Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eilat To Do


So much to do; so little time. Truth to tell, there wasn't that much to do the Fri. afternoon we were in Eilat. But the “little time?” We all know that, no matter how late Shabbat kicks in, it seems as if there's precious little time left. Of course, if you're at a hotel, and you're not doing the cooking, it doesn't seem quite as frenzied. Once we stocked up on sushi at the Ice Mall for our Shabbat lunch, we headed back “home” to the Astral Seaside. Tina and David got ready for some serious pool lounging. (I should correct an earlier impression that only David was willing to use the pool; Tina did also.) I, however, had another item on my agenda.

For reasons that I don't pretend to understand, the Israeli government does not impose the V.A.T., now at an almost confiscatory 17%, on anything you buy in Eilat. (Sort of like the 3% sales tax zone in NJ.) Needless to say, lots of folks come to this little seashore town waving their credit cards, with high hopes of saving money while they are spending it.

There were a few computer related items I needed, and, wouldn't you know it, there were two (not one, but two) KSP stores in Eilat. Long-suffering readers may remember my thoughts about KSP. They are the folks who import a lot of computer stuff into The Land, so they can charge less than the competition. Just don't buy anything from them that they would have to service if it stopped working (at which point, their command of the English language also stops working).

When we arrived at our hotel the day before, Barbara and I were standing on our little merpeset, admiring the scenic view of the hotel parking lot, when I suddenly realized something. On the gleaming white facade of the big hotel nearest to us was inscribed in two languages the legend, The Rimonim. Isn't that where the KSP store is? Sure enough, the store I needed was around the corner from the hotel about fifty yards from where we were staying. Good to know, in more ways than one – as you will soon see.

Needless to say, Friday afternoon found me heading over there as fast as my rapidly aging legs would carry me. I've been to the two Jerusalem locations numerous times, and there are usually two or three customers ahead of me in the store. So I was not prepared for the pre-Shabbat mob scene in Eilat. As I said, lots of people waving their credit cards, essentially overwhelming the sales staff. When it finally was my turn, I pointed to what I needed (if anybody cares, it was a 2TB WD external hard drive to use as a backup for BigMac – my 27” iMac, purchased second hand). Ze hu! That's all; take my credit card and I'm outa here, saving about 80 shekels on the deal. Plenty of time left in the afternoon to dip my timid body in the unheated hotel pool.

Earlier in the morning, Barbara, my ever-attentive wife, had gone down to the hotel lobby and picked us up a Shabbat key – an old-fashioned room key to use on Shabbat instead of the electronic device ordinarily used – and a sheet of paper announcing the times of services for Shabbat at the Astral Seaside. OK; let's see what happens. Somewhat skeptical, I headed down to where the “beit knesset” was on the lower level, timing my arrival at exactly one minute before the evening davening was supposed to start. Hmm. Nobody here. Let's wait and see.

The room certainly had all the accoutrements of a shul: an ark, presumably holding a torah scroll, a bima on which to place the torah scroll – assuming it ever emerged from the dark recesses of the aron kodesh, shelves of prayer books, rows of chairs for the people who weren't there, even a container for tzedekah, which I noted had one half shekel coin inside. There was also a musty smell. I had plenty of time to locate the source of the problem, a slight drip from a water pipe in front of the room. How long had this minute amount of water been plopping onto the rug, I would not want to speculate. Possibly quite a while, given the amount of foot traffic in and out of the beit knesset. Where was Alon-with-a-smile-and-a-song when we needed him? Probably back in Ma'ale Adumim, turning people's water valves on and off.

After about ten minutes of enforced solitude, my reveries were interrupted by the arrival of an Israeli woman, dressed for Shabbat. Was there an ezrat nashim, a women's section? she inquired. A women's section? There's not even a men's section; there's nobody here. Sit wherever you like; it's fine by me. I continued perusing my siddur; she did whatever she was going to do. This went on for a few minutes until a second guy showed up. As the de facto usher and gabbai, I indicated that he had his choice of about thirty seats, not counting the section in which our Israeli woman was sitting – in case he was fastidious about such matters. Finally, another Anglo arrived with glad tidings. There is a minyan at – you guessed it – The Rimonim. Clutching my handy-dandy Koren siddur, I accompanied the two guys across the parking lot to the bigger hotel. The doorman told us where to go, and we went down a long corridor, past the exercise room, down a flight of stairs to a beit knesset. You could hear the sounds of Mizrachi davening from a distance. Yes! There were about thirty or forty Sephardim (I'm guessing they came to Eilat with their families as part of a group). That's more like it. The little hotel shul was even more crowded than the KSP store! They had just gotten started; still we were done just in time to get back to our hotel for dinner.

There would, of course, be a minyan in The Rimonim the following morning. I was also given to understand that I could even find an Ashkenazic minyan at another hotel a little farther away – exact location and commencement time uncertain. But even if I figured out the details, would there be enough time – at either minyan – to finish and get back in time for breakfast? Yes, breakfast on Shabbat does end later than the rest of the week, but when the food is gone, it's gone. Maybe I should just daven by myself in our room. It's crazy to have to adjust your davening time around the hotel meal schedule instead of the other way around; but we were by ourselves, so there was nothing much we could do – except not eat.

Shabbat was relaxing, although hardly newsworthy. There wasn't much to do besides eat, rest, do the requisite amount of praying, sit by the pool, and take several walks up and down the promenade, trying to vary our itinerary slightly each time. One thing I did notice: how many of the shops were closed over Shabbat. Unless you're serving food, you're not going to need or get a certificate of kashrut from the rabbinate that you're shomer Shabbat. There's no economic benefit to doing so in an area chocked full of tourists to whom Saturday is shopping day. If your store is closed on Shabbat, it's because it's important to you. Ze hu.

Shabbat was over, and now it was our last chance for a family shopping spree. But first, dinner. The dining room was closed at the Seaside, so the nice folks at Astral gave us a voucher for a cab to one of their sister hotels, which we could have walked to. We were quick to notice that this Astral was a tad classier than the one we were staying in. The food was about the same.

Then it was off in the opposite direction to another mall, our last opportunity to save 17% on all the money we could spend. Natania had not been able to come, so she sent her shopping list along instead. Sometimes you get lucky. The Gap store in the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem often has stuff on sale, but only in anorexic sizes. In Eilat, they actually had jeans for normal shaped people....on sale! So Barbara got a few pair for our daughter, while we all wandered around the store. There were lots more places to inspect, but it was a foregone conclusion that David and I would spend some quality time together at the iDigital store. That's where Apple products are sold in The Land. I was able to show him an exact replica of BigMac, ask a few questions of the store personnel, and pick up something I needed – saving the 17%. Looking at the prices here and elsewhere, it occurred to me that if you were planning to drop a bundle on a big ticket item or a lot of small ticket ones, you would actually save money by spending the day traveling back and forth to this resort town. I wonder how many Israelis actually do this?

There was one thing more we simply had to do. It would have been impolite, even downright rude, to leave Eilat without having a night out on the town. David went back to the hotel, and Barbara, Tina, and I headed off to The Three Monkeys, one of establishments along the promenade in which you can order a drink or two, enjoy the balmy breezes coming from the Gulf of Eilat, people-watch to your heart's content, and feel appropriately decadent. The next morning, the two “youngsters” would catch an early flight back to Tel Aviv and head back to the hum-drum world of business. Barbara and I would spend the morning examining another facet of the aquatic world that makes this little corner of the gulf so special.

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