Sunday, July 23, 2017

Um, 51 for 50: 17 -- Stuff in Israel?

I clearly have a problem here.  When I set up the 50 for 50 plan, I didn't think I'd be going to Israel now.  And when we planned this trip, I hadn't actually thought I'd be able to squeeze in any 50 for 50-type activities.  Resulting in me never actually pitching the plan to my relatives here.  (I believe the very first thing I posted about it said:  Offer valid in U.S. only.)  Yeah, well, best laid plans.  Nobody here got dibs; nearly everything on the list has been claimed; and I get a day like today which is so solidly within the SPIRIT of 50 for 50 -- if not the rules I've set for myself -- that I'm just going to have to quietly strike something from the not-yet-done list and come up with something to call today and then happily cross it off.  It's a little late right now (and we're eating into sleeping time), so I'm just going to write this up now, and we'll deal with the Administrative Intricacies at a later date.

The logistics alone involved in today are really quite impressive.  I'm staying in a hotel in Ashkelon (read, for those unfamiliar with Israeli geography:  resort town on the Mediterranean).  My aunt and uncle live in a moshav (communal farm, not quite as communistic as a kibbutz) in the Negev (desert, south of here).  I can actually describe the distance quite easily -- Ashkelon is pretty much due North of the Gaza Strip; whereas, the other day, my uncle took me sightseeing from the Moshav, and we went down the road a bit to see the Southern border with Gaza (also, the wall separating Israel from Egypt).  So, this morning, my cousins Bentze and Elaine drove here from the moshav; picked me up; and we drove to an archeological site of a rather impressive synagogue from the Byzantine era.  (Maon Synagogue), where my aunt and uncle met us.  Actually, I don't know how impress the synagogue WAS, but as a ruin, it has a very spiffily-preserved mosaic floor, which we got a good look at.

Then my uncle led us around the area, showing us sights like the new high school for local moshav and kibbutz children.  Normally, I don't think of a high school as a tourist attraction, but this was very interesting due to the safety and security measures.  Protective perimeter fence; bullet-proof glass windows; heavy-protective roof; bomb shelters at every school bus bay....  You can't help but think about what it must be like to live in a place where the threat of war is so high these measures are necessary in all newly-built schools.  You may even think that it might be better for Palestinians and Israelis if they made a lasting peace which enabled them to invest school security money in improving the futures of ALL their kids.

Then we had lunch.  Also chocolates.

I pause at the memory of the chocolates.  Dude.  80%.

My uncle then took their car back to the moshav while my aunt joined me in Bentze & Elaine's car and tooled down to Be'er Sheva (largest City in the Negev, inland).  We wandered the city a bit and then did ... an Escape Room!  (Hee!)

They'd never done one before, but were (perhaps) persuaded by my enthusiasm.  Dungeon-themed room.  Pretty straightforward, but we needed some hints to escape.  To be honest, though, there were three technical malfunctions we also needed advice on.  (On one puzzle, we did what we thought was the puzzle solution, and nothing happened.  So we started rethinking whether there wasn't another solution we hadn't thought of, when the Voice of God came from above and said, "Try what you did before again."  But I think my favorite was when we called on the intercom to complain that a key wasn't turning a lock, and after we said we'd tried it for five minutes, the Hand of God opened the door to the whole room and threw a replacement key on the floor.)  I quite enjoyed the room -- it started with the four of us split up, but to get back together, there was a puzzle we had to work from both sides of our door -- real mandatory teamwork stuff.  Awesome.  All four of us contributed to getting out of the room, and I always like it when that happens.

Now, I've got another cousin that lives in Be'er Sheva, and he's got some little kids.  We dropped my aunt off at his house to watch the kids, so he was free for dinner.  And then ANOTHER one of my cousins drove in from the moshav (she could then drive my aunt/her mom back home after dinner) and the fourth drove in from Jerusalem, and we'd suddenly managed to get ALL FOUR of my Israeli cousins, plus two spouses, to dinner with me!

That.  That right there, man.  Me with cousin Bentze and cousin-in-law Elaine standing up; bottom row is Cousin Zev, cousin-in-law Yoram, cousin Tzipi, and cousin Rami.  The large empty plates in front of us are three desserts which were even-better-attacked than the Escape Room.  That's a 50 for 50 thing, somehow.  Watching the four siblings interact (with the in-laws added in there), chatting about travel and parents and kids (and Marvel movies, again).  They're good peeps, and it was amazing to be able to check-in with them without 150 other people around like at the Bar Mitzvah last night.  I'm beyond grateful that they all hauled in from all parts of the country, so we could make that happen.

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