Week in Review

18 Sep

Whew, I am beat!  I’m back ‘home’ in Stuttgart now, although it took some doing to get here!  My flight left Tel Aviv at 6:20a this morning- afterall, ‘I’m totally a morning person,’ I thought as I booked the flight.  Yeah, well, 3 big things I didn’t consider when I booked it: 1. That all departures must arrive 3 hours early.  Why? Well, it turns out Tel Aviv is the recipient of the ‘world’s most secure airport’ award, which means that all of luggage is x-rayed, searched, sniffed by dogs and unpacked onto folding tables FOUR (yep, you read that correctly!) separate times before one even thinks of boarding. 2.  Taking a random non-English-speaking taxi to the airport in the pitch black desert darkness (and passing through not one, but TWO!, military-with-machine-guns roadblocks along the way!) at 3a is a surefire way to start a day a little on the edge (hey, I’m just keeping it real, folks).  And 3. Today is the start of the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, which meant that EVERYONE and his brother was flying.  Now picture #3 in relation to #1 after having a slight stomach ache associated with #2 .  *Sigh*

Needless to say, after an hour delay on the runway and a (very) short layover in Dusseldorf (so short, in fact, that my luggage did not even make it on the connecting flight- fingers crossed for tomorrow 😦 ), I arrived safely back on familiar ground.  How funny is that?! That I now count Stuttgart (and seeing/hearing the German language!) as familiar! Ha!

OK, since I’ve pretty well done a day-by-day update this week, I decided to today’s Review a little differently…I realized on the plane just how many things I learned/found interesting- about everything from Israeli culture to things about myself!- during my time in Israel this week…So I wanted to share some of them with you, along with some pictures, of course 🙂

1. The Israeli currency is the Sheqel and the current exchange rate is 1 Sheqel = $ .25, so 4 Sheqels per $1.  In my experience there, food items and gas tended to be more expensive than in the States, but most other items were comparable or slightly cheaper.

2. Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey, with a population of about 8 million people.  75% are Jewish, 20% are Muslim (Arab) and 5% are Christian.  The Jews and the Muslims don’t get along at all and fight constantly, both on a local level (yes, I’m going to drive my car on your Sabbath because it’s not my Sabbath) and a national level (who’s going to speak first at the forum).

3. Speaking of the people- and I’m not saying this in a negative, racist way, but as an observation only…My impression of the people here is that they’re very brash…pushy…cold…prickly.  Like, in the markets and in the malls, no one smiles…No one’s laughing or holding a door for the next person or picking up someone’s dropped napkin.  And even worse, it’s as though they’re ‘hurrying’ you- walking through a door, they’re flat tiring you (physically stepping on your heels), sighing and eye rolling if you bump into them…So I did some research and found that it’s not just me…This is the norm for the Jewish population here.  And yes, there are lots of ‘Jewish Mothers’ wandering around :).

4. Contrary to #3, vendors and store clerks are actually VERY friendly and helpful…SUCH a welcomed change from my experience in Germany!

5. Jewish people are very superstitious.  They are very wary of evil spirits, bad omens, etc. and take precautions to avoid them.

6. Sunlight can make ALL the difference in how you feel physically.  Just feeling the warmth on my face and seeing things ‘brightly,’ just for a week, has rejuvenated my soul.  The ocean also does wonders for me… (Although I’m sure it might have something to do with spending time with some of my favorite people on the planet, but who knows 🙂 )

Sunset over Tel Aviv...

7. Kippahs (the beanie hats) are worn because practicing Jews don’t believe they’re worthy of God seeing the tops of their heads, so they cover them up so He doesn’t have to look at them.


8. There’s a joke about Jewish holidays- for nearly every one, this can be said: ‘You tried to kill us.  We won.  Let’s eat.’  I got a kick out of this!  Unfortunately, the reason we didn’t get to visit Jerusalem during my visit is because of a ‘holiday season’- with Rosh Hashanah being last week Yom Kippur this weekend, it’s just not a safe time for Christians to throw themselves into the throngs of Jews in the Holy City…

9. Most popular Israeli foods (available in some form at every restaurant, roadside vendor, etc.): Chickpeas (whole in salads or ground for hummus), Falafel (picture a hushpuppy made of ground chickpeas and spices), Tahina (concentrated Tahini- ground sesame seeds with lots of oil), Pita Bread, and anything Asian-inspired (sushi, sashimi, rice, etc.)


10. Ultra-orthodox/Ascetic Jews are generally considered the ‘drains on the economy’ in Israel.  These are the most religious of the population- they are often unemployed and spend most of their time learning and teaching religion.  They’re easily recognized by their traditional attire, complete with dark ringlets of hair cascading from their temples (just in front of their ears) and ropes dangling from their waists (warding off evil).

11. The Sand Cat (picture a regular cat, but with a fox face- yes, it’s that adorable!) is among the most endangered species in the world and there’s only one program on the planet trying turn their dire situation around- the Rom Goulet Safari that we visited!

12. My best friend and I found a new shared fascination this week…Israeli prostitutes!  OK, let me preface with a warning that this isn’t for the faint of heart, but let me explain.  Unlike in Germany, prostitution is actually illegal in Israel, but it’s just not enforced (apparently, the police turn a blind eye to most ‘small’ offenses because they have their hands more than full with all the violence, fighting, etc.).  Well, Sam and Chuck happen to live only a short drive from one of the main ‘prostitution lots,’ where every night, prostitutes- in all stages of undress from just panties and sneakers (yes, naked otherwise!) to lingerie and strip club attire- wander around a huge (think WalMart parking lot size) gravel lot while cars (and I’m not talking a few, I’m talking a steady flow of traffic for hours on end!) drive around making their selection.  Once a driver chooses his lady of the night (most are on the older, unattractive side), he simply pulls in between two dunes (which are lining the lot) to receive ‘service.’  So at any given minute from sun up to sun down, the middle of the lot is swarming with prostitutes and headlights, the perimeter dunes are dotted with parked taillights.  Once a service is complete, the prostitute exits the vehicle, cleans herself with a baby wipe (because hygiene is clearly so important), throws said baby wipe and condom on the ground next to the vehicle and returns to the lot, re-entering herself into the selection pool.  How mind-blowing is that?!  Of course, we were just spectators getting a kick outta the whole thing!  Maybe it was our more conservative American roots shining through, but it was just so fascinating!  Don’t judge.

Heading up the Day Shift...(Nighttime pictures don't turn out well 😦 )

13. Which brings me to something else I learned- something that I find sad.  The people of Israel (at least those in Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas) don’t seem to take pride in their land.  So many places- even those with the most beautiful backdrops like, say, the Mediterranean!) are covered in litter and filth.

Sea o' Baby Wipes (and more...)

And a close-up...

14. Contrary to popular belief, Israel does have seasons.  Despite being in the desert, it gets chilly enough in the winter for long pants and possibly even a long-sleeved shirt.

15. Ladies, only in my experience of course, there are WAY more attractive men in Israel than in Germany.  Guys, I think I’m inclined to say the same about the women, although it’s a much tighter race…

16. Dessert ALWAYS tastes its best when it’s shared with those you love.  To celebrate my time in Tel Aviv- and just for the hell of it!- Sam and I decided to forego dinner and go straight for that sweet tooth indulgence.  If you’ve never been to a Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, you MUST go there at some point before you die.  I’m so serious- it’s THAT good.  Both of us agreed that it was the best dessert we’ve ever had.  We each got Sugar-Crusted ,Belgian Waffles topped with ice cream, chocolate, toffee, caramel and bananas, and then (yep, there’s more! Don’t judge.) we split a Tiramisu Crepe topped with ice cream and chocolate.

This was mine, but they both looked really similar 🙂 Yes, the desserts are huge and worth every penny!

And our crepe, before we 'topped' it 🙂 Yep, that's the mascarpone oozing out of the back...

17. I find it funny that one of the most popular songs in Israel (I seemed to hear it playing at every restaurant and in every shopping mall) is the 80s hit, Kids in America, by Kim Wilde.  Just seeing them bop their heads and (attempt to) sing along really cracked me up 🙂  At least it’s a great song!

So there you have it, lots of my random thoughts/experiences of the week!  And I’m sure that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of at least a few more! Ha!  I had SUCH a good week in the desert- I really couldn’t have asked for anything more.  And to top it off, I’d never considered the Middle East as one of my ‘Top Destinations,’ but I’m so thankful now to have had the experience.  Just one more blessing that I’ve been given…

Sisters 🙂

Oh, and one more thing I realized- well, actually, it just reconfirmed it…This whole overseas adventure has brought John and me closer than ever, more in sync than ever.  Now, we’re a couple who’s used to being apart for work travel, etc.  But this time?  Less than a week apart and we missed each other like a pair of high schoolers!  Ha! Just one more little piece of proof that this was the PERFECT decision for our family. What a fantastic feeling…

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