Four Episodes

PART ONE

(The spatula and the screwdriver)

A long time ago (at least by Israeli standards) the cranes came and deposited pre-fab concrete slabs (called ‘tromi’), which, when assembled, formed all the buildings in Klei Shir, our neighborhood in Ma’ale Adumim. Each block of buildings was given over to a different contractor, and each block has a somewhat different look to it. Whoever designed the buildings we live in had the whimsical idea of putting large picture window in each apartment, measuring about 80” by 20,” with an arched window on top of that.

The window gives us a rather wide view, just not the hills to the east of Jerusalem, which you would see from the other side of our apartment. Looking out from our dairy kitchen, we get a great view of the parking lot. There’s the decrepit block of buildings on the other side (slated to be torn down and rebuilt any moment now for the last several years), the parking lot itself with the delivery trucks supplying the few local stores, the mail boxes, and the recycling area. On a more positive note, we can see the tops of the trees outside our building, with all the birds that come and go. Down below are the dozen or so street cats that hang around our building because Lidia on the ground floor feeds them (I provide a bowl of water every morning). We are also able to people-watch, keeping tabs on everyone who comes in and out of our building or just passes by.

On the afternoon in question, I was at my post in the kitchen, cutting up an onion as the first step in making a vegetarian chili. I noticed a young girl, I’m guessing about ten at the entrance to our building.  No doubt, she had just finished her piano lesson with Ina, the other Russian lady on the ground floor. The girl had her helmet on and was intending to ride home on her bicycle. Except there was something wrong; she had chained her bicycle to the railing, and, try as she might, she couldn’t open the lock.

‘Barbara,’ I called to my wife who was sitting by her computer. ‘There’s a young girl downstairs who’s having a problem. See what’s the matter.’ Being the kind-hearted person she is, Barbara scurried downstairs, while I kept an eagle eye out from my observation post in the kitchen.

(We have a disclaimer that has persisted the length of our marriage. No, Fred is the one who does the cooking. I’m the one who walks around with a screwdriver.)

Barbara approached the girl. Yesh lach bayah? (Are you having a problem?) The girl, noticing the American accent coming from her would-be savior, using her best not-state-of-the-art language skills, replied, ‘You want English?’

(Uh no. Barbara’s Hebrew is acceptable; the girl’s English isn’t quite.) Anyway, the problem was simply that the key to the bicycle lock had broken off in the lock and the girl could not twist it open with her fingers. Up the stairs ran Barbara, obtaining an appropriate implement from the tool box that I inherited many years before from my father. Down the stairs ran Barbara, and, with me providing as much encouragement as I could from above, used her pliers to twist open the lock, so the girl could mount her bicycle and ride off into the sunset. Problem solved! Now I could return to what I was doing, sautéing onions with my weapon of choice, a spatula. The chili was delicious.

 

PART TWO

(Shucks!)

 I need a routine. You need a routine. All of God’s chillun need a routine – even those of us who don’t have to report to work every day. Mine on a Thursday morning is to head to the shuk to get my provisions for Shabbat and the following week. There’s a lot less to shlep home these days because we get a great deal of our f & v from Ben Rosenberg, an organic farmer on a moshav somewhere near Beit Shemesh. Still, there’s cheese, fish, poultry, bread, Shabbat morning herring, and a lot of miscellany to be obtained, along with a stop at one or more of the wine stores along Agrippas. I will usually wind up at Craft Pizza, a new place where they make pizza with aged dough, which costs more but is actually worth eating.

But for the last year or more, any trip to the shuk – or anywhere in the center of town, for that matter – will involve a stop at Power Coffeeworks for a cup of something or other – depending on the time of day and the weather. There’s no point going on and on about the quality of the coffee that master roaster Brandon Treger and his wife, Stephanie, offer to one and all, because what’s the point of describing what you can’t taste? What you might relate to is the ambience, for this is a funky, hangout where the music is American, and everyone is friendly. In a trice, you can be in a conversation with someone sitting next to you, while whoever is on duty is whipping up your cup of brew.

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The ‘facilities’ at Power Coffeeworks

Several months ago, I struck up a conversation with a young fellow who had just started working there….all about Louis Armstrong and the difference between his pioneering music and the last how-many-years of his career, when he was performing on auto-pilot. I wrote down for my young friend “West End Blues” and specified the 1928 version with Armstrong’s Hot Five, available on YouTube – because if you want to understand American music, that’s as good a place to start as any.

Then I didn’t see this young fellow for quite a while. Nothing unusual about that; all the staff work shifts, depending on when they’re available, plus I wander in at irregular times on different days. Until one time, there he was, behind the counter, whipping up some hafuks and a sandwich or two for the customers, some of whom were old friends of his from The States, who were in The Land on a Birthright trip and had dropped in for a once-in-a-lifetime coffee experience. There was a lot of banter going on back and forth, as our barista was trying to assemble a mozzarella cheese sandwich on a baguette. At one point, he mentioned something to somebody about the difference between Austrian bread and Hungarian bread. Now that got my full attention. What’s this about different kinds of bread in more-or-less neighboring European countries? I pride myself on being fairly knowledgeable on matters gastronomical, but this? Who knew? And I have friends who are making their own sourdough!

One thing I always strive to do is learn something, anything, new in the course of a day. Isn’t that one of the reasons you get out of bed in the morning? This might be it: some arcane information about bread that I could describe to my friends!

I waited patiently until the barista’s friends cleared out and there was a lull in the action. And then I asked: What’s this about Austrian bread and Hungarian bread? ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘we were goofing around, and I was just joshing them. There’s no such thing as Austrian bread or Hungarian bread.’

Shucks.

 

PART THREE

(It could be worse!)

 Every marriage needs some kind of a stew, one that simmers over the years. And every such stew needs a bone of contention to improve the flavor.  Ours is over the amount of stuff I have. Well, it’s true: I do have a lot of stuff: dozens and dozens of storage boxes of my photographs; at least sixty of them in 16”x20” frames from my last exhibition before we left New Jersey – they take up a lot of room! But what irks Barbara are all my books. Twice a year we donate a bunch to the local book swap, but others keep creeping onto our over-crowded shelves, so the number at hand never seems to go down. I don’t know how they get there, but they do! Too many books; get rid of some of them! I’m trying; I’m trying! But it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one.

The scene I’m about to describe took place in a bookstore in downtown Jerusalem called Sefer V’sefel (book and cup, because they must have served coffee a long time ago). They specialize in used paper-back editions of English language books of all descriptions. Many of the books are on shelves, organized by category and alphabetized. However, an additional number of too-many books are stacked willy-nilly, floor to ceiling, wherever there is room – or even when there isn’t.

It was like the would-be dieter walking into an ice cream shop. Why are you even there?Sure enough, there were a few novels that, try as I might, I couldn’t ignore. I handed my books to the woman who, with her husband, runs the store, swearing her to secrecy. ‘Don’t tell my wife I was in here.’ I then turned around and swore the several customers nearby to secrecy as well. The proprietor agreed to my demand but, fair being fair, told me that if my wife came in, she wouldn’t tell me either.

‘No problem. My wife does not go book shopping. She’s always telling me I have too many books.’ The other customers looked at me in horror. Too many books; how can one have too many books?

‘It’s OK. Otherwise our apartment would look like this store.’

Whereupon, the proprietor told me that when they moved to Israel, her husband packed fifty-two crates worth of stuff: two of them being his personal belongings and fifty of them were books. Oh…

You see, Barbara, it could be worse!

 

PART FOUR

(ALWAYS GO IN THE FRONT WAY!)

Our first few trips to the local Ikea store in Rishon LeTzion were kind of fun, and we were able to find some things we really needed: the office chairs that Barbara and I use, a very inexpensive coffee table (still in use), lots of shelving material for my office and our storage room, a couple of desk lamps, and various items for our kitchen. There’s still some enjoyment just walking around and looking at their displays (for example, what one can do with twenty-five or fifty feet of living space); if nothing else, their design concepts are vastly better than the bulky stuff being sold in Talpiot, even if the quality isn’t always up to snuff. But……. the ‘thrill’ begins to pale after a while, and it’s quite a shlepp – if you don’t have a car.

Nonetheless, their semi-annual sale was going to end in a few days, and there is always something we need – even if it’s just several hundred dinner napkins, which you can get there at a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere in The Land. Maybe some towels, and how about a small night table type lamp for our guest room. And some knives. (Sometime in May, two of Barbara’s friends stayed with us for a week, and the guy, not Jewish, managed to invade our Pesach cabinet and extract two knives, because we apparently didn’t have enough in our regular selection. Well, they weren’t such good knives, and we can always get new ones. In fact, we have to!)

There’s an invaluable rule of thumb for travel here in The Land, one that you ignore at your peril: never go anywhere on a Sunday morning, if you can help it. For one thing, that’s when all the chayalimand chayalot (G-d bless them!) return to their bases, taking with them enormous duffel bags and back packs.Plus, who knows who else needs to start of their week with a trip to somewhere?

To get to Rishon Letzion from where we live, you begin by taking the #174 bus to the Central Station in Jerusalem. From there, board the #431 bus, which leaves once an hour, on the hour, to the bus station in Rishon. Then, you move as fast as your little legs will allow to catch the shuttle bus to Ikea; that one goes once every half hour. Oy!!!

So here’s what we had planned: catch a bus at the corner about 9AM; get to the Jerusalem about 9:40; use the facilities and then get on line; board the 10AM bus to Rishon; get there three quarters of an hour later; run to catch the shuttle; get to Ikea a little after 11. Sounded good at the time.

Look at that line!It wasn’t the soldiers; there were lots of them in the station, but not on our line. It was the several phalanxes of Hareidi women and children, enough to fill almost half the bus. What’s so special about Rishon Letzion on a Sunday morning?

The upshot was there wasn’t quite enough room for the two of us – let alone the dozen or more people behind us. What to do? We could wait another hour for the 11AM bus, or we take a bus at 10:15. That one was not labeled ‘direct,’ but it was ostensibly an ‘express’ bus. I guess that means it doesn’t stop in between stops!

This is one of the glories of getting around in Israel. If you’re near a main road, or even a secondary one, chances are there will be a bus stop within sight. The bus you want may only come by once or twice a day, but it will come, and if you time it right, you can get from the middle of nowhere to the middle of somewhere. Or you can look at it this way: take a map (you remember ‘maps,’ don’t you?) and plot the most indirect route to get from point A to point B – in this case, Jerusalem to Rishon Letzion – passing through as many communities as you can. (Wasn’t that fun!) Then give the map to the bus driver and tell him to follow your route! It turns out that you can stretch out the trip from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half plus. You’ll get to see more of the country than you would have by waiting in the bus station, but you’re not saving much time.

It was after 12 when we finally arrived at Ikea. Time to eat in their cafeteria. As an aside, if I asked you to guess what kosher establishment anywhere in the world does the most business, what would you guess? No peeking. The answer is obvious, and we were there, standing in line. The food isn’t that good, but it’s inexpensive (probably a loss leader). It’s also the only kosher Ikea franchise anywhere, so make the best of it. If you stick to salmon, the ubiquitous overcooked green beans, and ‘chips,’ you’ll be OK.

And…. I figured out the answer to my question, where were all these Hareidi families doing heading to Rishon? Going to Ikea, before the sale ended. There they were: one of the phalanxes that was on the line ahead of us in Jerusalem, several middle-aged women – some of them with the super-duper look: hats affixed on top of their sheitels, I guess to cover all their bases – and a bunch of teen aged girls. They wound up being with us the rest of the way: the same shuttle bus back to the Rishon station and the same #431 back to Jerusalem – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We finished our meal, wandered around the store, made our selections, and headed to one of the dreadfully long lines to check out. Don’t even try to figure out which would be the shortest line; no matter which one we pick, it will be the worst one.Sure enough. As we had just missed the shuttle, we stopped in their little grocery section, picked out a few items (all certified kosher) and added them to our bags.

When we got back to Jerusalem, Barbara wanted to make one more stop. She hadn’t liked the towels on display at Ikea, and we had promised Natania to bring her back a bath towel. Let’s stop at the Vardinon store in the bus station. Maybe they’re having a sale. Here’s where it gets crazy. If you enter the bus station from the main entrance on Jaffa Road, there are a number of trained security people eye-balling the crowd. If you look OK, they let you walk right by. BUT, if you want to go in to the very same station from the back entrance where the buses let you off, you have to put your bags through the x-ray machine – if that makes any sense.

What do you have in there?Lots of napkins, a disassembled lamp, a jar of organic blueberry jam, a package of Danish flatbread, some chocolate liqueur, a large kitchen knife, a small kitchen knife…..

OH NO! We’re trying to go through a security check with two knives. Yes, they were both in their original sealed shrink-wrap packaging – the kind it takes ten minutes to undo. Yes, we just bought them at Ikea with all the other stuff. Yes, we had the receipts. Yes, if we had gone around the other way, no one would have noticed or cared. But we’re still trying to go through a security check with two knives. The guard who was watching the x-ray machine and spotted our contraband didn’t know what to do. He called over another guy, who also wasn’t sure what to do. They brought over a third guy, and the three of them huddled.

I’m sure they didn’t really think that the two of us had gone all the way to Rishon Letzion to purchase weapons to terrorize the passengers in the Jerusalem bus station. Still, there must be some procedure they were supposed to follow, and they weren’t sure what it was. The upshot was, we were told: Hide them; don’t show them; don’t take them out.Whereupon, Barbara stuffed the two knives into her backpack, and we proceeded to the Vardinon store, where they did indeed have towels on discount.

I guess the moral of the story is: Always go in the front way!

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2 thoughts on “Four Episodes

  1. oh we also discovered the Powerworks Coffee place. We started going there when we were the only ones on Friday morning, and now it’s become so crowded we barely get to wave to Brandon. He serves the best and most authentic Irish Coffee.

    Like

  2. This is a terrific view of life in Israel. Interesting to read all these different facets of daily life.

    As for books – that is my downfall! I desperately need to purge but it is very difficult. I donated 5-6 books this year, and in my mind I’m a Hero.

    Like

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