Sderot Redux (Part 4)

On trips of this kind, it’s almost always we, the AACI-ers, who board the bus and head off to where the people we are going to meet happen to be. Except in the evening after dinner, when our featured speakers come to where we are staying to delight us with their well-chosen words. With one slight wrinkle. I mentioned that on this trip we had two busloads of folks, and we were staying at different hotels. Our group had to get back on the bus to go the few minutes to the Harlington Hotel, more of a ‘business hotel,’ which has conference rooms that could accommodate all 80+ of us. Each night we heard a different speaker, each from a very different background, but who wound up doing very similar things, under the radar that the media use to decide who is important and who is not. Neither of them had much to say about themselves and a lot of about what they were doing. (Maybe that’s why they remain under the radar.) Continue reading

Sderot Redux (Part 3)

Should you find yourself on a future AACI Study Trip, be forewarned that you will be asked (and reminded, but in a nice way) to fill out the evaluation form and rate 1) how well the trip was run; 2) all about the accommodations –the service, the food; 3) how good was the guide; 4) every place on the itinerary. No surprise, people don’t always agree. But to get a division of the house, yea or nay, that’s rare.

We had started out the next day (that’s Wed., if you’re keeping track) and made our first stop at the Sderot Media Center, a place that engendered opposing feelings by those of us on the trip. To be fair, its director and guiding light, Noam Bedein, was not around, and the task of explaining what is going on there was left to another young man. Maybe he just wasn’t up to the task. Dov did tell us about his own experiences: how the rocket attacks in recent years put a complete kibosh on his plans to do graduate work at the university in Beersheva, as well as wreaked havoc on his bronchial system. His take on the current situation was markedly different from what we heard from many of the other folks we talked with. Continue reading

Sderot Redux (Part 2)

Since we’ve been living in The Land, we’ve become accustomed to seeing the cranes just about every day. No, not as in The Cranes Are Flying or as in the migratory birds that come and go our way every spring and fall. I mean the large pieces of machinery needed to erect high-rise buildings. The ones you see in Jerusalem. The ones you see in Tel Aviv. The ones we kept seeing in Ashkelon as our tour bus left the city in the morning and came back in the late afternoon. What I didn’t expect to see (and I suspect I wasn’t alone in that) was the evidence of their presence in Sderot, that battered community. But, sure enough, as we entered from the south, there, for all to see, were a row of high-rise buildings, clearly constructed in the last few years, right smack-dab in the line of fire of the missiles from Gaza. I think we all had the same questions, directed at all and sundry of the locals we met on our trip. What are you doing? Why are you here? Isn’t it kind of dangerous in these parts? Continue reading

Sderot Redux

Where we left off, Barbara and I were on an AACI-sponsored cruise on the good ship Crown Iris, which was heading up the coast of Italy on its way to Venice. What happened next was something unheard of. The two of us were whisked away on a virtual helicopter (!) and moved ahead in time from Oct. 27 to Dec. 9, to allow us to join another AACI activity, one of their Study Trips, this one focusing on the beleaguered community of the Sderot and surrounding area. (We were assured that once this four-day trip was over, we would be returned to the Crown Iris by the same virtual helicopter (!) in plenty of time to land at the Pearl of the Adriatic. No worries.) Continue reading

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (part 3)

After a day and a half at sea, it’s always good to see land. We had docked at Souda, a port city in Chania, a district of Crete, and we were eager to start exploring. I should say right off the bat that this was not our most successful day, part of which was out of our control. The Greek government, in its efforts to provide maximum security for tourists arriving from Israel, made us wait forty-five minutes before allowing the many tour buses – including our two – to leave the port area – meaning no extra time at any of destinations. Plus, Stella, the local guide for our bus, was hardly stellar. But there was another problem that could and should have been avoided. On our last cruise, we were divided by mobility into three groups, each one on a separate bus with a different itinerary. This time, we were all lumped together on bus 1 or bus 2. Some of us were quite fit or reasonably fit, and some, let’s say, weren’t. So, the more fit folks were slowed down by the less fit, and the less fit were made to walk more than was reasonable, given their limitations. Plus, as in many cities, they don’t let buses park where the passengers need to go. Our buses had to park where it was allowed, and then we walked and walked….and walked. First, we went through a quasi-shuk-mall, where we would have liked to stop and browse, but no time. Next, to the port area and the Nautical Museum. I’m certain that anyone with a maritime bent would have found this place of great interest. But I come from a long, distinguished line of landlubbers. To me the best part of the museum was the restrooms. Continue reading

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (part 2)

One thing you can expect without fail on an AACI cruise is a scholar-in-residence. It might be a ‘scholar,’ as in college professor, but, more likely, it will be a rabbi (who might also be a scholar). Aharon Adler is a rabbi, a scholar, a musician, and a regular good guy. He also manages to get around. He leads groups to the Death Camps in Poland and can be found as a main attraction at some Israeli hotel over the various holidays. I’m sure he has a ‘trunkful’ of prepared talks, from which he can pick and choose the right ones for any occasion. But sometimes he’ll be asked a question that needs to be dealt with right then and there. I was Johnny-on-the-spot with a question about Birkat Cohanim (the priestly blessing), which he was more than willing to address and provide some much-needed clarification. If nothing else, I needed to know if I would be on-duty or off-duty as we sailed the wine-dark seas. Continue reading

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (Part 1)

So tell us all about your trip. So sayeth our well-meaning friends. Believe it or not, I have trouble dealing with that seemingly simple request. You expect me/us to encapsulate a twelve-day cruise – one in which we toured six ports of call in five countries – in the usual four minutes one is given before the conversation veers in another direction. That’s a tall order, my friends!

What I usually do is talk about the ship, Mano Line’s Crown Iris (the latest in a series all named Iris, after the wife of the current Mano), the vessel on which we sailed on ‘AACI’s Kosher Mediterranean & Adriatic Seas 12 Night Cruise.’ That I can do easily, well within the four minutes I know will be allotted to me. Start with this. Mano Lines is designed for Israelis, meaning that: The ship leaves from Haifa, so you don’t have to deal with Ben-Gurion Airport at 3AM. The cruises are relatively inexpensive – especially if you take an inside cabin (one without a window), which we didn’t. The accommodations are hardly deluxe, but the staff are well-trained and very helpful.

Most important, the food – served buffet style – is very good, with a lot of choices and variety from day to day, and that, as you might expect, is the main attraction. Barbara and I did something amazing. Neither of us gained any weight on the cruise; Barbara, because the desserts looked better than they tasted, me, because I was very, very disciplined, taking the smaller sized plate and never going back for seconds. Because I am my mother’s son, I have been trained to finish what’s on my plate. Many of our fellow passengers apparently did not have this kind of upbringing, or else they adopted an I-paid-for-it-so-it-doesn’t-matter attitude and put everything they saw on their plates, going back to the buffet for seconds in case they missed something the first time. Or they liked the pasta and French fries so much, they simply had to have another helping. And why not bring a heaping plateful of desserts back for the table? You get the idea. I’ll leave the post-cruise dieting to them, although for some of our fellow travelers, d-i-e-t is a four-letter word. Continue reading