One of the last things we had left to do in Israel was meet some cousins of Steve’s from his mother’s father’s side of the family. We had been working on getting together for a couple of weeks and were able to make time at the very end of our visit when everyone would be available. The Veniks live near the airport so this also made good sense. They live on Moshav Mazor near Petach Tikvah. After our final visit to Jerusalem we made our way there. As we were leaving Jerusalem, highway 1 coming into town was backed up for miles. At the beginning of this back up was an Egged bus that was stopped and all the passengers were getting off and standing alongside the road. We assumed that the bus had broken down and that this was the problem. Steve read in the paper this morning when we were in Philly at the airport that there was a terrorist threat and they were doing searches. SO glad we missed that balagan. We would have never made it into Jerusalem and then back to Tel Aviv if we had had to sit through a road block.
Moshav Mazor is a lovely little settlement with cute houses and lots of trees and gardens. We were greeted by Steve’s second cousin once removed (again not clear on how these titles work but I think that is right) Dan and then by Dan’s parents including Irving who is the son of Steve’s grandfather’s sister. It is amazing how much Dan and his brother Tzevik look like Steve’s cousins in Seattle! There was a bit of language challenge as Dan’s English is minimal (though better than he gives himself credit) and Irving and his wife speak almost no English. Steve decided to break out his German from high school and some progress in the conversation was made there. I got to work on my Hebrew and we managed to do pretty well. Tzevik is the other son and he soon showed up driving his tour bus which he parks behind his parent’s house when he is home. His wife, Etty, and their children also showed up and we were able to have a better conversation as Etty’s English is quite good.
We then moved a few blocks away to Etty and Tzevik’s house. Irving helped to settle the moshav and has lived there for about 60 years and was give land to build two additional houses so both Dan and Tzevik have homes in the moshav on this land. Their home is beautiful and has quite the zoo in the back yard as well. They have three donkeys – they got three for the price of two when the female they purchased turned out to be pregnant. They also have chickens, ducks, a rooster, a dog and a gerbil. There are plans to add goats and sheep. Their children Noa and Re’em were excited to meet us, even if they were shy and said very little. Noa is very excited that Steve’s sister Deb and her family will be coming to visit and has already cleaned her room in preparation for them! She wanted me to see her room and take pictures (which I did) so Eliana and Jasmine would know what her room looked like.
Despite Etty and I have a long discussion on Facebook about what Steve and I can eat and what she should make, her husband and his family were convinced since we are Americans that we would want BBQ and so he had stopped and purchased charcoal and chicken to grill. We tried to assure him that the fish and veggies that Etty made were totally what we wanted but the “mangel” was still fired up and the chicken cooked – and enjoyed by everyone else. Steve and I enjoyed the fish cooked in fresh zatar from Etty’s garden as well as all the salads she had made. It is clear from our eating here that there will be lots more salads and slaws on our menu in the future. A typical Israeli dinner begins with a whole salad course with lots of cold salads of many varieties – carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and the like all figure prominently. There may also be warm vegetable dishes served with the main course. Lots of yummy and healthy things upon which to nosh!
As it was getting close to time for us to leave so that we could return our rental car and get to the airport the suggested three hours early, it was suggested that Tzevik could accompany us to the airport and help assure that we didn’t have any problems. This sounded like a good idea and we said our good byes to Dan, Irving and his wife and I was ready to say good bye to Etty and the kids when it became obvious they were all coming with us! I was a bit concerned about our luggage and all of us fitting in their car once we had dropped off the rental, but off we all went. In the end, Etty and one suitcase ended up on the shuttle but it left right behind our car and we all arrived at the airport at the same time. We said good bye with invites for them to come to Seattle and stay with us.
Leaving Israel is no easy task. There are multiple levels of security to go through and thankfully we were easily passed through them all – despite or perhaps because of Steve’s passport photo that looks nothing like him. The young woman who did our interview wanted to see another ID and then I showed her the photo of him wearing his old pants when he reached his goal. She was quite impressed. The interview to even get to check in is a uniquely Israeli thing and something the US could learn from. We were asked why we were there, then those facts were checked and then rechecked. I was there learning. Where? Why? Why did Steve come? To meet family. What family? Where do they live? What are their names? It is all to test your nerves and see if you are being truthful and reveal nervous or unusual behavior. After this your luggage is then scanned while still in your possession. We were deemed safe and ours was just wanded for bomb making residue and then tagged as passed inspection without being scanned. Probably a good things as I was quite nervous that the multiple packets of Dead Sea Mud might look suspicious and warrant a search!
After that there is the usual check in and then we needed to return my cell phone. This was also making me nervous as last trip I forgot to return the phone and had to mail it from Seattle for an extra (hefty) fee. We found the post office and sent it on its way after a couple quick calls to let people know that we were on our way home. Then it is through security, again, with your carry on bags and then to immigration. By the time you get to the gate you are exhausted! We had planned to stop and try to get some VAT tax money back but those plans fell by the wayside in the craziness of what was required and the fact that the line at the desk for doing this was quite long. We will just happily support Israel’s economy instead. And of course, once we got to Philly there were most of these steps to repeat again. The immigration officer was quite nice and quickly stamped our documents and sent us on our way after telling me, when I said I was a teacher, about his 9th grade daughter who is testing his patience as a parent and how he would be a middle school teacher if he taught. Bags claimed and then rechecked and a two plus hour wait for our flight completed that leg of the journey. I did get coffee this time at the Philly Airport and I have to say, I was better off without it. Toasted Almond Lite Latte at Dunkin Donuts – had to be the worst coffee I have ever had! After all my complaining about figuring out Israeli coffee, I was wishing for a delicious Aroma Café Afooch (upside down coffee or a latte).
We are almost home – about another 90 or so minutes in the air before we land in Seattle and, of course, if you are reading this then we are home and I have been able to upload it to the internet. It has been an incredible trip and I am so glad that Steve had a great time as well, despite having all his clothes stolen and air raid sirens, and seems eager to return again sometime soon. If I could promise him a booth at the shuk, I think he would go back next week! We met a woman while waiting to go through immigration in Philly whose brother just moved there and is working at the shuk. She said he loves it but that it is crazy, so I guess it can be done. I hope that we will be able to return soon and retain our connection to our newly met cousins as well as all the friends I made in Jerusalem. I feel that I truly have a home in Israel and can’t wait to visit it again. Thank you for sharing my journey.