As someone who insists on carb loading for a full three days prior to Yom Kippur, I have naturally approached the annual Pesach trip to Tel Aviv with the opposite mentality to “no carbs before Marbs” — an “eat everything in sight before Seder night” attitude.
While this has me feeling less than bikini-ready, I tell myself it’s nothing some fake tan can’t hide and console myself with copious amounts of cardboard-style shmurah matzah, as I wonder why our ancestors couldn’t have fled Egypt while they had, say, semi-baked cookies on the go.
We’ve made it to the mothership — aka the Hilton Tel Aviv — for Seder night. The communal dining room is vast, overwhelming and very, very loud: 300 Jewish families competing to be heard is no joke. The atmosphere is great, though — it feels like a party and everyone feels lucky and happy to be here for the holiday.
Our table may resemble a general Friday night, we’re 20 strong on a regular basis, but the decibel level is out of control: aided by four cups of wine and first-night-away vibes, I’m actually managing to give myself a headache. We go round the table taking turns to read out loud.
But I’ll tell you why this night is different from all other nights: I’m so starving by 9.30pm that boiled eggs feel like a delicacy. The familiar songs make me cry and we say “Next year in Jerusalem” with (semi, we’re about 40 miles north-west) sincerity.
Breakfast is a balagan. Due to windy weather, the hotel has moved everyone indoors. Complaints about bad service and rude Israeli staff abound. Have to wonder a) why these people are surprised and b) why they return year on year.
A man is shouting at a waiter that the indoor breakfast location is a travesty, as he comes only for the view. He has three pancakes, scrambled eggs and four types of cheese on his plate, somewhat undermining his point.
That said, I do question why a country that can develop Iron Dome with ease can’t just find some umbrellas that don’t blow away. Later, by the pool, I see two of my uncles, my dentist, and my dad’s accountant. Have to wonder if this is the nation’s experience of holidaying.
The lobby is full of women in Valentino, and men competing to shtip the most for the next available cab. To be clear, leaving the hotel doesn’t mean escaping the crowds — with a select number of restaurants, the Londoners who have collectively migrated to the Hilton collectively migrate to the same trendy eateries each night.
Later, it’s on to a club. The nightclubs in Tel Aviv are on the same sites as in previous years but, as always, have mysteriously changed name. True to form, they’re full of everyone’s ex-boyfriends, younger siblings’ friends and Israeli men who look far better in army khaki than they do in their off-duty gear of Castro’s finest.
11.07am: Burnt. Day trip to Jerusalem has destroyed me. Despite the freezing cold, complaining my way around the Old City (is it just me, or does it actually get hillier each year?) seems to have left me a delightful shade of red.
1.15pm: Feeling emotional at the Kotel, as I do each year. Despite feeling very little on my semi-regular synagogue visits in London, the Wailing Wall never fails to move me. I pray, slip a note between the cracks, and resolve to do better.
1.27pm: Have said “Oh my God” twice, and picked a fight with my brother. Better luck in 5779.
2.29pm: Thought I saw Rachel Weisz in the souk. Naturally have proceeded to tell absolutely everyone about this definite sighting, and that she has amazing skin, but actually not sure.
Head to the beach, fed up with trying to sunbathe in the 25cm of space allocated for each guest around the pool. Order Pesach vodka, wondering if this negates Pesach’s sense of abstinence.
The waiter proffers a bottle of (stupidly priced) Trump vodka, which may explain Jewish American voter preferences.“He’ll have Jewish grandkids, you know.”
Thought I saw Adam Sandler in the sea, but not sure. Could have easily been one of my eight cousins. Regardless, will tell everyone I’m certain.
Am in the famed 17th floor lounge at the Hilton, where fights have been known to break out over the last table.
Its views of Tel Aviv port and Jaffa go unnoticed, with the majority of the room people-watching, talking business and putting free food in their pockets for later. (When I comment on this, at least seven accountants tell me it’s not, in fact, free, so apparently I have much to learn about the economics of $550 per night room rates.)
One of the best things about being in Israel at this time is seeing the insane array of Kosher for Pesach foods in the supermarkets. The shelves of Tel Aviv are heaving with Kosher for Pesach dog food, Seder Plate Salt Water (simply mixing salt and water is extremely challenging) and Ben & Jerry’s Charoset-flavoured ice cream.
It’s easy to mock, but actually I find it amazing how this is the sole country in the world utterly geared to Jews and their culinary demands, transforming general practices in order to serve needs. Certain manufactures feed their cows corn rather than grain-based hay, so that even the most Orthodox Jews can drink cow’s milk.
Whether or not you take advantage of it, that such a country and customs exist is astounding.