Friday, January 29, 2016

The view from Here

Some notes about the final day and the trip back to Teaneck. First off, as per my custom, I chose not to sleep the night before the plane ride. By this I mean, try as I might, I could not sleep the night before the plane ride. So After my compulsory 2 hours (12-2 AM) I arose to wander around the apartment, cleaning and shivering. By 5:30 I was ready to get together with the world and just, you know, "be." I know that in the big, bad world, 5:30 is a perfectly unreasonable time to wake up. Many people do it, and many people are equally unreasonable. Many places open at 6AM to accommodate the early crowd and with a world of work starting at 8 or 9AM, 6-7AM is an important time for rising and shining. When I left the apartment at 6AM, walking into a city that is full of motivated and exciting people, I just figured, you know? Well, for a land which struggles for its very existence on a daily basis, the people are late risers. This town, was coming up a ghost town (Yay, The Specials). I wandered from cafe to bakery to store at dawn looking for an angry fix and nothing was open. One store had a sign that said "open," its lights were open and the front door was unlocked. When I got inside and waited, and waited, I began to suspect something was amiss. When the guy came down the stairs holding flats of fresh rolls and chased me out, I picked up on the hint. The store, sign notwithstanding, was closed. I wandered back up to the apartment to hover and be a general nuisance as my family awoke. Eventually, we all did wake up (and I went back out at 7:15 to get a double espresso for $1.25). Our driver took us to the airport (to explain the traffic, he reported that 8AM is rush hour. Crazy.)

We made it to the airport and things were generally quiet there. The security was more in line with what I expected, with questions about our luggage and our destination -- one guy actually made me take y glasses off because he wanted to make sure I looked like y passport. I asked him if he had technology to make me 5 years younger so that I could match more exactly. Passport control people have no sense of humor. An 11:25 flight on a Thursday, not on the national carrier didn't overwhelm the place so the lines were acceptable. After checking in ("we're checking in") and getting our VAT back, we proceeded through passport control. They don't stamp your passport in Israel; they give you a slip of paper which acts as a visa. My guess is that they don't want to make things difficult for anyone who wants to travel to a country which would be offended by a stamp from Israel. This is incredibly understanding and also problematic. Instead of letting individuals see the hatred that exists towards Israel, the state hides itself and lets others hide their affinity for Israel so as to avoid confrontation. Feh. On to the duty free area. There was a wide range of candy there (overpriced, and very little with kosher supervision), alcohol (reasonable selection at OK prices) and books and magazines. Talia wanted to buy 2 magazines. We balked at the price -- eleven dollars per magazine. You read that right. Eleven dollars each.

While waiting we chatted with some Teaneck neighbors and compared visit notes. Steve P. said that he had a credit for in-flight wifi and had a hot spot, so he shared the password. This was convenient as Talia's seat-video didn't work so while she waited or the stewardesses to find her another seat (hey, those episodes of Girl Meets World aren't going to watch themselves!) she was able to send email and do all sorts of important teenager work. By the way, in a world where one can only check 1 suitcase on for free, it behooves people to pack a carry on with things you don't need (keep the essentials for a back pack) and then take the airline people up on the offer to check the carry on at the gate for free. I watched the first episode of Flight of the Conchords (in order to remind myself what absolutely perfect television looks like) then a whole bunch of movies where stuff blows up. We were served 2 meals -- the first had some sort of meat pieces with a vaguely Lebanese flavor and the second was a breakfast (at 3PM New York Time) which was an egg on a roll. We had a bit of turbulence but not much and the entire flight (though long and, well, long) was pretty darned good. A couple of squealing babies, but a really good experience otherwise. The skies, they were friendly.

At Newark, we collected our stuff, went through a variety of lines (we declared that we had but one life to give for our country, and that we had bought some chocolates and souvenirs) had our bags counted and our passports perused, and then went towards the taxi line. Julie had set up an Uber account because the car from the airport was to cost 15-20 dollars less than a taxi. The trade off for such a fare savings is that the car and driver never actually show up. After an hour of tracking the Uber and speaking with him on the phone (he was ignorant of the layout of Newark airport, and the letters of the alphabet) we cancelled and got into a cab. The rest was relative silence.

So here I sit -- a table's full of papers to be resolved, stuff to be put away, work that still has to be done (I checked, and apparently, flying with 65 10th grade essays does not magically make them be graded -- who knew?) no food in the fridge and family realities that will have us drive to Philly in 2 hours and spend Shabbos there. I miss Maddie something awful already and still have the air-equivalent-of-sea legs, but I slept from 9P to 7AM with only 3 short breaks so there's that. I now return me to my regularly scheduled life. Carry on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Children and Waffles

Another rainy, gray morning. Maddie had promised Talia that they would go buy stuff on Ben Yehudah so I tagged along while Julie slept in. The wind kicked up and the rain was on and off. Bottom line, it was cold. We stopped in to a bunch of small stores and tried to buy something in each one, and be very thankful to the proprietors. All that niceness was very draining so we had to get something to eat. Had to. We went to Moshikos. Because Moshikos. I actually tried some charif on my felafel and it was delicious. Of course, washing my hands in cold water and drying them by blowing cold air on them, then walking around holding the felafel in my cold hands probably made the spicy sauce more reasonable. But it was delicious. We wandered back to unload all that we bought.

I guess all this seems rather superficial and in a way, it is. The essence of the trip was to visit with Maddie and eat anything I could. To a lesser degree we got to spend time with family and friends and support the economy by taking taxis and buying some stuff. Even as we sat in the apartment, not having seen the "important" things, I really feel like this has been a successful trip. We did get to catch up with wonderful old friends. We did connect with family and we did eat everything that wasn't tied down (and some that was). We met new people and saw things we hadn't seen before. We haven't killed each other or broken major laws. Mostly, we just soaked in the whole experience of being in Israel and it felt good.

After we came back, Julie started out on her junket to Talpiyot -- the Emanuel something or other. I really don't understand it but apparently they sell stuff and she buys stuff so everyone is happy. And I napped, so really, everyone is happy. I can't tell if the napping is a vestige of jet lag, is a sign of my advanced age, is a perk of having nothing to do and no pressures, or is because I was wrapped in a blanket, staving off the cold so my body decided to conserve energy by sleeping. The end result matters. I slept. Yum.

Upon her return, we prepped for our final evening out. A last dinner in Jerusalem requires something heavy duty. Tonight, industrial strength waffles that you can only get at a factory. Not a bar. That would be ridiculous. So we cabbed to the Waffle Factory (not the Waffle Bar, God forbid) in Cinema City. In Israel, many places have English names. In Hebrew, the name is more complex -- it is "Sinema Siti" so you can see how that would be confusing. There were no tables available so we wandered around a bit until one opened up. At one vendor, I bought a smarmy shirt. The t-shirts were full of puns more than smarm but I found a way. Like finds like.

I had a pizza and beer and, sitting amongst the birthday parties and barber poles (this is a theme restaurant and barbers are the theme?) I really felt like I was at a non-kosher family, junky restaurant. Except for the beer (Stella). And the sweet potato soup. And Julie's fancy crispy gnocchi salad. Mostly, though, it was low brow and delicious. Then we began the traditional argument over dessert. When one has the option of six toppings and two children one would think that each child would get to choose 3 toppings. This is not true. It took a Solomonic insight but I adjudicated and we agreed that each party would get to choose 2 toppings and then 2 would be agreed upon as a demilitarized zone of toppings-in-common administered by an impartial parental body. And peace reigned in the Waffle Kingdom.

Behold the power of beer.

While Julie nursed her decaf cappuccino (ha!) with 1% milk [no skim here] the girls ate their diabetes platter. Waffles topped with chocolate sauce vanilla ice cream and 5 different candy bars and cookies topped with more chocolate syrup. I got a contact carb coma and nutritionists in the vicinity of Alderaan felt a disturbance in the force. They stumbled through their collective stupor until we found a cab. A side note -- I can't eat the desserts here because this country was founded on blood, sweat, and tree nuts. So with all the bakeries, ice cream places, and factories which churn out waffles topped with yummy stuff, I eat none of it. I found one place (Coney Island bakery on Yafo, I think) at which I ate a parve donut. And please speak not of such exigencies as "candy" which lacks chocolate. What's even the point of that?

Our taxi took us to the Kotel. We hadn't visited it yet and it is important to go if only for a brief visit. The driver wanted to charge us a flat rate of 70 Shekalim (17 dollars). We opted for the metered rate and he was less than enthused. I was afraid that he would intentionally take back roads in order to inflate the overall charge but we arrived and the meter still only read 50 Shekalim (12.5 dollars). So there you go.

Being at the Kotel, no matter how often I go, and what time I arrive, is unnerving, and exhilarating. It makes everything that I believe and which defines me very real. It isn't about stories or myths, but about a very real place. Seeing the people there who, regardless of their personal beliefs and practices all are united at that wall is humbling. We are part of a very special chain and sometimes it takes touching a wall to remind us of how both important and small we really are. We have to pack now, and get ourselves ready for an early wake up and a cab to the airport. I will take notes and write up a summary at some point after our return. I think you for your patronage and attention thus far and hope I have represented my trip and all that I ate while on my trip, faithfully.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More stories about buildings and food

Our quest to eat everything in Israel hit a small snag as both Julie and Talia cried "hold, enough" this afternoon. The jet lag caught up with Julie as she fell asleep even as I was talking to her. The nerve. Talia has had an uneven gustatory experience and has even been known to say such sacrilege as "I'm not even hungry." We still love her but keep one eye open when around her.

Maddie and I trekked late (Maddie had gone to her Hebrew lesson where she learned that the subjunctive is impenetrable in every language) out to Emek Refaim and Pompadu. We took the 18A bus eventually, as Maddie had us running to a variety of stops until we found one that suited our needs. At the restaurant, they sat us in the back with limited lighting but B.B. King playing overhead so everything balanced out. We tried some different raviolii (that's the plural, you know) and I had an eggplant appetizer. I even let myself have some Finlandia vodka. Apparently, after you have drink, they ask you if you want a "chaser." Unlike in America where a chaser is often a softer drink (beer or something else) which helps wash away the drink, a "chaser" here is a half-shot of an alcoholic drink, on the house. So I chased my vodka with some vodka. It seemed to work. Isn't technology grand?

Desserts were as decadent as you can imagine (or more so if you suffer from a severely limited imagination), and the bus ride back was uneventful.

Mall tuckered out

Before I discuss what we have done so far, I want to mention something about this city -- it confuses me. Maybe, if I were to live here for any length of time, I could get the hang of it, but so far, nope. We took a cab this morning and afternoon and I feel like we never went on the same road twice. Also, because Jerusalem (a "city of neighborhoods") is a series of hills, I can't get a sense of how far anything is from anything else. We wound around hill after hill, making rights and lefts, and I saw some miserable driving out there. But everything ultimately seemed close. We paid about 10 bucks for each cab ride no matter where we went. In general, the cabbies have asked us if we want a flat rate quoted, or want to rely on the meter. We have been told that if they quote a rate, it will be slightly more than is necessary but if one is going out near rush hour, the meter might end up costing more. So we have been instructed to make an offer first, at a rate we are willing to pay, and haggle accordingly. That blows my mind. We don't just haggle -- we have to tell them their business. The buses take much longer and aren't as convenient. So 4 people at 6.90 NIS each (about 27.60 NIS or $6.90) in a 35 minute bus ride (plus the walk to and from the bus) or 4 people in a 50 NIS ($12.50) 10 minute cab ride (door to door). While we try to make sure we use reputable cab companies, for that convenience, we have taken without vetting more than once.

The first half of the day was reserved for visiting Maddie's school and meeting some of her friends and teachers. I will save the snark for later because the school has done right by her and, though I was reduced to drinking instant coffee in a country where people bleed espresso, I think that the school and her peers are doing alright. Not much more to report on that front -- some rooms had more heat, some had less. I sat in on a class and resisted the temptation to be difficult (it is such a natural thing, especially as a teacher, to try and take over a class and do it better). We also packed a small bag of clothing that Maddie didn't want any more and exchanged it with the stuff we brought from home that she suddenly decided she couldn't live without. The next step was to run and catch a bus to the mall.

After sitting through a class we ran to catch a bus 33 to go to the mall. First stop, food court. Four people, four restaurants. Talia went to McDonalds because she could. She got a Texas burger and enjoyed it, even remembering the Alamo sauce. OK, that's not exactly true but how often do I get to make that joke? Some of you, no doubt, said "one time too many." You're welcome. A kosher food court is as overwhelming as it was last time I was here. I feel like I could just live ini the mall and eat. Eventually, I had to choose one place and so I sighed and walked in a random direction, driven only by the promise of dead cow. I had a philly steak sammich at New Deli (though in Hebrew, the name is "Sandwich, Sandwich") and batata (sweet potato) fries. Julie and Maddie got dairy stuff. Maddie's thing is a bagel with sweet potato and butter on it. I don't get it. Julie stuck with pizza but she was completely tired and feeling sick so I don't think she enjoyed it so much. My proof? When I asked what was on it, she replied (and this is true) "Poop."

Then we started wandering around the mall. I remember now why I hate the mall, and even though this mall is in Israel and has the heightened levels of holiness, it is still a mall. Tiring and over priced. Do I really need a $10 pack of Post-It notes? They really did cost 10 dollars. We went into a music store and Talia wanted to buy a vinyl album for her friend. Now I like music and appreciate vinyl, but is $30 necessary for a copy of a Pink Floyd album that I used to own but got rid of already? The girls did get some shoes ($16 a pair!) and we got out before we all became too, too cranky, so there's that. We cabbed back to the apartment, and Julie went for a nap. Maddie left to go to the Lone Soldier center for a Hebrew lesson and we will regroup and reassess the evening's possibilities shortly.

I remain humbly yours in food.

Monday, January 25, 2016

gnocch gnocch gnocch

We had grand plans. We were going to galavant and I don't really know how to galavant. Our plans for the day required two things: money and special cards to get us onto the light rail system, so off we went to the post office to exchange money (3.89 NIS per dollar) and the place for getting the "rav kav" cards (6.90 NIS per ride, but 10 rides for 55 NIS).

The light rail train in Jerusalem is interesting. First, you can get on in any door as long as you use the rav kav card to scan in. But no one is there to make sure you scan in. There is a strong honor system. I have heard that there are occasionally compliance people who check up on riders but while we were there it seemed completely based on the will of each rider. It was sort of nice, thinking that the populace is generally moral. In addition, there is a special button on the outside of each door. If you run up to the train and the doors have closed, you aren't out of luck; you push the button and the doors open up again. Imaging that -- a spiteful driver can't see you coming and zoom away. Again, power is in the hands of the riders. No one was standing at the stop pushing the button repeatedly, just to be a jerk. Heck, in New York they push people onto the tracks just to be a jerk. A button would be unthinkable. There is, also, just one line so it isn't as easy for me to get lost. Possible, but not easy. In the worst case, I could get on going the wrong way, and still just move to the other direction when I get to the end. The single line also means that the train doesn't go to many places. Short trips of a stop or 4 are more easily accomplished by walking and since every trip, no matter the duration, costs the same, it doesn't make financial sense to take a ride for only a few stops: save the money for long trips. Also, since the train only goes down a single street there are still many places not served by the train. We took a ride down a few stops but then had to walk back and across almost as much as we would have walked had we walked from the apartment in the first place. It reminded me of the T in Boston, only sleeker and with only one line and less vomit.

We ended up at Kodesh Patissiere, a small, quaint bakery-restaurant which opened in 1967. I got the sense that the main course was ambience and food was an afterthought. Julie and I got mini quiches (mushroom and leek) with a lovely salad. I didn't expect them to be mini but the flavor was ok so I wasn't too annoyed. Talia's onion soup was great but her gnocchi in a rosa sauce was beyond bland. I don't know what is beyond bland other than "really bland" but these were. Maddie got the Israeli equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich, called "toast." Apparently, when converting sandwiches from US to Israel, the conversion rate changes the type of cheese and adds a hair. She was not happy. They exchanged the order for a feta on bruschetta which she ate some of. Just for the record, they exchanged the food (at no cost) simply because Maddie didn't like it -- she made no mention of the hair. The beet carpaccio was very good: topped with lemon juice, soy sauce and olive oil plus black pepper. Ambience, though, was still the main attraction.

I noticed that when we paid via credit card, the waitress didn't make anyone sign the receipt. I don't know if that is good or bad but it's a trusting country.

Mani pedi time for the girls. It is important when traveling to a foreign country to do something which can't be done at home, right? Mani pedi time...Female rituals confound me. We have three women using the shower in the apartment and we have 12 bottles of product plus 2 bars of soap. I know how to cut my own nails and pamper myself by using a bar of soap and a tube of shampoo, both of which I took from some hotel a number of years ago.

In order to kill time while the children inhale nail salon chemicals, Julie and I walked up to Ben Yehuda street and she bought cappuccino at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in order to warm up as the rain and snow began to fall. In Israel the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf store serves alcohol in the evening. If they did that in Paramus they wouldn't have closed. Afterwards, as the wind and rain were daunting, I bought a scarf. That fixed everything.

We stopped in a number of souvenir stores and bought little things for friends while Julie struck up conversations. Everyone is friendly and volunteers to help out with Maddie if she needs anything. I even get the sense that they are sincere; they hand us cards, give us phone numbers and really volunteer their time and resources to help her. If Maddie were to stop in to a store and say "My parents bought a shot glass here 3 months ago and I need a place to sleep tonight," she would be taken care of, no questions. Weird, but another sign of that underlying morality.

Julie then went into Aldo and got some dark chocolate and some coffee ice cream because 35 degrees and wet snow just cries out for ice cream. Because of the nut allergy thing, I can't even have the ice cream here. I heard someone suggest a fruit flavored sorbet but if that's what I am reduced to then I see no need to try anymore.

We found a cab who could take us to the neighborhood of (Hey, it's) Pat [pronounced "Pot" so that's no better...] to visit my niece and her husband and their baby, whose birthday is today. The cab driver had on a radio station marked "95.0 MHz. That's strange to me. Another station was displayed on his screen, "Echo99FM". Even in another country, a knowledge of English is essential. This is why I don't try to learn other languages. The apartment is very nice, if you like that sort of thing ("that sort of thing" being "apartments in Pat"). The baby was delicious especially compared to Israeli grilled cheese, and we caught up with the family, plus RachelL R. and Tara T. Julie napped on the sofa briefly until we promised that we would go find a creme brulee for her. So back into a cab and off to Chaba restaurant, right near Machane Yehuda.

There was some wait for a table, but it was worth it, mostly. Talia forgot her Lactaid so she shied away from most everything on the menu. I had a pizza and some Pecorino Cheese Fried things (there must be a technical term but I stopped at "Fried" and placed my order). The sweet tomato dipping jam really worked well. I avoided the salad because I feared it might have nut...rients in it. Julie had a sweet potato and chestnut soup that had way too much pepper in it so she couldn't eat it. Maddie chowed down on a large baguette with garlic butter and Talia had them take the gnocchi and hit them with olive oil, bay leaves and salt/pepper. It was pretty good. I ducked out as they ordered the mandatory desserts (so many restaurants are expanded makes me wonder why the same hasn't happened in the states) -- creme brulee and a tiramisu. I hear both were good. I walked over to the Swidler household to touch base and pick up an avocado while the ladies went to a local karaoke event (women only on Monday nights). It is midnight here now so I will turn in and prepare for an exciting day visiting Maddie's school tomorrow.

Better get a Bucket List

It is given out that, on my vacation I chose to fly to Israel and visit my child. So explanation is the whole ear of the internet rankly abused (h/t Billy S.)

When I found out that my child wished to go to Israel to learn for a year, I looked at the calendar, towards the yeshiva week break and I said, "Maddie, I intend, during mid to late January, to fly to Israel so I can try out the Brazilian Table at Papagaio's. You are free to see me while I am in country as long as you don't get your fingers too close to my mouth while I am at the restaurant."

I have fewer and fewer things on that "list of things I just have to do." I was a notary, I made turducken, I even got all the degrees I intended to. But ever since I heard of a place where the waiters just keep bringing meat, I knew I had to give it a go. This was last night.

A bit of gap filling -- yesterday afternoon, after coming back and drying off (somewhat -- in the midst of de-socking, the building's fire alarms started blaring. I, being a teacher, hurriedly got my whole family to take the stairs all the way down, stay quiet in line, and move out of the building. Israelis, it seems, react differently to fire alarms. The go INTO the building, take the elevator, and laugh and the shivering tourists who are standing without coats, waiting for an all-clear sign. We called the office and they assured us that we were idiots. We went back in). Then, our old friend Marci called and said she was in the area, so Julie and I braved the winds and rain to go to the shuk and sit with Marci and schmooze. It was very pleasant and, as we walked her back to her car, we passed The Techina King. If you don't know, techina is a paste made from crushed sesame seems. I know -- what WILL they think of next? I happen to be a techina fanatic so when I saw that they actually had a working millstone generating still warm techina, I went in and tried some. Normally, fresh techina tastes vaguely like peanut butter (another favorite of mine) and before one serves it, one mixes it with lemon juice, garlic, parsley and water. But their stuff was raw and yummy. The guy, whom I am assuming was the actual tachina king, though I hadn't realized that the techina needed any sort of governing agent, plied me with myriad flavors. I explained that I have a nut allergy but he assured me that there were no nuts in his techinas so I dove in (not literally). I tried nougat. It was delicious. I tried chocolate. It was delicious. I bought a bunch and we went on our merry way. When we settled in at another bakery to talk for longer I realized that I was having an allergic reaction -- while he might not have added in any nuts, the chocolate clearly had some. I popped a Benadryl and tried to move on with my life.

Anyway, a couple of hours later, Jeff O. picked up my family and drove us to Talpiyot for a meat feast that couldn't be beat (h/t Arlo). We were joined by parts of the Steve L. family (that's Senja, MMNE, Daniella and Zack (ne Spike)), the Jeff O. family (Dr. Sharon, Aliza and two linebackers who used to be Dani and Yoni), plus Rabbi Aaron. We segregated ourselves into two groups -- 1 doing all you can eat, and the other, women (Daniella went for the all you can eat; she bears watching, that one). They give you a little plastic thing with green on one side and red on the other. Leave it on green when you want more food, and move it to red when you want to take a break. We never touched it. They then asked us how we like our meat. Most of the table said "medium rare" and I said "medium well." The wait staff then proceeded to ignore that and bring us whatever they had. Veal medallions, chicken legs, london broil, turkey breast, entrecote, ribs, liver, and who knows what else, plus dips and salatim. Wings were a side dish. A side dish.

So I ate. A slice of this, a piece of that. Yes, I tried the liver. Completely unnecessary. The waiters came over and served, and then we ate. Repeat. Eventually and one by one, we cried uncle and sat and watched while our betters kept eating. I set no records. I ate a reasonable amount and then decided I was done. It was nice. One problem I had was that there was often a gap between services so I just sat around, bored. Couple this with "I got 1 hour of sleep lst night and I had a Benadryl a few hours ago" and you have a recipe for Dan falling asleep at the table, repeatedly.

As to the food. It was good, I guess. All those different choices are amusing but, ultimately, not what I was going for in a dinner. I want a hunka hunka burning steak. That way, I know what I am paying for, and when I am done with it. If I am hungry after a steak, I feel good about myself and my stomach' firm resolve. If I am not, I feel good about myself in that I had a great meal. Either way, I find the idea of a unified meal somehow more enticing than eternal appetizers and carving stations. But it was interesting. We split the bill (which took many doctorates and smartphones) and paid up. Jeff drove us back and I collapsed. Up at 4:30 but only for a short time, and then actual sleep for a bunch more hours. I have heard of worse.

I was warned that I would not want meat for a day or two afterwards. I find that that is in error. In fact, I do not want food, but I have no specific aversion to meat. So there.

Papagaio's is now marked off on my list, I have 2 pails of techina to go through, the wind is whipping up something awful outside, driving rain and wet snow down on the unfortunate souls who chose not to hide in their apartments, and I still have not graded the 65 papers I schlepped with me.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bus stop, wet day

And now for an interim report.

Today's scheduled walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem is brought to you by umbrellas and boots. Maddie and I got up, said good bye to Elijah and ran downstairs to the local store to get water and toilet paper. We had plans -- big plans. Anyway, we got back upstairs and everyone assembled for the day's walk to and around the old city with our tour guide, David. If you are looking for him, his name is David so that should narrow it down. And he has a hat, so that should help. We walked down to the Jaffa gate amidst rain and winds and at around 9AM met our guide. It was already only 42 degrees with rain. We mentioned how we would like to see things off the beaten path and primarily indoors. He seemed amenable to that.

We walkeda around the corner to the Tower of David museum. I have been to the old city many times, and have entered through that gate most every time, but I have never been in that museum. The entire history of Jerulsaem is laid out with models, pictures, architecture and explanations. Parts of the tour are outside, with stunning views completely ruined by rain and parts are inside with incredible exhibits completely ruined by the prospect of having to go back out into the rain. But at about 9 bucks a person, we were out of the rain for a while, and I learned a thing or two (some people say that "scallions" are named such because they were grown in Ashkelon/Ascelon -- that's cool).

After that we walked through the byways of the old city and even saw an actual column dating from the Roman legion times (it was being used as the base for a street lamp, but it wasn't one of those reproductions by the Antiquities Department -- this was the real deal). The roads are narrow and confusing and navigating them amidst the others walking, the occasional moped and half obscured street signs was made more difficult by the rain and wind which ruined a few perfectly cromulent umbrellae (that's the plural). Julie said that they turned into "unbrellas" but I looked it up and that's not a word. We stopped off at the courtyard to our guide's house so he could discuss the architecture and age of various homes, and explain the history of the area. We walked through the lower market, the Cardo, and saw columns from 2000 years ago. I believe that the cat sitting next to one was similarly as old.

At this point, Talia's feet decided that she could no longer rely on them. Her canvas sneakers had absorbed their fill of rain water so they decided to give up. The rest of her quickly followed suit. We decided that the girls would head back to the apartment afterlunch so they could dry off properly. Julie and I would continue to walk around because we are old and everything already hurts regardless of the weather. Before we stopped for lunch, we went to the guide's mother-in-law's house. We got to go in to her residence in the old city and see what a house there looks like. She was wonderfully welcoming, her house was beautiful and Talia even managed to smile a little bit. A sofa and heat can do that, I guess. She spoke with us about the decision to make aliyah and the kinds of places and lives people lead. It was really very nice and much more informative and intimate than any formalized museum or tour ever could be. She also invited Maddie to come by and stay over if she wishes (Maddie also knows her grand daughter so it was comfy-cozy pretty quickly). I think that of all the "touring" that was a high point.

When we went back outside, it had gotten worse. The wind was whipping up dangerously so we decided to go back to the Jaffa gate area, eat at Aroma cafe and then all head back to the apartment. Wading back into the old city, even for me and Julie seemed foolish. The guide understood. At Aroma, Julie and Maddie got some hearty soups, I got a tuna sammich and a double espresso, and Talia got a chocolate danish and hot chocolate. To top t off, she dropped in some of the complimentary mini chocolate bars that they gave us. The prospect of returning to the apartment invigorated her. The girls left the meal and took the light rail back, and Julie and I decided to walk back. The walk from the Mamila area isn't bad -- straight up Jaffa Road, but the wind and rain had intensified again. I have walked through many storms and have experienced heavy rain, but never more consistent and brutal winds. We finally made it back and dumped a whole bunch of stuff into the dryer, pumped up the heat and hid under our respective covers, promising to come out in May.

More updates as events warrant. (MUAEW)

Jet Lag

A word about jet lag.

It sucks.

I know, that's two words, and maybe, just maybe, at another time, I'd humor your quibbling, but not now.

Local time is 7:19 am. My body, since our arrival, has made it perfectly clear that refuses to adjust to Israel time and will continue to do so til about 5 minutes after we land in Newark. THough I dozed last evening at around 10:00 for a few minutes, I stayed up until 11:00 and headed off to bed. I fell asleep and then woke at 2am and that was it until I allowed myself the time between 6 and 7am. And that's it.

My schedule in the states has me go to sleep at between 10:30 and 11 and wake (on a work day) between 5:30 and 6. That would translate to about 3:45PM and 10:45 PM. THough I sleep fitfully, I sleep. And yet, over the last 3 days, my sleep schedule has translated to "awake 5AM to Sunday and sleep only when it is least convenient, in minute multiples of 7, no greater than 7".

The combination of jet lag and insomnia (heretofore to be known as "annoying") exacerbated by unfamiliar sounds, temperature changes, a diet of foods which my gut has never dealt with before and constantly having to convert currency and other values so that I have any idea what is going on, has made it so that I don't really know what day it is, and think I might even care. I start to hear things, and think things that make no sense to a sharp, waking mind. Should we buy a paint stripper to get rid of the snow awaiting our return? If I fall asleep now will I give myself enough rest or will I feel even worse? Why is the government taking flash pictures of me with a camera hidden in the wall heater?

It is raining now but even were it not, I would be walking around in a fog. The typos in these posts? Sleep deprivation. My general sense of unease? Prompted by a constant confusion over what time it is. My lack of fashion sense is still just me being me.

And to top it all off, we are still dealing with things back home, so we are still trying to keep track of "what time is it wherever" and this forces me to do math. Uncool. So if you see me, realize that I am having trouble recalling words, names, concepts and some other stuff I can't think of. I am enjoying the stay and, unfortunately, getting a full 28 hours out of every day.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Taste of Shabbos

I now present the next installment of my ongoing travelblogue so that all of you know what is up in this, my trip to the holy land, 5776.

First, a note on technology: Ellipsis tablet (android) using RDP to connect to the Windows 2008 server at my school, through which I am running Chrome. To type, I have added a "Finite" bluetooth keyboard. The apartment wifi is not bad (but gets sluggish with 5 devices all sucking signal in the same room).

OK -- Friday. Friday was weird. After sleeping a couple of hours, we all woke when one kid or another didn't feel well. Eventually, many others went to sleep. I didn't. Our apartment has windows which look like glass but which stop noise with the efficacy of tissue paper, and Thursday nights are party time for Israelis. We heard choruses of birthday songs being sun well after 3:30 AM and the clang-clang-clang of the light rail outside our window only paused briefly for the 30 minute break between "last train" and "first train." During that time, I believe a guy walked by and clanged a bell, just to keep us on our toes. By 6AM I was ready to be awake for real. I knew I had to do some shopping for what Israelis call "Salatim" but which are more like "dips" than "salads" (techina is NOT a salad. You know how I know? Because it is good, that's how). I also knew that the Machane Yehuda market supposedly fills up early on Fridays as everyone goes shopping for Shabbos. So I went right when it opened up so the aisles wouldn't be blocked by pushy consumers. Instead, they were blocked by vendors unloading boxes and moving merchandise around.

A little secret: The shuk has only 8 stores in it.
1. fruit and veggies
2. nuts and spices
3. meat and fish
4. cellular outlet
5. candy
6. restaurant
7. bakery
8. Assorted paper good and miscellaneous junk

These 7 stores have approximately 3000 outlets each mixed around the market. And by law, you have to be able to buy espresso at any of them, at any time.

So I went to a few storefronts and eventually found a woman from whom I felt comfortable buying side "salatim." I ordered 7 different ones, 4 of which were variations on egg plant.

I walked back, and on the way, went to Coffizz (or Coffixx, I don't really know) and ordered a "black coffee" which turned out to be a turkish coffee. Dark, bitter and full of gravel, like me.

I got back and sat around wondering what one does at 7:30. So at 8AM Elijah and I went to the shuk. We walked around and ended up at a calzone/boureka place (combination bakery and restaurant). We chatted and he at and then we went back to the apartment. I wondered what I was supposed to do at 9:30 on a Friday, so at 10 o'clock, I was met by an old friend from Teaneck, Steve L. and we went to the shuk.Same stores were there and the concept of not having slept was catching up wth me. We wandered as Steve did his shopping. He went to his vegetable guy, his nuts guy and his bakery guy. In the middle, we went to a little restaurant called Rachmo. He ate. I tried not to be sick or fall asleep. On our way back through the shuk, we ran into the other half of my work and Teaneck so we made small talk. Eventually, I stumbled back to the apartment. The time was 1:30 and I didn't know what to do, but I knew that it was vital that I stay awake so I could have a good night's sleep and get on to the Israeli time schedule. So I fell asleep.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of getting ready for Shabbos and asking each other if we were ready for Shabbos. The horn sounded at 4:27 local time. That was cool. The light rail stopped running, the streets emptied out and there really was a palpable sense of calm and quiet.

We walked (in 2 shifts) to my sister and brother-in-law's house for dinner. Children abounded, chicken was et and biscotti were savored. Eventually, we wrapped ourselves up, walked back to the apartment, walked up the 8+ flights of stairs, drank a few beers, played some "Go-fish", discussed middle east politics and fell asleep. While I was up between 4 and 4:30 AM, the sleep was not bad. The kids woke us up at 11:45. We scrambled to be ready for lunch (it was 48 degrees and rainy - gross but spiritually uplifting). Lunch was salmon, calzones and side salatim. A note about the salatim. There are things which work well as salatim -- techina, eggplant and combinations of them. I also bought a "Lemon salad". Lemons are good for many things. Cleaning products, car fresheners, lemon ade and even things to put on a piece of fish. Lemon salad is an abomination. It has the flavor of bitter lemon peel with the unpleasing consistency of lemon jelly, plus chunks of lemon peel. It was gross. We all tried it just so we could all say that it was horrible -- a shared experience and a common enemy. I am sure that the woman only has it in the display case so she can see which of her customers is a stupid tourist. [note -- if you like Lemon Salad, then I that I am sorry that your taste buds are broken. The stuff is objectionable]

After a lunch (which also included my niece, her husband and their kid, plus another niece of mine -- not that I ate all these people) we waddled back to the apartment. I decided to try the Shabbos elevator with Talia while the others walked up the stairs. Then, the balance of Shabbos was centered around a short nap and some card games.

Afterwards, we ordered Pizza Hut. The pies arrived and we dug in. I have had better pizza. I have had MUCH better pizza (the dough was too fluffy/thick/doughy and the flavor of the sauce/cheese was unimpressive) but some guy delivered it to us. For those of you who generally get things delivered, this might not seem all that exciting. But that's not a regular part of my world. In Teaneck, I have had Chinese food delivered. But Chinese food is not pizza and certainly not Pizza Hut. This is food from a restaurant that advertises on television and some guy brought me the food and I didn't have to comb my hair, or put on pants or nothing. Dude brought ME food. Cramps be damned! I ate way too much in the way of cheesy bites because dude BROUGHT IT TO ME.

Now we are arguing about what we want to say we intended to do so we know what to regret not having done when we wake up in the morning. More updates as events warrant. Meanwhile, I'm having a Goldstar. It's Israeli for "sort of beer."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A full, full day

My quest to eat my way through Jerusalem continued today as I strove to try this, snack on that, and then chomp the other thing. I woke up at a reasonable hour and tried to goad a child or two into accompanying me on a trek for a cup of breakfast coffee. We finally got outside (53 degrees and bright sun) and started walking. We picked up a couple of voltage adapters and then went to the post office to convert money. The post office works a little different here. When you walk in, you go to a computer and indicate the nature of your transaction. The computer spits out a piece of paper with your number and you go and sit down. When a teller is open, a computerized voice says "number XX, please go to window YY." Our paper had number 907 on it. As it worked out, the exchange desk was dealing with customer 906 so, in order not to expedite anything and give the post office a good name, the teller finished with 906 and disappeared for 10 minutes. Balance was restored to the Force. Our rate ($3.87 per NIS, no commission) was pretty darned reasonable.

We moved from there to Berman's Bakery (est. 1875). Friendly people worked and ate there. The kids got a cup of hot chocolate and a selection of pastries while I got a double espresso which set me up with enough energy to start walking around and find a place to eat. We returned to the apartment to check on the Mrs. and Talia stated that she didn't feel good. So She got some extra sleep while Maddie and I went back out for more walks. We ended up, not surprisingly, at Moshiko's so I had an early lunch. I ran in to 5 former students and 2 current students while Maddie also found some other people she knows. I bought some gifts for people back home. On our walk up and down the streets in the area, we regaled each other with stories of our experiences on Ben Yehuda, all of which started with the statement "I heard from a friend of mine that" and were followed by a series of winks and knowing eye rolls. We both knew that these stories were not about friends. We don't have friends.

On the way back to the apartment, I bought a donut and ate it.

After I awoke from my carb coma, Maddie told me that her friend, Elijah, would be visitng, so I cleaned up my stuff so as not to embarrass in an impersonal way. I prefer to make situations uncomfortable and awkward myself. Full service is what sets me apart from other parents. We spent a nice bunch of the afternoon chatting about everything and catching up. At one point we got in to the issue of gender labels and I had to wonder if "trans-fats" actually used to be proteins. I know that that joke was effective because Talia, who had been feeling better, immediately felt ill again.

The evening then shifted into the "what do we do now phase" when we argued over whether or not to see a movie. I voted "no" because, well, I'm horrible like that. We planned to go anyway. First, dinner. We ambled down Ben Yehudah (sometimes you just have to amble) and through an outdoor arts market. Some of the tables had sandalwood designs, pottery, jewelry and antiques. Others looked like people emptied their junk drawers and were hoping no one would notice. Eventually we shifted over to Yoel Solomon until we came to Piccolino (dairy, Italian). From the outside it looks like a door, but once you get through the door, there is an entire restaurant. Crazy, right? They were a bit surprised when we said "table for 5, no reservation" but they found a spot and told us we had 1 hour to order, eat and get the heck out before the quality crowd came in. I ordered a tortellini with parmesan cheese, mushrooms and mozzarella. The sauce was a bit watery but the flavor was nice. Others got pasta dishes and Talia got salmon (with which I was unimpressed). Four of the 5 of us got dessert (1 creme brulee, 2 mascarpone/white chocolate/nuts and 1 chocolate souffle with a ganache in it). In Israel there is a requirement that desserts have nuts (except for donuts, I guess, which satisfy the law by dint of their name) so I said "no thanks" and avoided Mr. Benadryl.

After dinner, both girls' stomachs hurt and we decided to forego the movie I didn't want to see so we could come back to the apartment and watch another movie I didn't want to see. Tomorrow, I hope to walk to the kotel, plus buy a selection of salads in the shuk to take to my sister's when we show up for meals over Shabbat. So far, I have had a chance to see many interesting stores and eat more than I should. Success.

Next blog might be Saturday night, but who can tell these days? Stay warm and dry and I think I'm going to go out and buy another donut.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Jerusalem, aight?

We have settled in at Windows of Jerusalem as part of our winter vacation family reunion bonanza. I will try to update this blog enough so that the world knows what we are up to. This will all be on the test.

It began auspiciously enough as we left the house pretty much on time, set to catch a 3:55 flight. We anticipated the kinds of lines we have seen in the past so we were worried that arriving at the airport 3 hours early was cutting it close but we had faith. We braved the 16 degree weather for the promise of the 43 degrees reported in Jerusalem and made it to the airport. At Newark we discovered that there is a large scale attempt to put people out of a job. We took our own bags to a kiosk and printed up tags and passes. We only had to drop our luggage off at the counter and we were ready for security.

Security -- everyone told me that United was like El Al. Fact is, it wasn't. The first part was simply the TSA line along with every other flight leaving the airport. We assumed we had to empty our pockets and take off our shoes but there were no signs to that effect. As we got closer, we heard the occasional TSA agent bark at people that (even in the absence of signs) they had loaded their various baskets incorrectly. They seemed not to understand that if they announce it at 2:15, by the time 2:20 rolls around, they are surrounded by totally different people who didn't hear the earlier instructions. So they shouldn't act so snippy. We don't automatically know that our lap tops must have their own bins. We moved through there in good time, collected our pertinents and moved through to gate 138 just in time to be told that we had to move temporarily to gate 128. That's not weird or anything. Eventually another makeshift security gate was set up and we were screened again by another private firm. Neither process was especially rigorous or thorough. Neither did what El Al does -- I was not asked who packed my bags, no one seemed worried at all the unaccompanied bags lying around and I felt that I wasted all that time I spent last week helping Talia learn what this week's parsha is. We sat, watching the clock as the 3:05 boarding time approached.

Even though this was a United flight it seems that the Israel-bound traveler ethos was present as many passengers camped out well before loading so that they could lay claim to more overhead bin space in which to check their hats, strollers and small children. By 3:25 most of the passengers had established something not unlike a series of lines and the jockeying for position began. By 3:35 the crowd started to get restless so the woman well beyond the barricade announced that the flight had been delayed because they were still waiting for the arrival of a crew to deal with a "maintenance problem." This was disquieting. I'm about to sit in the flying bus for 11 hours at 40,000 feet with the temperature of -77 degrees outside. I don't want to think that there are maintenance problems with my plane. If there is something that has to be reviewed, don't bring in a crew to put a band aid on it. i want a new plane, please. Anyway, the flight board moved us to 4:20 and soon, to 4:50 and eventually 5:15. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the flight and my need to sleep, I had taken a Benadryl at 3:15, expecting to board and fall asleep. Having to stand around with the medicine clouding my already suspect faculties wasn't the optimal situation.

Eventually, the issue was resolved (a problem with a smoke detector) and we boarded the 777-200 to find ample overhead space, but very little space between seats. To reword the old joke, I had to step out into the aisle to adjust my attitude. I watched as the sun set and other planes queued up and jetted down the runway and off into the yonder (I cannot attest to its color or approach to life). I even turned on the in-seat screen to watch the flight status and map. That was diverting, and I also planned out which songs I would put on to help me sleep. I got settled in just as the safety video parade and the announcements began. When they all finished, my wife and daughter turned on their movies and my screen refused to work.I knew that a meal was going to be served relatively soon so I had to stay away long enough to insult my kosher meal. I sat, angrily doing nothing. Anger almost turned into a solid bit of sleep but then an announcement was made that maariv would be prayed so I forced myself to get up and wander towards the back of the plane.

The minyan took place in the rear galley so the crew had to clear out. They seemed less than excited at the prospect of being displaced. Remember, this was not an El Al flight on which the entire crew knows enough of Judaism to reject it properly. This crew had just come in from Italy and some had never flown to Israel so they had no idea what we were doing. And they didn't like it. Incidentally, the passenger clientele was also somewhat strange to me. The operative language was Yiddish and the men who wore plain black hats were under represented and under dressed. In my khakis and non-white shirt I felt like even less that Jewish and they wouldn't count me for the minyan. After davening, men with substantial beards conferred and decided that we would meet for Shacharit at 12 midnight (7AM Jerusalem time) -- 3.5 hours away. I am no math guy so I didn't question their calculations but I knew that this was not enough time to get a full night's sleep in. I tried unsuccessfully to nap as the sugar from the 2 desserts I scarfed down decided that I was in an up cycle and eventually I just watched a movie as my screen had finally been fixed. At midnight, I moved back to the gallery and found myself alone there. It was explained to me that the powers that be had decided that 7AM was the wrong time and we had to wait til 7:30. And ultimately, 7:45. Maybe the bearded sages worked for United.

In the meantime, I watched the lights from Europe flow by under the plane. It was night so I could not discern the cities (not that I would have had a chance in hell were it day, but whatever) so I made up fanciful guesses. I looked at the curve of a river and the size of the city and decided that We were over London. Another patch of lights was Paris and a long straight highway must be the Autobahn. From the sky and through the lenses of my formidable ignorance, Zagreb looks like Pame and both are similar to Berne. I marveled at the snow covered Ruhr Valley without caring that I don't know where the Ruhr valley is or what it looks like, even on a map. I declared that these lights are these cities so it became law in my head.

Prayers began and I gazed at the wonderful diversity of the Jews there. Believers from different sects, families and traditions, with different appearances, liturgies and practices all came together with one goal in mind, to tell me that whatever I was doing was wrong. I did have the chance to explain to the steward (who told his fellow workers as we were deplaning that he intends not to have this assignment again) all about prayer, the tallit and tefillin. He seemed interested but that didn't fully overwhelm his annoyance that we were once again, and for even longer, kicking him out of his workspace.Returning to my seat for another meal I gave up on sleep and decided to tough it out and run to the refuge of an espresso as soon as I could.

Descent was relatively smooth but it shook me up nonetheless. Nausea kicked in, exacerbated by the heat in the plane and, later, by the mad crush to exit. We found all of our stuff (I lost my sleep mask 3 times in 10 hours, all while sitting in my seat) and wandered through the airport so that we could be inspected, selected, rejected and dejected. We got our bags and decided to take a sherut (a shared van) to our apartment rental. I fell asleep in the hot, humid van and woke up sweaty and feeling gross. Yay. There is an equivalent to "sea legs" in which someone lands and still feels like he is moving up and down. Sort of like vertigo but without the cool name.

We were dropped off on the right block and eventually found the entrance-way to the apartment building. MADDIE WAS THERE! Many hugs later, and a tear or three, we got into our apartment and started to settle. It took a while to get acclimated to the room (the Israeli system of hot water heaters, space heaters and separate showers and wash rooms is frustrating but after a few years, you learn to hate it apparently). We walked over to my sister's house to spend some time with her and her family. I fell asleep repeatedly. No offense, I was just really tired. Apparently some conversations were had but I don't recall details because I was just holding it together so I wouldn't crawl onto the floor and have a snore fest. We argued over dinner options, and decided to walk back to the apartment and see what place appeared. The winner? "Chatzot", a middle eastern place (not shockingly). I am proud to say that I, for the first time, had Jerusalem mixed grill IN JERUSALEM! It tasted much the same. I'm just glad I stayed awake.

I stumbled back to the apartment and now, at some time in the early evening on some day which I can't identify, I think I am going to go to sleep for a while. With my luck, I'll be up and wandering around the shuk at 5AM...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A short opinion on Parshat Shmot

I am not one to claim superiority to Rashi and I accept his explanations as steeped in learning and sourced in authoritative texts. However, an explanation he gives in Parshat Shmot does not sit well with me, and while I cannot guarantee that my reading is better or even correct, I would like to present an explanation which accounts for some strange details in the parsha.

Before Moshe is born, Phar’oh sets up a scheme to eliminate all the Hebrew boys: he instructs the midwives to kill them. Two midwives, Shifra and Pu’ah (out of the 500 hundred, as they were in charge and either they would pass the word along, or Phar’oh didn’t want an singular and mass killing, but a deniable limited killing by only 2 midwives) report that the children are born before they arrive so they cannot carry out the order. They refuse to carry the edict out and ensure that the boys remain alive. But Phar’oh really wants the children dead so, based on the work of his astrologers he decrees that ALL boys born on a given day be killed. So, all people then become “hunters” of babies born that day.

The midwives are identified talmudically as Yocheved and Miriam. However, a few verses later, Yocheved becomes pregnant herself (one wonders how many births she could not attend because of her condition). Phar’oh must have noticed that one of his midwives was with child unless she, fearing the edict and knowing that she could not ensure her own, and her child’s safety, hid the pregnancy, not just the birth. Once Moshe is born (after 6 months according to the Rashbam, which would have made it easier for his mother to conceal the pregnancy and make him not a target on the astrologically ominous birth day, as he would look like a 3 month old already – alternatively, it gave her 3 months to hide him before people came and they would kill even a 3 month old who had escaped being killed on the day of his birth. This shows that outliving the moment of birth would not free one from the death penalty), she hides him and then has to put him in a basket and lets him float down river.

As it happens, Phar’oh’s daughter finds the child. She takes pity on the child and rescues it. This is no simple saving of a child – she knows immediately that the child is a Hebrew boy (either by inference – who else would have to put a boy in a basket, or explicitly, as she saw he was circumcised)! She is saving someone that her father has ordered killed, and she then houses the child and raises him as her own. What did she see that made her so aware of the child’s lineage? Wouldn’t others see the same thing? Then, Miriam arrives and volunteers the services of Yocheved (who had been absent, hiding her own pregnancy) as a wet nurse. Both these women would have been known the royal household as they spoke to Phar’oh in the previous chapter. The Hebrew midwives who did not kill the boys come back in to Phar’oh’s house and raise the Hebrew child. Phar’oh would not go and kill his own daughter’s adopted son, especially as it seemed that he was growing up and into the ways of Egypt. The Shadal quotes the Ramban in 2:11 that on that day, Mohe was told his actual heritage and his actions showed the Hebrew identity re-emerging.

A few verses later, Moshe kills an Egyptian man. When news gets out, Phar’oh seeks to kill him. It seems strange that the son of a Phar’oh can get the death penalty for killing an Egyptian subject. So why does it happen? Remember, Phar’oh had already wanted Moshe dead. But his daughter raised the boy and Moshe seemed to have been cleaned of the Hebrew spirit so Phar’oh did not need to continue to seek his death. It was only when Moshe “grew” that he reverted to his Hebrew roots. With that act of killing the Egyptian, it became obvious whom he considered his brethren and where Moshe’s allegiances lay. Phar’oh saw him again as a Hebrew boy and resumed his wish to kill Moshe.

Moshe runs away to Midian. Later, Hashem say that Moshe should return to Egypt because those that sought his life have died. Here (verse 19 of chapter 4) Rashi identifies those who died with Datan and Aviram. He explaims that, though they were still alive, because they had been reduced to a state of poverty, the text considers them as if they were dead (poverty is equated with death). However this ignores one other point – chapter 2, verse 23 said explicitly that Phar’oh died. Rashi quotes from the medrash to say that the king contracted leprosy but it isn’t clear if his point is that the leprosy was the mode of death, or if the king had not actually died. The Rashbam says that the king who sought to kill Moshe died so Hashem could have had Moshe return then, but Moshe was still worried because, as the Bechor Shor says, the decrees were still in place. Moshe was still a wanted man.

It would make more sense for the text to be saying what it explicitly claims – the Phar’oh who had been seeking Moshe’s life died. Stretching to connect the statement with Datan and Aviram seems completely unnecessary to me when there is a clear antagonist who fits the bill more completely. Datan and Aviram NEVER say that they have any interest in killing Moshe while Phar’oh does. Later on, Hashem reassures Moshe that the people who wanted him dead were gone. But then why does Hashem speak of “people” in the plural who want Moshe dead? Is it a ‘royal we’? No – there were many who wanted Moshe dead. The Shadal says that the plural includes the other leaders under Phar’oh who wanted to punish Moshe for killing the Egyptian man while the Rashbam calls the others, “malshinim.” Other commentators have the plural include the servants, especially ones who could identify Moshe by sight. But these explanations ignore the original death dentence on Hebrew children. According to the Talmud, Phar’oh’s astrologers warned him of the threat posed by Hebrew boys – it was their dire forecast which drove the mass infanticide. Clearly, the death of only the Phar’oh would not suffice if they were still around to give this recommendation. Their deaths were necessary as well, and this also would explain the large break between when the Phar’oh died (2:23) and when Hashem mentions that “kol ha’anashim” – ALL, not “both”, the men, have died (4:19).

To sum up, in my humble opinion, when Rashi connects “the men who died” with Datan and Aviram and justifies it through the medrashic notion of poverty, I think he misses the point, and when the other commentators associate the phrase with the servants who were following up on the killing of the Egyptian, they too are ignoring the essential reason that Moshe was a marked man. Only by tying the vendetta to the original commandment to kill all the boys born on a certain day do all the pieces fit.