Friday, November 28, 2008

As promised I made it to Tel Aviv to clear my head..... as I sat on the beach the most amazing formations of geese or ducks flew overhead against the setting sun. I didn't catch the geese on camera.... but I did catch the sea in its splendor

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Israelis are known for their ingenuity and inventiveness - some things are world changing, others are just plain practical, even if a bit odd. Municipal trees are often knocked down by cars backing up or parking on the sidewalk, so someone decided to plant their own, and protect it with an old worn out desk chair

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Exhaustion Jerusalem Style

It was one of those Jerusalem nights. There is such intensity here that even if one isn't in the thick of the battle, you would still end up a little loony some days.

I was on my way to a Job Fair hosted by the Merchaz in the Moshava (Center for young olim in the German Colony) and the OU (Orthodox Union). It was a dilemma to know what to wear as I have lost a lot of weight (clapping appreciated) over the past year, and ...well, my wardrobe either looks ridiculous - hanging every which way - or is very very limited in choice. Nonetheless, I finally pieced together what I thought looked not only acceptable but rather nice.

After walking to a bus line a distance away, but one that would deliver me the closest to my destination, I had to play the Waiting Game - a popular form of entertainment for bus riders (related to the game that auto drivers play of who can honk their horn the loudest or who can make the most outrageous U-turn).

Of course, once the bus came it was already packed, and "standing room only" at the beginning of the line did not bode well for the rest of the ride. In addition, I think there must have been a contest today for who could get on the bus with the largest agalah (large bag on wheels - used for buying groceries or whatever you fancy) or the most enormous backpack.

Quite frankly I had never seen such a battle for space, seats and aisle access. I was wedged into a corner in my window seat surrounded by two individuals and their enormous agalot. I was just beginning to wonder how I was ever going to get out of this spot when my stop came, when suddenly the woman facing me looked at me intently and in a very loud voice that the whole bus heard, shouted - "YOU LOOK LIKE A COMEDIENNE." A comedienne? I heard myself saying. "WELL, YOU SHOULD BE ONE!," she shouted.

Now, on a better day, I might have thought up a funny one-liner to accentuate her announcement and put everyone at ease, but somehow, tonight, already weary, I didn't feel very funny at all, nor did I find her one bit amusing. In fact, punching her crossed my mind (just kidding). I did think, "well, so much for my choice of outfits to wear tonight, I should make a good impression."

As it turned out, I got several nice compliments and, yes, some nice looks, that made me feel like I didn't look so "funny" after all. The Job Fair was very crowded, and like all Israeli gatherings, it was a bit of a balygan (chaotic, a mess). There were some interesting possibilities, but it was a long evening. Edging my way to the door and very ready to leave, I decided to stop at the table for the Merchaz; it looked like there was a drawing and some "fun" things and I thought it would be a "light" way to end the evening.

The young man at the table said "You were here before!". Well, actually, I wasn't at the table before, but at the job board behind him. "How did you remember me with so many people?" I asked him. He wasn't sure, he just had noticed me he said. (hmmm maybe I DID look like a comedienne) and then he asked if I wanted to win a prize. "Sure," I said, "but..what's the prize?" They were all different, he said, "so draw a slip and we'll find out." I stuck my hand in the box, and won!! ... a free membership to the Merchaz....actually a nice little prize.

Now, what happened next will confirm that either I was trying to enact a self - fulfilling prophecy of being a comedienne or I was totally flaked out, down right bottom line exhausted. I began to fill out the membership form so the girl next to him could make me a membership card. After writing the usual, my name, address, telephone, etc. there was a line that said: Cell number _________
I stared at it, trying to figure out what they were getting at...finally I thought, well, this IS kind of an upbeat spot, they are just trying to put a joke into the process...asking for your cell number. I even wrote "haha" on the line.

Proceeding to fill out the rest of the form, suddenly it dawned on me what they wanted...and I started to laugh, and then to really laugh, and then...of course they were all staring at me!! How could I explain that I thought they were asking for a cell number in a jail, and that it had never occurred to me that they wanted my cell PHONE number. Between fits of giggles, I muttered something about being really tired and that it was time to go home.

I'll bet they thought, "Oh great, we got a winner with THIS one!!" Now, to be honest, there IS an authentic background for why that would enter my mind instead of the more obvious cell phone. Lately, a lot of my friends and acquaintances in the national camp have found themselves arrested for no reason other than loving Eretz Yisrael, and people are always kind of "in and out" of jail. And then last week, Tamar Yonah of Arutz Sheva posted a blog about a scam being operated out of jail cells, by prison inmates. I guess the input of those two items hadn't moved out of my immediate brain waves to be stored for future use yet. .

Ah well, time to head to Tel Aviv for some beach time and head-clearing in the salty has to do that periodically to be able to cope in this marvelous City.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shabbat Shalom, Ze'ev

Those who know me know that I have some kind of unusual relationship with "people of the street." I don't know what it is....but certain times, certain people ...i am just drawn to...

So it is with Ze'ev. In the 2-1/2 years since I moved to Jerusalem, Ze'ev and I frequently encounter one another at various places throughout the City. But on yom shishi - the friday of erev Shabbat, he sits on his enormous backpack in front of the Super and other stores where I do my Shabbat shopping. He is probably in his 50's, pleasant, very grateful and we always talk a bit.

I don't know Ze'ev's story; one day I will ask, but for now, I see his forlorn look...except when I come by. When he sees me coming, he always brightens up and smiles and sits up tall....and he always says "It is so good to see you." I know he means it. When I inquired after his name, he looked so, you care about my name? was the look on his face. I'm sure no one ever asked him. I make it a point, every time I see him to call him by his name....names are important. They give us identity.

Ze'ev tells me this is his job...and it is. He probably makes fairly good money, maybe more than I do at the moment, and in Israel, people who live like this receive free health care. It is one of the wonders of this country. It doesn't matter that he may have more shekelim than I have, I still make sure I give something to him every week....and I always look forward to it. For whatever reason he has chosen or been forced to choose this kind of life, it must be so lonely and difficult. I can't imagine. Actually, I CAN imagine, and perhaps that's why I am moved to make a difference in his life. I have seen Ze'ev in other ways, at times, about town - times when the reality of not having enough to see him through the day or the week causes a panic in him. It's distressing to watch.

In the hot summer I sometimes take him a cold drink from the coffee shop on the street where he sits; on cold days, I may bring him a hot coffee. I don't assume he wants it, I always ask and every time he is so surprised and grateful.

Today I ran up to the Avenue for the second time, to get, last minute, my Shabbat flowers. I had felt badly this morning that I didn't have any cash for Ze'ev. I stopped and told him that I would have to catch up next week. "Ze beseder," he would say - "It's OK. Shabbat Shalom. It's so good to see you." But, really, I hadn't been by for a couple of weeks as the hard cash in the pocket has been elusive of late. I did however, have my cartise - my credit card. Since I was also needing a coffee before Shabbat set in, I was happy to think I could go to the coffee shop, and charge a couple of coffees. One for me, one and some pastries for Ze'ev.

But Ze'ev wasn't there, he had apparently left for whereever he goes for Shabbat...if he has a place to go..a shelter or kitchen...I don't know. I decided I would ask the store owner, whom I know, if I could "pre-purchase" a coffee or two for Ze'ev. After all I am there many Fridays and sit down to have a cup of coffee. I know the girls who work there too. I didn't think it would be a problem as in Israel most storekeepers are happy to extend credit if you need it, surely they wouldn't object to receiving a payment for more.

What happened shocked me. When I tried to explain what I wanted, first to one girl, then another, then another and finally the owner who was listening to each conversation...not a single one of them knew who I was talking about. Of course I didn't expect them to know his name, but surely they knew about this man who sits every week just a few feet from their door. I had a hard time calling him a beggar, because to me, Ze'ev is just a nice man with a sad life. But they didn't have a clue who he was, totally unaware that someone sat nearby needing people to notice him. I was stunned.

It was then I realized that they never saw him. He was invisible. Something even deeper gripped my soul. To be poor or unable to cope is difficult enough.... but to be invisible to those around never be heard or seen or recognized that you too are a human being with needs... what a painful thing.

I'm not going to judge the storeowner and his workers. I just felt bad for Ze'ev.

So, Ze'ev, though you won't see this, I just want to say to you ...

"Shabbat Shalom, friend, and may your heart prosper in whatever way you need it to. May you have a Shavua tov (good week) after Shabbat is over, and G-d willing, we'll share a coffee another time."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunny Days and a Thirsty Land

The beautiful fall weather continues - deliciously warm and sunny days, chilly nights. Autumn doesn't get much better than this.

Even so, we desperately need the rain and the enjoyment of the lovely warmth is tinged with concern over the future of our water situation here in Israel....a very precarious one, with a looming crisis in the offing.

The Torah tells us something very interesting about the rains in Israel.

י כִּי הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא, אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם: אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק.
10 For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou didst sow thy seed, and didst water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs;

לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--אֶרֶץ הָרִים, וּבְקָעֹת; לִמְטַר הַשָּׁמַיִם, תִּשְׁתֶּה-מָּיִם.
11 but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down;
יב אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ: תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ--מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה. {ס}
12 a land which the LORD thy God careth for; the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. {S}
יג וְהָיָה, אִם-שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם--לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וּלְעָבְדוֹ, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם, וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם.
13 And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,
יד וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר-אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ, יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ; וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ, וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ.
14 that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:10-14 (verses and translation:

The Torah is saying that Israel isn't like Egypt where the crops and land are watered by irrigation trenches etc. The Land of Israel, which G-d watches over continually, will be watered only by the rains from heaven. And those rains are dependent upon us, His People. These verses are directed to the nation, not to individuals.

If we as a nation hearken and re-hearken (hearken in this passage is a double verb) to the commandments that G-d gives us - "to love G-d and serve Him with all our heart and soul " - THEN He will bring the rains in their seasons, the former and latter rains. If we choose NOT to hearken to His Word to us to love Him and serve Him with our whole heart, then G-d will withhold the rain.

It's pretty straightforward. The verses continue to define the parameters of "the Land" in question. In verse 24: .."Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the hinder sea shall be your border."

As a people we may have endless discussions about the commandments and what they mean or don't mean, but in this context, at it's simplest, spurning the very Land that G-d cares for, and which His eyes are continually upon, SURELY is not indicative of loving G-d and serving Him with our whole heart.

On the contrary, from Gush Katif to Amona, from Yitzhar to Hebron, we have not loved and defended the Land. And instead of serving G-d (let alone with our whole heart!) we are serving a god of false peace by offering up the Land of Israel.

If we don't love the Land He loves, with the deepest of passion, and we have the temerity to try to give it away, why should He bring the rains for our hills and valleys to drink up??

This goes for the collective nation, across all segments -from the most devoutly observant to the most secular secular. As a People, we have only brought this pending water crisis upon ourselves (along with several other pending crises).

As a People we can do teshuva and begin to love that which G-d loves....and to hearken to His Word. ....we must!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Relecting on the Election

Nir Barkat has won the mayoral seat in Jerusalem - for which I am thankful....I hope!! One never knows with politicians how things will actually shake out in reality...but he seemed to me to be the best candidate.

There were a few irregularities, but all in all it seemed to be a quiet but interesting race. The turnout was lower than expected (37% in Jerusalem) but what caught my attention was that there seemed to be a LOT of involvement and interest from the younger crowd - people in their 20's and 30's - for all parties and candidates. THIS is really good news I feel, and am encouraged that there is interest and excitement amongst the younger group - where sometimes there is apathy and disinterest.

One of the parties which ran for city council (and who garnered 2 mandates or seats) is a party called Hitorerut B'yerushalayim in Hebrew, or Wakeup Jerusalem-Yerushalayim. (known simply as Hitorerut (Wake up!) ) It is a combination of both secular and religious young people, which also is an encouraging sign - that religious and secular groups are working together for the good of the City. I will be intereviewing some of the leaders of this movement to tell you more about it. Watch for some forthcoming pieces on them.

As things settle down now in City Hall, our thoughts turn to the pending national elections....heavier on our hearts because of the vital and strategic importance of it and the leadership that will emerge. But I have to say, at least elections are finally forthcoming and this corrupt government that is now in place will hopefully be put aside. We live in an hour of great peril but also one of great possibility.

Which will we choose???

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Polls Have Closed

Well, it's over . We voted and now we wait for the results. I went early this morning and young people representing the various parties were situated with tables and handouts - just in case you hadn't decided yet how to vote. It was quite a smooth procedure once in the voting station (mine was in a local school building as were many). Mayoral candidates were each identified by a yellow slip with their name on it, and City Council parties all were designated by two letters standing for the party (e.g.טב ) and each one had a white slip. So, you pick up the yellow slip for the Mayor you want, and the white slip for the council party you want to vote for, stick them in the corresponding color-coded envelopes, drop the envelopes in the box ..and voilà, you are done!! Slick!
So who is winning? The final votes won't be counted 'til morning, if then, but the exit polls in Jerusalem are showing secular Barkat winning over hareidi candidate Porush. Much of the national religious camp favored Barkat because they felt he was the best candidate to deliver a unified City and have the most influence regarding the issue Olmert and others have dangled over our heads - that of dividing Jerusalem between Jewish and Arab populations.
There were some interesting incidents.....hareidim blocking voters from going into the polls, Arab leaders forbidding the Arab population to vote, which is another story altogether, slips for Barkat reportedly disappearing, and Porush supposedly bringing busloads of people who are somehow Jerusalem residents but living in other Israeli cities, into Jerusalem to vote. Since the polls closed at 10 pm and Barkat was needing a large turnout, all through the evening megaphoned cars went through my neighborhood urging people to get out and vote for Barkat - even volunteers knocking at my door late into the evening.
This, for the mayor of Jerusalem.. a teaser for the national elections coming up in February. (we hope!!!!!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Eve

I must say, that on the eve of elections for city mayors and councils all across Israel, I find myself quite excited. Given that I have become rather disillusioned about the power of the vote - anywhere in the world - ( I did NOT vote in America's recent episode) I am a little surprised at my feelings.

It is my first opportunity to vote in Jerusalem - even in Israel. ...and there is not a more important City in all the world. I took this very seriously, talking to many people, listening to the candidates, and I feel I am coming into the election as an "informed voter."

None of them have my 100% support - that is there are issues with which I disagree, with each one. But, in truth, there is also something I like about each candidate - an attitude on one or more subjects, a plan perhaps, or just the persona of the person.

Two weeks ago I received my "invitation to vote" as it is called here. I like invitation to vote. It is simply a notice telling you where your polling place is and information about hours etc. It is your ticket to get in the door of the voting booth. But where else except Israel would it be called an invitation? I felt honored. I've been invited to vote!! NOT like it was in America : With a finger shaking in your face, and screaming "if you don't vote you are a baaaddd person - UN-American, etc. etc." In the US, in recent years I felt it was not so much of a privilege or a responsibility, but something that took on a life of it's own, yet with little consequence. But boy did you feel guilty if you didn't go to that voting booth!

Guilt isn't a big commodity here in Israel though, and so even if I didn't vote I would just feel differently about it. Besides I'm laughing a little, because we all know that the last national election (when WAS it???) was a complete fiasco, and the people of Israel were totally betrayed. In Israel, for the national elections, we vote in a party not a person. Whoever is the head of the elected party becomes the Prime Minister. And in 2001 the nation voted in Likud on a nationalist platform, only to have the head of Likud (Arik Sharon) quit that party and form a new party (Kadima) with a completely opposite agenda from that of Likud...(it was the agenda Likud ran AGAINST, and that agenda was soundly defeated.) YET, amazingly amazingly, Sharon remained the head of the government....with a party that was never, not ever, voted in. The rest is history, as they say....and now we have a prime minister who has resigned ...but is still prime minister..making far reaching and disastrous decisions.

But I digress. Back to my invitation to vote in Jerusalem for Mayor and City Council. Now, we vote for a person for Mayor, and for a party for Council. Even knowing all I do about Israeli politics, I still feel honored to have been invited to vote...and I will do just that tomorrow morning. ...

... keeping you posted and giving you a first hand report on all the excitement.