Out there: Paprika chill-out

A father takes his soldier son on a furlough tour.

herb keinon (photo credit: )
herb keinon
(photo credit: )
Your kid gets out of Gaza after 15 days of fighting, he has a 10-day furlough from the army, and you're brimming over with a seize-today-because-who-knows-what-tomorrow-may-bring sentiment. So what do you do? Of course, take him to Budapest. "Budapest?" my father repeated, a bit incredulous when he heard the plan."Budapest is your idea of seizing the day? In the dead of winter? What's the matter, are you of out of paprika? Are you in the market for a chandelier?" Granted, the contrast did seem jarring. One day the boy is in combat, the next we'd be walking together along the Danube. As my youngest son would say, ma ha'kesher (what's the connection)? No connection, really, I was simply winging it. It's not like I've had any experience with this before, or had a built-in default option for post-combat parenting. The Wife and I did let the boy sleep as long as he wanted when he came home from the battles, didn't ask how late he would be staying out at night, and made sure he recited the Thanksgiving Blessing (Birkat HaGomel) in shul on Shabbat. But then what? Then, well, Budapest. IT JUST HIT me, really, an epiphany. First off, I simply wanted to take the lad somewhere. Me and him, he and I, the two of us, father and son. He'd talk, I'd listen. No distractions, a little post-war pampering. Secondly, the flight and hotel were cheap. Also, Hungary didn't slam Israel during the war, something that took some other European locales off the list of possibilities. When I first broached the idea to the boy of taking a short trip, he was excited. My son, after all, was born here, and - like most Israelis - would jump at the possibility of going anywhere. It could be the most God-forsaken-spot on the planet, but if it's a trip abroad, grab it. Many Israelis - myself included - would leap at the possibility of a cheap flight to the Congo, or a discounted package deal to Chechnya. Iraq? Sure, take me, take me! Just to go, just to pass through the airport duty-free shops, just to get a whiff of the Great Overseas, just to tell the hevra you were there. Not out of unhappiness with Israel, but simply out of a desire to spread the wings, to wander, to experience. Look at Avigdor Lieberman and his post-election victory lap to - of all places - Minsk. If Lieberman could go to Belarus to celebrate his election results, I could surely take my son to Hungary to decompress from Gaza. GRANTED, WHEN I discussed the possibility of going abroad with my son, his mind conjured up images of skiing in the Alps. When I mentioned "Budapest," he said he'd get back to me. He did, and after checking with the guys in his unit, gave me the okay. It turns out some of them had parents who had gone there, and liked it well enough. His only reservation was that it seemed a place for older folks, not a place with lots of groovy people schlepping backpacks across the Hungarian countryside. "Umm," I said, and then proposed a different option. Eilat. I know my son, and know that for him food is a critical component of a successful vacation. Maybe, since we keep kosher, we should just go to a nice hotel in Eilat, where we could eat in abundance and not have to rely on cup-o'-soup. "I'll take Budapest," he said. "No offense, but I really don't need you to go to Eilat. That I can do with my friends." Not wanting to subsist solely on tuna and salami, his IDF staples in Gaza, he then asked if there were any kosher restaurants in Hungary. And then I discovered a shocker: kosher cuisine is one of Budapest's unheralded attractions, one that doesn't appear in the guidebooks. There are three substantial kosher restaurants in the city, as well as a pizza place. That's pretty startling, considering there are only 80,000 Jews there. Heck, my native Denver has more Jews, but not three substantial kosher eateries. BESIDES PROVIDING us with sustenance, the Hungarian kosher restaurants served another purpose as well: they made us feel a part of an Israeli tour group that we joined for a day trip to the Slovakian border. There we were, a busload of Israelis driving through rural Hungary, with the Hebrew-speaking tour guide commanding our undivided attention. She could have told us anything. She could have told us about the Magyars, the 1956 anti-Soviet rebellion, Israeli-Hungarian relations, communist era architecture, or the glory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Truth be told, she did touch on those subjects, ever so briefly. But she had to keep it brief, because any more discourse on those matters would have cut into time spent talking about food. She spent two minutes on the Hapsburgs, and about 20 minutes on the upcoming lunch, with an emphasis on dessert. This tour guide knew her audience. These were Israeli Jews, after all. Magyars schmagyars, when do we eat? Indeed, on the way back, as the strangers warmed to each other and began swapping Hungarian touring ideas, no one talked about the Opera House or the parliament or Gellert Hill. Only about food - where to get a juicy steak, authentic goulash, exotic seafood. Had it not been for those kosher restaurants, I would - as has been the case in similar situations in the past - have felt badly out of the loop. But not this time, this time I too ate out and wanted to jump in with recommendations of my own for a great place to score stuffed cabbage, gefilte fish, and some mouth-watering mid-week cholent. But then I realized that might have embarrassed my son, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. The trip, after all, was about him, not the food - or not.