Monday, December 27, 2010

Health Care lost in translation...

So the idea was to go to the Kabbalist city of Tsfat this morning. I was just going to drop in to the health clinic to see the doctor. After finding my way there, though, the clerk informed me that I had no appointment. Weird indeed seeing as I had booked one on the Internet, a very impressive novelty to me that you could do that, and I would have been even more impressed if it had actually resulted in an IRL appointment. Maybe they'll get around to that part in the near future. Last time I was here I was informed that there was only on doctor in place, and so they could only take emergencies. Now she gave me a handwritten note, with an appointment at 12.50. When I logged in to my Clalit account, this information was also available there. It's a strange and beautiful world.

To make visits to my health clinic a bit more stressful, the clerks, as is the Israeli custom, are always understaffed, and are not only there to help the physically present patients but also answer the calls from all those who prefer not using the unreliable Internet booking system. This means the phones are ringing off the hook all the time. On top of which is the language problem.

Lost in so many words.

Anyone who spends a long period of time will come to a point when not knowing the language starts becoming really frustrating. You know enough of the language to get around town, but still so little that you can't really talk to people, and when you try to, a large percent of them treat you like you are an idiot or a toddler. And you patience for this situation has run out but your command of the language hasn't reached a point where you can get out of it. So there you are, with your perfect command of three languages and your University degree, getting patted on the head or snubbed at by gum-chewing high-school dropout half your age, and you feel really, really helpless. I know however from my one-year stint in Colombia that there is really nothing you can do about it, except take it like a man (or woman) and redouble your efforts at learning the language. Their are simply no other cures. In the meantime one must focus on the kind people who actually do have the patience to listen to your strange maltreatment of Lashon Hakodesh and try to make sense of what you are painstakingly trying to say.
Best case scenario the doctor will be one of those people and so I will arrive in Tsfat a few hours later than planned.

There for you. Hopefully also for me.....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The ugliest building on earth and ad hoc snapshots

As far as I understand, once you own a plot of land and have secured a building permit in Israel, you can pretty much build what the hell you want on it. This gives architects and builders a very big freedom, which results in interesting, fascinating, innovative and horribly ugly buildings. Below, please find what I believe may be the ugliest building on the planet.

Now, what on earth were they thinking? First of all, you can't see anything out of the windows as they are facing the street. And second what is it supposed to look like? It has a vague similarity the the Escanian speciality "Spättekaka", with soot stains added.....

Escanian speciality

Completely Ad Hoc, if you like snacks from the plant kingdom, Israel is your place, as can be seen from the above picture from my tobacco dealer.

The below vista is the first that will greet the newcomer to Tel Aviv, capital of the state of the Jews,  if he gazes right just after exiting from the maze that is Tel Aviv's central bus station. Religious as I am, I can't help appreciating the absurd humor to it...Welcome to Israel.

Kingdom of pork specializes in...I'll give you one guess.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Freedom forgotten?

We seem to no longer care about freedom in the Western World. To get on an airplane we happily undergo searches, nude photographing in full body cameras and general humiliation. Smoking is forbidden in bars (where people drink ethanol!!) and kindergarten kids are made to wear helmets in the park. Soon we all have to wear helmets go take a stroll in the city. Our e-mails are read by anonymous grey people and our wires are tapped, the books we borrow in the library registred, the sites we visit on the Internet. All in the interest of safety. Our safety. We want to be safe, safe, safe. But you can be safe in prison. Prison. Or 6 feet under. And do anyone truly believe that all these cowering safety measures will save us from the reaper?

We ALL owe God one death.
All of us. And I rather live free than in prison.

Anyone remember FREEDOM? Like that? In BOLD LETTERS? It wasn't that long ago, people. I remember.


Pictures and stories

So. Too many things are happening, or in any case flowing through my brain, for each and all of them to be given it's own lengthy post, although they deserve it. So I thought I'd just post a bunch of pics and let you know what they mean....

Below is the front of the Shul where I say my afternoon prayers. It's mostly comprised of Jews from Tunis and Morocco. It has a beautiful exterior in Jerusalem limestone and a Gabbai named Emil who scolds me whenever I've missed a day or two. One thing with Shuls in Europe is that they are old. Old interior, old style Aron Hakodesh, old people, old, uncomfortable benches from before WWII. I sometimes thing they are unconsciously made into memorials and witnesses of the world that was murdered by Europe. Synagogues in Israel on the other hand are new. Well lit, modernly designed, people of all ages, chairs so comfortable you risk falling asleep in them on Shabbes.

The cats. Every city in the world has a choice. Either they are full of rats or they are full of cats. Israeli cities have mostly opted for the latter, and hence have a large population of beautiful and more or less wild cats. And they are big and strong, as it's survival of the fittest. So when you go to through your garbage in the open containers (courtesy of - in Beer Sheva - Veolia, you know the dudes who run the metro in Stockholm), you risk getting a bunch of screaming cats popping out of them. In the little plaza below the building there is however an "antique" store owner who gives food and shelter to some of these cats. She is known as the Cat Lady. Yesterday I bough some "antique" Shabbes Chandeliers from Her. They might be like 40 years old. Made of copper. Green.

Someday I'll try to write something on Israeli architecture. For now I'll just say that it's comprised of an interesting hodge-podge of super modern and strange and horribly ugly and beautiful. Below some representative pics.

Chanuka. We've been celebrating Chanuka lately, a celebration of the Maccabi Brothers victory ofer the Syrian Hellenists, where the Temple was cleansed of idols and rededicated to the worship of the One God. After the victory the priests only found enough holy oil for the Golden Menorah to last one day, but through a miracle it lasted 8 days until new oil had been produced. So we light 8 candles, 1 on the first day, 2 on the second, etc...Quentin was given a free oil Chanukiah. It was of a disastrous design however, and the wicks wouldn't burn.

Rabbi Nissim lighting the Chanukkiah for his family, followed by singing and dancing with some of his 13 kids.

My adoptive family. Well, or something of the like. I've been very, very fortunate in founding a family like that of Rabbi Nissim. His door is always open like that of Abraham Avino, and he always have time for a cup of coffee, some Torah study and a cigarette. I'm there several times a week, studying, eating and just hanging out. We only communicate in Hebrew as his English actually is worse that my Heeb. His kids are a wonderful, noisy, happy and polite bunch. As soon as they get a chance they steal my cell phone and run away with it to take photos. These photos are usually not much, but a few of the (where I figure) are at least workable:-)

Orthodox Jewish families and child rearing. While I have heard stories of orthodox authoritarian families, I have never seen them. On the contrary. The happiest, most harmonious, most childish, most polite and kindest children I have ever met, I have met in Orthodox families.

My Rabbi and his wife have 13 kids. The oldest is 26 and the youngest is 3. And the children are omnipresent. And make a fantastic noise at times. The dance, study Torah, argue and keep demanding answers and interventions from their parents, not to mention help with their homework, meddling in conflicts and proofs of affection. They also very much take care of each other. And the Rabbi and his wife, with the patience of angels, oblige. What I have seen in orthodox families is this: The children have very few rules. They are allowed to be children, to spill food, to interrupt, to be loud, to have fun. All the time and everywhere. However. The few rules they have they happily respect, and almost always they do what they are being asked to. albeit often after some tweaking.  

On religious families the children are not something cute in the periphery that can be tolerated as long as they don't "disturb" the adults. They are quite obviously the whole point of being alive, they are the most important part of the Jewish Home, they represent the future and the continuation of our people. And there is no TV. No DVD. No electronic baby sitters at all. The family actually spends all their time with eachother - talking, eating, arguing, laughing. And the love and patience and tolerance their parents show them, they also show to each other. The older ones are mirror images of their parents in the way they behave to their younger siblings. I used to get stressed out by the omnipresent ruckus in this family. But now it makes me feel calm. It's the ongoing sound of a loving and happy family, and I can just sit down on a chair and lean back and almost fall asleep by this sound. It's a sound of real happiness.

The sand storm finally passed. It too a good few hours to clean out all the sand flour from the apartment, that had stuck to everything everywhere.

 Below your truly, bracing himself to go outside.....during said storm. Other than that the mercury keeps falling and I bought a winter jacket. You get used to the heat to the extent that you start freezing at 10 degrees....And that's all for now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A very short comment on Islam

In the wake of Sweden's first suicide bomber, the blogoshere will no doubt fill up with stupid racists and stupid apologists. While pondering their useless points of view, it may be worthwhile to keep the following facts in mind:

Most practicing and believing Muslims are not jihadists. And basically the largest part of immigrants from the Muslim world are not practicing or believing Muslims. However.

Islam has serious problems in facing the modern world. It is a conquerors religion which has no room for honorable compromise – the world is in the eyes of Islam divided in Dar-al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar-al-Harb (House of War). Period. No grayish, boring middle ground. The exceptions to this outlook (they do exist) remain an extreme minority, aggressively disregarded by mainstream Islamic practice and theory as formulated in Mecca or Cairo.

The only ones who can change this picture are peaceful religious Muslims in the West. And so far they aren't doing it. As long as they leave the interpretative privilege in the hands of preachers and theologians in the Arab world, nothing will happen.  There is a misconception among religous Muslims in the West that this is not their problem, and that they can go to Mosque on Friday and listen to the same hate sermons, or political apologetics for hands-on jihad, as do the crazies, and somehow be home free because they don't kill anyone. I blame this to a large part on an Arab culture of conformism, lethargy and obedience to authority and authoritarianism. Another misconception is that ever so many Intellectuals from the Muslim world can bring about any change. They can't. They are secular. They have as much a say in the direction of Islam as has Barak Obama. It is only and solely the religious Muslims who can.

Hamas teaching the young.
It doesn't matter how many non-believing or half-believing West-minded converts to Islam that fill the PC Media, whining about how Islam is at it's core a peaceful, yes almost radically pacifist, religion. It is simply not true. Islam has never been a peaceful religion. Islam, within 100 years of Muhammad's preaching to a small group of nomads in Mecca and Medina in present-day Saudi Arabia, conquered large part of the known world by the blade — by battle, murder, rape and forced conversion on pain of death. It is perfectly true that this conquest in time resulted in a flourishing Islamic culture in Spain and North Africa, a culture that would give us Algebra and useful numerals, and that was infinitely more tolerant than the Christianity that ruled the rest of Europe. This culture also saved for posterity the books of the great greek philosophers that the Christian cave men were burning. However, It was, and still is, the Warriors Religion par excellence. Theologically and theoretically Islam can be said to contain the concepts for the solutions to these problems, but they have not been used except in fairy speeches, of use to nobody. It's very simple, action talks, bullshit walks.

To be even clearer: Another, and even much more blood soaked religion, like Islam, spawned from Judaism, 2000 years ago. And it took the Christians some 1700 years to at least partially get their shit together and abandon their barbarism and blood thirst. Problem is though, our modern fast-paced age does not have this kind of patience. Nobody, meaning nobody, will accept another 200 years of Muslim suicide terrorism, before religious Muslims - in word an deed - loudly start asking themselves what the hell they are doing and what their leaders are saying.

It may be considered unfair that the Christians were given a longer grace period for their barbarism. But then again, the crusaders and inquisitors did not have the material privileges of today, such as the Internet, cell phones or computer. Nor the Atom Bomb.

Left wingers will no doubt claim the suicide bomber in Stockholm was a madman, possibly provoked into a psychotic state by the Islamophobia rampant in Europe (Islamophobia is indeed rampant in Europe). The fear-mongering racists will paint this as a reason to lash out at every Muslim, and portray the would-be mass murderer as the first soldier of the invading armies of suicide bombers. The liberals will be somewhere in between, stuck between a rock and a hard place, for fear of saying anything that can turn into an argument for either of the previous two. But whether suicide bomber was mentally ill or not, he would not have killed himself the way he did if he had been a Buddhist or Sikh. And as long as nobody will discuss why 100 % of all suicide bombers are religious Muslims, and as long as this will not also be intensely discussed among religious Muslims, Islamophobia will keep growing, and Islam will continue to produce martyrs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sand storm pics...

Just looked out my window to take some photos of the sand storm, and noticed an unusually bright moon hanging over the town. Took me a while to realize it was actually the sun who's rays were so dimmed out by the blessed sun that you could actually look straight into it without hurting you eyes....below a before an after study for your contemplation.

Clear weather view from my window....
...and sand storm view from my window.

Get smart or die trying...from slipping on the muddy tiles.

Some people in this building still manage to amaze me. When I went out for Shul, before sunrise, I saw one of the neighbors wet mopping the tile floor of the loft outside his door, apparently in an effort to get the sand away. I was about to ask him what the hell he was mopping away sand for, seeing as the darn sand storm had not yet subsided one iota, but then what could possible be the point of that, except to make him aware that I considered him an unbelievable Putz?

So sure enough, when I now 6 hours later came back from a diagnostic Hebrew test for another round of Ulpan, the plentiful water outside his door still hadn't dried up, seeing as Beer Sheva is not only windy, stormy and sandy, but also cold. What had happened though, obviously, was that more sand had blown in from the desert of our dreams and longings, turnings the 20 or so wet mopped meters outside his door into a bleeding, slippery mud swamp, part of which has by now entered all our apartments via our shoes. Thanks, dimwit.  If I ever see you again wet mopping the tile floor in the sand storm, I shall kick you in the behind. Hard.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mashiv HaRuach....

Beginning on Schmini Atzeret, Jews start inserting the extra request Mashiv HaRuach uMorid HaGeshem in the main prayer Amida that is repeated at all three daily services. Literally translated it means "Make the wind blow and the rain fall", and the obvious reason is that now is the time when we need rain for seeds and plants to get a good harvest (and nowadays, to resupply lake Kineret with drinking water). Those who've been following this blog know that it's been the driest and warmest November since 1941 in Israel, and so far, except for the heat, December aint looking much better. But on the Mashiv HaRuach part, this Shabbes, our prayers have been answered....

There are basically three weather phenomenons that can magically make whole pieces of a city disappear. The first and most common to westerners is fog. Slightly less common is smog. The first time I witnessed the magic power of air pollution was when I had already spent a week in Santiago De Chile, capital of Chile. After a night of heavy rain I stepped out on the porch and do my amazement fount that the whole city was surrounded by the most brilliantly shining and beautiful, snow-capped mountain range, crystal clearly visible agains the clear blue sky. The rain had cleared the smog. Two days later the mountain range was gone.

Santiago on a clear day.
The third one is a sand storm. Now those of you who have only seen sand storms at the movies may think of them as hail storm of sand. The usually are not. The sand grains are so small you can't make them out, it's like sand flour. And they blow in the wind gusts and fill the air to the extent that you can't see more than 200 meters, while coloring said air slightly brown. And so the sand get's un your mouth, nostrils, lungs and everywhere else. And this is what's been the whether here for the whole Shabbes. And trust me, it't not doing wonders for my burgeoning cold....

So...dear G-d, can we please have some rain as well? Is it to much to ask for? On a related topic I hereby wish all you readers Shavua Tov. And for those of you who have Sunday off, a continued nice weekend. Me I'm starting a new Ulpan tomorrow, and even possibly has a date assuming the woman in question will get in contact, seeing as she doesn't have a phone where she can be reached. Yalla.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chief Rabbi's and Stir-Fries and the latest from The Negev!

So it's Motze Shabbat (end of Shabbat), and I've just rummaged through our papers only to find that the horrible forrest fires in the North still aren't under control. 6 years ago I attended Haifa Universities Summer Ulpan for the first time, and I have a least one friend from that time that ended up staying in Haifa. I hope she is OK. Except for the fires, I've lived through the below action points as of late.

* Spent Shabbes with my Rabbi, eating his wife's good food and drinking his booze and playin with his kids and discussing Torah. As it's Chanukah leave most of the family was gathered as his older sons had vacation from their yeshivot. We had a good time and it's striking how easy it is in this country to combine a frum life with a modern one. I'm amazed that so few people here choose not to.

* Wednesday last week I was invited to my FB friend Shaul Boaz who I've never met IRL before, as he and his girlfriend was taking the opportunity to celebrate their Eruzim (engagement) on the first day of Chanukah. So I went to Jerusalem. It was a very nice crowd that gathered but I felt a bit out of it as all his friends were 25 year old Americans. It made me feel a bit old, as well as badly anti-social. There is something with college-age middle class Americans that I can't deal with. They seem to be competing in the art of saying the most amount of words per minute. They are usually very likable, I just never know what to say in their company. I did however have a couple of interesting conversations with the guitar guy (all parties have one and I used to be one myself) and with a Sofer who was actually older than me and who left almost immediately.

Jerusalem, if I forget thee....

Chanukiya outside Jaffa Gate
* When I left the following morning I was reminded of how much I hate the "Nytorget" kind of neighborhoods (Nytorget is a park in the southern island of Stockholm), as Shalev Boaz lives in one. Basically the kind of neighborhood where people hang around in over-designed coffee shops, drive BMW's and eat "brunches" on Sunday mornings, while still believing themselves to be artists and intellectuals and keeping track of the coolest famous people while dissing American Idol fans. Arty Farty luxury Bohemians who hasn't thought a single interesting thought in ten years but still managing to fool themselves they are avant-guard, curtesy of their bookshelves being full with heavy coffee-table books full with black-and-white photos. Basically the kind of people who show up when the gentrification of the neighborhood is a known fact. To be clear, it's not really the people I dislike, but the fake and false environments that follow in their footsteps. In Hebrew it's called "falsanit". No such in Beer Sheva. Not by a long shot. Baruch Hashem.

Woke up in a.....

counterpart to.....

Nytorget in Stockholm....

Très Chique.......Meh.
* The Benji Mystery has been solved. Or rather everyones is now agreed that there wasn't much of a mystery to begin with. Benji is in South Africa fair and square, hanging out with his kids and having as far as can be determined a good time.

* The Vibe has moved in to the apartment. This truly likable man spends his time in Ulpan, or in the apartment listening to The Matrix Soundtracj at high volume in the speakers he has bought for his cellphone. He is still having conversations with his spleen, and even with the intestines of a few clients. But his vibes are good and he is a great guy. Last week I had dinner with him at Beer Shevas best kosher stir-fry place.

The Vibe enjoying his toothpick, post stir-fry orgy.

* Speaking of Americans - how do they stand moving here? The slightest hint of state involvment in the US is greeted with hysterical claims of the immediate advent of Communism. But do believe this – Israel is the DDR. If you change address, phone number or scratch your head, you can expect some non-name bureaucrat to show up and demand the you identify yourself and sign a bunch of papers. Last week one of them called on my cell phone and demanded that I give her my ID Card number. WTF?? I was seriously tempted to ask her : "If you DO have my cell phone number, how can you conceivably NOT HAVE MY ID NUMBER DUMBASS???". ID's are - after all - issued by the the state shouldn't call me and ask for it. But it's Israel, no point in arguing, so I gave it to her...

* What's in a name? After long deliberation I decided to change my name to my Jewish name, fair and square, instead of going with one of the compromises I've been considering. I am who and what I am in any case, a son, a brother, a friend. I'm not my name. And if I'm gonna live here, I might as well have one that Israelis will know how to spell.

* The Kotel (or as the xstians horribly call it, the "Wailing wall"). So I was in Jerusalem, but I didn't really have the energy to go to the Kotel. In any case I ended up in The Old City anyway, and so I went down there to say Aravit. The place was almost empty except for a minyan in the one corner. I started davening, and I noticed the Shaliach Shibour (The Prayer Leader), was using a microphone. After a while I looked to him, and Lo and Behold! - the dude leading the prayer was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar! I managed to snap a few (bad) photos when he and his bodyguards left. An amazing experience no doubt.

Rav Shlomo Amar leaving after...

...leading Aravit prayers by the Kotel.
* Went to Meah Shearim, the Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Neighborhood in Jerusalem. Managed to get hold of a Machzor set and Sephardic woollen Arba Kanfot (it's slowly getting colder here, at least by night).

Wall Newspapers in Meah Shearim
Well, that's about it, except that Ulpan ended with a finals exam where the Russians cheated themselves blue in the face, to what end I have no idea. Everyone is talking about the draught which is the worst since 1941, along with the warmest November since said month. We dearly. dearly need rain, and not just to put out the fires in the North.

Leaving the din of Ir HaKodesh...

And going home to the Negev....seated on the entrance stair 
after a short shouting match who didn't want to let me on
the over packed bus. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Full body cameras and voodoo

Since the horrible terrorist attack of 9/11, flying has gone from being a slight hassle to a rather big one. The latest chapter in the saga over ever stranger security measures is the installation in all larger US airports of "Full Body Cameras", basically a camera that strips you of your clothes and shows your naked body to the security official on duty. A lot has been said about these cameras. I personally believe they are thoroughly intrusive. If you don't agree with me, it's probably because mainstream media for some odd reason never bothered to publish the true images these machines make, and opted to publish tacitly redacted versions, where the naked bodies shown look like barbie dolls, and where any detailed body features have beed dimmed out. However, five minutes with Google will show you that these cameras take detailed images of your genitalia, including intimate piercings and,well..the form and size of your equipment, female or male, for lack of a more tzniut way of putting it. Including recognizable facial features. So after being forced to remove your shoes and being robbed of your chap stick and your after shave, you are now being expected to pose for nude photos. That is the clear cut truth. The elephant in the room is too obvious – when will exhausted, delayed and insulted airline commuters stand up and scream "Enough is enough!"?

Flying was always one of the safest activities you could experience. Even during the roaring 70's, when the PLO and other crazies hijacked anything they could lay their hands on, flying was still immensely more safe than driving your car to work, having a shower or simply taking a nice stroll in the local park. The risks of having to endure a highjacking was exceedingly low even in a time when getting a gun onto an airplane was a fairly easy thing to pull. So why is it that our security concerns surrounding air traffic is bordering on hysteria? Many reasons might be cited, such as the feeling of being out of control when on an airplane, as opposed to the decidedly false sense of security and control when driving your car. But the truth is, non of these reasons are rational.

There are hundreds of "soft" targets for terrorists to attack, even in a country like Israel, obsessed as it is with security. Trains, concert and sport venues, political gatherings such as demonstrations or sit-ins, company workshops, malls, the list is endless. And no matter what we do, this will always be the case. Because if we imposed the kind of security strictures on all human mass activity as we do on air traffic, the world as we know would come to a halt. And the terrorists would have won. Airports have become voodoo shrines where we sacrifice our personal integrity and honor to unknown deities, in a vain attempt to appease our fears and our sense of insecurity, caused by our being mortals in an insecure world. Rationality is thrown to the dogs when we install full body cameras that can only reasonably uncover hidden arms, something metal detectors have already been doing for 50 years. But the truth is, that any security we may hope for, lies in your fellow human beings. The overwhelming majority of the human race is not prepared to commit mass murder for any political goal, faith or idea, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or geographical background. And no matter how much security we put in place, this will always remain the main reason why terror attacks are so relatively rare.

Now, I'm not saying we should do away with airport security. I too feel safer knowing that all passengers have to pass metal detectors and that intelligence organizations are keeping tabs on crazies, political fanatics and self appointed world saviors . But I am saying enough is enough. I do not want pictures of my privates or those of my wife to be on display for some bored college drop-out, nor saved for posteriority together with millions of others in ever growing data archives (Yep, I know what they say. They are lying. Security organizations always save their finds, with or without the explicit consent of their governments. And if they didn't, from where do these pictures leak in the thousands?). These cameras are an insult. Period. Enough is enough.

the girl from the lost and found department

she comes to me in a dream
i hear the echoing whispers of her sneakers in the
old abandoned storage building

dusty cardboard boxes, coffins and long since forgotten luggage
destinations never reached in times since long ago committed to
memories in black and white

i find her by a desk going through an old ladies handbag in white leather
the black bakelite phone looks like it hasn't rung for eons

she lifts here gaze and asks: welcome to the lost and found department
of Long Lost Railroads, how can I help you?

when I don't answer, she turns back to the handbag, pulls out a handkerchief
i am about to ask her if she works here when she says: you shouldn't be here
this late

if you stay too long, you stay forever, it's time for you to leave
I say: what about you? she says: I lost me a long time ago, i already left
I want to ask her if she recognizes me, but as she dials a number on the phone

i hear the lower east side harbor din and distant christmas carols
the multicolored snowflakes swirling in the biting ellis island onshore wind
on Delancey Street, a bearded face, pointing toward the rusty bridgehead, he says:

that is where you're headed, see you on the other side

I see her still sometimes in lonely allies and in dreams
she's always in a rush, pushing the white handbag close to her
she never sees me

and we never speak