Go North Old Man, Go North!

Between a rock and a hard place: That’s how it seemed to me. Barbara and I were planning our occasional visit up north to visit The Levines at Har Halutz, and normally, we would go the same way we always had. Head into Jerusalem, take the #480 bus to Tel Aviv, where we would get the train (more accurately, the trains) to Karmiel. But those-who-make-the-decisions had conspired against us (not just us, of course), forcing us to choose between two unpalatable alternatives.

It’s called The Gateway Project, a massive effort to develop the area near the western entrance to Jerusalem as a high-tech hub, with office buildings, hotels, shops, and an enlarged convention center in close proximity to the new railway station. The plan includes eliminating most of the street traffic in the area by re-routing cars entering the city from Route One directly onto the Begin Expressway and sending the outgoing traffic through a tunnel. While they’re at it, they’ll continue working on additional Light Rail lines.

How on earth do you do all this construction and road work at the same time? Simple. You shut down the whole area to most vehicular traffic for the next three years. There’s no way the project will be finished by then, this being Israel, but no one is going to say that out loud.

What does all this have to do with us? As you might imagine, traffic going in and out of Jerusalem has become a disaster, at least so we’re told, therefore a bus ride to or from Tel Aviv might take twice as long as it used to, and being stuck interminably on an Egged bus is hardly my idea of a fun way to while away the hours.

We could always have taken the new train from Jerusalem to the airport and proceeded north from there, but until we’re convinced that the new line is as safe as it ought to be, we’ve been reluctant to try it. Maybe it’s time to get on board, or maybe we have no choice. There have been any number of delays and cancellations, but no major catastrophes. If I’m going to get stuck, I’d rather be on a train than a bus; at least there’s a toilet on the train.

And so, luggage in hand (and heart in throat), we descended on a recent Thursday morning into the depths of the Navon Station for the very first time. (For years, we had watched, first the digging of an enormous hole in the ground, eighty meters deep – which seemed to take forever – and then slowly, slowly the building going up. How did they manage to get away with constructing the only edifice in Jerusalem that’s not made of Jerusalem stone? It’s the only building of any size put up recently that’s not either B-O-R-I-N-G or downright ugly. Maybe, just maybe, the station, which looks as if it was built in the 21st century, will cause a rethinking of the Jerusalem stone uber alles mentality.) Down and down, one level, two levels, three levels to where the train was. Twenty-five minutes later we arrived safely (whew!) at Ben-Gurion Airport, where we boarded another train up to Kiryat Motzkin (a community near Haifa with a population of 40,000 – the same size as Ma’ale Adumim), and from there another train to Karmiel, where the Misgav Regional Transportation Committee (a/k/a Richard Levine) picked us up.

The original plan was for the four of us to head to a winery or two, but Richard was a bit under the weather, so we settled for lunch at Renee, which we were led to believe was a new kosher restaurant in town. In fact, it is a newly-kosher restaurant in town, which is not the same thing.

People often chide me for my over-emphasis on food related topics, but there’s a point (I hope) to all this. It’s not just yummy-in-the-tummy. One can often learn a lot about a community from the kind and quality of food it consumes. Renee is a large, well-regarded restaurant that has recently gone kosher, not, most likely, because the management has ‘seen the light,’ but for down-to-earth practical business considerations: i.e., we can do better in six days with a certificate than in seven days without. Karmiel, over the years, has seen a number of kosher establishments open and then bite the dust. (This is not to say that there aren’t the usual number of kosher pizza parlors and falafel joints.) I’ve been led to understand that the local Rabbinate is, shall we say, problematic, and the market for another quality eatery may or may not be there. Are we witnessing the beginning of a trend or a flash-in-the-pan? That, dear readers, will have to be determined. Let me add that we had a wonderful non-meat meal, served by a young lady with a fine grasp of our mother tongue.

Friday morning, Richard, feeling a good deal better, had to make his sortie back into ‘town’ to pick up the usual collection of weekend edition newspapers and a few other items. The two Barbaras and I hopped into the car with him for breakfast at Shani, the local branch of the eponymous café that started out in Haifa. The Levines are fairly regular customers, so we were greeted like royalty when we showed up and were fed accordingly. As we were leaving, Barbara L. asked me the $64,000 question: Renee (directly across the parking lot) or Shani – as in which one is better? Decisions, decisions…….. And my answer? Shani for breakfast and Renee for lunch! (In my next life, I’m going to be a member of the diplomatic corps. Either that or a mattress tester.)

You don’t go to Har Halutz for the excitement – unless, like some of us, tasting a wine you’ve never had before is your idea of excitement. The nightlife on this mountain top is pretty much restricted to listening to the wild boars rustling through the underbrush. But there are times when I am thrilled and delighted just to chill and let someone else, in this case, the Misgav Regional Cooking Committee, i.e., Richard, prepare the meals. All I have to do up at Har Halutz is hold up my end of the conversation. (I always come prepared with a shopping bag full of witty repartee.) And wouldn’t you know, the virtual minyan always arrives in Har Halutz on time for maariv, shacharit, and mincha. What a deal!

Other than that, there’s not a lot to say about a quiet Shabbat on top of the mountain: we had the requisite number of meals, including a proper amount of wine; found enough reading material to keep us occupied; assisted the Misgav Regional Dog-Walking Committee in exercising Boobie and Jameson; and even squeezed in the mandatory Shabbat afternoon nap. Lest I forget, Richard and I, as usual, found time motzei Shabbat for a decent pontification session, at which time we each present our version of how to solve the world’s problems – with no thanks from the powers-that-be or even our spouses. No, we were not exhausted from our labors, and a good thing too, because we had another trip planned for Sunday.

It was my wife’s idea: as long as we’re that close, maybe The Levines would be interested in driving up to Nahariya to visit our mutual friends the Andersons, who recently moved from Ma’ale Adumim to that northern city. Of course, The Levines, the most amiable of people, were more than willing to join us in this outing.

For Richard, visiting Nahariya was a case of déjà vu all over again. Years and years ago, when he had worked in the area, Nahariya was the Middle-Eastern equivalent of a one- horse town, and the lunch options were falafel with chips or falafel without chips. If you wanted coffee, you could have either ‘nes’ (Nescafe) or ‘bots’ (‘mud,’ Turkish coffee). How people survived on this kind of cuisine is anyone’s guess, but Israelis are known for being a tough breed.

Unfortunately, Richard has had more recent ‘opportunities’ to visit the area, having been rushed several times to the Nahariya Hospital (a/k/a the Western Galilee Medical Center). He is on a first-name basis with some of the nurses there, and, for a while, they were thinking of reserving him a seat in the emergency room. (Thankfully, his health issues seem to have been resolved.) The Levines are quick to point out that this facility has evolved to become one of the pre-eminent hospitals in the country under the leadership of Dr. Masad Barhoum, who has been the General Director since 2007. Nothing is perfect, but somehow the different ethnic groups seem to get along a lot better up North than they do in my part of The Land.

We could see the hospital, still expanding, from the current road, although the route under construction will send most of the traffic around it. Either way, Nahariya itself is only a few minutes away. Getting to the Anderson’s apartment on Ehad Ha’am Street, what with all the one-way traffic, was more problematic. What is helpful is that many of the buildings, like those in Tel Aviv and Karmiel, are built on ‘stilts,’ so one can park a car – even a big one like The Levine’s – under the living quarters.

Yehudit and Yitzchok gave us the ‘grand tour’ of their apartment, and then we sat down for a while to chat and nibble on some fruit – but not too much, because our itinerary included lunch. However, before we would decide on where to eat, we had to, HAD TO, take a walk along the tayelet, the promenade along the beach.

It’s easy to figure out why Nahariya has become a go-to place: it’s by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea….. From anywhere in the city, you can walk to the Mediterranean and admire the view. If there is anything in this word that is more soothing to one’s frayed nerves – without ingesting an artificial substance – than watching the waves lap against the shore, I’d like to know what it is. We have a great view from our apartment in Ma’ale Adumim, encompassing Jerusalem and Jordan, but there’s lots of sand to look at and very little water, and when the sand starts to lap against anything, that’s not something to look forward to.

Time for lunch! Yehudit had previously sent us links to a few kosher establishments in Nahariya, but, as I’m not on the Planning Committee, I didn’t bother looking at them. Let them decide. What’s great is that there are now actual choices; at least half of the establishments we passed along the way are kosher. We turned from the beach onto Ha Ga’aton Street and wound up at Sogo, an up-scale restaurant. Somebody out there might ask me for my definition of ‘up-scale.’ Hard to say, but when you’re in such a place, you know it. For example, if the restaurant has salt crystals and multi-colored pepper in grinders – and you don’t need to add either one to whatever you ordered, you might consider it ‘up-scale.’ (Unlike Renee in Karmiel, which had menus only in Hebrew, Sogo was prepared for an international crowd. They, like a lot of restaurants in Jerusalem, have their menus on tablets {Think iPad, not the Ten Commandments}. Select whatever language you want. And if the restaurant needs to change the menu, no problem. What a great idea! Do they have anything like this in The States?)

Nahariya is changing fast, whether one likes it or not. We noticed it on a previous visit a few years ago, a tiyul we were on with a Hebrew-speaking group from our community. (Needless to say, I left my shopping bag of witty repartee at home for that trip.) Lots of small private homes near the beach had been or were being torn down to build high-rise apartments. Unlike in parts of Jerusalem, people do live in these new dwellings, and not just two weeks a year, which may account for the booming restaurant business. It can’t be because of the tourists, for there’s no sign of the ubiquitous buses clogging up the main street and the side streets near the beach.

Time for us to go our separate ways. The Andersons walked the few blocks back to their apartment. If it weren’t for the luggage we had with us, we could have easily walked to the train station as well, but might as well get a ride with the Transportation Committee, on their way back to Har Halutz.

The train ride back was uneventful, the best kind of train ride there is. As we were walking through the Navon Station on our way home, I thought about something Barbara Levine had mentioned to us when we first arrived in Karmiel. I had noticed the construction work going on around the station and asked about it. When it was first opened to the public, there was a parking lot with room for about 700 cars, which by Day Two had the vehicular equivalent of SRO. They’re now building another lot AND a commercial building, a place where commuters can buy a magazine, a cup of coffee, drop their clothes off at a dry-cleaner, you get the idea. Why didn’t they think of that when they planned the Navon Station? We were walking through the concourse level at Navon, and there’s nothing there! Even if there were a hundred or two hundred people milling around, it would still seem empty, that’s how big it is. You could probably fit in a basketball court with room for a miniature golf course. What about a shoeshine stand? No self-respecting train station in The States is without one.

That’s just me thinking aloud. Someday, someone will figure out what to do with all the empty space in Navon. Someday, (may it be soon) the permanent electrical sub-station will be installed, making travel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a whole lot safer. Someday, all the railroads and Light Rail Lines in The Land will be completed, and we’ll be able to whiz around the country at the drop of a hat. Until then, traveling to visit our friends will remain an adventure. Go north, old man, go north!











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