Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not Eilat More To Say


That would be a perfect job for Natania. Sometimes, when couples have been married as long as Barbara and I have, they, in effect, have the uncanny ability to read each other's mind. It was Sunday morning, and Tina and David were on their way back to Tel Aviv, to the humdrum world of commerce, leaving the two of us on our own to wind up our min-vacation in Eilat.

We started the morning by heading off to Dolphin Reef, a little bit of Paradise on the outskirts of the town. This is not the kind of commercial venture, the combination of zoo and circus that is so popular in The States. At Dolphin Reef, nobody, human or aquatic mammal, is there just to entertain you. Nobody does any tricks; nobody jumps into the air in unison. There are no trainers or trainees. It's just where eight or ten dolphins happen to live, and a select number of human staff are there to interact with them and give them part of their daily requirement of fish (the rest they have to hunt for on their own). It's an interesting selection process: a human candidate arrives and has to gain the good will of one or more dolphins. If the dolphins approve, you get to stay; if not, you are free to return to the humdrum world of commerce (or whatever else you were up to before).

We arrived at a propitious time, when the humans go out to their designated spots with buckets of fish, and the dolphins arrive to rendezvous with them. As we watched the humans feed their aquatic friends, all the while scratching the dolphins' heads and stroking their dorsal fins, that's when Barbara and I articulated our thought that this would be a perfect job for Natania – although it would obviously involve a rather long daily commute. Our daughter has been working part-time at the local vet's office here in Ma'ale Adumim, and we are constantly being regaled with tales of her interactions with various animal patients: dogs, cats, ferrets, miscellaneous rodents, assorted birds, and even a sheep that was brought in on a blanket. It's taking her (Natania, not the sheep) a while to get through college, but when she's done, I have no doubt she will find a way to make use of her training in biology for something that will interest her the way communing with dolphins would. (Speaking of whom, our daughter's latest posts can be read at

While one part of my brain was mulling our daughter's possible future, another part of me was in a different zone altogether.  I was rapidly moving around, photographing a happy couple, a young woman kneeling next to her dolphin buddy, whose head and fins reached out of the gulf water up to her.  As they changed positions, so did I.  But all the while, there was someone next to me – at least in spirit – my photography teacher, Lou Bernstein.  I had spent more hours than I can remember out with him in different places in NYC, one of them being the aquarium at Coney Island, where he kept coming back on and off for over thirty years.  So taking pictures of dolphins was nothing new to me – even though I was several decades and thousands of miles away from when and where I had learned my craft.

But there was something especially fortuitous about my being there at this time.  Through a series of events, which I don’t need to go into here and now, I have been in touch with Lou’s son, Irwin, who has taken on the responsibility of keeping his father’s legacy alive – no small task in a world where everything is TODAY and anything that vaguely hints at yesterday runs the considerable risk of being passé.  I had already written an Appreciation that will shortly (?) go on his website,, and had begun preparing a detailed biographical article to go into Wikipedia.  So for days on end, I had gone through a loose-leaf binder (about four inches thick) with information about Lou’s career that Irwin had sent me, together with “Reflections on an Aquarium,” a book of Lou’s photographs put together in conjunction with the Coney Island institution, which I had never seen before.  In addition, I was rummaging through my bookshelves and boxes of prints to put together all the material by and about Lou that I had saved over the years, going on-line to acquire several books that seemed useful, and madly googling The Photo League and Sid Grossman, where and with whom my teacher studied for many years and whose influence on him was critical.  So, as I stood near the shore of the sun-drenched Gulf of Eilat, part of me was recycling a life-time's worth of knowledge and memories from a world of long ago when an older man took the trouble to teach
a neophyte photographer all he knew about his craft.

Then, just like that, it was time to go; the bus back to Jerusalem would depart at 1PM with or without us. We had time to get a decent lunch at the mall we had visited the night before, pick up our luggage at the Astral Seaside, and get a cab back to the bus terminal. This time, we would be going straight up route 90 with the Hills of Moab and the Dead Sea on our right and the stark landscape of the Negev on our left. A direct route with not much to see – unless you close your eyes and imagine the Children of Israel crossing the River Jordan somewhere along the way to capture The Land so many thousands of years ago.

Two months later, completely out of the blue, we were given the opportunity to travel to the opposite end of The Land (even though it's not that big a distance). What happened is this: We got a call from our friends Ian and Thelma, inviting us to join a group of families spending a Shabbat at the Youth Hostel and Guest House at Shlomi, a town of about 6,00 souls, smack dab next to the Lebanon border in the Upper West Galilee. It seems that Avi needed at least one more couple to make this venture a go.

We would, of course, get to meet Avi, who takes it upon himself about twice a year to organize a group of people to go someplace for a Shabbat. He takes care of all the arrangements, and all you have to do is send him the required amount and show up. There has to be at least a certain number of couples or families to make the trip economically feasible for the place the group is staying in and to ensure that there will be a minyan for davening. When our friends called Barbara, Avi was short one or two families, and the ones who had agreed to go were asked to canvass their friends to find some additional recruits. That's how we wound up in Ian and Thelma's car going to meet the others first for a two hour hike through Admit, a park area literally on the border with Lebanon (the arbitrary line on a map agreed to by two diplomats, Sykes and Picot, as W.W. I was coming to an end and the Ottoman Empire was being carved up). Later in the afternoon, we would head down to the Guest House, where we would all spend Shabbat.

It wasn't just that we were up in the top of the Galil, looking at the Mediterranean instead of the Gulf of Eilat, surrounded by green hills instead of the sands of the Negev. Or that we were looking into Lebanon, not Jordan, Saudia Arabia, and Egypt, all across the Gulf of Eilat. Everything about this trip seemed different. There was something comforting about having everything planned for us, having our meals waiting for us whenever the minyan finished davening – instead of worrying that there wouldn't be anything left when we got to the dining room. Plus we would get some decent wine to drink, courtesy of some of our trip-mates. Instead of relaxing by the pool or strolling leisurely on the promenade, we would be going on some reasonably serious rambles huffing and puffing through the woods and up and down some some formidable rock formations. One good thing, we didn't have to worry about reservations on a bus; we were getting two guaranteed places in the back seat of Ian's car! So it was a very different kind of vacation – not better, but different. I only wish we could have gone nearby to Metula – so I could say that we got to both of Israel's ice skating rinks within so short a span of time.

In a better world than this one, while we were gallivanting the length and breadth of The Land, the hole in our bedroom wall and the trench in front of our bathroom would have disappeared.  In this world where the sun rises and sets on all of us, both the hole and the trench stubbornly remained where they were.  It would take more phone calls to get Alon-with-a-smile-and-a-song and his side-kick, Osama, back to repair the small dripping pipe and tile the bathroom wall and the floor.  We could still use the services of a competent painter, but I can live with the water stains and the newly plastered area behind the door in our bedroom.

While we’re discussing home repairs, our man Dan, along with his son Ariel and his Arab worker, Isa, arrived at 7AM on a recent Wednesday morning to redo our merpesot (remember the porches we discussed several articles ago, the ones that were leaking, the ones Barbara was telling our friend Varda that it would cost us big bucks to fix, so we wouldn’t have the money to deal with our bathrooms until they sprung a leak – which then happened, as if on cue?).  Within a week or so, this crew (to be brutally honest, Isa did 90% of the work; Ariel helped shlepp the heavy stuff, and Dan, who had just undergone surgery on his knee, sat and supervised) had ripped up the tiles, removed the sand underneath – which was still wet even though there had not been any rain for a month primed the foundation, placed a layer of tar over that, added double the amount of new sand and then another layer of something before laying and grouting the tiles we had just bought.  There’s no way the slightest trickle of water would even think of penetrating that barrier. What worries me is the thought that, now that it’s over and done with, we’re sure to have a drought in Ma’ale Adumim, so we’ll never know for sure……..

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