My Trip to the Chabad House of Tokyo, Japan

Inside the SukkaChabad of Tokyo Sukka MobileFront ViewInside the Chabad HouseView from outside inBooks at the Chabad House
Harp Emblem of King DavidMe at City of David signLive Archeology at City of DavidTower of David at NightChandelier Fixture inside Tower of DavidOld City Archway
Old City architecture close-upView of City of David at hills of JerusalemView of the Old City from outsideChristian Church at Mount of OlivesMount of Olives graveyardOld City Gate
Muslim Graveyard next to Mount of OlivesEngraving inside the Old CityMuslim Quarters street view inside the Old CityCisterns below the Old City WallsTunnels under the Western WallCloseup of underground tunnels by King Herod

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

On my recent visit to Tokyo, Japan, I made a stop at the Chabad House of Tokyo. I enjoyed a Sukkoth Celebration with the Rabbi and his wife under the Sukka and also took time to visit the Sukka Mobile of the Center. Enjoy the photos!

Reflections from Israel: Haifa

Part II: Haifa

My original plan was to travel to Haifa on Saturday—but as demonstrated earlier—My plan was shuffled to Sunday instead. A review of Israel’s geography shows that Israel is a tiny country, around the size of the state of New Jersey. Haifa is an ancient port city located on the Northwestern coast of Israel. It is home to a famous landmark that is amazingly not Jewish: the Baha’i Gardens. For those who don’t know, Baha’i is a recent addition to the monotheistic faiths that preaches unity. According to bahai.org,  “…all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity.” I personally believe this is something true.

We often meet people who cross our paths later in life. My trip to Haifa was a pristine example. Five years ago, on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I met a nice Jewish-Israeli lady. Through the years, we kept in contact and became friends. Haifa is her hometown and she was kind enough to introduce me to a friend of hers who lives there. Her friend and I connected on Facebook and she gave me practical advice about Haifa, Israeli public transportation, and Israel in general. She and her husband, a newlywed couple, were super-nice and even hosted me for an evening.

I checked my smart phone for the time, forty minutes until train departure. Earlier Saturday, I researched the train schedule from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I noticed there are trains running post-Shabbat. After some back and forth with my Haifa hosts, we decided it was easier to depart for Haifa Saturday evening, sight see Sunday morning, and return Sunday afternoon—to be back in time for my friend’s wedding in Jerusalem. I waited outside of my Tel Aviv apartment for the taxi to take me to the Central Train Station. Geez, they are late. My Tel Aviv hosts had called a taxi for me and they said there is a five-minute wait. It has been ten already! A beam of light in the darkening day snapped me out of frustration. It stopped in front me and a pair of eyes looked out at me from within. About time I thought!

It was the first Saturday evening post-Shabbat train up the Israeli western coastline. The shadows of the night covered up what was to be a fantastic view of the coast in daylight. Wow, pretty advanced! I thought to myself upon discovering the train itself, in addition to the train station, had free Wi-Fi. I had an hour to kill, why not research a bit about Haifa’s history and place in the Middle East.

I typed “Haifa” into Google search and clicked on the first search result, Wikipedia. Haifa, according to Wiki, is the third largest city in Israel. It was founded around three thousand years ago during the Late Bronze Age operating as a port and dye-making center. It is known as the “San Francisco of Israel” due to the city being built into hills like the former. The city was developed in “tiers” into Mount Carmel. I knew about the breathtaking views from upper Haifa and was secretly excited to finally see it in person.

The train slowed down, I turn to look at the information monitor to make sure the stop is for Haifa. Upon confirmation, I lifted my bags and pulled them over my shoulders and disembarked. I have to find the bus station. My Haifa hosts said the bus is the easiest and most inexpensive method to get from the station to their neighborhood. Seeing the crowd move in a certain direction, I followed them thinking the majority is probably also headed there. My hunch was correct as the sign for the bus stop came visible. Let’s see, I need bus #132. I walked through the bus station, saw busy #132, and waited.

More and more people gathered for bus #132. When it finally arrived, people were all fighting to board. The bus took its route around and up Mount Carmel. Predicting that my stop was coming up, I walked up to the bus driver to make sure. From the bus, I saw my Haifa host waiting for me. I got off and shook her hand and said nice to meet you. She was an attractive girl with long brown hair, gentle soul, and kind heart. We made small chat while she guided me to her apartment. We walked up few flights of stairs and arrived at our home for the evening. There I met her husband – who was also handsome, generous, and a great cook to boot!

They made a bed for me in the living area, introduced me to their adorable cat, and made me some dinner. I was really thankful for the hospitality that they showed me. After dinner, we went for a stroll to see Haifa at night. All the while, discussing options for where to go on Sunday morning. After taking in the serene view of Haifa, we went for some ice cream in the local hangout area. I learned that Haifa has the world’s only subway system that is vertical–it is used to go up and down Mount Carmel. How cool! Definitely have to come back again to try it.

With our sweet tooth satisfied, we headed home. I was pretty tired by then, so it was no surprise that I quickly fell asleep with the delightful evening breeze. The next morning, I showered, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I’m only going to have time to visit the Baha’i Gardens today I thought to myself while holding a toothbrush. I packed and organized all my belongings. My hosts made me a lovely french toast breakfast, gave me a backpack to hold all my belongings and I was off on the Haifa adventure.

Retracing the same path as the evening before, I now can see the beautiful Haifa view in full daylight. The blue skies and oceans touch to form a distance border. I stepped up the pace to make an English guided tour of the Gardens at noon. The meeting point for the Baha’i Gardens guided tours uses an alternative entryway. Security was tight as the guard checked my backpack twice over. The Baha’i Garden is built into the side of a mountain. To tour it, one must keep descending the steps of the Garden around the fountains, terraces, and other structures. Our guide was a slender and tall Jewish woman with dirty blonde locks. She gave us some history of the Baha’i faith, how it is organized, and its followers today. I took many photos to preserve my memory of this beautiful location.

Halfway through the tour, many were drenched in sweat and tried to stand in the shaded areas. The sunlight was punishing our tour group I thought. When we reached the end of the garden, I was part relieved and part sad to see the tour end. I had no time to worry though; I hopped in a taxi and headed for the train station.

I must make it in time to Jerusalem for my friend’s wedding this evening!!

Next time: Eternal Jerusalem

Israel For the First Time: Reflections in the Holy Land

Part 1: Arrival, Tel Aviv sights and sounds

Walking along the cobble-stoned boulevards lined with noisy markets selling goods in all the colors of the rainbow, I turned around and looked all around me. Breathtaking, I thought whilst melting into the heavenly surroundings. I’m actually in Jerusalem. The legendary Jerusalem that all the roads supposedly lead to—as the fabled saying goes – and I can see that its true.

Damn, I have to head to the train station to return to Tel Aviv in ten minutes. My friend and I jostled for a few last-minute purchases in the market (presents for friends back home) and climbed upwards out of the market towards Jaffa Gate in the Old City. Memories of the past week flashed in my mind mixed with the possible hell of missing my train back to Tel Aviv. Where is an available taxi!! We practiced our zoom vision focus.

Just a week ago, I stood on the cramped roads of Hong Kong, taking care of last-minute details of my weeklong trip to Israel. Like Hong Kong, Israel’s summers are desperately hot. Unlike Hong Kong, Israel’s heat is accompanied with less humidity. That should be all right, I’d just pack lots of summer dresses and sunscreens. I headed towards Hong Kong’s Mong Kok neighborhood to stock up on necessary travel essentials.

My childhood friend is getting married in Jerusalem. It was a last-minute wedding planned in the Jewish heartland. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since our University days. How time flies and paths cross. We met in Houston, Texas, my hometown back in the day. Fast forward fifteen years, we are meeting again, this time in Israel. Never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen this one.

I hurried home to secure all belongings in my suitcase. With my bags packed, I boarded a shuttle bus for the airport. It was my virgin flight on El Al Airlines – Israel’s national airlines. Security was what I expected, long, thorough, and detailed. I can’t complain; airline personnel are only doing their jobs.

Fast forward twelve hours, 4820 miles west, and five time zones backwards; I arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. I’m used to flying in the other direction, east–east back to the United States to visit family and friends. I made my way past closed shops (it was a little past 23:00 when I landed) and to the immigration headache section. There were no Doctors in sight for about an hour. Finally, a breakthrough and I was approved to enter Israel.

First few days was spent in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo–great city to explore on foot. It is a city of diverse contrasts from its pristine beaches to Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew), one of the oldest port cities in the Middle East. Its neighborhoods range from hippy to Bauhaus to modern cool. This diversity and contrast can be deceiving, as Tel Aviv still is able to retain its small city and local feel.

August is also one of the busiest months for Tel Aviv, tourist-wise. The hotel rates skyrocket like the city overheated by the unrelenting sun. The locals and many tourists take cover at the beaches of the city, which runs along Tel Aviv’s western border. You can find the many luxury and boutique hotels and follow them to the beaches. There is a street called Shlomo Lahat Promenade that you can walk on starting just a bit south of the Tel Aviv Port all the way down south to the Etsel Museum close to Jaffa. It is a leisurely walk that may take you anywhere from thirty to forty minutes depending on your speed. You can heat up pretty fast walking outside without shade so bring plenty of water or other liquids for replenishment.

I stayed with a lovely couple that I found through Airbnb in the Central District of Tel Aviv. They have two friendly Siberian cats with long coats. In their free time, the cats like to chase the pigeons that made its home somewhere on the rooftops. As a former cat owner, I befriended them pretty quickly. I had my own miniature fridge to use so I went around the neighborhood grocery stores and bought the basics like bottled water, yogurt, and fruit.

The beach was a fifteen-minute walk from their apartment. One day I decided to take a leisurely stroll and explore the beach. The street I walked on was full of cute little boutique clothing shops, cafes, and international restaurants. It could have very well come out of Western Europe somewhere. As I scaled closer and closer to the beach, a strip of blue horizontal sea came into view. The closer I got, the bigger the sea appeared until the beach flashed in front of me in a way that I just can’t miss. The crystal blueness of the water was nature at its most natural and finest state. So beautiful! I found a restaurant/bar on the beach, sat, and ordered a lunch. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the beach and people watch at the same time.

The Jewish weekend is Friday and Saturday. It is a fact that hit me straight on the noggin in Israel. I should have been aware of this fact prior to my trip that I somehow overlooked. Many public transportation and services close late Friday and Saturday. I had to plan around Saturday instead of Sunday, what I’m used to in Christian-based societies. A few months back in Hong Kong, I met Rabbi Gilad Kariv of Israel’s Movement for Progressive Judaism. I was able to get in contact with someone on his team who connected me to a local Tel Aviv Congregation Beit Daniel to attend a Shabbat Service. Services started at 18:00. I called for a taxi to the synagogue and arrived a few minutes past 18:00. The synagogue was modest in appearance front the outside and inside. It was located in a residential neighborhood bordered by a recreational park on one side. Hebrew radiated from the center as I grabbed a prayer-book and sat down. Sounds of screaming children cut through the Hebrew sermon, as a childcare center was located a little too close for comfort. The congregation looked very diverse, men and women of all ages and races sitting together in harmony. I enjoyed the services although could only understand a few choice Hebrew words and all of the spoken English.

That night, my hosts had a small potluck party. I joined them and brought some various pastries and cookies for the dessert selection. Three of their friends came over to the apartment with bread, salad, and meat dishes to share. The home-cooked food was amazing to see and to taste. I’ve always thought that Middle Eastern food was average. Traveling to the Middle East has since changed that opinion. The varieties of vegetables, fruits, hummus was to die for. The cheese selection is enormous, if only I could eat dairy! We had a good night and I was thankful to have been invited.

Next day, I continued to explore Tel Aviv’s fascinating neighborhoods. I walked through markets with very good prices on clothing. I walked through the white section of Tel Aviv otherwise known as Bauhaus. I walked through my new favorite neighborhood called Neve Tzedek. According to TelAvivGuide, Neve Tzedek was the first neighborhood built in the “new” city of Tel Aviv. Many art galleries, jewelers, crafts, healthy foods, and small shops can be found here. Streets are lined with lush plantation in bloom in purples, yellows, and reds. It almost has a Tuscany feel to it. I was immediately taken back to my trip to Italy a decade ago. As picturesque as it feels, it also doesn’t disappoint as it boasts many artists and yuppies that live in the area.

Next time: My journey to Haifa

Israel?! Secure, Friendly, and other Initial Impressions

Made it safe and sound to Israel! Heart of the Middle East.

Boy, was it a long flight – a bit over twelve hours to be exact.  My flight to the Middle East via Central Asia was what I expected; much wind and cities whose names I have never heard of, not to mention pronounce.

El Al was super secure. I was interrogated about the purpose of my trip to Israel, what I was doing in Hong Kong, names of my friend who was getting married etc. Every passenger goes through this process so I have no complaints. The bright side is that the airline is doing there jobs and doing it well. I went through Hong Kong immigration without issues and walked towards my flight gate.

We boarded the plane, a Boeing 777, capable of flying up to 5400 miles. The diversity of the passengers was awesome! Many native Israelis returning home, a group of Vietnamese students on an exchange program with Israel, various other Asians (I’m in this group) visiting Israel. If you don’t know, summer time is rainy season in Hong Kong with chances for typhoons. Unsurprisingly, the Captain came over the intercom and announced a 45 minute delay due to the weather. Yikes, I thought to myself, now I’m going to arrive late! After much agitation of all the passengers we finally took off in the light rainy Hong Kong afternoon.

When the plane reached a healthy altitude, we started to cruise.  Flight attendants and their drink and food carts came out in full force – serving and pleasing passengers. El Al served two meals, breakfast and dinner. The food was alright taste-wise, but it was certified kosher by Rabbi Avtzon, whom I’m familiar with, of the Chabad of Hong Kong. I plugged in my headphones, turned the audio to traditional Israeli music, and dozed off.

Why are people clapping?  Without realizing that I fell asleep towards our descent into Ben Gurion, noise of claps jolted me awake. Apparently, passengers clap when a flight lands in Israel safely. So the Israeli expectation is that it will NOT land safely? I may be missing something that only native Israelis are able to understand… I gathered my suitcase and bags, stepped off the plane, and into Israel.

The walkway to the airport exit was long and full of turns and shopping opportunities. (similar to Hong Kong)  I love taking the horizontal escalators, they take me to where I need to go in half the time. I noticed arrivals were on the second floor when I saw departing passenger in the lower floors. It seemed like a never-ending walkway, I followed the crowd instead of reading the direction signs.

Something I wasn’t prepared for was how long and tedious the immigration checkpoint was. I was lucky and was not selected randomly for additional questioning. Would like to suggest that Ben Gurion airport open all immigration windows – not just half of them. There were elders, women, and children waiting over one hour to pass immigration – and I don’t think there was air conditioning…

Next step was to get in a taxi and drive into my accommodation. My driver was so friendly and helpful, we talked about some sights for Tel Aviv and my first trip to Israel.  It was already 2 in the morning by this time. He turned on his GPS system, entered the address, and off we went.

In the heat of the night, Tel Aviv looks like any other modern and developed country. Wide and smooth highway system, new cars, and lights from high-rise buildings buzzing in the blackness. After what seems like eternity to a person who is still awake at 5 am (Hong Kong timezone) without any sleep, we made an exit of the eternal highway and entered suburbia. Our search for the address ended at our destination. I pulled out the brand new Shekel bills I got from the airport ATM machine and said my farewell to the driver. Lifted my suitcase and started my climb up several flights of stairs to my apartment. I sank into the comfy bed and fell asleep.

Next morning, the rays of the sun entered my room, piercing me to awake. My first full day in Israel, I thought to myself! Excited! Got ready and out I went in Tel Aviv. First order of the day, take care of my tummy and get some breakfast. I’ve read and heard about Israel’s famous breakfast so decided to try that out at a local neighborhood cafe. An Israeli breakfast,  going by what I had this morning, consists of two eggs, Israeli salad (tomatoes and cucumbers), various types of cheeses, tahini and bread. It was like a vegetarian meal as no meat was served. According to Jewish food laws, meat and dairy should never be served together.  It kind of makes sense now that I think about it. That’s just too much animal at one time! ;-P

In the middle of my culinary experience, a random man came in held up a piece of paper and ask for a donation from me.  The “paper” that he showed me says that he is a deaf man and needs ten Shekels. I reached for my wallet, took out a ten Shekel coin and handed it over to him.  It was only afterwards that I learned this man comes to the cafe all the time.  The server tells me matter-of-factly, “he’s always here”. I had a quick chat with the server afterwards, I told him I’m from China. He didn’t know where Hong Kong was, maybe I was saying it wrong.  (Note to self: start learning Hebrew)

After my tummy was filled, I ventured around my Tel Aviv neighborhood. Strolled through many small mom and pop shops and boutiques and bought a straw sun hat to shield my skin from the glaring Israeli sun. Instead of the hunger I felt earlier, now I felt thirst. My body carried itself to a grocery store for replenishing. The varieties of olives, yogurt, and fruits from all colors of the rainbow distracted me from my goal of getting water. Thirst called out louder, I had to adapt and went to the water aisle.

Now, I’m planning my Israel adventure for tomorrow. :-)

Until tomorrow!

xoxo

Junks, Weddings, and Israel

Hi my blogger friends!

I’m over the flu and back to top shape. :)  I have been attending Shabbat Services weekly in Hong Kong. My research into the various sects of Judaism is an ongoing process.

Meanwhile….

JUNKS: This weekend was amazing! My friend invited me on a junk trip.  (A very typical Hong Kong thing to do) The weather was perfect, day clear, and air clean.  The waters surrounding Hong Kong was like a crystal-clear blue.  We sailed from Aberdeen harbor (South of Hong Kong Island) around Stanley and beyond.  The trip was a baby shower/going away for a friend of a friend – leaving Hong Kong back to New Zealand. There are a lot of kiwi’s in Hong Kong. (kiwi=New Zealand currency=another word for a person from New Zealand)

WEDDINGS: My friend from Middle School is getting married in Israel! I will be traveling to Israel this August to watch! I can’t wait to see her and her future husband.  This should be a fun trip.  I already booked my flight on El Al Israel, i heard it was the world’s safest airline because they do multiple background checks on everyone! Well, there goes my privacy.  They probably will be reading this blog too. ;)

ISRAEL: Well, it has finally come.  Sooner or later, I would be exploring Israel wouldn’t I? This blog is titled allofasuddenpartJew, I mean what other country would I go to? I will be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and probably the Dead Sea for a day.  I just love anything related to history, good hummus, and King David! Destination Weddings are so much fun aren’t they? Holy Land here I come!

Until next time my friends! :)

San Francisco Jewry: Temple Emanu-el

photo 1photo 2photo 3photo 4photo 5photo 1
photo 2photo 3photo 4photo 5photo 2photo 3
photo 4photo 5photo 1Start of Limmud ShanghaiJDC SessionNetwork Impact by Seth Cohen
Seth getting ready for interviewJDC Talk into Ohel Moshe SynagogueDestination ShanghaiOutside of Ohel RachelOhel Rachel SynagogueOhel Rachel Synagogue

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

Temple Emanu-el. Reform Judaism

Journey into the Jews of China’s Past: Kaifeng (开封)

Technology is wonderful but it can also cause major havoc!  Case in point, I took my iPhone with me to Kaifeng, took many videos and photos.  I left it in Shanghai and did not have any access to my Shanghai and Kaifeng notes, videos, nor photos for over 1 month.

Kaifeng (开封)

I headquartered myself in Zhengzhou and took a bus to Kaifeng.  The first day that I was there, I visited the Chinese portion of the city.  Many temples, former palaces (now under water), and the Kaifeng Museum. **Henan is the province south of the Huang He (River) and it gets flooded often.**  I saw a picture of the former Kaifeng Synagogue but could not find the former site of the synagogue, only the surrounding area with a hospital that now takes its place.

The second day I called up Esther, a descendent of the Jews of Kaifeng, WSJ article (Chinese Jews Face Existential Questions) and visited the Kaifeng Jewish Memorial Center.  It is located in a tiny hutong (胡同) or alleyway called Nanjiaojing or South Teaching the Torah Lane. Esther was friendly and kind and showed me the Center with all sorts of Jewish knickknacks, books, and memorabilia on the walls.  Her family is from India and they moved to Kaifeng over 1000 years ago to do business with the Chinese. If you didn’t know already, Kaifeng and China at the time was the center of culture and civilization in the world.  People from all over the world moved to Kaifeng, China looking for opportunities (not just Jews). [Sort of like the USA today :)]

Over the years, Jews of Kaifeng integrated seamlessly into Chinese society and lived peacefully side-by-side with the Chinese.  In the beginning they kept to themselves and married other Jews, but starting with the Ming Dynasty (1368?) they were required to assimilate with the Chinese, as the Ming Emperor only allowed Chinese people to live in China.  Slowly the Jews of China lost its core culture and with the major flood in the late 19th Century, went their synagogue.  Now only one of a handful left, Esther is passionate about her cause and speaks with force about her family and people’s history.  Pictures of notable Jewish and Israeli visitors spread throughout the walls serve as proof of its importance in Jewish Culture.

She is looking to rebuild the synagogue that was lost in the great flood in the late 19th Century.  Now let’s help her cause and change the minds of people by educating them about Jewish history in China.

Enjoy the photos. For more photos, visit my Flickr

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kaifeng, Henan, China

Hutong to Chinese Jews21 Teaching the Torah LanePlaque in HebrewJewish gifts galoreKaifeng SynagogueMy friend Esther
Jewish Goodies CabinetEsther teaching her historyMy Shadow and the SynagogueFacade of the Kaifeng Jewish Memorial CenterLooking down the LaneSign of Kaifeng Jewish Center
Found the correct Hutong!More Jewish goodiesA closer lookEsther, descendent of Kaifeng JewsEsther and ILast Pose
High Speed TrainLooking out the WindowCapital of HenanTypical Food of HenanTypical Food of HenanTofu of the region

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

I got my iPhone back! My journey to Kaifeng to visit Jews from 1000 years back through Instagram.

Ancient Chinese Jews in Kaifeng and Shaolin Kung Fu Here I come!

Visiting Hongkou in Shanghai was fun.  The gift shopkeeper, the guards, and the administrative officers were all so knowledgeable about Chinese Jewish history.  I am writing an opinion article on HongKou. (coming soon!)

In the meantime, intensive Mandarin classes finished and I finally booked train tickets to Zhengzhou (郑州), capital of Henan* (河南) province.  Henan is notable for its historical importance; namely Kaifeng* (开封) was China’s capital during the Song Dynasty (宋朝).  It will be a six-hour train ride from Shanghai to Zhengzhou. I am going headquarter myself in Zhengzhou and take daytrips to Kaifeng, Shaolin Si, and Luoyang. This should be a good trip.  I will be blogging in realtime so hope you will follow me next week! ;-) Until next time!

Henan Trip route

Henan Trip route

*Random Factoids/Chinese Lesson:

  • 开封 or Kaifeng means Open and Close literally.  To break open a seal…
  • 河南 or Henan means South of the River literally.  A province south of the River (Yellow River)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 978 other followers