Religious Pluralism in the Jewish State!
One thing that is hard to grasp when you first land in Israel is not only the cultural diversity in the country (Jews are not only North American with origins in Eastern Europe, there are Jews from almost every country: Iran, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mexico, China, India), but the religious pluralism that exists.
Seth and I went downtown to Ben Yehuda St. Saturday night since it is always packed (because most stores are closed during the day for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest). Towards the top, an Asian group of young adults were singing beautiful Christian songs. An audience had formed around them, and I was shocked to see that religious Jews were enjoying the music as well.
About 100 meters down the street (a pedestrian mall), there were 3 Haredi (ultra orthodox) men: one was playing the keyboard, the other singing, and the third dancing with a HUGE yellow flag that had the words "Mashiach" (Saviour) printed on it. Every once in a while a few religious, and even non-religious young men would jump in and dance.
It's nice to be reminded that in the holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam religion can be enjoyed together, and appreciated by all.
Tu Bishvat Higiya! (Tu Bishvat is Here!)
I can't remember the last time I celebrated "Tu Bishvat": the New Years for the Trees. It is one of the 4 Jewish "New Years" mentioned in the "Mishna" (a major source of rabbinic religious texts and the basis for the "Talmud"). It is customary to eat fruits and plant trees in Israel (most people eat dry fruits on this holiday).
This year, however, I could not have forgotten about the holiday!
There was dry fruit everywhere at the shuk! It became the latest trend: stands that don't even sell fruits normally had them! And it wasn't limited to the usual raisins, dates, apricots, but included: dried pineapple, kiwi, banana, mango, and many other fruit I didn't recognize!
Not only that, but the municipality put up signs all over the city with wishes for the holiday!
And, as an environmentally friendly reminder: don't forget to reuse, reduce, and recycle (seriously)!
Seth and I went to a neat tiny (about the size of a walk in closet, not even) waffle place at the bottom of Shamai St. It's cute and smells wonderful! The waffles might look a bit small, but are very filling! If you're ever in the mood for a fun dessert, or walking around Ben Yehuda, go check it out!
Austrians and Germans in Israel
When Seth went to volunteer on a Kibbutz 2 summers ago, one of his roommates was German, not Jewish. I was confused, at first, as to why he was there. What appeal does a Kibbutz have to someone like him? Leo, our German (Jewish) roommate, told us that Germans learn about the events of the Holocaust from childhood, and feel guilty. He says that it's common for Germans our age to come to Israel and work either on a Kibbutz, or somewhere else. It's their way of repenting for their grandparents' unforgivable acts: coming to help build a country for a nation their grandparents
tried so vehemently to destroy.
Last night Seth and I went to go hear Leo and 2 of his friends perform for a group of Israeli Holocaust survivors. (Leo played the cello). Once seated in our chairs, we were surprised to hear German all around us. The audience was not only comprised of Holocaust survivors, but of the children and grandchildren of SS men from Germany and Austria who had come to Israel on a 2-week trip to learn about and travel the country.
At first, chills ran down my spines. Sitting next to families of Nazis felt weird. But as I looked around I realized that, as hard as it may be, it really is unfair to punish this generation for acts they had no control over. One teenage boy was wearing a popular "Tzahal" (IDF: Israel Defence Force) shirt. Others were discussing places they had visited.
Watching Holocaust survivors enjoying a recital, sitting next to, and talking to the offspring of their families' murderers made me appreciate this State in a new light.
Israel is not just about being a home for the Jewish people. It's about being the center of Jewish education, tolerance, and understanding, not only for Jews, but for non-Jews as well, even, and especially, for the children of Nazis.
The lesson of Munich
We saw the much talked about "Munich" last night. I actually really enjoyed it (even though my heart was racing the whole movie)! Although I understand why Spielberg thought that bringing up the morality of targeted assassinations was important, I do not agree with his conclusions. But, considering that the movie was only remotely based on reality (and from what Seth tells me is based on a book that an Israeli airport security guard named "Avner" wrote, who claims that he was involved in the mission, even though all the Mossad agents that are known to have been involved said they never heard of him), I am not going to get into the specifics.
In fact, what I walked away with from the movie had more to do with my understanding of the importance of a Jewish home in a secure State. 11 Israeli athletes were not brutally murdered because they were Israeli, it was because they were Jews. And, the world tried to be sympathetic, but would they even have tried if there was no State that represented us? The murderers were dealt with leniently enough, but would they have been punished at all if there was no Jewish State that was pressuring them to do so?
I know that it is difficult for non-Jews, and sometimes even for Jews, to understand why it is so important to have a Jewish State. Zionism is deemed to be racism. And I know it has been said hundreds of times, but it boils down to this for me: Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years. Since the destruction of the Second Temple and their expulsion from Israel, they have never been truly safe. Almost every religion has a country where that religion is the overwhelming majority. The Jews have yearned for such a country for thousands of years. History has made it clear that we need protection, and Israel has offered that protection to Jews all over the world: by rescuing Jews from persecution in Russia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq to name a few, by performing outrageously dangerous rescue missions of Jews that were held hostage such as in the Entebbe Raid in 1976.
Some people believe that the world has learned its lesson and is more compassionate, and Jews do not need the same protection they used to. Open the newspapers, look at events from the past year, anti semitism is still thriving. Genocide is still occurring, and governments have only recently began to take some action in Darfur.
Israel, as a Jewish State, needs to exist, and therefore has a right to exist. Once our enemies recognize that, the rest is all details.
Israel Under Attack
Today Seth's parents (Larry and Carol) sat us down to talk to us about what we should do if Iran attacks Israel with nuclear weapons. At first, Seth and I both thought it was a ridiculous conversation to have. I mean, Iran wouldn't attack Israel? Come oooon.
But as we talked about it, I realized that we are in the Middle East
, we are in Israel
surrounded by countries that want nothing more than to wipe us off the map. And, if Iran had the ability to do it, there is a chance, no matter how small, that it would act.
The trouble is, I don't know what I would do: do I find the fastest way to leave the country? I have no army training and would be of no use. Israel doesn't need extra people to care for when it is in the middle of a war? Don't we want Israelis and Jews to remain who will be able to populate Israel once the fighting stops? People that are not hurt by the nuclear warfare?
But, as Seth's dad pointed out, what about moral support? How would those Israelis who stay behind to fight feel if all those people who claim they love Israel so much get up and leave? Israel is a home for all Jews, and it's the only home we have. Am I going to abandon my home when the going gets rough?
Home Sweet Home
Arriving back in Israel was like a breath of fresh air. When I leave it, I always think I remember how much you love it. But, the truth is, there are always many things I forget about, that I love. And, I can never feel the way I do when I am in Israel. I, quite simply, feel at home. Home in every sense of the word: comfortable, secure, open. And, like in every home, frustration occurs, and arguments break out. But, home is also the place of forgiveness, where you continue to care and support each other, where you can always come back to.
Here are some pictures of the beautiful landscapre t
hat is my home taken from the plane:
When comparing Israel to Canada, Israelis often say that they cannot understand how Canadians do not speak to their neighbours, and sometimes don't even know who they are!
When searching for apartments in September, Seth and I were getting desperate, and were willing to live anywhere. But I'm glad that we found a place in a nice neighbourhood like Nayot, because friendly encounters with our neighbours are always nice!
In Israel you often have to pay "va'ad bayit", which is a monthly amount that you pay to the owner of the building for maintenance, and in our case, heat.
Where we live, every condo is owned separately, and there is a committee, elected every few years to manage the affairs of the 3 buildings. The meetings are not preset, but are called whenever the committee gets tired of their job.
Today Seth, Jon and I attended the meeting which everyone was required to attend, to decide when the hot water and heat should be turned on, and the amounts of the monthly payments to be made by each condo.
Us being Americans and Canadians, we figured that if the meeting is mandatory
, we have to go. We arrived promptly at 7:00pm, and walked into an apartment, with chairs arranged around a living room. Being Israelis, most people showed up late. And, of course, only about half the people showed up.
The first item on the agenda was electing a new committee. We discovered soon enough that it should have been called appointments and guilt trips. Luckily, because we are students and only renting for a year, we were spared. One of the members of the past committee started picking people out of the crowd, asking them why they weren't volunteering. One elderly women argued that she had already been on the committee and that was enough volunteering from her. So then the man turned to the guy sitting next to him and said: "why have you never been on? You are young and understand these matters! You have to be on and I don't want to hear any argument."
At this point we wanted to laugh...talk about an Israeli way to manage affairs!
Then the man at whose house the event was held, got up and walked to his kitchen as he complained about the fact that the meeting was held at his house, and how unfair it was because his wife wasn't around to help...(which should have been obvious since snacks consisted of a bowl of M & Ms and a bowl of avocados (not cut or peeled or anything!))
I always find these Israeli confrontations highly entertaining. But what I love about it most is that everyone was so straight forward, and told their neighbours what they thought, to their face. And that, regardless of all that, no feelings were hurt, and there were still moments of laughter.
The meeting was a small-scale example of Israeli life: you have to be quick-witted and you can't be afraid to stand up for yourself. Everyone is like that, so you shouldn't be sensitive. It's the way Israelis are: true "sabras": thorny on the outside, sweet on the inside.
Israelis know how to party!
Although their style is different than North Americans.
Seth, Jon and I went to HaOman 17 in Jerusalem, one of Israel's most popular club. The universities and colleges in Jerusalem were throwing a party for all students, to open the new academic year (university starts at the end of October here, after the Jewish holidays).
The place is huge and was completely PACKED, people everywhere were dancing, and the energy was high.
In Israel, people don't "grind". In fact, if you try to, girls will give you disgusted looks and walk away. Israeli girls are also known to be "hard to get" (well, for Israeli guys anyways, they
tend to be nicer to foreigners). Seth and Jon definitely got a taste of that. Jon brushed up against a girls' bare back by mistake, and she turned around and gave him this dirty look and said to me: "how much did he have to drink?". Later that night, as we were leaving, Seth rubbed shoulders with another girl as we were finding our way out. She turned around and said: "hey! watch where you're going!". Considering that when you walk down the streets in Israel, people bump into you all the time and never look back never mind apologize, that was pretty weird.
I've been to other big clubs in Israel such as the "Forum" in Be'er Sheva, and had a great time there too. If you've never been clubbing in Israel, I suggest you go. It's an experience you definitely do not want to miss.