28 December 2006

What's That White Stuff? And Why Is It So Cold?!

28 December 2006. Har Gilo.
“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In J'lem, snow is glistening…”
"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And even though I have a hundred places to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...”.
“…Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling ‘’ahlo! Ma hamatzav?’”
If you have seen any news blips on your TV lately saying something about snow in Jerusalem, they’re not kidding. Tuesday night, the wind began howling, the rain falling, and a HUGE thunderstorm kept me in that frustrating place between a really good sleep and being wide awake. On Wednesday morning, I forced myself up, out into the blistering cold and onto the bus to ulpan, all the time thinking, “I should have stayed in bed today”. (On a side note, I am really glad that I got up. This guy I really like was riding the bus to work in the morning and took me out for coffee before we went our separate ways. Of course, had I known I was going to see him, I would have put some makeup on or something…oh well) I made it to ulpan and afterward, already soaked from the ten minute walk to the bus stop, got on the first bus home. Baruch Hashem (thank god!) I got home when I did. Around 2pm, it began snowing and hadn’t stopped when I went to bed around midnight. Here are the pictures. The sequence goes: yesterday afternoon, when I thought I should take a picture, not sure if the snow would stick around or not, last night, when I truly felt as though I were ‘walking in a winter wonderland’, and this morning – wow!

As you can see, the skies are clear and sunny this morning, although that cold, biting wind has come back. Somebody said (I think it was FOG, oops! Fox news) that Jerusalem gets heavy snow only once every seven years. The forecasters are predicting a likely return of the snow tonight, but we’ll see. As long as it’s gone by Sunday morning, I’m happy. Today, I’m just hanging out at home. I don’t even want to hassle with trying to get off this mountain today. Tomorrow my good friend Levi (aka Travis Fink, for those of you who know), who just began his army training/service last week, is coming for Shabbat. Yay!! I’m so excited to see him in his green uniform, although I know he’s just going to sleep the whole time (new soldiers are infamously sleep-deprived here), but that’s okay with me.

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23 December 2006

The Iranian, I mean Seleucid, Madman

Today (Shabbat) was the last day of my first Jewish holiday in Israel. Chanukah was never one of my favorite holidays and, to tell you the truth, because of its proximity to Christmas, I celebrated it with much more fanfare in the States. It’s not that I didn’t like Chanukah. On the contrary, the magical but simplistic way in which the light from the menorah grows each day as a new candle is added and lit always got me, here, you know. Also, I will never turn down the opportunity to eat latkes and yogurt, latkes and applesauce, latkes and butter, etc. Plus, the dreidel game was always a treat (although I didn’t find anyone who would play with me – maybe they are afraid I would beat them? They’re right. They should be afraid). Okay, so I do like Chanukah, just not as much as Purim, Sukkot or Passover (my personal favorite). And now I have another reason to like Chanukah; it was my first Jewish holiday as an Israeli. As a Jew and as an Israeli I definitely read the story of the Maccabees in a different, more personal light, and (forgetting for one moment my tendency to criticize religious interpretation that disregards historical fact) take hope from a message that is both ancient and contemporary: the mighty are not always victorious. Sometimes, at the critical moment, the weak, outnumbered and outgunned, triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.
Although this is a general message for all peoples, individuals as well as nations, this is also a message specifically for the Jewish people at this very moment. A raging madman is again declaring publicly and unabashedly his intentions to destroy the Jewish people. Is the world listening? Some, including Benjamin Netanyahu, are comparing this time to the late 1930s, and Ahmedinejad to Hitler. Here’s the difference: this madman could very shortly have nuclear weapons in his possession. What would stop him from blowing up Tel Aviv if given the chance? In the blink of an eye, a good chunk of Israel’s population, Jew and Arab alike, would be incinerated. Is anybody paying attention? As isolated threats, the words of this madman do not scare me. However, combined with his insistence on possessing nukes, his threats to annihilate the Jewish people are terrifying. I’ll spare you the political analysis today and move on a different track.
What about Chanukah? In the traditional story of Chanukah, an evil madman sought to destroy the Jewish people, not by slaughtering them (we’ll get to that when Purim comes), but by forbidding them to practice their religion. He forbade them to circumcise their sons, persecuted them for keeping the Sabbath and only eating kosher food, and forbade them from studying Torah, practices that have united our people and ensured our survival for centuries. Worse, some Hellenized Jews encouraged their fellow Jews to cast off their ancient traditions and embrace the marvels of the modern world. (Sound familiar assimilationists?) This was not an extermination campaign with weapons or arms, at least not in the beginning, but an extermination-by-culture campaign. According to tradition, a small group of courageous, pious and nationalistic Jews, the Maccabees, took back their country and ensured the survival of the Jewish people by preserving an atmosphere that would allow them to practice their religion and traditions freely and pass them on to the next generation. Against all odds, this small band of freedom fighters defeated the mighty Seleucid/Greek army. They were outnumbered and outgunned, and every military and practical assessment would have shown the odds to be against them, but with courage, hope, and innovative never-before-seen guerrilla warfare operations, they were victorious.
The conclusion I draw from this is a feeling of hope and empowerment. We are the Jewish people. We are Israel. They have tried over and over again to destroy us, to annihilate us and to wipe out our memory from the face of the earth, and they have failed. Where are the Pharoahs? Where are the Assyrians and the Babylonians? Where are the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire and the Crusaders? Where are the Inquisitioners and the Fascists? Where is Hitler? Perhaps the Iranian madman doesn’t know his history (he did, after all organize a conference to deny something every intelligent human being, including the Germans who did it, agree happened), or perhaps he thinks he is different. Perhaps he believes he will succeed where Haman, Antiochus, Haj amin al-Husseini and Hitler failed. This is my response: Mr. Madman, the odds are against you. We are not going anywhere. Five hundred years from now your name will be less than a memory, and the Jewish people will still be what they are: a strangely resilient, courageous and peace-loving people.
“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt; and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am Hashem (the LORD). I will lead people upon you – my people Israel – and they shall possess you; and you shall be their inheritance”. –Ezekiel 36.8-12

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21 December 2006


23 December 2006. Har Gilo.
Okay, okay. I know you’re all dying to hear from me, to get some smidgen of information. What’s going on? Is this person still alive? What’s she doing over there? Relax, relax. I’m still here. I’ve simply been neglecting my posting duties. My apologies.
Chanukah began last Friday night. Here, we marked the holiday by lighting the Chanukah menorah (see picture) and eating latkes (fried potato pancakes, like hashbrowns but better) and a lot of sufganiyot (Chanukah donuts, not your typical Dunkin’ Donuts-a-dollar-a-dozen-heart-attacks-in-disguise-cop-food-treats). Mom lovingly sent me a Chanukah package (complete with chocolate, Chanukah candles – as if I couldn’t get them here, and some of my favorite Trader Joe’s treats), and we had a weeklong break from ulpan (which I thought I would hate, but I didn’t). Aside from this, and a lot of sales in almost every direction you turn, Chanukah is a typical minor excuse-for-a-celebration Jewish holiday. Even if it is just an excuse for a celebration, you won’t hear me complaining, at least not about that.
Last weekend we took a trip to Haifa, a huge city on Israel’s northern coast. I loved Haifa – the sea, the lush surrounding area and the relaxed nature. Per previous posts, I reiterate my desire to not live in Jerusalem when I grow up. I do not want to live in the city, much less in one as tense and tinderbox-ish as J’lem. I say this with an ironic sneer and then a knowing chuckle, as I am moving INTO the city in less than three weeks. Without further vilifying my beloved city, we’ll just leave it at this: J’lem is a really nice place to visit.
So what was different about Haifa? For starters, Haifa is Israel’s quintessential red city. No, this isn’t referring to blood or any famous pomegranates Haifa may have (of which I am unaware), but to its history as the Jewish communist stronghold in Israel. Haifa is the haven of the leftists (with a lowercase ‘L’), peaceniks and those who are more interested in mutual Arab-Jewish cooperation and understanding than any political or religious ideology. We can say simply that, without knowing anything, the city feels more relaxed.
I took some nice pictures for you to see:

The view from my room in Haifa:

The view south from Rosh Haniqra, at the Lebanese border – beautiful, in a word. I want to live here;

The border itself (very very quiet, almost like the Oregon coast except for the patrolling gunboats):

Later in the day we took a trip up to the top of Mt. Carmel. “Bible History for 300“. What happened on Mt. Carmel? Oh, come on. You don’t know? I’ll give you a hint. His name rhymes with Pewieja, Meriegah and Frurierah. I found a picture of him, too, really old. Okay it’s not a picture, well it is…oh never mind:

Does anyone know? Oh, alright. I’ll tell you. This is where Elijah had the famous standoff with the prophets of Ba’al and slaughtered them all. (Find the story in 1 Kings 18:20 and following).
Here are some pictures from the top of Mt. Carmel. This valley is the Jezreel Valley, or the Valley of Megiddo, where some people think the battle of Armageddon will take place.
Regardless, it really is a beautiful area, lush, green and fertile to no end.

Well, that’s all for today. Ulpan starts again tomorrow. Yay! Lederhosen.

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17 December 2006

Hanging Tough

I wrote this last week, after a particularly frustrating day. Two days later, my wallet was stolen while shopping in Jerusalem. Don't worry; I'm fine now. But a word to the wise...it can always get worse.

12 December 2006. Har Gilo.
Just before I came to Israel, I read a blog in which a woman described the process of making aliyah as an ‘ego-crumbling’ experience. I would like to add something to this. The process of making aliyah is an ego-thrashing, ego-slaughtering, ego-bashing, ego-burying, ego-destroying, ego-annihilating, ego-exterminating experience. The scary thing is, I have only been here about six weeks – 44 days, to be exact – and I have a sinking feeling that this is only the beginning. I could be optimistic, tongue in cheek, and say that it could only get better, or that it couldn’t possibly get any worse, but this isn’t true. God knows that it could get a lot worse than this. All I’ve suffered is a bruised ego and some wounded pride (Oh yeah! I forgot! Making aliyah is an ego-bruising experience). Maybe it’s good for me?
This morning I was tired, not the kind of tired that makes you a little sleepy and makes you want to sit down and have a cup of coffee or something. This is the kind of tired where you cannot even form a coherent sentence in your mother tongue, much less in a foreign language that you’re trying to learn. Not even coffee would have helped me this morning.
The problem is that I knew I had to go to a certain place as soon as possible to inquire about joining the army. I knew that I would probably have to do this in Hebrew, but I was unaware until I arrived just how deficient my Hebrew skills would prove to be. The frustration comes in here because I know that I can actually speak enough Hebrew to get by, and I am learning more and more every day. In ulpan, in my comfort zone where I am the *star student*, I do very well and, on good days (not today), answer every question quickly and properly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will pass in other places and other situations. Sometimes I am afraid that I will never be able to say things on which we haven’t drilled in ulpan, I am afraid that I will never be able to have a conversation past, “Moshe, I looked for you. Where were you?” or “Did someone speak with Bush? No, nobody spoke with Bush”. A completely irrational fear, I understand, but it doesn’t keep the thought from popping into my head and lingering there for a few minutes…hours…days.
I arrived at the place, told two separate people in English that I wanted to join the army and asked if they could direct me to the correct person. I went upstairs to the right office, and could. not. form. one. coherent. sentence, in. Hebrew. Dear God, help me!! Really!
For the sake of my self-esteem, I have to give myself the benefit of the doubt that it was an explosive mixture of nervousness, excitement, fatigue and desperately wanting to be accepted and desperately wanting to prove that I could do it. This all led to my temporary downfall experience and crash-and-burn-I’m-never-going-to-get-this after-feeling.
It’s not just this one situation, though. Being in a foreign country and trying to assimilate into a foreign culture with the fewest number of visible seams is an extremely taxing experience – emotionally and physically. Simple activities such as going to the supermarket or buying fruits and veggies in the market or needing to buy a pair of shoes are so much more complicated. Sometimes you feel like you just want to sit inside your house, have groceries and new clothes delivered through the mail and curl up with a good, long book in English, or Russian or whatever your language is. But you can’t always do this, and, in times like this, when you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted and ‘just a little off-kilter’, you can’t always curl up in your comfort zone. There are still things you have to do, today, things that cannot wait for tomorrow or next week. So what do you do? The only thing you can, put your head down, lift up your feet and trudge on through. You keep saying to yourself hakol yihye beseder. Everything will be fine.
In the end, I believe everything will be okay. Maybe it’s the optimist in me. One day I will speak Hebrew, one day I will no longer feel like an immigrant, a greenie, a newbie, one day I will see everything I desire materialize in my hands. Today, I will work hard, today I will do my best, and today I will believe that I will see the fruit of my painstaking labor and sweat.

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03 December 2006

Free Hugs in Tel Aviv

The first time I watched this video, it made me cry.....okay so I only teared up. But I was crying inside. It's a really beautiful video, which I think really puts into perspective all of our kvetching (complaining) and bickering, not just in Israel, but in the rest of the world as well.
At the end of the day, we're all human beings. At the end of the day, we could all use a hug.
The best thing about giving a hug is that you get a hug in return. It's the gift that gives back. Have you hugged someone today???

A Picture Perfect Path

Last week, I took one afternoon and walked around part of the city taking pictures. These pictures in no way represent a comprehensive picture of Jerusalem, but it is a start.
Looking through the photos later on, I noticed a not too subtle theme that ran though the set. Most of the pictures I took had something to do with a street or a road or an alley or a walkway, not something I had planned in any way when shooting.
Now, my psychiatrist (and my new friend Rivka) would ask: “What do roads/paths mean to you?” So let’s do a little psychoanalysis into my subconscious behavior.
Hm, you walk down roads, and they take you places. You have Robert Frost: “I took the road less traveled”, and the Roman adage: “All roads lead to Rome”. Roads were the arteries of the Roman Empire; in the case of Alexander the Great, they led to a previously unseen and unexperienced cultural diffusion, which changed the world.
I am on a road right now, proverbially. (Physically, I’m actually in a coffee shop on Hillel Street). You are also on a road right now, moving somewhere, traveling to new places, meeting new people, experiencing new things. We are all on a journey; we are all walking down a path, a road, a walkway. Where are you going? Which path are you on?

One thing that I have learned, that I am still learning is that the journey’s worth is equal to that of the destination. In other words, some people become so focused on where they are going that they develop tunnel vision and fail to recognize the beauty and the worth of the road on which they walk.
I live in Israel. For the last seven years, basically all of my adult life, I have wanted one thing above all – to live in Israel. There were times when I could not recognize or appreciate the beauty of my path because I was too focused on the destination. All I could see was where I wanted to go; I couldn’t appreciate where I was. I found that life requires a balance between being focused enough on the goal to achieve the dream and being able to open your eyes a little wider and see the worth of the path and the work it takes to realize the dream.
Look at these beautiful streets. People walk on them every day without a second thought, without awareness.

These last two are my favorites. I think it’s the palm trees. The first is a little walkway off of Hamelech David (King David St), if you know it. It is near the Old City and my ulpan.
The second is the promenade leading from West Jerusalem into the Old City, through the Jaffa Gate. (If you know your geography, Jaffa is on the western coast of Israel; the Jaffa gate is called that because it is the gate one would have walked through if coming on the road from Jaffa, from the West). Notice the Old City walls and, to the right of the Jaffa Gate, the Citadel of David (which, incidentally has nothing to do with David).

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