Jon made my grandmother a promise. He said that we’d come visit Israel, at the most, every two years. Since we’d gone in December 2014, he was narrowly able to keep his promise!
We flew separately, as I was coming from Malawi and he still had some work to do there. So I flew in the morning – joined by Jon’s bosses, Saeed and Maria, who happened to also be flying to Joburg – and arrived in RSA. You’d think they’d let me check my luggage through, right? NOPE. And there’s even an international transfer desk so you can avoid entering and exiting the country – yay! Nope, couldn’t use it. My flight was ‘too many hours away.’ So I went through border entry and then border exit and got to sit for five hours with my suitcases on a cart, next to the most annoying family in the whole world. Super. Then, I got to go through the process of checking in with Israelis on an Israel-bound flight, which is always a joy. Luckily, El-Al is a world-class airline. Oops, wrong again. I think our plane was the same plane I took in 1989. Nonetheless, I was going to Israel to see my family (and most importantly, my grandma), so I was really happy to be on my way!
Our home base was at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, Nachshon and Alona (=’Alshona’). They have three kids – Edan, Daniel and Maya – and they were generous with sharing rooms so we could have our own. Also, my other brother and sister-in-law, Nadav and Ha (=’Hadav’), were coming with their two kids, Naomi and Alon! I was the first to arrive, then Hadav and kids, then Jon. We spent a lot of time eating, talking, making fun of each other and eating. (Did I mention eating?) Winter is my favorite season there for a few reasons: 1) it’s not hot; 2) my favorite fruit, pomelo, grows; and 3) my favorite treat, the krembo, is sold, only during this time. It’s the most wonderful time of year for reasons you probably haven’t even considered! We took a few mini trips from Tel Aviv – the Dead Sea, Mount Carmel and Be’er Sheva. We floated in a pool made of Dead Sea water, enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery and spent time with great friends. It was just wonderful.
For a longer trip, we went to the kibbutz where my dad’s family has lived since 1924, two years after the kibbutz was founded. The kibbutz movement started in the early 1900’s and it was to form a community around farming, traditionally, so everyone could contribute, live and benefit, equally. My kibbutz, Ginegar, is where I grew up before we moved to the U.S. and is one of my favorite places in the world. You can walk around there with total comfort and freedom and I have a ton of nostalgia for the dining hall (‘chadar ochel,’ in Hebrew) and the little shop (‘kolbo’). My family always makes fun of me about this because I’ll do anything for the chicken noodle soup at the chadar ochel but I don’t care – it’s tasty. We spent a few days there, taking mini excursions to interesting places in the area, and enjoying the time with our family. (My aunts, uncles, cousins and, of course, my grandma still live there.) We also recorded my grandma sharing stories from her life, to preserve as much of her as we can. She’s a fascinating, hilarious and spunky lady, 88 years young. She doesn’t shy away from saying something (justifiably) sarcastic and also has a heart of gold. She’s the best and I tried to soak up every second we spent with her.
It was a really awesome trip and I was so glad to have that time with my brothers and their families. (We just needed the rest of our fam!) Coming back after such dense, fun-filled time with everyone was hard because I missed being around familiar people. But, it was also a good reminder that I have great people in my life that I’ll get to see, periodically, throughout our time here. (And you better believe my grandma reminded Jon that we need to come back within two years!!)
So, back to life in SA! We went on an awesome hiking trip with new friends that we’ll write about next…
– By Naama
*Shakshouka is a Middle Eastern dish where eggs are poached in tomato sauce with chilis and onions. Yum. So freaking good. (Hot tip: the Durham food truck, SoomSoom, sells it in a pita. Look into it. Even if you don’t live in Durham…)