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The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel

Chapter 20:

Our First Anniversary in Israel: You are Wholeheartedly Invited!

July 15, 2004

Today marks the one-year anniversary of our arrival in the State of Israel.  Today marks the one-year anniversary of our becoming Israeli citizens.  And today, of course, marks the one-year anniversary of the fulfillment for us of what we believed was every Jew's historical dream and wish: the return to Zion.


With a score of other Chronicles from my wife, Sara, and me detailing our deepest feelings throughout the year, I'd like I detail how I spent the Fourth of July: the celebration of the independence of my birth-country, a wonderful land that has been a refuge for my family since the mid-1800s.


First thing that morning I learned from the Jerusalem Post of the death of Marlon Brando, a man whose life- arc ranged from indistinguishable struggling actor to the heights of fame to the depths of  ignominy and ridicule, far more legendary than his singular acting accomplishments.  I had always been interested in Brando.  In fact, those who visited my office in Burbank, or, more recently, my office in Jerusalem, cannot help but notice a huge frame poster of "The Godfather" movie hanging prominently at both entrances.


But, for me his greatest act was upon receiving the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Don Corleone in 1973.  On that night, rather than accept the Oscar, Brando sent a Native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to read a message about America's "shameful treatment" of her people.  On July 4, in his obituary, I read that the whole thing had been a scam and that Brando's "Indian" was actually an actress named Maria Cruz. To me, this staged melodrama, together with Brando's bizarre biography, served as a rude Fourth of July metaphor for so much of what we left behind in America.


An hour later, Sara and I saddled up the old Kia minivan en route to a lunch date with each other at the beautiful downtown restaurant called the Ticho House.  Sara had recently been taken there by a friend and insisted that it was worth the hassle of driving downtown.


Cognizant of the near impossibility of finding a parking spot in the area, we felt very fortunate to quickly hit upon an empty space almost directly across from the restaurant entrance.  It seemed too good to be true.  After maneuvering into the space, I saw we were directly in front of the office of some potential business partners.  I thought it might be nice to pop in and say hello, but thought better of my plan when I saw Sara's expression.  As luck would have it, though, and immediately upon dismounting, whom should I bump into but Mrs. Potential Business Partner.  We made quick introductions, and quicker goodbyes.  Then, almost as an afterthought, not trusting my parking karma, I asked a ubiquitous security guard if we were legally parked.  He strongly suggested we move the car unless we were in wheelchairs.  Having already been ticketed for a similar mistake six months earlier and hit with a fine of 500 shekels (about $120), I rapidly complied.  As we were pulling out, I noticed the Hebrew sign indicating that our erstwhile spot had actually been one of four reserved for the handicapped.  I was overjoyed to have been able to understand one Hebrew sign, even after the fact.


Two minutes later we found another choice spot on the other side of a nearby narrow alley next to a small building.  The adventure of turning around with trucks barreling down the alleyway, and other impatient drivers descending from five directions could fill a James Joyce novel, or at least a Samuel Beckett play.  The "Godot" version is that there were no signs indicating anything about parking, handicapped or otherwise, and, after feeling good about our second spot and withstanding approximately 1,500 horn honks, we again left the Kia and finally headed up the street for our date.

The restaurant is, indeed, beautiful.  We sat by that little tree on the left of the terrace and reminisced about our first year here.  We were giddy about the kids' speaking Hebrew, about the washing machine and the taxis and the car.  The handful of bombings that shook our home are devastating to recall, until putting them within the context of Israel's incredible current victory over terror.  Indeed, there is a good chance that we would have been far more reticent had we arrived a year -- and 40 bombings -- earlier.


After ordering stir-fry with tofu (fake chicken), I looked up and was oh-so-pleasantly surprised to see, of all people, the octogenarian rabbi and his wife from my childhood in Portland, Josh and Goldie Stampfer.  The last time they were in town, six months earlier, they had graciously called to see me.  But I didn't have enough courage then to maneuver up to East Jerusalem where they were hanging out, and I was also eager to have them visit us, so proud to have a home in Israel to show them.  Six months earlier, the evening after I had reject their suggestion to visit them, I explained my conversation, through e-mail, to my very dear childhood friend, Tom Fields-Meyer, who also grew up with me at Congregation Neveh Shalom.  Tom, now an associate editor of People Magazine, forcefully suggested that I would never have made it to Israel had it not been for the Stampfers instilling Zionism in me at a young age.  Tom also insisted that I should hustle over the Green Line to pay a respectful visit.  By that time, however, it was too late because they were leaving (and probably a little fed up with me).  But this time at the restaurant, after schmoozing for 10 minutes and looking at pictures of their kids and grandkids, I promised to call and visit.  At Ulpan, my Hebrew class, one of the phrases that we repeated ad nauseam was:  


"If you promise, you must fulfill -- אם אתה מבטיח, אתה חייב לקיים"

[The Hebrew doesn't work on some browsers]


I fulfilled a few days later and we enjoyed a fabulous visit.  I capped off the visit by showing them my Jerusalem driving prowess, dropping them off downtown so they could visit another friend of theirs.  Tom was right.


The Stampfer went back to their table with their lunch guests, and Sara and I enjoyed a fabulous meal.  After, Sara and I walked to the car.  On the way, I jested to Sara, "Do you think the car will still be there?"  She giggled nervously.  It wasn't; we had experienced her first -- and of all the last -- bout with "the vanishing Israeli car".  Looking around for witnesses, we asked some nearby workers if they had any idea what had happened.  These people who could never have afforded a minivan said nonchalantly that one of those little trucks that trolls around the city and enjoys lifting cars off their spots had had its way with our minivan.  I asked if they knew where the car had been taken.  "Up the street."  Having been told by the fellows in the alley that it would cost about 500 shekels to ransom our vehicle, semi-calmly, yet very unsure of ourselves, we walked up the street, past the restaurant, in search of our vehicle.  Sara and I shook our heads, convinced that there had been no sign.  Really.  


Sure enough, a block away was the tow lot with our car, which we spotted immediately and which seemed far more serene sitting quietly at the top of the lot than were we.  Sara spoke to a head man who was, thoughtfully, behind the cashier's cage.  As they handed us a bill for 125 shekels' worth of towing and a ticket for another hundred shekels for our stupidity, we were assured that "no parking" signs had been posted.  As a dug in my pocket for what appears to be Monopoly money to Americans, I was somewhat gratified that the tow park had been so close and that the bill was a quarter of what it would have been in America.  Sara was, though, really wanted to see the sign.  So, while I climbed up a lot to the car, she returned to the alley to investigate.  Then she returned then back up to the cage to reveal her findings.  The cashier suggested she write a letter -- in Hebrew -- complaining.  I suggested to Sara that it was a fine 350-shekel lunch.


Still feeling somewhat violated, we then picked up our five-year-old son, Yehuda, from his day camp, and went home.  I asked Yehuda, who seemed very tired from a long day of painting stones, if he wanted to take a nap -- which is not his favorite activity.  He said no.  But I prevailed upon Yehuda and, for the first time in months, he indulged me in two of my favorite activities: sleeping and watching him sleep.


After our nap I prepared to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) for Mincha (the 10 minute the afternoon service), which is my habit before my twice weekly evening Ulpan.  As soon as Sara arrived home with our daughter, Batya, from a different day camp (different stones), I departed to scout my third parking spot of the day.  Having learned, from receiving at least five tickets, the right places to park near the Kotel, I again, (rightfully this time), felt blessed to find a near-perfect spot.  After walking to the Kotel plaza entrance, I passed through security, washed my hands at a washing station, and immediately found a group that was beginning the service.  At one point, a Chassid from a faraway town whom I had picked up hitchhiking the week before, walked past and gave me a big smile.  When the Mincha was over, I bumped into another rabbi acquaintance from Los Angeles, who chatted me up for a few minutes.  On the way out, I was gratified to see busloads of euphoric Americans spending their Fourth of July at the holiest spot in the universe.


On my way up to the car, as has become my ritual, I deprived the City of Jerusalem of hundreds of dollars in fines by alerting would-be parkers that they were 100 meters from free parking.  Then there was, near my car, the lonely site of a daring teenage Arab boy who was risking life and limb as notoriously harried Israeli bus drivers shot past him while he attempted to shove large flat stones under the front wheel of a sedan driven by an Orthodox Jew who had somehow stranded his car atop a one-foot-high barrier.  As I approached the helpless pair, the futility of trying to drive the wheel down was apparent.  I watched for a moment while a young man goodheartedly tried to rescue the driver by attempting to provide traction to the front-wheel-drive car.  Unfortunately, each time the man gunned his the engine, all that was produced was a lot of rubbery smelling smoke.  I approached the car and opened the passenger door.  I asked the man if he was a tourist.  He sheepishly nodded.  I asked if this was a rental car; same response.  Finally, were that forlorn-looking lady and four young girls on the sidewalk his family?  More sheepishness.  I told the panicked tourist to relax and that Hertz would never know the difference.  Then I motioned a strapping young Jewish bystander walking up the sidewalk over to help.  The new guy immediately walked to the back of the car with the other young man and they prepared to push the car uphill off the slab.  Instead, I motioned them to take positions on the fender just in front of the tire.  They were totally confused by my instruction.  Nevertheless, as we three pushed once cross-vector and the driver gunned his engine, the vehicle successfully landed on all fours.  Off to Ulpan I went, feeling good about finally using my high school physics, where again I found a great parking space.  It had been my semi-lucky day!


I've had the same Ulpan teacher for the majority of my year in Israel.  Her name is Orna, head teacher at my Ulpan program, Nurse Ratchet on ProzacParaphrasing the old saw, I could listen to Orna read the phone book and enjoy learning Hebrew from it.  She is among the finest teachers of any kind that has ever entered my life.  She drilled us for about 45 minutes into twilight when I realized that, at the moment in a previous lifetime when I would have been enjoying fabulous fireworks streaking across the vast American sky, I was digesting my 300th Hebrew verb since starting Ulpan in September.


After class I attended a one-year anniversary party for the Aliyah of the woman who wrote the two articles about me in Haaretz Newspaper.  Although many cakes and other goodies abounded, I dutifully attacked the cut veggies.  The guest of honor introduced me, with cherry tomato seeds trying to mess up my seldom worn white shirt, to her friends as a very special American who also had just made Aliyah.  I felt honored.


On the Fourth of July I did feel celebratory, and I do again today on the one-year anniversary of our Aliyah.  I feel blessed.  I feel invigorated.  Life here is fulfilling and electric.  Not only do I have no idea which movie won the "best picture" Oscar this year, but I also couldn't care less.  I did not watch even a minute of basketball this year.  But I've never felt so fulfilled.  And I am gratified to have been able to share my feelings with so many of you who have not yet joined us.


Click Here for the real ending.


So, if I may, from now on I urge you, each time you pray for us here in the Promised Land, and each time you pray for the fulfillment of all of our dreams, including a vibrant Jewish People, also think about the concept of the rubber hitting the road.  Think about the futility of pushing 4,000 pounds uphill on cement, as opposed to a simple cross-vector shove.  No, here in the State of Israel we are no longer draining malarial swamps and splitting stones with chisels.  We have DSL, malls, "American" toilet paper, coffee houses...and we have each other.  The only thing we are missing is you.



Anyway, thanks for reading between the lines this far.


I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.


As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so please get me the e-mail addresses of people whom you want to add.  (Let them know ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the spam police).


Please stay tuned for Chapter 20: “The Dentist.”


All the best,


Rich Brownstein

PO Box 8130

91081 Jerusalem


Phone: (310) 597-4230 (Free From America)

Phone: 011-972-2-6733-491




No tires were harmed in this story.

All characters and events are purely fictional.

If you want to add someone to this list, or remove yourself, just e-mail and let him know.  He's cool about it.  Honest.  I know him.

Please freely distribute to those with too much time on their hands.  




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