For just a moment, let’s forget about “Next year in Jerusalem,” and let’s dwell on the experience of “This week in Jerusalem.”
It is a new experience for us to be in Israel at this time of year, two weeks after Purim and two weeks prior to Pesach. Over the years, I’d grown accustomed to seeing displays of Chanukah menorahs on lawns and in store windows as that is one of my usual times of year here.
This time, the display cases are dotted with silver Seder plates, matzah boxes, and other Pesach-related accoutrements. Yet this time period represents somewhat of a lull in the usual fierce hubbub of activity on the streets of this perfect, great, and holy city.
So here is observation number one: people who are visiting here at this time of year are here for a specific purpose, like we are. We came to observe the yahrzeit of my mother and my wife’s father.
Otherwise, the New York population looks somewhat sparse here. Back in the States, it is spring break and the streets here are overflowing with college kids enjoying the magic of Jerusalem and all of Israel.
Here’s another observation: for the first time in a few years, we did not fly El Al to Israel. We tried the 787 Dreamliner over Chanukah, which required us to travel to Newark Airport as the 787 does not yet depart from JFK; that is scheduled to begin this summer.
Our efficient travel agent, our son Dovi, booked us on Swiss Air from JFK to Zurich; we had a brief stopover, and then continued on to Tel Aviv, also on Swiss Air. We landed in Zurich last Wednesday at about 7 a.m. The airport there is quite expansive, with a train system that takes you from one gate to another.
The flight from Zurich was scheduled for 9:45 a.m. so there was plenty of time to daven. As it turned out, we were only seven men with our tallis and tefllin so the hoped for Swiss airport minyan did not materialize.
The scene reminded me of the well-known Chabad chassid Reb Mendel Futerfas who sacrificed a great deal to keep the flame of Torah lit and alive under the extreme oppressiveness of the Soviet Union for many decades.
When Reb Mendel finally was allowed to leave the Soviet Union and arrived in Brooklyn, he had many harrowing tales to tell about some of the extraordinary sacrifices he made during those very difficult years. One was about his arrest in the middle of the night when he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and placed on a train for a long ride to exile in Siberia.
While living in New York, he was once asked what his reaction was after a 36 hour train ride while blindfolded, to which he responded that when he finally arrived in Siberia they removed the blindfold. “I looked around,” Reb Mendel was reported to have responded, “and it looked like it was time for Mincha, so I davened Mincha.”
I thought about that episode though the circumstances were dramatically different. We were in the Zurich airport. The sun was coming up and it looked like it was time for Shacharis, so we davened Shacharis.
Traveling with an airline other than El Al presents a few challenges. First, there is the matter of the food. You can pretty much rest assured that everything served on El Al is kosher, though if that is not sufficient you can always order the super-kosher mehadrin meal which is double or triple wrapped and can only be opened by you.
On Swiss Air, you have to assume that whatever they are serving — except for the kosher meal that you ordered — is not kosher. For example, there are the Lindt Chocolates manufactured right there in Switzerland, which is known for its superior chocolate products. I took the time to examine all the Lindt paperwork that came with the boxes of chocolate but there was no indication that we were dealing with a kosher product.
The kosher meal on Swiss Air comes from Shalom Caterers in Glattbrugg. A quick Google check told me that Glattbrugg is a canton near Zurich. The Glattbrugg is a bridge that was built over a river named Glatt. Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Isn’t it curious that the glatt kosher caterer that supplies the food for some European airlines is near a river named Glatt?
There is a note to consumers that accompanies the meal and it includes some advisories that are really not necessary on El Al. One of those instructions is a warning about being mindful of the interval between the meal that features a meat main course and the cheeses they might be serving in the morning. There is also a warning that if the aluminum foil covering of the heated portion of the meal is pierced, the meal can no longer be considered kosher.
That said, the meals were pretty good, though I did not eat the brisket which was served at 3:00 a.m. on my body clock. I thought that these meals, prepared in Switzerland, were more tightly wrapped than the mehadrin meals you can get on El Al or on other airlines.
The curious thing here was that it was almost impossible to break into the thick plastic covering without something to pierce its exterior, and the utensils — the fork and the knife — were inside the plastic covering so those could not be used to perform that particular task. Anyway, as you probably guessed, we did manage to break into our meals and they were quite good. So all’s well that both tastes and ends well.
Here on the ground, the streets are hardly empty, but with yom tov just over a week away, there is an anticipation that any day the throngs will be arriving. One can sense what is happening in the country from the men on the streets — the taxi drivers.
Some complained and others said that they were looking forward to the crowds. “Right now before the chag, the streets are already jammed around the clock,” said Ami, a friendly cab driver who used to live in Brooklyn. “I can tell you this — there is not a hotel room to be found in Jerusalem. I don’t know how the cars are going to move.”
For my part, I gave up driving in Jerusalem a few years ago. The traffic situation has gotten much worse since then, but once I found myself circling street blocks endlessly when I was staying in an apartment near the center of the city and looking for a parking space, it was too much like New York, and enough was enough.
Construction in Jerusalem is at an all-time high. Highrise residential buildings are going up at a record pace. On top of the city’s general popularity, the move of the U.S. Embassy along with perhaps as many as a dozen additional embassies over the next year means that an increasing number of places to live will be needed.
So where is Jerusalem going to put all those thousands of people? Well, perhaps David Ben Gurion said it best when he said, “In Israel, anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.”
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