Whoever said nothing good happens after midnight must never have arrived in Tel Aviv at 3 am and been greeted by Abraham Silver. Not only was the airport hopping (seriously, were people waiting for flights or do they just congregate there for the great bar scene?), but we were welcomed with smiles, enthusiasm and even the beginnings of our learning when Abraham brought us to our hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. After what can only be described as a quick nap and shouldn’t be confused with a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast buffet overlooking the sea and then headed out into “the most Jewish city in the world” – Tel Aviv. While walking Neve Tzedek (the neighborhood founded in 1887 just outside Jaffa 22 years before the founding of Tel Aviv), we witnessed firsthand what results from the Israeli motto, “Where there is nothing, you can do anything.” In Tel Aviv, what is old will be new again.
Our walking tour took us to places such as the Bat Sheva dance hall, where rehearsals are open to the public (and often include the public) and the first movie house which offered patrons a first look at the 1935 silent movie “The Last Days of Pompeii,” which was accompanied not by the original sheet music from Italy but by Klezmer music playing what could have been renamed “Lava” Nagila. We discussed what the ultra-orthodox and the reform have in common (opposition to Zionism) and why Tel Aviv was built to be NYC right in Israel (opposition to rabbinical Judaism and the Diaspora). After a visit to Independence Hall (made easier by walking the boulevard that replaced the sand dunes of yesteryear) and lunch on the bus, the group picked (not a peck and not pickled, but still a lot of) peppers for Leket, a 200-acre farm surrounded by highway which helps fulfill the biblical mandate to set aside a portion of our crops to care for the poor, the infirm and the stranger. Such a diverse and educational day – just like Tel Aviv!
Our visit to Leket was followed by a short bus ride where we took the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed rest. We awoke shortly thereafter at the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled where we were greeted by the center’s Executive Director, Boaz Kramer, a former participant in the program and a two-time medalist in the Paralympic Games in wheelchair tennis. Our tour of the facility began with a presentation to Isaac of a shirt from the 2016 Paralympic Games (just completed in Rio) signed by all the participants of the Israeli delegation (and incidentally all members of the Center). Boaz explained to us the critical role that the Frank family plays in the development of the center, sponsoring a program to provide transportation for disabled children throughout the country and giving them the opportunity to participate in the many activities offered at the center – without such transportation services, these kids wouldn’t have the means or ability to get to the center. Following the presentation we were given a tour of the facility, seeing and learning of all of the programs available to disabled children and young adults from swimming, to tennis, to track, to basketball, to rugby, to weight training and many more activities without discrimination of religion, race, or ethnicity.
Along our tour, we had the opportunity to meet several members of the center, including 10-year old Adam who spoke to us about his participation in the programs and the positive effects it has on him, physically, mentally and emotionally – very touching to hear such profound words from such a young child afflicted by severe physical disabilities. Our tour concluded with a visit to the equipment room where we each grabbed our own wheelchairs and played in a game of wheelchair basketball. The competition was close and fierce but the turning point came when Isaac “Long Arms of the Law” rejected a shot by Lauren Harris which led to a decisive game-winning layup at the other end of the floor.
After our touching and inspirational visit to the center, we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner. A quick 30 minutes later we met in the hotel lobby and strolled together along the boardwalk for approx one mile to the Port of Tel Aviv where we had an outstanding meal at “Meat and Eat”. While the food was excellent, there were certainly some folks who drank more than they ate. The meal finished with a delicious dessert, but despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to convince Sugar to sample even the slightest of bites.