Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chag Sheleg Sameach! (Happy Snow Day!)

Last week, the weather people were predicting some snow. Despite the recommendation of stocking up on bread and milk, the thermometer stayed in the 40s, and all we got was a light drizzle. So, when we were warned of snowfall for last night and this morning, I was naturally skeptical. It does snow around here, and the elevation of Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet, but...

Well, it snowed over night and early this morning. Without knowing that, I woke up feeling even more unwilling than usual to get out of bed with the customary 7am alarm, and instantly realized I wasn't going to be able to get out of bed. Only then did I take a look out the window, seeing that there were actually snowflakes coming down. My first Israel snow! The strange thing, however, was that the snow was falling like rain. They were clearly flakes, but they were coming down so quickly!

"A heavy snowfall blanketed Jerusalem and the surrounding areas Tuesday night and was continuing to fall Wednesday morning. As expected, the Jerusalem municipality decided to cancel school in the capital for the day due to the slippery streets. University classes were also canceled, as well as kindergartens and preschools."

That, and the rest of the following quotes, are from a Jerusalem Post article. This gets funny.

And apparently, it must be severe, because "100 snow plows were deployed around the city and were clearing the roads." Man, must really be snowing hard, eh?

Must really be chilly to have all this snow, right? "The forecaster said that with strong winds, the temperature in the capital could plummet to as low as -9ยบ C." Wow, -9 Celsius? Burr! So, the wind chill could make the temperature a bone freezing, gasp, 15 degrees Fahrenheit! That's pretty cold, but not in terms of wind chill. When the Green Bay Packer's played the New York Giants for the NFC championship this year, in Green Bay, the wind chill was negative 23 degrees. That, my friends, deserves a new's report.

How on earth are they going to deal with such freezing weather? "[The ambulance service] has also reissued protocols for treating victims of hypothermia, and paramedics have been outfitted with warm gloves and special suits." And a sixth of our population is from Russia...

People drive like madmen here, especially the cops. As opposed to American cops, who tend to drive especially within the law, Israeli cops take advantage of their immunity. How often have you been slowed down on the interstate because a cop was also on the road, driving with the traffic? Should we pass him? He is going 65 on a 65. Well, the cops here are insane drivers, whipping around turns and gunning their Subaru's to the max. Not surprisingly, then, "A 17-year-old girl was lightly injured when a police car flipped over on Jerusalem's Golda Meier Boulevard due to the blizzard." My emphasis.

I hope the girl is ok. That sounds pretty serious, for a car to flip. I can 100% guarantee you the cop was driving recklessly, especially for a -– blizzard. Blizzard! That's serious! Must be, like, a few feet or something. Terrible winds, too! A blizzard is actually a defined term, or at least has definitions by individual countrys' weather services. Canada's definition requires constant 25mp/h winds and a wind chill of less than -13 degrees Fahrenheit. America requires constant 35mp/h winds and visibility limited to a quarter of a mile.

Most blizzards have a couple feet of snow. The Great Blizzard of 1888 had snowdrifts of up to 50 feet! I personally remember, with great affection, the North American Blizzard of 1996. That was the absolute greatest winter of my life. I am from Elkton, Virginia, which is right next to the Shenandoah National Park. The SNP was recorded as getting 47 inches, and Elkton got just as much. My dog and I, I remember vividly, went jumping through the snow, because neither of us could walk properly. She would jump, reappear a second later, bounding forward, while I almost crawled on the top of the 4 feet of white stuff. That was a blizzard!

So, one of the most respected newspapers in Israel reported a blizzard, at least inadvertently. Must be quite a bit of snow! How much, precisely, do you ask? "About 10 cm. is expected to accumulate in Jerusalem by the end of Wednesday and another 10 by late Thursday."

Wait. Aren't centimeters smaller than inches? Isn't that about, um, let me estimate... 4 inches? Wait, 4 inches of snow is a blizzard? Oh, hold on, plus another 10 centimeters – Oh. An 8 inch blizzard?

Humph. It's been raining since 8am. The weather is really miserable. There is literally so much rain on our front walkway that a river came in under our door, before we noticed. Miserable. It's funny that they were so worried about snow. I'm worried we're going to have floods! Take a look at this picture. I took this from my window, of our back yard, around 7:45am. This is our blizzard conditions...

Monday, January 28, 2008


The seat that the Italian sits in every day, next to Chicago and myself, was left vacant. She sat on the opposite side of the room, and sent me sidelong glances the entire time. True story. A little petulant, aren't we?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Europeans, what a silly group of people!

Today we played Taboo, or at least the ulpan equivalent of Taboo. We had slivers of paper with words on them, and we had to describe them for our partners' to figure out, without using the word, of course. It was pretty fun, really. I was paired up with a girl from Chicago, and also the Italian. We had such a hard time speaking over the din of the entire classroom, and the Italian said, "I can't hear what you are saying!"

"No? Sorry," and I leaned forward. "I'll speak louder."
"No, I just can't understand what you're saying."
"What?" I was confused. I spoke up, and clearly. "You don't know the vocab, you mean?"
"I don't understand Americans. You guys have such a strong accent, I can't understand a word you're saying! All I hear is American," leaning back in her seat, smugly and self-reassuringly nodding her head.
"Yeah, I can't hear you. Your accent just overpowers the Hebrew."
"Ok...," shifting to the right, towards my American compatriot.

At this point, the Chicago girl and I exchanged looks. It was mildly offensive, the way she so blatantly told us how terrible our accents were. She went on to tell us how she never can understand Americans, and that our Hebrew is always murdered by the accents -- worse so than any other non-native speakers. Great, that's very encouraging. Chicago, however, was not ready to lay down and accept humiliation.

"Really, you think so? I think the Portuguese are hard to understand," pointing her chin towards the Brazilians.
Emphatically, "No way! They speak like Israelis."
Chicago was not going to have that rebuke. She, after all, spent a year living in Brazil; she knows Portuguese. "I disagree, you're wrong, you notice how they speak with that sing-song tune? Their accent is so heavily Portuguese. I can tell right away where they are from."
"Well, I guess, but they don't sound so bad. I mean, I can understand them at least."
"Yeah, the French are pretty bad, right?" I had to put in my two cents, and they really do fight through that nasal inflection.
"I guess. Nothing like you guys," with a dismissing flick of the hand.

I didn't want to say it, but Chicago felt like it was time. I gave her a quick look, as if I knew what she was thinking, and gave her the go-ahead nod. "Italians, your accent -- it's also very noticeable."
"No!" The Italian sat bolt upright in her seat, eyes wide open. "That's not true! We have a very soft accent, and it drops completely when we speak Hebrew!"
"Right. In Italian you add an 'eh' or some type of up-talk ending, like 'spicy-eh.'"
"Yes, we add that in Italian, but we don't do it in Hebrew!"
"Yes you do! I had an Italian in my other ulpan class, and she spoke Hebrew the same way as you do," fingering her pen.
"No, whatever," the Italian sitting straight up, picked up her notebook, tidying up her desk with her eyes down, rearranging nothing worth rearranging. "You're wrong, whatever. Whatever!"

She was not pleased! It was silly how easily she told us that our accents were so visible through the Hebrew, but when we pointed out that she had an Italian accent, just as the Parisians have French accents, and the Brazilians have Brazilian accents, she took such great offense. We had a long conversation on the horrible American disposition, and the other students from other countries, but then when her nationality came into question... What puerile, touchy Europeans!

After a few minutes, knowing that the conversation was over, I let slip what I had really wanted to say the whole time. Italy-girl gave over a sentence, in Hebrew, while still playing Taboo. I let the thought on my mind slip, and I felt bad, and then I realized how comical it all was! I said, "Now that'sa spicy'eh meat'ah ball'eh!

"No way! I DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT! That's American-Italian, and I am not one of those people."
"Really?," responding in a deferential tone, realizing that I could have just been slightly obnoxious. "I thought Italians were Italians?"
"No, I am from the north of Italy. We don't speak like that," lifting her nose skyward.
"Oh, yeah, I guess not."

At the end of class, unsure if maybe I was wrong in my estimation of her accent, I asked Chicago what she thought. "Was she a little bit sensitive about that Italian thing?," not sure what Chicago would say.
"I know, right?! I'm glad you said that," fully effecting a look of surprise by raising her eyebrows and half-smiling.
"Good," relaxing my shoulders, "I wasn't sure if it was just me."
"No, no, she totally speaks with an Italian accent. I can barely understand her sometimes, because she puts 'eh' on the end of everything, so I can't tell if the verbs are masculine or feminine..."
"Yeah, me too! Sheesh, I thought I was being racist she got so mad."

This is why I like the Brits. Their accents are as heavy and pronounced as Americans, and they know it, just like we realize how terribly we butcher the language. We all do, really. That's the thing; speak proudly, but realize that if you're from Italy, or Virginia, everybody is going to realize you're not from Jerusalem.

Mamma mia! Non te la prendere!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yesterday marked the one week anniversary of my ulpan. If you read a previous post of mine you'd see that I thought I was in the lower half of the class, barely able to keep up with the level. I was mistaken. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say that I'm actually in the upper portion of the hierarchy, the hierarchy of the "better" students, but I would say that I seem to have one of the larger vocabs and ability to conjugate the verbs. Essentially, the way the class works is that she throws things out there, like a new verb or some review, and we answer her with the conjugated forms or sentences or discuss the questions she poses. Many, many times I'm the only one answering when it comes to which structure the verb falls in; the binyan, an all important element of conjugation. Sometimes, I'm the only one even answering what the verb means -- we do have quite a few on our plate right now, so I think I just have a mind for memorizing infinitives.

It's funny that I was so worried about the next 5 months and whether or not I would be able to stick to the class for that long. If you miss a day or don't understand something, and don’t have a chance to study, in a language course, you're just screwed. I had a right to be weary, but I misjudged my fellow students. I'm not saying they're dumb, or don't know Hebrew – they are smart, and they know the language pretty well. I simply lacked that all-important confidence. I am still too reticent in speaking, as I feel so self-conscious when I do. In my opinion, honestly, learning a language is the most difficult academic subject available. Math, science, politics... at least you can listen to the professor in your own language!

The class has taken on some new people, and other people have left (for the ones that left I thank Heaven). We have two new French girls, one of whom is fairly beautiful, but I don't think they really speak English. The pretty one is a little ridiculous. For instance, she was talking on her phone in the classroom, during class. For about 10 minutes. Yeah, French people often deserve their stereotypes, at least in my encounters. Also, we got an Ethiopian guy, who I can't understand a word of in Hebrew, or any other language for that matter. I think he speaks French to the Parisians. And, we have these two really cool Brazilian kids, a guy and a girl (and another girl, but apparently she said that the Americans have funny/stupid accents and she can't understand us, so...). The cool Brazilian girl is pretty attractive, in that South American, she's a dance instructor kind of way. The guy was supposedly an Olympic weight lifting hopeful. He isn't overly huge, though, so maybe I misunderstood him and he only helped train weight lifters. Whatever.

The last word is about this really really cool Italian girl. She's from Turin, which makes her cultured right off the bat. She knows Latin, French, English, Spanish, Italian and working on the 'Brew. Being that she's Italian, even though her English is better than many Americans, she tends to speak Hebrew with an Italian accent. So, when you think of Italian inflection, think "Now that-seh spice-eh meat-ah ball-eh!" And then, in Hebrew, "Yeish-eh lee-eh cheshek-eh laasot-ah..." It's a problem because suffixes are king in this language, but boy oh boy, how I laugh and laugh when she speaks! To myself, of course, considering I probably sound like a redneck to these people.

And yes, my main observations were just about the attractiveness of the girls in the class. What else did you expect? I'm 23!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yesterday I was walking home from class when I saw something quite interesting. As I was walking down the street I saw a cop van and a cop car parked next to a house that is being built. The construction on the house looks just about finished, with just the final touches needed. The walls are up, the Jerusalem stone has been applied, and all it was lacking externally was windows. For some reason, without seeing anything but the police presence, I knew right away what was going on.

Israel is known as a country of refuge, believe it or not. In this area of the world, including the Asian continent we supposedly live on, the Jewish state is looked to as a place to go to rise up in the world, or to be rescued from danger. That's why I see it as America, fifty years ago, where people from around the world would dream of going to to get Westernized. Israel has the best universities outside of Europe and America, rivaling both of those areas as well. We have one of the best medical programs. Our trading centers are also top notch, such as in diamonds (surprise surprise). And we have human rights; no wonder the Sudanese and Ethiopians trekked here from hundreds of miles away.

Not without reason, then, do many people from poor Eastern European countries and southeast Asian nations try to get into Israel to live, work, or study. You wouldn't imagine how many Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indonesians are here working as geriatric nurses. As a matter of fact, my flatmate's friend talked to me yesterday about a Korean family that she just interviewed to rent her grandfather's apartment for the year. The man is getting a degree from a college here in Jerusalem.

And, as this country is continually under construction, of course the labor is going to be international. Not only Arabs are the construction crew, however. As the movie Janem, Janem expertly reveals, people from Romania and Turkey find their way to Israel. Tons of Southeast Asians, again. People from all over want to get in to help build the country -- in 2008 for money as in 1895 for ideals. Human ambition never changes, only the circumstances. There are so many anecdotal stories about people in ravaged countries who work in factories only to be paid with the products that they create or work on. As I read once, some Russian coffin makers are actually compensated with, of all things, coffins. At least in Israel they'll get some cash.

So, as I was walking down the street, there was a construction site, and police cars. And there, just like in the aforementioned movie (which you should definitely find), were Eastern European looking men being led into the police van. As far as I know, the way it works is the cops know what is being worked on, and they just do random visa checks. They show up, ask for your passport, check the details, and if there's a problem they take you in...and then deport. I wonder if those men I saw yesterday are back in Lithuania?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yesterday morning, bright and early, I had my first day of ulpan, intensive Hebrew school. Five hours a day, five days a week, for five straight months. Sitting in that seat and realizing how strenuous the next five months are going to be, I felt not a little pang of despair. I'm not normally one to feel like that in academic environments, but the nature of an intensive language course, one for a language of the country you live in and desperately want to be a part of, the language of Abraham and G-d Himself; The nature of learning a language under these circumstances is slightly overwhelming.

I suppose you could just call that 'pressure.' Sure, there's a lot of pressure to learn, but it goes deeper than pressure. Think about America and the influx of Hispanics. How many of us think, "Can't they just learn the language of the country they want to live in? If you want to go to all the trouble of moving here, take the trouble of a year or two and learn English!" A common sentiment, no?

The same sentiment and attitude is present in Israel, but it's magnified ten-fold. Firstly, a huge majority of the citizens of Israel, the Hebrew speaking public, come from families that moved to this country around a hundred years ago or less, and mainly around seventy years ago from the period of 1929-39. So, if I ever find myself having a conversation with older people, like taxi drivers or the random guy on the street that asks if you got any cool pictures of Bush (true story, had a 20 minute convo with this stranger), I tend to ask where they are from. They say Israel. I say, "No, no, where were you born? Where is your family from?" Germany, Syria, Morocco, Poland, Russia, etc. The point is, everybody's grandad and grandma had to do ulpan, every one learned this language in the exact same way that I am right now. There's no other way, really, besides the army.

The sociological effect is a mentality of "Everyone else did it, you can too," and if you don't, or cannot... Well, there's obviously no punishment for not knowing Hebrew, except the social stigma and despise it will bestow. In a country of rough personalities, people that don't care to hold back their opinion, despise is just about the equivalent of a crown of thorns.

But don't worry about me. I'm not too terrible at the language, and I enjoy it, which goes pretty far once you're in the trenches of language acquisition. If you are forced to learn a language that you couldn't care less about, like Spanish in high school, you'll never learn it, and if you get overwhelmed -- you're finished. So, I love Hebrew, even if I suck at learning it. It amazes me that I can have whole conversations in this strange language, after only a few months of class time over the past 2 years, and especially when I compare my knowledge of this language to Spanish, which I took for four years in high school. Four years and I couldn't order food at the local Mexican place. A few months of Hebrew and I'm debating politics and religion...

The only problem is that I'm either the worst or second worst speaker in my class. Ulpanim are broken down into knowledge/skill levels, which are determined by a written and oral test. I am in an intermediate (lower side of intermediate) class, which is just about my level, but the kids seem to know a bit more than me. The demographics of the class are interesting: 3 Americans including myself, 2 Brits, 2 Brazilians, 2 French, and an Italian girl that's probably 6'0 tall. The problem is that European and South American Jews are taught to speak and listen to Hebrew, while Americans are generally taught to read. So, I may be the worst speaker in the class, but I am one of the best readers.

Unfortunately, however, in the hierarchy of learning Hebrew, speaking is king. Therefore, I am the dunce. One last thing: Were you wondering what it actually means for a language course to be "intensive?" It means that the class is 99% Hebrew. For 4 and a half hours the only English or non-Hebrew you hear is when a new word is explained. And the levels above me don't even get that much. The teacher just goes, "Shalom, boker tov blah blah blah blah." And you're expected to keep up, or else.

As my new teacher, Sara, told us, "If you do not review, you will not remember, and if you do not remember... You won't get a job!"

Wish me luck. I will absolutely need it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The President of the United States has come and gone; Israel is back to normal, or as normal as an abnormal country can hope to be. I spent Wednesday late-morning glued to the television, awaiting Bush’s arrival. The Army band was all lined up, the heads of state were shaking sweaty palms and pushing meek smiles, the journalists were stretching, and the red carpet was waiting to be trampled. All of this for Pres. Bush, a man whose visits abroad mean so little that the only thing the American news stations were reporting on was the heat between Clinton and Obama.

But, us Israelis were geared up for the event. I, along with millions of others, waited as our roads were closed off, our cops were pulled to King George Street, and we prepared for inconvenience, in the least. While watching the preposterous pomp and circumstance being laid out for Bush, I was gearing myself up for a guaranteed to be hectic visit downtown. I wanted to catch some shots of his convoy, or at least take some pictures of the road closures and police presence.

They kept up with their silly political speeches, Olmert saying how great it is to have a friend like Bush, and Bush saying how great it is for America to have a friend like Israel. I rolled my eyes, waiting to see Bush either say something dumb, or for Olmert to start kissing his feet. I didn’t get that lucky… One comical element of the procession occurred when the head of the Army band, or some other Army pomp-leader, was supposed to call Bush to walk forward. Bush, of course, was going to lead the heads of state down the aisle in holy matrimony. Instead of calling out to Bush in English, the language the man knows, this Israeli sucker yelled “ADONI!,” an expression meaning “my lord,” in the 18th century British tradition. That’s the ridiculousness of Israelis. Don’t speak their language? Most important man in the free-world? “Ehh, who cares?”

Bush got into Marine One, or whatever that cool helicopter is called, and they headed out for Jerusalem. I got my things together, packed up my jacket with the iPod and camera and wallet and all that business, and started to head out the door, hoping to catch Bush’s convoy in town. As I was about to turn the t.v. off, however, I noticed that they were showing one of the many helicopters landing in an area right next to my apartment. As I saw this, I heard chopper noises close-by. So, I run outside, up my steps, and there goes the beginning of the chopper-convoy. One by one, the choppers fly right over my apartment, flying in RPG range, and then Marine Force One comes by.

Fairly fortuitous! I snapped some pictures, and noticed my neighbors all staring at the same sight. So, I knew my chances were now very slim on getting downtown in time, considering how quickly they got to Jerusalem. but I got everything together and caught the bus. On the ride downtown a whole pack of Israeli helicopters flew over the road and made their way back to a base, I think. A few choppers were in the sky all-day, but that’s not always out of the ordinary.

On the ride into town everyone on the bus was talking about Bush. Mostly, everyone was complaining about the road-closures and alternate routes for the bus, placing their normal stops out of reach. Three teen boys in front of me joined in on taking pictures of the massive blimps in the air above King David Hotel – the eyes in the sky. As we were turning on a road intersecting King George Street, the street that Bush’s hotel is on (a closed street), I glanced up and noticed about 5 big, black, Chevy Suburbans blaring their diplomatic lights and sirens. I caught the tail-end of Bush’s convoy; not bad. I later found out that a friend of mine actually saw Bush, and got pictures. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

I spent the rest of the day taking pictures of the huge police presence, the barricades along the roads, buses of army kids being shipped in for extra, free muscle, and of course the swarm of media personnel. It really was pretty neat to see all this activity, especially considering that I’m not a city-boy. I’m from Elkton, Virginia. We don’t see presidents and security lockdowns.

The news channels were talking about Bush for three days. They all said the same inane crap: “Look at Bush, he really is a smart guy. He doesn’t have to bring papers with him. He remembers everything. He looks very smart right here, next to Olmert.” They love that guy! The man on the street wasn’t as upset about Bush’s policies as he was about road closures and the hassle of extra security. That’s not to say there weren’t protests and signs and large groups of haters. I’m just saying that most of the conversations I overheard were from frustrated commuters.

So, what should I say? Should I admit that I was a little moved, for some reason, while watching the procession on t.v.? Why exactly did I feel patriotic, as both an American and Israeli, as I watched two men I have little respect for represent the countries I hold in great esteem? Should I admit that I was a little star-struck while watching a presidential chopper convoy? Or maybe I could venture to submit that I was even a little bit proud to be an American on those days? I really had no reason to be proud, considering who was there representing America. And to be an American here – not really the most impressive thing. But, on those days, for whatever reason, I felt like America and Israel had a chance after all…even while keeping in mind my opinion on the effectiveness of these diplomatic visits.

Or, maybe it was the $1.8 million that Israel spent in securing Bush that forced me to feel a little awed. $1.8 mill in three days? I better shed a damn tear for all that!

I’ll post some pictures in the next few days.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bush's One-Fingered Victory Salute

Wow. A little nuts. Every once in a while an event takes place that makes you step back and examine your surroundings, your routine, your life. That event, for me, is going to be tomorrow as George Bush lays his filthy paws on the unsoiled soil of Israel. This will be the President's first visit to the Holy Land, despite his administration's obsession with the lovely Middle East. It's strange to think that his Secretary of State, Condomn-Liza Rice (which "sounds like a Mexican dish, I wanna eat ya!"), has been here so much she's about to sign up for a temporary visa. Now, after finding out what a presidential visit entails, I'm glad this will be the one and hopefully only visit of said "president," if he deserves that title.

Here's the best article I've found for the fun-facts on Bush's visit: Hyperlink to site.

Let me summarize from that article, which pretty much confirms what I've read from the news, but just gives over the juicy details. Here's the good stuff:

-Motorists and city residents should expect massive traffic congestion and road lock-down in central Jerusalem starting Wednesday morning for the three-day visit of US President George W. Bush.
Massive congestion in the country's already heavily congested downtown busiest and biggest city? Yay!

-Police urge the public to avoid the area around King David Street altogether.
Hahahaha. Real laughs are coming out of my mouth. Avoid the area of King David Street? Let me give all you readers out there who are not familiar with Jerusalem an idea of Jerusalem geography. Essentially, there is a circular epicenter to Jerusalem, which we call 'downtown.' This area has the majority of shops, restaurants, and a considerable number of offices. This is the main economic center of Jerusalem. This downtown is going to be avoided altogether? Altogether? As in, "don't go to the only fun place in the city for a few days, all 3 million of you Jerusalmites." Yeah, this I am excited to see. I can't wait to go downtown tomorrow; King David Street is my route everyday, anyway. The police are effectively telling the most rubber-necking people in the world, the same people that mauled Leonardo Dicaprio when he visited, to not go and stick our Jewish noses into some international business? Yeah, right!

-Route 1 will be closed to the public on both sides January 9, (with traffic diverted to route 443) as Bush's entourage travels from Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem.
That's just annoying. That's the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And, the detour route? Yeah, that goes through the West Bank. Fun, let's see the sights in friendly Baghdad!

-Flights in and out of Israel's only international airport, Ben Gurion, will be suspended around the time Bush lands. (Other suspensions are possible, check hotline for updates.)
Is that really necessary? What could happen? Some guy is going to hijack a plane while it is on the ground and taxi it into Air Force One?

-From the airport, Bush will fly by helicopter to Jerusalem. The choppers will be flown in from the US on Air Force cargo planes, along with armored limousines - complete with District of Columbia license plates - vans filled with high-tech communications gear and other vehicles for a heavily armed counterassault team.
That's freakin' sweet! The President is going to bring that badass Air Force chopper, the one Nixon stood on while giving his famous peace sign goodbye! Maybe Bush would take a hint? No, seriously, I'm very excited with the possibility of getting a photo of D.C. plates here in the real capital of the world. I love D.C., but Jerusalem is the heart of civilization. Hey, Jesus was here, wasn't he? Oh, and Bush's million dollar armored limos? They really don't trust the area, do they? I really really pray that I can get downtown, see these vehicles, and snap a few pics. All of it is just so silly. All these stops are being pulled just for an idiot, coke-addict, dumbo to go sightseeing and accomplish NOTHING.

-During the visit, the Old City's five-century- old ramparts will be illuminated with floodlights until 2 am. instead of midnight, so Bush will have more time to enjoy the view from his window at the nearby King David hotel.
Cute! Could we kiss any more ass?

-More than 10,500 police and security personnel will be deployed to protect Bush and keep order during the visit - more than one-third of Israel's entire police force. In addition, Bush is bringing scores of Marine commandos and heavily armed counterassault security teams for his personal protection. Israeli security personnel will include snipers, bomb-sniffing dogs and bodyguards from the Shin Bet internal security service, including reservists called up especially for the visit.
I bet Benazir Bhutto would've liked that kind of protection. But honestly, would it really be that bad if he got popped? Hey, I'm just asking!

The city is in lockdown because of this guy, this fool. Really, honestly, no one wants him here. It's 2008, his term is just about over, and who does he think he's fooling? You didn't come for 8 years, Mr. President, so why now all of a sudden? I personally think that he doesn't want that stat on his record: "Never Visited Israel."

Israel is the only country in the world that is really aligned with America. We are homeboys, America and the Promised Land. Israel gives America all of her cutting-edge military technology...America denies Israel the newest fighter jets. Israel encourages American tech companies to come over and setup shop (Google, IBM, Microsoft, etc)...America gives out about 3 visas a year to Israelis. Hey, we're not complaining. We're friends, and friends share, right?

Here's the bottom line of this visit: Israel is getting pummeled by the world, in public opinion and reticence in doing business, but we're still on our feet. No one wants to trade with us, but we keep leading the pack in medical, military, agricultural, and high-technology. We can't even afford to pay our teachers, and have to cut immigrant assistance programs to make up for it. But, our good buddy George Bush is coming over, the same guy that is pushing our own yokel prime minister to give away half the land to a terrorist organization, and we are gonna give him the red carpet. And for what? What is he going to do? He's gonna visit some churches that Jesus went to, have lunch with Olmert and Abbas, and that's it. He's coming to sightsee, and we're paying for it. How much are we paying for it? Prepare for the kicker!

The operation, dubbed "Clear Skies," will cost Israel $25,000 for every hour Bush is in the country.

Do I have to say any more? I'll save you the effort on the math. He's here for three days, that's 72 hours. $25,000 times 72 = $1,800,000. $1.8 million for a five dollar president.

Sorry if this post was a little unsophisticated. I'm just exasperated. I heard the other day that we cut the security guys that have been working the past few years on the bus lines. At all the big stops there was a security guy, checking everyone out. They fired them, because, "the threats have died down." Uh huh. Maybe we could have used $1.8 million to hold on to those guys for a couple more years? I don't know, the whole 'protect your citizens' thing?

Let's just hope I get a good picture for all my troubles.

(Here's an interesting article from The Jerusalem Post).

Friday, January 4, 2008

Today is the four month anniversary of my aliyah. The time is just flying by. I remember when I was home for the summer, surreal in the knowledge that soon I'd be in Israel for an indefinite period of time. Surreal in the knowledge that I'd be living here, as a citizen, as an Israeli. And now, four months later, I feel like I just arrived yesterday.

Davening tonight will be extra special -- bringing in a Shabbat with added meaning.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Anyone that lives in Israel knows the smoking habits of Israelis. They love to smoke those cigarettes, just puffing away at their lives. No offense to any smokers out there, of course -- you support the Virginia economy quite well, quite well indeed. Israelis just seem to pick up on anything that Europeans do, anything that looks classy or elegant. Smoking used to be a thing of beauty, a slow drag on a fag, if you will. Now, it's just an obnoxious, smelly habit, that the world over is slowly banning in one way or another. Israelis are clinging to the classic image, unfortunately, inspired by too many movies.

Long ago, an age minimum for smoking was unheard of. Now, it's big news all over Europe that France instituted a no-smoking indoors law. Some streets in Tokyo are, believe it or not, smoke-free. That means you cannot smoke on the street. Can't smoke inside, can't smoke outside; gotta find a 'smoking lounge.' I'm not sure if I agree with that one, kinda like a no-spitting on the sidewalk law, but I'm no politician.

Israelis, as I said, take European fashions and trends, cues from movies rarely seen in America, clothes unsellable stateside; Israelis take these fashions and blow them way out of proportion. I do not know if Israelis go overboard with European trends in order to be noticed, or if their insane outlandish personalities just happen to think megaoversized sunglasses are actually cool...I don't know, but they have also taken smoking and gone way overboard. For instance, it's illegal to smoke inside malls in Israel. Pretty standard law in America, as well, as far as I know. Israelis, however, will light up inside the mall, walk past indifferent security guards, and not even think twice about the "NO SMOKING" sign. They just don't care.

Somehow, the government quite recently passed a ban on indoor smoking. That means that all across the country, north to south, it is illegal to smoke in any facility. All restaurants and even bars are now off-limits to smokers. The government is supposedly going to try to enforce this law, though I'm not sure how well it'll be received. A lot of people smoke. I've even seen a considerable number of soldiers in elite units smoking; guys that have to run around pretty damn often. And no smoking in bars? With the chutzpah of these people? Good luck.

So, one of the ways they are going to try to enforce the law is by targeting businesses that "facilitate smoking." Ash trays, for instance, carry a fine of 1,290 Shekelim: If a bar or restaurant has one out, that's 1,290 Shmeks. Each. Yeah! Each ash tray is a $320 fine. And how much is the fine for the smoker who is caught? 1,000 Shmeks ($250). It's going to be weird to see a European-minded Israeli sitting in his coffee-house, legs crossed, cell-phone displayed on the table, sipping a cappachino, chatting with an old friend -- sans cigarette. If they thought it looked French to smoke and drink strong coffee with their legs crossed, I'm estatic to see this luxury stripped. I don't even care about second-hand smoke. Smoke doesn't bother me a bit, not one single bit. I just can't stand Euroimitators!

I wonder how the law will catch on, considering I was at a bar three days ago and my friend asked if he could smoke, was given an unfaltering nod, and proceeded to chain-smoke four cigs. Actually, maybe it will catch on: There wasn't an ash tray in the whole damn place.