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...).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'll tell you what...I'm addicted to computers and the Internet. I'm not sure what I'd do without one, at least if I knew that I couldn't have one for years. Right now, even not having one for a few weeks, has been like not sleeping. I mean, you have to sleep for at least a little bit every day, right? Well, I feel like I need a little bit of Internet access every day too! Maybe I'm just exaggerating.

So I moved into my apartment on Sunday. I couldn't move in until around 5:30pm, and then we had to talk to our landlord's son for a while, doing the whole contract thing. I almost didn't make it, though. I am a customer of Bein Leumi, the 'first international bank of Israel.' I almost joined up with Bank Hapoalim, the biggest bank around, but they were rude and dismissive when I went to start an account. I went to Bein Leumi, and they were very nice--so they got my business! The problem with Bein Leumi is, however, that it is a smaller bank. I don't really know of many branches in Jerusalem, and I only know of one ATM (I'm sure there are more, I just don't know them). So after packing up all my stuff on Sunday, around noon, I started the 30-40 minute trek from the Old City to the ATM. Remember, this is the Middle East; it's hot here around noon. Hell, it's hot here around 5pm.

Finally I made it to the lone ATM, only to see that it is 'segor'--closed. Normally it isn't a big deal, because in America we have something called a 'debit card.' I have an ATM card here, which I didn't know whether it would work in another bank's ATM machine. I fretted for a while, almost called the apartment mate to tell him that I wouldn't be able to bring the $1050, three months rent upfront (common in Israel), but then took a chance on the fees with another bank. They gave me money, but I still don't know how much I was charged for using the mean Hapoalim branch.

I got to the apartment by way of taxi with probably the craziest taxi driver I've ever had. Let's say that I, Mr. Play-It-Cool, stomped on my imaginary brake peddle like your behind-the-wheel instructor about a hundred times. My apartment mate, Yonaton, called me earlier in the day and asked if I would help him move his stuff from his old apartment to the new one. I gladly agreed, no problem! So after our meeting we made the driver to a little town outside of Tel Aviv. Turns out he brought his entire life over when he made aliyah. He rented a 'lift,' which is a freight box on a cargo ship, so he was able to bring everything imaginable. We've gone to about 3 other apartments to pick up various suitcases as well! I was glad to help, but man, what a job! I have a lot of respect for those that work in heavy lifting.

When I came over here I decided to bring just what I needed: clothes, select electronics, hygiene items, and only my most precious books. I fit my life into a regular backpack and two 45 pound duffel bags. Really not so much. When I went backpacking for two months, three years ago, I learned the joys of bringing your life in one backpack. True freedom is knowing that you have reduced your life to the simple things, to have spurned the trivialities we so often carry with us, that we stack up in our houses like so many Blue Beard treasure chests of sentiments. I have truckloads of the stuff just like everyone else, but I wanted to give myself a new start. I never want to abandon my life as I've lived it...but now, at this juncture, at 23 years old, starting my post-college life, I want to start afresh. My heart is carrying my memories, my family and friends, so why should my pockets necessarily do the same? Maybe here I'll build up another treasure chest of those little trinkets that often line our shelves and the pictures that adorn our mirrors. These remembrances of who were are, where and in what time we live, and who we love, are all good mementos for a happy and healthy existence. But, in the comfort of our secure lives, there is always a time to see to it that we haven't stopped living for the day, and instead drifted into living for the past; no matter our age. Not that our pasts are bad or not worth living for, but shouldn't we at least look toward an even better future?!

Anyway, we got to his old apartment around 8. We hit the road back to Jerusalem around 11:30. Quickly we unpacked the loaded mini-van, and then I hit the pillow. I wasn't used to a dark and quiet room, since living in the Old City entails children screaming at 6:00am, and the windows in my old apartment didn't have blinds. I slept like a baby, even though I had no pillow and used the time-tested sweatshirt as my headrest. That first night of sleep wasn't to be...

I woke up with a full nose of snot. Not to be gross, but let me just give you a piece of what I've been living with since Monday morning. Have you ever woken up with one nostril clogged so entirely that you aren't able to even breathe one bit of air through it? Isn't it an odd thing to think that your entire single nostril is so full that you cannot even get a single whiff out of it? Now, imagine that both your nostrils are like that for 3 days. Needless to say, your head would feel a bit woozy too.

My apartment is big and nice, but it's not really clean. It's a clean place, but because the landlord just did all manner of remodeling/fixing, there is dust everywhere. Dust is on every shelf, every window ledge, every nook and cranny. The window in my room has a nice flower-bush growing into it, but since it's lived through the entire dry season it is very dry and covered in dust. Remember how I talked about the dust-storm in Jerusalem? This city and country are very clean, they really are, but we are surrounded by deserts here! What did you expect?

I'm just waiting for the rainy season to give me its full force. FYI: Israel is on the Mediterranean sea. There are many climates in the world, where countries have their respective types and frequencies of seasons. America has a distinct 4 season climate. Israel, however, is a part of the "Mediterranean climate." This means that there are two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season is from spring until fall, while the rainy season is mainly winter. This means that you WILL NOT see rain in the late spring until early fall. This is not like an, "oh, I doubt it'll rain today in July," type of situation. It's more of an, "if it rains today in July I'll gladly walk down Mainstreet naked," situation. The end-result is that by the end of the dry season everything is, well, dry and dusty-- and I can't help but sneeze!

I have so many thoughts and observances to write about: construction in Jerusalem, religious people and their lives, my experiences, politics, what it's like to live without a car, and everything else you could think of. I have a friend here that has a nice blog, but because he has spent so much of his life in Israel or involved in Israeli causes, he chooses to not write about the eccentrics of Israel. I'm not so reserved!

I applied for a job today. Cross your fingers for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'm leaving the yeshiva, as I've said before, on Sunday. I could probably stick around for a while, even though I'll have an apartment starting then, but I am ready to just get on with the world. Despite this, I'll really miss the foreign kids here (foreign in relation to me). There are people from all over the world, from England, Spain, France, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico -- and Canada. There are people from other countries as well, but the British are by far the most interesting. I've been rooming with a British kid, and some of my favorite guys in my program are British and Australian. They're just great to talk to, to listen to, to joke around with, and make fun of their accents. I'll miss that, for sure! Oh, and my roommate is a ridiculous magician. If you want to know how to get my attention, it's with some card and coin tricks!

I'm sorry if my blog has lost some 'oomph'; it's largely due to the fact that I don't have my computer to take my time and craft a good post. I want to, however, write a bit about whatever the heck is going on with Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Israel.

It seems like Israel indeed blew up some type of nuclear facility in Syria. The Washington Post is saying that it was a primitive, or basic, facility created on the form of a North Korean reactor. Apparently it was years from being 'live,' but Israel decided to take out the place in advance. If you read the post I wrote on the situation before, you will see that my analysis has been coming true, slowly but surely. It's too easy to misunderstand: Israel blew up something no-no, Syria is guilty, and everyone is keeping quiet in order to avoid war.

Moreover, another report came out yesterday I believe, or the day before yesterday, claiming that Hizbullah shipped the captured Israeli soldiers over to Iran during the Lebanon War last year. I don't know if this is credible or not, I really don't have the details on any of it, but it sure sounds like a scary prospect. Supposedly a 'high ranking Israeli' said it was nonsense. But, think about this: not only is Iran threatening to "wipe Israel off the map," in addition to supplying Hizbullah every year with around $200 some million in war funds (according to a report given to the Senate), now they apparently have a direct hand in holding Israelis hostage. Making the issue even more real to us, after hearing about this report, the air over Jerusalem was filled all day long with jet fly-overs. I'm not sure if they were commercial or military, but I've never heard so many jets in one day, so I feel like it was abnormal (i.e. military).

This makes a lot of us, over here, nervous for obvious reasons. I doubt Israel is going to go to war with Iran, nor would Iran attack Israel directly, but now we have to deal with IRAN to get our soldiers back? You cannot completely realize how the national feeling is to this issue. Our brothers are being held hostage, potentially a thousand miles away, some of them known to have been wounded...and we know nothing about their status. We don't know if they are dead or alive, injured or recovered, and certainly not how they are being treated. Not even a 'sign of life' has been given. This was terrible when we thought they were probably in Gaza or the West Bank, or even Lebanon, but now to think they are at the mercy of that new Hitler, the president of Iran?

Imagine if James Martin, a good American boy, was captured in Iraq. Now, imagine if he was all of a sudden found out to be in an al Qaeda jail in, say, Iran. Over a year had passed, and we had no idea of whether he was alive or dead from his wounds. His parents appear in the news weekly, especially outcrying the apparent government inaction on getting the soldier back home. America would be outraged -- Israel is too.

Are we ever going to get these soldiers back? Are Goldwasser, Shalit, Regev, and the rest of the missing guys ever going to find their way to Israel? With all the news of potential war with Syria and Iran, or at least heightened conflict, I'm not sure we'll ever resolve this crisis.

(I wrote my senior thesis on the outcome of a potential Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. If I ever get my computer back I could send it to whoever wanted to read it, for whatever that's worth).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Don't take this wrong way, because I value all experiences that come my way, for whatever I may learn from it, but it seems that the first time I do something I always have to do it the hard way. Not necessarily the 'hard way,' but certainly not the 'short way,' or with any shortcuts.

A few days ago I found out about the only certified Apple repair shop in Israel. Unfortunately, it is in Rosh Ha'ayin, which is something of a Silicon Valley in Israel. I say unfortunately because I had never been there, as it really isn't much of a tourist town, and I wasn't sure of the best way to get to the repair shop. I figured the bus would be the best shot. Firstly, I got to the bus station at about 11am, and then found out that the only direct bus was leaving at 1:30pm. I definitely didn't want to risk the other option: transfers. Certain personality traits will never escape me, and for this circumstance my soft-spokenness in strange places and with strangers is a major disadvantage. I just knew I'd miss a transfer.

So I waited. Finally the bus came, a very uncharacteristically 15 minutes late, and we were off. The bus took Route 443, which is an Israeli-only highway that cuts through the West Bank. I've been on this road a few times, but it never ceases to amaze me. I mean, being in the West Bank, going through checkpoints, riding alongside concrete walls, past towns with at least 5 minarets within 5's sobering, to say the least. At one point the road forks, with the sign calmy declaring, Ramallah this way, Tel Aviv that way. At this juncture there is the largest concrete wall, and an even large concrete guard tower known to man. The tower looks something like a short traffic control tower, with bulletproof windows up top and an unmistakable Israeli flag above. This whole trip always reminds me of a Dave Chappelle stand-up routine, where he is unwittingly taken into the "ghetto." He says, "gun store, gun store, liquor store, gun store... where the hell you takin' me?" Instead, I was thinking, "mosque, mosque, checkpoint, mosque..."

After the foray into the dark side, I saw signs for Rosh Ha'ayin, my destination. I wasn't sure what the bus's plan way, whether it was going to stop in the city or on the road, or if it would stop at all. Honestly, if the one other guy getting off didn't get off, I would have been on the way to Tel Aviv. I just didn't know where we were, and the bus driver didn't announce a thing. Thankfully I got off, but found myself on the very outskirts of the city/town. I started walking, only knowing the name of the technological park where the Apple repair shop is located. I was walking through neighborhood after neighborhood, with no definite clue as to where I was or going.

I think I walked about 2 miles before I got a taxi. Don't think I was being foolish and walking without purpose. Instead, I was walking according to the signs, hoping for a taxi, but between the 3 I saw none stopped for me. I was in an expensive suburb, so there weren't really any taxis just floating around looking for pedestrians, as you'd find in a city. Eventually a taxi did stop for me, reluctantly taking me to my destination. Reluctantly. All the taxis were going in the opposite direction, I suppose taking people home from work, and then on their way home as well.

The technological park is something of a Silicon Valley. Israel has two big economic sectors, in my observation: tourism and technology. Israel is absolutely a 'first-world country,' in my opinion, but there are some parts that don't really look very 'Western.' If you see a group of clean, modernist buildings with the typical walls of windows and brushed steel, you can almost bet it is a technological 'park.' Among the companies represented in Rosh Ha'ayin are Orange, Ericson, Verifone, Nokia, car importing companies (for every manufacturer you can think of), and some others that escape me now. The point is, it was a very nice place.

After all the hassle of waiting for a direct bus, having to walk forever before a taxi would deem me worthy, figuring out how the one-way loop of the park works, it was finally made clear that the easiest way to get to Rosh Ha'ayin is the train. This is it: the train goes to the station, and the station has buses that go everywhere. That's it. Now I know!

On the way back to Jerusalem, exhausted, I had to make a train transfer at Beit Shemesh. I got off my bus, walked down the underground tunnel that goes back up to the station, and asked which platform the train to Jerusalem uses. The woman looks at me, stupified, and yells, "RUN! It's where you got off!" I run, the train is still sitting there, and as I press the button on the door to open it, the train rolls away. It was probably 55 degrees out, and I had on shorts and a t-shirt. An hour later I was on the way to Jerusalem. It was a long day.

But hey, now I know how to get to Rosh Ha'ayin properly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Oh, all you Generation X'ers and whatever my generation is, oh how needy we are! As I said in my last post, the power socket in my computer is broken, which means I can't use my computer...and how terrible it is to be without a computer!

When I was 19 I went backpacking America, specifically outwest in the national parks. I brought my cellphone, but provided I was in the parks for most of the time, I didn't really have any service. Of course I didn't bring my computer with me, either. For two months I had no internet, no games, no email, nothing! Two entire months I was absorbed in nothing but finding my way to the backcountry, and absorbing all that was around me in nature. For two months I had no real communication-- and I didn't miss it one bit! This is a true story: At the end of the two months I found myself in Bozeman, Montana, which is probably the most beautiful town in the world. Tucked away in the true "middle of nowhere," it was a town obviously filled with real personality and emotion. I was in the habit of going to town libraries if I had a long wait for my Greyhound bus to take me to the next destination, so I trekked out to a surprisingly large, but hidden library. I walked in and noticed that they had about a dozen computers. I figured it'd be nice to see what a computer felt like, especially for a person so obsessed with them. I sat down, beginning already to feel rushed by the strict 30 minute time limit, and promptly found myself in alien territory. Looking at a computer monitor is truly the strangest thing. What is this graphical representation of the real world, pictures on a glowing sheet of glass, a keyboard magically connected by a single wire; it truly felt like I hadn't touched a computer for twenty years. Honestly, it was easier to drive a car after two months than to use a keyboard. Honestly!

But, now I'm in a different situation, or so I like to think. I am 7,000 miles away from my family and friends, I am looking for jobs which is impossible without a computer, using email to contact employers and do searches of all nature: a computer is indispensible! Despite this challenge, I'm staying positive. There's no need to worry, even if my resume is now lost! Even if I can't update my blog, the only way people can really keep up with me! Even if my computer is my only way to charge my iPod! Even if the only place in Israel that supposedly MAY be able to fix my computer is impossible to get in touch with! What a silly generation I come from, and I recognize that I myself am silly for taking all this so seriously. But really, I challenge everyone that reads this, everyone that is 18-25, to disconnect their computer for a month, do not touch a computer if you can, at least for purposes of entertainment. That means no Facebook or Myspace, no Google or Wikipedia, no YouTube or Limewire or bittorent! Now do I seem so silly? I bet only a handful of us could really take that challenge well, and I know that unless I'm backpacking, even I cannot do it: am I not paying for internet at a cafe right now?

Anyway, I'm babbling. I'll write again when I can. I got an apartment, which I can move into on the 21st of the month. Nice.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A "dust-storm" has settled over Jerusalem today, an occurrence not so surprising considering that deserts surround the Middle East. Though Jerusalem is in the mountains, and desert-free, the air still finds itself heavy at times. It is more than recognizable: the sky is grey, the air is grainy, your nose burns if huffing and puffing up the hills. Don't think that it is like a real dust-storm you see in movies, but rather it's more like the haze of Los Angeles. Either way, it's one of the least pleasant aspects of the area.

It's fitting that today the air is heavy, because I'm feeling a bit heavy myself. I went to charge up my laptop today, my only real connection to the outside world, and found that somehow a metal strip inside the computer's charging port became dislodged. I tried for over an hour to put it back in it's place. I didn't force it. Then I tried to put the cable in again, to no avail. Then I forced it. Stupid. I wouldn't have been able to fix it anyway, but forcing something in where it just won't go in only does more damage.

Now I need to figure out how you ship a box from this country to America, for my parents to get the computer fixed. No one works with Macs here, generally, so I have to ship it off. I bet the shipping will be $50 or more. I don't even know where to find a box!

This is really stressing me out: it has all my unbacked up music, thankfully backed up pictures, personal documents including my resume (which I planned on sending out in the next few days, potentially, to some English speaking companies), and so one. I have been trying to tell myself that "it's all cornflakes," but it feels pretty serious to be without your computer! Especially if you're a computer nerd like me.

I'm at an internet cafe right now. The rates are pretty cheap, but I can't afford to do this too often. So, I hope I can post to my blog every once in a while, either by borrowing someone's at the yeshiva or coming here.

"It's all just cornflakes!"

Sunday, October 7, 2007

This yeshiva I go to is one that especially attempts to reach out to Jews that aren’t really even sure what Judaism is. They take in all types of characters. The hippie that obviously did too many drugs. The ex-bouncer covered in tattoos (a no-no in Judaism). A former heroin addict who built his own house in Jamaica on someone’s farm. All these are true stories, people I know well. There are also many normal people, guys that had good jobs that just got fed up, or guys in college that want to learn a little more during the summer, and so on. But one story I was told last night was really interesting. Not as interesting as my buddy the ex-junkie, but still worth a blog post.

The head guy of the apartment they put me in is very religious. He wears black and white, a black hat, and you can just tell he is very serious. I also thought he was older, maybe 23 or 24. Our conversation:

“How old are you?”
“20. I’ve been here for a little more than a year”
“20… So you didn’t go to college, right?”
“Nope. I just didn’t think it was for me. I didn’t want to get pushed along. I felt that everyone going to college was going because they had to, they were being pushed to do it, to get a job, to do that whole thing.”
“So what’d you do?”
“When I graduated from high school I ran off to the circus and traveled the country with them for 6 months.”
“….,” trying to not be too gullible, “…really?”
“Yup. I joined P.T. Barnum. I took care of the animals, like horses and zebras, sometimes elephants.”
“Interesting. And did they pay a lot?”
“Relatively. You don’t spend much because you live on the train. P.T. Barnum has the biggest train in North America. It’s like a mile and a half long. You have your own room on the train, basically a cage. You have a bed and a mini-fridge, and that’s it.”
“So why’d you give it all up?”

For all the kids out there: Graduate high-school, maybe give college a try. Joining the circus isn’t the route, even if it sounds cool.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bar Refaeli, the Israeli “supermodel” who is dating Leonardo Dicaprio, is just another punk of the material world that has no respect for the greater purposes in life. She is something of a trophy in this country, however, simply because the world is recognizing an Israeli. Guys all across America and the greater women-appreciating universe oogled over her Sports Illustrated pictures…but I just see her as a punk.

An interview by Yediot Ahronot with Refaeli brought out the worst in this ‘celebrity.’ Israel has a mandatory draft, whereby even women serve 2 years starting as they are 18. Everyone does this, except for the most ultra-orthodox and the conscientious objector (read: delusional). Serving in the army here is like going to school in America – it’s just something you do. If you don’t do it, for whatever reason, you aren’t really respected. I really mean that. If you dodge your draft, you are considered a deserter of your nation, a traitor, a mooch off the blood and sweat of others. Draft-dodgers have the mindset that it is their single plight to serve, that only they suffer the hardship of giving up 2-3 years of your life, the potential to die, the fear inherent in releasing all personal sovereignty.

Rafaeli dodged the army by marrying a friend, thereby exempting herself from service. So what did she have to say about deserting her countrymen?

“I don’t regret not having been drafted into the army, because I made out big.”
“Why is it good to die for one’s country, isn’t it better to live in New York?”

I wish I could get hold of the full interview, because I’m sure there’s much, much more. But, let me breakdown Bar’s ignorance for you. First of all, as a girl she is basically guaranteed to not serve in a combat unit. Rather, if she is smart (which I doubt) she would be in some intelligence unit, if she is dumb (probably) she’d be in some type of military police unit, and if she is of average intelligence she’d have some random desk or office job. It’s not too much to ask, Bar, to serve in a non-life threatening position in the same manner that your family, your friends, and your countrymen have done to protect your assaulted homeland. What if we all thought like you? Do you really think that everyone else is so gung-ho about the army? What about the guys and the few girls that are in real combat units? Think they should dodge, or are you more important, and are your goals more important?

Secondly, is it better for an Israeli to leave Israel and live in New York? She also announced that she is moving, I’m supposing permanently, to Los Angeles. Listen, I’m also an American, and I love America. It’s truly the most comfortable place on earth. But, for an Israeli, considering how much this country needs successful and world-renowned individuals to boost the consensus that Israel is a ‘good place,’ is it truly better for one to move to New York or LA? In my opinion, it isn’t, simply because Israel NEEDS people like Bar Refaeli. Not that we need supermodels, but we need the boost in positive attitudes that typically only cultural icons can bring. Imagine if Bar Refaeli had served in the army, and in this interview or one with a western paper had declared her pride for Israel, her pride in her people, and that Israel is a good place to be. Imagine!

Rather, she chose to be a “proud” draft-dodger. I have no respect for her…and to be 100% honest, and I swear that I even thought this before I knew she deserted Israel, I don’t think she is nearly as good looking as girls I see here every day! I’ve thought that since I first saw her.

Especially now that you know what type of person she is, compare the first picture of her (a superficial money-grabber) with the second picture of real Israeli girls (sitting on the beach, drinking a beer, with their M16s nearby -- idyllic).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I was talking about the parade of foreigners in festive gear, waving flags and sporting their countries on their shirts. Well, apparently they were evangelical Christians here to support Israel, specifically during our holiday of Succot. I'm not so sure how I feel about the whole evangelical Christian support for Israel, considering that they believe we are here to fulfill the message of Jesus...

On the other hand these Christians do support Jews living in the land, and they are just about as strong on the issue of Israeli sovereignty over the land as anyone else. That means they don't believe in giving away land to anyone, for any reason. However, someone once said to me: we need to be careful of our bed-fellows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I'm a Good Friend - More Tourists & Pilgrims in Israel

Today was certainly a full and eventful day. Waking up with a slight sugar-hangover from the 10 brownies I ate at a party last night at the yeshiva, I had a healthy breakfast and then checked my email, and while doing so I got a phone call from a girl I met on my flight. It started out very promising:

“Hey Danny. How would you feel about making some money?”
“I’d feel great about making some money. What’s the job?”
“Moving a bed and frame. It’s about a 10 minute walk from my apartment.”
“No problem! It’ll take me half an hour.”

Yeah right. After I waited about an hour at the bank just to receive my ATM-withdrawal card (read: ATM, not debit, a concept that hasn’t reached the Israeli shores, besides the combination Visa credit-debit scheme to put people in debt), waiting mainly for a very animated guy to stop yelling at each and every clerk over something I couldn’t figure out, I finally made my way to the #18 bus stop. I took this bus every day, twice a day, for a whole summer, so I knew where to go…only they changed the stops for it.

So after making the 20 minute hike to Emek Refaim, probably the nicest and most expensive area of Jerusalem (it really is heavenly there), I finally met up with my friend. I should have known the day was going to be drawn out. We walked to the apartment where the mattress was held, and as she was told the mattress and frame were waiting for us on the balcony. It was on the first floor. No one was home. The problem was that the balcony was about 7 feet off the ground.

So after I found a chair and jumped onto the balcony, I had to figure out how to hand a queen size bed and fully wooden frame to a 130 some pound girl. A deep apology goes out to the landscaper and his bushes. We decided that we would have to make two trips, after I really thought long and hard how I could carry both the frame and mattress together. So, as I’ve done before, I hoisted the mattress onto my back and started walking. I planned ahead: I wore shorts instead of jeans.

So, imagine a 6’4 guy carrying a queen sized mattress down a posh Jerusalem street that not only houses where I had my internship at a political think-tank, but also the Greek consulate, and a slew of other beautiful homes. Now remember that this thing is on my back, with a 5’4 girl pushing it from behind to make sure it didn’t fall off. We were a miserable sight. I was sweating like Patrick Ewing. I had to walk mainly in the street because the sidewalks were too narrow.

I thought it was pretty fun. She was really trying to find a van or delivery truck that would help us out, and I thought we were in luck when one of these stopped, offered to help, told us to wait because they had to turn around, and then it zooms off never to return. Eventually, when we were about 3/4ths of the way finished, a sketchy delivery driver said something to the girl, and finally we had our mattress in the back of a huge truck mixed with bags of rice. I finally got to ride in one of those crazy things, and the guy driving it was only slightly less crazy. His name was ‘Demitri,’ obviously a Soviet-bloc immigrant. I’ll just say one thing about Demitri: He literally forced us to eat ‘garinim,’ or sunflower seeds with him. She politely refused once, twice, then he got serious and I found myself with about 10 of them. Then he made us take more. I was already thirsty from sweating out about a liter after the walk.

Finally we got the mattress up the steps, into her 4th floor apartment. Nice day. Chug water. Wonder why she is paying $400 a month for an attic, literally. Pity her roommate who is dying over the previous tenants cat fur gift. Return for the slightly less laborious frame. Luckily I was able to carry that on my back for about 3/4 of the way, then we did a 70-30% distribution on the carry.

I have to say I had a lot of fun. It’s nice to get out there and help somebody, especially if you don’t really know them that well. Even if a ’10 minute walk’ really was about a mile. She offered me money in the beginning, as I said, but I refused. I just wanted to help; I wanted to be useful. And I’m bored out of my mind right now because the yeshiva is in a sort of holiday break, with nothing going on. Besides, she’ll buy me dinner or something later. It did take three hours after all.

On my way back to the Old City I encountered hordes, literally hordes, of foreign tourists all wearing t-shirts of the countries they are from. I knew that not even the corniest of tourists all coincidentally happen to wear their countries boldly on their shirts. I found out later that there was some type of parade, where people were just jumping up and down in procession, representing their countries, giving out flags, simply being merry. Norway, Denmark, Brazil, England, America, all types of places were represented. There are very few things as refreshing to a beleaguered state as seeing direct international support. Even if it made my normally 15 minute walk take double the time.

The last thing to mention is that my closest and really only true friend at the yeshiva left tonight for New York. His name is David, he was in the sailing pictures I posted. He’s going back to get a job, get his life on track, and potentially even start a business selling his mom’s “unbelievably delicious and unbelievably healthy” cookies. His family seems to be super-health nuts, vegetarians at times, and his mom makes a walnut, almond, and date cookie that apparently is the best thing since sliced bread. Look out for “Dr. Mier’s Kitchen” in the near future. I told him to put some chocolate chips in there.

Moving to another country, 7,000 miles away from your family, essentially alone and on your own is really a more difficult thing than most people can imagine. You have to do a lot of stuff to reestablish your life, like deal with banks and phone companies and government agencies, and even if these things all go smoothly it really reinforces the idea of your permanence and your solitude. No one in the world can do these things for you! You, and you alone, are the person that must take control of your life, no matter how difficult things may seem. This type of transition, for sane people, necessitates introspection and dialogue on the meaning of life, the meaning of your life, who you are, what you want to be, and how you are going to achieve your goals. The first period the transition is the hardest, in my opinion, because everything is slowly seeping into the consciousness, the realization of the immense choice made. The choice to literally change one’s life.

David helped me make this transition by not only being someone that listens, but by being a more experienced person that was able to bring in professional perspectives. We shared psychology books, self-help books, and the information gleaned from all sources, be it secular or religious. He is a similarly afflicted individual; one who searches for deeper meaning.

What I’m saying is that he will be sorely missed. And as I parted with him, as he was loaded down with all his bags, I realized that not only will he be missed, I will be missed as well. Mutual assistance, a mutual friendship, even if it is only a month long, is one of the dearest things to lose. There is no feeling such as loss, no feeling as intense and genuine, true and searing as finding a friend amidst a sea of solitude, only to return to that solitude so abruptly.

Don’t worry about me, I have plenty of people to talk to here. There is a great guy that I’ve known for over a year now that is here. Really a great human being, one of the greatest I’ve met in my entire life. But there is a difference between connecting with someone, feeling a certain singularity stemming from a similarity in personality, and simply being able to admire and talk to a person.

But as I truly believe: Whatever we are given is given for a reason, there is a purpose behind our possessions and interactions, and it is not up to us to decide when these things or relationships will end. We simply must make the most out of everything in our power…and we must take comfort in the knowledge that we never took anything for granted.