Monday, June 30, 2008

Israeli Jazz Flute

Living in a city has its major benefits. One of those benefits is that there always seems to be something going on. Whether there is a play, symphony, festival, interpretive dance performance, or parade (i.e. - the Gay Pride Parade last week here in Jerusalem), there is something for everyone.

So, when my friend invited me to a jazz concert I jumped at the chance. However, not even ten minutes in to the first act did my fantastic imagination put me in hysterics. Here is this band, a really great Israeli jazz group, with a real live jazz flutist - and I was laughing so hard I was crying. A jazz flute!

Anyone of the fifteen to twenty-five-year-old range instantly would think of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," but only I would find myself transformed to that hilarious scene. It was as if Will Ferrell was on-stage, sucking a martini through the flute and proceeding to create a flute blow torch, and not some serious musician trying to make a name for himself.

I'm sorry, I just couldn't help it! Here's the clip from the movie. I apologize for the quiet sound, but it was the only one I could find on YouTube. If you don't laugh, you just don't get it...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Israel's Use of English Expressions

Being umemployed and sitting in front of the television all day has its rewards; like this gem of a sighting.  Go ahead and read that caption I captured from an Israeli tv program.

Teva HaDevarim, as far as I can tell, is attempting to be some sort of Israeli nature channel.  I would venture to say that they want to be the Israeli National Geographic.  So, it comes as something of a surprise when they describe "The El Capitan," which makes me chuckle intellectually, as "the wet dream of many climbers," which makes me giggle as a 23-year-old boy should.  

I have this terrible mental image of some Israeli rock climber sleeping on the side of "The El Capitan" in one of those suspended sleeping harnesses, and then he starts to - um, how do I say this...

He starts to "climb" "The El Capitan" in a way that Nature did not intend.  

Recently, many of the Israeli-American blogs, like mine, have been jumping on what seems to be a slew of goofs in Israel's use of English.  Signs, advertisements, food wrappers, you name it.  For example, check out these hilarious pictures my former boss Mikhael sent me.  Totally unbelievable that this country could produce something like that at a large tourist area (the Sea of Galilee).

Anyway, are these things ever going to get old?  Because there's this really really big chain of bakeries and coffee shops here, and they have this sign downtown...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Strange Google Search Results

Maybe this post is a little bit short-sighted, but I can't help but making it. I have Google Analytics set up for this blog, so I can see all the ways people get to my site, how long they stay, what they read, and so on. I get to see how people find my site in search engines (ie- "keywords"). I've had a solid amount of visitors in the past few days, so I wanted to see how people found this site in search engines. comes up on some pretty obvious searches:

  • American marrying an Israeli
  • Clothes for orthodox Jews
  • Foreign diplomatic license plates in Israel
  • Bush counter assault team

Those all sound pretty normal for my material, right?  Nothing really raises an eyebrow, except that I just locked my door and closed the shades due to the last one.  Standard stuff.

Needless to say, I was a little miffed by the following keywords.  Mind you, these are just what caught my eye in the last three days of Google searches that led to my site!

  • Sexy Arab blog
  • Sexy Tzipi Livni
  • Sexy Livni
  • what do hmph means?

And the kicker?  Brace yourself.

  • sexy old england man

Don't worry, I don't know either.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Exaggerate Sometimes

In my previous post I said that there was a picture of Saddam Hussein brandishing his trademark sword in a Muslim Quarter pastry shop in Jerusalem's Old City. The picture is real, the shop is real, but the sword was poetic license. I was in the area again today, so I took a picture of the Hussein poster. I tried to get the Yasser Arafat poster as well, but the sun ruined the shot through the glass door.

Can you believe our "partner in peace" venerates Saddam Hussein? Here's the picture:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Palestinian Children Love Profanity

A couple friends and I recently spent the day exploring some of the lesser traveled areas on the average Israel journey in the Old City of Jerusalem. As one of my comrades put it, it's like walking into a totally different country. One minute you're in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, a safe, clean, relatively quiet area, and the next you're in the Christian and Muslim Quarters - not exactly the place you want to get lost in when the sun goes down.

No, no, it's really not that bad, but honestly you feel kind of good when you see a fully strapped Israeli soldier standing on the corner. He's like that blue light found on college campuses. If something goes wrong, just run to the light.

A Turkish friend of mine, a Muslim, was in the Arab Shuk a few years ago with his Turkish buddies when they started talking about Yasser Arafat. Since they were speaking Turkish, the Arabic speaking Muslims around them only understood the name of their revered leader. This was taken to offense, and my Turkish friend and his group were quickly surrounded by angry, hostile young men.

They were saved by a swarm of Israeli soldiers with drawn M16s. If you get in a fight in this area, as occurs occasionaly with yeshiva boys taking shortcuts not worth it, there's a pretty good chance a knife might find its way into the fray. Don't worry, though, the massive majority of the residents of this area are interested in only one thing, as they rightly should be: Tourist Dollars.

After our trip was over, we exited the Old City from the Damascus Gate. This puts you on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. As we walked up the street towards home, we passed a park which is a favorite hangout of the Arab residents of the area. Two ten-year-old boys greeted us.

"Where you from?," they shouted from the low wall they were sitting on.
"Jamaica!" I couldn't resist throwing in my best Caribbean accident.
"Jamaica," the boys repeated, "Jamaica?"
"Shut up. Shut your mouth!"

We continued walking, occasionally looking back as the boys yelled out to us.

"Yes, I'm talking to you! Shut your mouth!" Smiling, they continued to yell. "You are asshole!"

And the piece de resistance?

"Your mother is bitch!!!"

I love this place, and all the happy residents in it. By the way, did I mention that I saw the customary Yasser Arafat portraits in the Muslim Quarter, as well as a new sighting, a poster of Saddam Hussein standing galliantly with his gleaming sword?

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Hebrew Sucks

Last night was a typical night in the life of a 23-year-old guy with a lot on his mind. Well, I wouldn't say staying out until the wee hours of the night is typical, and I haven't done it for a long time now, but it should be standard operating procedure at least once a month. That's been a motto of mine for years. You have to go all out one night a month - it keeps you young!

I digress into my own philosophical ramblings. At the end of the night, as is usual for such nights, I found myself wanting to purchase vast quantities of food, junk food, at my local twenty-four hour supermarket. I walked down to the market, noticed that the cashier seats were empty, and slowly looked around before I entered. Hey, I didn't want anyone to think I was robbing the place.

One of the regular cashiers walked quickly around the corner, broom in hand, and asked me what I wanted. I told her I just needed a couple things. She said sure, just a couple things? You aren't going to get a bunch of things? So, it'll just take a minute? OK, fine, you can go in.

That's what I thought she said. That's not really what she said. Let's just say I felt like an idiot when she scolded me for being so rude as to walk in directly after she said "I'll be a couple minutes. OK?"

Twenty-four hour supermarket? More like twenty-three hours, fifty minutes. Not my fault you have to sweep the parking lot. Not my fault that Hebrew can be so fast that even if I understand what was said, I often switch the meaning of the sentences around.

You'd be surprised how important little words like "you," "I," and "them" are to languages.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lishkat HaGiyus - Army Recruitment Office

This envelope and her insignia mean many different things to various people; people inside and outside of Israel alike. This is the envelope that my tzav giyus came in, my I.D.F. induction notice. That sword and olive branch symbolize hope, peace, and security for a weathered people. The words Tzava Ha'Hagana L'Yisrael, Army For The Defense Of Israel, speak righteousness in my ears. I came to Israel to join this society, this culture of defense, these people that must serve together or face sure extermination. I came to place the seal of the Israeli Defense Force on my chest, no matter what anyone thinks of me or my decision. To think, all of this symbolism on a simple envelope!

But, as I have learned over the past few years living off and on in Israel, how different are our dreams from our experiences, how trying is the daily life in pursuit of a goal, how unideal our idealism can be! I dream of the day when I will stand tall and proud in this country, this unceasingly difficult to navigate country, unafraid of failure, defeat, and the dissolution of what I have set my sights on with the greatest of determination. I am lucky enough that my dream in life is so easily definable, a dream that I know I can achieve, but in no way does that mean that the gods have decided to take it easy on me.

The expectation that dreams will come easy is the fault of idealists with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the mountains. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from adults that "You're idealistic because you're young. That will pass when you see the real world." I disagree, of course. Idealism is not bound by time. Idealism isn't killed by the presence of reality. Rather, it is crystallized as strictly a dream by the very lack of reality. Our ideals and idealism and ideologies need not be attenuated for even a single day.

As a matter of fact, many grown adults, the greatest men and women of our history books, went to their graves with their undying passion decreased not a notch from its initial conception. Would Theodore Herzl, John Adams, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Susan B. Anthony, or Ben Franklin be the recognizable names that they are today if they subscribed to a defeatist attitude? No, of course not. Idealism doesn't die with time and reality. It dies with a failure to cope with the day to day struggle of living for a cause. If a dream is true and righteous, and the dreamer is conscious of his struggle's implications, even the greatest obstacles can be taken on with an indescribably joy - a reassurance in knowing that each assault on the realization of this dream is a sign that it is something worth fighting for. The greatest goal is always the most contested.

With all that high and mighty contemplation on dreams and goals and passions, those cliche words that I can't help but use, I think it's finally time that I get to the point of this post. Men and women like Herzl and Anthony and King faced real difficulties in the pursuit of their dreams: poverty, public indignation, death threats, insurmountable odds in the practical application of establishing a new country or changing thousands of years of discrimination. Those are enviable challenges to add to one's resume when accomplishing a goal. The names that exist in our text books knew real stumbling blocks.

So, what's the hardest part of my personal journey? What causes me to lose sleep at night? What takes my hope and determination and twists it into a little ball of doubt and hesitation? I wish I could say that the public wouldn't understand my beliefs, that I would be a person beyond my time, but I am just one of thousands joining this army. I wish I could say that I face poverty, but the truth is that I will be paid for my service to this country, a luxury many idealists traditionally can't rely on. No, and I hesitate to be so honest, but the greatest obstacle to me attaining my dream, the element of this pursuit that distresses me the most, is sheer embarrassment!

Have you watched the movie Full Metal Jacket recently? If not, here's a clip of the beginning of that film. If you have bad-language sensitive ears, I highly recommend just taking my word for it that boot camp commanders are not nice people.

Now, the Israeli army is so wildly different from the American army that you can hardly compare the two outside of the use of guns and tanks and war jets, but I just can't help but see myself as one of those idiots being yelled at! I can't help but imagine that I'm going to be the idiot that smiles during all this! I can't help but imagine that anything like this will happen at all! And to think it will all be happening around me in a language that often flies over my head...

The truth is that I am not afraid of the traditional possibilities that are inherent in joining an army. Because I see this army as a great miracle, that there is a Jewish fighting force wearing the Star of David after 2,000 years, that we are a real army with a record of unfathomable accomplishments, because this army is itself an ideological dream, I am proud to be a part of her in any capacity possible. The gift that I, of all the generations that have lived before me, have the chance to actively defend the Jewish people from savage enemies - It would be a sin to say no. My idealism easily conquers the fear of fighting.

All that pride and idealism was washed away in an instant, however, when I started talking to a very attractive and very uninterested female soldier in the army recruitment office a couple weeks ago. I had to go in to give them a copy of my diploma (which is in Latin, by the way, so I wonder what kind of looks that thing prompted) and sign some request forms. Going upstairs to hand over the diploma and give them some more information, I spoke Hebrew the entire time without any difficulty. The girls in that part of the office didn't seem to have a problem with my Hebrew, and I didn't have a problem understanding theirs. Fifteen minutes later I felt pretty damn good about myself and my journey.

And then I had to talk with Little Miss I Hate My Job. I was shepherded into a closet, a room with two desks and about two feet by two feet of free space for me to stand in. I figured I would jump right in with the 'Brew.

"...שלום אני רוצה לבקש"

Simple Hebrew, simple request forms, but she looked at me like I was speaking Greek. Now, why was it that the girls upstairs treated me like someone who does speak Hebrew, and this girl was looking at me like I had a third eyeball? Needless to say, her immediate switch into English killed my spirit.

Eventually we got to the part of the request forms where I had to give reasons why I wanted to move up my induction date to the army. All in English, of course, I explained that I am going to be older than the other guys by about five years, so I want to just get in there and get the waiting over with. As she was writing all of this in Hebrew, I mumbled "אני ישן".

Stupid, stupid mistake. "You are what?," she asked. After a second of looking at me, she began laughing the heartiest laugh I've heard in years.

"Yashan?! Did you just say that?! Yashan!" She couldn't get enough. She looked over at the other girl in the office, who was leaning halfway off her chair trying to figure out what was so funny, and began speaking Hebrew that I unfortunately understood quite well.

"He said 'ani yashan!' Oh, he's going to have fun in the army! What an idiot!"

Here I was, standing in the middle of this tiny little office with my backpack on, looking around, totally realizing my mistake in using the word for old that is the opposite of new, not young, and just having to shrug off two cute girls' laughter at my expense. And then they turned to their commanding officer who was sitting in the adjacent office and filled her in. Some guys who were there doing paperwork looked at me and shook their heads in disdain. I was the butt of the joke.

After the laughter died out, my considerate and compassionate Israeli sister looked up at me and said in English, "Your Hebrew make me laugh today. Thank you." Unable to resist, I leaned forward, placed my hands on her desk, and said "Your English make me laugh today too."

I guess you have to keep a sense of humor when it comes to these things, but think about my position! Here I am, joining a far-away army, and I am barely proficient in the language. Israel's army was founded on the backs of immigrants, and it continues to be the only sure way to integrate foreigners into the society, but that doesn't mean it's easy to be the guy who is only 50% sure of what's going on, to be 30% sure of what to say, and 5% sure on how to say it.

You want to know what I'm worried about when it comes to my time in the army? I'm not afraid of bombs, bullets, or bad guys. I'm afraid of being yelled at in Hebrew and having exactly zero idea what was just said to me. I'm afraid of being told "Don't let any cars in," and instead hearing "Let all the cars in." I'm afraid of having to get on the radio and call in a question to HQ. I'm afraid of messing up the language.

But as I said before, if dreams were easy, they wouldn't be dreams. If I spoke fluent Hebrew, I would be like any other Israeli. The army wouldn't be a dream, but rather a requirement or responsibility. If you ask the average Israeli if they were in the army, they'll say quite matter-of-factly, "Yes. Why?"

If you ask me in a couple years if I served in the army, I think you'll get quite a different response. You see, the obstacles to our goals that seem so Herculean at the time, those very obstacles become part and parcel of the goal itself. Not only are your obstacles unavoidable, they will come to define your path, and even give greater purpose to it.

And if you find yourself laughed at, like I was, remember this quote by Viktor Frankl: "The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living."