The Ultimate Drug

The Ultimate Drug

 

I think that heartbreak

is the ultimate narcotic

–except for the pain

 

The numbing it brings

is exceptional.

You don’t want to eat

or dress

or work

or play

or feel

or breathe.

You simply don’t care.

 

It’s so good that

death sounds attractive.

They just need to

fix the one side effect.

 

The Pain.

Nothing numbs that.

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Skillet Moussaka

This one skillet meal is delicious, economical, and easy to prepare.  It’s also great warmed on the following night.  I developed it when I was living in Greece and ground beef was the only good meat I could get at the commissary.  Eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and garlic were plentiful at the neighborhood markets.  I used Feta crumbled over the top, as it was fresh and inexpensive, but it’s good with Parmesan or mozzarella.  It would also be good with ground lamb or a mixture of ground beef and lamb.

1 pound ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large eggplant, cubed (with or without the skin)

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 cans chopped tomatoes

Mozerella, Parmesan, or Feta

salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef along with onion and garlic in large skillet or saucepan with tight fitting lid.  When onions are translucent and the ground beef is cooked, add the tomatoes, eggplant, and seasonings.  Cover and bring to a simmer, then allow to cook down slowly until the eggplant is soft and done.  Serve with cheese of choice over the top with a nice crusty bread and a salad.  Serves 4.

Final Day in Israel

“Today is the final day in Israel” is all I could think about as I dressed for the day. After a final healthy Israeli breakfast we boarded our buses, watching down below as the bell boys placed our luggage in our bus.

 Bus 8, with one final day with our wonderful tour guide, Patrick Amar, headed for Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. One could spend days there reading all the stories of courage and final days, read of the needless hate and destruction and sit along the tree-lined way contemplating what discoveries could have been made by the scientists and physicians murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, which includes those who did nothing to stop them. What wonders that would have helped mankind, feed the world was lost in the Shoah, the Whirlwind?

 As our group walked slowly through the museum, our throats tight with emotion, I’m sure that like myself, it further steeled other’s resolve to never let something like that happen again and sit idly by. Outside, we walked by the many, many trees planted in remembrance of a soul lost in that horrible time. Only in the garden’s peace was the horror of it made more real.

 We then boarded the buses and lunched on our own. Afterwards, we headed out of Jerusalem, down the winding hills toward the sea, an adventure of its own. Bedouin villages litter the lands as we rolled along, a simple shepherd herding his sheep while a magnificent Arabian grazed nearby. No longer tents, but tin villages, with a few modern homes interspersed around are a modern testament to these noble people.

 We were headed to an IDF training base. Once on the base we watched brave young men and women demonstrate taking a hill, then after their demonstration we all headed to a barbeque, Israeli style, which included, a chance to check out rocket launchers, Israeli assault rifles, etc. up close and personal, and of course, the inevitable dancing. It seemed appropriate that as the sun set in the west, we would end our last day in Israel celebrating with the young men and women who made our trip possible by their protection of Israel.

 By the time the sun was below the horizon we ended at Kfar Chabad, the headquarters for Chabad in Israel, for a final gathering. Final goodbyes were said to our wonderful tour guides, our amazing rabbis, and our friends who were headed in other directions.

 At the airport, it became controlled chaos, or as Patrick would say, “balagan,” as over 500 Americans descended on the check in area to begin their process of clearing security and staging at the boarding gate for our El Al flight home.

 I was exhausted and although the flight home would tax me, I was carrying memories with me to last a lifetime. I am deeply grateful to Chabad and JLI for the opportunity to see Israel through the eyes of spirit, not just the land.

 As the plane took off and the glimmering lights of Tel Aviv twinkled behind us, I looked toward home. I could not wait to share this with my friends.

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Sunday, March 10th was one of two days I was especially looking forward to in Israel—Masada! I had rested and medicated myself from sundown on Erev Shabbat to Sunday morning and although I was still, shall we say, rough, I would not have missed this for the world.

The usual Israeli breakfast, but today I enjoyed Shakshuka, a delicious egg dish and hot tea. I wasn’t really hungry, but I knew I would need the energy. Shakshuka is essentially a spicy, fresh tomato base over which eggs are gently dropped and then poached. I will be making this on weekend mornings! It’s low in calories and very healthful.

Then it was to the buses, headed for the Judean Desert, beautiful in its austerity, the hills a silvery landscape. At the entrance to the site, we boarded a cable car to ride up to this spectacular site. On the way up, you can still see the walls of two ancient Roman camps.

The Hasmoneans first built on this plateau in 42 CE. Twenty years later, Herod added a wall, water storage cisterns, and a beautiful palace. The paint on some of the walls of the palace is still visible.

Following the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE the Jewish Zealots continued their revolt against the Romans from Masada, making use of the water and food stores Herod had placed there. Rome sent the 10th Legion under Flavius Silva. They built a massive ramp up the side of Masada. On Erev Pesach (Passover), they breached the wall.

When they entered the fortress, they were greeted with silence. The Zealots decided they would rather die than live as slaves. To this day Masada inspires Jews to say, “Never again!” Israel’s armored corps under Moshe Dayan were all sworn in on the top of Masada with the final vow, “Masada shall never fall again!”

Many artifacts have been found there, including a synagogue that faces Jerusalem. Today a scribe makes the daily trek to Masada and works in a small room off of this synagogue on a Torah Scroll. A date seed found on the site was successfully germinated in the 1960’s!

After leaving the top of this amazing site, we lunched outside with a view of the plateau before heading out for the Dead Sea. I didn’t feel well enough to swim, but I did wade a bit and collected some salt at the edge of the water where salt crystals form. Most sea water is about 9% salt. Dead Sea water is about 30%. It’s beautiful there and across the sea you can see the hills that begin Syria.

After enjoying the sun and sea, we boarded the buses and headed back to Jerusalem to dress for the Gala Banquet.

The Gala Banquet was beautiful and had amazing entertainment. JLI left spared no expense. It was held at Binyenei HaUma, Jerusalem’s international convention center. The menu was exceptional, too.

It was a bittersweet celebration. Our adventure would be ending the next day. We boarded shuttles back to the David Citadel, thoughtful about the sadness of knowing we were leaving Eretz Israel.

Back at the hotel, I had to pack as we were checking out and boarding the buses the next morning after breakfast. So, with a thoughtful heart, I fell asleep in Jerusalem for the last night.

Israel Pictures 140

The menu for the Gala

The menu for the Gala

Israeli wine!

Israeli wine!

Another beautiful centerpiece with oil lamps

Another beautiful centerpiece with oil lamps

Centerpiece at the Gala

Centerpiece at the Gala

Dead Sea with Syria in the distance

Dead Sea with Syria in the distance

Dead Sea women's beach

Dead Sea women’s beach

Outside dining area at Masada

Outside dining area at Masada

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Wall in Herod's palace

Wall in Herod’s palace

Thermal bath in Herod's palace

Thermal bath in Herod’s palace

translucent stone windows in the thermal bath in Herod's palace

translucent stone windows in the thermal bath in Herod’s palace

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Mosaic floor

Mosaic floor

Wall in Herod's palace

Wall in Herod’s palace

Wall in Herod's palace

Wall in Herod’s palace

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Mikvah

Mikvah

Magnificent view!

Magnificent view!

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Ancient oil jar

Ancient oil jar

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Scribe working on a Torah scroll

Scribe working on a Torah scroll

Interior of the synagogue on Masada

Interior of the synagogue on Masada

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Outline of Roman camp near the base of Masada

Outline of Roman camp near the base of Masada

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Dead Sea in the distance

Dead Sea in the distance

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Day 5–Israel

Friday was a beautiful day in Israel. I awoke with a sore throat and soon realized I was hoarse. Still, I couldn’t miss out on this day.

Our terminal destination was Hebron, another of the Holy Cities in Israel. It’s holy for many reasons. It’s the site where Abraham settled and built an altar to HaShem, where the covenant of circumcision was made between HaShem and the Jewish people. It is in Hebron that the spies of Israel saw the huge fruits produced there.

The patriarchs and matriarchs are buried there: Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah.   That’s a long history for this city and the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, like many other cities in Israel, Jews have lived alongside Arabs peoples for centuries.   On Friday, August 23, 1929, Arabs armed with knives, axes, and pitchforks launched an attack on the 1,500 Jewish residents there, killing many men, women, and children. It took the British three days to intervene and evacuate the survivors.

In the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of Hebron without a single shot being fired. A brave Chabad artist, Baruch Nachshon, his wife, and three young children took residence there, establishing it as an Israeli settlement.

Bombed out residences attest to the ever fluid nature of the fragile peace in Israel. Arabs walk freely through the streets, an air of poverty permeated this example of a “divided” city.

However, on this day we were celebrating–a Torah scroll was being dedicated to the Chabad of Hebron! As the party and celebration wound through the streets, I was saddened by the waste of violence for no other reason than hate. How wonderful the land could be if the Arabs would realize they are destroying their own people.

By the time the Torah Scroll was up to the entrance to the Cave of Machpela, I was feeling really bad. My chest was burning and I knew I was getting bronchitis. During the larger group’s trek to the cave, I waited at a gift shop in the town and had the thrill of being able to treat three beautiful Jewish children to an ice cream on this Erev Shabbat.

Striking was a call to prayer over the loudspeaker for the Muslims in Hebron. It was loud and ten minutes early, no doubt to try and spoil our party, but no amount of pettiness could do that. The precious Word was and continues to be passed from generation to generation.

By the time we were back on the bus, I had to alert Shera, our coordinator, that I was ill. JLI was more than amazing. They arranged for an interpreter to escort me to an Israeli clinic on this late afternoon of Shabbat. After seeing the doctor, getting a chest xray, and an EKG, I had to pay—drum roll–$200! Yes, that was the entire bill. You couldn’t walk in the door of a clinic in the US for that. Socialized medicine has its merits. My interpreter found a pharmacy open at this late hour on a Friday afternoon. I got my medication and she got me safely  back to the hotel. They even brought me juice to my room!

By then, I was pretty sick. I medicated myself and fell into the bed, thankful it was Shabbat. At some time during the next 36 hours, Rabbi Halperin and his beautiful wife sent me a tray of salad, fruit, bread, and coffee. They checked on me as well. They are such precious people!   I would not leave my room until Sunday morning.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Day 4–Israel

Synagogue Door

Synagogue Door

Israel Pictures 092

Bar Mitzvah celebration

Bar Mitzvah celebration

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Amazing wall of wisteria

Amazing wall of wisteria

Israel Pictures 100 Israel Pictures 101 Israel Pictures 102 Israel Pictures 104 Israel Pictures 109 Israel Pictures 110 Israel Pictures 114Jerusalem, pronounced in Hebrew as ye-ru-sha-lime. It is called that because of it’s awe (yira’ah or “G-d will see”) and its completeness or perfection (shalem). And that it is. A complex, thriving, multi-cultural city where a frum Hassid stands next to a modern Israeli girl in a short skirt and no head covering and all is well with the world.

Israel Pictures 103

Ancient Mikvah

Conquered by King David in the 8th year of his reign (861 BCE), Jerusalem was originally built by King Solomon on the site of the binding of Isaac (1677 BCE). It is a spiritual epicenter drawing all that is holy there and emanating all that is holy from it.

We began this glorious day with a typical Israeli breakfast in the David Citadel Hotel (salads, cheeses, some egg dishes, and a few carbs). I was in heaven. Love that way of starting a new day. Soon we were loading up on the buses and heading towards the Jewish Quarter.

As we exited the buses, we were greeting with a musical party out front of the exit area, where a young man was starting his Bar Mitzvah celebration. Men were dancing around and on top of the van that was blasting music. The excitement was contagious and some of our group had to join them.

Soon we were on out way, however. Patrick walked us through the Jewish Quarter, showing us synagogues, various sections of the Cordo, and other sites along the way.

The Cordo is what remains of an ancient north-south artery that wound its way through the Roman-Byzantine Jerusalem and served as a marketplace (146 BCE to 1464 CE), a kind of ancient mall as it were. Much of this area has been unearthed in recent years revealing layers of the remains of those centuries.

Eventually, we stopped in a lovely courtyard and enjoyed the laughter and socializing.  Some bought the inevitable falafel for lunch. Others just enjoyed an ice-cream.

Eventually, we ended at the Jerusalem Archeological Park on the North side of the Temple Mount, on the slope of the Mount of Olives, and with the Kidron Valley bordering on the east. Large excavations have unearthed some impressive finds. During the temple period this would have been the site of those selling animals for sacrifice. Several mikvahs have been unearthed where those wishing atonement could take a cleansing bath before entering the temple.

Herodian stone is manifest everywhere. It’s unique style is evident when you see it on the different layers of the walls in this area of Jerusalem, even in the underground excavations.

Late in the afternoon, all of the groups met at the Western Wall. Words fail me in expressing how powerful that experience is/was. There is a holy energy there, a knowing that one is as close to the Divine as one can be on this planet. Certainly, part of it is the location, but I believe that part of it is because of the energy emanating there from all the souls seeking G-d. All I know is that I have waited a lifetime for that moment and it was and always will be one of the most special moments in my life.

Yes, I left a note in The Wall and I have no doubt that my prayers will be answered. After praying, I took a moment and peeked over the wall to the men’s area and took a couple of pictures.

For those that do not understand this “division,” it is because in Jewish thought, men are more carnal, easier distracted from spiritual things. Therefore, having women close by while they are praying is not conducive to deep meditation. So, the women pray on one side and the men another. This is also true in Orthodox synagogues.

Two of the photos are of a young Israeli and a frum gentleman praying side by side. Eventually, the young man walked away and I snapped a picture of the older man. There was something that touched my soul by him. Later, when I spoke to the rabbi about him, he told me that this man comes to the Kotel every day and he has some mental issues. It made the moment even more poignant for me—one lone soul, struggling with his humanity, seeking the Divine. I think the photo speaks for itself.

As the sun began to set, we all returned to the hotel. After a shower and changing into something suitable for the cooler evening, a group of about 8 folks from our bus headed to a dairy restaurant.  It was charming. The tables outside were lit with candles and the ambiance was perfect. We all ate an amazing meal, some having fish, others pasta, and I chose a grilled cheese with tomatoes and pesto with a killer salad on the side.

Then it was off to bed.  The last photo is a view from my room’s balcony.

 

 

Day 3: Israel

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Day 3 in Israel began with one of those remarkably healthy Israeli breakfasts, then off to the Golan Heights where Zvika Greengold spoke to the group as we overlooked the place where his tank battle took place. Zivka is a national hero in Israel who fought during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as an Israeli IDF tank commander. He is one of only eight people who fought in the war to be awarded the Medal of Valor, the nation’s highest medal for heroism.

 The Golan is a 38 mile long range that is beautiful in its nature but tragic in its history. Used to shell Israeli settlements, it was captured during the Six-Day War, which put a halt to the constant shelling.

 Since, Jewish settlements in the area have flourished and are producing agriculture, livestock, and dairies. As well archeological digs there have uncovered synagogues that date back thousands of years. Canaanite, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, and Marmeluke remains have also been found.

 We took a break at an olive oil factory (you can see the tanks in some of the photos) and then took an off-road jeep ride through areas still heavily mined by Syrian mines (not on the dirt road we followed). It’s a beautiful area. We saw migrating flamingoes there as well. Afterwards, we had the best falafel EVER!

 In the evening, we headed for Genesis Land, which is situated on a hillside in the heart of the Judean desert. Set up as Abraham’s camp, we got to try our hand at making flatbread on rocks, making bricks, herding sheep, practice our drumming skills (LOL) in a drum circle, and enjoy the ambiance of that beautiful desert view.   Some of the braver souls rode camels.  Afterwards, we were treated to a typical nomadic meal cooked in the way our patriarchs and matriarchs would have prepared and eaten it. Then, no Jewish gathering would be complete without dancing, music, and having a great party before heading up to Jerusalem.

After enjoying the ride up into the City of Gold, we checked in to the David Citadel Hotel (beautiful). I was most impressed by the HUGE soaking tub in my room and immediately filled it with hot, soapy water and ended a perfect day by relaxing there as I sipped a glass of Israeli wine. Blessed! Then off to bed and I slept like a baby.

Israel: Day 2

Day #1 ended with our check in at the Galilee Spa Hotel in the North, a wonderful reward for a long couple of days of travel. The balcony offered a view of the hills of Gallilee. I slept like a baby and the next morning was greeted by a breakfast buffet that is a typical Israeli breakfast: salads, cheeses, fruit, and some egg dishes. I wish Americans would adopt such healthy practices.

After breakfast we made our way up the hills into one of the Holy Cities of Israel—Tzfat (Safed). Archeological digs reveal dwellings there during the 2nd temple period. During the Spanish Inquisition, with an influx of displaced Jews, Tzfat grew and became a center for Torah study and Kabbalah.

 In Tzfat, we met an amazing carpenter who has spent his life work making incredible, symbolic wooden Judaica. I was unable to get photos, but you can read more about his work at: http://www.zissil.com/topics/Noah-Greenberg-Shtenders

 We then walked the beautiful city of Tzfat, it’s winding and narrow cobblestoned streets lined with shops of world class artists: glassblowing, weavers, painters, sculptors. On the way we stopped inside the Ari Sephardic Synagogue, originally built in the 14th century. One of the photos is a cupboard of prayerbooks, some centuries old. Beautiful and notice the blue, my favorite color. Kaballah incorporates colors, numbers, words, etc. into its practice and now I understand why blue is my favorite!

 I’ve included some pictures of the entrance to the Rabbi Yosef Karo Synagogue. A group of students were in the shul, so we didn’t go in. Several of the synagogues in Tzfat were damaged or destroyed during an earthquake in the1700’s but have been rebuilt and are lovely.

Out next stop in Tzfat was to the Otzar HaStam Museum. It was a treat to meet with a scribe (sofer) who uses calligraphy and animal skin parchment to create Torah scrolls today as they were when the Torah was transitioned from oral to written words. There are no erasers! A mistake must be scraped off of the hide or the scroll is ruined.

Afterwards, we lunched in the museum garden enjoying the view of the hillside of Tzfat. Then we were off to Kibbutz Misgav Am on the border of Lebanon where we met with some of the residents. Why do they stay? Because if they left, despite the danger and occasional conflict, Israel would eventually be run into the sea, which is still a goal of the radicals. So, we stay. Holding strong to the land that was purchased centuries ago and under any other land’s laws of ownership would never be questioned.

Then we were off once more to the shores of the Kinneret (aka Sea of Gallilee) where we tasted Isreali wine under the stars, enjoyed music and a fireworks display. Afterwards, many of the group on bus #8 went to Decks for dinner. Served family style, the food most of which is cooked over open coals was amazing! Thanks to Patrick, we had reservations! Of course, during the meal song broke out in a typical Chassidic style!

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Day 1: Israel

Beit Shean 8 Beit Shean 7 Beit Shean 6 Beit Shean 5 Beit Shean 4 Beit Shean 3 Beit Shean 2 Tank Museum Wall Tank Museum Tanks Tank Museum Fortress Tank Museum Flags Tank Museum 2 Kibbutz Einat 4 Kibbutz Einat 3 Kibbutz Einat 2 Kibbutz Einat 1 Beit Shean 4 Beit Shean 3 Beit Shean 2 Beit Shean 1Well, the trip is over. Eight incredible days of emotions: joy, pain, and perplexity. Especially perplexity as to why a people who has brought so much beauty, science, and humanity into the world can be still hated so much in the 21st century.

Arrival at Ben Gurion was organized chaos, or as Bus #8’s tour guide called it “balagan.” Finally, however, we were on the bus and on the move.

Our tour guide for bus #8 was Patrick Omar. He is/ was a wonder, full of historical facts about Israel and an amazing soul. He would have us laughing one moment and weeping the next. Born in Canada and even having spent some time living on Panama City Beach, FL, my childhood stomping grounds, he made aliyah to Israel eight years ago. He grew up as a cultural Jew, but anti-Semitism in his Canadian college drove him into the arms of HaShem, reawakening his Jewish soul. He now lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his lovely wife and four children (another on the way) and lives the life of an observant Jew.

So, once on the way, Bus #8 that would become my extended family and we headed for Latrun, which is a strategic overlook of the Ayalon Valley, where Joshua fought that battle against the Canaanites over 3000 years ago. Later, Judah the Maccabee would gather forces there against the Syrian-Greeks. It remains an important stronghold for any fight Israel may need in a battle for survival.

Ariel Sharon was wounded there during the War of Independence in 1948 and shaped the Israeli Army’s doctrine of “no soldier left behind.” It is now a memorial for the IDF’s armored division. A wall at the site lists the names of soldiers who have died there defending Israel.

Over lunch at Kibbutz Einat, we heard Dr. Rami Sagi speak. A pediatrician, he described Israel’s relief efforts in Haiti, including setting up a field NICU and L & D center during that terrible earthquake. We then traveled to the ruins at Beit Shean, another strategic site.

Originally, a Philistine city, Beit Shean has been sought after by the great civilizations of the Middle East: Philistines, Israelites, Greeks, Hasmoneans, Romans, and others. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 CE.