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The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel 

Chapter 22: 

Family Road Trip -- Across the Pond

January 23, 2005




Just a few things current event to start:


It was reported by several sources that the tsunami that will probably end up costing at least a half a million lives was caused by Israel: "…official Palestinian television last week blamed Israel for the tsunami in southeast Asia, preached the destruction of Israel and the U.S..."; "could have been the result of joint American, Israeli and Indian underwater weapons testing, an Egyptian weekly and other Arab media charged."; and "In media commentaries and sermons, the tsunami is being blamed on the region’s favorite villains, starting with Israel and the United States, and on the sin of the nations ravaged by the disaster."  Keeping in mind that the tsunami-causing earthquake measured 9+ on the Richter scale, at least 5000 times more powerful than the $40 billion Northridge Earthquake, I think you can see that we are, indeed, a very powerful little nation.


I'm also taken by the recently completed "Palestinian elections".  If there is one man in Israel, indeed the world, whose word I trust implicitly, it is Natan Sharansky.  On January 6, 2005, three days before the election, Sharansky set the record straight concerning the difference between this election -- a one-party, Soviet style international show -- and free elections: "That monitors will probably declare these elections free of fraud should also not earn them a democratic imprimatur. Soviet elections were also free of fraud. There was simply only one party on the ballot."  And then, confirming fraud, a week after the election came the report that 46 of the top Palestinian election officials resigned because, "…pressures and threats lessened the degree of the integrity of the election…", as reported by Al-Jazeera.  Leave it to our Palestinian friends to recognize and speak out against oppression and injustice after having participated in it.  Of course, the cherry on the top of this creamy cupcake are the words of the antithesis of Natan Sharansky, former President pro-Arab Jimmy Carter, a man who never saw an enemy of Israel he didn't like or an Israeli Prime Minister who hadn't offered enough: "When asked if he was pleased with the elections process so far, he answered with a curt, "No." Carter spent the greater part of the morning trying to negotiate with the Israelis to allow Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem even if their names were somehow not on the list."  Way to keep your eye on the ball!


Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas speaks to his supporters at a campaign rally at the Khan Younis refugee camp southern Gaza Strip (news - web sites), January 4, 2005. Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Israel 'the Zionist enemy' for the first time on Tuesday after an Israeli tank killed seven Palestinian youths in a Gaza strawberry field. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters) Finally, as if anyone should be surprised, within days of international pressure, with massive numbers of Israeli tanks on the outskirts of Gaza poised to cleanse that cesspool of what Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen a.k.a.  Arafat II) referred to as "freedom fighters" against the "Zionist enemy", Mahmoud seems to have miraculously shut down Palestinian artillery fire into Israeli civilian communities with more ease than Betty Crocker could whip up a cake.  It makes one wonder who his predecessor really thought was being fooled.




Feature Presentation

It was near the end of Hanukkah.  My family and I had just returned from America the day before.  I was in the minivan on the way home with a load of groceries that pretty much fulfilled my wife's requests -- or as well as this husband could.  More from habit than need, I turned on the radio.  I could not figure out off the bat if it was Frank or Bing, but it ended up being Dean's "White Christmas".  I was still so jet-lagged that I was slow to take offense, and at least it was written by a Jew.  But when that winter blast ended soon enough, my discomfort lurched, like Hoffman on Olivier's dental chair, when, as I drove down my Jerusalem street, the next song was "Jingle Bells".  With no readily available, convenient, xenophobic excuse, I suddenly found myself having to contemplate how much of what we hoped we had left behind in America was relentlessly creeping into Israeli culture, just as good toilet paper and Duncan Hines (parve) cake mix had made their indelible marks.  But Christmas music in Jerusalem is a blazing red flag, a line in the sand crossed, a heretofore sacrosanct mental security barrier that I thought had been authorized by the UN in 1947, intended to protect me from cultural terrorism.  I had absolutely no idea yet how this was going to end, but I was certain of at least one thing: I had just experienced "a Chronicle moment"…


A few weeks earlier we had set out on our trip to America.  Because we were traveling to several cities and I am never sure which airline will go bankrupt next, I spent most of my accumulated United miles on this trip.  Unfortunately, United does not fly to Israel.  One of their partners, Air Canada, had no room for us.  Which meant relying on either Air Austria (not much of a choice and no seats either) or their only other partner that flies to Israel: Lufthansa, a.k.a. "Air Germany."


It was with a considerable amount of hesitation that I informed my wife, Sara, of our host airline.  After all the grief I had given to so many people for years about flying Lufthansa to Israel, I knew Sara would be more than a little amused at my predicament.  When the disbelief wore off, Sara and I started to get downright anxious about the prospect of hearing German for hours at a time, even more so for Sara as her first trip out of Israel would be on "that" airline -- laying over several hours in Frankfurt.


The night of departure, we arrived at Israel's brand-new Terminal Three so early that the security line had not even formed, not that there was anybody to check us anyway.  Eventually the security shift started and we got in line with a lot of evangelicals and very few Israelis.  My son, Yehuda, announced to everyone within earshot the entire itinerary of our trip.  "First we're going to Uncle Jeb.  He's in Baltimore.  He's my daddy's brother.  Aunt Jois will be there, too.  She's my daddy's sister.  She lives in Portland, but we're not going there.  We're going to see Bette and Noam and Ari and Elana, but we saw Elana a lot last year because she lived in Jerusalem and we saw Bette and Noam in the summer because Uncle Dudi is Israeli… Then we are going to New York.  We're going to see Cousin Joy and the Statue of Liberty.  Then we're going to Los Angeles to see Disneyland.  I used to live in Los Angeles, but now I live in Jerusalem.  I am an Israeli…"


Soon enough we squeezed into our coach-class row, my wife all giddy about how beautiful the Airbus A-330 was in comparison to the Boeing 777.  I think the thin air had gotten to her because, honestly, it simply sounded like gibberish to me, like insisting to me that Adidas is better than Nike.  Nonetheless, if it makes my Paris-born wife happy to believe that her heavily subsidized Euro-trash-bus can hold a candle to the sleek jumbo jet made in my Pacific Northwest, who am I to argue?



Mealtime came and, despite the thousands of calories we had already snacked on just for the fun of traveling, we were looking forward to that special moment when a Lufthansa flight attendant would announce, "Herr Brownstein: here is your kosher meal (that you ordered three months ago and verified a month ago and also four days ago)."  It didn't happen.  Of course, normally I would have leapt, like Bob Beamon, to the obvious conclusion that not having our kosher meals onboard German Airlines is a cut and dried case of anti-Semitism.  Call Marvin Heir, right?  No, not in this particular case.  With the flight originating from Tel Aviv, even Johnnie Cochran would have had a hard time using the race card.  On the other hand, the Lufthansa attendants were extraordinarily gracious -- almost too compassionate about the mishap.  In fact, in contrast to every American airline that has botched our meals, Lufthansa almost immediately took three complete sets of kosher meals out of reserve practically without missing a beat -- two of which we ate. 

We landed in Frankfurt for the three-hour layover. Without exaggeration, Frankfurt has the least comfortable airport I have ever been forced to hang out in.  Because we were early for the connection, we were actually barred from going to the gate, a first for me; the efficient German policy is to put 10,000 people in a duty-free area fighting for one chair.  It really sucked.  When our time finally came to go to the gate, Sara and I purposely readied our Israeli passports to show German security.  Not to be outdone, because Sara does not bare her head in public, our German friends hustled her off to a little booth where a woman removed Sara's hat and ran her fingers through my wife's hair just to be sure she wasn't stowing a bomb in there.  Yehuda and Batya were also frisked for the first times in their lives.


United had the honor of taking us from Frankfurt to D.C.  When we got to the check-in gate, I immediately sought to verify with The Friendly Skies that our pre-ordered kosher meals would be onboard.  Apparently not wanting to upstage their German counterpart, United had no record of the Brownsteins' request.  Nevertheless, United's representative said that he would make every effort to accommodate us, but cautioned that Frankfurt is not Tel Aviv or New York.  Duh.  Two hours later, with a belly full of kosher food, giddy in my spacious 777 with 12 bad movies to ignore, I wondered which was the greater trick: Lufthansa's having taken on a few extra kosher meals in Tel Aviv, or United's scrounging eight kosher meals (dinner and breakfast) within an hour in Germany.


About a day after leaving Israel we settled into my brother Jeb's Volvo and started the hour's journey northward the to family reunion with my sister Jois, a ride made longer by Thanksgiving traffic and near sleet.  As we were leaving the parking lot, heading toward the automated pay booth, a white van in front of us took considerable time deciding which lane would be fastest, apparently desperate to save 15 seconds.  Then, like Franco Harris finding a hole, he lurched four car lengths ahead to a pay station with only one car ahead of him.  My brother, no dummy, followed.  But Franco, quite surprisingly, could not seem to get into the end zone.  After a few minutes of considering what had gone wrong in the "red zone", I finally got out of the car to see if I could help punch it in.  In response to my offering him my services, Franco said in a Baltimore accent so thick that I could see crab cakes between his teeth, "Hang in there, Big Guy."  Patiently watching as he scurried around trying to find his dropped change, I offered again, to which Franco replied, "It'll just be one more second, Big Guy."  And true to his word, a moment later Franco burst through, spiking a crab cake on his way to I-95.  My sleepy wife noted that, had this been in Israel, every horn in the nation from every car that had ever busied an Israeli street would have been honking for the entire five-minute interlude.  It seemed that Sara was already enjoying her little vacation.  Three hours later, the day before Thanksgiving, we arrived at Jeb's house in the Baltimore suburbs, ready for a rest.


Thanksgiving was a superb family reunion, with not only Jeb's family and my sister Jois and her family from Portland (as noted by Yehuda), but with also my dear Auntie Helen from Seattle and her daughter Karen's family from Bethesda.  This also served as the official Brownstein Children's Eighth Annual Reunion.


The next night, Shabbat, was somewhat more subdued, with only 15 people, 30 short of the day before.  We gathered 'round the beautiful Shabbat table that Jeb's wife Cherie had set.  My brother Jeb -- the eldest of our generation including all of our first cousins – was to make Kiddush for the family.  Jeb took our great-great-grandfather Mesher's Kiddush cup, which had been handed down to Jeb through four generations, from eldest to eldest, and handed it to me, the youngest.  Thinking that he was asking me, ostensibly the most religiously observant member of our family, to make Kiddush for the family, I declined, cognizant that, among other things, any level of religious observance or Zionism that might be noticeable in me is a direct result of my brother's influence. In short, this was his cup and his Kiddush to make.


If I was ill-suited to make Kiddush for the family, I was a thousand times less equipped to deal with my brother's actual goal: to bequeath the cup, the greatest of Brownstein-Slifman-Mesher heirlooms… to me and my family.  I was dumbstruck, as were the rest of those present.  My brother, who is keenly aware of my reverence for our family traditions, was not surprised by my shock, especially without the slightest explanation from him as to why he would ignore the explicit instructions of four generations.  Jeb, my Zionist mentor, made it clear that in his opinion the cup belonged in Jerusalem with me.  After a few minutes of fussing, I reluctantly accepted his offer, with the proviso that I would only keep the cup for safekeeping until Jeb and Cherie occupy the Jerusalem apartment that they bought a year ago -- hopefully upon retirement, and soon.


We spent the lion's share of our Shabbat dinner reminiscing about our fraternal grandmother, our matriarch, Vera Brownstein, or "Dobbie" as we fondly called her, who died in her 90s, two weeks after my son, Yehuda, was born.  The tone for a reminiscence was set not only by Jeb's gesture, but also by the chicken and garlicky eggplant spread that he had prepared Dobbie-style, as she used to produce it every Shabbat before we all settled into a serious game of Scrabble.  Many of us spoke of our favorite recollections of Dobbie.  Jeb's daughter, Elana, surprised us by announcing that she had kept all of the eulogies from Dobbie's funeral six years earlier.  I encouraged Elana to fetch them, and she read them aloud.  Dobbie would have loved nearly everything about the evening.



A few days later, I went down to Washington to visit with one new friend and one old friend. 


Growing up in Portland, we were friendly with the family of Harold & Jackie Pollin.  Harold owned the Portland Airport Sheraton and, when I needed a job out of college, I put my shiny new Reed College liberal arts B.A. to use as a bartender at "Harold's", the Sheraton lounge.  This was one of many times my path crossed the Pollins'.  Always we were aware that Harold's older brother, Abe Pollin, was (as the kids say today) the bomb, owning such jewels as the Washington Wizards (then Baltimore Bullets) for over 40 years, the Washington Capitals, and the MCI Center.  Abe is now at least in his 80s and has recently become one of my heroes, not because of his NBA ownership or wealth, but because of his incredible generosity and support for Israel, which I discovered from reading an interview of him that my company transcribed for Aish HaTorah.  So I wrote him and asked if I could meet with him, just to say hello, and he graciously devoted a half hour to me in his conference room.  He was charming, frank, and warm.


Next stop in Washington was a visit with Henry Waxman, the most senior Jewish member of the House of Representatives and, more importantly, my good friend from the Old Country: Pico-Robertson.  Henry and his wife Janet had become friendly with my family over the past several years through their son Michael, and we had spent many a Shabbat together during their frequent trips to "the district" (Los Angeles). 


Although I had let the Waxmen know we were going to be in Baltimore, when plans for my immediate family to visit D.C. didn't materialize, I sort of let the whole D.C. thing slip, not wanting to bug Henry.  But Henry would have none of that, insisting that I come by his office for lunch. 


It was positively surreal watching, at the entrance of the Sam Rayburn Congressional Office Building, the security officer tunnel down into my laptop bag, into my tallit bag, and then into my tefillin bag, gawking at the bizarre boxes with straps.  Few times in my life have I been at a loss for words; this was one of them.  I just let her poke for a bit and try to decipher what she surely thought was either Arabic or hieroglyphics, until she was relatively certain that, whatever I had, it was inert and that I was relatively unsubversive.


Winding around the walls of Congress on my way to Henry's office, I finally arrived in a lobby replete with marvelous photos of Henry shaking hands with my childhood heroes, including Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.  I remembered attending a rally for HHH at the Portland Civic Auditorium when he was running against Nixon in '68.  I remembered making signs containing the triple-"H", and still have a campaign button.  I was six.  And anyone who knows anything about Soviet Jewish history knows that Washington State Senator Scoop Jackson was more responsible for liberating Soviet Jews than any other American, through his Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which limited US-Soviet trade because of their anti-Semitic emigration policy.  Further, given the precipitous decline in the number of socially conscious politicians like Humphrey, Jackson, and Waxman, this wall of photos seemed to be a blast from the never-to-be-reclaimed past, like hanging out with Jerry or Jimi.


The most prominent wall in Henry's private office featured a matrix of photos of him shaking hands with the most famous Israel-related leaders over the last 30 years, including many of our prime ministers.  I saw Moshe Dyan and Yitzhak Rabin and this king and that, a pantheon of greatness, mixed with missed opportunities.  One picture that caught my eye was taken during the Oslo signing celebrations at the White House and, regrettably, was of Henry with Yasser Arafat.  Knowing Henry as well as I do, I understood that the photo was as much a legacy of Henry's innate well of optimism as it was symbolic of a tragic mistake that ambushed the vast majority of us.  Having grandchildren who are sabras, having defended Israeli interests for 30 years on the floor of the House, behind closed committee doors, and in town meetings, Henry has pro-Israel credentials that are hard to exceed.  The only blemish on his record, it seemed to me, was his failure to throw that photo into the Potomac.


Making a mental note not to be the first one to cast stones, I accompanied Henry to the congressional cafeteria, where I hungrily searched for Danon yogurt and bags of chips, basically looking for anything that was certified as kosher, of which there wasn't much.  During my live-culture/high-fat munch, people come over to pay their respects to Henry, not thinking too much of interrupting our meal.


After lunch, upon returning to his office and catching up on the families and Beltway business, I replayed my mental note and proceeded to lay it on the line with Henry. I told him, "I can't leave this office, DC, or America, for that matter, until Arafat's stench has been removed from your wall."  Henry readily agreed, allowing me to take down the piece of dreck, and promising not to put it back up. He said he would substitute a photo of him with our current prime minister.


Upon my return to Israel I asked Henry if he minded my detailing this incident in my Chronicles, noting the significance of an Israeli immigrant removing the picture of a mass murderer from the wall of a United States congressman.  His gracious answer was, in part, "Feel free to report to the world that you helped me see that Arafat did not rate a photo on my wall.  It did not hang there as a sign of respect.  You convinced me that a more respectful use of the photo was not to display it at all. History will show that Arafat, rather than his photo, deserved to be hung, for the enormous human misery he brought to the Jewish and Palestinian people."  Thanks, Henry. 



That was it for Washington. Next, my family took a train up to New York.  After a brief whirl around Manhattan, a fabulous dinner with a bunch of old friends, and priceless hospitality at the home of Miriam and Avi Lazar, we were off to LA.  (Avi says he prints out my chronicles for his family only if his name is mentioned, so hello to all the Lazars.)


In Los Angeles we dined and visited with as many friends as time allowed.  Several people voiced displeasure about my chronicle that suggested starkly that all religious Jews should make aliyah.  A few asked why, if I had felt so strongly about it, hadn't I come in my 20s or 30s?  Others told me I had disregarded those who wish to make aliyah but had been advised against it by their rabbi for various reasons. Considering how inflammatory that chronicle had been, I was pleased by the reception we received -- although 95% of the goodwill directed at our family may actually have been because of my wife and kids!


The top priority for my children, after visiting their old school and friends, was Disneyland.  Still a few weeks before Christmas, the wife and I were reticent to plunge into what we thought might be Magic Christmas Kingdom.  However, nothing we ever imagined could approach the Christmas madness that we found at that world-famous theme park. 


We had been working with our children to have them overcome baseless fears and to grasp the developmental difference between pretend and reality.  (After paying entrance fees of $50 per adult and $40 per child, I had my own fears to overcome.) We wanted the children to understand that there is nothing to be scared of on the rides and to simply enjoy them.  (We forgot to tell them that only a few people per year are killed at Disneyland.)


The first ride was Pirates of the Caribbean.  The kids did great and the ride was exactly as I remembered it. Next came the Haunted House.  Everything that could be Christmasized had been Christmasized, from the elevator to the dining room to the ghosts.  That all this pandering was done by Michael Eisner and the rest of the "new" management was never far from the back of my mind.  As the day wore on, it became clear that Pirates of the Caribbean was just about the only ride in the park that had not been altered.  Even the Mad Tea Party teacup ride had been transformed into Santa's Little Goblet of Eggnog.


The day was capped off by Disney's typically spectacular fireworks show, which featured 10 minutes of orchestrated, synchronized Christmas music with 10 seconds of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel".  Ping-ponging between my ears was the question whether I would have been more uncomfortable had they not thrown this tiny bone to "our Jewish friends", or if, without the infinitesimal Hanukkah interlude, we would have walked away from the theme park complaining that there was not a shred of recognition that some non-Christians inhabit the planet, particularly in Southern California, except as caricatures in It's a Small World and the Jungle Cruise.


I made plans a few days later to have drinks at a sports bar with several of my long-term employees. The evening went along fairly well.  On a big-screen TV I was able to watch my beloved, mediocre Portland Trailblazers beat Seattle on a last-second three-point shot.  This was the first NBA basketball of any kind that I had seen since moving to Israel.


During the evening I mentioned to these dear, old friends -- many of whom I had employed for the majority of their adult lives and feel very paternal towards and who know me as well as anyone does, aside from Sara -- that I flew from Israel on Lufthansa.  The irony of Rich Brownstein patronizing a German airline is as conspicuous as my yarmulke to anybody who has spent any appreciable time with me.  So, imagine my surprise when a couple of my friends asked why Lufthansa was so strange for me.  Caught completely off guard, I answered, "Because everything about Germany makes me uncomfortable".  Seizing the moment, like starved inmates finally getting a chance to dig into a big steak, they said almost in unison, "But my parents are German and I have German cousins and it's not fair to group a nationality together because of something that happened generations ago and..."  Utterly blindsided, I tried to explain, as just one example, that hearing German for hours at a time is grating to me, like hearing a million babies wail.


During that difficult conversation my mind wandered to some classmates in my Jerusalem ulpan: two young Christian, German women.  Having had practically the same conversation with them before leaving, it would be quite an understatement to say that they fully and instantaneously recognized my discomfort concerning flying on their national airline.    There is not even the slightest question in their minds, as Christian Germans living in Israel, that many Jews rightfully harbor inexhaustible animosity towards Germany.  It is, as they have told me, part of the reason they came to Israel, generations removed from the Holocaust: to try, in their modest ways, to atone for the attempted genocide of their collective grandfathers. 


Back in the sports bar, even more than the day at Disneyland, my friends' anger toward my core angst was another sure sign that home was 10 time zones to the east.


I ended the conversation with a fleeting attempt to fully explain my feelings.  Ultimately they agreed that, had my parents or grandparents died in the Holocaust, I would then be "entitled" to my aversion to all things German.  But I failed to make the two key points to my American friends that would have made them understand, points that my German classmates internalized long ago: it is simply a historical fluke that my family emigrated from the killing grounds before the war and, although I did not have immediate relatives who were slaughtered by the Germans, those who were killed were every bit my collective grandparents.  The Blazers won; I lost.



The morning of our return flights from America started at 4 a.m.  We arrived at Dulles that evening only to learn that the plane to Frankfurt that would connect to Tel Aviv had been delayed by four hours because of an in-flight heart attack.  The Lufthansa terminal attendant said there was nothing to do but hope to make our connection -- which was scheduled to take off 30 minutes before our delayed flight was rescheduled to land.  I suggested that perhaps we should seek an alternative like, for instance, her supervisor.  Greta, the super, was standing nearby, dealing with another Israeli who was similarly unimpressed with the ridiculous alternative presented. Greta, the super, showed why she is super, not only by giving us $40 worth of food vouchers for our four-hour wait, but, much more importantly, rebooking our return from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv on a flight leaving two hours after our arrival, on El Al.  You have no idea how ecstatic my wife was when I returned with the news -- let alone the vouchers!


Smug in the notion that Greta, the super, had thoroughly taking care of us, when we finally arrived in Frankfurt I told my family to relax while the other passengers rushed off to figure out their connections.  This belief that Greta had worked everything out for us turned out to be one of my poorer assumptions: emerging (from the stinky Airbus), I grasped that Greta's work had not, in fact, been so super after all and that, although we had an El Al reservation, we had no ticket and had to figure out which of the extraordinary (German) lines to wade through in order to get ticketed.  An hour and a half later, the kids' patience having run out, I emerged with the full package -- having been assured several times that our luggage would be on the El Al flight.


We then started the long walk to the El Al gate.  German security checked everyone.  Although they did not feel the need to root about in my wife's hair again, my kids were frisked and wanded.  We eventually got to yet another security point, at the end of our ropes, fearing we might not have enough time to make the flight.  The bald dude who was set to check us there was by far the most intimidating dude I had seen on this trip.  Yet, just as I was about to explain to him that we had been meticulously inspected, my wife and I looked up with wonder and enormous relief when Big Bald Dude spoke to his lapel -- in Hebrew.  We were finally on our way home, even if still in Frankfurt.  After chatting up Big Bald Dude with our not-ready-for-primetime ulpan Hebrew, smiling ear to ear, we were waived down to the real El Al security terminal.  A few minutes later, having answered the requisite questions and proving that we were in fact Israelis, we were told to board.


On a whim, I asked about our luggage.  After having deciphered that if I had not personally cleared my luggage in that terminal, it was not on the flight, I told the family to board, and I went to the adjacent luggage screening area.  In substandard Hebrew I asked, handing them my Israeli identity card, if they knew about my luggage.  They told me to wait a few minutes, then lugged out our seven enormous bags, sending each one through a machine and then having me open several for inspection.  My wife loves to put little locks on the bags to prevent pilfering, so I was asked for the combinations.  I said to Moshe, the head bag guy, "Isn't everybody's combination 613?"


In no time I was boarding the plane and was greeted by Moshe Two, who certainly knew where all the Uzis are hidden and could use them at the drop of a stir stick.  For no particular reason, on my way through the tunnel to Moshe Two I had reminisced about my earliest arrivals in Israel when we would be treated, at the moment of landing, with the spirited Zionist song "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem".  This practice had been discontinued many years ago, like those goofy oversized, orange-picking kibbutz hats that tourists used to wear in Israel.   For several years I have longed to hear the song at touchdown. So I joked with Moshe Two that they should play the song, suspecting that all of the tapes probably rested in a landfill outside of Tel Aviv.


The El Al flight home was pleasant and restful, even though it was not on a jumbo jet and my fellow countrymen incessantly requested everything from blankets to better headphones to better seats.  As we approached Israel's coast, I pointed out to Yehuda and Batya the lights of Tel Aviv.  We had an extraordinarily smooth landing courtesy of, doubtless, an ex-IAF fighter pilot. Then, wonder of wonders, as the reverse engine whine died down, we heard the strains of "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem".  Sara and I could barely contain ourselves.  While disembarking, I asked Moshe Two if he had played it just for me.  The ex-commando simply flashed one of those cute Israeli smiles that I adore, letting me know we were home at last.


The next day Sara and I went to the post office.  She had been nudging me to get a phone card for Batya so Batya could call from school if she felt the need. I told Rachel, one of my favorite clerks, that we wanted a phone card.  Rachel declared, "You'll take the 180 shekel card because..." Sara whispered to me the rest of the sentence that was implicit in Rachel's decision for us, "because it is the best value."  Although I was not sure that I wanted the best value or, more to the point, that I wanted to be told what I would take, I sheepishly accepted the card.  As I searched my billfold for the sheks, Sara mentioned to Rachel that the card was for our eight-year-old daughter.  Without even looking up, Rachel said, "For an eight-year-old you will take the 20 shekel card.  She'll lose it soon enough."  Home at last.



Later that day, as I drove home from the store with a load of groceries, having already endured Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and then being serenaded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's thrilling rendition of Jingle Bells, I felt that everything was wrong.  It was impossible to accept that this much of the American culture that I had fled was so seamlessly invading my beloved Israel.  I half expected to find at Mini Israel -- the amusement park between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that is a model of Israel's highlights -- a temporary manger.  Yet, without knowing how, I was dead sure that I was going to exonerate the situation -- somehow.  Then, looking down at the radio, I realized that the randomly chosen station was 96.3 -- Radio Jordan.  I pushed one of the presets, and my ears filled with Shalom Hanoch.  My journey back home was complete.


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 22: “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 barf bags 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.

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