Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jerusalem Post is Copying Me Again

It's funny that I just wrote that post today on absentee, or largely absentee homeowners in Israel. Jerusalem Post is covering the issue today, too. I think they stole my idea.

Jerusalem, as I said, is particularly afflicted with this problem. Essentially, rich American Jews buy a home in Jerusalem and leave it vacant for 11 months out of the year. They don't rent it out, they don't share it, and this has really driven up prices in the area.

Check out this article for the whole story. Here's an idea: Hook me up when I'm in the army. I'll only be there about two weekends out of a month! If you want to be a good fellow Jew, email "" and let me just put my stuff in the closet! I'm a good guy, ask my mom!

Old England in Netanya, Israel

Isn't that just beautiful? Most people don't seem to realize that Israel is on the Mediterranean, and being that the Mediterranean bears ethereal magnificence, Israel is graced with some of the most breathtaking beaches around. Yes, yes, the Caribbean and Thailand are great, but if you walk three minutes from an Israeli Mediterranean beach, well, you're walking on some Biblical site, in some Biblical town, by some Biblical characters and their homes.

What you're looking at in the picture is a view from a balcony overlooking some of the beaches in Netanya. Netanya is slightly north of Tel Aviv, obviously on the coast, and it's well known for having the Ikea store. That and the best coastline in Israel, at least according to me. Not only do kids surf there, but it's also a hot destination for riding horses on the sand. Considering its physical qualities, the foreigners have moved in en-masse.

Land values in Israel are on the rise, astronomically, in no small part due to the rise in foreign-owned property. Rich Americans, Canadians, Brits, and French are notorious for buying up apartments, old Turkish houses, and land in areas like Baka and Katamon in Jerusalem (the German Colony). These neighborhoods are literally the Little Americas of Israel. You can walk down the street in Katamon and hear Hebrew, but if you walk by a school in the morning, I can guarantee you you'll hear a mother or father talking to a kid or two in English. If you get on the number 18 bus on Emek Refaim and don't hear some English, you might want to make sure you didn't have a concussion and wandered somewhere else.

Those communities in Jerusalem are so Americanized, or owned by non-native Israelis, because they are gorgeous locations. Emek Refaim and the surrounding Baka/Katamon neighborhoods were expensive areas in the time of the Turks, and they haven't ceased to be the most desirous since. An example? When the German Templars (a Christian sect that owned this area) were evicted after WW2 by the British because of their support of Nazi Germany, where do you think the British officers lived? Yup, they squatted on the houses in Baka, Katamon, and on Emek Refaim. How nice are they? You can't buy a place for less than a million, and that's probably a junky attic.

I went to Netanya for the first weekend of Passover (Pesach). I have a good friend whose step-father is a Brit, and besides owning a nice apartment in, you guessed it, Katamon, they have a place in a community in Netanya actually not known as Little America, but rather as Little England. On the way to synagogue one morning, I ran into a random British guy, and he asked me where I was going to daven.

I told him "Young Israel," the synagogue that my host goes to. The guy looked at me, chuckled, and like a good Brit he came back with some biting wit. "Yeah, more like Old England." The synagogue is populated by a bunch of old guys. I guess it takes a lifetime of income to afford one of these places.

It seems strange to me that there are definitively American places, and as if there is any need to further subcategorize Western, non-native Israeli areas, there's also those definitively British and French spots as well. That's one aspect to the whole 'Israel as the center of Judaism,' where Jews from all over the world come here to live or play. You don't think of this country as being large and diverse enough to merit definitively foreign clusters, but humans are humans, and we tend to group ourselves as we find most comfortable.

That being said, most of that "foreign" business is American. In Jerusalem, in general, if you see an Indo-European text on a sign, it's probably in English. However, if you are walking on Rechov Nice (a street) in Netanya, those signs are going to be in French. At first I unwittingly laughed at the stupid Israelis, putting "cacher" instead of "kosher" on a restaurant ad. Use a spell check! But, remember the street name, Danny! It's not Nice as in "nice to meet you," but rather Nice, the French Riviera resort city. At least in Jerusalem they name the streets in Hebrew! Usually.

We had our Pessach seder at my friend's step-father's apartment, which is right on the beach, and has a view of the ocean. I've been here before, and I was anxiously awaiting going back to see that terrific seascape again. I was unaware, however, at how many people were going to be there. After I found out that about 16 bodies were going to be staying at the apartment, eight of which were girls under the age of seven, I got a little nervous. Then my friend, her brother, and her sister and I went over to their friend's apartment. This family happens to be doing Passover in Italy, if you get where I'm going with this. I've known all these people for a while now, but I guess I'm always a little taken aback when I see their places.

Let's just say I'm constantly plagued by the worst of the deadly sins.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

If You Build It, We Will Come

For once, every news outlet in the world is saying the same thing: Israel totally kicks ass at spying. Well, besides that Ben-Kadish guy that got busted last week for giving nuclear secrets over to Israel, which doesn't even make sense considering Israel has had nukes for decades. Anyway, if you remember my blog post on the Israeli attack against a Syrian nuclear facility back in September, you'll know that there was an official media blackout on the alleged incident. The government literally didn't even acknowledge that it occurred. Not a peep.

For some reason the U.S. Congress is being briefed on all of it, however. And of course, like our good media and government tend to do, we are going to get the leaks. We already got a little bit: Israel can put a spy ANYWHERE.

"The evidence includes pre-attack images taken inside the reactor building, which closely resembles the one at the Yongbyon nuclear center in North Korea...

It is believed that the video was shot by Israeli intelligence or a mole for the Israelis, the source close to the administration said."

That's according to CNN. How in the hell did we put someone inside that nuclear facility?

Hmm, OK, Israel kicks ass. We've established that now. Let's see what Al-Jazeera had to say about the potential Israeli spy.

"...intelligence chiefs planned showing US legislators a video which, they said, showed the alleged Syrian reactor had a core design similar to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon...

It is not clear how the video was obtained."

This is one reason that Israel has always defeated the armies of the Middle East, the ones that have attacked us: They are too proud to admit weakness. As the poet Emerson said, "Our strength grows out of our weakness."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pyromaniacs in Jerusalem

(This picture, which I think is great, is from the site If you're an assistant, you'll love it).

Saturday night was the beginning of Passover (פסח), the holiday celebrating the Jewish departure from Egypt under the direction of Moses. In terms of the solidification of the Jewish people, this event and the following 40 years spent in the desert was the real beginning of the Nation of Israel. We were the Jewish people before we left Egypt and that period of slavery, but with our exit we showed G-d our true faith, we accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and eventually we entered the Land of Israel in order to claim our homeland. The Passover holiday is a celebration of the birth of our nation and religion.

So how do we celebrate it in Israel? We set fire to parks in order to burn our chametz, or any leavened bread product. The custom is to clean your apartment like it is infected with mold, every inch of it in order to rid it of any chametz, and then finally you perform what is called bedikat chametz - literally checking of chametz. After you get a symbolic amount of this forbidden food together, a ritual you perform at night, the next morning you have to burn it completely. Everyone does this at the same time.

Hence the fires. This picture isn't even half representative of how large this flame got. As we were burning the goods, about five different guys came by with their chametz and asked, angrily, "Why did you make this fire right here? It's too big."

You know who started the fire? The city cleaning worker that left it unattended as he made his way around our street. Honestly, I think you'd get sued if you did that in America. Here, he was just being a good, although slightly irresponsible, Jewish citizen - providing a useful service for the masses. This guy here is performing bitul chametz, saying the prayer after burning the chametz.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hebrew Is Gobbly Gook!

Interesting Article Here!

This article that was on the Jerusalem Post website a few days ago is actually an answer to a question that I've had for a few years now. Considering that I am working with great effort on learning the Hebrew language, sometimes I look at its non-Indo European character set and I think, "Is this gobbly gook to anyone else?" I mean, do Israelis look at Hebrew text and see it like I see English -- as plain as my image in a mirror, as distinct as red and blue and green, as natural as the glare of a summer sun?

Apparently not!

Hebrew University did a study whereby they found that slightly jumbled words are more recognizable in English, and other Indo-European languages, than they are in Hebrew. For instance, "tutrle" and "mcie" are easier for English speakers to reorganize, instantly, into turtle and mice than their Hebrew equivalents would be.

This is because Hebrew is a root-based language. The Hebrew root is essentially a string of a few letters which have a definitive meaning, but can be used in tons of different forms (from verbs to nouns to adjectives) to carry on the meaning in a different context. You can't change them up.

In English, however, we would just have a totally different word with no connection between them. The best way to characterize the difference between Hebrew and English is that whereby English has thousands of more, distinct words, Hebrew is based more on context, structure, and these precious roots. Distinct words versus distinct word forms.

The roots can make for some really cool trivia. L'hosif, Yosef, tosefet - never mind.

Anyway, this makes me feel great! I kept wondering why my very smart teacher couldn't recognize a word in my homework because two letters were backwards. So those native Hebrew speakers actually don't have that instinctive recognition of Hebrew either! There's hope yet.

(If anyone wants to hear more about how AWESOME Hebrew is, comment on this post).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Interview, Hopefully...

Looks like my alma-mater, William and Mary, might run an interview on yours truly. Williamsburg, Virginia, meet Jerusalem, Israel, orthodox Judaism, the Israeli army, and falafel.

The world might implode.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Hebrew = 8 Year Old's

I was walking to the supermarket a few days ago and I passed a little girl shouting from a falafel stand to her sister sitting in a parked car. She yelled across the sidewalk to her big sis' to ask her dad what he wanted on the falafel. It was too cute, but it also gave me some much needed linguistic faith.

"Tagee - tagee - tag - tageedi aba..."

She couldn't spit out her Hebrew either! It's funny that a child's poor language skills gave me a boost of confidence. Not that children speak poorly. Actually, quite the opposite.

My Hebrew is about the level of a small child's (in terms of true fluency), so when they speak so much more quickly and correctly than I do, well, it really makes you think "I SUCK."

Thank you stuttering Israeli child for giving me hope.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Israeli Candy

Israelis generally speak English pretty well. They start learning that lingua franca somewhere around first or second grade. The TV show "Friends" was a huge hit, and I personally was involved with an Air Force intelligence officer who spoke perfect English; she claims it was from watching that show. I was on the bus recently and saw an Israeli high schooler reading an English novel. They speak English!

So how on G-d's green earth do these misplaced and inappropriate words and expressions go unnoticed?! I love it, don't get me wrong, I love it, but aren't we trying to be a first-rate country over here? The real joke is whether or not they plan on trying to export anything to an English speaking country. I love me some sugar candy, but maybe this isn't just candy...

If you notice, I already got my fix. Pretty powerful sugar if you ask me. Look at those faces! I can just hear them now:

"Hey man, hey, I swear it's good, man. Just take a hit, bro, it'll mess you up!" Says the winking guy in the upper left corner.

Tongue hanging out, drool dribbling down his chin, this joker manages to slur "I can't feel my face, man. Why you starin' at me?"

"Withdrawal is a bitch..." says the frowny face in the lower right.

And the best? What kind of advertising is this, at least for parents who may buy this drug for their kids? Yes, I want my child to be so high on "Magic Dust" (say that slowly) that his eyes go in different directions. "You gotta try it, you gotta try it!"

Finally, look at this sedated face. "I'm so messed up I can barely keep my eyes open, my pupils are so dilated you can barely see the color, and damnit, it feeeeeels goooood."

I had the brilliant idea to take a picture of this bag next to a line of salt and a rolled up bank note, making it look like a real drug scene. I figured my mom and Google wouldn't share my humor, though. Hey, quit stifling my creativity, stupid anti-drug society! We here in Israel know how to do it, even if we do advertise candy corn on a bag of pure sugar in a country where I have never even seen candy corn. Good riddance to that stupid Halloween treat. I'd rather have the Dust, baby. Yeah, get me some more of that Magic Dust.

I love Israeli candy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Middle East Tango

So, if you read my previous post or even read CNN's headlines yesterday, you would have noticed that Israel had its largest emergency preparation drill in history. The drill was to evaluate our readiness for any attack, be it from neighbors, Heaven, or Hell. Hell not withstanding, we're doing alright. Actually, I don't know how well we did, but in this country if you don't see a slew of vicious op-eds, well, it must have been pretty good!

Our fun-loving Syrian neighbor to the north decided two days after Israel's drill to conduct their own. After weeks of groaning and bemoaning Israel's supposed escalation of war-like tension, Syria chose to cast caution to the wind and jump into the fray. I can only imagine their cabinet meeting where this was decided.

"Eh, maybe you think we need drill too?"
"Yes, yes, we will show them."
President Assad rubs his long chin, a smirk slowly spreads across his boyishly handsome face, and he can't help but exclaim the brilliant maneuver. "Excellent, excellent."

My only response is to smile and laugh at all this foolishness! I mean, come on, we held a drill that basically was to prevent Israel from having unnecessary difficulties in the case of another Lebanon War, a war that was started by a bunch of terrorists out of the blue. We were hanging out, they launched missiles. We were not ready. That's it.

So, we just want to be ready in case someone gets a smart idea, not for some offensive campaign against the innocent civilians of Lebanon, as Al Jazeera would want you to believe! If I was the prime minister, I would send a very public call to Bashar Assad and say, "Brosef, we aren't going to attack you, but I hope your drill goes well. Ours was kickass!"

I swear I would make that call. I swear it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

To Prepare For The Worst

Yes, I agree with the girl in the picture: WTF? Tomorrow, Tuesday the 8th, Israel will be holding what will apparently be the largest war and terror preparation drill that it has ever undertaken. The drill is to alert us to all the various types of attacks that we have to be ready to deal with: chemical, biological, conventional, maybe even nuclear - if you can prepare for such a thing. This drill is going to be held at 10 am, which means that everyone is going to be rushing to the miklatim (bomb shelters) found in the basement of just about every single building here. Walking along the streets, if you read Hebrew, you would see hand painted signs on every corner or stone wall pointing towards the closet shelter. They usually are never more than a step away, if that. So, this drill is just to enable us to evaluate how our safety procedures would work in case of an emergency, any emergency necessitating shelters.

Nevertheless, the plan comes at something of an inconvenient time in terms of politics, and an extremely fitting time in terms of reality.

Politics: Our neighbor to the north, Syria, is pretty convinced that we are getting our ducks in a row for a war. They think we are readying to start a war. Considering that our defense minister recently canceled a planned trip overseas in order to tour the Syrian-Israeli border, considering our military exercises in the north, and even now because of this civilian drill, well, I don't blame them. They don't realize that Israelis wouldn't take on a war right now even for all the Google stock in the world. None other than CNN is reporting on this today, on the seeming Israeli preparations for some offensive.

As you can see from the picture taken during our school-wide discussion with a female soldier whose entire job is to detail emergency preparations, this is just a precaution. We're talking about what we should do in the case of an incoming rocket, just the same as when we had to duck in the hallways in middle school in Virginia to simulate attacks by G-d: hurricanes and tornadoes. If this was Israel's preparation to start a war, I think we'd have a little more heads up than just one 19-year-old girl and a laptop.

This is an inconvenient time because we already have so many enemy states around us saying whenever we so much as sneeze, "Look! See? Israel is bracing for war!" And then we hold this war drill, and our STUPID politicians go and run their fat mouths saying things like Benyamin Ben Eliezer's "We'll destroy Iran if it attacks us." These enemy states, like Iran and Syria, are just waiting for excuses to either bomb us directly, or for justification to continue their massive monetary and military support of terrorist groups like Hizbullah. So, what do we do for people who want justification to hurt us? Guys like Ben Eliezer give our opponents prewrapped packages that they can then take to CNN and say, "Look! See? Israel is threatening us!" I can just see my dad shaking his head right now in disgust. "Israel has the worst PR in the world, and it's their own fault." On days like today, I agree.

Reality: The sad truth is that this is an inconvenient and dangerous time to even hint at military preparations in Israel, but that is a sad political truth. The reality is that we are always, since before Israel was even declared a state, on the ready for war. Or at least we should be. We found that out in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, on the highest Jewish holiday, that we can be attacked at any moment with no warning. Even if our civilian emergency routines provoke a war, what option do we have? What is better, to not practice life-saving techniques in the vain hope that we will stave off attacks, or to prepare and be prepared when the worst happens -- which we should by now expect?

The reality of the situation is that we have to prepare, even if the bad guys misinterpret our actions.

Ah, but relax, hope is not lost! Though Ben Eliezer has a stupid, fat mouth, he is right! Iran would not attack us, as he says, because it would mean the end of that already failed state. Syria hasn't dared touch us since 1973. I laugh quite heartily at the idea that Hizbullah thinks we would "lose" a second round of war with them. We learned a lot from 2006, which we didn't lose in the first place, and they really aren't willing to jump into it with us at this point. Think about it like this:

1) They have all the rockets and guns and manpower that they had in 2006 before the Second Israel-Lebanon War, which they consider a success.
2) They have Iran and Syria on their side.
3) They have world sympathy on their side.
4) That world support, however, isn't going to win them any concessions from us, which they know.
5) Therefore, they have no reason to not attack us if they think they could "win." They get nothing from us except that which they would take in war.
6) They surely want a victory, as that would really bring them into power in Lebanon.
7) So they realize that they must fight us to get what they want, though they haven't attacked or threatened to...
8) Conclusion: they aren't ready for war.

Aha, the truth comes out!

Honestly, 90% of this meeting with the female soldier was talking about what to do in case of a major earthquake. This region is long overdue for one, as I said in this previous post. One worry at a time, right?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Celebrity? Not yet.

The Virginia Jewish Life magazine interviewed me a few months back, and now it is in print. You can read the interview at their website. I really don't like the editing job they did (i.e. none), but no worries. Pretty neat though, right? Click on this link to see my ugly mug and read the interview.

I don't know how long that link will work, so let me know if it goes dead!

Here's the text:

From Elkton to Jerusalem

Daniel Brothers, 23, is from Elkton, a rural community in the Shenandoah Valley. In 2005, he took his first trip to Israel with Birthright, followed by an internship at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a political think-tank run by Dore Gold, the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. He studied abroad in Israel at Tel Aviv University in 2006, and spent a few months in Aish HaTorah Yeshivah, in the Old City of Jerusalem. After graduating from The College of William & Mary in 2007 with a degree in Government, he made aliyah (emigrated) to Israel in September, 2007. He is currently studying in Ulpan Etzion, after which he hopes to join the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces.

Where are you living in Israel?
I live in a very Mizrachi, Sephardi, neighborhood in Jerusalem called Tzomet Pat. Before I made aliyah I was going to move to Haifa, because there are very few Anglos (native English speakers) there, which is the best way to learn Hebrew. Jerusalem has so many Americans, Canadians, and British, that sometimes it’s difficult to immerse yourself in Hebrew. I decided at the last minute to move to Jerusalem, however, because I have so many friends in the area.

Why did you decide to make aliyah?
I grew up knowing that I was a Jew, but I never really had any idea that Zionism existed. I knew that Israel was a Jewish state, that Jews belonged to Israel and Israel belongs to Jews, but I did not realize that it had anything to do with me. Like so many kids, after I had my Bar Mitzvah I really started to think about Judaism on my own terms. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that there was no G-d, that Judaism was obsolete, and that I really didn’t want to have anything to do with it. In high school, however, I began to feel like there was something different about me, something that I did not share with my friends. I was the only kid in school to represent my faith, and I found myself embracing this distinction. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be identified with something, to be something instead of just another rural white guy. I started going back to synagogue with my mother and brother, researching Judaism on my own, and praying in a Reform, unstructured fashion. I was so excited to go to college and finally have Jewish friends, to meet Jews my own age. The only extracurricular activity I involved myself in for a long time was Hillel. I spent all my free time figuring out, on my own, Orthodox Judaism -- and it appealed to me on many levels. I eventually became an Orthodox Jew, and I found out that above all I am a Zionist.

Do you have any family in Israel?
I have none. This is admittedly the greatest difficulty in making the transition to Israel; not having the support of family.

How did people react to your decision to move to Israel?
“Are you crazy?” I think that most American non-Jews, or people that haven’t visited Israel, think that we walk down the street and see bombings and shootings left and right. The common reaction is one of surprise and even a little bit of condescension. People think I don’t know what I am doing, or that I am trying to prove something to someone. On the other hand, informed people treat me like a hero! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I wish I would have done that.” Israelis either say, “You’re dumb. America is the place to be,” or “Welcome home.” The latter makes it all worth it.

What kind of help did you get in making aliyah?
There is an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh that organizes every aspect of the process, and I would highly encourage anyone considering making aliyah to use their services. They take care of all the paperwork and red tape, and even fly everyone over on chartered El Al flights. Check out

What has been your biggest challenge?
I’m 7,000 miles away from my family, and we’re a tight-knit group, so I miss them terribly. On a daily basis, however, just dealing with the tough attitudes of Israelis is enough to stress me out. I’m a polite Southerner, not one of these rough Middle Easterners!

What do you love most about Israel?
I love the abundance, the sheer inability to find unkosher food in Jerusalem; I love how normal it is to walk around with a kippa; I love that this country is old, with a rich archaeological history; I love that everyone is Jewish and we don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone; I love that there is a synagogue on every street. Above all, I love that we speak a holy language here. We speak the same language that Abraham spoke, that the Patriarchs spoke, and that G-d spoke to Moshe in!

What are the key differences between Israel and America?
Everything! Our weeks run from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being our “weekend.” The country operates around Jewish holidays, which are institutionalized as national holidays; “American holidays” pass without even a word. Security is posted at every entrance to public and private spaces, and you can’t get in to anything without going through a metal detector. The most noticeable difference to a Virginian living here is the nature of the people. Israelis are known as sabras, which is a desert cactus-fruit. The outside of the sabra is tough and has sharp spikes, but once you get to the inside, it is soft and sweet. Like this cactus-fruit, Israelis are rough and tough on the outside, lacking the manners we take so seriously in the South, but once you break that tough shell they are sweeter than a Georgia peach. The same guy that butts in line and elbows you out of the way will invite you to his house for a Shabbat meal, even after he’s been a total jerk. These people are kind and sweet, but you would never know it.

What are your long-term goals?
I want to have a solid, well paying job. I want to have a wife and children. I suppose the one unique goal I have is for my children to speak perfect, native Hebrew.

What do you hope for?
I have no illusions that Israel and Syria are ever going to be friends, but I do feel like at some point we could have at least a lasting stalemate with the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Right now we’re in the middle of some very serious political firestorms, and I am afraid that these issues that affect our peace, security, and relationships with the Arabs will never be resolved. I can’t imagine how we could ever rectify the conflict over Jerusalem and ownership of the “disputed territories,” but occasionally I feel a tinge of promise. My hope is for that promise to not be a pipe dream. All the dreams and reasons that I have for being here will be for naught if we aren’t able to exist in peace. I believe in the viability of the Jewish State, but can we afford to exist for hundreds of years while having to pay for such a necessary, oversized army? We are a small state, after all, and the hit on our economy from the military and security forces is tremendous. We absolutely must find a solution.

-Allie Vered
Photo by Uri Vered