July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Las Vegas

I detoured to Philadelphia. How can we forget the recent lovely blizzard and the subsequent thousands of flights that were canceled? My flight to Las Vegas was among the down and out.

It looked like it was going to be a “staycation” during my teaching break. At first, I was content catching up with life: doctors’ appointments, renewing my license at the DMV (the one in Oakland is fast and easy), sales and mall hopping. But the need to get away was still there until a friend said, “You know, Philadelphia has great kosher restaurants and lots of museums.”

Enough said—she had me at the mention of “restaurants.” I know many people who don’t mind shlepping frozen dinners, bags of rolls and tuna fish, and peanut butter and sticky jelly that end up all over the place on their vacations. They fly to beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels and exotic locales with breathtaking scenery. The types of vacations are choices reflecting a variety of needs. The key ingredient being a way to refuel our personal batteries. For me, however, a real vacation involves keeping clear of food preparation and kitchen appliances (except for taking out snacks from refrigerators). I also love all sorts of museums.

Besides, I hadn’t been to “Philly” since grade school, and so I began Googling addresses of museums and, of course, restaurants. After only a two-hour car ride, I was walking through the doors of The National Museum of American Jewish History of Philadelphia. If you also enjoy learning or reacquainting yourself with Jewish American history, this will be right up your alley. The exhibits are well organized and laid out, and it is like being taken on a journey of Jewish American history through colonial times to the present. Many of the exhibits are multisensory where you can read letters, search documents and watch short movies and videos. There were fancy dresses and clothing from the mid 1800s from what was known as Purim Balls (fancy parties). I particularly enjoyed the short videos of Jewish celebrities including: Leonard Bernstein, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein and Sandy Koufax.

At the exhibit from the turn of the century, you see artifacts and solve virtual puzzles that served as tests for immigrants, or “greenehs” (Yiddish for greenhorns), in places like Ellis Island. My own father came from Poland as a child with his mother and sister and then went on to meet his father in Pennsylvania. He left Poland and vowed never to return. As I was trying to piece together the virtual puzzles and remember various test patterns, I sympathized with my relatives and all those immigrants from long ago who had just stepped off boats from arduous journeys. Although relieved to finally be standing on American soil, they were probably exhausted, confused and frightened of failing. In the worst case scenario, there was the dark possibility of being sent back across the ocean. They had just witnessed the ultimate symbol of liberty greeting them while standing at the railing before disembarking. Soon afterwards, these immigrants were subject to a litany of questions, tests and a long road to integrating into American culture and society.

Philly is a very walkable town with detailed signs on the street corners, and the tourist attractions are centrally located. The next day I walked to Independence Mall and took free tours of the buildings where The Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was born. In all locations, tour guides are free and they are very knowledgeable. A few blocks away you can walk to one of the oldest shuls in America, Mikveh Israel, a beautiful Sephardic shul where we were given a brief tour. We saw letters from George Washington written to the Jewish community.

As for the aforementioned restaurants, there are a few in nearby Bala Cynwyd. We went to a delicious meat restaurant called Citron and Rose. The next day we ate falafel at a very popular place called Mama’s Vegetarian, where the lines were literally out the door. The food didn’t disappoint.

Another really nice part of a “drive-vacation” is that you choose when and what time to leave. There are no lines for security checks and you can stop on the way home. Our stop was in nearby Cherry Hill where I visited my cousin and family.

Although I didn’t reach the Las Vegas destination during this past vacation, I’m still looking forward to going. I’ve already Googled a list of local restaurants.

Maybe I’ll just wait until the winter is over, because now it’s time to return to school.

By Esther Kook

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