Israelis – 70 Years Young

This week was Israel’s 70th Independence Day! Hooray!

I saw this video on Facebook and I think it’s a pretty good description of what it means to be Israeli. It’s a melting pot, it’s a salad, it’s a quilt.

 

In my new neighborhood, I think I’ve finally moved to Israel.

This is the opening to an program broadcast in Israel in the late 1970s to help people learn English. You might notice that it was British English back in those days!

***

“Nu, Itzik! Where are you?!”

This was the first thing I heard at 7am on my first morning in my new apartment. It sounded like the guy was standing outside my door. Was it locked?

“Yalla! Itzik, let’s go!”

I’m not Itzik. I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear anything and hide under the blanket. The cats are already freaked out and hiding under the bed.

cat-2806957_1920Representative picture – this is neither me nor any of my cats

***

“Hey! Benny’s mom!”

A little old lady was sitting next to me at the bus stop and a car stopped in the middle of the street. The driver was calling out to this lady.

“Where are you headed?”

At first it was obvious that she didn’t quite know who this was and her only clue was that this was her son’s friend. “I’m on the way to the doctor.”

“Get in! I’ll take you!”

“Oh, no. That’s fine.” A car had come up behind the guy and waited while the exchange continued.

“No, no, no. I’d love to take you. Get in.” Another car came from the other direction.

It took her a moment to get to the other side of the street and get in the car, but everyone waited. And off they went.

***

In my old neighborhoods, there were a lot of foreigners, especially Americans. So going to the grocery store was always a culture shock experience of long lines, bagging your own groceries, cashiers shouting for change, and barely contained chaos. The people in line and in the store are just barely hanging on to their sanity to get through the experience.

“I only wanted to buy some bread and cheese! Why?! Why is it like this?”

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In my new grocery store, it’s exactly the same: long lines, bagging my own groceries, cashiers shouting (for change, for greetings, for someone to switch her/him out), and Wild West chaos. But the people are different.

“Hey. I’m behind you. Ok?” I’m now in charge of holding this guy’s place.

“I’m back in one second.” Now the lady in front of me is off because she forgot something.

“Oh, where did you find that? I should get some too. I’m back in one second.”

We’re all in it together and no one is upset about anything.

***

Walking around my neighborhood, I see that it is a place where people actually live. They try to beautify their porches. They grow flowers and herbs. They vigorously clean every Friday. They make the best of what they have. Children play in the many parks. It’s a place where people know their neighbors – if not by name, then by sight.

Here’s a newly rejuvenated park that I found in my wanderings. It was early-ish, so no people around yet.

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Every street has a story

Like neighborhoods around the world, Jerusalem neighborhoods have thematic street names. Some are nice; some lead you to question the sanity of whoever made the choices – I’m looking at you Gallows Martyrs Street and Valley of Ghosts.

My first Jerusalem neighborhood had street names like Shimoni and Tchernichovsky, two poets. My most recent neighborhood included names like Washington, Lincoln, Hess, and Zamenhof (two US presidents, a founder of labor Zionism, and the inventor of Esperanto). Now I have gone deep into Jewish history with Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, Yossi ben Yoezer, Ben Baba (or Bava), and Eliezer haGadol.

The main thoroughfare is Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, the person most responsible for Judaism as it is practiced today. In the year 68 CE, the Romans had laid siege to Jerusalem and it is said that Yochanan ben Zakai was smuggled out of the city in a coffin by his students. He was taken to General Vespasian and he struck a deal. Saying that he had a vision of Vespasian becoming emperor, he asked for Yavneh to be set aside as a place for Jewish learning if his vision should come to pass. Vespasian became emperor and kept his promise. Thus, the center of Judaism moved away from the Temple in Jerusalem and made possible a diasporic existence of Jewish tradition and learning.

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The other streets in the neighborhood are named after sages who wrote foundational texts of Judaism. Yossi ben Yoezer is from the Maccabean period (167–37 BCE). A famous saying of his: “Let thy house be a meeting-place for the wise; powder thyself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words with eagerness.” Ben Baba was a second century (CE) scholar who, surprisingly, made it easier for widows to remarry by lowering the bar for proof of a husband’s death. Eliezer haGadol (the Great) was a student of Yochanan ben Zakai, and one of the best known second century scholars. He was what today might be called a “strict constructionist” in terms of his interpretations of the Jewish law. He was excommunicated from the Sanhedrin, he was charged with heresy by Rome, and yet he is still one of the most mentioned sages in the Mishna.

1200px-Map_of_Qatamon,_1947.pngKatamon and its surroundings, 1947. By The National Library of Israel, edited by Bolter21. – The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, National Library of Israel, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56402776

Moving forward in history, the neighborhood of Mekor Haim (Source of Life) was named after Haim Cohen who donated a lot of money to buy land in Jerusalem. The neighborhood started in 1926 as a tiny isolated village and by 1931, 202 people lived there in 41 houses. The area suffered from Arab sniping during the 1948 War, and there were some fierce battles there as well. After the 1967 War, the Talpiot industrial area was built and Mekor Haim was no longer so isolated.

googlemapSouthern neighborhoods of Jerusalem

As Jerusalem grew, Mekor Haim became limited to just the main street of Mekor Haim and its side streets. To accommodate the Jews from the Old City who were expelled in 1948 and eventually Jews from Arab countries who were expelled from their homelands in the 1950s, Israel built up the neighborhood in what are called by the municipality Gonen 1-9 (in Hebrew letters). Everyone else knows the neighborhood as Katamonim (the plural of Katamon).

Katamon was built around the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Simeon of Katamonas (1881, with evidence of a structure from 1524, today the San Simon Monastery). It had been a Christian Arab neighborhood until 1948. Gonen means defender and the 1949 Armistice line winds along the southern borders of Katamonim.

The vibe of this neighborhood is quite different from my previous neighborhoods, but those stories will have to wait until next week.

(This week was Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. You can read what I wrote last year about Yom HaShoah here.)

Spring sprung straight into summer, and it’ll be okay

This week Israel changed the clocks to Daylight Savings Time. Personally, I like longer evenings and I don’t get too wound up about changing time.

So much happened in the world this week, but I was focused on my own projects. Can I say I didn’t have time to deal with it all?

The clock change coordinated with the spring equinox and we expect certain weather changes. While parts of the world were covered in snow, Israel was sweltering in 80–86 degree (27–30 degree Celsius) weather. Strangely, on the day of the equinox, we had actual spring weather of 70 degrees, but the rest of the week felt like oppressive summer. Today is another cool day with summer on its way again on Monday. If this is spring, what will summer be like?

And yet.

During times of change and when too many things are going on, I pay special attention to the little things. I haven’t watered my window boxes for ages and I’ve let everything lie fallow. Without my help or encouragement and even out of a pile of weeds, a few flowers found their way out and let me know that everything will be ok.

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There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

37 Hours

8:30am – A Jerusalem moment

I am on the bus and an older gentleman with a cane got on with his wife. His wife sits down first on a seat facing the back and as he arranges himself to sit down the bus jerks forward and he loses his balance.  Two women on either side of the aisle catch him, each one catches an arm.  He finds his footing and sits down. Everyone chuckles a bit.

The story should really end there. I notice it not because of the kindness of strangers, but because he is wearing a knitted kippa, the woman on his left is a religious woman with a head covering and the woman on his right is a Muslim with a hijab (her ears are covered and the ear pieces of her glasses sit outside her hijab).

This is Jerusalem.

9:00am – 10:00am – Acupuncture

I love going to acupuncture. Everything that was out of balance gets rebalanced.

I have two big deadlines, one today and one tomorrow morning, and a balancing session takes my stress level down.

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2:30pm

I planned to be home an hour ago.  I’ll just put the 2 hours into the project due today and get that off my plate so I can focus on the one due tomorrow.

7:00pm

Send. That was not 2 hours.

I’m hungry and I need to change gears. I think I’ll watch one of my funny Korean dramas and laugh a little while eating.

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9:15pm

Korean drama turned into some YouTube surfing and now I have to really get started. It will be a late night, but I should be done in 5 hours, maybe 6.

11:55pm

I’m just going to close my eyes for 20 minutes. I’m setting the alarm.

12:15am

Wha-huh! Glerg. Merf.

2:20am

Oops. Ok. Focus. This should only take 3 more hours, maybe less.

3:15am

Potty break. Flush. Oh, I forgot that they were shutting off the water for repairs tonight. Do I have water? I want to make some tea. Will I dehydrate before the water gets turned back on?

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5:30am

Why? Why is this so long?

*repeat*

From 2:20am to 8:00am the space-time continuum folded in on itself and I was in a perpetual loop – but calm and relaxed. Time continued to move forward at varying speeds.

8:00am

Send.  Yes, it’s on time! Exhale.

9:30am

Stephen Hawking died. Did I fold the space-time continuum so hard last night that Stephen Hawking died?

Oh, shoot. Mom went to Asia today and I didn’t call. She crossed the International Date Line, so is she in tomorrow or yesterday? I think she went to the future.

The US changed its clocks to Daylight Savings Time this week, but Israel doesn’t do it until next week! Ha, ha! We still have the hour that the US lost! And yet, I feel like I already lost that hour sometime in the night …

After waking from sleep-mode, my computer clock thinks it’s April 19, 2018. Even my computer is time traveling!

(Sure, you might say that these are just a bunch of random coincidences or a case of selective attention, but maybe these are clues!)

4:00pm

I’m giving a massage this afternoon. The truth is that I find it really relaxing and I’m happy to do it.

6:00pm

Out to dinner. Asian fusion ramyun and beer. Peanut butter dessert and tea.

9:30pm

I’m streaming NCIS: Los Angeles. They are rescuing Hetty from Viet Nam. I wonder how Mom is doing.

*Fade to black before I find out how the episode ends*

Marathon!

I’m extremely busy with my work projects and I was going to just go on hiatus this week.

And then –

Jerusalem Marathon!

It’s my favorite day of the year! I love the fact that the city shuts down for fun things. There were 35,000 people who came from all around the world to run up and down the hills of Jerusalem in what is considered to be one of the hardest marathons in the world.

This year the Jaffa Gate station was a bit more tame than previous years, but it’s still so inspiring to see people pushing themselves onward and striving to be just a little better than they were before.

Here is a 4-minute video from the Jaffa Gate observation station. Enjoy!

 

Philosophical Purim

Purim is not my holiday. I’m not a fan of dressing up, partying all night, or drinking until “you can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.” No matter how I feel about it, Israel goes bananas over Purim. Think Halloween on steroids.

NeighborsMy neighbors were featured as the first picture in the article (Wonder Woman is missing)

Another photo

Source: Times of Israel

In recent years, I’ve seen a more philosophical interpretation of Purim. Some women talk about the strength of women in the story. The Jews are saved by Esther because she was in the right place at the right time. Some bring up Vashti who said “no” to the king (creating the opportunity for Esther) and her courage to disobey the patriarchy.

Another philosophical conversation turns around the fact that God is never mentioned in the story. Things coincidentally happen, but the name of God is never uttered. Is God behind the scenes or is the story a series of convenient coincidences? Well, you can answer that for yourself.

This year Purim and Dad’s secular yahrzeit fell on the same day. I’d like to think that Dad is still with us in some way and is part of our stories. We may not talk about him every day, but as long as he is remembered, he still exists for us.

I watch a lot of Korean dramas and Koreans mark the anniversary of the death of a loved one with a ceremony that includes the person’s favorite foods. I like that. Dad didn’t eat a lot and nothing really stands out as his favorite (Steak? Vanilla wafers? Greasy spoon diner food?) Dad liked to play poker, so in his memory, here’s a Royal Flush.

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Wedding croppedThe early chapters of our story (I’m the kid)