Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chiba Part I: Over the land and under the firmament we go to Grandma's (and everyone's) house

The Israel experience. Presented to you by TRS. Without pictures, because I'm too lazy to find good ones that match the text. You'll live.

Let's go back to where it all started, beautiful Terminal 4 in JFK, waiting to board our Israir flight. So, um, right, yeah, I guess, ok-we boarded. Joy. My seat was in the very last center row, 41, smack dab (what does that mean anyway?) in the smack dab (and did that make any sense?) of an Airbus A330-300. A rather horrible seat assignment if you ask me. Anyway, I survived. We only took off one and a half hours late, and soon Davened Mincha, followed quickly by Maariv, which itself preceded Shacharis by only a couple of hours. That's one of the joys of flying East, you get to pray at accelerated intervals. Since very few people slept on the flight I had ample time to get to know everyone, which I didn't do. Almost the whole plane was Birthright types, which was pretty cool. Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, of Northwestern University and father of my friend Avremi, was leading a group, but unfortunately he didn't Farbreng. My sources tell me that he was sleeping in business class along with Sholom Mendelson and his wee wifie, who were leading our group.
Once we landed it was Passport Control, which was quickly followed by baggage retrieval and cell phone collection. As in, we collected our cell phones from the cell phone company.

You know, I was scared of this happening. "Scared of writing about cell phones?" you quite naturally wonder, "what's scary about that?" Actually, I was scared of writing in this fashion, the "I did this, and then this, and then this, and then this...". It just strikes me as being morally wrong. Still, it's hard to avoid it when you're trying to narrate a series of events. I guess it's just the price you'll have to pay for reading my travel memoirs.

We then met the travel guide, a perfectly innocent guy named Rabbi Aharon Wexler. Do me a favor, and if you ever take a trip to Israel, use him as your tour guide, and in this way I'll receive slight penance for our group's collective sins. No, we didn't pillage his village or anything like that; we simply managed to come late to virtually every single activity, which caused him to age considerably faster than is the generally accepted practice in this universe we all share. Not to sound self-righteous or anything (I never do that, right?), but I came on time most every time coming on time was required, but of course we're all responsible for our brethren, and...
Onto the tour bus we merrily went, and settled in for the ride up to Tzfas (Safed), one of the four holy cities of the land and a place that's desperately in need of money, so make sure you send some. It was funny, driving on the highway, with everyone asking Aharon "What's this" or "What's that" while he tried to explain that we were in fact passing nothing of interest. Later of course, some of us (remember that I'm a goodie-goodie from time immemorial when you read this) wouldn't listen when there was in fact something of importance to relate, but that's just the way the angel food cake with seven minute frosting crumbles, isn't it. The question just occurred to me: does angel food cake with seven minute frosting crumble?

Moving right along, as we were doing on the highway, we came upon Mount Tabor, made famous by my Bar-Mitzva Haftora, which is of course all about Dvora and her exploits against Sisera and his army. Her song is, by the by, the Torah source for aliens, but that is (also) of course a topic for another time.
Israel's highway system, like many, is not too scintillatingly exciting. Once we arrived in Tzfas it was time for lunch, which I enjoyed in some little Falafel shack on the side of the main road. It was the best falafel I've ever heard. Now would be as good a time as any to explain the food situation in Israel. Basically, there's Kosher food, certified by the local Rabbinic authorities, and then there's OCD food, certified by the local OCD authorities. As Lubavitchers, we only ate the OCD shtuff, which is called "Mehadrin", "Eida Hachareidis", or "Badatz" by the locals. As befits any OCD, there are many different Hechsherim under the Mehadrin umbrella. All in all, it's quite fun trying to find something to eat.
To add another wrinkle, this is a Shmita year, which means that's there's three different types of produce available to consumers: Regular, Heter Mechira, and Yevul Nachri. "Regular" is the shtuff people cultivate on their farms, and the sell; due to the laws set forth by G-d at Sinai, and every day since, this produce is forbidden to Jews of all stripes, though a significant portion of the population ignores this precept, which is why this food is available for sale in Israel. Heter Mechira is produce grown on land which was sold to non-Jews but worked by Jews, a legal fiction which is accepted by lots of observant Jews, but not by us OCD-types, who are forced to rely on Yevul Nachri, basically Palestinian produce. Yummy. Point is, every time you want to eat something you have to find out A. what the Hechsher is, and B. what kind of produce is included. A bit of a pain, but that's the kind of hassle masochists enjoy putting themselves through. If you didn't understand the Halachic controversy, which is perfectly understandable, as I completely failed in my duty to record it here, then great, because I also failed to understand it. I just followed orders, which were to eat Palestinian cucumbers and other veggies. Aharon, our tour guide, is an ardent religious type, and an ardent Zionist (he made the distinction), and he refused to eat Yevul Nachri, which made it rather difficult at communal meals, because whether we ate the veggies or he did, there was always someone who wasn't happy.
Yeah, that falafel was really good. As we hadn't heard the Torah reading yet (it was a Monday), we made our way to the headquarters of "Team Yellow" and chapped a Kriah. It was pretty funny, because a Minyan for Shacharis began soon after; it was about 3:00 PM. Not that I've never Davened Shacharis that late, but I've never done it with a Minyan.
Aharon the tour guide then gave us a short tour (how convenient) of the city, covering the Ashkenazic Ari Shul, Rabbi Yosef Cairo's Shul, and part of the old quarter. Unfortunately we didn't have time for more, which was the mantra of this, and every, Birthright trip. It's truly impossible to see even a small part of the land in ten days, which I suppose is a good thing, because it means that I have to go back. The Ari Shul was built on the site of the Ari's Friday night prayer meetings, and features a Bimah that's raised six or seven feet off the ground.
We switched buses before departing, getting a nice Mercedes vehicle. We were supposed to hike the Arbel, home of Natai Haarbaley, mentioned in Pirkei Avos, but we couldn't because of time constraints, which is really unfortunate. We did Daven Mincha there, and there was even a Chassan present on the mountain, which meant no Tachanun. Joy!
That night was spent at some Galilean hotel, which was, to put it bluntly, not the greatest place in the history of hotelkind. We survived. And that, my friends, was days 1 and 2 in Israel.

So how did it feel to be in the Holy Land? As in, did I feel particularly holy? One of the negatives things about being cynical, and there are many, is that it's tough to feel. So yeah, for the first while I did, but not so much afterwards. See, the secularists would have you believe that it's a land like any other, and while intellectually I know that this isn't the case, it's tough translating that for the heart, especially when everyone around you doesn't think so. Being around a huge concentration of Jews, is pretty wild, but it's not so great when those very same Jews could care less about their Judaism. Obviously there's a vast difference between the state that has Hatikva as its national anthem and the land that G-d has made his own, but it's impossible not to confuse the two.
Anyway, I'll try to deal with this subject a little later, when I have more patience for deep intellectual endeavors.

23 comments:

Nemo said...

The Minyan in Yeshivas Chassidei Chabad Lubavitch must have been a Hashkama minyan (for the Baale Batim perhaps?), because with the seven hour time difference, the Rebbe's minyan in 770 shouldn't have started until at least five o'clock.

Remember our discussion about being M'Kaven Tfilos to the time the Minyan takes place in Shul? These guys take it literally, with a clock in the Zal set to 770 time)

I hope you had a chance to see the Rebbe's chair while you were there ... such important landmarks should not be missed.

Nemo said...

As a former OCD turned sane, let me just say -and I allege nothing about the Halachik ramifications of this - that it's all a load of BS.

Kashrus is relative in Israel. Just eat what's available. It's all got Hebrew on it, right?

(BTW, did you get to try Rav Landau's Beitzim?)

The Real Shliach said...

Unofrtunately I didn't see the Rebbe's chair-my bad.
As for Kashrus, how about if you see pork advertised in Hebrew? I wonder if it tastes better than when it's advertised in English. Hmm...

Nemo said...

No, personally (and this might be because I too am a cynic) I think anything with Hebrew letters on it tastes nominally worse than it's Enlish counterparts. Conversely, food with French, or even just a French name, is always to die for.

Also, there's no real word in Hebrew for pork, so you'll probably eat the sinful swine without even knowing it. The deceitful Israeli Zionist (hedonist?) heretics cleverly call it Basar Lavan; as in, "the other white meat."

Nemo said...

Sorry, not nominally; majorly!!

And its, not it's.

Leo de Toot said...

Dear Mr. R.S.
Fascinating stuff and I look forward to more of your exploits. I see that you have raised, but are circling around, the issue of the inherent contradictions in the country - a fascinating topic that I hope you will explore further. By the way, "OCD" also stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder...

Heartily yours as I chew on a carrot,
Leo d T.

The Real Shliach said...

Oh, what else would OCD mean?

Cheerio said...

i'm fixated on dvora and the aliens! please elaborate further...(pleaseee! i'm asking nicely!)

Eliezer said...

I don't think they sell regular shvi'is produce. Whatever shvi'is produce is sold is sold through a different legal fiction called otzar beis din. (see chabad.org/562166 towards the bottom.)

The Real Shliach said...

Cheerio: I'm sorry that I don't remember the exact quotation, but as far as I can recall the Gemara discusses this somewhere in Chagiga. Basically, Dvora mentions that there are inhabitants of some star, which the Gemara understands as meaning that there is extra-terrestrial life out there in this vast cosmos of ours.
The Rebbe has some interesting shtuff on this also, which can be found in Herman Branover's book, which I believe is called "The mind and the spirit", but I could be wrong about that.
As for you, Eliezer: If you look you shall find. The restaurants selling pork in Tel Aviv probably...

the sabra said...

Haven't read the rest of your Israel autobio-perhaps you discuss this more later on. Unwisely, I shall comment now.

"Obviously there's a vast difference between the state that has Hatikva as its national anthem and the land that G-d has made his own, but it's impossible not to confuse the two."

Impossible? Do you mean to say that it's a bit irritating and confusing?

The Real Shliach said...

I meant to write more later, but I didn't. At least, I don't think I didn't. One of the joys of intensive blogging, as I am wont to do, is that I often forget what I've written.
As for your question, are you say that it's a bit irritating and confusing to confuse the two? So, it is possible?
Lefi Anias Daati, it's probably all three, and a whole host of others as well. The Jews are a paradox, and therefore anything they do is also paradoxical, not to mention entertaining.

the sabra said...

I'm taking that as a humbled "Wow, thank you for pointing out to me that no, it is not impossible to differentiate between the two. Baruch Hashem I've been blessed with an education, a mind, and a soul-and those allow me to see the holiness and beauty of the Land even whilst shoitim with badges are endangering our lives."

The Real Shliach said...

Quite.

Elisheva said...

Kedushas shvi'is produce can't really be sold no? Its holy and stuff. Well wait I remember learning that you can buy it as a part of something else, like if you're buying non-holy garlic you can include it in and "buy" it? I don't even know. Haven't been there for a year now.

In Tzfat Rabanut and OCD are one in the same no? There's different grades.

Okay this doesn't matter really.

Also, Mendelson from Cleveland?

Also I didn't feel "holy" in the holy land. I just felt like I was in Mexico except I forgot Spanish or something.

the sabra said...

mizkenah

Elisheva said...

Please translate.

The Real Shliach said...

Rabbanut and OCD are not the same. OCD is Chariedi, and of course the Chareidim hate the Rabbanut with a passions bordering on the pathological.

Yes, Mendelson from Cleveland. Not the one who married Samuels, his slightly younger brother. And Schneur also rocks.

Elisheva said...

No I know they're not. But in Tzfat it is no? I mean the papers in the restaurants there are all from the rabbanut in Tzfat, which happens to be OCD.

I was in Tzfat with their sister.... errr yeah. :-/

The Real Shliach said...

Hey, you were there for six months, and I was there for about three hours. So I´ll trust you on this one.

What do you mean,"Oh yeah"?

Elisheva said...

Err yeah as in, what good does it do you telling you I know their sister. Since you're a good bochur and you don't know their sister.

The Real Shliach said...

I misinterpreted what you meant. I thought you were making some sort of remark on the family. You are correct that I have no idea who she is, and I don't desire to make an acquaintance.

Elisheva said...

Yes for once I wasn't smearing someone!