Aliyah diary: ‘We explore, dream, and discover’

Aliyah diary: ‘We explore, dream, and discover’

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." — Mark Twain

The great American author would be proud of us. In moving from the land of our birth to the land of our forebears, we have indeed sailed away from (what we perceive as) safe harbor.

Machane Yehuda is "eye-and-ear candy."

And we explore, dream, and discover on a daily basis.

As the guide on our recent Ein Gedi hike pointed out, exploring this great country is much simpler than exploring the great country of America because it’s so small — and yet there is so much to see.

There are more museums per capita in Israel than in any other nation. Add to that archeological sites, nature preserves, religious shrines, and beaches — none farther from the other than New Jersey is from Boston.

The blocks-long Machane Yehuda marketplace in downtown Jerusalem is one of the best areas to "go on an explore," as Winnie the Pooh would say. Teeming with shoppers and merchants, bursting with vibrant colors and tantalizing odors, "the shuk" is eye-and-ear candy at its best.

In our wanderings there, my husband and I have discovered favorite stands for produce and baked goods, Judaica, and housewares. My son introduced me to a Yemenite medicine man there who has a juice, elixir, or herb tea to cure whatever ails you.

We buy our goodies and then head to the bus stop to schlep it all home.

Having "thrown off the bowlines" of the his-and-hers Subarus in which we traversed our corner of the diaspora, we now travel at the mercy of Egged drivers — long rumored to be the best-paid workers in Israel. They are, for sure, the most skilled.

To quote from another Twain work, "The Innocents Abroad" published in 1869, "The streets [of Jerusalem] are roughly and badly paved with stone, and are tolerably crooked…. [I]t is hardly necessary to state that such streets are too narrow for carriages."

Well, some things never change. That’s why navigating through these streets is a feat best left to the blue-shirted bus drivers. They can turn on a dime, steer through construction zones, and glide precariously between double-parked cars — all while making change and hurling insults ("Chamor! Chutzpan!") at taxi drivers and jaywalkers.

If the bus schedule doesn’t mesh with ours, we resort to the other thrifty mode of transportation: hitchhiking, or "tremping." Not only is tremping legal, it’s socially acceptable and it’s regarded as safe if you use common sense — tremping in our own neighborhood at rush hour is fine; tremping at night on the highway is not.

My daughter taught me how to stand in the trempiada (hitchhiking post) and waggle my index finger at oncoming cars. But steeped as I am in American culture, being a trempeest (hitchhiker) doesn’t come easily to me.

When I do get up the gumption to tremp, I always exit the car having discovered something new and interesting about people living right in my backyard.

On our way home from the mall one evening, we caught a tremp with a woman who told us all about her recent trip to visit her niece in Teaneck. Then she drove us to our door even though it was out of her way.

Another kind driver, after ascertaining that my daughter is soon to start her Israel Defense Forces service, called his own soldier daughter to ask if she had any advice for mine.

More often, those who stop are Hebrew-speakers. I know enough Hebrew to communicate my destination and comprehend theirs, but not enough to converse intelligently. One driver congratulated me on our aliyah and then asked me — or so I thought — if I wanted to take an English class. I laughingly replied, "No, I don’t need that." Afterward, I replayed the conversation in my head and realized he’d asked if I wanted to teach an English class. Perhaps he was offering me a job. I’ll never know.

Such gaffes are all part of exploring and discovering our new land. And I never forget that this is the very land described by Twain 139 years ago as desolate, with "hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."

And Jerusalem? "[M]ournful, and dreary, and lifeless. I would not desire to live here." Today, so many Jews from abroad are willing to pay millions for real estate in the holy city that there is a severe shortage of affordable dwellings.

I guess you could say that despite all the problems in this Middle Eastern sliver of land, those of us who left harbors safe and unsafe to live here are indeed catching the trade winds in our sails.

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