Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reframing perspective

Israel is a strange place.

For the last, well, since nearly forever, in the Middle East there have been some Arabs who have used various means to kill Israelis. Really Jews, but since these particular people don't seem to care who dies along with the Jews, I'll say Israelis.

They have used suicide bombers to blow up buses, pizza joints and coffee shops. We put up checkpoints to inspect cars and people to keep explosives from getting into the country. They found ways to sneak in around the checkpoints. So we put up a security fence to force them through the checkpoints. They enter schools and private homes to shoot and kill children and women. We put security guards at kindergardens. Everything they try, we find a way to block them; they just come up with another method.

The last few years have seen the weapon of choice change from one of preparation to one of convenience. And what's more convenient than a bulldozer when you're working on one of the many construction sites throughout Jerusalem? The first bulldozer attack killed a number of people, and would have killed more if not for so many Israelis being, unfortunately, prepared for anything. There have been two more attacks that were defined as terror attacks, and one, in Modi'in, that was shrugged off as a disgruntled worker.

So today, I was travelling on a bus in Jerusalem. We were stopped at the traffic light on Jaffa Street at Mahane Yehuda, the shuk, or marketplace. There is construction running the length of Jaffa, due to the new rail line being built, so there are fences and cement barricades and traffic jams all over the place. While we were stopped at the light, a breaker bulldozer started up next to us, and next to the large crowd entering Mahane Yehuda. As the bulldozer started moving, there was a collective intake of breath on the bus and a tangible tension in the air. The majority of people who were watching were all thinking the same thing: will the driver use his machine for construction, or destruction?

We watched as he swung the arm around, into the crowd of people gathered around the entrance to the shuk. Next to me, I heard my older seatmate start murmuring, "oy" and sucking in her breath. The arm came down - so close to the people - and, like a mother's hand directing her child out of the way, gently moved a cement barrier further into the work zone to widen the pathway for the pedestrians.

The light changed, and the collective release of deeply held breath nearly got lost in the bus sounds. The nervous chuckles had turned into regular bus chatter by the time we neared the hospital, where we got stuck behind an ambulance being searched for explosives before the crew could transport their patient to emergency. This, no one on the bus paid attention to.

"Normal" takes on a whole new meaning in Israel.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Date Night in Israel

Morey wrote a blogpost about our first movie date in Israel. Okay, so it's actually about the new Star Trek movie, but there's a little bit in there about our first Israeli movie-going experience.
Before I say a few words about the new Star Trek film, and you know I must, I need to describe going to the screening, our first 'movie date' in Israel. Israel is a modern country, and that applies to its movie cinemas. The experience was all very familiar, but just different enough to be memorable.

Boldly go... and read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Roll with it

One of the many quirks of Israeli advertising - aside from the eye blistering overuse of colour, blinking graphics, STARS! EVERYWHERE! and ensuring not a smidge of white space remains to give the brain a second's rest - is the door delivery.

By that I mean, every day we come home to find something new on a door. Usually it's an advertising magnet. Israelis love magnets. Most newer Israeli apartments have metal doors, which, as a result of Israelis' love of magnets, are usually decorated with said magnets. Forget seeing the actual colour of your 'fridge. We have magnets for everything, including the health care branches. Repair guys, pizza, taxis, even the kid down the street who dogwalks.

Occasionally we come home to knob hangers. Flyers hanging off our doorknobs, advertising everything and anything (in eye blistering colours, STARS!, boxes, and every font that comes with Word).

But today, today, we had a really useful advertisement outside our door. A lovely little box with a picture of a puppy on it. Inside the box? A brand new roll of toilet paper. How handy!

Except... I can't figure how it's supposed to stick to the fridge.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Day of Cows invasion*

* or, "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat."

In the United States there is Memorial Day. Ostensibly to honour our fallen soldiers, it has turned into the "official start of summer", the day to barbecue, the day the pools open, etc. Somewhere along the line, the "memorial" part of the day has been forgotten.

In Israel, we have Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron), immediately followed by Independence Day (Yom HaAzma'ut). Yom HaZikaron, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a somber day. Even the boys' school where we have Ulpan, there was a ceremony honouring the fallen soldiers. Some of the boys had lost brothers and fathers; it was hard to see these normally boisterious, obnoxious, inconsiderate boys sobbing in the arms of their teachers and classmates. It was even harder to look around the room and wonder which of these boys was going to become a picture on the screen someday.

We mourn, we cry, we remember. Then we say "enough." Enough crying, enough pity, enough sadness.

במותם ציווי לנו את החיים
(basically, "By their deaths, they order us to live")

At the end of the day of Yom HaZikaron, we hand over the sadness to celebration, to Yom HaAtzma'ut. Benji Lovett of What War Zone says Yom HaAtzma'ut means, "go to a park and eat a cow." He's not far off. But before you barbecue, you party! In Modi'in, one of the parks was taken over by a stage, kiosks, popcorn stands, inflatable hammers (it's a thing), glowing necklaces, noisemakers - I felt like I was at a mini-Lallapalooza! We went to our friends' Dena and Moishe, whose mirpeset overlooks the park, giving us a bird's eye view of the whole event. The featured acts of the evening were Rita, one of Israel's most famous singers, and of course, meat.

The thing to understand about Yom HaAtzma'ut: it's all about the barbecue. Whatever can go on the BarB, does. Wherever you can fit a BarB, you do. The day of YhA (I'm tired of writing all that out), we went to my sister's in Jerusalem. Her husband stood behind the grill nearly the entire time cooking:

Goose breast
Chicken (both regular and tandoori)
Veal sausage
Chourizo sausage

I've never seen so much meat in one place at one time.

To get to their house, we had to drive down Ben Tzvi, which is a major thoroughfare running alongside a large park, Gan Sacher. At one point, while marvelling at all the cars parked hither and yon - anywhere there was space - I thought there was a fire. A huge cloud of black smoke was billowing across the road. As we got closer, I realized the smoke was the result of about thirty bajillion barbecues all fired up at once. Seriously, Yom HaAzma'ut is the barbecue holiday. It sucks to be a vegetarian on YhA (although I was extremely impressed at the veggies a vegetarian friend of Pamela's brought to the barbecue! Impressed, and grateful).

After all that meat - and not being a big meat-eater, I limited myself - words cannot express how relieved I was that when we went to friends in Rana'ana for dinner on Thursday, they served fish!

What a way to experience our first Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAzma'ut in Israel. It was momentous. And I just can't think of a better way to honour and celebrate our fallen soldiers than by first, remembering them and thanking them, and then full-on enjoying the lives they protect and the land they defend to the absolute maximum.