Monday, December 31, 2007

A very good friend of mine was invited last Wednesday on a trip to Israel, for free, on the following Sunday. He applied to work for a political action committee (PAC), a lobby on Capitol Hill, and they hired him over the phone. Truth be told, he had no idea what he was hired to do, what exactly his role was, or what they expected from him. They just said, "Come to Israel for 8 days, for free, and get the real inside scoop on the government." This organization, which I will not directly name, is the second most powerful lobby in America. Let's just say this: If you hate the corruption on Capitol Hill, you'll name this group. If you hate Israel, you'll name them. Those that say 'Jews control everything,' cite this PAC first.

So, my buddy goes on the trip, only to find out that he absolutely hates it all. All the kids are pompous, egotistical, selfish brats; their only goal is to be wielders of supreme power. One kid started every new statement with the declaration, "When I'm a Congressman..." Who does that? Naturally, I asked if the other kids all rolled their eyes. He responded, "Nope. They all thought, 'Well, that's fine, but...When I'm a Senator.'" Half of them want to be Congressmen. The other half want to be Congresswomen.

The point of this post is about the last governmental trip they made. This organization, considering its influence, is able to get insider access to things that normally are off-limits to Israeli government workers themselves. For example, they toured one of the Israeli rocket companies factory. They sat in the 'head of state' section during a live parliament session. The prime minister's spokesman had a private meeting with them. And so on.

The last trip that they made was to the police's headquarters here in Jerusalem. First, they had to be individually screened just to be let inside the premises. This is fairly normal for Israel, to have your bag checked or to go through a metal detector, but they were screened, if you catch my drift. Next, to go into a more sensitive area, their faces were biometrically scanned. They had to step up to a computer monitor on the wall, stand close to it, and stand still as the sensors made a digital map of their face. Finally, they found themselves in the anti-terrorism nerve-center operated by highly trained computer techs and the number one anti-terrorism force in the world.

They were led into a large room, like something you'd see in a movie about impending nuclear war, with monitors all over the walls, men and women in uniform, and strange codewords floating through the air. The guide showed them a wall of security feeds, each showing different areas of Jerusalem. A technician is able to move the position of the camera, in real time, with a pure high definition feed not skipping a beat. From the downtown district to the Western Wall in the Old City, these cameras have a tighter lock on Jerusalem than Webster does on the dictionary. The camera quality is so good that the technician directed the to a live feed, moved the camera on its pivot, and proceeded to zoom in all the way onto a rabbis prayer book, displaying the letters on the page as vividly as if you were reading it yourself. 100% true story.

After sufficiently blowing their minds, the guide led them to a conference room, where the group had an interview with a New York City anti-terrorism bigwig. This guy is in Jerusalem for a few months, in order to learn from the police how to fight terrorism. The NYC officer informed the group that he's been in law enforcement for thirty years, and he thought he knew everything, but in the couple months he's been around Israel, he feels like he is a new-born rookie. Jerusalem stops dozens of planned terrorist attacks each month, week, and sometimes each day. They are constantly on the move. I personally have witnessed a dozen packages and abandoned suitcases being torn apart by remote controlled robots, being charged with electricity, and even shot by the robot himself. Once, it was a real bomb, but they caught it just in the nick of time. If anyone has experience with terrorism, it is Jerusalem.

NYC is getting its anti-terror tactics from real pros: The Jerusalem Municipal Underpaid Overworked Police Force. So don't worry about me over here, we're protecting you, New York.

Click on the picture for a larger view.

Honestly, how can you look at that picture and not understand why a young Jewish person wouldn't want to be here?

Friday, December 28, 2007

I don't know how many of you follow the news, but if you even glanced at it, you'll see that the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, has been assassinated. Over the past few months there has been a restriction on freedoms and civil rights by Musharraf, the current Prime Minister, and Bhutto was fairly outspoken on the regression of the Pakistani government and society. Pakistan is a Muslim country, torn between extremist groups (they are heavy supporters of Al Qaida) and moderates (such as Bhutto).

Everyone saw Bhutto as a great "bridge" between the Western world and entrenched Muslim societies. She could have served in some type of special position, a position to rectify the differences that often find our two spheres in conflict. She was also a potential peace-broker for Israel and the Middle East, considering her ability to relate to the Muslims, and her slightly more moderate stance (relative to, I dunno, Hamas negotiators).

But, alas, she was gunned down. Assasinated. This situation is just about the same to Pakistan as the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was to Israel. Or JFK to America. Kinda. Also, she was killed in the same location, after giving a speech, as the first prime minister of the country.

The greatest chance of true democracy and personal freedoms in Pakistan has just died. Another country bound to support terror and Islamic facism? Maybe. Probably. Quite likely.

And the rioting begins...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas to all of you celebrators out there. Peace, Love, and Harmony to every human, Christian or Shinto.

Anyway, you all should check out this article about today's immigration of Iranian Jews to Israel.

The history of Jews in Iran is really quite old, but the majority of this minority left Iran by the 1980s. The Shah's regime fell and was replaced with the anti-progressive, regressive, Iranian theocracy that has seen the rise of a modern day Hitler. So, us Jews in Israel are thanking our stars that the 200 new Israelis this year are from the most tumultuous place in the world; at least for Jews.

It's funny for me to read the news and hear the world support Iran, in her nuclear ambitions, and then to hear about these immigrants. I came to Israel for positive reasons, to elevate myself in Judaism and to join in the struggle for the future of this free, democratic state. Those Jews had the devil behind their backs, chasing them, tearing away their freedoms and threatening their survival. I came on my own terms. They came because of the nature of other people. I came because it's hard to learn Hebrew in America. They came because Hebrew is illegal in Iran! I came voluntarily; they were nearly forced to.

If ever Jews and Christians were both celebrating on Christmas, today is that day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

According to most all societies in the world, I rank among the taller crowd. I like to think that I tower above you mere ants, looking down upon your bald spots and dandruff, atop my position of prestige;-- just kidding? No, honestly, I realize that I am taller, but I don't think about it or find it to make me different from anyone else. This is just who I am.

Nationalities, or ethnicities, have general height parameters. The German and Scandinavian blood-lines tend to be quite tall. Various Asian ethnicities find their people to be extraordinarily short, at least by what we're used to in America. Along those lines, Israelis (Jews, remember), tend to be of medium height. Just like America, Israel is chock full of people from all over the world. The Russians here are generally tall, while the Sephardic (Middle-Eastern) Jews are generally shorter, at least in relation to the Ashkenazim (European Jews). So, like America, the average height is in the mid to upper five foot range, with quite a few six footers, and quite a few baseline five footers. So, I'm not like a Jewish Yao Ming out here, or something.

That being said, children find me to be monstrously tall no matter where I go in the world. This past school year I was babysitting a family of mentally challenged kids once a week, and found myself playing with about 15 kids from the cul-de-sac all day long, each week. The 6 year olds couldn't get enough of climbing all over me, wanting to see what it is like up in the clouds. I'm big compared to the typical 4 foot child.

So, I was walking down the street with a friend a few days ago, minding my own business, when we chanced upon a group of 11 year olds lazily kicking a soccer ball around. We were on course to walk by them, and from a block away I saw them all start staring. I was with an attractive female, so I wasn't thinking anything of it, until we were close-by and noticed that all eyes were on me.

"He looks like a basketball player!"
"No, he looks like a... He looks like a murderer!"
"Murderer, Murderer, MURDERER!!!"

I was wearing a grey and black outfit... So I grabbed my friend, looked behind me at the crowd, and pretended to go James Bond on her. The kids loved it. Hey, what can I say, I was born to be in the Mossad.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The conventional way to get a raise in this country is by striking. One of the teacher unions has been on strike for about two months or so, asking for a raise and more class-time per week. They finally ended the drawn-out affair, with a whopping 55 day vacation. This was a big deal, a huge deal, which struck at the heart of Israel's true concern: A piss-poor education system, due to budgetary constraints. The frustration on both sides, governmental and educational, was so palpable that a month ago there was a rally of a hundred thousand people in Tel Aviv; certainly the biggest in Israeli history, and according to a friend, the biggest education rally in a Western country.

The protesters could be seen everywhere for those two months. Children and parents, teachers and administrators, walking down the street with signs and whistles, chants and donation pleas -- they were everywhere. It was really a sight to see. For two months they could be found on Emek Refaim, a street commonly packed with Americans, here in Jerusalem, walking up and down with billboards. Then, one could walk down my own street, an out of the way area of Jerusalem, and see 50 kids protesting the government's lack of funding. The ability of these people to strike is really remarkable...but I suppose they have plenty of experience.

Anyway, today on, an English news source in Israel, there is an article about the government considering a 'privatization of the ulpanim.' An ulpan is an intensive Hebrew language course, which is essential for a country like Israel. Israel was built on the backs of immigrants, and after WW2 the country was flooded with people speaking literally dozens of languages. Spanish to Arabic to French to German to Russian to Farsi to Hungarian to English to Dutch to Greek to Italian to Martian -- the list does not stop. So, the country had to come up with a way to teach all these people the common Jewish language, Hebrew. The ulpan was born, and its need is still pressing, with immigrants coming from every continent on earth (and if there were Jews on Antarctica, they'd come from there as well).

I myself participated in a shortened ulpan almost two years ago, and it did more for my Hebrew in a month than any college course could do in two years! Starting January 15th, I'm starting a 5 month program; 5 months, 5 days a week, 5 hours a day. That's immersion, but it does the trick, and it's the #1 thing on my plate. I'm going to give it my all, and even if I'm the worst in my class (which I won't be), I will still learn volumes worth. And, the beautiful part is, this course is free for me because I'm a new citizen. The way the government has it set up is that when a new citizen arrives, they have a few years to take an ulpan for free. No strings attached. This is a Hebrew speaking country, and if you don't speak it, there is no way to really break into society. If you're a Mexican in America, you've gotta learn to speak English in order to get nearly any non-labor jobs. If you want to be a merchant in Japan, you better learn Japanese. If you want to work in Israel, it's best to speak Hebrew -- and the government knows, and actively encourages this integration.

So, in order to make room for the new budget for these teachers, the ones that were on strike, the government is strongly considering letting go of this necessary system. A system that has worked charms for 60 years. Amihai, the director-general of the Education Ministry, says that they want to transfer the ulpan structure from Education to the Immigration Ministry, and effectively wipe their hands clean of the mess. The Jerusalem Post reports, "Amihai told the committee on Tuesday that the plan was indeed to reduce the number of ulpan teachers, which currently stands at 600, to a mere 300 by January 1 and to cut up to NIS 40 million from the ulpan budget, in order to cover the pay increase promised to the country's teachers after the recent teacher's strike." So, they would transfer the system to a weaker ministry, cut the budget by half, and also cut the work force by half...all before January 1st. That's about two weeks away.

I start my ulpan, the oldest ulpan in Israel, a government backed institution, in less than a month. I wonder if I will actually have an ulpan to go to?

The private ulpanim, like those at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, are well known to be the best in the country, but they aren't supported by the government, and therefore cost a pretty penny. Or should I say, a pretty shekel?

This whole situation reminds me of a guy that was running for governor of Virginia, a decade ago. Jim Gilmore ran his entire campaign on the slogan, "NO CAR TAX," and the scary part is that he won. I was 13 years old, but I still vividly remember those signs being everywhere. His scheme was pretty dumb, however, and they just siphoned off other taxes in order to support the Transportation Board...a scheme that did not work, and put the state into even worse debt. The correlation between the No Car Tax trick and the raise in the education budget here in Israel is that both systems are trying to keep an overall system balanced, while effectively unbalancing the entire structure. We cannot simply just will-it-to-be that these teachers can have a bigger budget, while nothing else changes. The raise for one thing must be a decrease for another. That does sound like balance, but in truth, everything here is under-budget, so by making one sector satisfied, another is forced into chains; Crippled.

Unfortunately, Israel has to spend an inordinate amount of her money on defense, money that should be spent on better causes. That's what baffles me when it comes to the American budget. Why exactly does America need to spend trillions on a military, while there is essentially zero need to defend the land? Israel is constantly in a struggle to hold on to its very capital, and so the military budget is necessary, even over the education of our children. The need to breathe is more important than the need to spell.

Still, somehow, Israel found the resources to protect a wave of Sudanese refugees knocking on our border, knocking because they knew that Israel had the heart to take them in, even for a little while.

So, maybe if the United Nations stepped in and did more than just talk, Israel could actually educate her children and her immigrants?

Monday, December 17, 2007

I suppose I should't be ashamed to tell anyone, especially if they read my blog, that I fancy myself a writer. All through my childhood I was encouraged by teachers and family (i.e.- my mom) to write; I was encouraged to develop my writing skills. I'm not sure if I'm a good writer, or if I'll ever be able to actually publish anything, but it is my dream. There's something comforting in knowing what you really would like to be, no matter how far off it may be.

I would like to write modern classics. I read so much from the 19th century, and I am obsessed with the supernatural ability of those writers to combine narrative with philosophy, mystery with psychology, and superficial with the super-serious. There is, nonetheless, a terrible feeling inherent in reading, and wanting to emulate the giants of the novel; A daunting mix of inspiration and intimidation. How could I ever hope to walk alongside Dickens, gamble with Dostoyevsky, or sail with Melville? I could never, of course, but since when did our dreams have to be so realistic?

I made this post because I was reading over my last post, and noticed the disordinate amount of times I used the word "despite" to start a sentence. My writing is, and always has been, plagued with the use of the 'conjunctive adverb.' However, despite, therefore, nevertheless. Also, if you'll notice, I started each paragraph of this post with the same word, "I." Another classic mistake in first person writing. I never said that I thought myself worthy of writing a book, I just said I wanted to write a book. Want to write a book. I also have a problem shifting tenses.

Sometimes I think I'll never write properly, even after all that schooling.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I spoke earlier of wanting to talk about a trivial and a serious experience in relation to the Ethiopians now living in Israel. The trivial note seems quite trivial to me now, but the serious one has really been interesting to me since I first witnessed it a few years ago.

Since I have nothing to do each day, I spend a lot of time in the park exercising and hanging out. I was playing basketball a week ago, and there were a few Ethiopians playing soccer. I stopped playing, and sat and watched these two 12 year old boys play with their young siblings. These two boys were so amazing, that I simply sat and watched them 'dribble' and shoot for half an hour. They were doing all types of moves, from bicycle kicks, to crazy side-steps with the ball, fake-out kicks, no look passes, popping the ball up from behind them to in front, and they were even able to stand in place, kicking the ball like a hacky-sack to themselves, over and over, as long as they wished. 12 year old boys! The things I've experienced in living abroad, in cities, have essentially served to take my threshold of amazement and throw it to the wind. In this case, I used to think Harrisonburg High School had some amazing soccer players. They would always destroy Spotswood, my high school, and we thought they were invincible.

Yeah. And these 12 year old boys, wearing kippot and tzitzit, effectively made me feel quite inferior. There's a reason that Israel competes with honor in the World Cup, and I felt like I was watching that reason with those boys. But, after my initial surprise, I realized that they were probably just normal, average players for their age. These people never cease to surprise me.

Anyway, on with the serious observation. Ethiopian woman were often tattooed, according to some sources, as a way to show their obedience to Christ. According to a study by Monika Edelstein (Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 15, Num. 2, 2002), some groups did force Ethiopian Jewish women to undergo tattooing, but she found more cases where it was simply fashionable or believed to be medicinal. The tattoos found on Ethiopians depended on the region, but generally one would find circles with rays, like a sun, or bordered with crosses. These are found on the forehead or hands. Sometimes jewelry was tattooed on, particularly around the neck. One would see a tattooed necklace, typically with crosses along the necklace, and sometimes with beads. The Ethiopians believed that the Zar spirits, essentially evil spirits, could be held off with these tattoos. Jewish Ethiopians also had these tattoos, some voluntary, some involuntarily. The belief was, however, that the Land of Israel was the only place where the Zar spirits were unable to reside -- thus they were Zionists, and were quite ready to leave Ethiopia when Israel proposed to affect a mass exodus.

The problem is that tattoos are highly and expressly forbidden in Jewish law. The highest order of Jewish law (halacha) is that which is explicitly written in the Torah. Some law is interpretation, but there is also that which we believe G-d Himself wrote, and is naturally undeniable. One of these laws is tattooing. Consequently, these tattoos by the Ethiopians have made the issue of their Jewishness, a highly controversial and contested topic, all the more troublesome. In consequence, most of the women claim to have been either pressured or forced into the ritual markings (Edelstein speaks of the fashionable popularity of the tattoos, however, thus discrediting the claim to force...). I'm not making any type of judgment or opinion on the topic, I'm just giving the background.

So, as many Ethiopians live in Jerusalem, I see these immigrant women all the time with their tattoos. The most common is some type of circle on their forehead, which actually looks like a sun. I have to admit that it is difficult not to stare, but like anything else, you get used to seeing the same thing over and over. I have seen necklace tattoos on these women, but usually they are pretty tame, thin lines, going more down their trapeziums to the collarbone, than actually around the neck. Last month, however, I sat down on the bus and looked to my left and noticed a woman with the most ridiculous tattoo I've yet to see (next to Mike Tyson, of course).

The woman of 30 or so had a necklace tattoo, which was about an inch below her chin. Beneath that tattoo, was an identical tattoo. The design was a thick, bold necklace, with droplets along the line. There must have been about 10 very thick droplets starting at the necklace, and going vertically down, from one side of the neck to the other. I'm not sure what exactly the droplets were supposed to symbolize, but what they immediately looked like were blood drops coming from a cut neck, from ear to ear.

If those were forced tattoos, I would believe it. They could just have easily been representative of glass beads or anything else, but considering that some Ethiopians did endure forced tattooing, I like to think that this young lady had her mortality dangled in front of her, for her and her family to forever remember. Not that I take pleasure in this mortification, but rather because she was a religious Jew, and a voluntary tattoo is grounds for...excommunication, or at least a need for serious repentance. I've seen many people with tattoos here, guys that weren't religious and became so (ba'al teshuva), and they simply have to express the idea that they shouldn't have tattoos, but they didn't know better. For someone that was raised orthodox, however, to get a tattoo -- it causes problems.

Honestly, though, these Ethiopians bring so much flavor to our country. I personally believe they are Jews, though I do not agree with their belief that they are one of the "lost tribes." I don't have any evidence for this, and there is actually evidence that their Cohenim (priests) do indeed have the genetic marker of the Cohen blood-line... The bottom line is that they practice Judaism properly, and many of them underwent a ritual conversion just to ease doubts, and are therefore Jews.

Someone with symbolic blood dripping all over from a sliced neck is, well, more than a 'sight to behold.' Just another reason why I love this country: Exotic Ethiopian women. All of us American Jews tend to make the joke, "Mom, Dad, I brought home a Jew -- but she's black."

Below is a picture of a very similar tattoo on the neck, though the woman on the bus had much more pronounced, larger necklaces.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Despite one job offer that seemed to be perfect and final, and another that slipped through my fingers while I was under that first impression, I am still unemployed. There is no dearth of jobs here in Israel, at least for someone with my skill-set (weak but good enough for entry level). However, my unpliant requirements have knocked down most of my opportunities.

Despite my own personal boredom at having nothing to do, all my friends and family want to know what it is I am doing. Yes, indeed I am here and that is exciting, and it must seem really extreme to those of you reading in Virginia... but I assure you I am doing just about the same thing each day as I did each day of the previous summer. That is, I watch a lot of t.v., movies, and I have been reading books nonstop. I suppose it's a nice thing to have time to read, but it's a bit nicer to have a paycheck, in order to be able to buy the books to read. I'm having a great time, hanging out with friends, reading and writing at leisure, but each day I scour the job listings. It's either secretarial work or sales. There are plenty of freelance writing gigs, but I do not have the required government account for freelancing -- something I've heard is a royal pain to establish. You may not believe it, but job security is much more tangible than personal security, even in the heart of the Middle East.

With nothing to do, I have been out and about exploring my new neighborhood. I live in Tzomet Pat, or Katamonim, which is well known throughout Jerusalem (and maybe through Israel in general, I don't know). Unfortunately, it is well known as the 'ghetto.' Not that it is like Compton or Harlem, as a drug and gang infested area, but it is an area where many poor Jerusalemites live. The stratification of Israeli society is essentially this, from highest to lowest: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Russians, Ethiopians. What that means is that the Ashkenazi Jews, the old world Europeans, that came over in the first big waves of immigration, naturally became the most landed of citizens. The Sephardis came over next, and established themselves. The Russians came over around the same time as the Ethiopians, from the mid-80s until today. The Russians have certainly had a rough go, but they aren't nearly as bad-off as the Ethiopians.

Despite the Ethiopians having been in this country, generally, for almost two decades, they have faced no small amount of discrimination. Just recently some reports came out about this problem, and like a good politician on his deathbed, Prime Minister Olmert quickly said "I will fight the discrimination against Ethiopians." This lip service has of course done nothing to ease the station of these second class citizens, and they continue to find themselves herded by economic and social pressures into neighborhoods like Katamonim. And they find me waiting for them, soaking up the cheap prices in this non-Western area of Jerusalem.

But honestly, Katamonim really isn't that bad. I've been to Harlem; Harlem is scary, Katamonim is not. I spend my days at the numerous parks we have here, running on the soccer field, or shooting hoops on one of the many basketball courts, and lounging about on the softest grass I've found in Israel (for some reason, it tends to be sharp and spikey). I don't know what all the fuss is about, at least in terms of the overall exterior health of the area. There is a bit of trash on the streets, but that isn't so rare in Israel, and definitely not rare in cities across the world. But, the reason that Katamonim isn't that bad, despite being a poor area inhabited by a disaffected minority, is because the Ethiopians are such wonderful people.

I have a great affinity for Ethiopians. Many of them are very religious, especially those in Jerusalem. They keep traditional Jewish houses, 'orthodox laws' if you will, and are so good natured in comparison to the common Israeli. In my opinion, Ethiopians are much more like southern Americans than any other group of people I've met from around the world (and you meet many different nationalities here). In short, Southerners are quiet, they smile and have manners. Ethiopians are quiet, they smile and have manners. The Ethiopians that came over from Ethiopia itself are, hands down, my favorite sector of Israeli society. Unfortunately, the Ethiopians being born here, those under the age of 20, are just as obnoxious and rude as the rest of the teenage punks.

So, I spend my days out walking the streets, frequenting the park, and mingling amongst my favorite Israelis.

I'll write another post this week on a trivial experience, and a very serious experience, with the Ethiopians.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Christmas (just kidding). This holiday, as most people probably know, is the "Festival of Lights," celebrating the Jewish overthrow of Greek rule of Eretz Israel in the year 165 BCE. Essentially, the Seleucid Empire brought Hellenism to Israel, and the Maccabbe family of Cohenim (priests) organized a revolt against the attack on traditional Israelite religion and the Holy Temple. As the Maccabees drove out the Greeks, they entered the Temple, wishing to relight the menorah (candelabra). There was only enough oil for one day, but as the story goes, the oil burned miraculously for eight.

Hence, tonight is the first of eight nights of candle lighting. This holiday is one of my favorite, because the entire celebration is remembering the ability of a tiny, embattled nation, to overcome insurmountable odds. The Greek empire was exerting its influence on just another vassal state, and somehow a group of priests were able to drive out the world's strongest army, and did so without savage means. The Jews of that age were strong, powerful, intelligent, and civilized. Our liberators were religious men, in fact they were zealots, but they were also militarily strong (and strong without terrorism, either, in case someone wants to draw a contradiction between me revering the Jews and castigating the modern Arabs) fact, the leader was Yehuda HaMaccabbe, or Judah the Hammer, or The Jewish Hammer. Isn't that one badass name?

It goes without saying that a 23 year old Zionist would find the entire story inspirational, filled with pride, nationalism, courage, and precedent. Israel is currently walking down a path of doubt, doubt in the future of the state, but tonight and the following week should be a time to lift our spirits. After all, we certainly do not have it worse now than the Maccabees had. Even studying Torah, the Bible, was illegal under Greek rule. Now, we are truly in control of our destiny. My parents, and family and friends, often ask me how I'm doing, how I feel, etc. I feel proud to be here, supporting Israel with my very life, like a modern day Judah Maccabbe -- an unemployed Judah, maybe, but one in spirit at least.

Happy Hanukkah -- Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Monday, December 3, 2007

In many ways, Israel is like America 50 years ago. One of those ways is that you can still walk right by government offices, and the government officials are sometimes out and about without cordoning off the entire city. Last year I met and talked to a former prime minister, and most likely the next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. That was very cool, considering he is my favorite politician in the world.

Today I was on the bus going home from the bank (a whole other story), and I looked over at the King David Hotel as we passed by. I always look at it. This hotel is like the Ritz Carlton of Jerusalem. It is the very nicest hotel in Israel. The building was the center of the British Mandate authority when they were in control of 'Palestine,' from its opening until 1947, and it has continued on as the international headquarters for foreign diplomats. Bill Clinton stayed there. Condoleeza Rice stays there. King Hussein, Anwar Sadat, Mubarak, Gorbachev, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Richard Gere, Ralph Lauren, Ed & Teddy Kennedy, John Lennon, Al Gore, Billy Graham, and a slew of other politicians and celebrities all spent their nights at this hotel. Simply put, it's the place to be.

Anyway, I looked over at the King David Hotel and saw a whole row of consular vehicles. These are usually very new, very nice Mercedes-Benz's, and they are identified by white license plates. Nothing new. You see these all the time in Israel. The unique sight was a deep blue stretch limo Volvo, an extremely rare vehicle, sandwiched inbetween all the diplomatic Benzs. The Volvo was parked right next to the main entrance -- prime real estate in the midst of diplomats.

A few weekends ago I was walking through Rechavia, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Jerusalem. I ended up cutting across the street, which is home to the prime minister's office complex; Israel's White House. No big deal. There's a gate and guard at each entrance to the sidestreet, and a large wall blocking the house, with bulletproof guard towers overlooking the street...but really it's quite tame for being the seat of the most hated government in the world. As I was walking through, a short journey which always excites me, I saw the government convoy. A whole row of beautiful, non-German (i.e.- non-Nazi), deep blue Volvos. The license plates were even cooler. No numbers, no identification. Just a blank plate with the Israeli crest in the middle. Very James Bond.

I didn't see a stretch Volvo by the Rechavia complex, so it was quite the eye-catcher to see it in front of the King David. I don't know who was meeting foreign diplomats, but I can guarantee you what it was all about: Annapolis, the 'peace process,' or some other political disaster.

It's really a very cool thing to see your government out and about, to see them working, even if all that means is that they're meeting in the presidential suite or something at the Ritz. What if you were just walking down the street, no security or anything to raise an eyebrow, and there was George Bush's limo sitting at the Hilton? Our governments seem so far away from our daily lives, and really not in a good way, so it's refreshing to see the big dogs at work.

Maybe it's just a 'star-struck' kind of excitement. But, I was wondering what I'd say to the prime minister if I was the doorman....probably something like, "NO ONE WANTS YOU!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Today's the big day! Yay! You can almost taste the idiocy in the air, over there at the U.S. Naval base in Annapolis. I particularly like a collage that CNN made, with Bush, Abbas, and Olmert sliced together. It's funny because you are looking at the three most untrustworthy politicians -- and they're about to hold a serious conference on the world's most volatile issue.

I mentioned in my previous post that Hamas is gearing up for war against their fellow Palestinians and Israel. If you don't know about the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, let me say it in a sentence or two. There are two rival factions among the Palestinians: Fatah, the party that has the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, a provisional government; Hamas, an unabashed terrorist party that has the prime minister position. These two groups have been in a civil war for the past year or so, with Fatah trying to talk to Israel and the West, and Hamas seeking the 1948 ideal of wiping Israel off the map. Hamas supporters attack Fatah for being pro-Western, and Fatah supporters attack Hamas in order to quell their aggressiveness. Every day in the news you hear about a clash that kills a handful of people. It's chaos over there. In Hebrew, we'd say it's ballegan, or a crazy mess.

So, as I said in the previous post, the Hamas leadership is vocally denouncing this conference, calling for the Arab world to unite against Abbas, Fatah, and Israel. The meat of the matter is that Hamas believes that Abbas will make concessions. I have no idea what the Palestinians have to offer Israel, but hey, you can't argue with a madman prime minister. Haniyeh, the Prime Minister still living in the '40s, just signed an acerbic statement against the summit. At the signing, a high ranking Palestinian politician said, "Any settlement that does not include the return of the refugees, [Israel's] ceding of the land and the holy sites, and the release of the prisoners is ridiculous. The attempt to force such a solution led to the second Intifada."

Oh boy. He essentially just said that after Annapolis, which is trying to "force such a resolution," Hamas will have no choice but to start the third Intifadah. Camp David 2000, the conference where Israel tried to give away 97% of the West Bank, was the spark for Arafat to start the terror war against Israel. The Annapolis summit will not see such a magnanimous what kind of war are we going to see now?

Want to know what Hamas really wants, what they mean by that previous statement? Here you go:

1) Return the refugees: In 1948, seven Arab states attacked a tiny, brand new country, the day after they declared statehood. There was a considerable number of Arabs living in this country, and were offered full, unequivocal citizenship rights by the new country. The attacking Arab states told these Arabs living in the country to leave the main-land so that the armies could rape and pillage the new state, and after the war and massacre of the new citizens, these Arabs could come back and take all of the newly reclaimed, beautiful farmland and cities built by the previous owners. Well, the result of the war was a miracle. The new country absolutely demolished all seven attacking armies, thus creating a sea of displaced people. These Arab states that so benevolently swept into the new country, telling their Arab brethren to flee in order to exterminate the enemy, then decided that none of the people that they displaced were allowed to enter their countries. So, the Arab states created an Arab refugee crisis, rejected their responsibility of absorption, and then dumped the problem on the new country.
A return of refugees means that the new country must evacuate all the land that was once occupied by those Arabs that jubilantly fled in order to make room for their liberating armies. So, the new country is being asked to leave the country. All of it. A "return of the refugees" as Hamas sees it means that Israel must peacefully wipe itself off the map.

2) Israel's ceding of the land and holy sites: Isn't that self-explanatory? 'The Land' means all of Israel, and certainly all of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem. They want back the capital city of Israel. A city that was built by Israel, and Jews. They want it all. From Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean, to Jerusalem at the east.

3) Release prisoners: Hamas wants us to release terrorists! I talked about this in my previous post, so I won't go over it again. But let me just say that they probably will get some of their terrorists back, considering we are releasing 431 of them after the summit.

So, now you know what Hamas wants. Let me give you better proof. The head of Hamas, and the prime minister of the PA, Haniyeh, signed the petition, which said:

"It is our prerogative to defend our lands by all possible means. We warn of the deplorable security coordination with the enemy. We call for a unified Arab and Palestinian front. All powers must deploy to combat the aggression against our nation. The Palestinian people hold the exclusive right to decide its fate in any manner it sees fit, and it owns the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."

Well, well, well. Now we hear it from the horse's mouth. They defend their right to terrorism, a right of resistance by "all possible means." They're calling for another war of 1948, with a dozen Arab states attacking a single, tiny country. And most importantly, the Palestinians deny the right of Israel to exist: We "own the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." And this is our 'partner in peace.' The world over decries Israel's recalcitrance in dealing with Palestinian do you see why?

And here the fools in Annapolis will sit, Olmert surrounded by 10 Arab states wanting him, his country, and his people (including me and everyone I know) to march right into the sea. And Olmert, knowing his foolishness, will probably start the procession.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If you think that Americans are sick and tired of George Bush, you should see how disgusted Israelis are with their leader, Ehud Olmert. Olmert took over when Ariel Sharon had his massive stroke, and then he was voted into office last year. Olmert is a former mayor of Jerusalem, a position he handled without serious alarm. His position as the national leader, however, has proven his total incompetence.

He blew the Lebanon war last year, him and his entire political structure, mainly by ignoring and hindering military reports, intelligence, strategy, and expert opinion. He has been prime minister overseeing some of the worst teacher and student strikes in any nation's history. To make matters worse, he is considered the most corrupt politician in Israel today. He is constantly being investigated for insider violations: kickbacks, shady real estate deals, insider manipulation. He's just not who the nation needs right now, or ever. One good thing to say, however, is that whatever he has done to combat domestic terrorism is working...or, at least the wall that Ariel Sharon built is working (besides the fact that the contractor has stopped worked because they are way over budget).

So, on Tuesday, he is going to be attending the Annapolis conference, along with 40 other nations. This summit has been the hot talk among Middle East political strategists in its stupidity. It will create a terrible security problem for Israel, truly, and it is going to be one all-out bash on the Jewish State.

The conference is going to be attended by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, "Iraq," Syria, maybe Saudi Arabia, and a host of non-Middle East states. The point of the conference is to 'open' talks between the PA and Israel.

You have no idea how angry all this makes me! Let me just go through this political blunder one step at a time.

1) Israel and the PA talk constantly. This is a legitimate truth. Olmert and Abbas have both, respectively, come under great attack from their people for this very reason. Olmert is given flack for being so pro-PA, for having Abbas over to his house for everything from holiday celebrations to a nice cup of coffee. Abbas is continually under threat of assassination by Hamas for his open invitation of Olmert to his office-home in Ramallah. Not to mention the thwarted attempted assassination of Olmert recently while he was in Jericho. These two best friends are constantly talking, trying to figure out just how to save both their terms in office. Olmert has about a 20% or so approval rating. I don't know what Abbas's is, but he was essentially voted out of office over a year ago by his people, in support of a terrorist organization. Olmert needs to move out of the way, and let in a real politician with insight. So, why is the conference meant to "open serious talks on the future of a Palestinian state?" This rhetoric is being brought forward as a way to force Israel's hand into more land-concessions, giving away more land that was legally purchased 75 years ago by Jews, and put Israel into a real corner. By saying that Israel needs to open talks is effectively implying that Israel has ignored the issue. In fact, as you can see, Israel has been more than open in discussions with the Palestinian leadership.

2) Land for peace does not work. Israel learned this the hard way after 2005's "disengagement," whereby Israel completely left the Gaza Strip, and evacuated many settlements in the West Bank. Israel gave away the Gaza, in its entirety, only to see the rise of Hamas in both these areas. With Israel out of the way, the terrorists were able to take over and plague not only the people of Gaza and the West Bank, but then had greater access to attacking Israel domestically. In short, when Israel gives away land, terrorism increases in that very land. Israel shows a permanent gesture of peace, and the Arabs show a permanent gesture of hostility. With this in mind, the base-line of this Annapolis conference is the full return of the "West Bank" to the "Palestinians." All of these terms are so loaded and so futile. First of all, the West Bank is referring to the western bank of the Jordan river, which if you look at a map, is all of Israel. This term was coined decades ago in a game of semantics, as the Arabs fought for the West Bank, effectively meaning they fought for the Jews to be pushed off the western bank, all the way into the sea. Palestine, which was the name of Israel after Jews were forced from the land by the Romans 2,000 years ago, is not some grand united people or place. As you can see from the civil war between Hamas and Fatah currently being fought in Gaza and the West Bank, the only outcome for the "Palestinians" if Israel did give away all this land would be death. The leaders of Israel, and especially international leaders, like to paint the picture black and white. Israel bad, occupier. Palestinian good, victim. In fact, the only certain statement that can be made is that if Israel gives away the land that the Arabs want, it will mean an age of terror for both Israel and the Palestinian people. Honest to goodness, Hamas has essentially said that they will declare war on Fatah if Abbas (Fatah) agrees to anything. That is civil war in Gaza and the West Bank.

3) Israel keeps releasing terrorists in a show of support for Annapolis. Every day Israel is on the lookout at borders and checkpoints for terrorists, people smuggling in suicide belts or suitcase bombs, women with explosives underneath their babies in the carriage, and all other manner of ingenious, insidious tactics. We have huge prisons to hold these captured terrorists, or co-conspirators. They not only bring Israelis pain, they hurt the cause of their own people. When a terrorist strikes Israel has no other choice but to tighten security, which in turn means more checkpoints, less access, longer lines at borders, and a general air of distrust -- all causing everyday Palestinians more and more headaches. So, how does the Palestinian Authority ask for a measure of "goodwill" when going into ANY discussion? They ask for a "prisoner release." That's what they call it! They want more of their terrorists back. Sure, Israel doesn't give back those with "blood on their hands," but they give back those that escorted the bomber, helped smuggle weapons or bombs, hid the terrorists, and so on. Do you see what I mean? Israel is not working with a true partner for peace...we're working with a group of terrorist supporters! And how dumb is Olmert giving back these prisoners? We are going to release another 431 terrorists after the conference! Stupid!

4) Arab reluctance to go to their own birthday party! This whole conference is about Israel giving away land. That's the entirety of it. In exchange for giving back so much land that Israel would become 50 miles wide, we ask for the end of terrorism. We aren't asking for friends, economic partners, or anything else. Nothing more than the end of terrorism, from bombings to shootings. A basic respect of life. The sad part is that Olmert thinks that if he gives away this land, we will actually ever have peace. So, this Annapolis conference is the Arab birthday party! In 1948 seven Arab states attacked a new country, a country that publicly in its very declaration of independence asked for its neighbors' hands in peace and prosperity. This war was promulgated in order to literally wipe the new state off the map. There was no desire to make a vassal state, a weaker state, put the citizens in fear; they wanted a complete massacre of the country. Well, they found out that Israel was a state that fought to the death, because all they had faced before was extermination. Three wars later, the Arabs finally began to realize that Israel was not just going to disappear. They started to figure out that they would have to concentrate their efforts on specific land: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Still, there was dissatisfaction. In 2000, then prime minister Ehud Barak offered the PA chief Yasser Arafat 97% of the Palestinian claim. He was giving the Gaza and essentially the entirety of the West Bank - 97%. Even the Saudi moderator told Arafat to take the deal. He balked at the Israeli offense, and plunged his people in the Second Intifadah.
The Annapolis parley is shaping up to be another 2000 Camp David, whereby the Jews look to give away all the traditional land of the state. So what is the Arab response to this? "We don't want to come because we don't trust Israel." No Arab state actually cares about their Muslim brothers in Palestine. The best example of this is with Syria, who has been publicly ambivalent on the conference. They aren't flipping back and forth because they don't believe Israel is going to appease the Palestinians, they are flipping because they are trying to force Israel to give back the Golan Heights, an area of land in Israeli control but claimed by Syria. Occupied, if you will. Syria doesn't care if the PA gets the West Bank, they only want to discuss the Golan. And who falls to this pressure? Everyone. Israel is begging Syria to come to the conference, and the US has said, "Well, the conference is for Israel and the PA, but if you want to bring up other issues, go ahead!" Remember what I said? This is the Arab birthday party whereby they want to get everything they can out of Israel. Despite the obvious pro-PA nature of this summit, even the PA was undecided until recently on whether or not to attend. Is there any sense in the Arab world?

5) The result of the conference is a dedicated promise to increase terrorism. I'm sorry to say this to the people still reading, especially my family and friends, but the one guarantee coming out of the conference will be terrorism. Not only will the West Bank face terrorism, but Israel will be plagued by a spike in terrorist activity. Thank G-d, we have been vigilant and have thwarted all terrorist attacks inside Israel for over a year now (excluding the constant barrage of missiles coming from inside the Gaza Strip). That's quite a milestone. But, though the West Bank is about to be handed over, Hamas has publicly declared that the result of the conference will be a "stepping up" of attacks. Hamas is "astonished" at the Arab League's acceptance of the conference, and as a result has promised retribution. They are still living in 1948, where they expect all the Arabs and Muslims the world over to rise up and massacre the Jewish State. Don't they remember that they already tried that? These animals, these savages, are incapable of understanding that Israel is going to give away more land! They expect Israel instead to just roll over and die. The Hamas spokesman had this to say: "We were expecting an Arab consensus to break the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and to save the lives of many Palestinians who are stranded on the borders. We didn't expect to see agreement among the Arabs on meeting with Israel." To be honest, I'm a little surprised they actually said Israel and something like "the Zionists," or another tactic to divert legitimacy away from Israel. These mentally challenged apes still think that they can deny the existence of the very people that want to give them everything they are asking for. How foolish are they?

This is what really pisses me off. That we are dealing with an entire region of monkey-fools, brain challenged ants, to the degree that they can't even figure out when something is good for them! "Hey, we want to give you 97% of our country..." What's the response? "NO! We want 100% or we're going to bomb you!" Very mature.

And the worst part of it all is that we have a prime minister that in the history of Israel has faced the most demonstrations against his term, and yet he feels it is in his capacity to go to our terrorist brothers and start making deals! Everyone in the entire country, minus a few die-hard party loyalists, want this Olmert chap out of office. He can stay in the government if he wants; drive a bus. But do not go overseas against the entire country's wishes and give away the rest of our homeland!

In 2005 Israel was very divided on whether or not to give away the Gaza and the sections of the West Bank we decided on. The result was that we gave it away, and faced even more hatred and terrorist attacks. This time around everyone is pretty well in agreement that land for peace is not working. So why does he think he can just up and betray us like this? Olmert is promising that the Annapolis summit is not going to show Israel giving anything away, but what he is white-washing is that it is the first step in order to give away the entire West Bank.

Now, my final message. Starting Tuesday, look very closely at the news on this Annapolis conference. See who is the bad guy. Who are all the nations present harping on, trying to get to change their ways? Who is the enemy? Who is evil? Israel. Then, see who is told that they need to try to control terrorism, in order to bring peace to all. Abbas will smile and say, "Yes I'll try to control Hamas and their terrorism." Then the world will praise Abbas's commitment to peace...all while Hamas is at home, in true power, and just waiting for the conference to end in order for them to start their campaign of terror.

Long live clear thinking. Please start praying for the beleaguered nation of Israel, America's only real ally, and the true pro-Western state in the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yesterday there were two earthquakes in Israel, measuring 3 and 4.2 on the Richter scale. They originated from the Dead Sea, which is southeast of Jerusalem, on the far eastern border of the country. Along our eastern border there is a rift, the Jordan Rift Valley, which is a part of the Great Rift Valley. The GRV extends from Lebanon in the North, to Mozambique, Africa, in the South. Quite the rift. From what scientists tell us, the area has been rocked with some fairly huge earthquakes, but the last one was in 1033 CE. That means we are long overdue for a megaquake. Each year or so we have a minor or moderate quake, but some of us have this big quake in the back of our minds.

It seems to me that the majority of deaths in the world aren't coming from war or politics, but rather from natural disasters. From the earthquakes in South America, tornadoes in Midwest America, flooding in Northern Europe, mudslides in Eastern Europe, and the terrible typhoons and tsunamis in Southeast Asia, the amount killed in years of modern war equals the amount killed in days or weeks during these disasters. How many people died just the other day from Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh? The official toll is currently 3,114, but the Red Crescent Society (the Red Cross of Muslim nations) says the count will end up in the 5 to 10,000 range.

This is where our money should go, if we truly see ourselves as a government for the people. These are innocent individuals in need of aid. Epidemics are breaking out in these areas, and Bangladesh is saying they will have 4 million displaced persons! 4 million! Hurricane Katrina displaced around 1 million people. Just imagine Katrina being 4 times as bad.

What I'm trying to get to is a hypothetical situation. What if there was a huge earthquake in Israel/Jordan, which devastated the area, and then displaced all the people. We would probably see something like a terrible rendition of musical chairs, but with guns and exploding chairs! Jerusalem itself is an area that has had earthquakes. I've always wondered what would happen if the Old City of Jerusalem had an earthquake that toppled the Dome of the Rock...this area is highly contested, and to religious Jews the fact that non-Jews are building at the site of the holy Temple is one of utmost sacrilege. So what would happen if everything was erased, and we went back to square one?

Anyway, reports popped up all over Israel of people feeling the quake, all the way from Haifa to Beersheva (considerable distances from the quake). I heard a woman talking about her experience yesterday, and it was pretty humorous. Here in Israel, when you feel the ground rumble, you kinda expect the worst. A bombing? A missile? Damn, and things were going so well! As she said, "Oh no! This is not good!," only to find out 15 minutes later on the news that it was an earthquake. Something of a relief, to say the least.

My days have started to melt together, just waiting on a job prospect to be finalized. I sit around all day, reading, watching the news, watching movies, and every once in a while taking a walk. One day is like the next, with little stimulation, and essentially zero change of environment. I can't leave Jerusalem for any extended amount of time, as I'm anxiously awaiting potential interviews, so here I sit, day in and day out.

So, last night after all the dust settled, I had a hard time remembering if that rumble I felt, the booming that I thought was either a bomb or a construction zone dropping concrete slabs, was yesterday or a day before. I simply couldn't remember, and I cannot say for sure now. But, I have to assume that it was yesterday...and that's pretty cool in my book. I don't want anyone or anything to get hurt by a natural disaster in my area of the world, especially after seeing what happened in Bangladesh, but now I can say I felt an earthquake! I guess that's not such a good thing, but hey, I'm at the point in my life where I want to experience everything this world has to offer -- good or bad.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The traditional Sabbath (Shabbat) for orthodox/traditional Jews, as we've been practicing for thousands of years, is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Of the many customs that are practiced, one is always among the most favorite for all observers. That would be the large, warm meal served for Shabbat lunch. Basically, this meal is usually eaten around noon, Saturday. Three meals are eaten during Shabbat, all of them mandatory.

The Talmud discusses the way of the Karaites, a Jewish fanatic group of ancient Israel, who believed only in the written Torah (i.e.- the Bible), and not in the Talmud. The Talmud contains the Mishnah, which is a large set of typically short discussions on laws (a paragraph or so). Orthodox Jews believe that this portion of the Talmud was passed down from G-d to Moses on Mt. Sinai, as the Bible was spoken to Moses in the same way, at the same time. This has been the view for all of Israelite-Jewish history. I'm not telling you what to believe, I'm just giving some background.

One of the ways that the Karaites differed was that they were extreme literalists of the Bible. What's relative to my past Shabbat was the Karaite perspective, taken literally from a Deuteronomy passage, which says that there is to be no flame in a home on Shabbat. Orthodox Jews do not light fires, or deal with fires at all on Shabbat, but the Karaites felt this meant you could not have any light in your house, or have an oven on...while the rabbis long before felt that the law meant one could not kindle fires, but could have light from before or food in a sealed oven from before the sabbath, and could thus eat hot food on the holy day. In response to the extremist Karaites, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin, the high legal court of ancient Israel, integrated into Jewish law the requirement to eat hot food on Shabbat. This was a sort of institutionalization of the rejection of the Karaite sect.

That being said, the Shabbat lunch meal is a great time of happiness, where friends and families get together to hold this traditional, custom-filled meal. A friend of mine had her birthday yesterday, and decided to cook up a big lunch. I went by her place on Friday to help cook, all of which must be fully finished before Shabbat starts, and got a small taste of what we were going to have.

We prepared all the food in a great hurry, realizing that we had started too late. In other words, I watched her prepare, and I stirred what needed to be stirred or chopped what needed to be chopped. Here was the menu:

Garlic crusted chicken breasts; one spicy variation,
Peanut sauce & cilantro noodles (the best),
Caramelized carrots,
Green bean something or other...

And for dessert there were two ridiculously rich, overkill cakes. One was a peanut butter and dark chocolate combo, which tasted like 10 Reese's cups packed into every bite, and the other was a three-layer chocolate cake which was nearly as rich as fudge. I watched as my friend made these, taking about nine chocolate bars, melting them in a pot, and then pouring the hot chocolate layer by layer into the pan.

Saturday was quite the day, filled with me over-eating all these delicacies, having the now traditional shots of vodka, discussing Torah (Jacob got his wives in the portion of the week-- keyword, plural wives), and meeting new friends.

I'm sure my family and friends worry that I don't eat enough, but rest assured, I did this weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last night while taking a bus across the city, the last bus of the night, I was a witness to a scene that is truly found only in Israel.

Fairly soon after sitting down, a group of three boys got on the bus, and I pegged them for Americans the second I saw the first one. Some of us tend to stick out like sore thumbs, some more than others, and these teens were among the most easily noticed. First of all, they all had on baseball hats with MLB logos, and the hats were cocked on their heads in the true "prep" fashion. Baseball is not an Israeli sport, and wearing a baseball hat in this manner screams 'American.'

The point is that these young men were probably of the 'conservative Jewish' movement, spending some amount of months here on some type of high school exchange or yeshiva program. That being said, one could presume that they know some Jewish law and principles.

Soon after these guys, two twenty-some year old gentlemen get on the bus. At first I thought one of them was a girl, actually. This feminine one had a wild 'Jew-fro,' the type of afro that a stereotypically curly-haired Jewish guy gets. Otherwise he looked normal, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. His friend stuck out to me as a band-geek, or some type of artistic person, as he had the characteristic stereotypes of that group. He had long hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing black rimmed, fancy glasses, a corduroy jacket, a nice sweater underneath, and dark, acid-washed jeans. They both were Israeli, speaking Hebrew, and were pretty hard to miss.

These two were homosexual. The effeminate one was quite physical with his other-half, and it seemed like the artsy one was not quite into the public display of affection. I'm not saying he shunned the fro-man, I'm just saying he wasn't nearly as physical. They were quite undoubtedly gay, however, and I could tell that the entire bus was watching them. The young Americans, being the prime age of needing to prove their masculinity, actually surprised me a bit.

This is the 'only in Israel' observation. Like anywhere in the world, Israel has homosexuals. Tel Aviv, the most hip, posh, and liberal area in Israel, is well known for its tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and occasionally you will hear boasts that that city is more accepting than most places in the "Western world," San Francisco excluded, of course. You can only imagine what the religious people of Jerusalem think of all this. For whatever reason, the homosexual alliance of Israel chooses Jerusalem every year to be the site of the gay pride parade, an event that I have witnessed twice. There is always violence, a mass protest by the religious, and inevitably some type of rioting throughout religious neighborhoods (ie- burning of dumpsters, smashing cars, etc). It's all really quite ridiculous.

Expecting these young men to sneer, or mumble vicious slurs to each other, I was a little blown away to hear their conversation on the matter turn to Torah. I was sitting by the window, with one of the guys sitting on the seat next to me, and the other two sitting in the seats directly in front of me. You see, I was just another member of their group, in the middle of the lion's den. They, however, must have mistaken me for an Israeli. In no way did I stick out as an American, in my dress, demeanor, or, as I said, I was privy to their unbridled opinions. I kept my mouth shut in order to hear what 15 year old New Yorkers thought of the scene.

The young men quickly quoted the Torah, which says something along the lines of "two men laying together is an abomination to the Lord." There's really no way around this Biblical proscription, so the teens were quickly quoting sources in agreeance, but their personal opinions also came out. All three of them were obviously 'against' homosexuality, but one of them stood out among the group. I didn't hear exactly what he said, but from what I did hear, it sounded like it was along the lines of something a little more militant than most would find tasteful. The two other boys quickly rebutted, admonishing him for saying something "assur," or forbidden. In Jewish law, you basically have "assur" and "motair," or forbidden and permitted. To say something like, "we should kill all gays," as I think the boy said, is certainly assur, and his Torah-conscious friend was right to chastise him.

Where else would you find 15 year old preppy guys, getting their first taste of adolescent testosterone, ready to prove their virility, discussing the philosophical and theological dimensions of such an issue? Sure, all across the world people talk about homosexuality along the lines of the Bible, but where, really, do 15 year old boys know to quote ancillary sources and the social implications of this topic? I was a little bit proud of these three Americans, considering that it would have been quite easy for them to turn their words to slurs and jokes, mockingly throwing off the humanity of those two partners. Instead, they treated the issue quite academically, and besides the one outburst, they could have had the same conversation in front of adults in any academic or theological environment. They were mature, in a word.

There are so many of these exchange programs, and Jerusalem is well known as being the hub, the center for Americans in Israel. Additionally, these teens are known for being rowdy, getting drunk under the relaxed liquor laws in Israel, and just generally bringing shame and a bad reputation to Americans. If you are an American here, in Jerusalem, many Israelis will look at you as immature and obnoxious, in many ways due to these unleashed teenagers.

The boys I saw were still young boys, of course. After a while, two of them started picking on the less tolerant one, by rubbing his shoulders, putting their arms around him, and sensually touching his face. It was quite humourous to see him get upset, and then hear the inevitable "you seem a bit defensive...everything ok?" Eh, at least they were mature at first!

One last word. Being that this ride was near to midnight, the bus was not so full. I was wondering what would have happened if the two homosexuals were being affectionate while the bus was full, with religious men and women watching. I know that there would have been a confrontation, with the religious literally yelling at them. There would have been much screaming, quoting religious sources, shaming them and showing quite the lack of tolerance. If you read what I wrote about Israelis not holding back with their opinions, vocally letting their presence be known, multiply that by two for religious Israelis speaking about religious law.

Now, that would have been something to write about!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In order to sign up for medical insurance, you have to visit, of all places, the post office. Unfortunately for a normal postal visitor, one also has to wait behind a myriad of people paying bills. Yes, you go to the post office to pay bills here, instead of doing automatic debits from your account. Automatic debiting is a reality here, but Israelis prefer to leave that to their material purchases. Any credit card purchase is greeted with a question of whether or not you want to do "tashlomim," or monthly payments. A $50 grocery bill? "Yeah, sure, I'll pay for it over 3 months." Cell phone deals are advertised as being only a few bucks a month, but, over 36 months! This is an extremely common financial decision...and it leads so many people to credit card debt. A few dollars here and there, no big deal! But then, all of a sudden, you're over drawn and have no way to pay that next month's slew of installments. Smart business tactic.

Anyway, I was waiting in line at the post office with a friend, just about to be seen, when 5 people, not kidding, walk in from outside and bump in front of me. "Oh, we were here!" Ok, because I've been standing in one of those slow, snaking lines for 10 minutes, and never saw you! But yeah, sure, go ahead and bump in front of me! No problem! Hey, you gotta get used to it. As I said before, the Israeli rudeness is just another part of the game.

My friend that went with me told me a fun little story about her most recent trip to the same post office. Her mother's birthday was in a few days, and she wanted to send an enveloped letter express. She wanted it to get home on or around the birthday -- pretty standard stuff. The cost was 60 shekels, which is about $15 American. The post office lady began questioning my friend on her economic well-being.

"You really think you want to spend 60 shekels on sending just an envelope? That's a waste of money, isn't it?"
"It's for my mother's birthday. I want it to get there on time, so I kinda have to send it express."
"Yeah, I see, but wouldn't you rather spend that money in buying some type of gift for your mom? I mean, is a letter really worth it? Do you think you mom would really care about a letter?"
"Yes, it's kinda a thing in America, you know, to send a letter to someone on their birthday."

At this point, the clerk began to speak to her fellow workers, and soon enough, the entire post office was telling my friend that it was a waste of money.

"Your mom would rather get a package of something."
"Yeah, why spend all that money on a letter?"
"Seriously, don't waste your money!"

After speaking to everyone in Hebrew for 10 minutes, the clerk began to question her anew.

"Oh, you just don't understand Hebrew!," now speaking in English. "See, it costs 60 shekel, which is really expensive! Your mom won't care about the letter for all that money!"
Exasperated, my friend loses it. "Are you stupid? Are you that dull? I've been speaking to you in perfect Hebrew since I walked in here! It's my money, just GIVE ME THE EXPRESS shipment! I'm American, I'm rich, just do it!"

If in doubt, just combat Israeli presumptuousness with the claim of being American -- which in foreign terms, means you are rich. Hey, sometimes you gotta swing for the fences.

In a nice little coincidence, out of 4 clerks, the person I was directed to was the same woman that so deftly handled my friend's envelope. She greeted me, and then said, "Hey, weren't you in here the other day?" Oh, what a fun day.

The strangest thing that has ever happened to me in Israel happened after the post office. I was waiting in line at the medical center, where you actually sign up for insurance. Lines, again. One of the clerks left her desk, approached me, and shot some serious Hebrew at me. I caught enough to figure out that she was asking whether or not I was a new immigrant. First of all, if you suspect someone of being a new immigrant, would you speak to them as fast as humanely possible in a language that normally isn't their mother-tongue? Second, I figured she was going to tell me, as all the horror stories I've heard about having to run around here and there with various papers, that I had the wrong papers, or had to go to another office, or come back at another time. Great.

Instead, she pulled me out of line to help me before my number was called. What? I received preferential treatment, in a line system, in Israel? Preferential, as in I was the one that was preferred? And helped out of line? Amazing and rare. The day was going great, and then I saw something heartwarming...

Nearby was a religious Arab woman, and a religious Jewish woman, both sitting in front of the same clerk, being helped in turn. They were smiling and chatting with each other, as if their people were not at each others' throats. They didn't have to chat like best friends, and I've seen plenty of religious Arab men and religious Jewish men give each other the death stare.

I suppose that goes to show you that no matter what the political scene appears to be, and that no matter what the media shows, the actual situation on the ground, between individuals, doesn't happen to always be so easily discernible. Some people think that Israel is in the grips of some continual war, as if Israel is Iraq.

In fact, Israel is not Iraq. Bullets aren't flying, improvised explosives aren't blowing cars and convoys away, snipers aren't reigning terror down on the masses...

Maybe these two woman showed me that if the Israelis and Arabs want peace, they'll need women in office. So, who's voting for Hillary?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

After one of the worst periods of procrastination in my life, I finally signed up with a medical insurance plan here. Let me try to explain how the medical system works. The system isn't that clear to me yet, but here's what I do know.

The Israeli national insurance system is universal. All citizens are given nearly-free coverage which handles everything from basic doctor visits to hospitalizations, surgery to reduced cost medications, and even treatment of chronic diseases. The best part is that all insurance companies have to take a citizen under their service, regardless of age or health status. There are four insurance companies, and all the companies are treated as equal under the law. So, it doesn't really matter who you sign up with, but people choose their company based on word of mouth, as well as which facilities are closer to their homes. Universal pretty much means universal: everyone is accepted regardless of any condition, and being accepted means the same thing for everyone, namely, insurance in matters of health.

Ok, so I cheated and went to the government's webpage for national insurance ( All in all, this system seems to be working pretty well. I see pharmacies everywhere, and each one is attached to an insurance company. There seems to be a medical building on every block. In fact, I live in a somewhat out of the way cul-de-sac, and we have a large facility on our street! I've asked around, and everyone seems to be fairly satisfied with the system. Sure, it's socialized health care, so maybe you have to wait in a longer line than you'd like, but don't we wait for hours in doctor's offices in America as well? Moreover, Israel has one of the highest per capita rates of doctors in the world, and we have some of the world's leading pharmeceutical we like to say we have the best medical system in the world. I'm sure other countries have more resources, but I can say this for sure: Israel makes the most out of what it has.

I'm not sure if America is ready for this universal health care system, but after observing Israel and her system, a main sticking point for America in universal care seems irrelevant. That sticking point would be, of course, money. I realize that Israel has about 7 million citizens, while America has over 300 million. However, the main difference is that America has trillions of dollars to spend, while Israel has about $35 bucks, give or take. No, seriously, Israel has to spend 9% of her GDP on defense, one of the highest rates around the world, and that percentage is on the lower scale of what we have spent during the Palestinian terror campaigns (commonly referred to as an "intifada"). The scary part is that Israel has to spend this money in order to exist. Israel has no choice but to beef up it's military. Even though Israel spends so much of her money on defense, she still has enough to care for her citizens.

On the other hand, America has now spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, fighting an enemy that will never give up. One estimate claims, at least by last year, that we were spending $255 million per day in Iraq.* Per Day! And this is to fight an enemy that hides as civilians, hides behind families, uses remotely detonated weapons instead of engaging in a real war. Not only is the war a money pit, it is another Vietnam, which only served and only serves to drain the national reserve of confidence and morale.

I'm not trying to say anything in particular about the Iraq war. I've already said too much, maybe. What I am trying to say, however, is that America sure has spent a gross amount of money that could have gone a long way to establishing a universal health care system. I'm not even saying we should have a universal health care system in America. I am no expert on the benefits and drawbacks of universal versus private health care systems. Both have pros and cons, and I'll leave it to the experts to tell you what is what.

All that I am trying to get across is that money should not be the main stumbling block for America on the road to a better health care system. Israel is showing that even with a strapped financial outlook, a first-world country can look after its people. Israel's system is not perfect, but we all know that America needs some type of health care reform. That's all.


Monday, November 5, 2007

You think you have it bad? Check this out!

You have to see the pictures. They aren't too bad. This is why I will miss CNN!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thursday was the day on the docket for the main cable provider of Israel, HOT, to either cancel or renew their contract with the American news channel, CNN. Actually, the only chance for a renewal of the contract would have been a miracle along the lines of CNN giving away their service for free. The cancellation of CNN has been relatively big news here, considering the fairly large population of English speakers seeking 'real' news stations. The Israeli parliament went so far as to hold discussions on whether or not HOT was even allowed to drop this station from its list.

To make matters worse, the rumor before Thursday was that HOT would replace CNN, a provider that many people here find to be synonymous with anti-Israel media bias, with the super-friendly Arab station, Al Jazeera. Wouldn't that have been fun? Instead, CNN was pulled abruptly on Thursday, even though HOT said they would give the channel 10 more days of air-time, and replaced with the intellectual, unbiased, and supremely fair Fox News.

To be honest, CNN is my favorite news station in America. Who doesn't enjoy watching CNN Headline News, with all the important stuff given over in just 45 minutes? Fast, easy, and entertaining! In regards to anti-Israel media bias, it's impossible to find a station that not only is fair towards Israel, but is fair in general. After all, stations and newspapers tend to get all their big stories from the stringers like AP and Reuters anyway. You just can't avoid anti-Israel media bias, so you might as well get your news from the most respected American source...CNN.

The problem is that the CNN I saw over here is not Headline News. In fact, the programming seemed to be run by the Brits. All the reporters and anchors were British, and the studio seemed to be out of England. That's not CNN! CNN is out of Atlanta, Georgia. Quite a ways from London, thank you very much. Moreover, every time I turned it on it seemed that they were playing sports news. Seriously, who cares about car racing when people are dying all around the world? I'm not so sad about losing this CNN.

The kicker was that CNN played certain shows that you would never find on the channel in America. The best example: The Daily Show with John Stewart. You can only imagine how surprised I was to see an admittedly unfair, half-serious take on important matters being shown by a company that should be seeking to maximize its reputation for excellence. Not that I complained -- how else would I get to see that staple of Americana, the hard-hitting, no holds-barred funny man?

It would have been nice to see John every night, knowing my dad was religiously watching the same show the night before...but we all have to make sacrifices don't we? Like for Fox News?

Bill O'Reilly is as entertaining as John Stewart, right?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yesterday I had an interview/recruiting session at an American 'call-center' with a branch here. The company is the biggest 'Anglo' employer in Jerusalem, and it is a member of the Forbes 1000. Supposedly they pay American wages, but you sometimes have to work crazy hours, like graveyard shift, so it's a tradeoff.

The job I was offered was paying terribly, and it was strictly the overnight shift. Not exactly what I was looking for. I walked out of that building feeling a bit low, knowing that I would be going back to square one looking for a job. There are plenty of jobs here for English speakers, but so many of them are jobs that I don't want to be involved in, like secretarial or administrative assistant work. An undergraduate degree, especially in political science, doesn't really give any type of leg-up on the competition. The job market isn't so interested in me...

The real problem is that I am trying for such a specific job segment: English speaking position, afternoon hours (3 o'clock or so), with no experience necessary. This description fits the basic American company operating out of Israel, or a company working with companies in America. A friend of mine has the perfect job, fitting these requirements...but it's the exception, not the rule.

At least I can know that a lot of people are in my position! I have a few friends also looking under the same criteria, also having little luck. I applied to the most popular English newspaper here, for an editorial position, but they wrote me back asking how good my Hebrew is; guess that's a 'no.'

I do have one more string to pull...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The internet and cable guy came to the apartment today in order to set it all up. I guess this would be a nice segue to talk about the general Israeli 'personality,' or the Israeli character, disposition, attitude, or whatever word describes how these natives conduct themselves.

A native born Israeli, any Jew that is born and raised in the land, is referred to as a sabra. In case you don't know, a sabra is a cactus fruit. As you absolutely do know, cactuses are guarded with a tough outside shell and sharp, painful spikes. The sabra fruit protects itself with a tough skin, granting the ability to withstand abrasions and bumps, and rigidity to stay in tact during many stressful environmental conditions. Despite the tough exterior, the sabra fruit is truly soft and juicy on the inside, a true delicacy! It is one of the greatest achievements of nature, to be so brash on the outside, while being so soft on the inside.

This is the Israeli! The native Israeli is loud, rude, pushy, and just generally everything that Americans consider a negative personality trait. They don't wait in lines. They allow cell phones to ring during inappropriate times, and then answer them and have a full conservation, without ever budging from their seat! Getting on and off the bus is like too many salmon fighting their way up a narrow stream in Alaska; shoulders push, elbows block. The most normal conversations appear to be shouting matches, with wild gesticulation, and an unknowing observer would be sure punches will follow! The Israeli has more than a tough exterior, but...

With only a smile, a genuine greeting, and a friendly question, this rude specimen is suddenly your best friend! Greetings between men typically include the word "achi," meaning my brother. Names are shared, stories intertwine, and suddenly you are invited to someone's house for dinner, or given a special deal at the store, or any other number of possible positive outcomes. This is the way of the Jew, at least as it is found in biblical stories: Abraham's most important trait was his hospitality. People often forget that Israelis are Jews! The transition from rude to apple-pie can take place, literally, in the span of 2 seconds, revealing the true persona. The Israeli is a softy on the inside, with true emotions, soft emotions of a desire for friendship and acceptance. Ironically, the Israeli, for all his brash exterior, is in many ways much more genuine than the southerns I grew up around. If someone here gives you a compliment, asks you a personal question, or befriends you, you can know that they are being serious! How often do we say in America, "oh you should come over sometime for a cup of coffee,"? And how often is that actually what we want to happen, that we want that person to come into our house, sit on our sofa, and drink our coffee? I'd bet to say not that often. How often do we smile towards others' faces, and then cast daggers with our eyes towards their backs? Of course you will find an Israeli that will do this, but if they really didn't like me, you'd know. They simply wouldn't drop the shell of impenetrable armor! For all the anger on the outside, the Israeli is the most genuine and personal creature I've ever met.

So why the tough attitude? Why act like jerks in the first place? The question is, how can such a nice person be so mean?

Can you blame them? Name the top 3 or so hated countries in the world, at least in terms of negative media or outspoken opponents: Iran, North Korea, Israel. The other two change over time, but Israel will always remain. Moreover, you can identify the origins of all groups of modern Israelis and see why they have grown to be strong on the outside: Russians from the anti-religious, anti-minority communist Soviet Republic; Ethiopians chased from their homeland; Mizrachi Jews chased from Middle Eastern countries with the advent of Israel, even after enduring hundreds of years of minority oppression; European Jews fleeing the Holocaust. If your father, and your father's father, and your father's father's father, ad infinitum, were raised in such hostile environments you too would learn to be tough, to let insults, sneers, and attacks roll more easily off your back. A member of a minority cannot live day to day when each day they let the majority take advantage and abuse them. You have to be strong enough to say, "You can't bother me, because I know who I am on the inside." The Israeli is like the sabra fruit, in that the tough exterior only protects the true nature of the entity: the inside.

That being said, Israelis are no longer Jews living in Russia or Iraq. They are now living among their fellows. Even though the world constantly berates and unfairly singles out Israel (for example, the only refugee group in the U.N. to have its own definition of 'refugee' is the 'Palestinian' Arabs), Israelis are slow to accepting the fact that they do not need to be tough towards their fellow Jews! We aren't the people to be yelled at, to be brushed aside, to ignore! We are one in the same here, we are in the same battle. The same struggle for survival. This attitude problem, the lack of manners, etiquette, and nicety is a huge issue in this brand-new state.

Knowing all of this from too many experiences, where a sabra that retains his tough shell towards you will really not help you anymore than necessary (which means they do a lackluster job and cut corners), I greeted him with my name, a warm smile, and asked him how he was doing. He got quickly to work on the cable, but it turned out that some of our wiring was less than perfect. He went into a different room, and I stood wondering how I could extend a helping hand. What do I know of cable problems?

I did what any American, any Virginian, would do! I offered him a glass of water. He accepted. Instantly he was a different man. We talked about politics, my decision to move to Israel, thoughts on Israel and society -- all standard topics. But then he said something I've heard a few times since I've been here, and it always seems so incongruous to me. He described the attitude of the Westerner that moves to Israel for ideological reasons (me), and how they feel as if they have entered heaven. He said, "but this isn't Heaven! This place can be hell! The life here is hard: everything is expensive, everyone hates us, the government is ineffective in domestic matters, and Israelis are so rude."

It isn't that Israelis don't understand what they are, and that it isn't ideal to be so brash. The problem is that to change an inborn personality trait is one of the hardest things to ever do! A classic rabbi once said something along the lines of, "It is harder to change one part of our personality than to memorize the entire Torah." To change the Israeli abrasiveness is synonymous with changing our own desires for cars, houses, or high-profile jobs. It's just not that easy.

One of my greatest difficulties in coming to Israel, a difficulty shared by many Westerners, is letting my casual politeness subside for a moment to realize how to actually get something done around here. Raise your voice. Gesticulate. Do Not Budge. These are hard for a shy, soft-spoken, patient, tolerant, semi-southern kid to grasp!

Fortunately, the Western voice is being heard here more and more, and I've actually even read a few op-ed pieces in the biggest Israeli newspapers on the importance of manners and politeness. In addition, I was talking to someone from Nefesh B'Nefesh, and I mentioned how hard it is for me to act like a sabra, how hard it is to jump onto a bus without first allowing everyone else to pass. Long story made short, I was nearly chastised on thinking that just because I moved here I had to act so rudely. Essentially, whatever happened to "leading by example?" That's one of my goals here, to never really be so rude. This place is making me tougher, as I've always been sensitive to what others say and do, but not in any way that makes me less polite.

(Note: Don't think that Israelis walk around screaming at each other, pushing others off cliffs, and kicking people for looking at them. Israelis are human like any of us. Think of this persona as more of a New York too-hurried-to-be-nice type of thing...).