After arriving from Cairo early on Friday morning, I travelled to Jerusalem via taxi. Immediately found out that the driver was from Tel Aviv and had never been to Jerusalem, and had no idea where the Old City was, let alone my cousins apartment. After conversing with several fellow motorists and my cousin (via cellphone) the driver decided to use his GPS, which did not work very well in the Old City. Eventually, we found the Tower of David and I agreed to get out of the cab and walk from there, ending the misery of my driver.
That day, I spent a few hours walking around the Old City, including the Arab market (shuq), Christian and Armenian Quarters and the Jewish Quarter. It was quite a contrast to what I had seen in Egypt (the Arab Shuk had much the same products of lesser quality for more money). I guess I had been spoiled there. That afternoon, I helped my cousins cook for Shabbat.
I spent Shabbat with my cousins Chani, Rivki and Ellie. It was nice to see Ellie, since she had just finished her 3 yr commitment in the army, and was in "withdrawal". She seems particularly keen on taking some time off before heading off to school, doing some travelling domestically and possibly abroad. I'm just impressed that she made it through the grueling process of being a Chayal (soldier) in the Israeli Army. Needless to say, I think she's a heck of a lot stronger than I am...
Friday Night, I went down the stairs to the Kotel and joined the Chabad minyan (service). During some of the singing, I happened to be standing next to a norweigan man, his son and an Israeli tour guide (I got the impression that the two of them were not Jewish). The tour guide described the various services going on around the tourists as "chaos" and "competing minyanim", which made sense at least artificially, given that there were roughly 15-20 services going on at once, and each was at a different point in the service, using different tunes, etc. It was difficult to follow the Chabad minyan, which was easily the loudest one at the Kotel. Needless to say, I think a bit of organization would be very helpful at the Kotel. If there are several minyans praying using Carlebach music, why couldn't they all pray together? Why cant there be several set minyan start times at the Kotel, so that people showed up at particular times for services? Why must this "chaos" exist, which arguably detracts from everyone's participation and enjoyment of the services? I just don't know. If anyone out there knows someone to speak to on this, i'd be glad to voice my views and help rectify the issue.
The rest of Shabbat was enjoyable and quiet. I rested quite a bit and nursed a pretty bad sunburn that I took home as a souveneir from Cairo (who knew that sitting in the 100 degree sun by the pool for 2 hours would yield a full-body burn like you wouldn't believe). Well, its subsided a bit, but I am quite red (particularly shoulders, back and chest). Yup, this hurts.
After Shabbat, my cousins took me out to an Italian Gelato place, where I had this interesting Banana-Caramel-Waffle combination. It was pretty good, actually. I then went back to the apartment and packed.
On the way to the airport, I began to reflect on my journey thusfar, and was given additional thoughts to further complicate them. The driver, Boaz, was a really nice man, who shared a few thoughts with me on the ride to Ben Gurion Airport:
1) I'm no longer young and I should get married (I dont know if I agree with this). When he was 26 (which i'll be in 5 days - July 12th for those of you who forgot :-) ), he had three kids and a job in Israel. At 26, I have a career and a place at a prestigious business school. No girlfriend ;-)
2) Israelis are dependent on American generosity. He mentioned that his daughter was injured in the infamous terrorist attack at the Machane Yehudah market attack almost 6 yrs ago (I was just there a week ago - check the old post). She is having an operation in a few weeks on her legs, which have not been operating properly since the terrorist attack. Before the surgery, she is going to America, thanks to a program called The One Family Fund, which is flying her to the US and putting her up at a family that will take her around and let her see New York City (and feel like a normal person). It's a wonderful program, and something I hope to contribute to, following this post. I will also put a link to it on my blog, in case you'd like to donate as well.
3) His life is pretty difficult, given that he has a toddler who has been keeping him up at night. He's been through this already, but apparently #4 does not make anything easier. It's part of life.
Hmm... What can I say. I loved being in Israel and truly felt at home. Unlike other locations across the globe that have been nice or pretty or fun, Israel transcends these elements and stands alone as the only other place in the world I think I can truly feel at home. Crazy, I guess, but every time I leave, the question of why I don't live here comes up in my mind. I guess that's why I am going to INSEAD and exploring possibilities in Israel. This could one day be my home.
Back to the matter at hand, I can say that I am very excited to be on my way to Madrid, now at 4:08am. This flight was overbooked, and I could have been bumped, but I promised to meet Howard at the Madrid airport and don't want to miss the connection. That free flight would've been sweet, though...
Final thing... As I entered the departures section of the airport, passed the security, I noticed that there was a Kosher McDonalds there. I had been avoiding this temptation since I got here, but at 3am, it was a necessity (i was hungry, tired, bored, with hours to kill). I guess i'm just a sucker for the novelty of a Kosher McDonalds... Good burger... Good burger...
When I went to throw out the remains of my McD meal, I dropped my garbage into a "smart receptical", known as the SmartPack, which automatically opens when you bring garbage near, closes the door when you're done and then compacts the garbage onsite (it also speaks to you, saying "Thank You"). Pretty neat device... Over and out.