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Archive for October, 2010

Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Reflections

Posted by rabbiart on October 27, 2010

I’m picturing a fenced in open field which has been graded in preparation for the installation of enough solar collectors to fill (If I remember correctly) 45 acres.  The field is just on the south edge of Kibbutz Keturah.  When up and running, it will supply all the electricity to power Keturah and a number of adjacent kibbutzim that have signed on to the project.  Eventually it will be followed by a much larger installation that will generate enough electricity to power the entire city of Eilat.  No oil required. No coal required.  No air polluted.

As Carol has remarked several times in conversation, Kibbutz Keturah is an unusual and fascinating combination of the collective operation and the entrepreneurial spirit.  All of the revenue generated by members goes into a common account and is parceled out kibbutz old style (to the best of my knowledge).  But the individual members, and combinations thereof, are involved in a number of ground-breaking (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal) projects.  3 new types of solar panels are being tested out, and if any one of them makes a successful breakthrough, there will be technology to license.

I’m also picturing the ancient city of Petra, where the Nabateans had their own commercially successful technological advantage – water management.  They, like the Romans, mastered the techniques required to build aquaducts to carry water over long distances with amazing precision for so-called primitive people.  Today we went to Qesarya, yet another city occupied over 2,000 years by a variety of peoples and rulers, and saw the remains of the Roman-built acquaduct.

And I’m also picturing our friend Mousa Diabat, Palestinian Israeli and Arava Institute alumni who is doing a Ph.D. in water management nine hours up the road from us at Oregon State.  Water, even more than food, is one of the few things human beings cannot do with0ut. An increasing share of water in Israel is coming from desalination, and it may be that abundant water removes one of the bones of contention between Israelis and Palestinians.  We talked with Mousa via Skype earlier this evening and are making plans to see him – and hopefully Jehan and Aseel – in December when Mousa comes to attend a professional conference in San Francisco.

Sometimes you run into the same people over and over on the ride, and after the ride as well.  So I’m also picturing Kristi Wivaqq, who walks with a cane but rides with an unquenchable spirit in spite of her disability.  She made the trip to Petra, and rode a camel, and the smile on her face when she got off the camel would have lit up the entire site at night.

We’ve also decided, or our spirits decided for us, to set the goal of returning in 2012 for yet another bike ride.  Hopefully, Carol will find out that she can ride a recumbent bike, and we can do the ride together on a tandem recumbent.  Maybe one with three or four wheels, so we can zoom the downhills without excessive risk, yertza ha shem and insh’allah.


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Israel Bike Ride – We arrive in Eilat

Posted by rabbiart on October 25, 2010

I’ll have to go back and fill in my recollections for days 3 and 4 of the ride.  Right now I’m sitting on the porch of the Aroma coffee shop in front of the Yam Suf hotel across from the beach in Eilat.  The ride has finished, I survived, I’m happy and relieved, and tomorrow we go to Petra.

For me this day of the ride started out very shaky.  Yesterday – on day 4 – we got to Kibbutz Keturah where the Arava Institute is located.  Unlike a few cute signs in bars that I’ve seen that say “free beer yesterday, free booze tomorrow” there was free beer at the Kibbutz for the riders and staff.  I quickly downed a couple of Goldstars, and as we were walking around on the tour of the experimental solar plant that is under construction, I felt woozy and shaky.  I think i could have been busted for “walking under the influence”.  so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel that great this morning.

I thought maybe I have been eating too much food, so I skipped breakfast.  We were bused up out of the Arava valley to Ne’ot Shmadar to begin the ride.  I was feeling quite wobbly, so I started in the back went slowly, and as a result had a great conversation with Rabbi Steve Wernick, new executive director of USCJ, about his vision for United Synagogue. Once I felt warmed up, I picked up the pace, hoping to work up a sweat and burn off whatever was causing me to feel crappy (intentional choice of words).  But… I just had no legs at all, and didn’t start feeling stronger.  So at the last rest stop before lunch, I bagged it and got on the bus.  Once the bus started moving, I fell asleep and had a nice little nap.  When we got to the lunch stop I was ravenous, wolfed down a big sandwich, ate some other food, and started feeling better.

The ride down into Eilat from the top of Har Hizkiyahu is very, very steep and dangerous. There is about a four mile stretch from har Hizkiyahu where we had lunch, to where the steep descent began.  I decided I would ride that four miles and see how I felt.  I was feeling normal.  So I ended up making the descent, of which I am quite afraid, in my usual downhill method of relying heavily on the brakes.  And I made sure I was at the front of the group (they send us down in pairs at intervals) so I didn’t have to wait around for my turn.  About two thirds of the way down, a rider 3 or 4 groups in front of me had a serious wipe-out and was lying in the rode motionless.  A couple of cars and a couple of riders had already stopped to make sure everyone went slowly around him while waiting for the ambulance that follows us on the ride.  Once we get to the bottom of the big downhill we wait for everyone to arrive and ride from the roundabout where we wait to the hotel at the west end of Eilat.  Apparently he hit a little compression in the road and was launched up in the air, separated from his bike, went head over heels and landed right on his forehead (with his helmet of course).  he was conscious but not moving, has been taken to the hospital and we don’t yet know what his situation is.  That of course dampened everyone’s feelings of exhilaration and celebration that we usually feel at that point in the ride.

This has been – in the history of these rides – the one with the most serious accidents, people getting sick, and of course the 113 degree heat of the first day.

A note about Har Hizkiyahu.  From the top of this mountain you can see Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  You can not only see Egypt, you’re standing right next to the fence that marks the border with Egypt, and you can walk 100 yards to a spot along the fence right under an Egyptian guard tower and yell up and talk to the two soldiers on duty.  One of our security guards (there are two traveling with each group, they carry semi-automatic weapons) told us that mostly the Egyptian guards on these towers are bored and have trouble staying awake.  So when the officers come they have a system of firing off a shot or two into the air to alert the next towers down the line to look sharp because “management” is coming.  It’s a great thing that mostly the border guards are bored and have trouble staying awake.  If only soldiers everywhere had that as their biggest problem!

I am thankful to have made it through the ride with no serious incident of my own; not even a flat tire.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Kibbutz Ketura (Guest Post by Carol)

Posted by rabbiart on October 24, 2010

You might wonder how I spend my day while Art is riding. I spend the day mostly on my own driving the route, sometimes sharing lunch with the riders, and ultimately ending up in the same destination. The morning I left for Mitzpeh Ramon, I was honored to be asked if I was transport some crew and an ill rider, which I gladly did, though it meant I wouldn’t be able to see any sites along the way. Unfortunately I had a flat tire, which the crew member very kindly changed for me.

That’s relevant to my journey to Kibbutz Ketura, because I was driving on the spare with no additional spare tire available. I was told to drive directly to the Kibbutz where the garage staff would fix my tire. Before I left Mitzpeh Ramon I hiked around the machtesh, with its spectacular views. As I was hiking back to the beginning of the town, I almost stumbled upon a group of ibexes, just hanging out by the apartment buildings. They are completely comfortable with people and hardly gave me a glance. I on the other hand was a bit nervous – the males have huge horns, and I wouldn’t want to get them angry at me!

I then drove the route for the day, which started by descending into the machtesh. It was scary driving the switchbacks – it’s hard for me to imagine descending on a bicycle. The road was flat at the bottom of the machtesh, and then ascended again. Then the route entered the desert, which was beautiful but almost completely empty. Most of the time I had the road to myself, except when I caught up to and then passed the riders. I stopped to met Art and the others at lunch and then left ahead of them for the kibbutz. Imagine driving long distances in barren desert and then seeing beautiful trees and greenery ahead. That’s what I saw as I approached Kibbutz Ketura.

Kibbutz Ketura is an impressive place. A true communal kibbutz (except as is universally true now the children live with their parents), the members recognized years ago that agriculture alone could not sustain them, especially as the members aged. As a result, there is an entrepreneurial spirit here, not driven by money alone as in capitalism, but by the overall good of the members. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) is the result of that entrepreneurial spirit, and it is doing tikkun olam, student by student, project by project.

Art and I decided to join the tour of the new solar energy business, which is another example of the entrepreneurial spirit combined with a sense of the collective good. Much of Israel’s energy comes from dirty coal. Kibbutz Ketura is located in an area of peak sunlight, so it seems a no brainer to install solar panels and sell clean renewable power to Israel’s electric company. Four years and many regulatory challenges later, the panels (from China) have arrived, the field has been prepared, the regulatory hurdles have been overcome, and they are ready to begin installation. Though the head of this effort, an American from Boston named Yossi, was coy, he did say that they recognized that this effort shouldn’t be restricted just to Israel. One of the alums, though he couldn’t say much about the project, is working on a parallel effort in Jordan.

The rest of the evening was spent at a rider barbeque and then bed. There is not a room for me on this leg of the ride. We had the incredible good fortunate to meet Mike Soloway during the sojourn in Modesto. Since he is from Kibbutz Ketura, it feels beshert – this is the second time we have been able to stay with him and his wife, Dr. Elaine Soloway. Elaine is on the faculty of AIES, though mostly we shared stories of our children and their first grandchild.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Shabbat at Mitzpeh Ramon (Guest Post by Carol)

Posted by rabbiart on October 24, 2010

The ride is an amazing event on every level – physical, emotional and spiritual. The first time Art did the ride, I was unenthusiastic about Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon. After all, it is just a very small development town in the middle of nowhere, with one main asset – the machtesh. The machtesh is spectacular, and pictures just don’t do it justice – a huge multi-colored hole formed by erosion surrounded by steep sides.  I learned not to pre-judge a place. Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

First the services – riders led, including a number of wonderful rabbis – they were spirited and spiritual. Second is Shabbas dinner – unlimited quantities of fabulously delicious food. Next the Shabbas afternoon panel with students and alumni. They are an impressive bunch – thoughtful, concerned and willing to take the path not taken to make this a better world. It’s not easy to engage in challenging studies and even more challenging dialogue, but AIES provides a place for both.

Lastly Havdala by the machtesh.  We are two for two in regard to engagements – two riders announced their engagement in 2008, and a lovely young couple associated with AIES announced their engagement this year at Havdala. You can only imagine the joyous singing and dancing in response to their announcement. Seeing the stunning full moon visible in the light and watching the sky darken and the stars shine, culminated by the beautiful Havdala ceremony, was something we won’t forget.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Day Two

Posted by rabbiart on October 22, 2010

What a difference a day made!  The sharav went away, the heat wave broke, and the weather for the day two ride was bee-you-ti-ful.  72 miles from Ashkelon to kibbutz mashabei sadeh was – in comparison to day one – just a beautiful walk in the park.   The guest program was expanded to include this location, so Carol and I were able to be in a room together.  The dinner was better than two years earlier.  You would not believe how much water we all drink and how much food we all eat!  Lot’s of calories being expended riding.  I’m riding with a camelback and two water bottles, one of which has energy drink.  New since last time is this really clever invention called frozen water.  I believe it’s called “ice”.  so at each pit or rest stop not only do you get cold water, you get ice to put in with your water.  I’m not sure who added this feature to the ride, but I really would like to thank him or her.

Riding through Ashkelon required navigating traffic and unfortunately for a few people, an oil slick which took down 3 or 4 riders.  good news of going down in an oil slick – no road rash, you simply slide til you stop.  Bad news is you’re riding in an oil stained jersey the remainder of the day.  I was not one of the people who went down.

Notable highlights of day two – some new riding friends.  Inevitably, you find that you keep running into the same handful of people that are riding at relatively the same pace.  In addition to Edna and Fred, now there is Donna and Gary and Rebecca that seem like my new old friends.  Gary rides with white arm and leg covers which he said are the equivalent of SPF 50 protection from the sun.  Donna sounds quite youthful and cheerful, and only when I saw here off her bike with helmet off did I discover that she is also in our age bracket.  I would have guessed her to be twenty years younger.

There are still a few people having medical adventures.  My new old friend Jeff Daitz from Atlanta had a brutal first night intestinally (details omitted here in the interest of not having TMI), tried to ride the second day and couldn’t, but on day three not only rode all day but did the optional off-road segment as well. Glad he is feeling better. Mark (don’t know his last name) was so dehydrated he had to be taken to the hospital for IV fluids, and when they came back to the kibbutz at 4 AM discovered that the gate was locked, and they couldn’t get back in so he could go to his room and sleep. However, the driver figured out how to beat the system and cause the gate to open.  I’m not sure this is generally a good thing, but it was for Mark.

Day 2 is also more-or-less the last day we are in Biblical Israel (the Negev is not really part of Biblical Israel).  The gathering rest stop – right before we ride into the kibbutz – is Golda park.  It is like an oasis with a natural reservoir that has been enhanced to make it more effective in holding water.  This is – according to custom but who can say for sure – where Hagar and Ishmael discovered water after having been banished by Sarah and sent out in the desert, apparently to their death, until HaShem heard their cry and provided water.

Also on day two (I’m out of sequence here) is the breakfast stop at the Nir Am reservoir (part of a system of JNF funded reservoirs) literally on the border of the Gaza strip.  You can look into Gaza from where we had breakfast.  Of course, you would need a good telescope to see much – and you’d have to hint, hint join the ride in two years – but you get a sense of how close towns like Shderot and others are to rockets coming from Gaza.

In the evening, before the mandatory briefing about the next day’s ride (for which the only actionable information is what time to get up and be ready to ride) we had a brief presentation for a resident of Shderot.  He has lived in Shderot for 22 years, and he talked about how, until things got bad after the withdrawal from Gaza, there were friendships between Gaza-ites and Israelis, lots of going back and forth, celebrating together, and having a reasonably normal life. he is part of an organization called “other voices” which is attempting to continue to talk to and work with the ordinary residents of Gaza who like people everywhere, just want to have a life, a home, schools, jobs and raise their children.  The last few years they have only been able to do dialogue by telephone, as it is not possible to get in and out of Gaza.  Over 3,000 residents of the area, who have only 15 seconds to get into a shelter when Kassam rockets are launched at them, have signed a petition calling for ending the blockade of Gaza, allowing unfettered flow of materials in and exports out, in order to help the people of Gaza build a normal society with normal commerce, and reduce rather than increase the fear and loathing on both sides.  Israeli drivers are the craziest I’ve ever seen, but maybe it requires a little bit of good craziness to advocate and work for peace when your house has been hardened, or has a rocket-safe room for you to flee in to.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – It’s Hot on day one

Posted by rabbiart on October 22, 2010

For a country with so much high tech, it has been surprisingly difficult to get a good internet connection, even at outrageous hotel prices.  So I’m behind in blogging the ride.

Carol and I have been blessed throughout our marriage in that we almost always see things the same way.  My brother Shep in some conversation, as we were answering some questions of his and blurting out identical answers, even once asked “do you guys rehearse these answers”?

When we got to Israel we were both thinking that this would be the last time we would do the Israel ride.  By the first day of the ride we discovered we had each changed our thinking to ‘let’s do this again in two years’.

The first day of the ride – October 20 – was the hottest day in October in the entire history of Israel – 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  This was due to unseasonably hot weather plus a sharav which is a hot, hot, hot, hot wind.  After obtaining permits for the route six months in advance, the organizers were informed only a day before that the police had changed policy and a significant part of the day one route could not be used.  Things happen for a reason.  This cut the intended route from 70 miles to some 45 miles (figures not exact).  We rode the downhill leg out of Jerusalem for 7.5 miles, stopped, were bused to breakfast, and then bused to where we continued riding.  This cut out a big climb out of the valley outside Jerusalem.  By nine am we were riding in a furnace.  A lot of the details are fuzzy for me, but after a couple of pit stops/rest stops I had ridden some 20 miles, and although it was hot, and I couldn’t train for four weeks before the ride, I was doing OK.

On a reasonably gentle climb, I went from feeling OK to “I must get off this bicycle right now or I will have heat stroke, and if  I have to simply wait to be picked up that could be dangerous.”  This was in five minutes tops.  Fortunately, I was right behind a lead rider who called for my bike and me to be picked up.  I don’t remember waiting at all before two vehicles pulled up behind us.  I went to get in a van to discover all seats were full with riders who had also been sensible and stopped riding.  I ended up in the staff van being driven by one of the Arava alums, along with another alum (Devira and Timna), with two of our security guides in the back seat.  They made room for me up front where I could have the AC pouring cold air on me, and after about 20 minutes of sitting and sipping water, I was able to eat some salty foods.

As a result I got to have a very nice conversation with Devira and Timna about the Arava, what they are doing now, family history and so on.  I think we solved all the problems of the middle east as well.  Timna said her father’s solution is that most of the cultivation in the west bank should be devoted to the ‘evil weed’ and it should be legal to smoke it there.  Then everyone would mellow out and the violence would fade away.  The conversation was so comfortable that at one point the two young women got on to the subject of Israeli men and commented – about one of the Arava staffers – that he was really handsome, but immature.  Their general observation, the Israeli men that are charming are also childish and not in a good way.  (This was cracking me up).

There are always three riding groups, and one group rides in the morning and does a tour in the afternoon.  I was thinking that I would join the tour in the afternoon in order not to ride any more on day one, in order to be better equipped to ride the full 72 miles on day two.  At lunch they announced an option to be bused directly to the hotel in Ashkelon, which is on the beach and has a nice outdoor pool.  Guess which option I chose.  Done guessing?  You’re right. On the bus, to the hotel, with Carol following immediately behind in her rental car (more rental car adventures coming later).  To our delight we discovered our room was ready.  Up for a shower, then down for a dip in the pool, and pretty soon I was feeling decent, although I definitely had the strong sensation of my brain being fried.

During dinner our friend Edna Granot from Melbourne came up behind me and started massaging the top of my shoulders and asking me how I was feeling.  When I mentioned that my lower back was aching she offered to work on that area (she’s a certified massage therapist). So we took some oil from the buffet in a glass up to our room and Edna came and gave me a massage on the troubled area, which then felt a lot better.

One sad note; a couple of riders wiped out on the big downhill in the morning, and one broke both wrists, one of which required an operation, and she’s flying home on Sunday.

One inspirational note; a woman in our age bracket (maybe older) who has bone cancer, is doing the ride in a three wheeled recumbent bike.  When she isn’t riding she needs a cane to walk!  So my tooth extraction adventure just seems like such an incredibly trivial thing, and I have a renewed sense of gratitude for my generally good health, especially from the neck down.  OK, I don’t like having to wear glasses all the time, and I’ve lost a bit of hearing, and I have a missing front tooth, but nothing worth complaining about at all.

It seems to me that whenever I focus too much on my own PLIP (petty little insignificant problems), HaShem places someone in front of me so that I am reminded how truly blessed and fortunate my life is.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Becca Rosenthal and I go to a wedding

Posted by rabbiart on October 16, 2010

We’ve been supporting Israeli Ethiopian college students for ten years or more.  Last time we were here (2008 bike ride) we met our then-current student and talked to a few of the prior students by telephone.  Of course in our house supporting these students means writing a check and corresponding.  Those who know us know that means Carol writes a check and Carol does the corresponding.  (Note to self – must take more active role going forward).

Carol had mentioned to our current student – Eden Tigret – that we would be in Israel in October. We received a letter and in it an invitation to come to the wedding if we were in Israel on that day.  As fate would have it, I was arriving about 5 hours after the wedding, and Carol wasn’t arriving until a few days later.  Thinking that this would be a small and somehow Ethiopian style wedding, and that it would be an opportunity to meet Eden, I was able to change my flight in order to arrive a day earlier and go the wedding.  Carol was at her company’s meeting in Utah, and couldn’t change her plans.

Now the question was – who could I get to come to the wedding with me?  As I was trying to figure this out, Becca Rosenthal’s dad emailed me asking if I could take a sleeping bag and a few other things with me to give to Becca.  Since I have to take not only regular clothes but biking clothes and biking gear I had to tell him I didn’t have room in my suitcases, but perhaps Becca would like to come to the wedding with me.  Long story short – I tried the “roll the clothes” method of packing, and discovered that I had two extra inches in my suitcase and probably could have taken stuff to Becca. But I didn’t discover this until 3 hours before I was leaving for the airport.

So I drove in to Jerusalem and picked up Becca, we went to the wedding venue. Invitation said the Kabbalat Panim would be at 6:30 and the wedding at 7:30.  Instead the kabbalat panim started around 8 and the wedding ended a little bit after 9 PM.  Instead of a small and Ethiopian style wedding it was at least 300 people. Eden married into a dati family.  There were multiple uncles (and I think also the father) of the groom who are rabbis, and the sheva brachot was apportioned out to four or five (I lost track) rabbis who were uncles or other relatives.

As usual, a once in a lifetime experience produced multiple lessons for ‘next time’.

1. Israeli standard time appears to be at least twice as late as jewish standard time.

2. Its a good idea to get more details about something you (or in this case, me, or grammatically correct, I) will be attending.

3. The standard gift custom is not to buy a gift (Becca bought a kiddush cup for a present) but to arrive at the wedding with cash in hand and put it in the envelopes that are so kindly provided, along with pens to write a note and a lock box (seriously) to put the envelope in.  There was a not so small bin with a few wedding presents in it, so that’s where we deposited our gift.

Since it looked like at least 300 people were in attendance and a few people left after the ceremony we (well, really me, or again, I) decided not to stay for the meal, as it looked like we could be there for 3 or 4 more hours waiting for an opportunity to say hello to Eden for 30 seconds, and as my friends know, I am painfully shy in that kind of situation.  On the way out of the kibbutz a very dati looking chap was hitchhiking, so we stopped, picked him up, and let him give us directions once we got close to Jerusalem.  His directions to where Becca is staying conveniently took us ( and more importantly him) through a dati neighborhood where obviously he lives, and deposited us in an awful traffic jam the rest of the way to where Becca is living in Israel.  I easily made my way back to Tel Aviv and probably within a mile of my hotel, took a wrong turn, got off my printed Google map/directions, and spent close to an hour wandering around trying to navigate by dead reckoning, until even finding a gas station where I could attempt to get directions, which of course didn’t work out.  Finally, desparate to find the rental car map that had to be somewhere in the car, I moved the passenger seat forward and found the map under it in the back seat area.

So I finally made it back to the hotel at about 1 AM in the morning instead of 11:30 PM.

So… an adventure and a good story to tell, but if I had understood what the wedding was really going to be like I would not have agreed to let United Airlines extort more money from me, pay an extra night’s hotel, give up my prime seat in economy plus coach (reserved four or six months in advance).  Hopefully Eden will recognize the present as being from Carol and me, and of course much more importantly, bride and groom will be happy together, raise a (of course) big family and have a good life together.

In the meantime, I haven’t been able to ride my bike for a month because of fracturing a tooth, having it extracted, getting a painful virus as a result.  So the first day of the ride (Jerusalem to Ashkelon and a lot of extreme downhills I’m not practice on) should be quite the adventure, as my plan was to do lots of hill climbing (in order to get more comfortable going downhill) in the last month before the ride.

As they say on the news  here (but I’ll transliterate) ad kan, hachadashot



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Israel Ride 2010 – Made it to Israel

Posted by rabbiart on October 13, 2010

Remo Williams – the adventure begins.  No, that’s not it.  Sitting in a railroad station, got a ticket for my destination, homeward bound, homeward bound.  No, that’s not it either.  But the adventure had definitely begun, and I’m sitting, not in the railway station, but in the small lobby of the yardeni beach garden apartments in Tel Aviv.  I’m in the lobby because my “apartment” is one level below ground floor and the wireless does not penetrate.  Yes, I’ll be talking to the management as soon as they show up, and either getting moved up, or be moving on.

But…both of my suitcases made it here, so I have all my clothes and all my bike gear, so I’m ready to ride.  Although some sleep would be nice first. I left at about 3 PM on Tuesday and didn’t get out of Ben Gurion airport Thursday morning until about 4 AM.

Things to do today.  Get some sleep, get apartment situation resolved. find out about the car park at this place. Scout an ATM and then some breakfast.  But most importantly, pick up Becca Rosenthal in Jerusalem and go the wedding in Kibbutz Tzora – and – take tons of pictures!  (per ‘request’ by Carol).


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