Not too long of a taxi ride in the pouring rain, and eventually made it to my hotel, the Park Plaza Orchid. I’d booked it because I had lots of Club Carlson points to burn, and I expected a nice hotel of Radisson standards. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. There was nothing particularly wrong with the hotel, it just felt really old and a little…off. The room was ok, bed was comfortable, the AC worked well, etc, it just felt like it was a bit cramped and older. For free, however, it was great.
The staff, however, was a completely different story. Throughout the three nights I was there, the front desk staff was almost universally surly and unfriendly, and although they would answer questions I definitely got the feeling I was a bother each time I asked. In fairness to them, I did see them dealing with several customers from Hell, who would yell at them and chew them out. Mostly all demanding, nasty stereotypical New Yorkers. Several times I just stood in the lobby and watched the interactions in disbelief that people could be that nasty to each other.
I had about an hour to grab a quick shower and rest up before meeting up with Ian, a reader of my blog from New Jersey who I met via FlyerTalk and who happened to also be visiting Israel at the same time, although staying in Jerusalem. Ian showed up almost on time (thanks to the Israeli train system’s stunning punctuality – I wonder if they hire consultants from Fiji Airways?) and we got ready to head out for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it was Thanksgiving, and yes, we were promised dinner. Max, another reader of my blog who I met via FlyerTalk and who lived in Tel Aviv had heard about the dinner through a local events list and thought it looked fun…so recommended it to us. Thanksgiving Dinner in Tel Aviv? Can you GET a more awesome cultural experience? Signed up, paid, and waited.
In the meantime, I did a little research into what I’d actually signed up for. The event was called “My Big Fat TLV Thanksgiving” and was hosted by an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh. It was one of their activities in their “post Aliyah group” but made no mention of who was welcome. It described a “lively crowd of Young Professionals, Internationals, Israelis and Lone Soldiers for a delicious and traditional Thanksgiving meal with fine Israeli wine and Negev brewed Beer.” There would be beer, I was sold. I was pretty sure we’d be the only non-Jews there…and at this stage I didn’t even know what an “Aliyah” was…so when the event registration asked if I’d made one I decided I probably hadn’t. I wasn’t sure what a “Lone Soldier” was either, but hey, again, beer and turkey were promised.
When we showed up fashionably late, the event was already in full-swing:
The table was already pre-set with the first course. Some salads, hummus, and wine:
After maybe 45 minutes or so, the yams, rice, turkey, and stuffing came out:
Eventually, our table filled up, pretty much with 20-25 year old men with American accents…pretty much all from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Oh, and their one random Colombian friend. They had all “made Aliyah”” and joined the Israeli military. Rather than mangle it, I’ll let Wikipedia define Aliyah: “Aliyah (“ascent”) is the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel. Also defined as ‘the act of going up’ or as in progressing towards Jerusalem.” The stories these guys told were pretty fascinating, but all had similar themes. They’d finished high school in the states, wandered about a bit, never really “found their thing” and then came to Israel where life suddenly made sense and had meaning. Several said they’d “found a sense of purpose.”
It was quite interesting dinner conversation. Especially due to the wine. And beer. And when that was gone they found whiskey. Then, one of the servers came around with arak shots. Things were pretty messy at this point. Like 20-25 something males worldwide when the source of alcohol ran out, the conversation turned to where they would go to find more…and where it was cheapest. And where they could pick up some company for the night. We also learned from them that if you really want to find willing companions, you should go to a Kibbutz, because apparently everyone there is on the prowl. The only sign you were in Israel and not the US, is several of them, despite being in street clothes, were toting automatic weapons. I mean, I always put my gun on the Thanksgiving table…don’t you?
Proof there might have been a little alcohol consumed: