The land of milk and honey, beards and shakshuka

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An Israeli flag flying over the closed border post with Lebanon.

Bye bye Europe and its autumn chill. Hello Israel and its hot, hot sun. I’ve left Europe (for the time being) and I’m now in Israel chasing the heat. And to welcome me to the country, El Al Airline security gave me a grand welcome. Let me tell you how it all happened…

On Monday night I climbed on a bus and drove from Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia to the capital Zagreb in the north. One more bus trip later and I was at the airport, early enough for my flight to check in and catch up with my blogging over a relaxed coffee. Unfortunately El Al security had different ideas for my time and took a special interest in me. After the first bout of friendly questions I was asked more and more questions about where I’d come from, who I’d spoken to on the way, had I left my baggage unattended, where was I going, who was I staying with, how did I know them, what did I do, where had I been, all of which I answered truthfully and completely.

Then I was asked about my backpack, and could I just come with me please and take off your shoes here, and your scarf, and your belt and spread your arms out to the side and I’m going to touch you now if you don’t mind, sorry for all of this but it’s procedure. Ok, now sit here we’re just going to look at your bags. And so went the next two hours until they brought back my stuff, all unpacked, and I had to repack my backpack. I still had my sense of humor at that point, but when they started rushing me to get to check in and then forbade me to take any of my electronics in my hand luggage I felt miff. Tell me, who packs their expensive and fragile iPad in their backpack to be manhandled and possibly even lost by airport people? No one, that’s who. Arguing turned out to be useless and I wore a deep frown as I wrapped my camera and iPad in a pair of pants and packed them into my bag. I suppose a positive was that I was rushed through passport control and check in because they had kept me in that little room for so long.

A good ol’ Israeli welcome no?

Arriving in Israel was fine and the passport checking lady didn’t ask too many questions before letting me in (and without stamping my passport as requested). And my bag didn’t get lost or broken and my electronics were all just fine after their flight in the baggage compartment.

Tuesday around 4:30pm was the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Antonement, and I had good luck and a close shave traveling from the airport to Nahriya in the north (the train and busses had all finished their runs for the holiday). But I arrived to familiar faces and mom’s cooking before the holiday and accompanying day-long fast set in. Actually it was the perfect day to arrive because it meant I could catch up with Pele and Batka, friends from SA, and walk a little bit around town to enjoy the car-less streets and dodge kids on bicycles. And it also meant a long, long, long sleep in the next morning, followed by some reading on the couch and, finally, an afternoon walk through the quiet streets to the synagogue to hear the shofar (horn) blowing and then to Pele’s grandmother’s house to drink a glass of much-desired water.

At the end of the fast families enjoy a small meal of sweets and jams to prepare for a bigger meal later on in the evening. Funny, after only one day of not eating I couldn’t eat much, however delicious the spread looked. Having seen part of Yom Kippur in SA it was interesting to see it here, where almost everyone observes the holiday (in their own manner). And one thing I’ve learnt: it’s all about the food. I don’t have to worry about being hungry in Israel!

I have no pics to share because the fast includes not using electronics, but check out these yummy pomegranates I saw in the supermarket today. The other vegetable is an eggplant. Have you ever seen such a big aubergine? It looks like a baseball mitt!

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