South on Allenby

Israel Diary, part 5.

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Israel Diary, part 4.

In Jerusalem, the dominant architectural theme is limestone; in Tel Aviv, it's Bauhaus. If you like Bauhaus, you'll love Tel Aviv.

To get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem you catch the Egged line 405 bus. Egged's logo is a green Hebrew letter Aleph with wings; you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an X because of the way it's drawn, but it's an Aleph. The 405 leaves Tel Aviv from the Tachana Merkazit (Central Bus Station) at Retsif (platform) 607. It leaves on the hour and every 20 minutes, and takes one hour to complete the trip, give or take depending on traffic.

The bus station in Tel Aviv is in the southern part of the city, at the end of Levinsky Street. I'm told the #4 bus will get you there but I like to walk it. It's about 45 minutes on foot; you go south on Ben Yehuda and Allenby, then take Ha'Aliyah and Levinsky all the way to the end. Beginning from the corner of Bograshov, where the Maxim is, you'll pass posters for nightclubs and flyers for adult services. There are clubs and restaurants (some kosher, most not) and souvenir shops and those Judaica stores I mentioned. As you go south you get into the less touristy and more working-class neigborhoods. There are strip clubs and head shops. You'll pass a lot of derelict storefronts, failed or failing furniture and hardware stores. The population here looks to be mainly African and Russian. Down near Levinsky I see quite a few black hats, almost unknown up around the hotel.

By now I can pride myself on having the backpack check down to an art; I sling the pack over one shoulder and open the top before I get to the security guard, offering a quick "B'seder? Todah!" as I pass, and I'm on my way into the station. I've got a couple of one-shekel coins in my pocket in case I have to pee; the sherutim near the outbound gates are fee, but elsewhere the toilets are pay-to-play.

Pulling out, you pass some run-down cinderblock housing. You'll see graffiti. Here you'll see the cryptic mantra "NA NACH NACHM NACHMAN NACHMAN ME'UMAN", the signature of an ecstatic sect of hasidim, followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Elsewhere you might see "MARTIN BUBER WAS RIGHT" accompanied by Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious symbols; it's a riposte to the original, less friendly slogan KAHANE WAS RIGHT. You'll see that one, too. And there are still those persistent posters proclaiming the late Lubavitch Rabbi the Messiah.

We are nothing if not colorful.

You get off at the bus station in Jerusalem and you're on Jaffa Street. Head east on Jaffa and you're on your way to the old city. That's about 30 to 40 minutes on foot. There's a brand-new light rail, too, that goes along Jaffa, but I haven't been on it.

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is from one country to another; I'm tempted to say another planet. In Tel Aviv, you might have gotten used to advertising posters with pictures of scantily clad women; in Jerusalem, you'll be hard pressed to find pictures of women in any state of attire. That's a symptom of the growing clout of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, and it's been the subject of some controversy lately; more on that later. Men wearing black hats, and women wearing a skirt and a kisuy rosh (head covering) are the rule, not the exception here.


Holy Grail

Israel Diary, part 3.

Religious Jews have a custom of washing hands with a two-handled cup on certain occasions: on waking in the morning, before meals featuring bread, after using the bathroom, etc. Although I've lapsed since those days, I was for a few years a practicing Orthodox Jew, and I've never really been able to shake the hold of traditional observance. It had been years since I'd washed with a washing cup, and I found myself missing the experience. So I decided this was the time to buy a wash cup; after all, I was in Israel.

I was in Israel, but I was in Tel Aviv.

From my diary:
November 7, 2011

16:58 (06:58 Pacific). More knick-knacks and goodies: a bottle opener (almost as elusive as the power converter, but they had it at the hardware store) and a set of silverware (also from the hardware store). From the stationery store I got a calendar and a notebook, and some maps.

Try to find a friggin' wash cup, though, and you're out of luck. They don't have religious products stores here. They do have Judaica stores, and you could probably find a fancy, gold-and-jewel-encrusted wash cup fit for King Solomon XIV, but not an ordinary one that normal people would actually use. Because, of course, normal people here don't use wash cups!
I searched high and low in the touristy part of Tel Aviv, but I never did find those elusive wash cups. Two days later, though, I took the bus to Jerusalem. And the minute I got off at the Jerusalem bus station, what did I find?

Going to Tel Aviv

Israel Diary, part 2.

Seeing Tel Aviv was one of my main goals for this trip. I'd been to Israel just twice before - the last time was in 1993 - and those were mostly religiously-oriented tours. Jerusalem, Safed (pronounced "Tsfat" but inexplicably spelled "Safed" in English), the Tomb of the Patriarchs, that kind of thing. And that was great.

But I'd never seen Tel Aviv! And later when I would tell Israeli friends that I'd been to Israel, they would say "Did you see Tel Aviv?" And I'd have to say no, and their reaction was always, "WTF?!? How do you go to Israel and not see Tel Aviv?"

So, Tel Aviv it was. I wanted to focus more on the day-to-day, real-world Israel.

So, late last year, I booked a trip to Israel and stayed in Tel Aviv. I stayed at the Maxim Hotel, recommended to me by my friend Michael Totten. I recommend it too. It's comfortable, affordable, and right on the beach. (The name, Maxim, is one of those Hebrew/English puns - 'maqsim' means "enchanting" or "charming" in Hebrew.)

It's also smack in the center of the north/south axis of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is not very big - it's around half the area and population of San Francisco. But unlike San Francisco, Tel Aviv is flat, and very walkable. If you are able-bodied you can reach almost any part of the city on foot.

As I mentioned, my previous visits to Israel had been religiously-oriented, and therefore did not include Tel Aviv. The city is Israel's famously secular, cosmopolitan stronghold.

Two views of the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv. This isn't where I stayed, but it's a landmark. The rainbow facade of the Dan was designed by the famous Israeli artist Yaakov Agam. The bullseye-patterned walkway is the Lahat Promenade, named after Tel Aviv's longtime mayor Shlomo Lahat.

Joy Division tribute, and Pat Metheny. There is culture in Tel Aviv.


Eternal Light

Israel Diary, part 1.

"Ein menorah? Menorah lo nidleket?" the guy at the hardware store asked, turning the power adapter over.

"Lo nidleket," I agreed, in my broken Hebrew. No, the little light wasn't going on.

I'd stupidly forgotten to pack a power adapter for my trip to Israel. It was my first time traveling to Israel - or anywhere outside of the United States - in eighteen years, and I'd been a bit overwhelmed at the prospect; so my packing was somewhat haphazard. But what the heck, I'd thought, I can just pick up an adapter when I get there, right? They get lots of American tourists, they must sell American power adapters. So I'll just pick one up when I get to Tel Aviv.

Easier said than done. The first such device I bought burned out almost as soon as I plugged it into my laptop. I thought replacing the fuse in the adapter might help, but as it turned out the fuse was fine; it was the adapter itself that was fried. (What, I wondered, was the point of the fuse then?) The second device wouldn't even turn on - it was inoperative right out of the box. The third one suffered a fate similar to the first. Finally I shelled out 200 shekels (about $50) for a heavy-duty adapter and was rewarded with reliable service.

Great, I thought, I can use my laptop.

Now if only this nation of Nobel laureates could produce reliable internet service....