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Brownsteins in the Land of Israel
LA Trip: Stranger than Fiction
September 9, 2003
This week's installment was supposed to be "The Big Yellow
Taxi -- Meter/No Meter?". But it
has been preempted by some the events of my recent quick trip to L.A.
But before we get started, a little housekeeping.
I have finally gotten my wife, Sara's e-mail working.
This is really a great thing. And
she has started writing her own Israel Chronicle, which is far better than
mine. If you want to get on her
list, or if you just want to say hi (which would also be really great), please
Also, hopefully, this will be the last update to be delivered in this very awkward method. Hopefully I will send you an announcement with a link to brownsteins.net and you can read it there, along with past stories and Sara's. By the way, I understand that many of you did not receive the last installment because it was too big with all the pictures to squeeze into your mailbox. This problem should go away with the above solution.
Happily, Daniel & Cherie Goldwag (one of my wife's
matches!) wrote to announce, "Daniel, Cherie and Tzippy Goldwag are happy
to announce that Baby Boy Goldwag was born on
Monday, August 25, 2003 (Menachem Av 27, 5763) @ 3:45pm. 8 pounds, 2
ounces and 21 inches"
Now, a few readers' letters concerning the last installment, "The Washing Machine That Refused To Be Replaced!"
My mother's first cousin Nora from St. Paul wrote about my
who shot JR reference,
I pinned the attempted murder on Sue Ellen: "Wrong!" wrote Cousin Nora.
"It wasn`t Sue Ellen, although she had plenty of reasons to do it.
It was the character played by Bing Crosby`s daughter ... I`ve forgotten why.
Re instructions ... I had curling iron with instructions not to use it to curl
eyelashes! Love your adventures ... keep them coming.
Love the name Patricia ... why the change? Love Sarah too ... my
oldest granddaughter is Sarah Rebecca ... she goes to U of Wash in Seattle ...
and is headed to Kenya for 3 months ... which, of course, makes her mother and
grandmother very nervous. Say hi to Joyce and Jeb ... love, Nora"
True enough, Cousin Nor Nor. In fact I found the following snippet online, just to close the subject: "So who did shoot JR? It was Kristen, but JR spared her because she was carrying his child. Kristen was played by actress Mary Crosby who was grateful for her newfound notoriety. ‘All of my life people have thought of me as Bing Crosby's daughter. Now they'll remember me as the person who shot JR,' she said after the show." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1261931.stm
Next, my friend of 25 years, Cathy Raff of Macabim,
Israel warned about the washing machine that I installed:
"Hi Richie, Great story about the washing machine, only one
possible, little problem. Usually in this country, if the appliance is not
installed by as certified technician, you might have voided the warranty.
That is what I have always been told, so you just might want to check that
out. Also, you should definitely get the receipt form Dani.
So if you do need repairs, if the warranty is still good, you need that
to prove when it was bought. Little details. Glad it's working, Good
And, finally, Captain Dani, himself, who is my landlord (and
who I actually guessed holds the rank of Israeli Captain), wanted me to know how
lucky I am to be settling in Israel instead of in New York.
"Believe it or not," Captain Dani wrote,
so simple to get things done in the US -- getting your phone line to work (the
line was already down twice and it took them 14 days to discontinue our voice
mail service -- ATT are considerably worse than Bezeq -- see online chat with
ATT rep. or maybe it is a robot?!!), getting auto insurance (if you don't have
a US license), getting a driver's license (drivers with foreign licenses are
still required to take a written test, a 5 hour course and road test), and even
renting a house (without a credit report).
Believe me Israel is a piece of cake compared to some of our stories here
(not to speak of two blackouts within a 24 hour period -- we felt like we were
in a third world country). So please don't complain about long lines in Israeli
His communication with AT&T went like this: "Welcome
to AT&T Local Service HELPChat! Please type your message now." /
"Over a week ago I requested that you discontinue my voice mail service.
Nothing has happened since then." / "I apologize for any
inconvenience this may have caused you. Allow
me a moment to access your information." / "This is very frustrating. Why should it take more than 1 day (that is what I was told
would happen). Normally it is 2
business days for any order placed." / "Do you have DSL service?"
/ "Well -- you can see that more than 2 days have passed!!" /
"Again do you have DSL service by any chance." / "Yes -- I
do" / "Is it with AT&T?" / "Yes" / "This chat
service does not support AT&T DSL services, and I am unable to help you.
I apologize for the inconvenience. For
assistance or information regarding your AT&T DSL bill or telephone service,
please call our DSL Customer Care Center at 1-800-739-.
To have any order placed it would need to go through the DSL office. I
apologize." / "The problem is not with with DSL -- but my voice mail!!
Are you still there???" / "I need to research your issue. May I place
you on hold?" / "Not for too long --" / "I have referred
your order to the escalations team, they will rework the order, it could take up
to 5 business days to complete." / "Why are things so complicated with
ATT?" / "I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
If you have no further questions, I would like to thank you for using AT&T."
My Trip To
L.A.: Stranger than Fiction
In mid-August I needed to take care of some business back in
Los Angeles. Traveling so soon
after arriving did not sit well with my wife, Sara, but business is business.
So I caught a cab for the airport for the really long flight
back to the western States. At the
airport, I discovered a security line rivaled that of the opening of Star Wars.
An hour after my arrival, I was questioned endlessly by a 20 year old
crewcut about who packed my bags, about where I came from, and mostly about why
I was leaving Israel so soon after becoming a citizen.
After I assured Moshe that I would be coming back quicker than he could
say "Duty Free", I was granted entry into the plush upper waiting area at
Ben-Gurion Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Hungry, I found the little eatery that had never been anything but a frenetic joy in the past. This time also did not disappoint. In fact, the cheese sandwich was so delicious that I said a blessing over each bite. Then I realized that Sara, my wife of almost 11 years, who never stops worrying about me while I'm traveling, might like a call. So I asked Moshe II, a typical 30-year-old Israeli father of twenty, if I could borrow his pellephone (Yes, this is cell phone in Israel: portable telephone. Cleaver, huh?) No prob, he gestured. Just let me wipe a few noses and change a few diapers and dig it out. "Honey," I said quickly, "I'm at BG. All is fine. I'm sure it will be an uneventful dash to L.A. Gotta go. Moshe II needs his pell and …" I thanked Moshe II and went to the gate.
There I was confronted by no fewer than 45 ecstatic British
Jewish teens waiting at the next gate to return home from the most spectacular
experience of their young lives. Sitting
on the floor, Native American style, piercings protruding from every visible
skin part (and others probably, too), one of the youngins pulled out his
six-string and -- I kid you not -- they all started singing at the top of
their lungs, "I'm a Leaving On a Jet Plane", followed by two more hours of
equally anachronistic gems. If they
weren't so dare cute I would have reenacted the Belushi "I Gave My Love A
Cherry" bit from Animal House.
Once finally on the plane, an hour after take-off, with my
personal viewing screen approximately one inch from my nose because the guy in
front of me was fully reclined (and then some), I scrolled through some of this
year's worst Hollywood gambles which the airline offered as "entertainment". As for the
seat in front of me sticking in my face, I would have said something to the guy,
except I had a feeling that the lounging, brawny, balding Israeli in front of me
was actually one of the fifteen or so Oozi wielding Israeli specialists onboard
the jet to protect me. You never
know. Later in the flight, after I
had exceedingly carefully unwedged myself to visit the toilet, I had a brief
conversation with Moshe III, asking him -- maybe a bit too playfully -- what
he did for a living. Slowly, with a
very considered, deep Israeli voice, reminiscent of my days chatting with the
nine out of ten San Fernando Valley locals, Moshe III replied, "uh, well, uh,
you might, uh, say ‘flooring'." Right.
I didn't have the heart to push the point with questions about hardwood
upkeep and new linoleum stylings.
So, about one billion uncomfortable hours later, we were
settling in over JFK for the final approach.
I noticed several people who clearly had never been to America straining
for a view, trying to catch a glimpse of the famed NYC skyline.
Their disappointment was eased considerably when I informed them that New
York had not totally shrunk but that, although I had never visited it, I
believed we were actually over a place called Long Island.
Further, although it might technically be part of New York, I believed
that the tallest building you might find on Long Island is a really big deli.
So we were almost down. And
then the tires touched. I don't
know if this is a Jewish thing or Israeli or what, but it seems that whenever I
am landing on an El Al flight, the exact instant the wheels skid on pavement
(with the most dangerous part still the next 5 seconds), these people break into
applause. Personally, I like to
wait until the reversed engines don't blow-up before getting too giddy.
Off the plane I walked, heading with the others straight for
Passport Control. The only
difference between me and the other 200 adults is that every single one of them
is already five minutes into a cell phone conversation.
At the Passport Control area, government officials had about a
mile maze of porta-lanes set up using those impenetrable nylon rails on light
metal posts. It was only a matter
of time, seconds really, before one of the self-appointed Generals adeptly
unlinked a few of the cords, greatly shortening an otherwise long, empty walk
for the rest of us … and causing havoc with the federal officials, who tried
desperately to corral us. Following
my General, I made it through Passport Control in minutes, only to wait a good
long time for my bag to appear. Finding
it, wrestling it off the belt, popping it onto the free cart, I eased past
Customs and burst out into muggy JFK Terminal 4 proper, with about an hour to
Last time I was at JFK to connect domestically from Terminal 4
to Terminal 3, I made the mistake of schlepping my oversized bag onto a shuttle
van and traveling almost the entire route around what is surely the most poorly
designed airport in the world. Then
I was in a blizzard and I almost missed my flight. Not wanting to make the same mistake, and with nothing but
sunshine in my way, I decided to walk to the adjacent terminal.
But first, what to do with the bag?
I thought I had heard that I could actually just turn a corner in T4 and
find a place to return my checked, secured bag back into the system for the
connection to California. Indeed, I
was very pleased with myself when I discovered that this little convenience was
exactly three meters from me. So I
dropped my bag on the Delta belt, got directions for the five-minute walk, and
headed into the 4:00 PM New York soup toward T3.
I was so dang proud of myself for dropping my bag at T4 that
when I arrived at T3 five minutes later I hardly noticed that things were just
slightly, well, wrong. Maybe it was
the constant beeping from various big machines in the building.
Maybe it was the lack of the omnipresent fluorescent light.
Nonetheless, happy as a simile, I walked over to the security screening
area ready to enter the good part of the building.
I started ripping off my belt and shoes, started emptying my pockets and
placing my laptop into the plastic carton.
I started to enter the metal detector when Lady arrived.
"It could be a few minutes," Lady announced, very, very unsure of
herself. "Uh," Lady continued,
probably reminiscing about New York about 23 months earlier, "it seems we have
lost power here at the airport. Please back up behind the porta-lane." No biggie. I
have plenty of time.
Not long after, I found myself at the very front of a growing
and impatient line of agitated would-be travelers.
All of us simply waited to pass through security so we could trade cement
for a seat and lit toilet. Even
though all the screening equipment was working on batteries, they would not let
us pass. (You know I asked.)
Not daunted, knowing that these things happen and that it would all be
real cool real soon, I sat on the floor with my laptop and three fully charged
batteries to write the "Washing Machine" installment.
About a battery later, Lady slightly adjusted the geographic boundary of
the power outage to include, not only JFK, but also about one quarter of the
then entire US and Canadian populations. At
about 6:00 PM, with one battery left, about two hours into the fun, Lady also
mentioned that in less than two more hours, when the sun would disappear, total
darkness would set in at JFK. Then
she mumbled something about us being forced out of T3 and into the great
unknown. At that point, slightly
less proud of myself for getting rid of my luggage, I was much less unflustered.
In fact, I was finally downright flustered.
When our cell phones started coming online again, the buzz in
The Unsecured Village was that cabs were scarce, functioning hotels were an
oxymoron, and the quickest cab ride into Manhattan was about four hours -- with
luck. None of this was pleasant
news, even for me, who just loves new opportunities for growth.
So I drew my pell from it's holster and got very busy calling dear
friends in no particular order. With
blood very thick in the Brownstein/Slifman world, my cousin Joy was got the
first shot. But, I learned later,
Joy's phone was dead and was strolling 60 blocks uptown with boyfriend. I then called my AZA buddy Mike Froman, who is a huge
Citicorp mucky muck. But Mike and
Nancy, were up at Martha's, said Sonja, Mike's trusty secretary. Very, very, very sweetly, though, she offered to help in any
My childhood friend Dan Fields was also on my radar.
And, although we see each other about once a year, the only address and
phone data I had on Dan was from when we both lived in Seattle during Reagan's
reign of terror. So I called
Dan's brother-in-law, my very dear friend Tom Fields-Meyer in L.A., who not
only had current numbers for Dan, but also assured me that I was now safe.
I had no doubt about that because, although Tom lives in L.A., he is an
Associate Editor at People Magazine; all the people Tom associates with are in
New York, along with about five hundred of his Harvard buddies.
So Tom gave me several numbers for safekeeping and called ahead for me,
just in case. As for Dan, he was
also in the city with a jammed cell.
Wanting to run the table with my own friends before prevailing
on Tom's associates, I called my BBYO friend Jamie Allan Black on her home
line. BINGO. Although Jamie and her husband had no electricity, they would
love to have me in their home near the park.
A safety net was now very secure, but the thought of working my way
through hours and hours of hell to get to Jamie was still not quite enough for
me to jump.
There is a Jewish concept called Beshert, which is commonly
translated as "meant to be". Beshert
is usually associated with how couples who are meant to be together forever and
all the events that led to their union. But more generally, Beshert is often used to express the
notion that things which seemed to be leading to a dead end are actually
intended (by the Almighty) to end up exactly were they ended. I am a very firm believer in the concept of Beshert, having
lived it dozens of times, including the event leading up to how Sara and I fell
Anyway, from the moment the tree that fell in the Ohio
forest, I grasped the opportunity that had been presented to me.
There one guy, one acquaintance who I had to find.
His name is Avi, and I met him four years earlier, in a similar
situation, when snowbound at a hotel in Yosemite during a Passover retreat.
I had seen him several times since, and each time Avi encouraged me and
my family (mostly the latter), to visit his family of eight. I knew that Avi lived somewhere in New York, and I was pretty
sure it was actually on Long Island… and I was pretty sure that his house
would be a lot closer than Central Park. Not
remembering Avi's last name (something I will now never forget), I started to
pound the pell again, this time with feeling (as they say in Hollywood), calling
friends of friends of friends of friends of Avi's relatives in L.A.
Soon, I hit paydirt: his father-in-law's office.
Rich Brownstein, from L.A. … and Yosemite?"
"Want to come over? Want
to Spend Shabbos with us? Want to
stay the weekend?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Now, sometimes I use poetic license to paint these little
stories, quoting people curtly for effect, but, if anything, Avi was even more
succinct and welcoming. I got his
address, packed up the laptop, bid farewell to my new friends in The Village who
were still grasping for their solutions, and I headed outside to hustle up a
After I practically skipped out of T3, I somehow found myself
smack dab within arm's length of a NYC news crew looking for interviews.
Sure, I've facilitated about one million interviews through my 13 years
owning The Transcription Company, so I volunteered.
"Yeah, last time I came through your fabulous city," I said, "I was
caught in a blizzard for another unscheduled day.
I love New York." I capped
of that sound bite with a camera shot of me haplessly attempting to hail a cab,
which whizzed by so fast that I almost lost my yarmulke, providing the WABC crew
with exactly what they wanted. From
my perspective, this was just an unlucky moment and the next cab would whisk me
off to Avi's in presently. My perspective was very wrong.
A short walk later I discovered a cab line under T3 that was about a quarter mile long. Dig in and don't complain, I thought; I have someplace to go, which is a whole lot better than the people I stranded at security. In fact, the only people who actually have the nerve to earnestly complain during my first hour and a half in the cab line were the indigenous creatures on their way back from European vacations, who had their bags and their bed waiting in The City. The others -- mostly foreigners with absolutely nothing, and no place to go with it -- were simply too terrified to say anything. This was a very whacky scene, with complete darkness except for the lights of the taxis and the glimmer of excitement in the eyes of the pickpockets.
Not wanting to inconvenience Avi to much more, I called my new best friend to let him know that I would be slightly delayed. "No prob. Why didn't you tell me? I'll pick you up in a few minutes." Cool! I was all too happy to accept Avi's offer.
In less time than you can say, "I always wanted to visit Long Island", Avi's minivan was curbside. He practically leapt out to rescue me. I wearily climbed into his ride and found several of his children who were very happy to be in an air-conditioned car, rather than their stuffy house.
But then, just as quickly, Avi disappeared for a few minutes,
only to return with an Orthodox couple whom he had never met, but who also
needed a ride on the island. On the
way home, Avi marveled at the dozens of New Yorkers who were directing traffic
in their shorts on the main thoroughfares.
He was practically glowing with City pride. I finally had to admit to Avi that New York is one of the
finest cities imaginable to be stuck in a world-class disaster.
(My sarcasm was not lost on Avi.) Once
home, Avi fed me, fed me, fed me and then directed me in one of his four guest
rooms. I promptly fell asleep for the night, only to be awaked
briefly at 2:00 AM by the sound of stuff turning on with power restored to
Lawrence, New York.
next day, Friday, I toyed with the idea of flying to Baltimore to spend the
weekend with my Brother, Jeb, and his family.
That possibility was terminated very quickly upon learning that my
luggage was lost in space and when I heard that JFK was still very powerless (a
condition that would continue until mid-Saturday).
Instead, I spent a good deal of time on the phone with Delta trying to
locate the bag that I brilliantly secreted into their ether. The
futility of my desire to find my luggage was made all the more clear when I
asked the Delta dude where exactly in NYC he was located: Bombay.
Yes, he was in India and I was in Lawrence for the weekend.
So Miriam, Avi's wife, tossed me the minivan keys and told me where to find the fun part of Lawrence -- both blocks. Lawrence is Pico-Robertson squeezed into five blocks, with more Orthodox Jews and fewer bitter entertainment types. I bought some underwear, socks, and, of course, several white shirts.
That afternoon, getting ready for Shabbat, Avi handed me one of his suits, a tie and belt. I also asked for a pair of shoes, which turned out to be the best part. For my wedding in 1992, I went to Nordstrom's for a pair of nice shoes. I spent an unheard of $100 for them, which was really, really pushing it for me. To be quite clear, although my financial situation today is markedly improved over the past 11 years, even today I would never spend anywhere near $100 on dress shoes. So you can bet, I have worn those things into the ground. I'm sure that they have been completely rebuilt several times, if you include heals and soles. But, when my family and I left L.A. in July, I found a hole had broken through the latest sole right under my right, big toe.
Since then, for not particular reason other than my new synagogue is about 45 seconds from my front door, I have not had it repaired. It's not like my toe is hitting the pavement, or anything. I'm several months from that. Yet, as if in a movie, I started to put on Avi's shoes and found, of course, a hole exactly like mine in exactly the same place.
During the next 28 hours Avi must have told me five times how
much better his clothing fit me than him. I
explained to Avi that the same would be true for my clothing if I lent them to a
friend weighing what I actually wanted to weigh when I bought them!
There is another word, this one Yiddish, which also rang so true for the
exceptional Shabbat I spent in the house of Avi, his wife Miriam, their four
present children, and their fifteen cousins who were without power in other
parts of The City. The word is "gvaldik". One online
defines gvaldik as "immense, mighty, terrific". Not only does gvaldik perfectly describe the entire Avi
experience, but it also seems to be the favorite word of the man who first spoke
it to me: Avi's father-in-law, Rabbi Yochanan Stepen.
When Sunday rolled around, I thanked Avi & Miriam and
headed back to JFK for the flight and to see if the dude in India had been able
to get a fix on my stuff. At the
very overburdened ticket counter, new dude informed me that my stuff was, in
fact, waiting for me in L.A. and that I should feel lucky about it.
The morning after I arrived in L.A., getting ready to go about my business, Sara called. "Okay," she whispered. "You will hear about something happening. We are okay, but I just heard a bomb. I know it was a bomb. And I hear sirens..."
Three times since moving to Israel, late at night, I have heard a terrific series of explosions, but no sirens. Each time, the morning after, I asked about the barrage.
One of the many innocent kids just out of high school, dressed in green,
holding M-16s, who patrol my country would smile uneasily and answer, "fireworks". I can tell you,
putting up with how Israelis let their dogs crap everywhere, Israelis who drive
like crap, and Israelis official who crap on me is one thing; putting up with
fireworks during this war is quite another. When I become Prime Minister, the very first thing I will end
is fireworks in a war zone.
In any case, Sara was very right. Although the disintegrated bus and devastated lives were far
away from our home, Sara could clearly discern the horrific noise of the shame
called a "Palestinian ceasefire". CNN
broke into programming in my distant hotel room to confirm the atrocity about 30
seconds later. To date, 23 people
have died from that blast, the 23rd died two days ago, almost a month
later. Arafat can smile broadly.
Although I saw as many friends as possible in L.A., although I
ate at all my old dives, although I returned to my beloved staff in Burbank,
from that point on, there was no more joy during my trip.
My return flight from L.A. to N.Y. was an exercise in
understanding reality. In fact, I
spent much of the flight jammed up against the window of a non-jumbo jet, with
the two seats next to me occupied by an extremely disabled woman and her
When I first got to my coach row during boarding, a very handicapped
woman, who was sitting in the aisle seat held her head up with the aplomb of a
ballerina and said in flowing Hebrew that she was completely disabled and that I
would have to climb over her and her caretaker, being careful not to step on her
feet. When she realized that my
Hebrew was not good enough to have met her needs, she repeated it beautifully in
I was sure that this woman -- who could hardly move and who, for several hours slumped over both of us in a futile attempt to rest comfortably -- had been a terror victim. I was wrong. Her East Indian caretaker told me that this woman is the only person in the world suffering from two horrendous diseases: MS and one I had never heard of.
But this brave Israeli woman is now my hero.
Watching her try to eat, laugh, smile, she is my hero.
She is classic. She is a
real Israeli. She was elegant in
her discomfort, she was charming in her pride, and, above all else, making it
very clear that I was in her space for the next five hours, she was steadfast in
Anyway, thanks again for reading this far.
I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.
The part of Avi
Lazar was played brilliantly by Avi Lazar (but, unfortunately, the photo of him failed!).
As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so
please get me the e-mail addresses of people who you want to add. (Let them know
ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the Spam-police).
Please stay tuned for Chapter 7: "The Big Yellow Taxi -- Meter/No Meter?"
All the best,
PO Box 8130
CURRENT DISTRIBUTION: 250 worldwide
No non-profit animals were harmed in the photography of this
All characters are purely fictional.
If you want to add someone to this list, or remove yourself,
just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know.
Please freely distribute to those with too much time on their
Copyright (c) - Rich Brownstein 2003
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