Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Modern Ultra-Orthodox Jews

How often do we walk through our daily routine without opening our eyes, without raising our gaze from the pavement, unaware of the numerous unique eccentricities of our surroundings? I find myself dragging my feet, stumbling from point A to B, only partially aware that I am missing something, a certain neglected "something" that must make one day different from the next. In fact, one of the reasons that I moved to Israel is because here, in this strange land with these strange people, I readily notice that life can be stranger than fiction. People do bizarre things. Store signs are absurd. Politics are comical. Food is alien. The otherworldly nature of Israel forces me to open my eyes; forces me to concentrate on something other than my own ruminations.

So, after walking out of class and rushing back home to start working, I crossed the street with eyes wide open at the subject of this picture. Without going into a big long explanation of all the various religious groups here in Jerusalem, let me just offer this one horribly oversimplified commentary. Essentially, the more black dress-clothes that a Jew is wearing, the more traditional they are. The more "orthodox," as the English term goes. For example, if you see a guy wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but also a knit black yamika, he's really a "modern orthodox" Jew. He keeps Shabbat and kosher, but he may or may not really be so strict in Jewish law - or at least he would do things outside of the traditional laws of modesty, like go to bars.

If you see a guy wearing black dress pants and a blue dress-shirt, completed with a white yamika, he probably is a little more strict, probably prays the three regulated prayer sessions a day, absolutely keeps kosher and Shabbat, and more than likely he has spent some time in a yeshiva.

Now, finally, if you see a guy with a black suit and a white dress-shirt, black yamika, and even a black overcoat - well, his entire life is religion. He more than likely studies Torah and Talmud all day, every day. He more than likely requested exemption from the Israeli Army in order to live this religious life. He really doesn't go out to bars, he doesn't hang out downtown and people-watch, he probably doesn't go to movies, and he certainly doesn't have a television at home. Also, chances are that he doesn't work, but rather studies in yeshiva for a stipend. This lifestyle is referred to as being frum in Yiddish, or haredi in Hebrew, and ultra-orthodox in English. This group is what you see in Crown Heights and Flatbush, Brooklyn. These are the diamond dealer Jews in NYC. These are the people that live in Mea Shaarim in Jerusalem. They catch a lot of flak wherever they live, and they can be more than controversial with religiopolitical views, but I have enormous respect for this spiritual pillar of Jewry.

Like so many societies around the world, the revolution in technology and the globalization of culture has led to the youth of even the most traditional communities to adopt what many would consider "modern" ways of life. These adopted patterns and habits can be seen all over Jerusalem, the center of traditional Judaism for the entire world, and are of course the domain of the youngsters. Walk into any little falafel restaurant or mini-market that has a TV for watching sports games, and there you'll see a crowd of teens in black suits watching Euroleague soccer, drinking Coca-Cola, and smoking Marlboros. Or, go to the downtown square on a Thursday night, the big party night in Israel, and amidst the roaring secular revelers you will find a clustering of religious boys nursing a bottle of vodka, observing the mayhem unfold. The religious have cellphones, iPods, and digital cameras. They will attend sporting events. You'll see them in the mall. The orthodox community is being led from the ghetto, the shtetl-life, an enclave that has defined them for the past millennia.

That being said, some things are still just unheard of. Mopeds are very popular here, namely because they are cheap and gas efficient. Secular and religious guys both ride them, with no clear tendency for one or the other to have this vehicle instead of a car. Not a big deal. Secular girls can occasionally be spotted on a moped, as I chanced upon a few days ago, and although it merits staring, it's still not anything to write home about. But, what I have only seen once during all the combined time that I have lived in Israel is an ultra-orthodox, frum, haredi couple riding one of these things together. It's just too much! They're married, of course, but there's still too much touching going on in public for the traditional laws (which ban all touching between the genders outside of marriage -- all touching). The suggestion of sexuality is simply too strong, with the female's legs being essentially wrapped around her husband. It's just not seen.

So, when I was crossing the street after my Hebrew class and walked right by this ultra-traditional couple going along in a very untraditional manner, and I dare say anti-traditional manner, I couldn't help but open my eyes. I couldn't help but lift my head from the pavement, pull my mind out of the clouds, and focus all of my attention on a sight that I figured I probably wouldn't see again for quite some time. Realizing that I had taken my dad's advice and permanently placed my camera in my backpack, I ripped the camera from it's case, fearing that the stoplight would turn green any second, and took as many shots as I could. As their light remained red longer than expected, I looked to the drivers of the cars around them and noticed that every single head was pointed in their direction.

Honestly, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Notice one thing among a hundred others that I could mention: His shoes. He's not wearing black dress shoes, though he has on every other element of the ultra-orthodox garb. Rather, he is wearing the ultra-hip Puma-style sneakers, a fashion that threatened to put my beloved New Balances out of business recently.

This is really what I see as a new wave in the ultra-religious youth and young adult segment, and it is a trend that I feel a true affinity towards. They do not want to leave behind the traditional garb, so they will continue to wear black suits, white shirts, long black overcoats, and black Fedora hats. The women will continue to dress in black and cover nearly all skin and hair. The change, however, is that there is a real effort to dress poshly, to keep up with the fashions of the day.

The guys will get nice suits, white dress shirts that have special patterns in the fabric (like tiny squares or lines) or fancy buttons, expensive shoes, and they'll keep all of it very clean. The women will wear name brand clothes or dresses with a long-sleeve shirt underneath to make sure the laws of modesty are covered, as is their skin. Instead of wearing a wig (women have to cover their hair), they'll get a glittery scarf that really is quite pleasant to the eye. This combination of dress-clothes and modern fashion is, in my opinion, one of the classiest, hip, and sophisticated styles that I have ever seen. I like it.

The point here is that even in Jerusalem, the holy city, and even within the most religious and time-tested, uncompromisingly ancestral groups, the power of Western culture is just about unstoppable. There is so much talk about the plight of the American economy right now. Turn on European television and I guarantee you if you listen for half an hour you'll hear about "the falling dollar." No matter, though, the pervasiveness of the American way of life is stronger than ever, and it has reached its hand deep into a congregation that had no intention of accepting any outside influence.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Young Guard

All across Israel little children are given the big responsibility of being crossing guards for heavy pedestrian walkways. They take it seriously, too! I've seen a little girl, no older than eight, no taller than my hip, yell at a grown man in his SUV. And heaven forbid if you are a pedestrian and you cross without their permission...

Here's the crowd that I have to walk through everyday after my class. We're right next to a fairly large primary school that seems to have a lot of American kids. It's a rich neighborhood, so every morning I hear "have a good day" more than anything in Hebrew. Purim, however, is a dress up day shared by all kids, from those in this picture to the joker in the mouse suit.

While walking to class, my friend and I were brushed aside by the cutest little girl in the world. She was dressed up as a ladybug. I was almost thrown into the bushes off the sidewalk as she tore by, excited to show her classmates her outfit. Oh how I miss the days of dressing up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Tonight was the start of Purim, which in Jerusalem lasts through Sunday. Purim is the holiday remembering a very specific story of Jewish past. In short, we were exiled from the Land of Israel (6th century BCE), and found ourselves under Persian rule. Persian King Ahasverus had a high-ranking officer named Haman. When Haman was entering the palace, the high priest of the Jews, Mordechai, would not bow down to him. Haman wanted to kill Mordechai and the Jews, and he got Ahasverus' permission to make a decree to exterminate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. So, Mordechai sends in his niece, Ester, Ahasverus' new queen, and she talks to old Ahas. He loves her, she reveals Haman's plan, Ahasverus has Haman hung on the very trees he planned to hang the Jews on... yay! As we say: They tried to kill us, they got theirs, now let's get drunk!

Purim is celebrated by giving gifts to the poor, gifts to our friends (mishloach manot), listening to the reading of the Scroll of Ester (telling this story -- which is found in the Tanach/Bible), and finally, getting very drunk during a ritual meal. If you want to know why, I can tell you.

Apparently, in Roman times a custom was developed to dress up in silly costumes for Purim. So, Purim is like the Jewish Halloween, minus paganism and plus a strong religious purpose, theme, and traditions. Everyone is dressed up in Israel tonight. Everyone is partying. Everyone is out and about and... most seem to have a mouse outfit on.

I was walking down a back alley, taking a shortcut to my bank's ATM, when out of nowhere a motorcycle screams by, going way too fast, and the driver was gunning his engine in the manner that cyclists do to get attention. Very manly. Or should I say, very mously?

Yeah, I never claimed to be a comedian! But seriously, this was the funniest thing I've seen in months. You don't even realize how much effort it took to get these pictures. I had to chase him around 3 different corners, me on foot, him on a powerful streetbike. Eventually I turned a corner and there he was, getting off his bike, and walking into a sushi restaurant. Five minutes later he comes out, I get the pictures. I felt like either a Mossad agent or a stalker.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humorous Tel Aviv Art Part 3

Tel Aviv is a real city, as opposed to Jerusalem. They stay up late, stores stay open till the wee hours, and there are tons of clubs. I heard once that the beach area of Tel Aviv (it's on the Mediterranean) has more clubs per block than any other city in the world. Not sure if that's true or not, but there are a lot, I know that. I feel like Spain or Brazil probably has to take that award, though.

Anyway, as I was walking around at 4 AM in a residential area of TA last Thursday, I noticed this interesting sandwich shop. 4 AM and they were still making custom paninis and baguettes from a kiosk building (typically coffee stops), and I was quite tempted. I opted for a picture, instead.

Also, like the Star of David drawn on a bus window sill that I wrote about a few weeks ago, an unlikely Magen David caught my eye. Right there in the entrance of a not so religious clothing store, an "immodest" style of clothing, there was a Star of David on the floor. It was very pretty, made out of what looked like small tiles, and glittery. Just right there in the entrance to an Israeli - not "Jewish" - clothing outlet, a tiny boutique, there is our heritage. In the midst of an area that even goes so far as to call itself anti-religious, you cannot escape the Jewishness of this land and people. Again, reason #247 that I love this country.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Humorous Tel Aviv Art Part 2

Today our teacher, Sara, brought in Hamantashen and candies. We were doing a written exercise, she left the room, and then returned with a huge smile and an even more massive plate of these scrumptious Purim-time only pastries. Remember, this woman was born in 1947, so to see her bound in and float around like a 16 year old, well, something had to be up.

She says, "I'm extra happy today! I have a new grandchild!" We all congratulated her, of course, and asked questions for about the next 20 minutes. I have to say that the best Hebrew practice is asking someone about their life, their family, their histories. Turns out, however, that her son married an American girl (whose father is Israeli) and they moved to Holland about 5 years ago. Sara says there is "no chance" that they will return. She said the kids will probably return when they're our age, and she'll teach them Hebrew in this very room. She has a good sense of humor. Still, it's very sad that her mathematician (PhD) son chose to leave the motherland and his people.

Even more sad for Sara! I'm not sure, and no one mentioned it, but when I asked if he will return, she said "no chance," and turned to the side a little. I think her eyes teared up, she lifted her hand to her neck and rested it there, and didn't say anything for a few seconds. This was pretty much when I was the only one talking to her, but it seemed fairly clear to me that she was momentarily emotional. That passed quickly, however, and she once again took up the plate and forced more and more candies and pastries on us. She was literally dumping chocolates onto our tables. I told her she really is a Jewish mother -- er, grandmother!

American Jews, European Jews, North African Jews, Middle Eastern Jews; all of our mothers think we're starving to death!

On that note, here's a store in Tel Aviv on the main shopping street of Dizengoff that my grandmother should enjoy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Humorous Tel Aviv Art

Street art in this country tends to be weird and or comical. I was in Tel Aviv a few days ago, as I mentioned, and some things caught my eye. These were on stores, on their glass walls. Not sure if they were for the store, part of their logo or something, but I found them funny. There are others that I will post throughout this week.

Enjoy the drug-induced chamsa and the evil pitchforker. Again, you can click on the image for full-size, or you can right click and download it ("Save to Desktop").

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Israeli-Arab Conflict: Sexy?

It's funny I wrote about Tzipi Livni just a few days ago. This is what she said recently, according to Haaretz:

"I believe there is hope, I believe there is opportunity," said Livni. "I know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the sexiest conflict in the world and everyone wants to be involved," said Livni, who visited Washington earlier in the week. "I think the world should leave it to us. There is no need to push us. It is about our lives."

Seriously. Can't help but love this woman, even if she is aligned with the worst prime minister ever.

Shout-out to Bethany for the heads up.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Jerusalem Breeds Crazies

Jerusalem: Bus drivers that look like Danny DeVito, and crazy people on those very buses.

This world seems to have everything worked out perfectly. Instead of staying at my friend's beautiful apartment in Tel Aviv last night, I decided to take a walk and catch a shuttle back to Jerusalem - at 5 am. Eh, I wanted to get back to my place, and I had a lot to do. I'm glad I left considering the spectacle I was graced with.

So I got into Jerusalem, and caught a bus back to my apartment. On the ride there, a fairly pretty lady around the age of 40 got on, followed by a massive man, probably about 4 feet wide, literally, aged 30 or so.

She bounded to the seats that are two rows of chairs facing each other. She sat down on the right side of the bus, or rather she jumped into her seat. She popped out of that seat and fell into the window seat, and then fidgeted some more. She stood up abruptly, speaking incoherently to herself, and then switched to the left side of the bus. She sat down on the aisle seat, and instantly sprung up out of the chair, a smile ten feet wide across her tanned face, and threw herself into the window seat. She told the guy sitting across from her, facing her as the chairs are situated, to hold her coffee cup while she got her bus pass from her purse.

"Hold this. Thank you. What's wrong with you?" He had Downs' Syndrome.

She tore through her purse, grabbing item after item.

"Tissue. Tissue! Another tissue, what the hell?!" She was not speaking with an indoor voice. "Hey," pulling out a lighter, "Na," starting the religious chant of a group that follows a certain Rabbi Nachman, a group that has a chant drawing out his name. "Na," pretending to ignite the lighter, "Na, nach..." Almost, smiling no less than 20 teeth's worth. "Nach, nachma!!!" She's crazy! "NACHMAN!" And there she goes folks, she's officially nuts. She lit a lighter while chanting the Breslav Nachman mantra. And just as fast as she went through this, she puts the lighter in her left hand between all the tissues, resuming the rummaging.

"Tissue! What is this?!" Crazy. "Hey," looking at the Downs' Syndrome guy, "how are you?"
No response. Blank stare.
"Hey! Tain li neshika," thrusting her right cheek in front of the guy. "Tain li neshika," darting her left cheek in his face. "Tain li!" Give me a kiss. "Hey, this is my brother. You like him instead? You want to come with us? Come! Now, let's go!"
Fear. Still holding the coffee cup, which probably had anything but plain coffee in it, he began to extend it towards her. Fear. Eyes as open as canyons. No words.
"What's with you? Hey, everybody, what's with him?!"
The man with Downs' Syndrome shoves the cup into her hand, grabs his bag, tears himself from his seat as the bus is still moving, wheels on his right heel, hunched over as we tend to do when rising and turning at the same time, and then is thrown about five feet towards the middle door as the bus driver hits the accelerator. He is propelled like a Kassam into a guardrail next to the back seats.

This sends the woman and her "brother" into hysterics. She abruptly stands, laughing at his misfortune and fear, and starts to pray wildly, rocking back and forth as the religious do. "Ha, did you see that?! Adonay was king, Adonay is king, Adonay WILL BE KING! NACHMAN!"

"Amen," says the brother.
Taking a sip of her coffee concoction, "AMEN AND AMEN!"

She falls into her seat again, still rummaging through the purse for a bus pass. More tissues. She is now holding an entire fist full of Kleenexes. She pulls out a small tube, all smiles, "sniffalee!" Another lighter. A cut straw, "another sniffalee," and a small metal case, "hasamim..." The drugs.

"SNIFFALEE! NA-NACH-NACHMA-NACHMAN! SNIFFFFFFFF!!!" The religious woman couldn't help but turn around and stare, and I was way past caring by this point. This woman is literally screaming, smiling, laughing, all at the top of her lungs, as her morbidly obese brother smiles silently. He does manage to say, "everyone always thinks she's crazy, but she's not! She's my sister!"

"Hey, Driver! DRIVER!"
He smiles, unable to ignore her good humor.
"Hey, what do you think, Driver?"
He smiles.
"Hey! Here's the pass! I told you I had it," looking to her brother, "I TOLD YOU!"
The driver and I exchange glances through the mirror. He is loving it.
"Hey! Oh, oh no! This is us! OK, STOP THE BUS NOW! OK! DRIVER, thank you very much, Driver."

The Danny DeVito look-alike driver stops at a non-designated area, something you never see, and she actually runs off the bus. Runs. Her brother waddles, of course.

This was 6:57 am. Not a bad way to start the day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tzipi Livni: Let's Marry

After a Jerusalem Post report uncovered a secret Israeli government ban of the Qatar-based "news" service Al-Jazeera, the foreign ministry decided to play it straight:

"The official's statement came a day after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ripped into the Qatar-based network at a meeting with ambassadors posted in Israel, saying that "when depicting Israeli attacks, Al-Jazeera abuses the situation on the ground by telling lies. Unfortunately, during these attacks [in Gaza], civilians were killed. I am not trying to change facts. But, of course, when it comes to Al-Jazeera, everything is exaggerated."

I grabbed that from this Jerusalem Post article.

Tzipi Livni "ripped" the network. She did it in front of a roomful of ambassadors. She most likely wore a snappy business suit. Al-Jazeera is painfully anti-Israel, preposterously biased for a news service that claims to be unbiased, and they deserve to get shut out from having access to the government. We are banning them from entering government offices, and consequently they won't be getting interviews from officials. Tzipi says so!

I'm not sure if this is smart or short-sighted on our part, considering that they twisted our words before when we did grant them access, and so now they will most likely twist them even worse... I don't know about that, but I do know that I like Tzipi Livni. To be honest, I don't know her personal political leanings or anything. She is, however, too close to Olmert, who NO ONE likes. She's his right-hand lady, so she sometimes tows the party line, but she's all business. Who doesn't appreciate a woman that stands up to the leaders of the world and flips her hair and says, "hey, shut up, I'm talking." I don't know if she has ever done that, but I'll just go ahead and say I bet she wants to.

And I have a thing for older ladies, especially the type that could beat up the president of Iran.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eh, It's Not All Fun & Games

You'll notice I've up this "Digg" thing on the right side of every post. Just an attempt to modernize this blog. I'm going to add FeedBurner soon, in case anyone wants to access the blog by RSS. Also, I bought the domain name "" so when you access this site, that's all you have to remember. That's the new URL. For information on Digg, click here. To sign up for Digg, just click on the link itself.


Anyway, so I want to inform the public here of a word that was used quite a bit in class today. Namely used by me to refer to the British girl that sits next to me. Yes, you, British girl. I know you are reading this. And yes, I'm about to PUNK you on my blog -- so, my Mom and Dad will read this, which is about the extent of my readership. Consider yourself officially "in the blog."

A nudnik, or in Hebrew נודניק, is a pest, an obnoxious kid that can always be heard asking, "Dad, Dad, Dad, hey Dad, Hey! Hey, are we there yet? Hey Dad? Dad!" An annoying, incessant, aggravating individual. Like this Brit in our class who argues every word with the teacher, even the one we have once a week who really doesn't speak English. I know what you're thinking. Give us an example of how she's a nudnik (technically a nudnikit, but whatever), right?

We were doing some grammar work when we came across a new verb. One problem inherent in learning a new language is a tendency to want to translate everything. Sometimes you can't help but translate. You don't really have any connection to the new word other than in your old language. For instance, I haven't used or experienced the verb "לזעזע" in Hebrew. So, when I think of "לזעזע" I'm really only thinking of the translation, "to convulse." I haven't melted that word into a neural pathway. I haven't used it in public. I haven't heard anyone say it. I've never seen it.

A nudnik, on the other hand, sometimes forgets that perfect translations are fairly worthless. The Brit finds herself in that boat. Again with the silly Europeans, right?

So there I sat as the class, mainly feuled by my English neighbor, got into an intense argument over the translation of a verb meaning roughly "to accomplish." No, maybe it means "to achieve!" Or "to perform?" No, that's not right. How about "to realize or attain!" I know it... "to actualize." Or how about when she argued over the difference between "fog" and "mist," all the while the actual word I needed to know began to slip away from me. I forget how to say... Perfect. Nudnik.

Oh, and we were tired today, if you couldn't tell by my two buddies in the picture. D, be careful what you wish for!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Terrorism In My City

NOTE: Check out the new section on the right hand bar over there, under my profile. It's a browse by topics selector. Handy.
Sorry if this post is upsetting. This is life, and life can be that way.

In case you didn't hear, we had a terrorist attack here in Jerusalem. You may be thinking, "what's new, it's Israel and the Middle East." But actually, we haven't had an attack here in the capital since late 2004, when two police stopped an 18-year-old Arab girl from approaching a crowded bus stop, but weren't able to prevent her from exploding the suicide bomb belt. The police officers were killed. The girl was long dead, considering her intent.

The terrorist attack on Thursday was the worst Israel has had, in any area, since the April 2006 bombing of the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. I was living in Tel Aviv at the time, as well.

I'm going to reproduce here what I wrote in my notepad on Thursday night, so you can get my original first thoughts.

"...An Arab from East Jerusalem entered Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav [a male seminary], one of the biggest yeshivas in Israel, and opened fire with an AK-47 and a handgun on a study hall containing about 80 children. Eight were killed (confirmed as of now), seven wounded. That is bad.

"They are celebrating in Gaza, handing out sweets to children, firing jubilant machine guns towards heaven, and going to the mosques in "thanksgiving," as one of the newstations put it.

"I was working when it happened. I work on my computer at home, but I kept hearing sirens from all types of cars: military, police, ambulance, fire. It was quite obnoxious, and the websites didn't have anything to tell me. No one had reported it by the time I got on a bus to go to the center of the city. I wanted some falafel, having worked for 6 hours without a meal, and there was nothing in the cupboard. I guess I should have known something was wrong when I kept hearing automatic gunfire from the Arab neighborhood across the valley from me. It seems to have been happening a lot lately, so I only made a comment to my flatmate about how irritating it is, without making any connection. Actually, when I walked out of my place there was a thick layer of smoke in the air, and it smelled like any old burn. I assumed there was a fire, and that was that. The smoke, however, was from the Arab neighborhood - fireworks. I saw the display while I was on the bus, thoroughly confused. I had been looking for a fire somewhere on the hills, to no avail.

"Something just did not feel right. The fireworks. The empty bus that should have been packed. The heavy air pressing me into the asphalt with each step. The emergency vehicles, which are common here, but just not in those numbers and not with that frantic driving. I had a clue that it wasn't a fire when the bus pulled up to a stop light, and to the right I saw a mini-market's TV showing ambulances and a crowd of people gathered around some authority figure. Obviously something happened.

"Eventually I got downtown, still not clear that there was a terrorist attack. In fact, I really wasn't sure at all. At all. My heart knew it, my gut knew it, but my mind only knew that "something wasn't right." I honestly did not think "oh, there must have been an attack." Maybe I'm still naive.

"I walked down a side street to my bank's ATM, and I was a little surprised to see two soldiers heavily checking cars at a makeshift street blockade. Again, not a main street, and usually they only give cursory glances at these things. I actually thought, "oh, there must be some kind of an event, or a politician is here." Things cleared up rather quickly.

"A mini-market TV, which are always pointed out to the street to get you to stop by their place, a phone call from my mom...

"You OK?"

"I took a glance at the TV, saw about 30 men huddled around some authority figure, read the Hebrew caption: pigua. Attack.

"Instantly my heart dropped, instantly my soul felt a rare pain, instantly I realized that my city, my people, my way of life has been violated. Times Square was also attacked today (a bomb around the corner, no injuries). Both my countries attacked in one day.

"Danny, where are you?"
"I'm in the city. I just got here from my apartment."
"Do you know what happened?" My natural instinct was to say 'of course,' in the attitude that a young man has when he chooses to do something as wild as move to another country. You just act like you know everything, that you are the most informed, that nothing gets by you. But, in a situation like this, I just wanted information.
"No, Mom, what happened?" I sat down on a brown bench to brace for the news.

"What a strange atmosphere. A normally noisy city, a boisterous and excited, affected people, reduced to sullen faces, eyes that have seen too much, mouths turned downward too often, shoulders drooped from years of disappointment, backs hunched from the burden of terror. I tried to hide the grief I was carrying, but ended up finding comfort in the faces of my fellow street wanderers. The same face of disbelief, shock, the same sense of despair, of abuse, the feeling as if we ourselves were killed tonight.

There is none of the religious-secular divide tonight. Though this terrorist attack happened in a yeshiva, everyone relates to it in the same way. It was directed against the religious nationalist ideology, but it was an attack on all of Israel."

That's what I wrote the night of the attack. I didn't want to post that in order to write a play by play, to say "hey, look, I was here!" I just want to relate my experience and observations to whoever reads this. To relate what it is like to live in a city during a terror attack, and more so what it is like to live in Israel in times of distress. I want to relate how Israelis react. I want to show our souls, that we are victims.

That night the city was desolate. The streets were blocked off, the buses were rerouted, security was tripled. The normally bustling Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall was reduced to about 100 people - not a tenth of the normal amount for a Thursday night. Normally loud liquor stores were hushed, everyone crowded around a TV. At the Internet cafe, everyone was reading the exact same thing. The face of a typically animated 16 year old goofball was solemn, and some tear streaked. I normally find great fault in myself for not feeling the level of emotional affection that I assume I should be feeling during a terrible time. Something bad happens, and I only pay lip-service to the event. Someone dies, and it sucks, but it doesn't touch me. That night, Thursday night, I was beneath the ground I walked on.

I think we were all just shocked that first night. Now that we've had the weekend to mull it over, and now that we have more details on it all, we are just ANGRY. I really do think we are angry. I think that's the consensus, at least from what I've witnessed first hand.

For example:

1) The terrorist was a young man in his 20s who was engaged to be married.

2) His family is a rich Arab family, one of the richest in East Jerusalem. All that "they do this because they are poor and have no other way to express their outrage with the Israelis" crap is bunk. It always has been. This is a case in point.

3) As I was riding the bus today, three strangers began discussing a newspaper article about the attack. They had all the pictures of the boys lined up side by side. A woman started saying "what a shame, what a shame. Why? What a young kid. A baby! 17? 16, why? 15?! Oh no no no." Then the moderately religious man (a white kippa) said "and in a house of God!" The woman says, "you know, look at me, I'm not that religious. But that doesn't matter! I have no problem with you all studying Torah and Talmud, I don't even care if you don't do the army!" The highly religious man (a black kippa, black suit), whispers "it shouldn't have been in a yeshiva. They found them dead with copies of Torah and Talmud in their hands." The woman retorts, "it doesn't even matter if they were religious or not! It has happened everywhere." She ended it all with a very interesting expression to hear from a non-religious person. As she was standing to get off at her stop, she said, "we are all B'nei Yisrael, anyway. This happened to all of us." She said we are all the Children of Jacob, our Patriarch.

4) When we discussed it in class today, which we did for the first 30 minutes or so, someone said something along the lines of "the terrorist, that man..." Our infinitely kind and sweet teacher cut him off by saying, "man? No, not a man, a ba'al chaim" An animal.

5) Everyone is very upset that Jordan actually had the guts to dismantle the "mourning tent" that this terrorist's uncle in Jordan constructed, a ritual that Muslims perform for the dead, but Israel has decided to actually allow the terrorists family to keep theirs up here in Jerusalem. Apparently we made them take down the Hizbullah and Hamas flags today, after allowing them to fly for the past few days. Doesn't this prove what kind of democracy Israel is, what kind of humane country we are? We get murdered by this fool, and then we allow the family to publicly mourn their fool, praise martyrdom, with anti-Israel signs all around, and cheer on the murderer in the very city that he committed his atrocity! All in the name of giving the "Palestinians" a fair deal and equal standing.

6) The UN Security Council was blocked by Libya from decrying this attack. Now, if I remember correctly, Israel is condemned quite regularly for their targeted assassinations of terrorists, guys that organize these types of crimes... But no condemnation for when a guy opens fire on Israeli 15 year olds?

If our allowance of freedom to mourn in this circumstance isn't democracy and humane treatment, those ideals don't even exist in theory. We are letting them keep up their public display of thanksgiving, joy for killing seven teens, and even one 26 year old immigrant that fled from persecution in Ethiopia when he was eight. I have to admit, when my teacher called the guy an animal, not a human, I looked at my friend and said, "wow, that's pretty harsh." How do I feel, though? Angry. Sick. Disturbed. But, somehow these incidents only strengthen my resolve to serve this land and this nation.

Take a look at the victims, the supposed perpetrators of crimes against innocent Palestinians, and tell me if you think a human being could kill these boys, as they sat in a library studying 2,000 year old texts. 15, 18, 19 years old, and those last two are some of the oldest that were murdered.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

10K for Sderot

If you've read my blog recently, you'll notice I've talked about Sderot a few times. In short, it's an Israeli town inside Israel (not in Gaza, not in the West Bank), and it has been the target of about 8,000 rocket attacks in the past couple years. Every day there are rockets falling, either killing or maiming people, and always destroying some house or building. It is a war zone.

Two friends of mine, one of the cutest young couples I've ever met, are doing a 10k run to raise money for Sderot victims of terror and the community in general. David was a Golani officer in the IDF (he's a badass), and Molly is a Bostonian come Jerusalemite. They're good people.

So, if it strikes you to donate to this worthy cause, click on the link below and make a donation. It is Paypal, which is the most trusted Internet payment system. So, no worries. If you donate, make a comment on this post! Anonymous, not anonymous, whatever!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Six Month Anniversary

Time is the greatest of con artists. We joke around with each other by saying, "hey, look over there," in a silly attempt to take a French fry, or to put a gum wrapper in the dupe's pocket. We do it knowing that they will see what we do, knowing that it's funny to pretend that the most intelligent creature on earth, presumably, could be dislocated from their personal awareness by a simple distraction across the room. "Oh, look at that girl!" Swipe.

We posture at how smart and wise we are, at how invincible to the ravishes of cunning we can be, but all the while a fearsome, abstract monster is slowly bleeding us. Time. The greatest con artist: You know he is stealing from you, and he tricks you over and over into thinking that he has left you alone, but over and over again you wise up to his ways. Nevertheless, you can do nothing about it. He says, "Oh no, you won't even know I'm around," but then six months later... six months have passed, and you could have sworn that those six months were merely a blink and a short nap.

Well, today is the official half a year anniversary of my becoming a citizen of Israel. The tone of what I just wrote probably sounds non-celebratory, but don't mistake my thoughts on time for my attitude and perspective of my time here. That is the entire point, that time is a wily beast, striking when you least expect it. Hence, "time flies when you are having fun." Hence, I'm having a great time, I have been having a great time, and all of a sudden six months have passed! Wasn't it yesterday that I was playing Xbox with my brother? Wasn't it yesterday that I drove to the movies in my green Jeep?

This seems like some type of a milestone. I'm not sure what it's really symbolic of, whether it's permanence here, or that I endured some big hurdles in the transition inherent in moving 7,000 miles - and overcame valiantly. Or, maybe it means very little, and I'm just making a big to-do about nothing.

Whatever the case may be, I can report home in a positive manner: Doing well, got food, have friends, staying busy, will call.

So, you may be wondering what those pictures are doing here. The first two, of the railroad tracks, are disused French-built rail lines in Jerusalem (according to, a pretty neat site). In fact, on my short walk from the bus stop to the building where I have Hebrew class, I have to pass over these tracks. This area of town is right next to the old train station, a remnant of the Ottoman history of this place. I have unfortunately not taken a close look at the old station, which is actually rather large, and I plan to explore it ASAP. I've wanted to do that for three years.

I walk over these tracks every morning and every afternoon. The sun is still slanting across the new-born sky when I make this trek, and the silhouettes of the trees fall on the tracks in a way that makes the morning feel like eternity itself couldn't exist longer. Time stands still, if that's possible, and the shadows stretch away the weariness of night. I walk over these tracks, covered in moss and deteriorating for half a century of neglect, wondering how many pilgrims made their way to the Holy Land on them. This was the line from Jaffa to Jerusalem, so I wonder if Mark Twain would have found his way to the true City of God on this very spot, if he made his journey thirty years after he did. Would he still have seen the land as "a desolate country," or would the railroad have convinced him otherwise?

I wonder many things when the sun casts shadows on these tracks, and I can't help but smile at the beauty of the life that we so often take for granted. How many people walk over these tracks and aren't amazed at how old and historic they are, terrified of the tears and blood and rain that have washed away so many lives, at what a witness these tracks must be for the history of a nation and a people, at how symbolic it is that they have been paved over by the new asphalt roads, at how romantic the times used to be, before we lost our way in modernity.

I wonder many things in this city. In this country. My soul has yearned for many years to feel a part of something so surreal, to walk from the rigors of daily life into the ether of history, to let my mind not just wander to a distant land full of stories too fabulous to be true, but to let my mind walk that land and tread those fables. That's why I moved here, or at least that's one of the reasons; to wake up in the morning to my dreams, not from them.

The other picture below is somewhat humorous to me. I was walking home from class when I looked down, bewildered by a rush of nostalgia, and saw what had caused this remembrance. There was freshly cut grass along the paved sidewalk, which instinctively placed me back in my parent's house, six months previous, where I spent the summer as their lawn-boy. The smell of cut grass = my parent's yard. Can't say that living in a city hasn't been the hardest transition for me, I have to admit. I get along just fine in cities, but there's something easier about open fields, tiny villages, and nature's permeation.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I've said over and over how this country is the international hub of the Jewish world -- and maybe of the Christian world, as well, considering that while walking through the Old City a few days ago I overhead a man say, "Well, it's more fun to love Jesus, anyway." That made me smile. Hey, you help our economy, you can love Jesus all you want!

Last week we were sitting in class, mumbling through our lessons with our typical laziness, when there was a knock on the door. About 5 people were out there, some rapid-fire Hebrew took place, which I caught just about zero of, and then all of a sudden a huge camera was in our face.

Apparently, the largest news provider in Brazil wanted to get a piece of the Hebrew action. Once a week, according to my Brazilian friends sitting next to me, that particular TV channel does a piece on some interesting thing. I'm not sure if it's always an international topic, or just whatever catches the producers' attention, but they've decided to do a bit on Israel.

This cameraman came into our class, stayed in there for about 15 minutes filming all of us while everyone except myself tried pathetically 100% harder to look like good students, and then left with all of our souls in his digital device. Well, minus the last part, of course. It was quite humorous to me to see everyone sit up straight, wipe the gunk from their eyes, hack up the morning mucus of reticence, and excitedly respond to our teacher's own amount of added effort: "Binyan?" "Hitpael!" "B'atid?" "Teeshtataef!" "E'zeh talmidim!" "E'zeh morah!"

Not that I'm better than anyone else, or that I'm cooler for not joining in with any added enthusiasm. Not at all. I just found myself to be, believe it or not, quite camera shy. Hey, Brazil is a big country, with a lot of people. Presumably a few million people may see this thing. Doesn't that make anybody else discomfited? At least I wasn't one of the people who got that super bright, super scary camera shoved in their face. If that's the price of my 15 minutes, count me out of time. It was so hilarious when he got down on our Ethiopian student's face, zoomed way in, and just held it on him for about a minute. I think he felt the same way as me. He's had enough excitement in his life. You know, the whole escaping genocide thing.

I probably would have told him to bugger off, as the Brits say. Coincidentally, I was caught on tape again by this same group as I was eating some falafel out in the New City. And then, that same day, they caught me as I was leaving the Old City. Can't a brother get some privacy? Sheesh.