Monday, December 13, 2010

Shore leave

Really and truly had a date night, how cool is that ?! It's been, well, I really don't know, but a LOOOONG time since DH and I got some downtime all to ourselves to go out and pretend to be carefree newlyweds again. Does that make me sound really old? Hmm.

We found a real babysitter complete with teenage angst, boundless energy and an impressive variety of bodypiercings (and an excellent rapport with the household little people). I only called her twice while we were out and when we got home the kids were asleep and the next morning Junior reported that she'd had a great time and could we go out again and have G come to stay with them?

So what to do with all this freedom? Continue with DH's musical education I guess.

John Lee Hooker Jr, yes, the son of, was in Tel Aviv as part of a European tour and it sounded like a fun way to spend a grown-ups' night out, and boy was it ever. The sheer energy of the man is unbelievable, his dance moves, showmanship, never mind the funky music. Way to make an old married couple of 30something feel young? Watch an almost 60something prance around on stage like he's 21. Very inspiring. I want to have dance moves like John Lee Hooker Jr when I'm nearly 60.

A friend of mine said you can't do R&B (and I mean old time R&B) without a smoky bar and a few pints of beer in front of you, so I guess I couldn't convey the complete experience to DH because a)it was a nightclub outfitted to look vaguely 1930ish with red crystal chandeliers and seating at neat little tables b) however it was still 2010 so no smoking c) DH was driving, so no booze for him and I was so darn knackered that if I'd drunk anything alchoholic I would have facepalmed right into the table raucous electric blues or no raucous electric blues. We made do with lemonade. Hardly authentic, but we're realists.

He sang a lot of original material, catchy in a funky, electric sort of way, some funny wry lyrics which were as much fun as the music. I think the crowd responded even more warmly though to the covers of his father's stuff, not surprising, they are just so well known. Truth be told though TA responds warmly to pretty much any act that comes from abroad, this is a coastal city with its eyes to the world. Bunch of the audience were a typical young crowd there for a night out, whatever the act. There were quite a few expats and tourists consuming far more copious amounts of alcohol than the locals from what I could see, quite scary to watch the sheer extent of the beer guzzling at the next table. Noticed a fair number of oldtimers too though, fans of Hooker Sr, every bit as enthusiastic as the "kids". I thought it was kind of cool to see that  mixed an audience, and I don't think anyone was disappointed, it was music to get you up and moving whatever your age or nationality.

Overall though it was fun, energising and just plain liberating to go out as adults for once. And the warm up act, a local R&B/Blues outfit called Sobo, were pretty cool too. 

Would I do it again? I already have a list of concerts I'd love to get to and another list of possible babysitters lined up. 'Bout time.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hannukah miracles and silver linings

This Hannukah we've certainly had an unwanted kind of light shining in the darkness, a raging, blazing fire right in the middle of the Festival of Light. Instead of lighting candles the country is busy dousing flames.

I would say there was a silver lining in this Hannukah's tragedy, only there really aren't any grey clouds to be seen unless you count plumes of smoke.

The lights of the Hannukiya though are there to remind us of the great Hannukah miracle all those millennia ago, how a foreign power came and tried to extinguish Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, snuff out all observance of the Torah and enforce Hellenisation of the Jews. It didn't work though because we fought back and succeeded in restoring our religious and cultural autonomy, even if Judea remained a vassal state to the mighty Seleucids. You can't always have it all, but you should be gratetful for what you do have.

There was a Rasputin clone (if Rasputin wore ragged jeans and t-shirts) in the post office on Thursday ranting about how the burning of the Carmel, site of Elijah's famous showdown with the false prophets of Ba'al, was a message from God, a sign that the end is nigh. Bunch of folks there, religious and secular alike, were quick to point out that he was seeing things that weren't, that there is no prophecy in our age and would he kindly just shut up and let folks get on with doing post officey things.

Well maybe there are still prophets among us and maybe not, but it doesn't mean God isn't active in the world and doesn't mean we can't learn from events. Question is what are we meant to learn?

Maybe that we're better off than we often think. On this holiday when we celebrate the survival of our nation and culture and faith in the face of Antiochus' decrees which tried to force us to assimilate into the Hellenic world, isn't there something wonderful about a modern independent Jewish state receiving aid from those very Hellenic nations?

It's sad that we need it, sad that maybe the shortsightedness of our leaders required us to have to call in favours from friend and not so much friend alike, but fact is they came running to our aid, treating us like an equal, a fellow sovereign state among the nations. And what's more, many came while expressing their gratitude for the aid we have offered over the years to so many nations in their time of need. It's never easy to ask for help, but how incredible when so many gladly heed the call.

I'm not suggesting this is any great comfort to the 41 who lost their lives, to the many more who lost their homes, their livestock, their life's work. But it is a comfort to a nation which increasingly has to battle hateful lies and attempts at total delegitimisation as part of an ongiong propaganda war against the Jewish state.

It's a war of attrition our enemies have been waging for decades now, rewriting history, denying our right to this land, to our holiest shrines. Even respectable, educated people get taken in by it as we saw with the recent UNESCO decisions denying Judaism's link to the cradles of Jewish history, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (whose exactly? Um, I wonder) and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. Who in their right minds would think that biblical figures like Abraham and Rachel might have anything to do with the Jews?!

The sweet folks behind the assorted anti-Israel delegitimisation campaigns are trying to make us despondent, make us believe that their campaign has made us a pariah state. Their constant harping about divestment and sanctions and boycotts is designed not just to hurt us economically, but to demoralise, make us doubt our survival and purpose and ability to survive. They want us scared of what the future will bring. They want us isolated from the world, cut off from the rest of civilisation.

They want us to think that we have no one to rely on, no friends, no allies.

This weekend's crisis was a massive slap in the face to those enemies. I'm not deluding myself into thinking that suddenly the world loves us, because, well, they have their own interests and we are still just a small country and there are lots of bigger or richer countries who really don't like us and the nations of the world don't think it's in their interest to alienate them by being too friendly with us. I get that. But still, even Jordan and Egypt, despite domestic opposition, sent us aid. Even Turkey with whom we really haven't been getting on well of late. Even Russia which is kind of buddy buddy with some of our worst enemies.

I don't pretend they did it from love, but I hope perhaps they did it in the knowledge that Israel has extended assistance again and again, whether it was the Armenian earthquake in '88 or the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey and Greece, or in '97 when Israel sent firefighting helicopters to Turkey to put out a massive out of control blaze or the 2005 relief efforts to southern Asia after the tsunami, to name just a few.

Many in the world may choose to hate us, but they do know that Israel has and will come through for them over and over again to offer humanitarian aid in time of crisis. Surely as a Jewish nation founded on the notion of being Or Lagoyim, a Light Unto the Nations, that is part of our purpose, to set an example for how decent people the world over should behave. It's a principle laid down in our most sacred texts - even if you see the ox or the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its burden you are required to help. If we've helped to spread that concept around, then we're fulfilling at least part of our mission.

This Hannukah's miracle is very much bittersweet, there's no denying it, and yes, maybe we imagine a miracle as Hashem opening the heavens at exactly the right time and dousing the flames with rain, but we need to open our eyes wider and appreciate the miracle of civilised peoples helping one another. In a crazy fickle world that isn't something to be taken for granted.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seoul Music and Ping Pong Diplomacy

Went for the cultural jackpot today - with Junior to the opera for kids' series in the afternoon, followed by an evening of cool jazz in Jerusalem. Truth be told I'm totally amazed that it all worked out, what with working out babysitting for the baby, then promptly rushing of to Jerusalem, dropping off the kids for an evening of auntie fun and then making it to the theatre in time for the jazz. Very well coordinated, especially for me. 

I guess Korea isn't the first country that comes to mind when you think of jazz acts. For most people it's the country of LG and Hyundai rather than music and the arts. Well this week I suppose we're all thinking of Korea as the flashpoint for a potential armagedon thanks to the lunatic in charge in Pyongyang, but anyway. 

We arrived at the theatre expecting a relaxing evening of jazz, so you'll forgive our inward groans and eye rolls when a guy gets up on stage before the show and announces that actually there will be a little awards ceremony first with a member of the Jerusalem Municipality and an MK and the Korean Ambassador, and you know what? I came to see a show, not for some political posturing, thank you. 

Imagine my surprise when no other than Yuli Edelstein, minister for diaspora affairs and one of my all time favourite political leaders (and I don't have many of those) and childhood heroes, gets up looking rather sheepish, and explains that actually he also came this evening for the jazz but the organisers saw him in the audience and twisted his arm into saying a few words. Poor man, kept his cool and his charm but I think he was just as miffed about being drafted as we felt initially at hearing about said ceremony. 

Being Yuli Edelstein he kept it short and brilliantly beautifully to the point. Who better than he to point out that Israel has often stood in the dark place that South Korea now finds herself, facing unprovoked rocket attacks on her civilians by a tyrannical neighbour. He expressed Israel's sympathy and solidarity with South Korea with such warmth and sincerity that I wanted to hug him on behalf of my very dear South Korean friends. 

Hilik Bar from the Jerusalem city council spoke about warm ties with Korea and the recent boost in Korean tourism to Israel's capital. And his mangling of the Korean language was cute, even if I didn't understand what he said, I could make out the Israeli accent.

Turns out Israel's ambassador to Seoul heard Korean jazz singer Malo and harmonic player Jeon Jeduk perform in the Korean capital and was so taken by them that he decided to try and set up an Israel tour for the duo and their backing band. So far they'ed played Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere, finishing up right here in Jerusalem. Cue little handwave to said ambassador, his wife, his daughter, her boyfriend, all sitting in the audience tonight.

South Korea's ambassador stole the show though, all humble charm, sweetly accented English and wry humour.   He was he explained, used to spending time with Minister Edelstein, his regular ping pong partner. Who knew? 

Finally he tried his hand at some Hebrew and mispronounced it as beautifully as Hilik Bar had Korean, but he'd won the hearts of his Israeli audience who enthusiastically clapped and cheered his initiative. I think he single handedly boosted Israeli tourism to Korea. That man has talent. 

And so to the music. Jeon Jeduk was on first with the band. Blind almost from birth, he was escorted on stage and seated front centre, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses. When he took out his harmonic though you forgot all that, he made it sing like a clarinet, a sax, all kinds of things that definitely did not sound like a harmonica, his face scrunched in concentration, lost in the music. DH, a fan of the clarinet, was truly blown away. I was pretty impressed too. 

I thought Malo, stage name of singer Soowol Cheong, was the highlight of the show though. Her scatting was a joy to listen to, playful and vibrant. She had the audience eating out of her hand. I loved the gentle sound of her native tongue in her jazzy versions of Korean pop tunes (including one that sounded like Hatikva!) while her English singing was almost unaccented.

What can I say, it was fun, it was spirited, and it most definitely had soul. 

Make that Seoul.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ten years on, in case anyone has forgotten

Happened to be going through some old files of mine and came across journal entries I'ed written almost exactly a decade ago. No sweet nostalgia though because they were chilling notes about the early weeks of the Oslo War or Second Intifada, grisly descriptions of the daily bombings, riots, shootings and lynchings with which our dear Palestinian Authority peace partners ripped up the supposed peace accords and unleashed some of the worst and most consistent campaign of terror Israel has seen.

It's amazing what time will do, how far removed I feel today from that fear and confusion and disorientation as day to day life was turned upside down and ordinary citizens felt like they were taking their lives in their hands just by travelling to work or going down to the shops.

I hope that Obama or some of his advisors remember what happened here in October 2000. I hope they realise why ordinary pro-peace Israelis feel nervous, cautious, even fearful about new concessions and a new peace process considering the horrific way in which Oslo quite literally exploded in our faces, mere weeks after the dovish pro-Oslo Barak administration offered PLO chairman Arafat the most drastic concessions ever proposed by an Israeli government.

Barak's government was determined to reach peace that summer. He went out on a limb with a deal which included concessions most Israeli citizens would have found hard to swallow, but which Barak was determined to go through with anyway. Arafat, rather than building on this unprecedented Israeli flexibility walked away from the talks and shortly after initiated an all our terror campaign against Israel which cost the lives of over 1000 Israelis, wounded thousands more, around 70% of those casualties Israeli civilians.

So despite how the foreign press likes to prattle on about Israeli "intransigence" "belligerence" and other sweet little epithets that paint our nation, or at least our leadership as little better than the Mongol hordes, the actual reason Joe Israeli feels nothing but trepidation in the face of renewed American and European and general international pressure for more concessions, more relaxing of security, is none of these, just simple self-preservation from a people who were so badly burned the last time they went out on a limb for peace.

It's the same reason all the campaigns to boycott, scream at, delegitamise and otherwise blacklist the Jewish state are mostly met with indifference and nose thumbing by Israelis. Better than any American or European "peace" activist, we know what the horrors of war are, we know what it means to leave the house for work in the morning without knowing whether we'll return home in one piece, if at all.

We've been there and done that and we know that the only thing that stopped it in the end was military action and the construction of the security fence. Not talks, not concessions not fairweather ceasefires that leaked attacks like sieves. Nothing worked to stop the daily Palestinian perpetrated carnage on Israeli streets until Israel's military finally was given the green light to aggressively go after the terror networks and infrastructure riddling Gaza and the West Bank. Would that all those visits by Zinni, Powell, Mitchell and their buddies had yielded results, but at the end of the day they produced nothing but hot air and empty platitudes.

Increasingly many Israelis have come to the realisation that perhaps there is no solution to be had right now, that all we can do is try to muddle through as best we can. It's not a pleasant thought, and it doesn't mean there won't be attempts to make things easier for all the peoples living in this troubled little corner of the world, but it does mean that people are more cautious about grand peace talks and grand concessions which open us up to more Oslo era terror.

Some people look at all this and dismiss us as a PTSD nation, and maybe there is some truth to that. I don't think anyone lives through such an extended period of life threatening daily terror without experiencing some kind of long term trauma. But that isn't at the root of our present day caution or our increased resolve not to bend to international will. No, I'd say it was common sense.

Doesn't mean that when push comes to shove the Israeli leadership will hold firm, but for the sake of all Israel's citizens, I pray that they do.

Peace is nice, but only if you are alive to enjoy it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Starry starry night...

If we didn't have to choose a place of residence based on mundane considerations like jobs and work and stuff like that I think our family would long ago have moved to somewhere in the boonies, probably out in the desert.

I think it each time we visit some desert boiberik community, feast my eyes on those bleak vistas and feel the cool chill of an evening desert breeze and my soul just screams to me that this is where I should be, not cooling my heels in the Middle Eastern equivalent of white picket fence country. Oh, but practicality rules and darn if we don't have to consider things like commuting distance and job markets.

I got a double dose of desert fixes last week, Judean and Negev deserts in one week, both as enchanting and soul searing as ever. Truly, it hurt to leave, however much I like my home, and really, I do, well, most of the time.

Mitzpe Ramon perched on the rim of the dramatic Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon) really takes the soul food cake for me though. As towns go it's a tiny, neglected one-horse affair of a place (well, maybe 2 or 3 horses, but it doesn't look big enough for that). But look out beyond that aging low-rise tenements and the old concrete prefab houses and your heart gets caught in your throat as the red cliffs drop away to the vast Makhtesh in all its multi-hued rough and ready glory.

I finally fulfilled a long-time dream this week and went out there to view the Perseid meteor shower. The town is home to Israel's biggest telescope and a team of astronomers taking advantage of the high elevation and clear desert skies. And the town takes advantage of them, promoting events like the Perseids to bring visitors in, though I think most of the folks who crowded in to the town's sad little football stadium (think scrubby field with a fence and a few rows of bleachers against one wall) were locals or at least other southerners.

The municipality turned off all the town's lights for the event and the effect was just incredible, so many stars and so many constellations and a bevy of astronomers with telescopes to show you delights like the bands on Jupiter or a binary star system (I will never doubt SF writers again, well, maybe at least a little less).

Sure, early on in the evening there were annoying crowds of noisy families waving their torches (flashlights) around and screwing with my night vision, but then there were also fascinating lectures and for the grand finale, before the astonomers went of somewhere even darker, there was a guided tour of the desert sky with laser to point out the constellations usually washed out by the pollution of urban glow.

Then the astronomers left and we common folk were left to just enjoy the show.The pose of girls behind me were musically inclined and kept bursting into song. Fortunately they were all blessed with beautiful, melodious voices. Seemed to be into Israeli oldies, which was kind of surprising for a bunch of late-teens and 20-somethings, but that was kind of cool, seeing as I kind of dig that sort of thing myself. Even found myself singing along some of the time.

The middle-aged guys camping out to the left spent most of the time yakking about their army days in the 70s, who served when, where and how, occasionally lapsing into arguments over which remembered buddy had done what when. It was kind of like listening to some classic Israeli comedy from 30 years ago. Then they lapsed into car buying talk and I zoned out because, well, minivan versus small truck comparisons in the wee hours just doesn't do it for me.

It was actually kind of nice to lie back on my blanket at around 02:00, the kids finally asleep snuggled up next to me against the desert chill, watching the lazy streak of meteorites across the sky. And yeah, I've seen more spectacular meteor displays, truly I have, but I still enjoyed this one, some incredibly bright ones, clearly flaming, red taking many seconds for their trails to fade from the sky.

Beautiful or not it was damn cold.

That was a real treat for Israel in August.

By the Perseid peak at 03:00 most other folks had either left or gone to sleep, and it was so wonderfully peaceful and the vast starry sky was so achingly mind blowing that it felt like a religious experience, the secrets of creation just spread out like a treasure map for me to puzzle out.

I guess when all is said and done I really am kind of sappy at heart.

And yes, I will confess that Don Maclean did briefly flit through my mind, but Matti Caspi gave him a firm shove, followed by, well, Psalms. And Led Zeppelin. No, I don't know why, it just seemed fitting.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Origin of Satan

Nothing like taking some sick time to finally get around to some reading. Or should I say, nothing like being forced to take some sick time, because I have spent most of the last week or so in bed or coughing myself silly in an armchair because when I was coughing myself silly in bed I kept waking up the baby. 

While I was visiting the US I got caught up with the recent seasons of Supernatural, the drama/horror series currently dabbling in apocalyptic themes. Made me decide to read the New Testament again, well, that and ODing on so much Johnny Cash while Stateside, so many Christian themes in his music, made me want to go back and research the source, which in turn reminded me that I never finished Elaine Pagels fascinating book "The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics".  

No, this is not a study of the occult nor a book that particularly deals with anything particularly Satanic, rather it's a fascinating look at early Christian history and how early Christianity portrayed its opponents in terms of the demonic or satanic. 

Rereading the New Testament after many years was quite an eye opener. I don't think I'd ever really noticed just how much emphasis there is on exorcisms and Satan, how many references that pop up in everyday English and American discourse have their origins in the Christian text itself. Certainly that disconnect between how Judaism traditionally tends to view Satan and the much greater emphasis Christianity seems to place on Satan has always piqued my curiosity, especially the way it impacts popular culture and frames of reference. 

I would be the first to admit that I don't know much about Christianity, I am an observant Jew after all, but religion has always been a favourite interest of mine. I first picked up Pagels' book when taking a course about the European witchcraze at college. I think that's probably also the last time I read the New Testament, trying to understand where it all came from, get into the heads of the European clerics at the time, trying to understand how they came to the conclusions they did. I don't remember noticing how many stories of possessions and exorcisms there were that time around, but I should have, seeing as that was very much an issue during the tail end of the witchcraze. Strange to say, but to the best of my knowledge actually reading the New Testament, or at least the passages relating to possession and exorcism, and how these might have, must have, directly influenced those events, wasn't on the course reading list. How could they have even taught such a course without that kind of a primary source? For that matter, I don't remember whether Pagels' book had come out yet, but it should be required reading for such a course too.

I guess to an extent I'm sucked in to Pagels' book as much by the history as by the theology and exegesis, such a critical period in determining both the fate of Judaism and Christianity, indeed the identity of what was to become the Western world, getting into the voice of Josephus and trying to imagine the turbulence and chaos of the period, the uncertainty, the doubts that must have plagued to many faithful, the destruction of so much of the Jewish people, the insanity of taking on the might of Rome. It really is quite terrifying. And the signs of so much of it are still visible in the landscape of this region to this day.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Oh, how I've missed you...

I guess this is lame, but I really, really missed vegetables while I was in the US.

I mean, I understand why say in Iceland or Norway or elsewhere in northern Europe they didn't seem to be big on salads and veg, I think Iceland had the most expensive fresh veggies I've ever come across in my life. I get that, those aren't countries really suited to growing a lot of the stuff locally so it kind of breaks the bank. Make up for it with great fish though.

The US though, they have a huge country with plenty of areas where the climate is perfect for growing veggies. There was even some pretty good produce in the stores (not usually on par with the UK, certainly not with Israel, but then I guess I am a little spoiled), but hardly anyone seems to use it.

Am I missing something?

Here no meal is complete without salad, and by salad I mean finely chopped cukes and tomatoes, probably red pepper, maybe parsley or coriander or onions. And any nice meal ideally comes with a whole bunch of salads, some raw, some cooked. In short, vegetables are a big staple.

Just about everywhere we went in the US folks thought a few lettuce leaves maybe with a berry and a shredded carrot for decoration was a salad. Most meals seemed to be some kind of protein and a grain, plus the aforementioned scrappy lettuce leaves. If we were lucky there might be a cooked vegetable, maybe a sweet potato or if we were really lucky, some kind of squash, twice we got really really lucky and there was asparagus.

That was main meals. I thought breakfast was even stranger (and Americans mostly thought my tastes were bizarre), I mean, is it that peculiar to have veggies and salad at breakfast? Apparently. And yes, I have travelled before, quite a bit over the years, but I'ed forgotten this lack of veggies in America, it has been a few years.

It drove me nuts. Weeks and weeks of veggie deprivation, and I started to get real hungry.

What gives?

And what do people do with the bounty of produce in the stores? OK, so when I broke and went out and bought some myself and managed to find sometime between visits and baby to cook it, I discovered that much of it tasted kind of weird. Blandest galangal I have ever had (didn't even smell much of anything, for a second I wondered if I had accidentally bought Jerusalem artichoke, but no, it really was flavourless galangal). The basil was all kind of sweet, like licorice, not richly flavoured the way it is at home. Coriander also felt odd. Cucumber had no flavour. Onions were much milder.

So yeah, it is good to be home among the veggies again. Made a huge pot of tomato-coriander soup, just hit the spot. And dined on lots of chopped up Israeli salad almost every day I've been home. Veggies, oh how I've missed you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A foreign city without soldiers

So the strangest thing about the US, well, kind of felt like this a bit in the UK too, but it feels more pronounced here, the strangest thing is the way people just live here, a nation a supposedly at war, and it feels like nothing, because the wars are so far away that unless you are yourself in the armed forces or a relative or close friend of someone who is, you just forget about it, except maybe for worrying about your tax dollars or something and it is all just so weird.

There is no Thursday evening crush of soldiers home on weekend passes, no uniforms at every turn, no draft, as in the Israeli song, this is a foreign city without soldiers, and it is just so true, even in DC or Norfolk or Groton, the vibe is just different. All those quirky little things in Israel, like the way folks with gun permits casually go armed, friends who come to tea with a sidearm in their belts, because, that is life, and folks living in dangerous areas go openly armed, they way the guard at the mall asks if you are carrying a weapon or the tannoy at the airport reminds people that weapons are not allowed there, in the same voice she uses to remind you that smoking is only permitted in designated areas.

It isn't that back home I notice these things so much, they just are, but here in the US I notice their absence, like something is missing, and I know I've written about this before, but each time I visit the US it hits me all over again, especially visiting the US at a time when that country is at war.

Because (as far as I know) you can't get a 24 hour (let alone a 12 hour) pass to come home to the US from Iraq or Afghanistan - it can take that long just to make the journey back. So for most people the wars their country is fighting become academic, arguments about morals and resources and politics, not, well, either we fight or the guys who have homes an hour away from our homes will get even bigger missiles and target our homes too. I mean, no, I don't have that though in the back of my mind all the time or even most of the time, but it's there. I know its a real threat.

It isn't in the US though and I can't decide whether that makes me jealous of this sense of peace, or worried that these folks don't really understand what's out there, especially the guy sitting the White House screwing over my country because (I think) he believes that sacrificing us will bring world peace. And yeah, that is kind of upsetting, but nothing new there, enough people have believed that for enough years, even a few presidents, though nothing quite as extreme as this I think.

But leaving personal fears for my country aside, I feel like the people here just dont get what's out there, hating them, wanting to hurt them, because its so far away, and maybe that's good, because it means that the perpetrators of 9-11 didn't win, didn't get to break America, but it's bad because it means that the people here don't understand that there are hate filled people around the world just waiting for another chance to make the US hurt, and they'll take any chance they can get.

I can't quite get my mind around the idea of a front so far away that, well, it's quite genuinely out of sight out of mind. Not that in Israel life didn't go on more or less as usual with a front an hour or so away from home, and perhaps that is even crazier than the way things are in the US with it half a world away, but still, I think that we all know back home that normalcy, however much we live it on a daily basis, is a fragile, precious thing, because every security check and every kid in uniform reminds us of the price we pay. And maybe I have a bee in my bonnet, but even post 9-11, Americans just seem to take that freedom and security for granted, save perhaps for friends and family in NY who saw and felt that fateful day's events up close and personal, whose lives were forever changed by it the way Lebanon and Oslo and Gaza changed ours, but maybe not even them. 9-11 was a one time thing, not continuous, wave after wave of there but for the grace of God like we live with every few years.

More than anything though is this feeling of either blithe false security or plain ignorance or maybe real safety, I don't know, the way there are no security checks when you go into the mall or a sporting event, hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and it's all just wide open, because hey, they security check like wackos at the airport, so nothing can get in, right? (And of course without profiling, they can't screen effectively.) It all just feels so vulnerable, so open, so unprotected.

It was weird hearing a lecture about Mid East events given by an American to Americans, just being an Israeli fly on the wall and listening to people's views and ideas. Really weird. And a bit creepy, seeing as this is the country trying to save the world, well, I think it is, maybe it's just trying to protect its own interests, but it's nice to think that the US still has the idealism to protect freedom and democracy worldwide. Maybe.

So after this talk, some people are chatting in the lobby, and someone is self-righteously going on about how Israel should just smash Gaza and kick out its residents (well, its not as if her sons or husband are going to have to to the fighting or expelling, so who cares if someone else is going to do the dirty work), and how crazy it is that Israelis have lived with missiles for so long (and yes, it is, and they still are) and my kid, not yet 5, pipes up and says, well, you don't really need to worry about the missiles, it's OK, when you hear the siren you just get under a heavy table or run for your shelter, and the woman just gapes, and my daughter adds, it's the same as the earthquake drill, rooms without windows are good too.

And yeah, I did teach my kid what to do, and yes, I pray with all my heart she never needs to, and no, it isn't what I planned on having to teach my toddler, but I would rather she know and be prepared than for God forbid that siren come and she doesn't know what to do. Well, this American woman looks at me in shock, and I explain that I believe my kid needs to know, and that in Israel, Memorial Day is something real and palpable and we explain it to the little kids, as generally and obliquely as possible, but they get the idea, they know why there is a memorial siren on Memorial Day and Holocaust Memorial Day, because that is life, and we don't dwell on it (subject matter of this post aside, I really try not to go into it with my kids), but they need to know, so they know. Does it harm their childish innocence, maybe, means they know a little more about the real world that I hope to God I didn't need to explain to them, sadly, yes, I think so, but it's not like I explain the details.

So I guess that is what is bugging me, a mix of feeling plain insecure because of the lack of a security presence here, but also just a disconnect with how people feel in their world, a lack of realism, a feeling of fantasy, and that's not the cliched critique of American materialism and consumption, I think that goes on in much of the world, though the scale of it here is staggering, no, it's more the mindset, the way people are so removed from a lot of what their country is doing, or just the way life is elsewhere in the world. Like my standard critique of all the sci-fi shows where the American explorers tell the aliens what life is like on Earth, and they basically mean what life is like in America, because if John Crichton had been from Israel he would have landed on his feet much sooner in the Uncharted Territories.

Friday, February 05, 2010

At long last

It does me good it does to see such a wet, stormy winter. Not wet and stormy enough, but I will be thankful for what is. Won't help our severely depleted water supply, decimated by years of drought, but rain means hope, and winter isn't over yet.

I happened to be in the UK this winter, for the first time, in, well, I don't quite remember, but a long time. It never ceases to amaze me how different rain feels there. Yes, rain is a big deal here and it rains all year round there, granted, but that's not it.

It's the light, the way the grey, dark buildings there just seem so oppressive in the grey, wet weather. Here, even with the storm clouds clamping down darkening even the usually bright Mid Eastern noon, there seems to be a glimmer, a luminosity, something in the light Jerusalem stone and whitewashed stucco that brightens the gloom.

Then there is the smell. The rain just smells different here, don't know why, but it does. Wonderfully fresh, vibrant, envigorating. There it just seems to smell of wet overcoats and petrol laced puddles.

More than anything though is the excitement. The way kids long to make use of their umbrellas and wellies, only useful for a few short months a year. I guess it's the way kids in England hope for snow. The anticipation of the first rains of the season is one thing, but each and every rainful during the short wet season is welcomed for the miracle of life that it brings.

Yes, this is the land of uncertainty, the slope of the volcano where anything can happen, where the fragile balance of the natural world feels more palpable than in many other places, but that is also why I think we feel more accutely God's presence on this earth, where the difference between life and death is dependent on a few paltry months of rain