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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kich = Quiche, not Knish

My sojourn in Tel Aviv began on an unexpected note, as so many things here seem to have done. I heard that Said and Lilli were heading into Tel Aviv for a meeting on Thursday. Since I’d been planning to leave on Friday, by bus, I asked if I could catch a ride with them. No problem. Except that Said, as it turned out, had “double booked” himself, which also, according to Lilli, he often does! So, there was a police group, that meets regularly at the gallery, for some sensitivity training, I guess, which conflicted with our being in Tel Aviv. We therefore left late, and clearly were going to be late to Tel Aviv. The plan was for myself and Lilli to go part way in her car, and then meet Said and leave her car, to avoid taking two cars and also so Lilli didn’t have to go all the way back to Umm el Fahem on her way back. We arrived, and after 5 minutes, no Said, even though we’d left simultaneously. Lilli called, and found out that Said, as she’d suspected, couldn’t go empty handed, and had stopped at a bakery.

On the way, I discovered where we were going. It actually was in Herzliya, a wealthy community north of Tel Aviv. Lilli apologized and explained they’d have to drop me off at the train into the city after their meeting, since they were so late. I knew it was a meeting to strategize about fund raising for the Museum, and figured it might be interesting, anyway.

And it was. I heard the name Gilben, the name of the director of GoEco, the organization that had arranged my placement at the gallery. And I knew that his parents were good friends of Said. So, it was to the Gilbens that we were going. And the meeting, although the discussion was mostly in Hebrew, was nevertheless very interesting. A friend of Mrs. Gilben was visiting from London, and Mrs. Gilben introduced her as the first female auctioneer at Christie’s. Mrs. Gilben translated periodically for us. She was clearly quite knowledgeable about the art world, and had lots of good advice for Said about how to approach forming the American Friends of the Umm el Fahem Museum Board.

I found out later, from Michal, the fundraising consultant for the gallery, whom I’d met a couple of days previously, that Mrs. Gilben was the head of Sotheby’s in Israel, and had worked for them in New York previously.

When we got out of the car at their home, Said asked me to hold a package wrapped in bubble wrap, saying it wasn’t heavy. It was a piece from the gallery that the Gilbens had purchased. When they opened it, I saw that it was one of Fatima’s works, of just a black and while scarf, that had been hanging in the exhibit. Lilli explained that since the exhibit had been originally scheduled to end on October 31st, the people who’d purchased pieces wanted them. Said had a couple of others in the car, which I guess he delivered. So I suppose there will be some spaces on the wall when I get back.

When Mr. Gilben unwrapped the painting, I saw that tucked in the back was the actual scarf, the one that had been hanging in the niche, that had suddenly fallen when I was looking at it a few weeks back. When the meeting was over, I told Mr. Gilben that story, as well as how Halima had the children play with the scarves when they visited the exhibit. He seemed to appreciate both stories. He asked me what kind of experience I’d had with GoEco, his son’s organization, and I told him, truthfully, that I had been very positively impressed.

Michal, an American who has emmigrated to Israel, or, ‘made aliyah,” drove me into Tel Aviv, and dropped me off at the bus station, where I took a bus to Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s port, formerly a separate city, now part of Tel Aviv proper. She works for a fundraising organization that works with many non profit social organizations, including the Jewish-Arab school that Lilli’s son attends.

Did I already mention that the funky Old Jaffa Hostel is located right within the flea market? Where do you think I headed as soon as I’d checked in? It’s a mix of flea market items, junk, upscale furniture, and also some high fashion shops. I browsed for the hour or two it remained open, then just hung out at the hostel.

Next day, onto the Crafts Market, which takes place Tuesdays and Fridays. I walked up through Jaffa and into Tel Aviv, through some interesting neighborhoods. Most interesting to me was the juxtaposition of old buildings and modern towers behind. Neither was particularly aesthetic. I have to say I haven’t been terribly impressed with what I’ve seen of Israeli architecture. I eventually came into the Carmel Market, where Suzi and I had spent time on our earlier foray into Tel Aviv, when Said, Lilli, and Michal had been at a previous meeting. As I walked,the sky suddenly got very dark, the wind picked up, and it began to pour. Everyone took cover as they could, and the market quickly flooded. But it stopped as quickly as it started. I continued on to the crafts market, and within a short time the sun was out again.

The crafts market was on a large street closed off to traffic. I was surprised that guards were checking packs. It didn’t seem to me the kind of place that would be a target. Maybe it had been in the past. The crafts were a real mix of very tacky and fine. I bought a few things for gifts, but can’t describe them because the people they are for might be reading this.

I walked back along the coast to Jaffa. The surf was pretty rough. It was a bit nippy for beach weather. There were, however, tons of surfers. I had seen one young man walking with his surfboard down a city street earlier in the day. It looked odd, until I realized that the beach was only a few blocks away.

I walked a long way along the promenade, which I believe was built just in the last few years. Part of my mission was to try and find a restaurant I’d seen advertised, and also written up in the guidebook. What caught my attention in the ad was that it was a kosher dairy restaurant, which conjured up memories of Ratner’s and Rappaport’s, on the Lower East Side, and of kasha and knishes and blintzes and latkes. I only later realized that this was the same place whose description in the guidebook had intrigued me. I knew the chances of my finding it before it closed, at 4 pm because it was Friday, Shabbat, were slim, but it was worth a try.

Here’s what made the place so intriguing: they have a café, where the servers are all deaf. And a restaurant, where the waiters are blind, and where you are served and eat in total darkness. It was the café I was going for, the idea of eating in the dark would probably be an interesting experience, but wasn’t something I was particularly in the mood for, especially on my own. I am actually not sure what I think of the whole idea, it seems gimmicky and I am not sure just what the point is.

But, of course, I didn’t get there in time. It was just a couple of minutes after 4pm when I arrived. But they closed at 3pm, not 4 as in said in the ad. There were several men and women signing, who I am guessing were the waiters. I began to talk to one woman, who understood me perfectly, and answered with no detectable language impairment. I asked if she was deaf, and she said yes, she was reading my lips. So here she was, reading my lips in English, not her first language. I asked how many languages she spoke, she said Hebrew, English, and Russian, her first language. And she also knew the three sign languages. So I consider that six languages.

I continued on towards the hostel, looking for anything not international, ie. Italian, French, etc. to eat. My ideal was still Lower East Side Jewish. The predominant street and inexpensive food here seems to be felafel, hummus, schwarma, and all those salads. All great, but that is what I’ve been eating for the past month. I found one place that had “kish” but had to turn it down when I found out that was quiche, not knish. Too bad, it had a great view over the water. Finally came across a restaurant that had fish, along with the whole salad thing, and, hungry and tired, decided to eat there. The fish was delicious, the salads too, one was shredded radishes in some sauce, something I hadn’t had before. One was reminiscent of tzakidi, the Greek cucumber yogurt salad. As I had noticed some pictures of Santorini on the wall, which I was trying to ignore, craving an authentic Israeli experience, I made the correct assumption that the owner was Greek, and indeed he was.

So I am still in search of Eastern European Jewish Israeli food, which must exist, but which I have a feeling I am not going to find.

Right now, I am sitting in the lounge in the Abraham Hostel, where my Israeli adventure began a month or so ago. It is filled with all kinds of folks, all ages, many nationalities, although I have not run into any Americans. There are plenty of Americans, of course, in the city, but this hostel doesn’t seem to be one of their haunts.

And, right now, what is happening is an Open Mike. There are several guys playing guitar, harmonica, drum.The most vocal is singing the blues with a distinctly American accent, although when he came over earlier and suggested I move back , he sounded as Israeli as can be. Their last song was Hit the Road, Jack. Before that they did La Bamba, which somehow morphed into a Beatles song, which one I can’t recollect.

I was exhausted earlier after my return from two museums, the Museum on the Seam and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. More about those later. But now, revived after dinner, writing, and music, I have much more energy. But, as tomorrow I am going to Masada and the Dead Sea, a camel ranch and a Bedouin dinner, I should rest up. Especially since there was a note on my door earlier saying we were leaving at 7am rather than 8am.

Oh, one more thing to recount, though. Do you think I went by the shuttle bus yesterday from Tel Aviv to here, Jerusalem? Of course not. As I was heading out of the hostel, a very nice man offered to carry my ever heavier suitcase down the stairs. He was waiting for a woman that he was driving to the airport. He asked if I’d be interested in his driving me to Jerusalem, and pointed out that I’d be taking a taxi to the shuttle bus and then a taxi again on the Jerusalem end, which was true. And he offered what seemed a reasonable price. So I took him up on the offer.

On the way, he asked if I liked wine. There was a winery along the way, which happens to be owned by his wife’s family. So we stopped, I had a couple of tastes, he introduced me to about half a dozen of his brothers in law, and I bought a couple of soaps and sponges. The place is very popular, especially with Russians, he says. They like the wine. His family has harvested the land for a long time, there are olive trees as well as grape vines.The winery is on the grounds of a Franciscan monestary. I never did find out the connection, who owns the land, etc.

Although all of this may sound like a scheme, it didn’t feel that way at all. It was all pretty low-key, no pressure, and he was a very nice person. His family is Christian, they live in Jaffa, where I’d just spent the last couple of days. His wife is a teacher, and they have two kids.

The town where the winery is located is Ladrun. Last night, in the book I am reading, Ladrun was mentioned. The book ,The Lemon Tree, is a true story about two families, an Arab family, and subsequently a Jewish family, who lived in the same house. The Jewish family moved in after the Israeli government ousted the Arabs after the war in 1948. Ladrun was one of the villages. We also drove past Ramla, where the house actually is. Or was.

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