Good Advice: Get Out!

Yisrael with cotton candy at the Jerusalem Music FestivalWe’ve been living in The Land now for almost 6 years, which I think makes us veterans (or “vatikim”) by olim standards. In addition to an overall life-changing experience, making Aliyah can be a career changer for some. My reaction to the first year of work famine was to work doubly hard in the following years in an attempt to catch up financially. Even under the best of circumstances I have workaholic tendencies and I’ve only recently realized that it isn’t healthy to work 16-hour days indefinitely; I need to slow down and give my family some quality time as well. And that is what prompted me to take my 13-year-old to the Jerusalem Sounds of the Old City Music Festival last Thursday.

WARNING! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted and this is going to be a long post!

We began our day hopping on a bus at 7:30 to go to work in the Gonen Bet office of one of my employers. I put in half a day while Yisrael played video games on his tablet and interacted with my co-workers. At lunchtime my boss ordered pizza for everyone and entertained us with his guitar while we had a slice – then handed the guitar to Yisrael to play while we finished up some work. At 1:30 we walked around the corner and waited for the #18 bus that used to go to King George/Ben Yehuda. About 20 minutes into that ride, when the bus driver didn’t turn left after the King David Hotel I realized something was wrong. So I walked up front and asked her if she was going to King George and her mother (I’m not kidding – her mother was standing next to her chatting while she drove) told me that she was not. I insisted that this bus used to go there and she (the driver) acknowledged that I was correct – the bus used to go to King George!  About a dozen people quickly jumped out of their seats and began arguing with the driver (in multiple languages). In the end, the driver’s mother gave every individual walking directions from the next bus stop to their desired destinations. Only in Israel!

Blended Mint LemonadeFortunately for us, we only had to walk a few blocks to get to the train that took us to the Yafo/King George area where we did some shopping and then had a delicious lunch at The Coffee Bean. Almost 6 years enjoying the culinary wonders of Jerusalem and I had never experienced the refreshing and unusual Blended Mint Lemonade – wow, it was the perfect compliment to the Asian salmon and salad I ordered. (And now I want to buy a slushie machine so I can make these at home! I think if I blend fresh mint leaves with the pulp of a lemon and slushie ice, I’ll be able to duplicate this refreshing drink.)

After lunch we headed down to the Old City and spent an enjoyable time chatting with Rabbi Nachman Kahana while Yisrael helped me navigate the Hebrew menus on his computer so I could extract some of the data I needed to take home and work on (today). B’ezrat Hashem, several new e-Book editions of Rabbi Kahana’s 15-volume Mei Menuchot series will be available through his site and Amazon in the near future.

Rabbi Kahana’s office overlooks the Hurva Synagogue Square where HaLev VeHaMaayan was practicing for their evening performance.


It was around 5 pm and the music wasn’t scheduled to begin until 7 pm, so we ventured from Hurva Square (#6 on the map below) to Muristan Square (#10 on the map) in hopes that we’d be able to find that location more easily after dark because that was where the band Yisrael was most interested in seeing was scheduled to perform at 8 pm.

WafflesIt took us about 30 minutes (walking in circles) to locate Muristan and since we still had hours before the performance, and my feet were screaming at me to find a place to sit down, we decided to head over to Mamilla (near #1 on the map) for refreshments (and seats).  Along the way we were entertained by street performers and Yisrael was surprised that his old mother knew the names and original performers of all the rock songs they were playing. It was mostly 80s soft rock – the type played on American radio stations over and over and over again, back in the day. I’m sorry that I didn’t think to take photos of some of these guys, they were all talented musicians, but my hands were getting too cold to keep them out of my coat pockets.

Around 6:30 we settled at a dairy restaurant and ordered this incredible waffle and ice cream dish (Yisrael wanted ice cream, I wanted hot tea!) to share and when the waitress brought it to the table she pointed out that other patrons were jealous of our choice. We were served 2 Belgian waffles topped with Israeli style chocolate sauce (yuck), nuts and powdered sugar (because the chocolate sauce wasn’t sweet enough?), 2 scoops of ice cream, fruit salad (which was quite good) and a swirl of whipped cream topped with a cherry.  Yisrael had hot chocolate with that and I ordered mint tea – a glass of hot water with fresh mint leaves and tea bag on the side, which was very nice and reminded me just how much I love fresh mint!

Before I share the videos I captured, I must apologize for some of the shortened clips, the cause was the heavy crowd of people bumping into me coupled with my arms getting tired holding an iPad high in the air due to my vertically challenged state.

At 7 pm we headed back to Jaffa Gate where we caught about 15 minutes of Granny Memi and Habibti Ensemble‘s performances while waiting for my friend Ruth to meet up with us. Here’s a short clip of Habibti – according to the program:

Habibti Ensemble is a ten-musician ensemble that performs Arabic and Western music and offers an encounter with original material and new interpretations of classic Arabic works with influences from the world of jazz and from the Balkans.

From there we headed down through the Arab Shuk on our way to Muristan Square. When we arrived we came upon The Hebrews of Dimona performing Motown-style music that had Ruth & I laughing over the notion that such music would be performed in The Old City – and by Jews!  They were actually quite talented and billed as:

The Hebrews of Dimona veteran artists based in the Negev city and members of the Black Hebrew Israelite community, mount a show of outstanding quality and power a selection of American and Israeli-Hebrew soul and spiritual music. The band members, who live and breathe soul music, reach a state of ecstasy in this electrifying show.

Finally, the moment Yisrael had been waiting for… Orphaned Land. This was not because he had ever heard of them before, but just because some friends suggested that Orphaned Land was the ultimate Israeli heavy metal band.  The program said of them:

Orphaned Land is the Israeli heavy metal world’s flagship band. The band was founded 23 years ago and has numerous albums to its credit. Orphaned Land has appeared in over 40 countries; over a million copies of its albums have been sold worldwide, and the band has become one of the most admired Israeli musical ensembles in the Arab world and in Turkey. Orphaned Land has won four peace prizes, and incorporates into its music motifs from hard rock and from the liturgical poetry of all faiths using period instruments.

Interesting as their music was, I failed to hear that heavy metal sound of say Metallica, Ozzy, etc., and I find their logo and some of their lyrics a bit disturbing.  I do understand what they’re trying to accomplish – a unity among Jews, Christians and Muslims – however, I disagree with what I perceived to be a counterproductive apologetic message.

Aside from our political-religious differences, I did very much enjoy their musical talent.

And I must admit that I didn’t record their entire performance because they encouraged audience assistance with percussion.

I do want to mention that the band members were all very nice after their performance. Yisrael spoke with the lead guitarist and these guys were all humble and respectful to everyone who came up to talk to them – including Ruth who asked the lead singer, Kobi Farhi, to say a few words to her nephew in Romania which she recorded on her phone. He also posed for photos with several people and sent Pesach greetings to others via their friends and family member’s phones.  After Orphaned Land, we escorted Ruth back to Jaffa Gate and then headed over toward The Hurva where I wanted to see Shuli Rand perform. On the way we caught this performance by Ketem Paz in the Open Cardo.

A unique ensemble of religious and secular artists who put sacred texts to traditional ethnic Yemenite melodies, using reggae and dub arrangements; the ensemble performs original texts and musical
compositions as well.

When we arrived at Hurva Square the crowd that had gathered to see HaLev VeHaMaayan was enormous!

Hurva Crowd

We managed to find a few empty seats outside a busy restaurant (we bought drinks) and thanks to Golan Telecom‘s international service, I was able to check in with my mother who is in a NY nursing home. I had been trying for days to get through to her (she had been released from the hospital on Monday) and after several calls to administrators someone finally figured out that her ringer was off (Mom is blind and obviously didn’t know that).  So, when I finally did reach her, she enjoyed the added benefit of listening to the concert.

When Shuli Rand came onstage, I was honestly shocked to see the crowd of mostly “frum” people behaving like fans at a Rolling Stones concert. I only managed to get this one video clip because of the bodies slamming into me. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed with the behavior and its interference with my ability to enjoy the performance I had been waiting all day to see.

For those who aren’t familiar with Shuli Rand (of Ushpizin fame), the program had this to say about his performance:

Shuli Rand > Special Performance The Nekuda Tova album show encompasses all of the trademark features of a Shuli Rand performance his songs interspersed with beautifully-told real-life anecdotes and, of course, a selection of new songs written especially for the show.

As we squeezed our way out of the crowd, we ran into Rabbi Kahana who was standing in his doorway enjoying Shuli Rand‘s lyrics. We exchanged our Shabbat Shaloms and made our way out to head home. Along the way, we had a brief encounter with Rabbi David Aaron who happens to be a talented self-taught musician in addition to being the Founder and Dean of Isralight Institute and Yeshivat Orayta, and author of 8 life-changing books. And then we got sidetracked as we approached the Tower of David and heard the penetrating beat of Sheketak.

The program indicates that “Sheketak has appeared in over 30 countries around the world, in a dynamic and exuberant show for the entire family: body drumming, steps, hiphop, b-boying (breakdance) and more, to live music“.  After capturing that short clip, we moved to a better location and enjoyed the rest of their performance.  Then we flowed out of the Old City (literally pushed by the crowd) and made our way to the decision point of walking up Jaffa to the train or down to the Damascus Gate station… My feet were screaming go downhill and I foolishly listened to them, I had no idea how far of a walk it was to that station from where we were. It would have taken 5 minutes to get to the first station on Jaffa, it took 20 minutes of me limping downhill for us to reach the Damascus Gate station. And, as expected, when we arrived at Ammunition Hill to catch the bus home, it was standing room only that close to midnight.

Overall, we had a fantastic day, which I mentioned to our friend Fred when he dropped in on Friday morning to drop off a copy of the OU’s Passover Guide.  Fred’s response was that we’re supposed to get out and enjoy the many cultural and historic activities this land has to offer!  Fred’s Maggid tone was telling me to “stop sitting at that stupid computer so many hours a week and get out and experience Israel!”  And, of course, he’s correct! And that’s why I’m now sharing the same advice with you… if you arrive in Israel and feel overwhelmed by cultural differences, bureaucracy,  or change in general, get out! Don’t become a hermit, get out and mingle with Israelis and become part of the solution to whatever you perceive to be a problem. It is our responsibility to make Israel what Hashem has told us it is to become. Don’t wait for someone else to create something that you’ll later complain about – get out and get involved. And most important of all, enjoy all the beauty this country and melting pot of Jews have been blessed with.


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