The Calm before the Storm that Petered Out — Part 1

Part One – Where the Boars and the Hyraxes Play

If no one is going to show up for my Shabbat morning kiddush, well then, dangburn it, we’ll just have to pick ourselves up and have it elsewhere. That’s kind of an exaggeration for effect; we had planned weeks before to spend a few days with The Levines on their mountain top, where the boars and hyraxes play (knowing full well that by the following Shabbat in Ma’ale Adumim we’d be back to normal, the whisk(e)y would flow, the coffee would be poured, and the herring would be served).

To be on the safe side, even though we had just gotten our third COVID shot, on Monday, we went down to the parking lot under our mall to get tested (in and out in the blink of an eye – actually a swab up the nose). By Wednesday, we knew we were good to go; time to pack up, remembering to take the three bottles of rosé I had bought for them, the pound of Starburnt – I mean Starbucks – Sumatran coffee that Barbara had brought back from The States, and, last but not least, their copy of the new JSPCA calendar (photos of cats and dogs – no bathing suits required).

It’s a long ride up to Karmiel, well over three hours, most of it on the railroad, all of it with our masks firmly in place. And to make sure that everyone was paying attention – not an easy task in the Land of the Bible – there were railroad crews in their official yellow vests parading up and down the aisles keeping a vigilant eye out for those who would even contemplate letting their masks slip down below their nose.

We were certainly deserving of a good lunch after all that traveling. Fortunately, The Levines had something special in mind. There’s a new Italian restaurant that just opened up. (I know that’s redundant, but never mind.) In a flash we were headed to a relatively  new mall, where The Levines had never been, small and decidedly upscale. We passed a place with an Italian-sounding name. That’s not the place; definitely not kosher. We passed another place. That’s not it either. We turned the corner and walked to the end. Guesta. That’s it!

Holy moly! There’s something going on in Karmiel that’s hard to explain. Back in the old days, the attitude of the rabbinate was, Restaurants, what’s the matter, your wife can’t cook? (This actual conversation was described to me by a couple that used to live up there and then moved down to our area.) Later, the rabbis realized they could make some money to fund their yeshivas by begrudgingly giving kashrut certificates and asking (?) for donations. Has it finally occurred to them that having decent kosher restaurants is good for the community at-large – even if their Haredi base can’t afford to eat out? Or are they afraid of the growing influence of Tzohar, which does supervise a Japanese restaurant in town? For all I know, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

When we first started visiting The Levines, there was only one worthwhile place, Shani’s, which you’d want to frequent for a first-rate breakfast on a Fri. morning. The last few years, attention has shifted to Rene, more of a bistro, a fine place to have lunch. And now we’re up to Guesta. I’ve known for a while that there are some very fine kosher restaurants in Israel. I’ve seen the reviews, but how much you’d have to shell out for these dining experiences has always put a crimp on my enthusiasm. But

we were in a strip mall in Karmiel, not high atop a hotel in Tel Aviv overlooking the ocean, so maybe they needn’t be charging us an arm and a leg for the privilege of enjoying their cusine.

I’m not one for writing extensive restaurant reviews, but even if I were, there was a problem. On a good day, I can read a menu in Ivrit with the efficiency of a first-grader reading Dick and Jane, that is, one word at a time. But I had been on a train (as described above), and this, by definition, was not a good day. What should I have as an appetizer to go with the denis (that’s a kind of fish) that I ordered? What do you recommend?, I asked the fellow taking our order. (The point being that this was the kind of place where it made sense to ask the waitstaff for a recommendation.) Whatever they brought me – several round balls in a sauce – was delicious; whatever they brought everyone else was delicious, presented as you can see with STYLE. The person running the kitchen came over to make sure we were happy; the manager came over; the desert chef came over. The barista could have come over and would have gotten a favorable report about the coffee (not quite up to Brandon’s standards, but still…….) The upshot being, the meal was OTW (out of this world), but don’t ask me what we ate.

I knew I was eating fish…..

We needed to get back to chez Levine, to unpack, and for some of us to take a nap. Our friends had thoughtfully planned an evening’s entertainment for us, a performance of Scottish songs performed by a group they knew, one with a reputation developed over the years. For this, Richard drove over highways and through byways, arriving at a kibbutz somewhere in the Golan Heights, where even Waze was confused. We did, however, find our way to the right house, set up for a concert with lots of the ubiquitous white Keter chairs in the yard. I sized up immediately that our host (who was part of the band) was originally from Scotland. What other reason would there be for him wearing a kilt for the occasion? Or having a chart on the wall of the W.C. with the chronology of everyone who ever ruled that northern kingdom? At least he had several bottles of Scotch whisky as part of the copious refreshments – which I espied the way Shekhi will locate a random insect foolish enough to invade our domain.

Here’s the problem. The group’s lead singer died recently and unexpectedly, and they were trying to regroup with a new lead singer. It was probably better to perform in front of fellow kibbutzniks and assorted folkies from around the area than to go live at Jacobs Ladder. There they were, performing Loch Lomond, except that nobody was tasked with singing the melody. Let’s put some more Scotch in my plastic cup. There were other musicians who got up and performed. Fair enough, but when a local favorite, a six- year-old girl took the mic, it was time for Barbara and me to pick ourselves up and stand by the car. There are limits!

Friday is shopping day for The Levines. The four of us headed down to Karmiel and immediately divided into two teams, the two Barbaras off to purchase several inches of newspapers in two languages and a stack of bagels carefully kept out of sight in the back room of Roladin (for favored customers only). Richard and I commandeered a shopping cart and nonchalanted our way into a local Supersol, which, I might add, is about three times as large as our local version. I’m there to keep my eyes peeled for items of interest and to keep an eye on Richard, because Waze doesn’t work indoors. I should note that, while we get deliveries from Ben’s Organic Farm, Farm to Family, and Artzenu, and I roam the shuk for whatever else I need, The Levines get everything (except bagels, wine, and coffee) at this one mega-market. That’s a lot of maneuvering a shopping cart through a passel of end-of-the-week shoppers, all stuffing their carts and trying not to block the aisles with limited success.

Later that afternoon, Richard fired up his grill and commenced his get-ready-for-Shabbat cooking. (Is something burning? I think you’d better check the salmon.) And then the sun began to set over the mountains to the west; time to light the candles, start opening the wine, and decompress. We will have a full day to eat, drink, and pontificate. What could be better?

We had decided to head back on Mon., so Sun. would be our only full day to recreate. Off to the Adir Winery, whose visitors center is in the Dalton (pronounced Dal-TON) industrial area, somewhere between Meron and Tzvat. (Side note: If you are driving along with a carful of kids, and you want to keep them occupied, ask them to count how many different ways ‘Tzvat’ or ‘Safed’ is spelled on the road signs. You’d be amazed.)

There we were, sitting on a veranda, enjoying a fine dairy lunch. (Adir also produces high-quality goat cheese.) But no wine! How can you go to a winery and not drink some wine? Simple. Mordechai, The Levines’ contact at the winery, was on vacation. He’s the person who calls Barbara L. from time to time, asking in vain if she would be willing to sell back to the winery the last remaining bottle on the planet of their 2010 blush port – proving once again that hope springs eternal. Had he been there, he would have taken care of us wine-wise, but he wasn’t, and we departed wine-less. I wish I could have given their coffee a high mark, but I can’t, and I won’t.

Fear not! We had no intention of returning to Har Halutz with our tails between our legs and a wine-less trunk. If you take this winding road and then that winding road and head up to a stone’s throw (or a rifle shot) of the Lebanese border, you might wind up at Har Galil winery, with some of their vineyards and their visitors center.

Visitors Center at the Har Galil Winery

Their offer is simple, and you don’t have to know the owner, the manager, or the waitstaff to be taken care of. 30NIS will get you a seat on the balcony, a glass, and a sampling of five of their wines provided thoughtfully and cheerfully. Unlike some other wineries, they don’t offer you their cheap stuff and hope you won’t notice the difference. Good thing, because we would have. The Levines, suitably impressed, left with a shopping cart filled with bottles. I hadn’t planned on buying anything to take back on the train, but….. The last wine the young lady served us, the best they had, the topper, the crème de la crème, was a 2018 Petit Verdot from Yiftach, their best vineyard. As The Levines were stocking up, I asked the same young lady about it. I see the 2019 in the rack over there, but what about the 2018 we were served? No problem. She took a box from another shelf, opened it, and placed it in front of me. It’s xxx shekels (as opposed to 80 shekels for the 2019). As some of you know, sticker shock is real. There may not be any sound made as your jaw is dropping, but you can feel the jingle-jangle in your cranium. You’re too embarrassed to say, HOW MUCH??? Maybe it’s that old saw, if you have to ask…

However, I had the absolutely best possible excuse to spend more than I should. We didn’t go to the swanky hotel in Tel Aviv (which had been part of our original plan); think how much money we saved! So now I had all this extra money to spend on wine. All I need is a really special occasion to celebrate. I asked the fellow in charge how long could I keep the bottle in my wine fridge before it lost its luster. Usually about ten years from when it’s bottled. OK. 2018+10. Then I thought of a better question: in 2028, would I still be ‘good?’ Maybe that’s something I should consider as we make our way to Rosh Hashana.

(As this is part 1, you may expect part 2 in the foreseeable future. I know you can hardly wait.)

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