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!"