Travelogue – Tisha B’Av at the Kotel – Aug. 9, 2011

Yesterday we trekked to Jerusalem; our destination Yad Vashem & the Kotel on erev Tisha B’Av.  The first commemorates the failed attempt to destroy the Jewish people (“never forget”)  and the second laments the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.  The first event happening 70 years ago, the latter nearly 2000 years ago. It quite something to spend a day “underground” in the caves of Yad Vashem where is documented the rise of Nazi’s to power, and the near success of the Nazi’s and their allies to purge Europe of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Marxists, liberal democrats, and other undesirables.  Yad Vashem documents the systematic, organized and “legalistic” approach taken by the Germans with the assistance of allies in the occupied nations.

The story of the Shoah (as the holocaust is called here) is presented through testimony, live testimony of survivors, writings and sketches of the victims and martyrs.  The evidence is overwhelming; the story is heart wrenching.  The story begins with a portrayal of the Jewish communities of Europe; painting a vision of a life rich in culture, an everyday life much like the life we live.  But you and I know how the story ends.  The “testimony” records individuals; individual acts of suffering and of heroism.  For it is only on the individual scale that the story can be comprehended by the mind.

There is the Testimony of the killing pits of the Jews of Vilna and the surroundings in the forest of Ponar in Lithuania (see film) told by a survivor of the massacre, who found himself and another teenage boy miraculously alive under a mountain of bodies of his fellow Jews.  In perspective, this was but a single testimony and yet the vision of a young teenage boy pulling himself alive out of a pit of corpses (family, friends and compatriots, the entire community) and escaping ultimately to Israel, moved me.

Years ago on my last visit I was moved by the Yad Vashem children’s memorial.  Six candles and a room of mirrors.  Six candles representing the six days of creation.  Six candles representing the spark of life; the seed from which the heavens are created.  Six candles reflected endlessly in a room of mirrors representing the one and half million children who died in the Shoah and the tens of millions and billions of stars in the heaven that would have been their progeny.  Louis XIV build his great hall of mirrors at Versailles.  Yad Vashem’s children’s memorial with its hall of mirrors captures the infinity and the potential of life.

I seem to have forgotten about Tisha b’Av.  After Yad Vashem we met the daughter of a good friend from New York who had made aliyah to Jerusalem.  The restaurants were closing early for the “fast” of Tisha b’Av where Jews remember the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.  For some, this is the “rock concert” at the Kotel, the time when religious Jews pour forth from Mea Sharim and other parts and converge on the last remains of the great temple built by Solomon, the “Western Wall”, Kotel in Hebrew.  Here was a blending of Jewish peoples from all over the world, each with their own customs, singing, chanting, lamenting and praying on the site of the great templates. Many chanted from the Book of Psalms in remembrance. Psalm 137 (click here) and Psalm 48 (click here) give you a sense of the prayers offered.

We had walked nearly 30 minutes up hill from our parking spot in the German colony.  We entered the Jaffa Gate and proceeded through the Armenian quarter into the Jewish quarter.  We were surrounded by the press of humanity; at times you could barely breath from the press.  And yes, we did read from the Psalms at the Kotel.  But between Yad Vashem and the Kotel, I was more moved by the former.  The first celebrates the survival of a vibrant people.  The later laments that passing of a “temple”, a building built by a king where a priestly class ruled.  I can appreciate the holiness of the site and the lamentations around us. But I was more uplift by the loss of the “people” and the potential for the future represented at Yad Vashem.

Travelogue – Markets, Ports & Souks – Aug 8, 2011

As the bright Mediterranean sun streams in from our window, we crunch down on fresh bread from the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.  The crust is thin and crackly, the inside soft and moist. We were at the market late last night, near closing time.  It capped a day spent walking the paving stones of the Old City.

We were in the “new city” where the new buildings predates the voyages of Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco da Gama.  Armed with our electronic “parking pass” we applied New York City skills to find an open curb to park our car: wait for someone to leave, and stop all traffic if you must to secure your rightful place.

Armed with my iPhone we cut across the alleys to get to the Mahane Yehuda market, perhaps the most colorful and visited market in Jerusalem.  In our search for local food, local produce and local flavor, we had found our destination.  Sabras (desert cactus fruit), mini-pineapples, fresh oranges (for juice), mangos at the peak of ripeness, sun-cured black olives, fresh feta cheese, and, of course, vine-ripe tomatoes.  I once learned that they grow tomatoes in the desert and feed them salt water (from the dead sea) to increase their sweetness.  When eating tomatoes in Israel, you  can appreciate that tomato is a fruit, and not a vegetable for the juice is so sweet.

Don’t ever go to a market hungry.  If you do you will emerge burdened with copious amounts of food.  Luckily we were both tired and hungry. We secured a modest amount of food.  Though we did score an enormous chicken and a carton of 30 farm fresh eggs.  The route out of the market led past Meir Sharim.  We were for a while back in Eastern Europe.  It could have been Warsaw before the Nazis, or Lodsk or Minsk.  We emerged onto a broad avenue leading to Highway 1.  Before we knew it, we saw the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv.  And it was another night on Rotshchild Boulevard.  Hundreds of youths were dancing in the street to the tunes of Bob Marley, sung in Hebrew by a live band.

Travelogue – City of Ariel – Aug 7, 2011

This morning we struck out for the City of Ariel, also known as Jerusalem.  We left modern cosmopolitan Tel Aviv for a city that defies easy categorization.  In trying to characterize a city that is so historical, so controversial, so political, so much this to one person and so much that to another, one is at a loss.  Our tour guide, a young Israeli took us through all 4 quarters of the Old City, except the temple mount.  We saw parts of the city that I could never venture into on my last trip, nearly 30 years ago.

We saw a city more akin to Brooklyn, with distinct neighborhoods, a distinct flavor, and yet a city that worked together.  It is as if the city of the media was created by those who did not live in the City of Ariel, and who certainly didn’t want you or anyone else to live there.  It is an enchanting place and a haunting place.  The interplay of religion, history, the arts and commerce was fascinating.  The shops sold a range of religious inspired bric-brac: crucifixes next to mezuzot; palestinian scarfs next to candelabra-inspired silk shawls; Persian prayer rugs next to havdalah spice sets.  There was something for everyone; and it all could be bought with dollars, euros and skekls.

And  the people came from all over the world.  The crusaders were cruising through in packs, led by their corporals with microphones, each presenting his or her vision of the city in a Babel of different languages.  We treked from the Kotel out the “Dung gate” (it smelled of camel…), up along the wall and back in on the Zion gate, through the Jewish quarter, through the Armenian quarter, into the Muslim quarter (on the eve of Ramadan) and through a gate into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  There we landed on a processional of Russian Orthodox monks, in black robes, bearing candles, waiving frankincense and chanting followed by the Patriarch of  the Russian Orthodox church.  Only in Jerusalem.

iPhone Maps – Google. It was intriguing navigating the Old City of Jerusalem with my iPhone.  While I had roaming enabled (thank you Verizon), I had turned off data transfer.  The data rates are exorbitant.  However, I had enabled WiFi.  As I walked the Old City, I  latched on to unsecured WiFi access points.  I hitched a ride long enough for my GPS enabled iPhone maps application to identify my location and present me a map of the locale. I could watch myself walking on the map, instantly reorienting the map. If you have ever meandered the mazes of the old city, you would appreciate the utility of this App.  As they used to say in the old American Express commercials, I say of the iPhone: “Don’t leave home without it.”

Travelogue – Shabbat in Tel Aviv – Aug 6, 2011

On Friday, we trekked to Jaffo/Yafo/Jappo on foot (spellings in English are phonetic).  We trekked down the Rothschild Blvd, temporary home of thousands of youths living in tents (an estimated 200,000 turned out on Saturday night).  We walked down the broad avenue and then turned into a set of narrow streets filled with boutiques and art galleries.  Our destination … Jaffa, the ancient port from which Jonah sailed on his mission to avoid the mission G-d set out for him.  It did not turn out well for Jonah.  He got swallowed by a whale.  Jaffa dates back to ancient Palestine, whereas the rest of Tel Aviv dates back to 1910 (or more recent).

The concrete and macadam of Tel Aviv is replaced by stones in Jaffa — stone walls, stone curbs, stone streets.  It is a “mountain … or rather a hilltop town rising several hundred feet above the level of the sea, and jutting out from the coast thereby giving expansive views of the shoreline and city of Tel Aviv.  Jaffa is topped with a large lush garden.  Apparently Jaffa has been destroyed countless times, including the 20th century.  Since the last destruction, the highest points of Jaffa, the city were cleared to create a large open stone-paved plaza and grassy gardens. In the hot mid-afternoon sun, you can appreciate the shade trees in the park.

As we wandered around Jaffa, up and down stairs, around the port, through the plaza, in the hot sun, I noticed the strange lack of people.  This was August in Israel.  I expected massive bus tours and piles of people.  As we wandered into the market, we began to see people.  The congregated in shady areas, under canopies, and in shaded alleyways.  Someone was telling us something.  Tel Avivians avoid the heat; even tourists soon learn the lesson.  As we emerged from the market and proceeded down the hill, we discovered where Tel Avivians go on a Friday afternoon to avoid the heat.  They go to the beach.  It appears the best time to visit Jaffa is at night when the temperatures drop and the cooling breeze comes off the sea.

Travelogue – Caesaria – Hedonism Old and New – Aug 4, 2011

TEL AVIV: Life is a beach … or so it seems.  After checking the email (dewey.exchange defender.com/owa) and checking the voicemail (8×8.com) we headed out … out of Tel Aviv.  Our goal was to travel North.  We found our car (free courtesy of hosts from HomeExchange.com) and headed out.  We turned on our portable GPS (que.com) and decided to wander, knowing that we would be “neverlost”.

We headed down Rothschild Boulevard, past the tent city, quiet in the early morning sun.  After wandering through the “colonial” area, past homes of dubious construction and age, we turned to the beach, the heart of the “modern” city.  The beaches are wide, clean and sandy.  They are lined by luxury high rises and resorts.  Visions of pioneer Israel with the dust and dilapidated buildings that predated my visit were nowhere to be seen.  The sights were quite distinct from those of “Exodus” … the book, not the torah scroll.

Up and out. We headed North of the city. Passing Dizengoff Street, the cafe district, and by the “Tal Hotel”, the scene of my last debauchery in Israel when I traveled as a recent U.Penn Law School graduate, on a tour courtesy of the WZO.  We passed lush parks by the river.  The haphazard construction of Tel Aviv was replaced by the modern totally planned cities north of Tel Aviv.

Highway 2 which heads along the Mediterranean passed one planned modern city after another.  There is the Microsoft research center, and Citrix, and Nokia, and Technion, and Google.  Sleek glass towers look out on the Mediterranean sea, monuments to the ingenuity of the Israeli and the aliyot.  Past these modern wonders; cities in the sand, we raced in our air conditioned chariot; racing back in time 2000 years to the time of King Herod “the Great”.  We were off to Ceasaria (multiple spellings abound).

Off the highway, we passed lush gardens and emerged at the park entrance.  Here King Herod, to impress his Roman patrons built a lavish deep water port.  He was not stopped by the fact that there was no deep water harbour to dock ships.  Instead, he had a vision of a land, in the sand dunes that was centrally located commercially on the trade routes between Egypt, Sidon, Athens and Rome.  He was not limited by his surroundings; he was the “master of his surroundings.”

To get fresh water for his planned city and monument to Caesar Augustus, he built an aqueduct (seen above) along the sea several miles to a source of fresh water.  And for his harbor, he performed an engineering feat which is astounding even in modern times, taking wooden pylons, and filling them with volcanic ash, and sinking them to create an enormous harbour far out into the ocean.  Volcanic ash, sand and sea water creates waterproof, sea salt impervious concrete. The remains of his palace, the aqueduct and the harbor are impressive to this day.

In the harsh afternoon sun, nearly 100 degrees in August, we baked.  I thought, why would Herod build his city here; no shade, baking sun.  And yet, a few hours later (after swimming in the shadows of the Roman aqueduct, we returned as the sun was setting.  The temperature had dropped 20 degrees and there was a steady cool breeze coming from the sea.  The place, empty and stark, was now filled with elegantly dressed Israelis out for their entertainment.  The outdoor restaurants were overflowing; music was in the air, and the wine flowed freely.  Modern Israel met ancient Palestine, and they were one.

Travelogue – Tel Aviv – Rothschild Blvd Tent City – August 3, 2011

At 1:00 PM the sun streaming into our room woke us from our slumber.  Israeli sunlight is bright, sharp and focus- enhancing.  We awoke with a view of a lush tropical paradise.  The patio outside our window was awash with light.  The white tiles contrasted with the lush green tropical plants.  even in the midst of the urban sprawl of Tel Aviv, we felt like we were on a carribean vacation.  It was the light and the heat and the distant smell of the sea.

LATER THAT NIGHT. Benny and Naomi’s apartment is a 2-story duplex on the roof of a small apartment house on Rothschild Boulevard,  We are in the heart of the high-rent district of Tel Aviv, and that is the rub.  The beautiful tree-lind park in the middle of the wide boulevard, normally a shaded promenade, is the site of a tent-city.  Young, well-dressed college kids have occupied all 15 blocks of the park.  They have placed nylon pup tents on the grassy median.  At the ends of each block and in the middle are congregating areas.  Covered with straw mats, cushions and even couches, these areas came alive last night.  Each became the staging area for a mini concert.

Area one, just outside our window started at 8 PM with a continuous drum beat — low and deep.  It penetrated the walls, … the windows, … through the shutters,  louvers and curtains.  At 9:00 PM, one drum joined another, and soon there was a chorus of drums.  A while later the Yemenites started their howl … high guttural outbursts followed by frantic drumming.  When I ventured on the street, I saw a mixed crowd.  In the center an Israeli hippie in long tallit, a shaggy beard down to his navel, and long flowing hair topped with a keepa.  Surrounding him was a crowd of chanting Israeli youth, some in sundresses, others in short shorts, and muscle-mend with bronzed skin and six-pack abs.  Even the passing Israeli business man in their uniform of khaki pants and short-sleeve button-down Oxfords.

Just up the street was a DJ, blasting a variety of protest songs in mixed languages.  Some I recognized the tune.  Imagine Woody Guthrie songs sung in Hebrew.  As we sat down for a late dinner of omelettes with eggplant salad, avocados and tomatoes, a familiar tun struck my ears.  It rose over the drum beat and Yemenite howls.  It started in Hebrew, accompanied by the wailing violins and soon a full orchestration.  I knew the tune; was it Hatikva?  Hava Nagila?  I was puzzled; the tune haunted me.  Even the kids perked up their ears.

After the endless Yemenite drums and howling chants, this tune peaked our attention.  And then we heard some worked in English; we noted the familiar lyrics rising above the tents.  “If I were a rich man … ”  How fitting as we sat in our luxury penthouse duplex above the crowded tent city sipping ice cold Coke and eating from the fruit of the land.  Ah … “If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle deedle daidle deedle deedle dum, …”

Travelogue – Somewhere over Mother Russia – Aug 2, 2011

Our flight from Kennedy airport was delayed 3 1/2 hours.  We didn’t leave until after 6 PM.  It seems that two thunderstorms materialized somewhere over the Eastern seaboard, even though the sun never stopped shining.  There is now the possibility of an overnight stay in Moscow.  The passengers continuing on to Israel are lobbying for them to hold our connecting flight.  … Given that nearly 1/3 of the flight (over 30 passengers) will be continuing on to Tel Aviv, that option is likely.

A FEW HOURS LATER … after our 2nd on-board meal. Strangely, but not so strange, they offered us a Kosher meal.  And the food, some stuffed fish and rice, was quite tasty.  The eggplant salad was extremely spicy, even for my taste … We have landed in Moscow, 4 hours late … and of course our plane has departed.  We are now BACK on line.  At the front is our ringleader and negotiator screaming at the impassive Russian customer service representatives.  One hour passes with no progress.  But, we do get some bottled water.  Finally we get some progress, a boarding pass for a flight that leaves at 8:40 PM (we had arrived at noon), and a food voucher.  The delay from our lead negotiator was her demand for Kosher food.  Because of that demand, no boarding passes for the next flight had been issued.

BARBI DOLLS. The American vision of Russians is babushkas, the stooped and wrinkle grandmothers, pushing their shopping carts.  How wrong.  We are in the international transit terminal. Between the gates are the makings of an upscale shopping male with all the luxury brands (Guerlane, Lancome, Dior, Givenchy, Clinique) and the women look like they actually buy this stuff.  Russians on a whole dress up at the airport as if they are going to the metropolitan opera.  Full battlegear, plunging necklines, tapered waists, and ultra-high heels, long flowing blond hair and perfect tans.  This is the NEW Russia.

 

Travelogue – Transaero – Aug 1, 2011

 

After a mad dash across the width of Long Island (2 hours) we arrived at Transaero check-in.  It was a mix of Russians (the flight terminates in Moscow), Orthodox and Hasidic jews (our destination is Tel Aviv) and mixed groups formerly part of the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation.  The foreignness started as soon as we entered the line to check in.

We cleared security very quickly.  After a single announcement in English a member of the U.S. based flight crew attempted a Russian announcement.  The result from an otherwise quite group was applause.  After a series of announcements in Russian (none in English) I noticed that we were among the last few people still sitting down.  We had scarfed some “dinner” from a food kiosk, fearful of the “inedible” Russian food that would be served on the flight.

I remarked in a stage whisper, observing the long queue that wrapped into the next gate: “The Russians surely love to stand in line.”  I got a chuckle from a fellow seated American who nevertheless stood up immediately to join the queue.

NetDocuments and Summer Adventures

On Monday we leave for Tel Aviv (that’s in Israel) for the month of August.  And just last week I returned from 2 days of NetDocuments certification training in Provo, Utah.  I had intended to do a detailed writeup of the class; and even intended to study for my certification exam.  However, I am too busy.  No sooner did I leave the training than 3 opportunities landed on my lap (Cloud-based law firms and law departments) that were crying out for NetDocuments.

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Summer Musings

Yes … Summer has arrived.  Summer is at once the slowest time and the busiest time.  Many people leave on vacation.  Staff counts in most law firms are reduced.  The 6-day workweek becomes 4-days.  Friday is often a “write-off”.  For us, we take the month of August and travel.  We exchange our house outside of New York City for a similar home in a foreign country.  This year, we are off to Tel Aviv.

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