Nothing says you have arrived in Israel more than a falafel and an orange soda.

As part of the 2016 Israel Ride, a group of us board Delta Flight 468 on Sunday evening, Nov. 6, at New York’s JFK International Airport for the final leg of our respective flights to Israel. Yes, excitement is in the air as we eagerly anticipate our participation in the ride, as we will be pedaling for peace in support of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Hazon. An added bonus is that tonight’s flight (which landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Sunday afternoon) has an 80-plus mph tailwind, so that the duration of the flight is just slightly more than nine hours, rather than the usual 10 to 12 hours.

Morris Maslia experiences the square falafel at Falafel Bri'bu'a.

Morris Maslia experiences the square falafel at Falafel Bri’bu’a.

Getting through the passport checkpoint is a nonevent. I quickly go to baggage claim, where my baggage, including a suitcase and my solid carbon-frame road bike and case, are waiting for me. Our group on the flight let the ride sponsors know we arrived, and the bike storage and transport company greets us on the third level entry to Ben Gurion Airport to store and transport our bikes until we assemble them outside Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.

I now eagerly await a pickup at the airport by my dear friend Ronnie Porat. Those from Atlanta and the Southeast may remember Ronnie, who spent seven years as the shaliach, or special emissary, on behalf of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (KKL) to the Jewish National Fund Atlanta office.

So what to do on this first night in Israel and Tel Aviv? Having lived in Israel as a young child for four years when my parents made aliyah and having visited a number of times (most recently to participate in the 2014 Israel Ride), I find that nothing says “Welcome to Israel” more than a falafel and Fanta orange. So off Ronnie and I go on a culinary delight to compare a couple of falafel eateries.

The first is Falafel Mizrachi (Eastern or Oriental Falafel) in Nes Ziona, a small village south of Tel Aviv. The owner is the son of Egyptian Jews. I order a half of falafel with tahini (sesame) sauce on top and a Fanta orange soda. After the first bite of the falafel and gulp of the orange soda, I know I have returned home! I feel like Moses when he has just seen the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Ronnie and I finish our meals, then head off to our next falafel culinary delight.

 

Our next stop on this first night’s falafel culinary delight tour is a new eatery, Falafel Bri’bu’a (Square Falafel), outside Ronnie’s home in Moshav Beit Oved. As any falafel connoisseur knows, falafel balls are round. But this eatery offers square falafel balls. I quickly order another half falafel with tahini sauce and another Fanta orange soda. To my surprise, the taste of this falafel with the square falafel balls exceeds my expectations.

 

I am now full, knowing that I have satisfied my culinary palate on this first night in Israel. To quote the epic Phil Collins song, “There is something in the air tonight,” and it is being home in Israel, having experienced two outstanding meals of falafel and Fanta orange soda.