave reviews: a full plate of pretty good food for 35NIS. For reasons I can’t explain, I ordered the Moroccan fish, a mild white fish overpowered by spices, with some boiled potatoes, and the Israeli default vegetable, soggy green beans. The chicken dish that others ordered was a much better choice. Because we arrived so late, we were the only customers in the restaurant. And so, the question might be asked: how can a small restaurant in an out-of-the-way location survive? Answer: as an afterthought.

Originally, the two proprietors, both olim, created a unique kind of catering operation; they provided the food and other essentials to about seventy families who offer authentic Shabbat hospitality for large groups of tourists. The cost of commercial space in Jerusalem being what it is, these two entrepreneurs found cheaper digs away from the bustle of the city. Hey, they thought, we got the kitchen, we got the space; why not open a restaurant? That’s the way to do it! Have a thousand or so individual orders guaranteed before you turn on the stove and open the doors.

That’s a lot to do in one day, especially for two people preparing to head off to Ben-Gurion airport in a few hours. Jim and Martha had, they said, a wonderful, eye-opening journey going forth in The Land, a place much different from what the folks back home have in mind. Thanks go to Barbara for taking them around, leaving me more time to tickle the keys on my keyboard. Otherwise, when would my articles get written?

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