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Friday, February 15, 2019

The best we could do in terms of a photo at the embassy.

First tefillin at the Kotel.

What is a trip to Israel without a visit to McDonalds?

Israeli Latin American food.

One of many meals of burgers and fries.

Mexican was my youngest’s favorite.

Our little taste of Italy was delicious!

The yeshiva boys get this view for the entire year.

I was lucky enough to spend Yeshiva Week in Israel, visiting my middle son who is spending his gap year at a yeshiva in the Old City. A trip to Eretz Yisrael is always a meaningful experience, but this time I was fortunate to have my youngest child with me. His bar mitzvah is rapidly approaching, and our family thought it would be special for him to put on his tefillin for the first time at the Kotel, with his brother beside him.

We began our trip with an intentionally short and flexible itinerary, not knowing what the week would bring. I had a few definites in mind, but wanted my boys to take the lead. Let’s just say that by the end of the week, I had to swear off carbs. It was truly a food tour of Israel, guided by my youngest son’s cravings.

Ben Gurion Airport has a kosher food court? That was just the first of many wonders of the country.

As we rode in our sherut toward our hotel, I got the first “taste” of what was to come. Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burgers Bar, Waffle Bar (OK, that one was me), Marzipan and more were all on the must-do menu.

I think most would agree that the first stop in Jerusalem should be the Kotel, as ours was. Peeking over the mechitza, watching my sons deep in prayer and thought, of course brought tears to my eyes. The emotion continued as we visited my older son’s yeshiva and were able to see the Kotel from its roof.

Next? Time to eat. Our first meal was delicious falafel in the Old City, courtesy of the first food request of many from my almost-bar mitzvah boy.

Day two began with breakfast in the hotel. This is breakfast? I had to agree, as Israeli breakfast is more like lunch as far as I’m concerned. But this hotel knew its clientele and had American breakfast options as well. Omelets, pancakes, pastries and rolls rounded out the buffet of salads, shakshuka and other items that I still cannot identify. But no flavored coffee, which was unfortunate for me as I really wanted a cup.

The highlight of our trip came early, as we returned to the Kotel so that my youngest could put on his tefillin for the first time. I watched from behind as his brother helped him, recording the moment on his phone so we could send the video home to the rest of our family.

We “celebrated” by fulfilling two of the must-dos on the list: lunch at Pizza Hut, followed by a McFlurry (an ice cream mix-in dessert) at McDonalds. Delicious? Compared to the Israeli pizza we tried later in the week, it certainly qualified.

That meal was followed by a visit to Cofix, as I was really tired and “needed” caffeine. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m pretty sure there is no flavored coffee in Jerusalem, maybe all of Israel. It’s basically espresso and varying amounts of milk and foam, and maybe some brown sugar if you’re lucky.

We visited Yad Vashem next, which was a powerful experience, especially during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day. That day ended with “the best burgers” in Jerusalem at Burgers Market, a trip to the shuk, and almond milk steamers at Cofizz (gave up on coffee completely this time).

We spent the next two days with temperatures in the upper 60s and mid 70s, as we spent one day in Tel Aviv and a morning at the Dead Sea. As the food tour continued, we ate sandwiches and milkshakes on the beach, spicy Italian food, brownies and drinks at Aroma (they mistakenly think thick chocolate is a flavor for coffee), delicious sushi and Mexican food back in Jerusalem, and burgers and more burgers. These days were enhanced by a scooter rental in Tel Aviv, and the obligatory camel ride at the Dead Sea.

Let’s go to the embassy! How could we not visit the American Embassy in Jerusalem? So we took a bus to the embassy, only to be told we could only take close-up photos. “No pictures of the windows; no pictures of the guards,” one of the security guards told us. “Are we allowed inside?” “Only with an appointment.” Hmmm, this begs the question: What if there is an emergency? But we did not press further; we took our photos and left.

We decided to visit the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem to experience yet another kosher food court. Lots of choices but, again, we opted for burgers.

On Thursday night we got a taste of yeshiva life as we joined the parent program and attended two shiurim. After being suitably impressed, we took part in the students’ Thursday night ritual of singing and dancing. The ruach was amazing and the joy on the faces of my older son and his friends as they sang and danced together was so beautiful that, again, I found myself teary-eyed and taking more video to send home.

We just had to visit the shuk on Friday to get the full Erev Shabbat experience. Marzipan rugelach? Check. Bubble waffle at Glida? OK, that one was not on the list, but O. M. G.! Go. Go now. And then we had Latin American sandwiches for lunch. What is a Latin American sandwich, you may ask? Delicious. That’s all you need to know.

Shabbat in yeshiva: What an experience. Friday night we davened on the roof, overlooking the Kotel. During quiet moments in our davening we heard the davening from the yeshiva behind us and the Kotel below us. It could not have been any more powerful.

We missed breakfast at the hotel on Shabbat since we could not set an alarm, but with all we were eating during the week, maybe that was a good thing.

Our Shabbat meals at the yeshiva were filled with divrei Torah, stories, singing and dancing, and we loved every moment. Seeing my older son so inspired, and meeting his friends and rabbis, gave me a sense of peace, knowing that this was where he would continue his spiritual and religious growth for the rest of the year.

Burgers and fries were our Motzei Shabbat meal, and then, somehow, it was already the last day. We planned a lazy day and one more trip to the shuk, which meant more food. Mexican again at my younger son’s request, Marzipan rugelach and lots of candy to bring home, waffles for dinner for two of us, followed by shawarma for my youngest, and then a last return to our hotel.

After a (very) teary goodbye (for me), my older son headed back to yeshiva to watch the Pro Bowl, and we got in a taxi to the airport, where we had to have one last meal: pizza and sushi. What is that meal called that you eat at midnight? Right, it’s not.

As we waited for our flight to board, I noticed the coffee shop in front of me. On the menu it listed Caramel Latte and Iced Hazelnut Latte. What?! Alas, sadly but not surprisingly, it was a new establishment that did not have its flavored coffees available yet. Sigh.

Twelve hours and two airplane meals later, our food tour ended with—what else?—a Caramel Macchiato from Dunkin. We were home.

By Jill Kirsch


Jill Kirsch, the senior editor at The Jewish Link, is already looking forward to visiting her next child in Israel, and hoping that flavored coffee will be a “thing” by that time.a