Another country to check off the list and another stamp in the passport. International travel has become routine; No checklists needed. We search online for the baggage allowances and pack our bags accordingly. Some airlines allow 25 kg and everything fits in our wheeled behemoths. Some airlines allow only 15 or 20 kg and we wear a few more layers of clothes and load up our carry-ons. Keep your passports out for checkin, security, passport control, and finally at the gate. Stop in duty free to freshen up with a little perfume or cologne. Figure out the free wifi to check in with the parents and cue up the downloaded movie or tv shows. After 27 flights, it feels like a weekly commute.

The difference this time is that we had company. Mom and Dad – Marla and Neil – accompanied us and helped the time pass with ease. After 5 months there are endless stories to tell and plenty to catch up about the happenings at home.

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, believe it or not, the cab driver not only wouldn’t let us over pay, he even let us use his cell phone to call our cousin, Irit.

Israelis are not rude, but most personify sass, spunk, and sensibility. Irit is no different. She believes in principles, she doesn’t waste time on the mundane or irrelevant, and always takes care of family. She greeted us at the door of our residence and contacted the property manager to escort us in. He had not prepared our apartment and Irit helped him square away our accommodations. He left and returned several times with soap, toilet paper, towels, keys, and finally flowers – at the urging of his girlfriend. Once settled we headed to dinner and met Irit’s husband Yossi. We ate at one of their favorite neighborhood joints; An Arab-Israeli restaurant with delicious hummus and grilled fare. As we caught up, conversations ran the gamut from family affairs to the Israeli two-state solution.

We have acquiesced to a comfortable shoestring budget and we must say how thankful and happy we were to travel with parents eager to organize accommodations and touring. The next morning we met our tour guide for the week, Ari. His enthusiasm and love for sharing history and culture was immediately obvious and didn’t wane once throughout the week.

Our first day of touring began in the old city, Jerusalem. There is so much history here and so much tension among Jews, Arabs, and Christians, yet life goes on day by day. We covered a lot of ground and a lot of history from the Mount of Olives and City of David to the Stations of the Cross and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We ended with the building – allegedly – of the Last Supper as well as the Tomb of David below. We headed back to Tel Aviv, but not before walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We also transported back in time as we drove through a Hasidic neighborhood. Their traditional garb and storefronts separated by news postings gave the village a 18th
century Poland feel, that is, with the exception of the cell phones the men carried.

That night we mustered the energy to walk to the pier for dinner. We reminisced about our wedding in California and talked about the exciting family events to come.

Day two of touring began in Jaffa, the old port city now occupied by artists and high end boutiques. We ambled through the streets peeking into the more interesting storefronts before exploring Tel Aviv. It’s amazing to think this bustling city was once all sand dunes. We ended at a famous graveyard that once resided outside of the city. As the population grew as did the city’s borders. Now, the cemetery lies in the heart of Tel Aviv. Ari was familiar with this site and named all the various celebrities and former politicians buried in this sacred place. We had our own special reason for the visit and Ari helped us find Neil’s great grandfather’s grave.

That night we had our fist home cooked meal in months at Yossi and Irit’s house. They went all out with kishka, kasha, meatballs, salad and veggies. It was delicious.

The following days included wine tasting from Mt Carmel, hummus, the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth, falafel, learning Kaballah in Safed, more hummus, visiting the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, and more.

Our guide, Ari covered everything from the historical volumes of this epic landscape to the cultural nuances and complicated social milieu; From how to share communal hummus to who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, or Yiddish to whom and with what intentions. Ari even joined us for a family dinner with distant cousins Shuli and his family. The world seems just a bit smaller after meeting distant cousins – all with children of their own – thriving in their own beautiful and happy family unit halfway across the globe.

We bid a fond farewell to the parents and headed off on our own to explore Tel Aviv. We strolled through a charming antique market, tasted more hummus, and found some life-changing falafel. Cousin Yossi invited us over for Shabbat dinner, and even without Irit, dinner was fabulous. In addition, we were able to meet cousins: Eran, Dor, and Michal.

Our last day in Israel took us to Mt Masada and the Dead Sea. Our guide, Jacob wore a Detroit Tiger’s hat. In fact, we should mention, over the last 5 months and throughout the last 10 countries we’ve seen more Detroit Tiger’s and University of Michigan apparel than any other items. Yankee’s hats sit a distant third.

Mt Masada is truly impressive. Herod the Great built his palace and the fortified city atop the rising mesa in the first century BCE. Later, it was occupied by the Jewish Zealots to escape the Romans. It took 2-3 months before the Romans breached the fortress walls only to find the 960 Zealots dead by their own hands. The Jews decided they’d rather put their own families to death than live to see them enslaved by the Romans.

The Dead Sea was a biblical place of refuge for King David and one of the world’s first health resorts for Herod the Great. It’s shores sit at 429 meters BELOW sea level, making it the lowest place on Earth, and more than 9 times saltier than the ocean, it’s one of the saltiest bodies of water as well. Despite the chilly temps we floated for a bit before covering ourselves with mud and rinsing in the warm sulphur spring waters.

After a leisurely breakfast we bid farewell to our apartment in the city, and en route to the airport, once again, the cab driver wouldn’t let us overpay. Bags packed. Back to the airport. Duty free stop before the next flight. Talk to you from Berlin.



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