Josh Levinger

Adventures at home, abroad, and online

Category: Birthright and Beyond Page 1 of 4

Day 19/20 – Home Again

I finally arrived home exhausted after 24 hours of straight travel. From Jerusalem I took a bus to Tel Aviv, where I went through the security gauntlet again. I was inspected on the bus as I approached the airport, and then again in line, where my interrogator was delirious with fatigue at the end of her all night shift. I now sympathize.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1800’)The Bosporus

I ran into Rich and Scott in the airport, and chatted with them on the plane. They didn’t make it all the way up Kilimanjaro, as Rich got pulmonary edema and heard his lungs crack when they began to fill with liquid. So they went back down and went on a safari instead. He seemed alright a few days later, but was still shaken from his brief visit to a Tanzanian hospital. In the air, we flew almost directly over Istanbul That visit will have to wait for another trip.

On landing at JFK, I got a bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and then the Greyhound to Boston. This was almost more arduous than the flight itself. Why New York, with their comprehensive subway system, doesn’t have a decent transit link between their airports and the downtown is beyond me. Yes, there is the AirTrain, but it doesn’t go anywhere near where I needed to get.

I staggered out of the T and stumbled home, where I greeted Mike with my shaggy beard and personal aroma. He welcomed me with open arms, a sign of our true love. Now just to recover from my jetlag, exhaustion and shilshul, before I start work on Monday. It was an incredible trip, and a fitting break between my old life and my new. Next year in Ulaan Bataar!

Day 18 – Jerusalem

g2_tagimageblock(‘1781’)The Security Fence

Today we crossed the Security Barrier into Bethlehem, ostensibly to see the Church of the Nativity, but really just to see the wall from the other side. We were able to pass easily with our American passports, although we had to wait in line with everyone else when an alarm sounded and the guards all put their blast vests on. Then the alarm stopped, everyone looked aroud, and business went back to normal. Palestinians have to show two forms of ID and a reason for crossing, but we were waved through without any hassle. Ethnic profiling at its finest. The crossing cuts across the old road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and while there is a bus stop and a turnaround on the Israeli side, the Palesinian side is a mob of taxis at a dead end road.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1784’)Our taxi driver

Bethlehem used to be a major tourist attraction, and the infrastructure is still there, but not the tourists. We went to the Shepards Field, where they saw the stars that heralded Jesus’ birth, and stopped in a tourist shop that was overjoyed to open up (they had to turn the lights on) and have me browse for a few minutes. I spent ten dollars, and they thanked me profusely. The shopkeeper joined our taxi ride and told us about her sister whose son was sick and unable to cross to get decent medical treatment in Israel. Such is life on the other side.

Day 17 – Jerusalem

Today we wandered around the Old City. It’s divided into quarters on the map, but there is no physical distinction on the ground. The feel just changes suddenly as one crosses a particular street; the signs change from Hebrew to Arabic, and the peyes are replaced by veils. It’s an almost jostling change in culture, and reaffirms the difficulty of drawing boundaries on such an ethnically and historically dense space.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1733’)Varouj

At a photography store, we wandered in and marveled at the prints. Varouj, the elderly proprietor, introduced himself, and we spent an hour with him discussing the history of his life and this place. He had been in the same store since 1963, and had taken a famous picture of King Hussein of Jordan. Because he is Armenian, he had an entirely different set of racial prejudices (“I’m not Arab, I like people”), but a fascinating context to share.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1748’)Wailing Wall

We went to the Western Wall at night, both to see it again without our tour and to try and get into the Dome of the Rock. The site was full of worshipers, so we didn’t enter the wall proper, but stayed at a respectful distance and took photographs. So much for sacred space. The gender division of the wall is quite shocking, and I joked with Kali that God doesn’t exist on “her side” of the 80/20 split. She was not amused. We eventually found the gate to the Temple Mount, but found it closed to non-Muslims. The Arab guard was not nearly as friendly as the Israelis had been, and he was intent on his task of separating the believers from the tourists.

Day 16 – Jerusalem

g2_tagimageblock(‘1766’)Jerusalem Sunrise

It took all day to get back to Jerusalem. First a taxi across the Sinai to Taba, although this was arranged by our hotel, so it was the same price and we didn’t have to haggle endlessly. It took slightly longer, because the driver obeyed the speed limit (if there is one), but the margin of safety was welcome. Then a plane from Eilat to Tel Aviv, and a bus from there to Jerusalem. A long day, and now we are in the Citadel Hostel in the Old City. It comes highly reccomended by the guidebook, but the tomblike rooms seem to crumble before our eyes. The view from the roof is spectacular, and the internet and coffee are free. These are the things that truly matter.

Day 15 – Cairo

g2_tagimageblock(‘1682’)Jared and Care Bear

Today we dealt with the ravages of shil-shul, and rearranging travel plans. It won’t be possible for us to go down to Luxor, it will make catching my return flight just too risky. So, more time in Cairo and Jerusalem, and we’ll see the Valley of the Kings next time, insh’allah.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1622’)Sunset window

In the evening Kali and I wandered through Islamic Cairo to Khan el Khalilli. Jared slept, as he’s the worst of the three of us. Through narrow streets, to places where we were the only tourists, by mosques that seem unchanged for a thousand years, this was the Cairo I came to see. We stopped in spice and cotton shops where the owners didn’t speak any english but were happy to show us around anyways. To a coffee shop where old men smoked shisha and played cards while the call to prayer reverberated across the rooftops.

g2_tagimageblock(‘1655’)Hookah dude

Kali and I got lost in the wonder of it all, and in reality. Eventually we came to the touristy bazaar, where we bought some kitsch and she got earrings. But for a few minutes, before we strayed too close to the glitz and the touts, we were really there. Back through the bustling, throbbing modernity of the shopping district, to bed to tend to our poor sick Jared.

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