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Pesach in Israel with Family & Friends

On Sunday we (Marian, Ranana, Micah, Alyssa, Ezra, Shiri and I) decided to visit Herodium, which is near Efrat. Herod was known for his huge construction projects but also for his paranoid personality and murdering (his wife and many others). Herod never gained acceptance by the Jewish people. Situated on a high hill, the Herodium was the palace he built between 23-15 BCE, 7 miles from Jerusalem and Bethlehem; both cities are visible from it. The ruins have been discovered and preserved by Israel and archeologists and include a fortress, a visiting area (for all sorts of personal and political discussions), a sauna and shower, theater room (with HDTV), and as Ranana says, “lots and lots of steps.”

After his death, his sons governed different subsections of Israel, but not well, and tensions with Rome grew. After Yerushalayim fell in the war of 66-70, the Roman army captured and destroyed Herodium and also Masada. Before the unsuccessful and devastating Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135), Herodium was said to be the place where Jews plotted that second attempt to overthrow the Roman grip.

Later we all went to Yerushalayim for dinner, and spent a good deal of time in traffic. Most restaurants were closed and those that were open increased their prices. Some in our group enjoyed schnitzel or salads with fish, but ironically I was able to order a Philadelphia Steak Sandwich. What was it made with? The roll is made from potato starch and looks like a subway (or hero) roll; here it is common. Pesach doesn’t always look like the Pesach I grew up with.

Monday featured a BBQ hosted by Ezra and Shiri in Elkanah and included not only the Gordons but also 12 members of Shiri’s family who drove down from Haifa. There was plenty of meat (hamburgers and kabob) and chicken (wings and more), as well as music. We had an enjoyable afternoon-evening. On the way we had stopped to see Beit Shemesh, but once we saw a mall, I was “outvoted” as Marian and Ranana looked at / for clothes. The malls in Israel are very much on par with American malls.

Tuesday was a visiting day in Yerushalayim. First we saw the Brody family at Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz hotel. Zumi, Caryn, and the children were there for Pesach, along with Zumi’s parents, and other family members. The Brodys -- Zumi and his father, Gene -- played a significant role in my decision to apply to Traditional. Zumi, by the way, still plays softball where he lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Esther Zimand lives within minutes of Ramat Rachel and we visited her as well. She is active and well. She and her grandson were going to the movies in the afternoon and she spent Pesach with her children. We had a very nice visit.

We then drove into the heart of the city, to the shuk. There we shopped for spices which are numerous and plentiful. The seller, a young man, offered me 250 camels for Ranana. Since he would not go to 275, after much consternation, I declined, and alas Ranana remains with us (is Benjamin reading this?). But we did buy 10 lbs of spices. All-in-all he had a good day.

We had lunch in the shuk -- at a place serving kosher for Pesach crepes. We chose not to include the ice cream, but with fruit it was enjoyable. Sitting near us an older and a younger woman with three children, a family, were ordering and speaking English, though it was hard to hear. Marian said, “I’ll bet you that they are from New Jersey.” Close. They were from Australia. We talked. I learned that it took 36 hours (with an 8-hour layover in Hong Kong) to travel from Australia to Israel. In the center of the city we looked for a kittel, but no stores sold them, and the stores in Mea Shearim were closed for chol ha-mo’ed. We concluded our day by visiting the gravesite of my sister-in-law, Miri, ע״ה.

On Wednesday we visited with Rabbi Zalman and Ellen Stein in Modi’in. We had a great visit, talking, touring the city, and eating at a dairy Italian restaurant. Modi’in is named for the town of the Maccabees, from where the revolt against the Hellenized Syrians began (168 BCE). Today, it is a “city” of about 90,000 and expanding. Its location is highly desirable -- midway between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv -- a planned modern city. Ellen told us that there are 177 parks scattered throughout Modi’in, as well as houses and apartments, stores, a mall, and a central transportation area from where busses and trains arrive and depart. The temperatures do not go much below about 40 degrees in the winter, and although it can get hot in the summer with spells of 100+, unlike St Louis, the heat is dry. Two of the Stein’s children live nearby in Modi’in, and both of our children want to live there. We, too, are considering it for retirement. Unfortunately, it is expensive.

Before closing, I return to the time just before Pesach. The bi’ur chametz -- burning of chametz -- was something special in Efrat. Every few blocks a mini-trailer/container was set out for the burning. Throughout the morning you could see people huddling around the burnsite. It was a powerful visual of everyone following the halachah and preparing for Pesach. Below are some pictures with Ranana somewhat visible. By the afternoon the containers had been removed. (Our chametz is in there somewhere.)

It is now Thursday, the last of chol ha-mo’ed, and tonight the last day of Pesach will arrive, then Shabbat, and then Marian and I fly to Paris early on Sunday morning. We will be spending these last days here with Ezra and Shiri and Micah and Alyssa, and after Paris, Shabbat with Akiva, Lauren, Emunah, and the soon-to-be, in New Jersey. See you all soon.

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