Now that I'm back, I've decided to celebrate the fact by promptly falling sick. I went in to school yesterday, managed to make it through my three teaching lessons and lunch break and promptly came home.
I've spent the day at home, sleeping, catching up on some school stuff and generally feeling pretty grotty. I didn't think that when I developed that sore throat in the middle last week, I'd be ending up at home. Still, I suppose my colleagues would rather that than having me share my malady with them.
I still can't get over how much I achieved during my trip.
Last Wednesday, we took a taxi directly from our British friends' flat in Netanya to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. After a lengthy time pouring my heart out to the Kotel - which was the first time I'd put tefillin on in that location since my barmitzvah - we took the fascinating tour through the Western Wall tunnels which run the length of the Wall, all the way, deep into the Muslim Quarter.
It is absolutely amazing to see how much of the Wall still stands and I think quite miraculous that we have the ability to witness this incredible part of our history. Walking on the very same Herodian steps that our ancestors feet touched all those millenia ago is quite breathtaking and thought provoking. I would say that a visit to the tunnels is an absolute must when you go to the Wall - but make sure book in advance, so beware of turning up and expecting to get in - it is very popular.
We came out of the tunnel through the exit on the Via Dolorosa and had to be escorted back to the Jewish quarter by armed guards at the front and rear of the group. I still don't know who frightened me more, the bemused Arabs or the scary looking Ethiopian with the gun/rifle at his disposal.
When we reached the checkpoint by the entrance to the tunnel that led back to the Kotel plaza, we turned to the right and entered an amazing restaurant that has been built inside a deep arch. It is called Tony's Between The Arches Cafe ( The dairy food was wonderful (I had pizza of course), but even more memorable were the tables which consisted of a hollow base covered with a round glass. Under the glass, and sitting in a bowl at the top of each hollow, there were numerous archaeological finds, such as oil lamps and suchlike.
Having had our meal, we made our way back to the Kotel and split up. I wanted to visit the Temple Institute, a fascinating living museum that has been created to house an ongoing collection of Temple vessels that are being built for use when the Third Temple arrives.
For over twenty years, the people at the Institute have painstakingly reconstructed over seventy different objects, ranging from numerous silver trumpets (chatzozerot) to the incense burners, for the sole purpose of having them ready in time for the coming of the Messiah. They are getting their measurements directly from the Torah and so these objects are all authentic and at times, quite incredible to look at. If you are interested in seeing their creations, have a look here.
Here is a photo of Michal in front of the reconstructed golden menorah:
Having spent an undisclosed amount of money on some beautiful books, I took Michal around the exhibit. Of particular interest was a life sized model of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) dressed in his full garb. Michal had been learning about this only the previous week, as it was described in the Parasha (Torah portion of the week) of Terumah. I couldn't have picked a more appropriate time to visit.
Time was at a premium and so we had to rush through the exhibits, which was a real shame...but our taxi was waiting to take us back to Netanya.
Both driving from and to Jerusalem on Route 6 afforded us a chance to see the separation barrier. I know that this is a pretty controversial issue but as I looked at the concrete aberration, I continuously kept in mind the fact that since this barrier has been erected, suicide bombings have virtually disappeared from Israel's streets. I know that we have recently experienced such a pigua (an attack) in Dimona as well as the one which rocked Eilat last year - but these are thankfully exceptions to the norm. I only wish the Government had thought of the idea before so many innocent lives were lost at the start of the decade. This has indeed been a painful lesson for both Israel and her supporters.
We spent Thursday morning shopping around Netanya, a lovely little "hick" town as my friend G likes to call it. At times, I wondered if I hadn't wandered into petit France as precious little Hebrew was heard. I didn't mind, granted that I am pretty fluent in French, it being my mother-tongue.
I was also surprised as to how advanced my Hebrew has become. I found myself conducting detailed conversations in Hebrew to taxi drivers (who always have an opinion about everything!) and shopkeepers. I felt very much at home in Israel, not least because I could communicate with the locals in their own language, unafraid to make mistakes or hide behind the English touristy thing. I felt confident enough to chat with them in their own tongue, which is a feeling that I can't remember experiencing in the past.
Thursday evening was spent at our friend's beautiful wedding in Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, which is near Hadera. The wedding ceremony itself was particularly memorable, not least because we were blessed with a Chazan (Cantor) who could have doubled up as a Chassidic/Sephardi pop star. I don't ever remember dancing during a chupah (wedding ceremony) before, but when he got into his stride, singing Shabchi Yerushalayim, I had to hold myself back from letting go in front of all those guests!
The food was marvellous and both the bride and groom were radiant.
Michal and I spent Friday with a friend of mine whom I had met over twenty years ago on Kibbutz Lavi. I had the opportunity to meet her charming husband and beautiful daughter and we reminisced and schmoozed on the beach in Herzliya, while our kids played on the sand. A lovely afternoon indeed.
If that weren't enough, we then took a taxi (which my friend's husband very kindly arranged)which took us to another friend's apartment in Raanana - a guy whom I've known since I was seven years old and hadn't seen in ten years. I met his lovely wife and gorgeous sons, one of whom is four, whilst the other is two (and a character if ever there was one). We spent a fabulous Shabbat and the icing on the cake was my friend very kindly inviting over a couple from England that I haven't seen in five years. The nicest Shabbat I've had in a very long time.
And then it was over. Six full days, spent with wonderful people and so many memories recalled and created at the same time. One couldn't ask for a better holiday, granted that we were missing the rest of the family. What a shame that they couldn't have shared our experiences!
Just thinking about this trip has made me feel better. I might be spluttering, but in my heart, I feel like a new person. I have re-established contact with old friends and family and in the age of email, it is heartening to know that our friendships can once again be restored, albeit in two dimensional screen-based fashion.
I can't wait to get back to Israel either. My heart has been renewed and refreshed.