Food, conversation and Meir's journey to Israel

Inside the Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

Inside the Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM – If the first night of the Arn and Nancy Tellem goodwill mission to Israel is any indication, we’re all going to need a good tailor to adjust our waistlines. I’ll spare you the details, but rest assured that we enjoyed a feast compliments of Tali Friedman, one of the city’s most renowned chefs.

First, she escorted us through Machane Yehuda, a noisy and colorful farmer’s market, where we sampled an array of cheeses, granola, mixed nuts and energy bars, coconut chips to die for, and washed it down with leche tea. Then Friedman took us to her studio’s roof terrace and served us a five-course meal.

On our way there, I chatted with Amy Alcott, who pointed out that she is the only Jewish member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Her desire to be here is evident both in her actions and her words.

“I’ve traveled all over the world, played golf all over the world, and for me, this is a trip of a lifetime,” she said.

It is an attitude shared by the group. Later, someone asked Michael Thompson how he became involved in the trip. As he recounted, he received an invitation over the phone and whispered to his wife if she might be interested in going to Israel. There was no hesitation. I can imagine her saying, “Hell, yeah!”

The only thing better than the food was the conversation. The diverse group consists of athletes, their significant others, friends of the Tellems', and our tour guide and local leaders. All told, I think we are two dozen strong. So Arn Tellem, using a tactic he picked up at the Basketball Hall of Fame dinner one year, had each person introduce someone else at the table. The MVP award goes to Thompson, who gave a loving intro of his wife that left her blushing (I will spare her any further embarrassment). Sean Foley praised his student, Hunter Mahan, while his wife, Kate, did a bang-up job introducing yours truly. (She reads me. I have witnesses.)

As we munched on the final bites of dessert, Gideon Meir, former Israeli ambassador to Italy, explained that Israel is a country of immigrants and shared the story of his family’s journey here. I'll try to do this poignant tale justice.

In 1908, Meir's grandfather arrived from Germany and opened the first bookstore in Jerusalem. He returned to Germany in 1918 to help fight in World War I. After the war, he stayed and re-opened the family bookstore in Berlin until anti-Semitic remarks and a swastika defamed their shop. I couldn’t help but think of a similar scene portrayed in the movie “Life is Beautiful.”

To avoid further persecution, Meir’s family packed up and returned to Israel in August 1943. They re-opened the bookstore in the original location, and offered a library on the second floor. Sometime between 1960 and 1962, a customer known to the family began checking out six books in German each week. Meir’s mother knew this man was too busy to flip through that many pages in such a short span of time. "We are a curious people," Meir said.

So her mother inquired who the book reader really was.

“It’s a state secret,” he replied.

Eventually, she learned his identity. It was the infamous Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust whom the Israelis captured in 1960 and planned to put on trial. Meir’s mother continued to supply the books, but with a twist: Until he was found guilty and executed in 1962, she supplied him books only on the history of the Jews and the Zionist movement.

“It was her revenge,” she said.

UP NEXT: A visit to the Western Wall and Mount of Olives, from which, according to Christian tradition, Jesus ascended into heaven after his Resurrection.

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