Israel: Day 19

September 24, 2023 • 11:30 am

To finish off my photo journal of traveling in Israel, here are some photos from last Thursday in Jerusalem, the day before I left (well, technically I left at 50 minutes after midnight on Saturday).  The four-hour tour involved more walking around the center of town with my local friend Anna and her father Roberto, including lunch in a really excellent but unknown (to tourists) restaurant. Let’s get started.

We went to lunch back at the Mahane Yehuda Market, which gets busy on Thursday when the Orthodox Jews have to get in provisions before Friday’s Sabbath.  Most people at the market then were Israelis, though there were a few tourists. I haven’t found this market, which must be visited in Jerusalem, nearly as “touristy” as the guidebooks describe—and the noms are great.

Yom Kippur begins today, but they were already erecting “sukkah” structures to celebrate the next holiday: Sukkot, which is a weeklong festival starting next Friday and lasting until October 6.  From Wikipedia:

sukkah or succah (/ˈsʊkə/; Hebrew: סוכה [suˈka]; plural, סוכות [suˈkot] sukkot or sukkos or sukkoth, often translated as “booth”) is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is topped with branches and often well decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes. The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) describes it as a symbolic wilderness shelter, commemorating the time God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness they inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.It is common for Jews to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the sukkah. In Judaism, Sukkot is considered a joyous occasion and is referred to in Hebrew as Z’man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing), and the sukkah itself symbolizes the fragility and transience of life and one’s dependence on God.

With three holidays in a row, not only was the market doing a land-office business, but the police and IDF were everywhere because, you know, the Palestinians like to do their terrorism on Jewish holidays.  BTW, the significance of all Jewish holidays has been jokingly described this way:

“They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”

A crowded market with the IDF patrolling:

I didn’t realize this before, but there are some stores that specialize in precooked food for shabbos, as the act of cooking itself is forbidden to many on the Sabbath. Here’s one place with precooked food (kosher, of course):

Anna told me that this restaurant, Azura, which specializes in Middle Eastern food, is one of the most popular restaurants in the market, and it certainly gets high ratings. It sits in a little hidden plaza in the market, so I hadn’t seen it on my previous visit. Now that I know about it, I’ll surely be a regular if I revisit Jerusalem, and I recommend it highly to visitors:

The menu (remember, it’s about four shekels to the dollar). It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t pricey, either. Think of visiting Jerusalem as financially equivalent to visiting New York City.

It’s certified kosher, of course, but NOT FOR PASSOVER! (Don’t ask me why.)

Noms! We shared a large plate of hummus with chickpeas and tahini (there are no small plates of hummus that I’ve seen).

I had the azura: “Turkish eggplant filled with ground beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon.” It was the only time in my three-week trip that I ate animal protein, and the dish was superb (and filling!). It also came with pita bread, of course, which doubled for scooping up the hummus:

Anna had the Jerusalem salad:

. . . and Roberto had “beef head with chickpeas cooked in a piquant sauce”.  It was so filling that he couldn’t finish it:

We ate outside, but I went inside to see the dishes, all displayed on a hot table. Most of these dishes take hours of cooking, and thus they’re ready to eat when you order. Your food comes in less than five minutes. This reminded me of Greece, where in many restaurants there’s no menu: you just go back into the kitchen and see what’s on the stove:

Nearby were two tables of guys playing backgammon. One of them yelled to us (in Hebrew) that the guys at the adjacent table didn’t know how to play!

Another thing I missed on my first visit, but was imparted by Anna, was that there was one north-south “cross” corridor called the “Iraqi market,” where the produce is sold by Iraqi Jews. It’s heavily patronized because the fruit and veg are supposedly cheaper there than in other parts of the market.  They’re good, too.  I swear, I will never be happy with an American tomato again after having ripe Israeli tomatoes, sweet and right off the plant:

They also sold miniature eggplants, which I understand are hard to find:

Pitas are formed by hand but then go through an assembly-line machine that cooks them to perfection. I never had a single pita bread in Israel that wasn’t absolutely fresh. I miss them.

And other breads sold by this store:

I found a cheesecake store I missed on my first trip! I didn’t buy any, as I was full, but perhaps I should have. If you can read Hebrew, tell me what the signs say.

Right outside the market was an Orthodox Jew performing a blessing on a passing woman. (I don’t know what’s in the envelope that he’s tapping on her head.)

These proselytizers will grab you as soon as look at you, for blessing anybody is a mitzvahone of 613 Jewish commandments whose fulfillment will hasten the return of the Messiah. I’ll show a mitzvah booth shortly:

Here is a store that, says Anna, caters entirely to the religious headscarf needs of Orthodox women, who often shave their heads and then put on a wig and a headscarf. Sometimes, I was told, the women put a hunk of sponge on their heads so that it takes a huge headscarf to cover it (see the one at upper left), adding to their appearance by enlarging the cranium. My reflection is visible in the rear mirror.

Here’s another plaque marking the site of a terrorist attack. If you read Hebrew, please translate it in the comments:

Yes, this is a mitzvah station, where Orthodox Jews will be glad to put Jewish garb on you temporarily (only for men, women get Sabbath candles to light, which is their job). You can get a kippah, a talit, and tefillin (by now you should know what these are).  Once you put them on, you’ve been part of a mitzvah. But when will the Messiah come? (One thing you learn as an atheist in Israel is that religion is not only nuts, but divisive and deadly). Yet still I consider myself part of this group.

By all accounts Kadosh is the most famous and best coffee-and-pastry emporium in Jerusalem. There’s always a line outside, and we were lucky to get a table.

The crowd at about 1 p.m.:

Notice that in this group of what seem to be Orthodox women, one of them was wearing pants. This is supposed to be forbidden to Orthodox women, but I gather there are degrees of Orthodoxy. Notice how high the headscarves ride:

We went inside to assay the pastries, and I was photographing them through the glass when the woman behind the counter offered to take photos for me, for from her side there was no glass. Aren’t they lovely?

I ordered one of these as I had no idea what they were but they looked good:

Roberto, who’s from Italy, had a macchiato: espresso with a tad of steamed milk. I had never had one before, so I joined him.  It was only a tiny sip of coffee, but I had forgotten that in Italy coffee is not a beverage experience but a drug experience.

Here’s my pastry, which not only looked like a Halloween ghoul, but was great, with crispy and toothsome pastry on the outside and a wonderful whipped cream filling.  And it was filling in the other sense, too. Get one of these! Kadosh is on Jaffa Street, not far from the City Hall and Old City.

Anna and Roberto split a chocolate croissant:

Finally, we walked through the “Russian quarter” nearby and I saw my first Israeli prison behind a police station. I asked someone where they put convicted terrorists, and they’re not kept in Jerusalem. Instead, they’re scattered throughout Israel, some in the Negev desert. This is probably a local jail for minor criminals; you can see the fence around the top:

Before flying out I packed my camera away, so the last three photos from Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv were taken on my iPhone. The first is the very last meal I had in Israel: shakshouka with tahini and hummus (of course) with a side of fries. It was remarkably cheap and filling (and good!) for airport food):

The Lubavitchers had a booth in the duty-free area past customs!  It was too late to see them, but there was plenty of literature and cards showing their late rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (I’ve written about him before).  I nabbed a handful of cards showing him in his famous pose.  You really should read the Wikipedia entry about this guy; he was amazing, and did do some good stuff even if he was deluded by Orthodox Judaism. So many great minds and diligent bodies devoted to studying—fiction!

I couldn’t resist putting up this group photo from Wikipedia of Lubavitchers taken in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where their big synagogue is (I’ve been there, and have recounted how I was wrapped in Jewish garb and thrust onto the synagogue floor, thence to be prayed over as a mitzvah).

Not much diversity here, though perhaps some diversity in thought (as interpreting the Talmud).

And so it’s farewell to Israel, where I had a great time. And there’s lots more to see. Will I go back? Perhaps, though my bucket list is pretty full. I’d recommend a visit there very highly, but keep to Jerusalem and other parts of the country, and avoid Tel Aviv unless you like beaches.

Israel: Day 17

September 19, 2023 • 9:15 am

It’s Tuesday, and I fly out just after midnight on Saturday (the Sabbath!), so after checking out of my hotel then I’ll have 12 hours to kill.

Today I decided to visit the famous Israel Museum, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, only to find out that the place didn’t open until 4 pm on Tuesdays. It was stupid of me not to check in advance, but I now know the way by bus, and I’ll go back tomorrow when it opens at 10 a.m.

As its Wikipedia entry notes,

Its holdings include the world’s most comprehensive collections of the archaeology of the Holy Land, and Jewish art and life, as well as significant and extensive holdings in the fine arts, the latter encompassing eleven separate departments: Israeli Art, European Art, Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Prints and Drawings, Photography, Design and Architecture, Asian Art, African Art, Oceanic Art, and Arts of the Americas.

Among the unique objects on display are the Venus of Berekhat Ram, the interior of a 1736 Zedek ve Shalom synagogue from Suriname, necklaces worn by Jewish brides in Yemen, a mosaic Islamic prayer niche from 17th-century Persia, and a nail attesting to the practice of crucifixion in Jesus’ time.  An urn-shaped building on the grounds of the museum, the Shrine of the Book, houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered at Masada. It is one of the largest museums in the region.

Doesn’t that sound interesting? I’m especially interested in the archaeology and the Dead Sea scrolls, though I originally heard they were shown only in reproduction.  But Wikipedia says no, some on display are original:

As the fragility of the scrolls makes it impossible to display them all on a continuous basis, a system of rotation is used. After a scroll has been exhibited for 3–6 months, it is removed from its showcase and placed temporarily in a special storeroom, where it “rests” from exposure. The museum also holds other rare ancient manuscripts and displays the Aleppo Codex, which is from the 10th-century and is believed to be the oldest Bible codex in Hebrew.

The Scrolls themselves are said to be “the oldest surviving manuscripts of entire books later included in the biblical canons, along with extra-biblical and deuterocanonical manuscripts that preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism. At the same time, they cast new light on the emergence of Christianity and of Rabbinic Judaism.”

We’ll see tomorrow.

Here’s a photo of one scroll from Wikipedia with the caption, “The Psalms scroll, one of the Dead Sea scrolls. Hebrew transcription included. English translation available here.”

Anyway, it wasn’t time wasted, as I walked to the new Jerusalem train station on the way, and found out how to get to the Tel Aviv airport in only half an hour, and for a pittance.

As always, I took my camera in case something interesting appeared. Here’s what I saw today.

A guy with his phone and a smoke by one of the Museum’s pools:

. . . and an old Haredi Jew, also with his phone. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews spurn cellphones as technology that could spread modern (and therefore bad) ideas. In those ways, as in others, they are like the Amish.

On the tram back, a guy was snogging with his girlfriend, either a cop or a member of the IDF. They were clearly bonded, and it was very cute. A woman in uniform!

What twisted mind conceived of this tee shirt?

And, if you’re a Jewish basketball fan and want to combine your team’s tee-shirt with a religious tallit, well, this is a unique item of clothing:

Or, if you’re a fan of the artificial potato chip Pringles, you can get it on a yarmulke from Kippa Man:

Or a kitty keychain:

I went back to Hummus Ben Sira again, but decided to try something besides hummus.

One of their specialities (second to hummus) is sabich, described by Wikipedia like this:

Sabich or sabih (Hebrew: סביח [saˈbiχ]) is a sandwich of pita or laffa bread stuffed with fried eggplants, hard boiled eggs, chopped salad, parsley, amba [mango pickle] and tahini sauce.  It is an Iraqi Jewish dish that has become a staple of Israeli cuisine, as a result of Iraqi Jewish immigration to Israel. Its ingredients are based on a traditional quick breakfast of Iraqi Jews and is traditionally made with laffa, which is nicknamed Iraqi pita. Sabich is sold in many businesses throughout Israel.

This one was made with regular pita, and it was delicious. Here’s the Wikipedia picture showing the dissected sandwich (mine was un-dissectable). And mine had all the ingredients save the samba, as I didn’t detect mango pickle.

A sabich from Wikipedia:

It was FABULOUS. The combination of hard-boiled eggs, tahini, vegetables, and a big piece of fried eggplant was wonderful. Here’s my lunch (I can’t resist the homemade lemonade.) This cost ten bucks. The pickles were dills, and I ate the sandwich with bites of ripe tomato (also in the sammy) and onion.

Dessert: pistachio halva from Halva Kingdom. Even better than plain halva:

Walking home after lunch. This is the street my hotel is on, and I can see the umbrellas from my window. They appear to be a permanent art installation of sorts:

This nearby bar (certified kosher) was apparently once the home of Ze’ev Zabotinsky, a famous politician, a dedicated Zionist, and a military leader as well as a poet and novelist. He also founded the first all-Jewish modern army unit, the Jewish Legion that fought under the British in World War I. Here’s a photo of Zabotinsky from 1935, five years before he died at sixty.

Pictures of Zabotinsky and his family are plastered all over the building. I can’t be sure he lived there or near there, but that’s a reasonable conclusion, especially when you read this (he didn’t live in Jerusalem for very long):

After a short stay at the Amdursky Hotel just inside Jaffa Gate, [Zabotinsky and his family] began residence in the Levy Building located at the corner of today’s Shimon ben Shetah and Ben Sira streets off of Shlomzion Hamalka.

Finally, The Bird of the Day: a hooded crow (Corvus cornix). Here are three ways of looking at a crow. Note the blue nictitating membrane; its eye is not damaged:

One personal note: save for my first night of jet lag, I have had NO insomnia at all since I’ve been here. I sleep like a log every night and am well rested. This seems to confirm that my sleeplessness in Chicago is created by anxieties connected with my work there (including ducks). But please don’t tell me to move to Israel! There are easier ways to deal with anxiety. . .

Israel: Day 16 (and a bit of day 15)

September 18, 2023 • 9:30 am

I can’t believe I went a day and a half without food in Jerusalem without realizing that there was a 24/7 restaurant right across the street from my hotel. And it was open on Saturday and Sunday—the two days when everything else  was closed for Rosh Hashanah. Well, I learned about it yesterday in time to go to the cafe (called Zuni) for a big honking breakfast of eggs, toast, lox, cheese, salad, olives, and coffee. Man, was it good to have food!

Below: the hours I missed when it was open (the place is down an alley and hard to find):

Open on Rosh Hashanah!

The streets were so empty yesterday that they did a film shoot on the tram tracks (public transportation is suspended during shabbos and holidays).

Nearby, Jews were blowing the shofar, or ram’s horn, traditionally signaling the holiday. From Wikipedia:

The blowing of the shofar (Hebrew: תקיעת שופרHebrew pronunciation: [t(e)kiˈ(ʔ)at ʃoˈfaʁ]) is a ritual performed by Jews on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is a musical horn, typically made of a ram’s horn. Jewish law requires that the shofar be blown 30 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah, and by custom it is blown 100 or 101 times on each day.

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.

Here’s a rabbi showing how it’s done:

Below: a sign for the holidays (if you read Hebrew, please translate).

BTW, there’s a famous off-color Jewish joke about the shofar that I’ll put below the fold to preserve the family-oriented nature of this site.

This morning I went to the Mahane Yehuda Market, only a half-hour walk from my hotel and near the ultra-Orthodox quarter.  It’s well known, and here’s part of the Wikipedia entry:

Mahane Yehuda Market (Hebrew: שוק מחנה יהודהromanized: Shuk Mahane Yehuda), often referred to as “The Shuk” (Hebrew: השוקromanized: HaShuqlit.‘The Market’), is a marketplace (originally open-air, but now partially covered) in Jerusalem. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the market’s more than 250 vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables; baked goods; fish, meat and cheeses; nuts, seeds, and spices; wines and liquors; clothing and shoes; and housewares, textiles, and Judaica.

In and around the market are falafel, shawarma, kibbeh, kebab, shashlik, kanafeh, baklava, halva, zalabiya and Jerusalem mixed grill stands, juice bars, cafes, and restaurants. The color and bustle of the marketplace is accentuated by vendors who call out their prices to passersby. On Thursdays and Fridays, the marketplace is filled with shoppers stocking up for Shabbat, until the Friday afternoon sounding of the bugle that signifies the market will close for the Sabbath. In recent years, “the shuk” has emerged as another Jerusalemic nightlife center, with restaurants, bars and live music.

I went at opening time to take photos and avoid the crowds, and it was a remarkable place selling anything you’d want to eat. And there were very few tourists: mostly women and Orthodox Jews buying provisions. Here are two photos of the market, which consists of two long covered and parallel east-west streets connected by north-south alleys, also full of food stalls.

One of the two long streets:

One of the N/S alleys:

The goods included Turkish delight (loukoum, one of my favorites),

. . . all kinds of candy (Israeli kids must really love their sweets, as there are dozens of candy stalls,

and luscious-looking breads.

Here’s a friendly guy patting out fresh pita:

On offer: fantastic fruits and veg (every item of which is better in Israel than in the U.S). The tomatoes here are ripe and sweet, and the melons infinitely better than those you can get in the States. (American store tomatoes suck.)

I don’t know what the fruit in he middle is, but it seems to be a type of wrinkly pear.

Bored produce vendor:

Nuts and dried fruits, very popular:

An old guy with a drink and a smoke:


Freshly baked pastries:



All sorts of olives, and I love them all:

More candy:

I’m not sure what these things are, but I was given one to taste (the type at front left is a delicious mixture of lemon and mint). They are like flavored jelly candies but are invariably sold alongside various herbal teas (also shown):

One thing you quickly discover here is that both Jews and Arabs love their coffee, are willing to pay for the good stuff. It’s often served in glasses. Very often they drink a form of Turkish coffee: grounds boiled with water (sugar optional) and then allowed to settle before drinking. This form of coffee is found throughout the Middle East, and is also the coffee most common in Greece (in Greece I ask for it “glyki vrasto”, or “sweet and well boiled).  The boiled coffee is always prepared on the spot.

Here are some of the beans on sale at the market:

A market kitty who, I’m told, “belongs” to a coffee shop. Note the clipped ear, indicating neutering:

I was hungry and tempted by everything, but knew that after the market I was going back to have a big hummus lunch at Ben-Sira’s, so couldn’t eat on the spot. But I was on the prowl for one thing: halva: the sesame version. It’s one of my favorite sweets and comes in a variety of flavors

There are several halva shops in the market, but I was told that the best was called “Halva Kingdom”. There’s no English on the sign, and you must find it by looking for halva on sale and a crown on the sign. Eventually I found it!

Look at all that halva!

A fancy one. Prices run from 99 to 200 shekels per kilo (about 3.7 shekels to the dollar):

Artificially sweetened halva on the right; the real stuff on the left. Needless to say, I was a Leftist.  I bought three types, about a kilo in total (plain, pistachio and walnut).

When I got home I discovered that the “Halva Kingdom” bag did have English on it, has branches in Tel Aviv, and that the outfit is two years older than I am.

Walking back with my sweet treasure, I passed my favorite police station again—the one with the lions. As I noted in an earlier post, this is where the British Consul used to live.

And one of the lions (he needs dental work):

Another mini-lion. My heart breaks for this sweet kitten, as it looks hungry but won’t let me get near. It lives near my hotel, and perhaps I’ll buy a box of cat food (I didn’t see any cat food in the market):

A synagogue (or so I think) bearing lions of Judah. Translations welcome.

Hummus at last, and at my favorite place in Jerusalem, Ben-Sira. Here’s a 50-shekel lunch with hummus, veg, falafel, and fresh pita, along with a large glass of lemonade. (The lemonade, freshly squeezed, was not overly sweet.)

Close-up of hummus, topped with a few chickpeas:

Full at last! Full at last! Thank god almighty I’m full at last!

Click “read more” to see the shofar joke:

Continue reading “Israel: Day 16 (and a bit of day 15)”

Israel: Day 14 (and a bit of day 13)

September 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and also Sabbath. All this means that Jerusalem is closed down tighter than Mitch McConnell’s mind, and even Donald Trump has more neurons than there are people in the street.  Here’s a photo taken about noon on Jaffa Street, one of the main streets of the city. It’s BARREN! The only people afoot are pious Jews on their way to and from shul:

I saw NO stores or restaurants open today—not one. This is a disaster for me, as I decided not to purchase the expensive breakfasts in my hotel, thinking that surely some Arab or secular Jew would be serving noms somewhere.

I was wrong. Perhaps in the Muslim quarter of the Old City they are dispensing dishes of hummus, but after a long morning’s walk I’m too tired to find out.  And so I’m resting in the afternoon heat, with my only food for the day consisting of cookies.

But enough tsouris. Here are a few photos from my visit yesterday to Yad Vashem, Israel’s huge memorial to the Holocaust.  It consists of several parts, including the dominant Holocaust History Museum, in which I spent over three hours, as well as a Children’s Memorial, which was closed, as was the Hall of Holocaust Art (though there’s plenty of that art in the Museum), and also closed was the Hall of Names, which tries to document every person killed in the Holocaust. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is located on the Mount of Remembrance, on the western slope of Mount Herzl, a height in western Jerusalem, 804 meters (2,638 ft) above sea level and adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest. The memorial consists of a 180-dunam (18.0 ha; 44.5-acre) complex containing two types of facilities: some dedicated to the scientific study of the Holocaust, and memorials and museums catering to the needs of the larger public. Among the former there are an International Research Institute for Holocaust Research, an archives, a library, a publishing house and the International School for Holocaust Studies; the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, the Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, as well as a synagogue.

A core goal of Yad Vashem’s founders was to recognize non-Jews who, at personal risk and without financial or evangelistic motives, chose to save Jews from the ongoing genocide during the Holocaust. Those recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations are honored in a section of Yad Vashem known as the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. [One of these is Oskar Schindler, whose famous list is in the Museum.]

Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site, after the Western Wall, with approximately one million visitors each year. It charges no admission fee.

I was unable to make reservations online for some reason, but I showed up at opening time and was the first person admitted. Here’s Yad Vashem’s site on Mt. Herzl (where Theodor Herzl, the “father of Zionism” is also buried:

The Visitors’ Center is in front, with the large triangular History Museum behind it. Other places are scattered through the lovely wooded site.

No photos are allowed inside, so I took none. All I can say is that the Museum has a ton of stuff, arranged chronologically beginning when the Nazis took power, going through their gradual oppression of the Jews, the formation of ghettos, the camps and executions of Jews, and finishing (after several hours if you look at everything) with the Allied liberation of the camps, in some ways the most heartbreaking bit.

I’ll say only three things: of the Holocaust-related sites I’ve visited, this is one that, like Auschwitz, will change your life and view of humanity. Second, if you are in Jerusalem and don’t visit Yad Vashem, you’re making a huge mistake. Finally, given the tons and tons of evidence on display, anybody who denies the Holocaust is a blithering idiot. And yet many do; it’s as ridiculous as denying that the Earth is spherical.

Here’s Herzl’s grave, which I didn’t see, in a photo from Wikipedia. He died at only 44 of heart disease and was originally buried in Vienna. His remains were moved to Israel in 1949:

On the way back to town on the tram, there were quite a few ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim). Several, like this young man, were reading bits of the Torah and praying or reading aloud. (Note the diagnosic sidelocks, called payot). While I feel a genetic kinship (and, indeed, have one) with the Haredim, their beliefs—and especially the way they treat their women and pollute the minds of their children—appall me. Such is my inner conflict with religious Jews.

Back in town, there were police (with sniffer d*gs) and IDF soldiers everywhere, preparing for any holiday-related terrorism:

But on a nearby door, the Lion of Judah was there to protect me:

I went to lunch at the nearby place I call “Mr. Falafel,” because that’s what he looks like. A falafel in half a pita with all the trimmings, including fries, makes a satisfying lunch.

Yesterday’s lunch avec Fanta. I swear: I could survive on hummus and falafel alone, and they’re healthy!

Since today was a holiday, I figured I’d have a long walk around the ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem: the Mea Sharim. Insofar as they can, the inhabitants here live the life of a 19th century shtetl: no t.v., no music, schools teaching only religion, all men dressed in black with religious accoutrements, and so on. Many of the women shave their heads, covering them with wigs and scarves, and must undergo ritual purification after their periods.

And of course shabbos is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I wanted to take photos, too, but tried to do so with some respect, not letting people see me with my camera. I realize that this too is disrespectful in a way, as I’m seeing these people as curiosities as well as humans, but sue me.

I’ve mentioned my cognitive dissonance about this group. They have so much diligence, and such respect for learning, but then squander it all on religious learning. Kids are brainwashed from birth, never getting a chance to have secular learning. Women are taught that their role is to take care of the home and breed prolifically; rarely do you see a mother without a passel of kids in tow. All this waste and oppression in the service of a delusion!

And yet why do I feel a kinship with them? I do not know.

Some photos from around Mea Sharim this morning. First a flag that I assume is the flag of Jerusalem:

The residents:

Haredim break out the fur hats, which can cost several thousand dollars, on special occasions like today. And remember: it’s hot!

Every haredi child I see breaks my heart. Their entire lives are mapped out for them, a life just like that of their parents:

Many of the haredim are poor and prefer to study the Torah rather than engage in jobs. The Israeli government, to its discredit, promotes this by giving them subsidies (ultra-Orhodox are also exempt from Army service). Some of the homes I saw were shabby, but I can’t say they’re all like that. When I took this photo I heard religious singing from within:

You never see a young family without a stroller, and often with four or five kids. The woman’s job is to have a big brood.

The man on the right is the only black Orthodox Jew I’ve seen in Israel.

All over the city are stickers showing the scary visage of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). But he wasn’t really scary, and was quite magnanimous for an Orthodox rabbi (read the bio):

From Wikipedia:

. . . known to many as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or simply the Rebbe, [Schneerson] was an Orthodox rabbi and the most recent Rebbe of the Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty. He is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

As leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he took an insular Hasidic group that almost came to an end with the Holocaust and transformed it into one of the most influential movements in religious Jewry, with an international network of over 5,000 educational and social centers.  The institutions he established include kindergartens, schools, drug-rehabilitation centers, care-homes for the disabled, and synagogues.

Schneerson’s published teachings fill more than 400 volumes. . . He is recognized as the pioneer of Jewish outreach. During his lifetime, many of his adherents believed that he was the Messiah. His own attitude to the subject, and whether he openly encouraged this, is hotly debated among academics. During Schneerson’s lifetime, the messianic controversy and other issues elicited fierce criticism from many quarters in the Orthodox world, especially earning him the enmity of Rabbi Elazar Shach.

Schneerson moved to the US in 1941, eventually building his synagogue in Brooklyn. I visited there years ago, giving my non-Jewish girlfriend a tour of NY Judaism, and we were immediately swept up by Lubavitchers. She was spirited to the “women’s section” of the synagogue, where ladies were allowed to watch the real worship below from behind a small screen, while I was draped, despite my objections, with a yarmulke, a tallis, and tefillin wrapped around my arm. I was then forced onto the synagogue floor where hundreds of Lubavitchers were praying and davening. I refused to pray, of course, but they prayed over me, hoping that this would constitute a mitzvah that would hasten the return of the Messiah.

Curiously, many Lubavitchers believed that Schneerson was the messiah, and refused to believe he had died. Read about him on Wikipedia; he had an amazing life, working 18 hours a day every day and never taking a vacation.

Back to Jerusalem: I was getting famished and saw this sign, but of course the place was closed. Even as I write this my tummy is growling:

No soup for me! Kubbe has semolina dumplings in it. I won’t mention the soup dispenser in Seinfeld.

The lost and found police station, once the residence of the British consul:

Note the lions. This is what you get when you shoot into the sun with a dirty camera lens.

And, as I see so often, a sign where a terrorist attack occurred. Those who can read Hebrew are invited to translate it in the comments:

Jerusalem Monopoly—a “fast dealing property game.” I’m dying to find out what the properties are named.

Wait: I just found out!:

Locations include:

David’s Tomb
Teddy Stadium
Presidential Residence
Tower of David, Ammunition Hill, Mount Herzl
The Western Wall Tunnels
The Western Wall
The Kotel
The First Station
Montefiore Windmill
Old City Walls Promenade
Mea She’arim
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Lion’s Gate
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
Chords Bridge
The Knesset
The Israel Museum
Mount of Olives
Mahane Yehuda Market
City of David.

This board game can bring Biblical locations to life. It also teaches some basic math and counting skills through all the wheeling and dealing among players. Monopoly: Jerusalem Edition can also be an effective Hebrew School teaching aid for children ages 8+.

A kitty outside my hotel, where I was looking in vain for food:

And a kitty on the window of a sushi joint. Hebrew readers: what is it saying?

Lord, am I hungry. Where is my manna?

Israel: Day 12

September 15, 2023 • 9:30 am

In one week I’ll be making my way to Ben-Gurion Airport for a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Chicago. I don’t feel like I’ve been here very long, for Israel deserves a good long stay. So be it; perhaps I’ll return some day.

I arrived in Jerusalem early yesterday in time for a long tour of the Old City given by Anna (not Krylov), an Anna who works at MEMRI and was accompanied by her Italian father Roberto (her mother is Moroccan).  Anna also happens to be the mother of THE ORIGINAL HILI, a Hili born here about fifteen years ago. Yes, the cat is named after an Israeli girl (Malgorzata knows the family), and I now have met both Hilis! (Pardon me if I leave out a few “e”s, as that key is sticking on my computer and it’s the most common letter in the English alphabet.)

So here are some photos and descriptions from yesterday, with a few from the two days before in Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday I tried to find the Art Museum in Tel Aviv, which supposedly had a good collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists. On the map it looked like an hour’s walk or so, and I thought I’d hoof it, getting a good look at Tel Aviv.

It turned out that it was not only miles away, but also bloody hot and humid. I walked for three hours there and back in the broiling heat, asking people on the way, and I never found the Museum.  Many people didn’t understand my question, and I was too bloody stubborn to get a cab.  At the approximate location of the Cezannes, I found this:

I was NOT happy. Still stubborn, I decided to find my way back to the hotel, even though I was lost, by heading north. I finally recognized a falafel-seller I asked on the way there, and knew I was heading in the right direction. Then I noticed that I was very, very, thirsty and couldn’t walk well. I was severely dehydrated.  When I finally got back to the hotel, I drank a liter of water and took my picture, soaked with sweat, in the mirror:

I took off all my clothes, which were drenched with sweat, threw them on the floor of the shower, and stood underneath the water, soaping myself and the clothes until we all we all were clean. I then lay down on the bed; it took me two hours to recover. Oy!

But Wednesday four of us went out for more hummus; same place as before:


I was happy to return to Jerusalem yesterday morning, as, truth be told, Tel Aviv, secular and sea-washed as it is, is also somewhat boring: modern, without Jerusalem’s color, charm, and historical interest.  And I didn’t see an ultraorthodox Jew the whole time!

Back in Jerusalem, the city is on high alert as the holidays begin. Terrorists like to attack on Jewish holidays, so the whole town is full of the IDF, cops and bomb-sniffing dogs:

Below: a Lion of Judah in front of City Hall outside the Old City. From Wikipedia:

The Lion of Judah (Hebrew: אריה יהודהAryeh Yehudah) is a Jewish national and cultural symbol, traditionally regarded as the symbol of the tribe of Judah. The association between the Judahites and the lion can first be found in the blessing given by Jacob to his fourth son, Judah, in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible

We entered the city through the Damascus Gate, which, I’m told, is one of the prime spots for Jews to get stabbed in the Old City:

Armenians are famous for their ceramics, and they’re all over the Old City, which has an Armenian Quarter.

But we were in the Christian Quarter, and returned to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site for Christians in the world, as it’s supposed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, laid out, buried, and was resurrected.  (See my earlier post on this.) It contains the last four Stations of The Cross.

The outside:

Where Jesus was said to have been crucified. There’s a stone on the site that people touch:

Jesus kitsch is for sale everywhere:

. . . and two Holy Moggies in the church courtyard:

The famous Via Dolorosa is the short route said to have been traveled by Jesus while toting the Cross. It has are 14 Stations of the Cross, each marked with what happened there (dropping the Cross, getting face wiped, etc.) Here are a couple; first, the list, which doesn’t correspond to the numbers below:

  1. Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane;
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested;
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin;
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter 3 times;
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate;
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns;
  7. Jesus takes up his cross;
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross;
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem;
  10. Jesus is crucified;
  11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief;
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other;
  13. Jesus dies on the cross; and
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall again.  The non-touristy part of the Muslim Quarter has nice things for sale.  Here’s some dried yogurt that is used like cheese.

Spices. The big towers are thyme:

Meat (not pig):


A pastry store. Baklava is my favorite.  Anna bought me an assortment, which was fantastic. Prices are by the kilo:

I had a freshly baked bread, called manaqish, made with the thyme mixture shown above. It was terrific:

Grapes were a hot seller in the Muslim Quarter:

The Old City, including the Muslim Quarter, was full of Jewish cops and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces—the Army) anticipating trouble over the holidays:

When I asked if I could photograph them, they not only agreed but posed. All Israelis save the ultra-Orthodox serve in the IDF: men for three years, women for two (I’m told that’s to give them an extra year to have babies if they want):

Anna is fond of a lovely place of respite in the old city: the Austrian Hospice, at once a church, a restaurant, an Austrian cultural center, and a place to view the Old City from the roof.

We had schnitzel (chicken) and Sachertorte for lunch! Best Sachertorte I’ve had outside Vienna.

There’s a great view of the Old City from the roof (click panorama to enlarge). The Dome of the Rock with its golden shrine is to the lef

On to the Western Wall: the only part of the Temple Mount where Jews are allowed to pray. And pray they do!

I wore a yarmulke this time: you take it from a box and then return it.

The Wall area was full of Haredi Jews davening (rocking) as they prayed, kissing the Wall, and inserting written prayers into the cracks. (I didn’t pray, of course, but my Jewish DNA draws me here to see this cultural phenomenon.)

A video:

A panorama:

A cop joins in, tallis, tefillin, yarmulke and the whole getup:

Imagine wearing this all-black outfit, including a heavy hat, in this heat! Now THAT is faith!

The prayer notes, when they eventually fall out, are put inside the casket of the latest Jew buried on the nearby Mount of Olives:

Santa, but a Muslim one:


In fact, Santa (AKA Issa Kassissieh) was the captain of the Palestinian basketball team and now plays Santa every year at Christmas: the whole megillah:

 In Jerusalem’s Old City there are dozens of churches, but as Christmas beckons there is just one Santa Claus — a towering Palestinian former basketball player.

Each December, the streets sparkle green and red as Christian pilgrims and others arrive to celebrate Christmas.

Seven years ago, one resident, Issa Kassissieh, transformed the ground floor of his 700-year-old home into a grotto, complete with candy, mulled wine and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.

Welcoming the season’s first visitors to Santa House, the red-suited and bearded Kassissieh belted out a “Ho, ho, ho!” at families queueing to see him.

. . . While Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe contains Jesus’s tomb, the Nativity story of his birth happened in nearby Bethlehem, according to the faithful.

But at Santa House, Kassissieh said his young visitors have more modern concerns.

“Every child asks me for an iPhone,” he chuckled. “I never promise anything, but I say: ‘Let’s pray, and if you’re on my good list, you will get it.’”

Only in Jerusalem can a Palestinian dressed as Santa let kids sit on his lap and ask for iPhones.  And you ask me why I prefer Jerusalem to Tel Aviv!

Still, of course, all is not peaches and cream here. The city is a symbol of religious hatred, and you can see its remnants everywhere. Here’s the Municipal Building, which between 1948 and 1967 stood on the dividing line between West Jerusalem (Israel) and East Jerusalem (part of Jordan). Israel captured the Old City during the Six Day War in 1967. But you can still see the bullet holes in the Municipal Building reflecting that 19 years of conflict:

In the lower part of the building you can see this sign, which marks the site of a terrorist attack against Israelis. Sadly, there are many of these signs throughout the city. I can’t read Hebrew, but if you do please translate it in the comments:

Are you big in Japan?

September 13, 2023 • 12:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

Or perhaps, a better question, are you small in Japan? Japanese artists and technology are known for their skill in the production of miniatures and portable electronics, and small things feature prominently in both domestic material culture and in what is aimed at visitors. I’ve visited Japan only once, but my daughter lived there for a couple of years, and this summer, she, her husband, and my wife visited again, and brought me back a wonderful selection of small things that are big in Japan.

Here’s the haul, all spread out on a Yomiuri Giants face towel.

Finely detailed plastic animal miniatures are readily available in Japan. This saltwater crocodile came with an information card, in both Japanese and English.

Saltwater crocs are not found in Japan; they occur further south, in the tropics. One of my favorite Japanese animals occurs only in the far southern subtropics of Japan, the Iriomote cat, found only on the small island of Iriomote in the Ryukyus.

This frog is slightly less detailed, but it’s meant to be put on a pen or other narrow diameter object, so that created some design constraints. Nonetheless, note that it is portrayed with paired vocal sacs, while others in the series have the appropriate kind of vocal sacs as well.

I could not, however, identify the species from the miniature. Perhaps a reader who knows Japanese can let us know what its label says.

The next two are stickers, not of Japanese species, but of species popular in the pet trade, both in Japan and America. The bearded dragon below is originally Australian, but is now bred for the pet trade.

The red-eared slider, from the southern U.S., has become established in Japan, and features in Japanese material culture more prominently than native species. I saw them during my visit to Japan.

Japan seems full of vending machines of all sorts, and one kind vends small plastic animals in plastic containers. This whimsical frilled lizard has an Elizabethan collar for a frill. The booklet accompanying it shows that there are five different frilled lizards, all with whimsical collars (including a “cone of shame”), so you have to keep buying till you get ’em all! This one was a gift from a colleague at the Field Museum, who also visited Japan during the past year.

From a whimsical lizard we pass on to legendary animals. These shisa— guardian lions or lion-dogs– were brought back from Okinawa by my daughter several years ago.

Japanese miniatures can be incorporated into foodstuffs– note the pokemon faces on these snacks.

Japan is well known for making quality pens, both for every day use and special occasions. My favorite item is this fine, high quality pen, which features a miniature natural landscape that incorporates several traditional Japanese thematic elements. Note the exquisite detail of the cranes flying over the river below Mt. Fuji.

Finally, the towel on which they were all spread. The name on the towel is Kobayashi Seiji, the Giants’ catcher. My wife didn’t know which player’s towel she was getting. Given that my whole family are great Star Trek fans, it was karmically satisfying that the player’s surname was Kobayashi.

Israel, Day 9

September 11, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’ve been chilling in Tel Aviv, resting, walking along the sea, and eating, as sightseeing is thin on the ground here. This is a far more secular and modern city than is Jerusalem, and somehow I find the latter more interesting—though less relaxing. As Steve Pinker wrote me when I told him I was going to Israel for R&R, “Most people wouldn’t say that Israel is a place to go for some rest.”  But for me, resting is not the aim of a vacation, and I doubt that I’ll put in any beach time here, though there’s a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean right across the street.

However, there are several sights I want to see, and today I went to the first one: the modest and well-preserved domicile of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, only a few blocks from our hotel.

First, though, some food—for humans and then cats.  Breakfast at the hotel; as usual, it’s the big meal of the day:

Fresh bread, and they have lox and an adequate cream-cheese substitute:

There is Turkish coffee, “American” coffee, or you can, as I do, order a cappuccino.

Part of the spread:

Fruit, yogurt and some veg (the fruit and veg here are infinitely better than available in the States. The melon, for instance, is perfectly ripe:

Vegetables and salads:

Cheeses, dairy stuff, tuna, and lox (depleted):

Eggs and western breakfast stuff (you can also order oatmeal, Belgian waffles, omelettes, and green shakshouka (see below):

Something I always get: the King of Israeli breakfast dishes, shakshouka (the classic red version with tomatoes):

Free red and white wine by the reception desk, 24/7:

And a free happy hour from 5-7 p.m. daily, with wine, hard liquor, juices, and all kind of tasty nibbles (I haven’t had a drink since I’ve been here: for some reason I lose my appetite for booze when traveling).  They will also make drinks for you.

Happy hour nibbles, and not insubstantial ones. Last night they had big veggie spring rolls:

I always check out the cat food in local grocery stores to see if there’s anything interesting. Here all we get is American-style cat food with Hebrew labels:

And a certificate of compliance with kosher specifications (kashrut) at a local pizza parlor. Even in Tel Aviv they take this seriously, as conservative and Orthodox Jews (though I’ve yet seen none of the latter here) take it seriously. Note that the certification must be renewed every five months.

A few sights on the walk to Ben-Gurion’s house. Below, a warning, though I’m not sure what it’s warning about unless you have a pacemaker. Are you in danger of having your hand fly off?

Tel Aviv is a center for Bauhaus architecture, and driven by seen some but haven’t photographed it.  I will as I come across it, Architectural Digest explains:

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, resulting in the closure of the Bauhaus design school that same year, tens of thousands of Jews fled Germany to settle in Mandatory Palestine. With 60,000 new immigrants arriving within just a few short years, housing was urgently needed. Dozens of architects were commissioned to build a new city. Among the most influential European architects selected were six German Jews who had studied at the Bauhaus school in Weimar and Dessau. They were key to the development of Tel Aviv’s “White City,” whose moniker is attributable to its whitewashed façades.

This may be Bauhaus:

Thie certainly isn’t, but it’s interesting, like third-rate Gaudi:

And the nearby British Embassy, surrounded by barriers.

Israel harbors 94 embassies, of which 89 are in Tel Aviv and 5 in Jerusalem (the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, and Kosovo). In 2017, Trump, facing much criticism, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

David Ben-Gurion’s modest Tel Aviv home still stands a few blocks from the sea, and is pretty much as it was when he died. Here’s a capsule bio from Wikipedia:

David Ben-Gurion (/bɛnˈɡʊəriən/ ben GOOR-ee-ən; Hebrew: דָּוִד בֶּן־גּוּרִיּוֹן [daˈvid ben ɡuʁˈjon] i; born David Grün; 16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first prime minister of Israel. Born in Płońsk, then part of the Russian Empire, to Polish Jewish parents, he immigrated to the Palestine region of the Ottoman Empire in 1906. Adopting the name of Ben-Gurion in 1909, he rose to become the preeminent leader of the Jewish community in British-ruled Mandatory Palestine from 1935 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which he led until 1963 with a short break in 1954–55.

Ben-Gurion’s interest for Zionism developed early in his life, leading him to become a major Zionist leader and executive head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946. As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he was the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led the movement for an independent Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine.

On 14 May 1948, he formally proclaimed the establishment of Israel, and was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which he had helped writing. Under Ben-Gurion’s leadership, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War saw the uniting of the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the expulsion and flight of a majority of the Palestinian Arab population. Subsequently, he became known as “Israel’s founding father”. Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel’s first prime minister and minister of defence.

There are three things to add about him. Without Ben-Gurion, it’s likely that Israel wouldn’t exist.  Second, he was an intellectual and deeply read man, which you’ll see in a second. Finally, he was deeply beloved by Israelis, and may have been the best Prime Minister ever. (He’s buried by a kibbutz in the Negev Desert.) Here’s a photo from Wikipedia:

Here’s his house at 18 Ben-Gurion Street (of course):

Except for some honors and awards, and items behind glass (his office is glassed off), the house is pretty much as it was when he died in 1973. It’s not humble, but neither is it grandiose. What makes it stand out most is the huge number of BOOKS.

Ben Gurion’s office (the only room behind glass). Perhaps this is just as it was when he died:

The kitchen and eating nook, with an old Israeli fridge:

Formal dining room:

Two bedrooms (looks like, as many couples did, they slept separately):

The living room adjacent to the office:

And oy, the books, divided by language and topic. Here, for instance, are his books on Hinduism:

. . . and on American Judaism: