A question in the back of my mind

Corridor of Yad V’Shem, like that of Belzec

At Yad V’Shem, Israel’s primary holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I picked up a copy of “The Jews are Coming Back“, a book about the return of Jews to their countries of origin after World War II.  How do you answer a person that says, “Jews should have gone back where they came from!”  As an American, it’s actually hard to answer.  After World War II, Jews generally found a safe place in the United States with quotas lifted (or rather, unused spots from prior years filled when the state department changed their policy).  Without knowing one way or the other, it would seem that Jews could just return to their places of origin in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere . . . turns out this answer greatly varied by country.

The book is organized by country, from most friendly to Jews to least friendly after the war.  The holocaust didn’t just “end” in Europe.  The flip of the switch that happened in the United States where refugees (and especially Jews) where suddenly welcomed never happened in Europe, save for perhaps France and Belgium to an extent.  Unsurprisingly, France also has the largest Jewish population in Europe today though the Jews are largely leaving for Israel these days due to virulent anti-semitism in France.  However, even there, shortly after holocaust, groups organized to prevent Jews from reclaiming the property they had stolen from their former neighbors.

Country by Country – Jews Returning in Europe after WWII

Memorial candles with the names of human extermination camps

While Jews in France and sometimes Belgium were sometimes able to get their property back through court proceedings, in the rest of Europe the situation was nearly hopeless.  Jews were told they needed to lay low so as not to cause anti-semitism in country after country, and after all, the refrain went, everyone suffered in the war!  France, at least, learned of the concentration camps and mass killings as did the United Kingdom, Belgium, and somewhat the Netherlands and the more the country people knew, the more sympathetic, at least, the government was, though the people tended to feel in country after country, “we all suffered!  … and this property is mine now, so who are you to come back and ‘reclaim’ it on the basis that you suffered too/more?”

Exhibit in Yad V’Shem

Should your country be communist after World War II then the refrain was that there should be no separate nations.  We were “all the same” and just because a returning Jew had his property and rights removed from him and had nothing but barely the rags on his back, that was just the way it was.  The Jewish Agency might try and send you aid, but the communist government almost always rejected same unless it went to everyone equally … which usually meant it went to aid those in power and that was that.  An exception was found here and there: in Tarnipol, Poland a mayor allowed for a statue commemorating the holocaust, but he found himself overruled and without further promotions in the party for life.

Should you try and return to the Ukraine, you might find pockets of help from the government – but the local officials would first strip the women bare, delouse, search, and humiliate before you boarded the train.  In the countryside the government actually provided a safe house for returning Jews and jobs but the locals, the former neighbors, would protest and sometimes violently.  Jews were unable to actually work and the situation was dismal.  In other places older Jews who survived the concentration camps would return to roam without proper shelter or help from the anti-semetic locals.  While Zionists organizations came to pay for transit for younger and able bodied youth to be found to move to Israel and start a new life, neither the elderly were left in squalor, penniless, unable to work, having everything stripped from them.

Perhaps you would try to go to a different country where things were more favorable to you … many traveled to the Netherlands where things were better for Jews, but only Jews who were citizens before the war (and could prove it).  Travel there, or to many other European countries, and you were treated as an “enemy combatant” no different than an ordinary German.  You might find yourself in jail if you were unlucky, or “free” but without rights to do much of anything.

Return? Hardly … and Conclusion

Exhibit in Yad V’Shem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum

There was no light at the end of the tunnel for many.  Surviving the holocaust didn’t mean being able to rebuild you life.  The stories we here and the movies we see are almost always about the 1/6 who survived.  They were the exception to the rule.  We want to hear the stories of the exception who made it, and by in large that’s where we find stories of heroism and those who rose above the horror, but even being the 1/6 to survive did not mean recovery.  My wife’s great-grandmother survived Bergen-Belsen to die of a tuberculosis epidemic after “liberation”.  In researching my own family records at Yad Vashem, I found a cousin of my great-grandmother who made it to Jerusalem to testify about my great-grandmothers family – they were almost all killed in Belzec.  My great-grandmother, Sheindel (Jenny) Silberman, the oldest of a dozen plus children had left for New York earlier, at the age of 12, to avoid being raped by the Kozacs … they saved her life and mine in a twisted way.  One sister made it to Brazil, another to Toronto after hiding in convent.  Other cousins made it to Israel.  There’s a reason they didn’t find their homes in Europe – Hashem [G_d’s] plan, it seems, was not for Jews to remain in any large numbers in eastern Europe any longer.

My first time back to Yad Vashem was last summer on the insistence of my teenage son.  I had my fill of Holocaust museums earlier in my life, but the museum is well made and well thought out.  It chronicles the history of the Holocaust as you move back and forth from room to room, crossing through a long narrow corridor designed after corridors such as that which my great-great grandparents went through stripped bare on the way to the gas chamber in Belzec where they were told to breathe deeply.  At the end, in Yad Vashem at least … when you finally make it, after what took us hours of passing through “highlights” and stories of 12 years of hell in Europe, one reaches an actual light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s a balcony overlooking the hills of Jerusalem.  In the distance is a physically rebuilt Jerusalem, bigger than it every was.  Now we wait for the ongoing spiritual rebuilding to be completed.

(Written and published on Tish B’Av while fasting though I visited Yad V’Shem on Shiva Esser B’Tammuz last year – I couldn’t seem to complete the article until today.)

On a wall in Yad V’Shem – Truth.

This was easily one of my favorite days on my last trip to Israel.  We were based out of Jerusalem and it was a very hot week so were looking for something to do for a day trip but keep cool.  After quite a lot of Googling and speaking to friends who made aliyah I found Nahal HaKibbutzim in Beit Shean, a two hour drive from Yerushalayim.  It’s “off the beaten path” even for Israelis but it’s closer by about an hour’s drive to the center/south of the country than many other water hikes which tend to be more north in the Galil or in the Golan.  Afterwards, the quickest way back to Jerusalem is route 60 through Judea and Samaria which is a fun trip with Super Mario Brothers style mountains in the background.

Think of a water park with a lazy river … then think of a real one.  It’s a real river with slow moving water, the depth varying from about two feet to about six feet.  At times, I or the older kids were carrying the younger, but the best part are the tubes.  Click for a video of the tubes – here’s the slow tube and here’s the fast tube.  These are “real” water slides – concrete tubes under roadways the cross the path of the river.  There are two of them, spaced apart and many people (let’s be honest, mostly the kids) climb up out of the water and go through the tubes again and again.

It was about 100 degrees outside the day we went (Celsius is inferior – we live in air which Fahrenheit does far better than Celsius which is designed around water temperature), but the water was great and we were very comfortable.  The same goes for a swim in the Kinneret on a 104 degree day.

There is ostensibly “mixed” swimming but it’s a big river and easy to keep “separate” and because it’s a traditional area of the country, not all, but I’d say almost all of the women and girls were tznious (modestly dressed according to Jewish law).

One thing to mention – there are no signs.  Use your GPS and find the sand parking lot.  There’s also no mention of which side is the beginning and which is the end.  We actually did the hike through the water “backwards” (upstream) which was fine … except the person we were meeting was doing it downstream.  The start and finish are fairly close to each other.

This hike was awesome!

A stretch of the Nachal Kibbutzim Hike with tall brush on either side

The wider/deeper section of the water

Going into one of the “water slides”

 

The wider/deeper section of the water

Wading Through the Plants

Mountain On the Drive Back to Jerusalem on Highway 60 (a bit enhanced since it was taken through a windshield)

Fog over Lake at Rocking Horse (lake for boats in summer only)

One of the perks of being frum is that your kids are on a different schedule than the rest of the country.  That means they typically have off from school the third week in January and you can go on vacation in the “down season” for everyone else.  Some places take advantage of this.  Through a little googling, this year we found Rocking Horse Ranch.  Apologies for not finding the time to put up more articles about Israel from last summer, but at least you get this one.

Back in the day, as kids we went to places like the Nevele, Raleigh, and Concord hotels.  These were places with onsite entertainment and activities for the entire family.  They had ski slopes, ice skating, video arcades, and some of them were even kosher all year.  They’ve largely gone out of business, but it turns out the Rocking Horse Ranch, outside of Poughkeepsie, NY is still in business.  It’s not quite what these other hotels once were – it’s quite a bit smaller, but it still has activity and the feel of these places.  The Nevele went out of business years ago through terrible mismanagement (fun fact: it was part of my password on the Prodigy service, before the internet was the Internet), the Raleigh is now a kosher hotel without many of the amenities it used to have, and condos are about to sit on what was the Concord.

The ski slipe

The Rocking Horse Ranch was never a kosher hotel, though it was founded and run by Naftali Turk from the Lower East Side, known by a shortening of his Hebrew name, “Toolie.”  According to the onsite literature, it was his love of horses that drove him there with the hotel springing up around it.  It’s still run by the family, a friend of mine having been a counselor to them at the local JCC.

Dinner at Rocking Horse

Once a year, on Yeshiva Week Break, the kitchen is kashered, the windows to the pool are covered, and activities for the day start after Shachris and end 45 minutes before it’s time to daven Minchah.

Play structure at Rocking Horse

The parents and kids loved it … but one of the teenagers … not so much.  It’s great for smaller kids and parents, but not really geared towards singles or, well, teenagers.  There’s a “teenager hangout” room which is basically a ping pong table and pool table (that you have to pay extra for), but for everyone else, it was great.  There’s barely an age limit on the ski slope – or … ski … hill-thing.  It’s pretty shvach, but it’s a great place for kids to learn to ski.  There are dedicated instructors there all day and you can leave your kids to go and learn down to about the age of 3.  Using the same conveyor belt as the skiers, you can take a tube up and go snow tubing day or night.  Again, kids of almost any age can do this and it was quite the favorite.

The other winter activity that Rocking Horse Ranch excels at is horseback riding with three levels of difficulty for the more experienced.  It’s the typical “follow the leader” style horse back riding that I’ve encountered all over, but on the higher levels there’s more control over your horse with trotting and cantering.   You can do this once a day with your stay.

The pool has separate hours and there’s a decent three (?) story water slide.  The “deep” end of the pool is taken up by a short obstacle course and the middle of the pool has some other chatchkas so don’t expect to get any real swimming in.  It’s basically shallow end only, but again, great for smaller kids.

Beyond that, there are various other activities – ice skating is … well, it’s ice skates but it’s on plastic

Night Snow Tubing at Rocking Horse

mats.  Eh.  There’s pony rides for little kids at certain hours.  There’s a tiny game room with overly expensive games (one of my few real gripes about the place – when you’re paying this much do they really have to charge a dollar for a video game that lasts 30 seconds?), but the fake bowling is free.  The kids loved the arts and crafts nightly, but for another gripe, the kids entertainment started at 9pm.  This is past the bed time of the kids who it’s geared for and was pretty cheesy.  One night they had David Darwin – that was a good show.  Hire this guy … he’s great.

Horses at Rocking Horse

There’s a few other small things … but certainly not the highlights.  You can tell they put a lot into the horse back riding and ski program, but things like the archery and BB guns were sort of lacking.  As such, my wife and I concur that if we did it again we’d probably only stay two nights and three days.  That’s enough to get everything in before it gets repetitious.

As for the food, it’s possible it will change from year to year but it’s brought in by caterers associated with the Young Israel in Queens who sponsor the program.  The food was certainly satisfactory … not bad, but not the best.  Breakfast and lunch are dairy and dinner is meat with a fish and vegetarian option.  There’s no shortage of food though … pastas, pancakes, waffles, fruit, salads, ice cream, streak (at a different meal of course), etc.  It got repetitive, but still quite a varied selection.

David Darwin @ Rocking Horse

Overall, it’s an event I would recommend doing once with your family while your kids are no more than about 11 or 12 years old.  Stay two nights and have a great time.

 

Jerusalem Photographs

Deviating from my usual posting style, this post is mostly about the pictures – of various places within and around the Old City (Ir atika) of Jerusalem.  Until about the mid 1800s this was Jerusalem with very little permanent settlement outside the walls.  Today, the new city eclipses the old in size many, many times over but for the center of spiritual Jerusalem you have to head to the Old City.

First, here’s a night panorama of the Western Wall / Kotel plaza.  The kotel is directly in front – this was a ‘regular’ weekday night.  There’s no special holiday or event but one can still find thousands of people coming and going, mostly to pray at the Kotel.  View the panaroma in it’s full 360 degree glory here: https://goo.gl/photos/vZVmp57mLU89PCsm6

Here’s today’s Mamilla mall, just outside the Old City (Jaffa Gate / Shar Yafo). In the 1800s it became a place for tradespeople and then declined after 1948, being on the border with Jordan and Jordanian snipers. Today, it’s very high priced real estate and has been taken over by western clothing brands and the like and placed mostly under a road and next to a parking lot.

Here’s a typical Old City street at night. People tend to be out and about at all hours, though the side streets (which don’t connect gates of the Old City to central locations, etc.) are usually fairly quiet and empty. This street passes between Shar Yafo (Jaffa Gate) and the Jewish quarter so it tends to be filled with people.

Not far from the Old City is an entirely different area – the Ben Yehuda Triangle where mostly tourists fill the restaurants, shops, and bars especially on Thursday and Saturday nights (but not on Shabbos when everything is closed for the holiday). Here, there’s some live entertainment from a local.  Here’s the link to the big picture: https://photos.app.goo.gl/tNg4coVIyT1jdnj33

Back in the Old City, here’s the inside of Bircas HaTorah, a yeshiva where they’re quite serious about attendance. An electronic key card check-in and checkout system is next to the door and every seat is full. They bought the adjacent building and are looking to expand.

Beneath the building adjacent to Bircas HaTorah a hidden room has been discovered during the excavation. It’s not too clear (at the time of this writing) what was here, but it might have been a bakery with ovens. The Old City is built on top of … older old cities. The further you dig, the more back in history you go. It’s hard not to find history wherever you dig in Yerushalayim.

Here’s the southwest corner of the temple mount platform, looking out. The temple mount platform, the large structure built in a mountain by shaving off the top and placing rows of arches over each other in the size of about 28 football fields still stands today. The Western Wall is on the right, though the place where Jews gather to pray today is further down the wall closer to the Kedosh HaKedoshim (holy of holies) where Abraham almost took a knife to Yitzchok [Isaac] and the offerings were brought among other things. The stones are said to have been knocked down by the Romans on what was a street full of commerce right here. One would buy their sheep, goat, or the like here before ascending to the temple mount.

Again looking from the southwest corner outwards one can see the ancient “upper city” where the rich people lived. There used to be a valley in between with large bridges to get from one place to the other, but over the past 2000 years it’s more or less been filled in though the upper city is still high enough above that there’s quite a lot of stairs.

Here’s the Western Wall from underneath in the “tunnels”. Actually, we’re still above ground by quite a lot, it’s just that the marmalks (Muslim conquerors) raised the level of the city about 1000 years ago to the height of the platform but had the foresight to leave a nice space between the wall and the buildings so tours could pass through nicely. You have to plan ahead for these things… That stone – it’s huuugggeee. See it huuuggeee here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/cf3RujNX27aH7OG53 – The tour guide had one of my daughters walk to one end and the other to the other end. Then they screamed to each other from each end. How did this stone and many like it get quarried and brought here with technology from 2500 or so years ago? No one knows. 

Inside Shar Yafo (Jaffa Gate) a woman plays the harm in a white robe. Why? I don’t know. She wasn’t even collecting money. Maybe she’s paid by the city.

Back to the Kotel tunnels – those are paper yarmulkes that fell to the bottom. Tourists sometimes wear these out of respect but nevertheless … amateurs.

Here’s the mixed quarter of the Old City. Before 1948 it was mixed with Jews and Muslims. In about the 1930s with Muslim riots, the British segregated the Jews to the Jewish quarter kicking many Jews out of their homes, some of whom had family there for centuries. After the 1967 war when the State of Israel took control, some land was returned to the Jewish owners outright (e.g. what is now Yeshivas Cohanim), some was purchased (with the sellers often taken by armored bus for their safety and resettled in Paterson, NJ where they can live comfortably on millions of dollars just received), and some has been taken back through legal battles. The home at the end of the street with the big Israeli flag and menorah was owned by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Apparently it’s about as inhabited by him as it was when he was alive – the main residents are mostly soldiers guarding the place.

Still in the mixed quarter, here’s a little hole in the wall perfume shop. Note that the writing is in English and Arabic … no Hebrew here. There are actually many places where Arabs do use Hebrew … I saw much of it on the route from Jerusalem to Hebron, but alas, after two Arab uprisings very few Jews shop among the non-Israeli Arabs anymore. Arabs in Jerusalem can get full citizenship in Israel should they choose it, but most don’t while instead shooting themselves in the foot through uprisings and terror rather than noting reality – we all have to live together.

The light in the tunnel is Shar Yafo (Jaffa Gate) with the Old City wall lit up for the once a year Jerusalem Light Festival. With really, really bright projectors an entire show is put on and one can walk around and through much of the Old City for various light-based entertainment from seesaws to video projection to artwork.

Here’s the men’s section of the Kotel . . . the outdoors part. The women’s section is on the right. Occasionally, you even spot Arab women in hijabs who come here to look around or maybe pray. Should a Jew go up top where the Jordanians were given de facto control, they actually have paid hecklers to scream at Jews and a security force is needed. After my last trip to Israel, I stopped believing in giving Arabs any more control of Israel. They have autonomous rule of their own cities with large signs saying Israelis can’t even enter. That’s the real apartheid in Israel, but meanwhile, there are Arabs everywhere in the country and some major Israeli universities are actually a majority Arab. Meanwhile, when given control, the terrorists and authoritarians take over – criticize the Palestinian Authority and you’ll find yourself arrested and probably tortured in a totalitarian government which will probably never hold another election. … and I haven’t even mentioned Hamas, where they put their money into terror tunnels and missiles launched indiscriminately on cities while their population has 60%+ unemployment and 2-4 hours of electricity a day. If I was an Arab, I’m pretty sure I’d rather be ruled by Jews.

Here’s the Kotel looking from the women’s section over to the men’s section. View the larger panorama here: https://goo.gl/photos/r8FsTgdPAoBKata78

This is the tunnel under Robinson’s arch (one of the former bridges to the upper city from the Temple Mount). Today, it’s part of the men’s section. Again, just an average night and filled with people praying and learning Torah.

This is a 360 of the tunnel section of the men’s area. View this in it’s full glory here: https://goo.gl/photos/toaWniYVY7ZLtpmv7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is part of a series of articles on kosher travel in Israel.  For the map with all places discussed and links to other pages in the series go to the main page at Israel Kosher Vacations for Tourists.  

In no particular order . . .

The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, Rehavia

Located at 55 King George St, this modern synagogue was built in 1982 at a cost of $18 million (in 1982 dollars) and holds 1400 people.  What’s amazing about this synagogue is the choir.  We’re talking about a huge synagogue built with professional acoustic design and a live choir of about 12-20 singers.  I can best describe it as a cross between 18th century baroque, 19th century Poland, and 20th century Carlbach … it was like going to a classical music concert complete with a conductor and “instruments” (only voice) with impeccable sound quality since there’s no reproduction of the sound. You’re hearing the actual voices in a “concert hall” which is built for sound quality.

The difference between this and say, a classical music concert is you’re not a spectator at this concert – well, assuming you know the davening [prayers], probably as a Torah observant Jew.  Here, even the conductor takes part as he too is answering “amen” because he’s actually praying while conducting.

It’s not something I think I’d do every week (I usually prefer little to no singing synagogues that move along), but wow is it amazing when it’s done right.  I imagine it as the closest thing to praying with Leviim singing in the Bais Hamikdash (Temple; though they had instruments too).  On Shabbos morning, the synagogue starts at 8:30am but you’ll be there while a while (probably about 3.5 hours) if you stay for everything so it might be advisable to daven someone else early and then come over here for the second half of davening – e.g. f you can, go there when they sing Hallel (Rosh Chodesh, Chol HaMoed, etc…) and get the full experience. … and don’t worry what you look like.  There are people with kippa strugas, black hats, streimels, probably some tourists … you have everyone attending here.

The Hurva, Old City

Those who are used to walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, until recently, were used to passing through a square with a small platform where musicians gather, people make calls from the bank of payphones, and an arch stands in what everyone knows is a synagogue which was destroyed by the Jordanians in the 1948 war.  Well, a blank wall now greets you were the payphones were and the platform is still there, but the arch that you see is now part of the rebuilt Hurva synagogue.  Once the headquarters for Ashkenazi Jewish practice in Jerusalem in the 1700s, it’s been built and destroyed (usually by the Ottomans or other Muslims) and rebuilt more times than it seems history has kept track of.  There are historical mentions of the synagogue in 2nd, 13th, and 14th centuries and is also known as the Ramban Synagogue as the Ramban is one of the builders at one time.

Today, it’s fully rebuilt as exact as possible based on the pre-1948 plans.  The only difference I could find were the wooden blocks surrounding the air conditioning units.  You can find minyanim here every day and two Shabbos morning in a ‘yeshivish’ style, the later at 8:15am.  Minyan proceeds quickly and without talking or a break for a Rabbinical speech, but be advised that modern acoustics are not something you’ll find in the multi-story many shul built of stone.  There’s quite the echo making for a very different experience from the modern Great Synagogue described above.

Seeing this synagogue rebuilt is a very positive change for those of us who walked through this courtyard numerous times on our way to the Kotel only to see an arch where a shul should have been.  Now, there’s a shul there and it’s emblematic of much of Israel which is constantly growing, being rebuilt.  It’s not the country it was when I lived there in 2002.  As I write this article in 2017, only 15 years later, the roads have been straightened, incomes have gone up 50%, ruins are often active places of worship.

Belz Great Synagogue

Unintentionally, the article covers a Mizrachi, Yeshivish, and Chassidic great synagogue.  Belz, as one would probably guess, is the chassidish synagogue of the Belz Chassidim from Belz, Poland/Ukraine.  The flat fur hats that they wear are quite stylish, but when you see this synagogue … wow.  It’s the largest synagogue in Israel and can seat over 10,000.  You enter on a floor that looks like a never ending lobby of a hotel complete with granite, marble, and stone work.  Go up a floor to the synagogue, or if you’re going to the woman’s section, you can go up to one of three floors, and you’re greeting by an Aron HaKodesh (where the Torah’s are stored) which is, I’m told, a full size replica of the Heichel – the front of the Temple.  It’s huge, as is this room.

It’s worth a stop to see how the Jews have finally returned to Jerusalem in huge numbers.  Belz had two main synagogues back in Poland which were destroyed by the Nazis.  It amazing to think that in 1945, between death and rebirth, chassidim like Belz had no great synagogues and were largely wiped out but you come to Jerusalem today and see that the synagogues have been more than rebuilt where they’re supposed to be and now accommodate crowds praying to G_d within which haven’t been seen in Israel since before the last Temple was destroyed.

Bonus: The Little Synagogue On Agripas St

Bais Tzvi is it’s name – at approximately 26 Agripas St (see picture on map) this humble synagogue sits at the end of the drive-able part of Agrippas St which extends from the shuk, and what begins the pedestrian mall from here through the King George triangle.  It’s not huge like the rest discussed in this article, but it has it’s charm.  Hidden behind a plain looking doorway between restaurants and clothing stores, this small synagogue has regular Ashkenazi minyanim three times a day with well posted times inside.  It’s small enough and the Rav is friendly enough that he’ll notice you when you walk in and help you feel comfortable (he only speaks Hebrew though).  The Gabbi is an American Jew from Baltimore who moved to the area, and many who stay in the hotels in the area frequent this synagogue.

On Shabbos morning, they start at 7:45am and finish by about 9:15am but the reason this gets mentioned in the kiddush.  You’ll find an “authentic” Jerusalem kiddush here.  It’s not over the top, it’s not huge, it’s just some yerushalmi kugel, cholent, and a small amount of baked goods.  It’s just not something reproducible outside of Israel.  Then, you can head off to experience the bigger Great Synagogue of Jerusalem discussed above.

 

This is part of a series of articles on kosher travel in Israel.  For the map with all places discussed and links to other pages in the series go to the main page at Israel Kosher Vacations for Tourists.  

Geography of the Dead Sea Region

The Dead Sea Region is low and hot.  Excepting for the middle of winter, plan to head out early.  It easily reaches temperatures of 100 Fahrenheit / 40 Celsius in much of the year.  It’s a desert with not too much habitation – it’s South of the “green line” in “Israel proper” and solely a Jewish area, but the quickest route to get there from many places is by driving west from Jerusalem through the Judean Hills.  It’s well worth the trip, but highly recommended to plan your activities in advance (and go with a full tank of gas if you drive) because stops are some distance away from each other.

Panorama of the top of Masada

Masada

Sunrise at Masada

This is the place where the Jews who chose to fight to Romans rather than compromise held up in Herod’s fortress almost 2,000 years ago.  Large cisterns were dug to hold water and donkeys traversed the “snake path” (so named by Josephus, and as named today) to bring water and supplies to the top.  Numerous ruins have been uncovered including many buildings and some dyed tiles with the dye faded, but clearly visible.  It is a common place for bar mitzvahs in what was, or well, is again a synagogue.

There are two paths up Masada – make sure you know which one you’re going up.  There is a different road to each, and the roads do not connect.  Google Maps / Waze will take you to the “snake path” which is about a 1,300 foot / 400 meter climb.  It winds back and forth alternating between hilly traverses, stairs, and inclines.  Near the top, railings are more common but it’s a long way down.  We did this hike starting out at about 5 am, not because we wanted to see the sunrise particularly, but because it was July and by about 8 am it’s simply too hot and they close the path entirely and the gondola opens.  If you’re like us and climb this path in July, no need to speak Hebrew.  It was all American (and a few British) at this hour because Israelis do this in the winter months.  The river of sweat on my back might have had something to do with it, and once again my now 8 year old daughter had no trouble beating me to the top (see Tannersville trip where the same thing happened at Hunter Mountain).

The cable car at Masada

The other hiking path, if you can call it that, is a the Roman ramp.  The Romans couldn’t take the fortress by way of the snake path, and if you climb it you’ll see why.  Instead, the built a road and a ramp up the other side.  It’s a rather large engineering project which now serves Jewish tourists well.  Thanks, I guess, Romans.  It reminds me of the passage in the Gemora Succos about the end of days when the nations of the world will be asked to defend their ill treatment of the Jews and they’ll say, “we built great roads for the Jews which they used” and the response will be, “no, you built them for yourself.”

The third way up, opening at 8am, is the gondola.  Seeing the top of Masada just isn’t nearly as rewarding unless you do the 1,300 foot climb … it’s something everyone should experience once in their life.  Then you arrive at the same gate that the inhabitants arrived at 2,000 years ago . . . and you find the water faucets waiting for you at the top.

Dead Sea Swimming

The Dead Sea is another thing everyone should experience once in their life.  It has among the highest salinity of any body of water in the world (it’s beat by a recently appearing lake in Ethiopia, but that lake is near boiling hot with deadly amounts of sulfur and will kill you).  In your typical unsalted or even ocean water, you sink to the bottom and have to treat water to keep afloat.  In the Dead Sea, it’s the opposite – you kind of bob there with the water level just beneath your shoulders and have to struggle if you want to touch the bottom.  It’s loads of fun.

Kalia Beach – Dead Sea

As of the time of this writing, it’s difficult to find a beach at the Dead Sea.  Many of the public beaches are closed due to sink holes which is apparently a thing in this area.  The one separate beach that is open is Ein Bokek at a hotel.  It’s south of Masada, so the “wrong direction” if you’re planning to travel back North to where most of Israel’s population centers are located.  We found out the hard way that Mineral Beach was closed due to sink holes but some of us really, really wanted to go in the Dead Sea and the rest of us were glad we dragged them along.  We ended up at Kalia Beach which is at the intersection of routes 1 and 90 at the northern end of the Dead Sea.

A few notes about Kalia beach – first, at the intersection is a gas station.  Fill up here if you need it because you won’t find another gas station along route 90 for a long, long time.  We drove back on fumes, stopping at every place and being told, “no gas station here… go maybe [5/10/15/20/other random number] kilometers up the road” to not find a gas station there either making me wonder if Israelis can estimate distance.  Second, Kalia beach is a bit less than an hour out of Yerushayim so if you just want to go to the Dead Sea to swim, it’s a pretty easy trip.  Third, it’s a mixed beach.  That being said, most but not all women were fairly covered up to protect their skin from the sun.  In fact, while we didn’t go to mixed beaches on the Mediterranean, women in Israel seem to tend to be more tznious than women in the United States.  Kalia beach was actually filled with Chinese tourists, many of which covered themselves head to toe and one with a face mask as well <shrug>.  Fourth, Kalia beach is expensive – we heard after the trick is to say you want to go to their store and by some mineral oil and rocks that people apparently rub on their skin for some reason (we got a demo, and I can’t say I understand why you want to rub scratchy rocks on yourself).  Then, you go to the beach after and the cost of the silly products is less than the cost of the beach.

Other Dead Sea Attractions

An ancient cistern at Masada

There’s the Ahava factory … not much to see.  Just an assembly line and gift shop.  There’s Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.  There’s no gas station there (as me how I know), but there is a pretty big gift shop because, you know, the Essenes put the scrolls where they’d be safe for 2,000 years so the Pharisees could profit later.  My group didn’t seem to want to see past the gift shop, but I’m sure there’s other things there today, too.

There’s Ein Gedi which is one of a few Jewish settlements in the area.  By day, the residents aren’t really to be found presumably all in their houses while it’s hot.   There is a fresh water spring here and apparently some great hikes.  If you’ve been, please elaborate more in the comments for the benefit of others.

In Conclusion . . .

This region of Israel is not to be missed.  There is unique Jewish history here to be experienced!  Even if you’re not Jewish, the hike up Masada and Dead Sea are well worth the trip.  Some final pictures are below.

Looking out at the Judean Hills from Masada

Hiking up the Snake Path at Masada – the starting point is all the way down there . . .

Looking down from the Snake Path to the desert floor (where the hike starts) and Dead Sea

Introduction

Click to Enlarge

For our latest trip, we took an epic vacation to Eretz Yisroel (Israel).  Unlike previous posts where there is one per place, this one has to be split out into many, many posts.  In this first article in the series we’ll be discussion an overview only.  Later articles (which will hopefully be linked from this one) will get into details on each place we visited on our trip and some we planned to visit, as mapped out by my son’s beautiful picture to your right.

Please also view the Israel Kosher vacation map we made on Google which covers all the places we visited or had planned to visit.  With pre-planning, you can make the most of your trip to Israel.

Geography & Language

It doesn’t rain in the summer in Israel.  From Pesach to Sukkos, you can leave your car windows open, but expect it to be pretty warm in the summer, and rainy or even snowy in the winter.  Israel is at the midst of different weather regions of the world, and on the coast one finds a “Mediterranean” coastal water climate, in the North one finds mountains and lots of water with some of the most amazing hikes in the world, and in the south a desert.

While much of the country speaks English, they do so with varying degrees of knowledge and far from everyone does so.  it is helpful to at least some Hebrew so you know when the lifeguard is screaming at you, so you can negotiate in the Machane Yehuda shuk of Jerusalem, or pay for monthly parking.

Expense

Customer service is getting better along with the income level.  Per capita income, at the time of this writing, is about US$39,000/yr categorizing the country as the 24th richest (per person) in the world, on the level or above much of Europe at this time.  In 2000, the rate of the shekel to dollar was almost 5:1.  Today, it’s 3.5:1 due to a very strong Israeli economy based on high tech and tourism.

Food seemed to be less expensive in Israel, but hotels and vacation apartment rentals appeared to be on par with American rates.  Even Judaica, which used to be much less expensive in Israel, is often not so.  Sure, you can find a yarmulke on the street for 10 shekels, but even a good pair of tzitzis in Israel is on par with U.S. prices these days.

Driving In Israel

Americans love our cars and the country is setup for driving.  Israel . . . not so much.  At the time of this writing, gas costs about $6.50/gallon (of which 2/3 is taxes) while it was $2.15 in New Jersey and car rentals cost close to what they do in the United States.  The newer highway 6 which goes North to South is as nice as any three lane highway in the United States, but much of the rest of the country has poorly timed traffic lights.

In Jerusalem in particular, main roads have been replaced with pedestrian walking areas and recently one of the main roads (Yafo) has been almost completely replaced by a light rail.  Just crossing from one side to the other can take ten minutes so what used to be a five minute drive to the zoo is now a 10 minute drive without traffic and a 30 minute drive at most times.

The country has few stop signs, instead preferring the much more efficient round abouts or traffic circles.  These are great – after your fifth one in five blocks in Ashdod, they can get tiresome but it sure beats completely stops at every block in American traffic.

Car Rental In Israel

From reading reviews, it appears that car rentals go fairly smoothly in Israel and that was our experience too.  The major companies are all fine and Budget / Hertz in Israel are actually run by the same company.  We did seem numerous negative reviews about Sixt, so you might want to avoid this company.  I also avoid Thrifty with a passion after getting royally ripped off in Tampa while they company that owns their website blamed the car rental company of the same name, and vice versa.

We used Noach Car which acts as an agent.  In our case, they got us a Hertz rental and helped us choose the exact car we wanted (8 seats, which car rental companies don’t advertise as a choice) while not charging basic insurance for Shabbos.  It came out cheaper and when there’s a problem, they’re very responsive.

One thing to be aware of: many credit cards do not offer collision insurance coverage in Israel / have exclusions for Israel.  It is very expensive to pay for insurance out of pocket.  Chase (and Amazon’s Chase card) do have this coverage but you will need to get a letter from them specifically stating that they cover the CDW insurance.

Cellular Phone Service in Israel

Your best bet seems to be a T-Moble plan.  Your American phone will work flawlessly in Israel with calls at 20 cents a minute and data included.  Project Fi, Google’s plan which uses the T-Mobile network, also works in Israel at 20 cents a minute and $10/gigabyte.  Using this for Waze while driving around Israel for a month shouldn’t even have you hit one gigabye, but service was less reliable.  It did not register properly on the network for two days and then every few days, I had to fiddle with the settings, toggling between 3G and 4G, turning it off and on, and then it would work again.  Google credited us for the month of service because it’s supposed to work.

We also tried MintSim which is supposed to work internationally – it didn’t.  Service with this company is a call center in India reading off a call script so just forget it.

Others have recommended buying a Golan telecom sim card was in Israel for 100 shekels a month and then canceling after a month.  That might work.  Then there are sim card rentals and cellular phone rentals but these are typically at 4x the price it costs for normal service in Israel.  That’s quite a profit margin!

Choosing an Airline to Israel

They’re all just as bad/good.  People like to rag on El Al but it was no better or worse, in our experience, than anyone else.  The major advantage is they like to feed you and you can go to the ‘kitchen’ and find more food whenever you’d like.  All the food on the plane is kosher, though some/many (depending who you ask) will request/eat only food which is double wrapped (or pre-packaged) as there are concerns that they use leniencies one wouldn’t use in their own home such as using ovens for meant and then dairy without waiting 24 hours because, you know, it’s a plane.  Further, there’s no guarantees that something non-kosher wasn’t put in the oven by flight staff during a flight.  Flights from the U.S. to Israel have meals double sealed with an OU and they were quite good … olives, mozzarella, etc.  Flights from Israel are rabbinute but you can request (beforehand) meals with mehadrin hechsurs (and get fed first).

One tip with El Al – don’t bother calling their helpline for help.  They can’t help.  Post on their Facebook page and you’ll get someone responsible who may be able to help.

Kosher Food in Israel

This one gets a section because I’ve spent much time talking to Rabbeim who do it regular rabbinute and those who don’t.  “Rabbinute” is the “stam” or base hecshur run by the Israeli Rabbinate.  Haredi Jews won’t touch it . . . but also, in my experience won’t really say that you can’t or it’s not kosher.  There are problems with it, including those reported in the Jerusalem Post, for example, about a meat factory packaging traif meat in the same factory and the mashgiach failing to report this for months, and other places where the mashgiach would have to work 100 hour days to inspect everything he was supposed to inspect.

In any case, in Jerusalem it’s not a problem to find better hecshurs – they’re all over.  In other places, it can be more spotty.  On the flip side, finding Rabbinute is easy seemingly anywhere in the country.  A cafe in Tel Aviv University is kosher dairy, as are fish restaurants in Ashdod.

Types of Places to Visit, and a Little Planning

Israel has some of the most amazing hikes in the world – desert hikes, hikes up historical sites (Mesada), water hikes, forest hikes . . . it’s got them all and they’re great fun.  Museums in this country are also very nice from the Israel Museum to living in the past museums, to the holocaust museum . . . they tend to be well done and tasteful.  Then there, of course, the historical sites.  Jerusalem has plenty of these centered around or in the old city, but you can find Jewish history throughout the country from a reconstruction of the mishkan in Shilo to ancient (well, often rebuilt) historical sites in Tzvas and elsewhere.

Many of these places are covered (or will be covered) in the plethora of additional articles on visiting Israel.  Enjoy.

 

 

Introduction to Jewish Tannersville and Hunter, NY

Hiking above Kaaterskill Falls

Hiking above Kaaterskill Falls

I wrote about the Hunter Kosher Bed and Breakfast previously when I visited a few years ago for a weekend – I finally returned to really check out the Jewish community which was hiding in plain view.  The secular world knows the town of Hunter for the Hunter mountain ski slope, but it turns that for more than a century it has been home to a large Jewish community.  In fact, Hunter mountain was owned by a Torah observant Jew and it’s still in his family today.

Hunter, NY is a actually a city in New York made of two villages – Hunter and Tannersville.  The respective village centers of Tannersville and Hunter are about five miles apart along the same one-lane highway.  The population of the 91 sq mile town today (2016) is about equal to what it was in 1840.  While founded in 1790 with a tannery, since the arrival of railroad in the late 1800s (demolished in WWII because the metal was needed) there has been a large and continuous Jewish presence.  It is “the other Jewish catskills.”  While there a ridiculously large summer Jewish community in the Woodridge-Monticello area (about a two hour drive away; ask me how I know that), there is a smaller, but still quite large summer Jewish presence in the Tannersville area.

Where to Daven / Synagogues of Tannersville and Hunter

Anshei HaSharon in Tannersville, NY

Anshei HaSharon in Tannersville, NY

Tannersville has about four fully functioning synagogues, with one having daily year round minyanim.  You can find Tannersville, NY minyan times here.  Basically, Shachris is at 8:00am – you won’t find earlier or much later; Shabbos is always a late Shabbos.  Tannersville is the summer retreat of the Washington Heights / Breuer’s community.  Anshei Sharon (pictured to the right) is a 100+ year old synagogue which was and is still the place of famous Rabbeim from Washington Heights.  Right behind it, one can find a new synagogue,  Bnai Hayeshivos which, as one would expect, is yeshivish.  The building is very modern, large, and could be straight out of Lakewood.  I didn’t get to the chassidic shuls, but there are those too.

In nearby Hunter, there is one shul – the Hunter Synagogue, situated very close to the entrance to Hunter mountain.  There you’ll find Shachris at 8am as well as a daily Minchah and Maariv, though we had to get some people together for a zman Maariv minyan rather than wait for the late one.  Every one of these shuls was very well attended.

Where to Get Kosher Food / Kosher Restaurants

Country K Supermarket in Tannersville, NY

Country K Supermarket in Tannersville, NY

Kosher food is limited to Tannersville where the much larger Jewish community exists.  There are now not one, but two kosher supermarkets.  You can find an interesting assortment in these supermarkets, both just off the main street.  There’s cholov yisroel milk, kosher meat, and a variety of other products including non-food items such as yarmulkes and tzitzis.  Country K has tables with service where you can order pizza, ice cream, and some other foods.  In the same area they have pool table and ping pong table.  All this, including the “supermarket” and “restaurant” are on carpet for . . . a country experience.

Down the road a bit towards the edge of Tannersville and towards Hunter is the Tops supermarket.  This is more of a standard supermarket with everything you’d expect from a supermarket minus a specific kosher section.

What to Do with the Family in Tannersville, NY

A house with a pool is all my kids really need for happiness, but it turned out to be too cold on or trip most days … this was in August!  It’s in the mountains.  In other places we’ve rented houses, they were immaculate.  Here, we’re dealing with a rural area full of ‘for sale’ signs making it a clear buyer’s market and an area of relatively low industry and income so the houses seem to be more … rustic and full of character.  Still, that has it’s charm too.

Kaaterskill Falls after the 1/2 mile hike

Kaaterskill Falls after the 1/2 mile hike

Kaaterskill Falls was, by far, the highlight of our family activities and we think it will be yours too. Detailed information is available over here.  You can enter on the upper side [GPS coordinates] or lower side [GPS coordinates].  From the upper side you can take a back and forth gravel path (stroller accessible) to a viewing platform, looking down the top part of the waterfall.  It’s nice and enjoyable . . . but from the lower side, that’s where the fun is.  You have to park in a too small parking lot about 500 feet up the one lane road (I dropped the family off at the entrance first – recommended).  Then you see some of the waterfall, but a 1/2 mile trail up and down steep hills, trees, rocks, and stairs brings you to a pond being fed by a high waterfall above you.

It’s really a trail for, say, six years and up but let’s just say with some help and carrying at parts, even four, two, and one year olds love it.  (Ask me how I know that.)  Further between the top and bottom sides of the falls are a very steep set of staircases and other paths with large “danger” signs where people really have died, including quite recently.  We didn’t do that part for some reason.

Hunter Mountain in the winter of course has skiing.  They also have year round zip lining.  We did the dinky zip lines (100 to 600 feet or so) so the kids as young as eight (60 lbs) could join.  They’re short and there’s a lot of waiting.  For adults there are 3000+ foot zip lines with 65 MPH travel which are probably amazing, but I couldn’t tell you because I decided to spoil my kids instead.

Hiking Down Hunter Mountain

Hiking Down Hunter Mountain (note how far I’ve fallen behind my daughter, 1/5th my age)

Hunter mountain also has hiking.  There are two ways you can do this – well, three.  You can walk up the mountain (ouch).  You can take the chair lift to the top of the mountain and hike down.  Double black diamonds, it turns out, are easier to ski down than walk down . . . unless you’re a seven year old girl, in which case you’re way out in front of your parents the entirety of the hike.  (Ask me how I know that.)  So yes, I can say I’ve actually walked down the entirety of Hunter mountain . . . and that my seven year old can do it faster and would have gone back up and done it again had we let her.  There are also higher points to start from along the road, such as this five mile hike which was second on my list.

Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns is about an hour fifteen minutes away.  It’s a big cave with walking tour (stroller’s not allowed) and boat ride.  It’s worth seeing once and really fun if you’ve never been there.  It’s in the middle of no where even by our tour guide’s assessment.  Once, I went from there to an Eerie Canal boat ride where they take you in a loch and lower your boat down, and then do it in reverse.  The kids loved it, but that’s an extra hour to the northwest.  (If you’re on your way between New York and Ontario, however, both are good choices to breakup the car ride.)

Balliwick Ranch is about half hour from Tannersville.

Camel at Balliwick Ranch

Camel at Balliwick Ranch

Here they have horseback riding ($65/hr; a bit steep but no reservation required), a farm, and paintball.  While the older kids and some adults go horseback riding, the younger kids can see the camels, lions, turtles, goats (lots of goats), and play in a very nice playground with a trampoline and huge sandbox.  Be warned – they only take cash and the staff, both times I was there, had something of middos issues but the number of animals and proximity to each other is great, as was the horseback riding.

North-South Lake, right next to Tannersville, is a state park with great camping, swimming in the lake, and boat rentals.

The playground in Tannersville is also known to be quite nice with a lot of fun toys for kids.

Ziplining at Hunter Mountain

Ziplining at Hunter Mountain

One thing we want to do but haven’t had a chance to yet is inner tube riding which can be found in nearby Phoencia, NY, about a half hour away.  Problem: minimum age is 12.

Bear in our Tannersville, NY backyard

Bear in our Tannersville, NY backyard

There is also a train ride on weekends on a stream train right next to the world’s largest kaleidoscope.  I drove past, but sure…it’s… something.

That should be enough to keep you and your family busy!  It’s a trip we would certainly do again.

 

Introduction

No shortage of mangoes in South Florida

No shortage of mangoes in South Florida

Miami – a city full of New Yorkers who hate winter.  Well, that’s not all.  There are also New Yorkers there who don’t like the intensity or taxes of New York.  Combine this with a mix of people from Spanish speaking countries who came to the United States, and you’ve got yourself a very beautiful city, albeit with some interesting cultural nuances.  For example, people there think it is perfectly normal to have a front lawn full of crabgrass, supermarkets that don’t sell fruits and vegetables but have excellent wine selections, and instead of squirrels filling the trees, they’ve got lizards.

We almost went back to the kosher resort in the Dominican Republic again this year, but you know, I already wrote that blog article.

Where to Stay

Our house rental in North Miami Beach - not much from the outside, but beautiful inside with 3 bedrooms, kosher kitchen, pool, seforim, game room, and central air.

Our house rental in North Miami Beach – not much from the outside, but beautiful inside with 3 bedrooms, kosher kitchen, pool, seforim, game room, and central air.

We no longer stay in hotels if we can avoid it.  Thanks to the internet, you can find very reliable information and ratings about houses for rent which usually cost about the same or sometimes less than a hotel with the same number of beds.  Plus, in many rental houses you get your own pool.  It turns out that in the Miami area, there is a conspicuous absence of house rentals near/in Jewish communities on sites like Homeaway and AirBNB.  This is probably because housing is more expensive in these areas.  No problem – you can either choose to stay in a hotel, say, in the Bel Harbour area where there is a Jewish community very close to the beach or rent a house from the Jewish equivalent of Homeaway in Miami.  If you’re into Bel Harbour / Surfside and being in a hotel near the beach, then there’s a Young Israel in the area with daily minyanim and some Chabads.  Young Israel and Chabad both seem to be very big in the Miami area.

Renting a House in North Miami Beach

Pool at our house rental in North Miami Beach.

Pool at our house rental in North Miami Beach.

Instead of a hotel, we rented a house in North Miami Beach from “Florida Kosher Villas“.  There are others who do it, but this person had the largest selection of houses and most professional website.  I don’t do ‘heimish’ on my trips – I want professional.  It’s the same idea and same feel as HomeAway – you get the whole house with a pool, the garage is converted into a game room, washer, dryer,  . . . it might as well have been a Homeaway.com rental.  There were two important differences: 1) price, 2) Judaism.  You pay a premium over the same sort of house that you’ll find on Homeaway, but the service was just as excellent as we experience renting on Homeaway.com and you can’t match the location.  We were right in the middle of the North Miami Beach Jewish community with a synagogue across the street and four more within five blocks of the house.

Beach in Miami at Dusk

Beach in Miami at Dusk

The house was further equipt with a kosher kitchen (and cameras, not on when you’re there, to ensure it stays kosher), everything you need for Shabbos (candles, kiddush cup, benchers, hot plate, urn …), washing cups, seforim, and the whole deal.  The house was just redone and the experience was great.  You don’t have to feel like you’re “compromising” on your Judaism when you’re there and get all the amenities of a typical house rental.  I’d highly recommend this option to anyone.

The North Miami Beach Community

North Miami Beach is one of many different Jewish communities in South Fliorida, all in the right 1/4 of the state.  The left 3/4 is reserved for the birds – the Everglades is huge.  It’s a non-pretentious community of almost exclusively one floor, three bedroom houses.  They’re kind of like Jerusalem apartments in house form.  Originally, it was a winter retreat for Northerners.  (Now it’s an all year retreat for Northerners.)  The community hasn’t quite figured out the internet thing yet, but walk into a few shuls and have some conversations with people and you can figure out most of the minyan times.  The North Miami Beach Kollel website is the only place I have found many minyan times for the community listed together.

Gangster, Meir Lansky treated his shul in Miami well. (Now a museum.)

Gangster, Meir Lansky treated his shul in Miami well. (Now a museum.)

The community is made up over about seven different kehillas, almost all right near NE 10th ave.  Here’s a link to a map of Sharray Tefillah, one of the synagogues in North Miami Beach which I point you to because it’s about in the “center”.  To the South, is the Young Israel and to the North is Torah V’Emunah and soon to be the Kollel.  As an over-generalization, the further south, the longer the mishaberachs and shorter the shemonei esrei.  As you go north, the shorter the mishabereachs and the longer the shemonei esrei to give a sense of the nature of the different synagogues.

What to Do?

Surfside, Fl – After you get done basking in the fact that you have your own house with your own pool, it’s about a 20 minute drive from North Miami Beach to the beach in Surfside, Fl.  The beaches are beautiful with high rise buildings lining the shore.  North of the high rises are some parks with beach access as well.  Midweek, the beaches were not very crowded and we were able to find places where immodesty wasn’t so much of an issue.  Florida is literally flatter than a pancake so you have to go quite far out in the water until it covers you. Further, Surfside, which the local Jews consider part of the Bel Harbour Jewish community, has a plethora of kosher restaurants (see next section).

Anhinga trail, Everglades.

Anhinga trail, Everglades.

Parasailing @ Caribbean Water Sports, Key West, Fl.

Parasailing @ Caribbean Water Sports, Key West, Fl.

The Florida Keys – Drive south until Rt. 95 ends, then keep driving south down Rt. 1 until it turns into one lane and cross some bridges and you’re in Key West, the first key.  That’s as far as we made it, where we found more beautiful beaches with water so calm it was warmer than a bathtub.  To cool off, you had to get out of the water, not in it.  We also found Caribbean Water Sports, behind a beautiful Hilton Hotel.  There they have parasailing (see our picture above), jet-skiing, snorkeling, and so forth.

Walking/Biking Trail in Oleta River Park, Miami

Walking/Biking Trail in Oleta River Park, Miami

The Everglades – Go to Anhinga trail, the internet said.  It’s the highest rated trail in the everglades, the internet said.  So we went the 1 hr 50 min drive to find it.  It’s I’m sure it must be great but i couldn’t tell you – it was almost all closest for construction so we went to the adjacent trail – the Gumbo Limbo trail.  This is a short paved path trough a part-jungle/tropical forest, part-Northern forest.  Tropical trees and rhododendron grow next to each other.  That’s kind of interesting until we ran out as fast as we could watching a Berenstein Bears / cartoon style cloud of mosquitoes chase us out and bite us.  We were still finding and killing mosquitoes in the car an hour later.

Beach at a picnic site in Oleta River Park, Miami

Beach at a picnic site in Oleta River Park, Miami

Fine, so we went to the visitors center to see what else we could do.  We could drive 35 miles in the wrong direction from where we wanted to go to take a pontoon boat (we’re the hiking type, no thanks) or a few more miles to find another trail where we were warned the mosquitoes were much worse.  Wait, what?  Now I know why Spanish explorers had so much trouble making it the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal was delayed for hundreds of years, largely due to mosquitoes and disease.  So much for the Everglades.

 

We saw the best wildlife found next to the everglades in some animal havens.

We saw the best wildlife found next to the everglades in some animal havens.

Animal Rehabilitation Clinics – I didn’t drive 1 hr 50 minutes to the Everglades to just give up on having fun.  It turns out there are interesting things outside of the Everglades.  It’s mostly a sparsely populated area with large farms, but along the route a small tourist industry has popped up.  We stopped in one of a few “animal rehabilitation” places – where they take in wounded animals from the wild or which have been confiscated from people who acquired them without permits and didn’t know how to take care of them.  E.g. they had two lions that a female dancer thought she was going to use in her routine.  I can think of worse ideas, but this one goes in the top 10%.  I went to the Everglades to see animals (not just mosquitoes, thanks) so I got my fix in – lions, turtles, bears, birds, cats, snakes, and of course lots and lots of alligators.  It was $12/person to enter as a “trial member” to this “members only” place and I’m pretty sure the worker just pocketed the money after the “credit card machine was down” but whatever.  We liked it.

 

Robert Is Here – This is a fruit stand which started out when a kid was sent to sell vegetables along the road.  The story goes that it didn’t work until the father added big signs saying that his son “Robert is here”.  Anyway, today it sells tropical fruits.  Looking to get your schechiyanu fix [prayer connecting with G_d for the opportunity to experience something new, such as a fruit you haven’t eaten]?  There’s plenty here – raw guava are amazing!  I had no idea.  Sapote are interesting – it’s like if sweet potato were a fruit.  Warning: the place isn’t

If sweet potato were a fruit, it'd be this.

If sweet potato were a fruit, it’d be this.

cheap . . . but the fruit is excellent.

 

State Parks with Activities – There are a lot of these with kayaking, boating, and the like.  We made it to two – one in Key West and one in Miami – Oleta River Park was recommended to us by a local (well, a NY transplant) with some nice hiking, biking, and kayak trails (not the same trails) as well as a beach and camping sites.

 

Jewish Museum – The Jewish Museum is n downtown Miami (read: traffic area), converted from a synagogue dating back to the 1930s.  Upon entering, I noticed the stained glass window with the name of Meyer Lansky, a famous member of the mob.  Apparently, he treated the shul nicely.  The Jewish community has moved to other areas of town and is huge, but this shul has seen better days.  Shuls have turned into better or worse – this one now gives some history of Jewish settlement in the area and when we were there, the adjoining building had two things: an empty aron hakodesh and idolotry – naked statutes of ‘biblical’ women as interpreted by a local sculptor having no respect for the women represented or the place this building once was.  It was … no, is, painful.

Where to Eat

Not to be confused with "Amazing Savings" supermarket, also in Miami. (This is why you should file trademarks.)

Not to be confused with “Amazing Savings” supermarket, also in Miami. (This is why you should file trademarks.)

The Miami / Fort Lauderdale area an absurd number of kosher restaurants.  I’m told most of them are fairly new and this hasn’t been a long-term phenomenon.  We made the most of it, trying as many restaurants as possible. We only covered a small fraction of them –

At the corner of 95th and Collins Ave in Surfside, Fl is “Isaac Bashevis Singer Blvd” with mostly Jewish stores.  This includes about eight kosher restaurants – the cafes were decent, especially Cafe Vert which has many gluten free options.  The restaurants vary from Asian to italian and are more ‘up scale’.  We always found good service, but the food didn’t always match. Kosh was the priciest of them.  For $28 the “linguine beef” was hamburger meat and plain pasta with no spices and no salads et al if that’s your sort of thing.  For desert, head over to Kosherland supermarket on the same block.  Five dollars buys you a paerve pastry better than any deserts we had in the restaurants.

$28 "Linguine Beef" (plain noodles and hamburger meat) at Kosh Restaurant.

$28 “Linguine Beef” (plain noodles and hamburger meat) at Kosh Restaurant.

In North Miami Beach you can find a Carvel which was a whole a lot better than we have up north – I bought the same thing in both places to test it.  Florida’s Carvel had real strawberries and better ice cream.  The one in New Jersey used syrup.  Pita hut, a middle eastern style shwarma place was very professional and the food was pretty good and at 2:15pm on a Friday it was packed … with non-Jews.  That’s always a good sign for a kosher restaurant.  Holy Bagels and Pizza was our breakfast choice one day.  It was a pretty solid breakfast in a sit down restaurant and not expensive at all.

In Hollywood, Fl, we only hit up one restaurant on our way to the plane – flying into Fort Lauderadle is much less expensive than Miami and the airports are all of a half hour drive from each other.  The restaurant was Levy’s Kosher, another solid choice with pita/laffa-type foods.

 

Walk Into New York City for Free

Want to pay no toll and no bus or train fare into New York City?  There is a way – walk.  There is only one way to walk from New Jersey, however.  This is over the George Washington bridge.  There is actually a decent amount of parking to be found in Fort Lee right near the bridge on many of the side streets.  Don’t worry about having to park 0.2 or even 0.5 miles from the bridge itself, because you’re about to walk a little under a mile across the bridge itself and then about another mile for kosher food.  This is actually quite short – compare to the Verrazano bridge (connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn) at about 2.7 miles long and the Tappan Zee bridge (crossing the Hudson 25 miles north of the George Washington Bridge) at over 3 miles long.  Fun facts: The Verrazano is a suspension bridge for which the towers at each end take into account the curvature of the Earth which is a factor at this length.  The Tappan Zee is actually at the widest spot on the Hudson river which is a silly place to build a bridge … but it just so happens to be just over 25 miles from New York City which is just outside the jurisdiction of the Port Authority which refused to build another bridge in order to protect their tolls and investment in the George Washington Bridge.

walk-over-george-washington-bridge_imagelargeDetails of the Walk

After finding a parking spot near Fort Lee park on the one side, you follow the signs up to the south side, upper level of the George Washington Bridge where there is a foot path.  This is the only foot path that is open and traffic goes in both directions.  It’s about the width of four people comfortably walking … though bikes come at you from both directions.  It’s closed from midnight to 6 am and it’s a very straight path … except for slight detours around the side of each tower.  Along the way, the bridge will give you the bright idea of committing suicide with frequent reminders that if you’re going to do it, here’s a good place to try.

At the other end you enter New York City and upper Manhattan … well, Washington Heights to be precise.  You can now enjoy the park on the other side of the bridge – Fort Washington Park.  Both of these parks have significant revolutionary war history where taxation was seen as a pretty good reason to characterize a few very provoked deaths as a “massacre” and in turn, cause death and disease (causing more death) in hundreds of thousands of people through a war.  (Ends justify the means?)  (Now Hamilton is an amazing musical, but I’m the side of Rabbi Avigdor Miller and lean towards Bishop Samuel Seabury on this one – fight for your freedom without, you know, killing people.)

You Can Walk All the Way from New Jersey to Brooklyn

gwbKeep on walking to the East and you soon encounter a subway.  The 175th street station has the A line which will take you all the way to Far Rockaway as well as Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan including Penn Station where you can change to a myriad of other train lines.  You might think it’s pretty brave of you to do this trip and arrive at your friend in Far Rockaway, telling him you walked from Fort Lee but you’d be mistaken.  True story: we were out for a seudah on the last day of Passover so my friend, a recent ba’al teshuvah instead accepted an invitation in Brooklyn.  Leaving at 3am from Passaic with plans to arrive at the bridge at 6am opening, he made it there at 7am.  It was also Shabbos so he wasn’t carrying a map and we’ll let it slide that he didn’t yet know the laws of techumim.  Then he walked down town, stopping to pray Schachris in the upper west side being the 10th man for a minyan.  I have to find which minyan this was because they’re probably telling stories about how Eliyahu HaNavi came to complete their minyan on Passover before disappearing right after they were done.  Then he arrived in Brooklyn in time for ‘lunch’ by 2pm.  Can’t make this up.  (Maybe he can, but I don’t think so.)  His chief complaint?  When he took the bus back after Shabbos, it dropped him off two miles away.

Kosher Restaurants in Washington Heights

Suppose you don’t decide to take the subway (or walk to Brooklyn) – keep heading east and go about half a mile north, up to 181st and you’ll hit Yeshiva University.  There, you’ll find the famed library where so many matches between young Jewish boys and girls are made and some college-style kosher restaurants.  (As opposed to kosher-style college restaurants, these are, in fact, college-style kosher restaurants.  I don’t think you’d have a business meeting in these places, but if you want to find oil for your menorah, it’s all here)  You have your choice of:

Meat – Golan Heights – Shawarma, falafel, Israeli-style salads & more in a kosher storefront setting with counter service.”

Pizza – Grandma’s Pizza (?!?! Don’t grandmother’s make kneidel?) or Lake Como

Chinese – Chop Chop – “Classic Chinese dishes & sushi with kosher modifications, all served in a colorful space.”

Then you enjoy your 2.5 mile walk back to New Jersey . . . or hail an Uber.