Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thoughts From Israel-Feb 2013

Thoughts From Israel 
Hello Friends,

I am writing to you from our apartment in Tel Aviv.  After three lovely days in the Negev at a new Israeli "spa-resort," we drove to Tel Aviv and found our way to our place here.

Israel is always Israel-- wonderful and infuriating.  The resort-- is an incredibly lovely setting in the Negeb overlooking the Mactesh-- crater. In Mitzpeh Ramon.  The setting is a bit of a combination of the Badlands of South Dakota and the Grand Canyon-- although much, much smaller-- stunning in its beauty.

But as with Israelis--everyone at the hotel-spa acted like they were doing you a favor if you asked for something-- even as simple as a cup of coffee at breakfast.  so in Tel Aviv-- we pull up to the Eldan car rental location to return the car in downtown Tel Aviv to return the car-- we walk into the office to make the return and do the paperwork.  they ask me--"Where is the car?"  I point to it out in front and they tell me that it belongs in the lot across the street-- no mention of the lot across the street in any of the paperwork or instructions--just the address of the office We are standing in.  A big shrug and sigh-- We are standing there with suitcases and such---ok return here and then another scold.

The apartment is in a great location right on Dizengoff about two blocks from Diezengoff Center.  It is a duplex which makes it sound much fancier than it is.  The bedroom is upstairs with a beautiful roof balcony.  the lower level is a small sitting area, kitchen and another bedroom.  The furnishings are very simple.  The apt is clean and totally fine for the month we will be here.

My cousin, Pam--who lives in Tel Aviv who helped me find the apt spent part of the afternoon with us.  she is great and will spend part of tomorrow with us to show us the ropes.

The feeling here always borders on intense-more intense.  The news is filled with the Israeli air strikes on the weapons convoy from Syria to Lebanon-- bound for Hezbollah hands.  much speculation on what this means-- is Assad losing control and desperate to get the weapons out?  Is Hezbollah in over its head in support of Assad?  will there be more such attempted shipments thus dragging Israel more into the Syrian chaos?  If so, will Hezbollah retaliate by shooting into Israel?  This is all the talk of one days news--incessantly coming at us--even as Peres began the formal process of officially selecting Netanyahu to form a government.

Finally-- whenever I am here, I remember why I come here.  this evening Louise and I walked the streets of Tel aviv after dinner in a very small restaurant.  we were the only ones in the place.  we had found the small place on-line.  we were served by the owner-- one of those faces of Israel people.  He came here in 1950 at the age of five with his family from Turkey-- where else was a Jew to go in those years he asked me.  He showed us pictures of his family.  We spoke of how the country has changed since he was a little boy in a much smaller Tel Aviv.  He said that you can still walk the entire city all night and feel safe.  That hasn't changed.

Louise and I walked and walked.  as I saw all of the different faces and looks, I thought of a great line of Thomas Friedman that he wrote many years ago when he was covering the Olympics from China.  He wrote about the opening ceremony --something -along the lines of -- "When the Japanese team marched in they looked like Japan, when the team from Ethiopia marched in they looked like Ethiopia, when the Swedish team marched in they look like Sweden. And when the American team marched in they looked like all of them together.  There is real beauty in that.
Well-- one night on the streets of Tel aviv tells me that the  look of the Israeli team wouldn't be far behind.  Israel is where the Jewish people have come together.  That is why I love coming here-- and to make it really great-- they are all speaking Hebrew at the same time.

Signing off now-- sorry about all of the typos--even more than usual.  I am using the I-pad which I hate to type on.

Update 2
Hello All-
Another update--
We have now spent a couple of days visiting and talking with Israeli friends.  It is so enlightening.  My friends voted for Bibi--saying it was very simple.  One said, "Bibi makes me feel safe."  The other said that he does not like Bibi--he thinks Bibi is not a good person and not trustworthy but he knows how to handle security and right now--for him that is the priority. 
When I talk with this particular friend I very deeply feel the gap between Israel and so many American Jews.  There is no question that in order to understand this country you have to be here and speak with Israelis and listen to them.  A word about my friend (Srulik)--I have known him for forty years since I was in school here in 1972.  He is married to an even longer time friend of mine.  He was born in Israel as were his parents.  He has a PhD from an American university and has worked in Israel high tech for years.  He has taught at the Technion.
My friend speaks about the "little war" in Gaza in November.  He says that Bibi did everything masterfully.  He brought 100,000 soldier invasion force to the border but did  not invade.  He attacked from the air and since then the border has been quiet.
Srulik would never vote for Naftali Bennet because he wants peace.  He totally wants to return the West Bank to the Palestinians--he does not like settlements.  He says that the Palestinians are unable and unwilling to make a deal that any Israeli would accept.  As for Lapid-- e could not at this point vote for him-- no experience running anything except a TV show.  My friend greatly misses Rabin and says that Labor, Kadima etc need to find leaders with strength and vision.
We spoke for a long time this afternoon--more in my next e-mail.  We spoke at length about a favorite topic of mine--Israelis seem to have a culturally\socially imbued sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.  Americans, it seems to me go looking for meaning and purpose.  Whenever I am here I am captured by this somewhat mystical feeling.  They know what they are about in a way that we don't.
More on that another time--
Walking the streets-- this is why we need a Jewish country-- The street names--today I kept track of the streets I passed-- Queen Esther, Hasmoneans, Rothchild, Mapu, YL Gordon, Frishman to name a few.  Culture is embedded in the names to the streets.  For thise of you who do not know--Mapu was the Hebrew novelist of the Jewish enlightenment whose novel's Zionist themes inspired Ben Gurion.  Yl Gordon was a Hebrew poet in Russia--also of the Jewish enlightenment. Frishman was a 19th century Russian Jewish Hebrew writer and editor and somewhat of a an anti Zionist.  Walking the streets here is literally a walk through Jewish history.
Sigh-- this is just another reason why Jewish education in America is so hard--no context, no thickness.
We love being here--the weather is beautiful, the country so animated--nothing could be better!  Doing lots of great reading!!!!

Update number 3

Shabbat Afternoon
We are sitting on our balcony\porch looking out over Tel Aviv.  We are currently in the shade as at this point in the afternoon a high rise apartment building blocks our sun.  I would very much like the sun but the fact that Tel Aviv has high rise apartment buildings simply thrills me.  I am more than content.
Louise and I took a long walk this morning along the Tel Aviv beach to Jaffa.  The beach walkway on Shabbat is overflowing with activity--bikers, joggers, lovers, walkers, families with strollers.  The beach life has sun bathers, kids playing in the sand and even a some brave swimmers although the beaches are officially closed for winter.  The beach front cafes are jammed. 
I take it all in and think of how happy Herzl would be if he could see this--his dream come true--Tel Aviv-- the city named after his book Altneuland, the new city in the "old new land."
We walked and talked-
First-- you need a Jewish country for the important news stories.  The rabbis have decreed that burekas ( a Sephardic stuffed filo pastry) must be shaped according to whether they are meat or dairy to make it easier for the kosher consumer.  Dairy filled burekas must now be in a triangle shape.
Then--in a wonder of wonder-- the leading Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis did two stunning things-
1. They invited the leading religious Zionist rabbis to meet with them to press their claims for Yeshiva student army exemption.  The Haredi students do not do army service-- the Zionist ones of course serve.  According to the press, the meetings back fired as the Haredi rabbis are so insulated from the real world that they had no idea to invite that had any influence with the Naftali Bennet political party.
2. The Haredi rabbis are so panicked over this issue that the Hassidic Haredi and the Mitnaged Haredi actually also met together--
The news photos of the above are all delightful--especially if you like photos of beautiful black hats.
We talked and wondered how it is possible that every American Jew has not visited in Israel--at least once.  I am really thinking about what is the basis for the attachment of an American Jew to Israel. 
For me Jewish peoplehood is a basic ingredient of Jewish religious life.  "God, Torah and Israel are one"  (Zohar )  I am drawn to this mystical teaching.  Israel is Jewish peoplehood writ large across the globe.  Land is homeland--this land.  The deep feeling that our people have come home here overwhelms me here every day and moves me deeply.
We went to Shabbat services last night at the neighborhood shul-- The attraction of Orthodox Judaism remains way beyond me.  There were maybe 150 people there--not a bad crowd--but for the center of Tel Aviv?  This is a radically secular city.


  1. When we went to Israel a few years ago we got wrangled into an Orthodox Shabbat service as we were walking back to our hotel in Tel Aviv -- they needed a minyan and my husband and two sons fit the bill. I, of course, had to sit in an area that was curtained off from the service, but it was definitely still a great opportunity to get a sense of the breadth of Jewish experience -- even if it wasn't the kind of experience we'd personally choose for ourselves.

  2. hi Danny. Thanks for posting your thoughts and feelings. It brings Israel to us in a more alive way than reading the internet. And, I'm really jealous of the lovely weather you have there. Today in DC - the wind chill is in the teens. BTW, have you tried an Apple Bluetooth external keyboard with your iPad. It makes all the difference. And, they weigh almost nothing.

    Oh, I'm now enrolled in in this pilot project. It's a little intimidating as most of the enrollees seem much more learned than me. The Tigers have started Spring Training - very exciting and optimistic times for all the teams

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  4. Your discussion of the street names reminds me of this passage from David Nelson, Associate Director of ARZA.

    Streets Paved with Memory
    I was recently in Jerusalem, and I took a walk one afternoon, paying careful attention to the street signs. I
    noticed how different the street signs in Jerusalem are from those in, say, New York, or New Jersey. In those places, streets have numbers (West 43rd Street, Route 17 North) or names of trees (Elm Place, Maple Road) or places in England (Sussex Road, Trafalgar Ave.). In Jerusalem, all the street names are steeped in Jewish memory. They use the names of biblical prophets, Talmudic rabbis, medieval commentators, and even important dates. There’s a street called November 29th Street, that recalls the date on which the UN passed the 1947 Partition Resolution that granted the Jewish people a homeland. I wonder what deep differences there are between this country, my home, to which my grandparents came from Russia because the streets were paved with gold, and Israel, our collective homeland, where the streets are paved with memory.