Connecting With…

Why is it that whenever a family member gets a whiff of a trip you’re taking – any trip – they feel compelled to give you the name of a long lost relative they want you to look up and meet?  It doesn’t matter if it’s your third cousin’s aunt once removed from the family for reasons no one talks about, but by God, if you’re traveling to Cincinnati you must look up Geraldine and tell her hello from everyone back home. This time Robert and I were aboard an El Al flight traveling from Heathrow to the Ben Gurion Airport and sometime during that 4 hours and 45 minutes, I recalled his mom, Ella’s request, “Don’t forget to give Zev and Zohara a big hug from me.  And tell them Shalom from all the Bravermans!” I thought, “Truly, all the Bravermans?” Being the dutiful daughter-in-law I was to her, I agreed but all the while I had my Fodors’ book open, scanning the marked pages under Museums, Restaurants and Shopping.  New experiences and adventures awaited!

From my journal: August 5, 2007 London, England

“I feel a little nervous, but excited about this trip…meeting family…will also be exploring on my own…never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be going to Israel! ”

In the Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel

Midnight hit by the time we were driving out of the parking garage that housed the rental cars now equipped with the newest technology.  Seems that keys were a thing of the past, even then. You simply pressed the brake with your foot, pushed a button with your finger, and “voila!” or more appropriately “toda!” you were on your way.  Tel Aviv, our destination, was a mere 20 km west, and as we were about to exit the terminal our car just stopped. No loud bang, no putt putt putt, not even a whimper. Nothing. On the phone immediately to Avis, the agent instructed Robert to try again and explained again how the car worked.  Robert insisted again that it was dead.  Finally, the man said he’d send someone to retrieve us and told us to stay put.  Like there was any place we could go.  Looking around I noticed the tall concrete walls surrounding us, topped with shiny barbed wire glimmering in the moonlight.  Soon we heard a car pull up behind us.  Relieved, we looked in the rearview mirror. At the sight, my eyes widened, and I swallowed hard.  Two men jumped out of an open-air jeep and were instantaneously at the driver’s side of our vehicle. They didn’t appear to be from the rental agency though. Dressed in plain clothes, they toted twin machine guns. 

The only thing exchanged in the next 15 years, I mean minutes, was our passports and the rental car agreement. And the only pleasantry that came from these airport security men who noted we were from California, was that they’d love to visit someday.  Soon, but not soon enough, we were rescued by a real Avis agent and sent on our way for the second time. 

Everything looks brighter in the light of day and when I parted the curtains in our room of the Carlton Hotel the next morning, I spied the glorious August day on the horizon.  In no time, we showered, dressed and were seated inside the Carlton By Sea restaurant nestled along the Mediterranean. We noshed on homemade granola, salads, and apricot pastries.  But before long, Robert drove off with his briefcase in search of his business meeting, while I headed out with my backpack looking for a taxi to whisk me away to the Disengoff Centre. I planned to visit the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Carmel Market for the next six hours.

Twilight was falling by the time Robert and I freshened up and made our way to the hotel lobby. We were to meet Zev and Zohara there at 7pm.  Busy swapping stories of our day’s events, we waited and waited. They were coming from Petah Tikva only 10 km to the east, but even at that hour the beach area swelled with traffic.  We hoped we’d recognize them somehow as we couldn’t rely on Ella’s description. “He’ll be wearing a yamaka, and she’ll be wearing glasses,” she said. Pre-dating Instagram and social media, there would be no Facebook page to help us identify them.  Turns out, we didn’t need it.  Zev resembled Robert’s dad so much, there was no mistaking he was family.  Shoshana, their daughter was with them, too. Introductions were made in semi-English and Hebrew that sounded somewhat like a person spitting.

Robert’s dad’s cousin, Zev and his wife, Zohara

We ate dinner at Falafel Gabai on Bogarshov, about twenty minutes away. The evening was warm and balmy, just perfect for strolling along the beach front walk. Crowded, the restaurant was nearly full with happy people eating, drinking and laughing when we arrived. Seated at a long picnic style table, we talked and talked until the dishes of tasty falafels, pita, hummus, shawarma, and skashuka were placed before us to share. When we couldn’t possibly eat another bite and our plates were nearly clean, with smiles waning we called it an evening. 

Meandering back to our hotel, Zohara took her arm in mine, and with Shoshana in step we breathed in the fresh air, no need for words. Robert and Zev walked ahead.  Although the conversation was strained at times over dinner, we relayed as much information about our family connections as both sides could.  And as promised, I gave Zev and Zohara a big hug and said Shalom to them, from ALL the Bravermans.  This family get together may have ended there had Zev not invited us, rather insisted, we join them once more while we were in town.

Falafel Gabay restaurant, Tel Aviv, Israel

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