The in-between time

How do you go from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness in five minutes?  Is it a form of manic-depressive disorder?  Is there a switch that they install in your brain when you make aliyah?

Back in the early days of living in Israel, my emotions and grief on Soldiers and Victims of Terror Remembrance Day were dialed way past 11.  On my first Remembrance Day during my kibbutz experience, I cried all day – after having cried the whole day on Holocaust Remembrance Day the week before.  In fact, my Hebrew teacher asked me to leave class because my outpouring of unfiltered emotion was just too much for her to bear.  Later in the evening, we were all supposed to gather at the main field of the kibbutz to have a closing ceremony for this sad day.  More tears and choking back sobs.  Honestly, my love for Israel was quite dehydrating.  And then everyone was waiting, murmuring to each other in quiet conversation, but just standing there.

Five minutes passed.

And then the fireworks began and everyone was laughing and cheering and they headed off to the biggest, wildest party of the year for Independence Day.

What the hell!?!?!

Today, the switch is working better.  I get it.  Soldiers who fought to protect us and this land died so that we could live.  We honor them and then we not only should, but we are obligated to live and celebrate life.  And this week, I stood for the sirens and enjoyed the fireworks.

IMG_20170501_223413 (1)

Fireworks 2017 – it’s really hard to catch fireworks well with a phone camera

But what about those five minutes?  As I was thinking about it this week, it seems to me that we are always in those five minutes.  We just don’t notice because we are not switching between the depths of despair and the heights of happiness.  It’s pretty exhausting to be at either extreme, but day-to-day life in Israel is that in-between time.

When an Israeli athlete wins a medal and you hear HaTikvah, there’s a swell of emotion – and we are in those five minutes.

When the internet company representative works on your internet just before a holiday and says the Shechechiyanu prayer of thanksgiving (in a Russian accent) when it works – we are in those five minutes.

When you take pride in Israelis helping wounded Syrians or building mobile hospitals in Haiti – we are in those five minutes.

When the insurance representative says “Tfu, tfu, tfu, that you should always be healthy” – we are in those five minutes.

When you hear Hebrew in unexpected places around the world, and you feel suddenly at home – we are in those five minutes.

When the veterinarian who made a house call for your cat takes a few minutes to say afternoon prayers in your living room – we are in those five minutes.

There are no substitutes for Remembrance Days and Independence Day and they’re important, but we ought to remember to declare our Zionism and love of Israel in those in-between times.  We don’t need grand gestures and emotional extremes every day; it’s those ordinary everyday minutes that are the most special if we just take a moment to pay attention.

childhood-1058488_1920

Spring in the North

On Friday, I missed the Jerusalem Marathon – on of my favorite days of the year – because I was travelling in the north of Israel.  Now I’m back and happy to share with you the glory of spring in the north.

One hill, many blooms

IMG_20170316_160347

Atlit Detention Camp, carving in one of the huts – When Jews were trying to enter Israel illegally before Israel was a state, the British arrested them and put them in a detention camp just south of Haifa.  Even though it was a camp, which had scary connotations for many, the people were just so happy to finally be out of Europe and in Israel.  I have to say, my aliyah was a lot easier.

IMG_20170316_165949

Haifa from my hotel

Bet She’arim – details from sarcophagi dating from the first to the fourth century CE.  The fourth picture is a detail of the evidence of how they must have shaped the burial caves.

And everywhere you look, flowers!

Baha’i Gardens, Haifa – springtime with the Baha’is in the upper garden (accessible only with a guide!)  From the top to the middle where the shrine is, it’s about 700 steps.

 

Aliyah-versary

On the day I arrived in Israel 15 years ago, February 8, 2002, I planted an almond tree in my aunt’s garden.

IMG_20160204_231013

There were some hard days for that tree and it seemed like it died.  But it didn’t.  It was busy digging into the land and strengthening its root system.

It rejuvenated itself, grew again, and began to thrive.


And now this tall, strong tree bears delicious fruit.

img_20170120_175224

*This story is brought to you by Metaphors-R-Us.

Aharei ha’chagim / After the holidays

Parents all over Israel breathed a collective sigh of relief as they sent their kids to school on Thursday, September 1.

after the holidays
Another phenomenon that began on approximately the same day was the throwing around of the phrase “aharei ha’chagim” (after the holidays).  The “holidays,” starting this year on October 2, are: Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and Sukkot, an 8-day festival that includes building temporary shelters outside.  Jewish holidays are national holidays so in this 3-week period there are a lot of days off, children are home from school, and it’s hard to get anything done.

One of the rhythms of life in Israel is for people to put off new projects until after the holidays, but this national procrastination often starts about a month before the holidays actually begin.  This can sometimes delay projects for up to two months!  The holidays are usually in September, so after the slow-down of August, people are busy trying to catch up at work.  They don’t want to start anything new.  So it’s a pretty common conversation among workers to discuss some new project in September and the agreed-upon start date is “aharei ha’chagim.”

The only comparable scenario that I can think of in the US is if you have an idea for something new on December 20, it’s pretty easy to say that you’ll discuss it after the first of the year because you have to get through Christmas and New Year’s.  It’s a slight exaggeration, but imagine the slow-down if any project you pitched in November was delayed until after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Aharei ha’chagim can also be used sarcastically at other times of the year.  If someone is constantly delaying a project, it would be perfectly appropriate to ask, “Oh, and when will you be getting started on that? Aharei ha’chagim?” I imagine that it could be used by a parent to their teenager, “When did you plan to clean your room? Aharei ha’chagim?”

Aharei ha’chagim is most often used around the holidays in September, but it is also used before the Passover holiday in the spring. Passover is 8 days long and about 2 weeks before people might start delaying projects to aharei ha’chagim.

Stepping back to look at the big picture, I see aharei ha’chagim as part of the intensity of life in Israel, not a lazy delaying tactic.  In Israel, you work hard during the week and during the year and then rest completely and unplug from the world during Shabbat and holidays.  You finish everything you have on your list before the holidays, rest and rejuvenate during the holidays, and then give 100% effort to something new aharei ha’chagim.

Toilet tanks of Memory Lane

This week I got a new toilet tank.  I know.  That doesn’t sound so earth-shattering or life-changing.  And it isn’t.  But this toilet tank triggered a few memories and those are usually worth writing about.  It’s especially well-timed because this is the first post in the second year of my blog (hooray!) and the toilet tank reminded me of how I got to Israel in the first place.

IMG_20160805_184109

Back in February 2001, I began kibbutz ulpan on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.  Half the day I would study Hebrew and half the day I would work somewhere on the kibbutz.  I began my kibbutz life in the kitchen and I was put in charge of the dairy cart – cottage cheese, soft white cheese (like sour cream), sliced cheese, and whatever other dairy products were available.  Needless to say, I couldn’t even look at dairy products after a while, much less eat them.  This was a great weight loss plan!

Ma’agan Michael is a rich kibbutz with multiple income streams including tropical fish, edible fish, bananas, cactus fruits, and a few other small industries.  But their big moneymaker is Plasson.  They make plastic plumbing parts and ship them all over Israel and internationally.

After my stint in the kitchen and noticeable weight loss, I begged to be outside, so I transferred to the banana fields.  I knew how to drive a manual transmission so I was an asset as a tractor driver.   But when it was too hot, we weren’t allowed to work outside and I spent one, possibly two, days at the Plasson factory.  We were put to work putting plastic rings (washers) of different shapes and sizes into a plastic bag.  We did it BY HAND!!!  Seriously, it was the longest day of my life.  I’m not really cut out for factory work.  But I did my job and I have a memory tucked away of once having worked at Plasson.  So every time I see a Plasson toilet tank, I think of my time on the kibbutz.

The truck and one of the tractors that I drove.

Banana tree

Tying bunches of bananas.

Looking back now, I can see that the 5 months on the kibbutz was a transitional time for me.  Life was not really moving forward the way I had envisioned.  Taking a time-out on the kibbutz gave me the opportunity to truly see it.  Moreover, I unexpectedly felt very drawn and connected to Israel and my Jewish heritage.  I had been to Israel many times before, but I never felt like this.

I went back to the US that July and had a difficult summer trying to figure out what I was going to do.  And then 9/11 happened.  Watching the chaos and trying to comprehend the tragedies unfolding on my television screen made me realize that life is short and I would not accept a “life of quiet desperation.”

For my 29th birthday the year before, I jumped out of an airplane – freefall for 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), parachute for 5,000 feet.  For my 30th birthday a few weeks after 9/11, I jumped out of a life that no longer made me happy.  Life in Israel was my parachute.

sunset

Some of the best sunsets in the world are at Ma’agan Michael!

***

Environmental side note:

In Israel – and probably a lot of other places – we have two flushing options.  The small button is for small flushes and the big button is for when you need a big flush.

IMG_20160805_184131

How History will remember

There’s a theory that the same amount of bad things are happening in the world as there ever were, but now that we live in a global village and the media coverage is instantaneous, we simply hear about it sooner and more often.  I’m not sure that is true, but I do wish that we would demand that the media stop functioning on a 24-hour news cycle that drops stories as soon as something bloodier comes along.  The terror attack in Nice is today’s top story, but how quickly will we move to the next thing?  France plans to mourn for 3 days.  Will we?  Or will something else catch our attention?

candles-224563_1280

Headline scanning means that we’ll only catch the big stories and so seemingly little stories get swept aside.  I imagine that very few people know that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, this week.

Istanbul
I am not an expert on the workings of UNESCO and this is not meant to be deep research.  I just want to point out a few facts and try to put them into context.  I’ve provided links at the end of the post.

UNESCO – United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization – was on the news radar in Israel in April because of a draft resolution that subtly denied Jewish connections to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.  The headlines were pretty bold, but when I went to the document itself (which no news site linked to) it refers to Israel as “Israel, the Occupying Power,” does not once use the term “Temple Mount” but only “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and mentions the “Buraq Plaza ‘Western Wall Plaza’.”  This draft didn’t pass – of 58 votes, 33 were for, 17 abstentions, 6 against (the other 2 were not in attendance).  Another draft related to the Old City and its Walls uses the same terminology, except refers to “Buraq Plaza (Western Wall Plaza).”

At the conference this week the item was pulled off the agenda at the last minute because of the uncertainty of the votes and it’s pretty unlikely that the resolutions will pass.  So, no big deal, right? Well, I’m not so sure about that.

The present is the future’s past

As a historian, I’m thinking about researchers going through documents at some unspecified time in the future.  Let’s say, at least 150 years from now.  UNESCO doesn’t decide what history is, but as the arbiter of World Heritage Sites and a name that suggests global neutrality, how will historians see these documents in the future?

First of all, if you go through the documents, you will find references to Jerusalem in the “Arab States” section of the agenda.  Other geographical designations are Europe and North America, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Pacific.

Screenshot agenda
As an academic editor, I know that quotation marks are used for quotations, of course, but they are also used as a substitute for the words so-called, which suggest a distance from the term.  Above, I’m using quotation marks because I’m quoting the text.  Within the resolution, the only reason to use quotation marks (also known as scare quotes, I don’t know why) is to say the so-called Western Wall Plaza.  If you say the words so-called in front of anything, your voice naturally picks up a sarcastic tone.  It’s even more sarcastic if you make air quotes with your fingers.  So here we have a UNESCO draft resolution that gives Arabic names with capital letters, but Jewish names with quotation marks or in parentheses.

How we got from there to here

There may be those that say, “Well, you know, that big golden dome is up there now and possession is 9/10ths of the law.”  Since the Jordanian Waqf administers the site and forbids Jews to pray there, I think that point is moot.  Even subtly rejecting any Jewish connection is simply changing history.  Before Islam, there were two Jewish Temples that stood on that site.  Without the Temple, Jesus would have had no place to overturn the tables and attack the money lenders.  Titus’ Arch in Rome would have no story to tell.  Millions of Jews coming to Israel to visit a bunch of stones, a retaining wall actually, would also seem a bit weird if they lack a connection.

The point I want to make is that it matters now and today how we respond.  US Jews were very happy to have a mixed-gender prayer site created at the Western Wall, but in the big picture isn’t it a more important issue if UNESCO votes to effectively erase the Jewish connection to any part of the area?  Can UNESCO be allowed to vote on the narrative of history? If we decide to lay out narratives next to each other, we can say that there is indeed a Muslim connection to the site (third holiest site), but we must say that there is a Jewish (most important site) and Christian (Jesus’ final days) connection to the site.

What will our researcher find 150 years in the future when looking through the UNESCO documents? I hope she finds a multi-colored patchwork of truth and not obvious propaganda.

Epilogue:  The UNESCO response to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) bombing parts of Palmyra, a World Heritage Site in Syria, was that the head of UNESCO did declare the acts war crimes, but after UNESCO experts went in, their preliminary finding was that it wasn’t as bad as they thought.  A language comparison of the two resolutions is enlightening.  Daesh is just Daesh, not an Occupying Power or anything else.  Their actions are condemned, but Israel’s actions are strongly condemned, firmly deplored, deeply decried, and disapproved.

Draft resolution on the Al-Haram Al-Sharif and its surroundings.

Decision on Jerusalem and its Walls from 2015.

Report on the vote in April.

Possible revision to the drafts.

An in-depth review of the issue.

Draft resolution on Palmyra.

Press release on Palmyra.

Tai Chi in Israel

While the world raged around us, about 200 people met in a high school gymnasium in Ramat Gan that served as an oasis of calm.  This week I attended Gashko, the national meeting of all the practitioners of Cheng Ming style Tai Chi.  In June every year, the main teacher of this style comes from Taiwan to work with all of us to help perfect our form.

logo-text

To me, Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation.  The movements are slow, deliberate, and precise.  There are many styles of Tai Chi and it is considered a martial art.  The movements do have real world applications, but the purpose of the practice is not to spar or compete with your fellow practitioners.  Rather it is to learn and practice the principles and implement them in your own life.

I haven’t been to a Gashko for a long time, but since I had just finished learning the 100-movement form, I was prepared to work on minor adjustments and corrections of my form.

IMG_20160629_172054

Pass me a big slice of Humble Pie!  Yum!

On the first day, I started practicing with everyone and I quickly came to the realization that while I thought I knew the form, it turns out that every single movement could use some adjustments.  Now under normal circumstances, when you find out that you actually don’t know nearly as much as you thought you did, you might face some embarrassment, frustration, or any of a variety of negative emotions.  No so at Gashko.

One of the principles is to be both self-confident and humble – not an easy task.  So I was confident in knowing the order of the movements, but I humbly looked for correction.  I heard one person say, “I’ve been practicing for 25 years and I learned something new today!”  Well, I’ve been practicing for 2.5 years and I learned so much my brain got overloaded!

The nicest people in Israel

If everyone in Israel practiced Tai Chi, Israel would become the nicest country in the world.  Really!

IMG_20160629_171908

The teachers are so kind and supportive and meet you wherever you are in your life and in your practice.  While they are teaching you the movements of the form, they are somehow also uplifting you to be a better, stronger person without actually saying a word.  Honestly, it can’t be described; it can only be experienced.

Cheng Ming in Israel

One of the hallmarks of this style of Tai Chi in Israel is that it is gender separated.  While I’m not a fan of gender separation in most things, I do appreciate it in sports.  Also, when you practice martial arts with only women, the energy is quite different.

Apparently, the founder of this style in Israel, who learned from the master in Taiwan, returned to Israel and became religious.  So in Israel this style of Tai Chi is, for the general classes, philosophically neutral, gender separated, and at Gashko we have a men’s side and a women’s side of the gym.  Many practitioners are clearly religious and very comfortable with this style of Tai Chi.  The more advanced classes, though, are not gender separated.  (In other countries where this style is practiced, there is no gender separation, as far as I know.)

PANO_20160629_171920

The slower the better

One of the most amazing experiences for me at Gashko was the hour-long form.  When I practice at home or in class, the form takes about 20–25 minutes.  So just imagine about 200 people in a gym moving at a third of the speed that they normally do, all of us totally focused on the form, filled with self-confidence and humility, and radiating with calm, soothing energy.

Even if you don’t know Tai Chi, do something at a third of the normal speed – wash dishes, walk down your hallway, drink tea, whatever.  Then you truly get a taste of what “being in the moment” actually feels like.

Working with the master

In working on some real-world applications of Tai Chi, we were doing pair work and I had a few questions.  Just at that moment Master Wang appeared and showed me and my partner how to do an arm twist to the back followed by a knee to the butt.  It was a little unusual for him to be working with the women – he did bring a woman Master with him as well.  But here we were, Master Wang twisted my arm and kneed me in the butt.  Twice!  Quite an honor, I must say!  (Interestingly, I did go flying, but it didn’t hurt at all.)

IMG_20160630_202903

Master Wang

Tired. Not tired.

After the first day of about six hours of Tai Chi and a four-hour commute, I collapsed at home.  How on earth I would get through two more days?  But the next morning I woke up and I felt . . . good.  So I did it again.  Less collapsing on the evening of the second day.  And the morning of the third day, I still felt . . . good.  I have no soreness at all and physically, I feel sort of energized.  My brain, on the other hand, is massively overloaded with new things, corrections to the form, and memories of an amazing experience called Gashko.

(If you’re curious to learn more, here’s a link to the US site:  http://www.chengmingusa.com/home. The Israeli site is in Hebrew: http://www.taichi.co.il/.)

A few blurry images from the closing ceremony