Thursday, October 28, 2010

One of those days...

Woke up too late after 2 nights of insomnia, courtesy of the Cheech & Chongs of the world as well as my incapacity to discipline my living patterns. Got out of bed and felt completely out of it and went down for coffee and cigarettes and Ulpan, this day lead by the Director, Nissim, who speaks so fast and rushes through each new segment of the lecture it makes your head spin. One good things is that we spent the second lesson in the computer lab, which also serves as the Merkaz bomb shelter (we are in shooting distance from Gaza...), to work on the blessed Hebrew verb conjugations, and this time I successfully wrote down the the web address to the FREE online training site, hosted by Haifa University. On a note that I managed not to loose that is, so here it goes:

I strongly recommend it for anyone studying Hebrew. It gives you the opportunity to train all binyanim in all tenses, with gradually harder targilim.

The day went on being one of those that you fight through rather than just live. Overtired and out of it. Like swimming in syrup upstreams. I did however manage to remember the Yaarseit in Geula Shul, one of the two Sephardic Synagogues I frequent. I even forced myself through my weight lifting exercise, doing push-ups, triceps dips and biceps curls, with the metal guest bed serving as barbell. I've decided that the belly is up for termination, as well as my 80-year old's physical shape.

Geula Synagogue
Well, then. Homework time. I hear the din of a party brewing drifting through my closed door, along with a unmistakable smell of burning incense, portable headache. And Cannabis Sattiva. More portable headache. They still here in 3 hours, someone is getting murdered.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cheech and Chong and my nights sleep up in smoke

So this day went straight to the dogs. Not one useful accomplishment. The night before I only slept for 2 hours so I had planned for an early night, and so went to bed at 10 PM. Was however awoken by roaring laughter and and hysterical screaming 45 minutes later, outside my bedroom door, inter-punctuated by the sound of someone sounding like he was coughing up his lunges.

”You serious maaaan?? You are coughin' yourself to death and now want  to smoke more??"

"Hell, yeah, man! Let's light it up!"

Later on, two Arnold Schwartznegger's, one with a high-pitched voice and another with a base vibrato, was battling it out, screaming orders to "Get ze hell out of hiere!" and "This ting is gaaana blooow!!". Accompanied by applause, shouts and whistles and someone sounding like a Formula 1 Car. The unbelievable ruckus continued until about 1 AM and by then I was exhausted, pissed off and doomed to another night of insomnia. At about 5 AM I got up to have something to eat with the hope tha a "night" snack might make me able to fall asleep. There was only one of my Pitas left. I opened the fridge. Like I suspected, my 1 kg bag of kosher sausages was badly decimated. Someone's had munchies. Meh. I ate my pita wiht the remaining hummus and managed to sleep for 2 hours....

Protagonists of a less likely explanation...
After one hour in Ulpan I had to give up, I couldn't understand what anyone was saying, so I dropped my bewildered drill intructress a note (in Hebrew) and went home and finally fell asleep. Later on I got hold of some of the party animals and was told the appalling and fascinating story of how legendary weed-heads Cheech and Chong* had showed up in the apartment uninvited, and forced those present to inhale a full two bongs of marijuana and making them do all kinds of crazy imitations, including one of a Ferrari Testarossa in full speed reverse on a gravel road. After which they ransacked the fridge and disappeared, leaving the horrified and perfectly innocent and drugged out victims of their raid to fend for themselves. These victims managed however, after a while, to heroically get their composure and head for their respective apartments for some well deserved sleep. And as we already know, I was left to wrestle the sheets for the remainder of the night.

To quote Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies: "I'm too old for this shit".

*Cheech and Chong's real names Pedro and Man have been left out to protect the innocent.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A brief look at the Mizrachi - Ashkenazi divide

A recent FB debate forced me to formulate my views on a topic that is important to me. It started when a religious friend of mine claimed that Rav Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi (he is actually not Sephardic at all, he is Mizrachi i.e. from the Arab world, but there is a tendency in Israel to call all non-Ashkenazi Jews Sephardic) and present spiritual leader of the Shas part, "the biggest hate preacher in Judaism today". I took issue with the statement and a debate erupted between a me and a few people. It should be noted here that I myself follow Eda Mizrachi, and I'm in no way neutral, and that the people I debated with are all Ashkenazim (simply put, Jews who lived in Europe since around 1500 hundred years). Their statements about what interests me, meaning Ashkenazi-Mizrachi relations, pretty much boiled down to the following:

1) Rabbi Ovadia is the "the biggest hate preacher in Judaism today" because he has a lot of influence (he does), and "he's a divisive figure, the Sephardi world adores him and the Ashkenazis detest him".

2) He is Misogynic, Racist, Anti-Arab and Anti-Peace.

3) Mizrachim in general ”suffer from severe inferiority complex which compels them to try to be accepted, again and again, to ashkenazi religious institutions”

Below I present an edited version of my response to these statements:

Rav (Rabbi in Hebrew) Ovadia Yosef loves to tease Western (and Aschkenazi) sensitivities. Taken out of context (the context being his Hallachic work), his sermons often contain provocative statements. If however, you study his work, you will find a great Rabbi, who will always strive to find leniency in his decisions on Hallacha –Jewish Law – and whose work to restore pride among Sephardim and Mizrachim is beyond compare in Israel. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was the only important Torah authority that supported the Oslo Peace process in the 90's , and although he has since (correctly) admitted this was a mistake, he as late as 3 weeks ago reiterated his Principle for supporting it in a private letter with prayers for the ailing health of Egyptian President Mubarak, and I quote:

"My position has been known and clear for decades, on the importance of achieving peace while preserving the security of the nation of Israel. We wish for sustainable peace with all our neighbors and we are very thankful to the honorable president for his direct involvement in the peace process in our region, which undoubtedly contributes and strengthens this important process."

Hardly the words of a hate preacher....

There may be something to the idea of a Mizrachi inferiority complex, But we have to be clear that the main reason for Mizrachim choosing to enroll in Ashkenazi institutions is power politics and economics. The reason why this is so is simple - money. When the impoverished and traumatized Chasidim and Litvakim arrived in Israel from the smoking ashes of Europe, they found after a while a powerful support in their American kin, who by then had started to become successful in Der Goldene Medina, and kept becoming more and more wealthy as the economic power of the US grew exponentially during the 50's and 60's. And even though the secular founders of Israel were not religious, they came from the same world as them - Golda Meir never referred to Ashkenazim as "uncivilized orientals". So the Ashkenazim, thanks to this and a good organizational skills and a lot of hard work, had a head start from the beginning. Other contributing factors were their larger pre WWII presence in Israel and their more institutionalized and structured system of Torah education.

When the Mizrachim were kicked out of the Arab world with no more than the clothes on their body, they did not get much financial support from the US, and were quite immediately pushed to the periphery of society, geographically, socially and economically. This was a result of different factors, ethnical prejudice on part of the Ashkenazim being only one of very many. Among other factors were the lack of housing and the insights of how to navigate the powerbrokering and inner workings of a Western-style (well...) modern (well..) democracy.

All this has combined into the current hegemony of the Ashkenazim, and as a result the way to religious and political (and so socio-economical) power goes primarily through the Ashkenazi Yeshivas, and this is the main reason why Mizrachim send their kids to Ashkenazi Yeshivot (schools of higher religious education).

Now. I don't have anything against Ashkenazim at all. On the contrary, many of our greatest Torah Sages were Ashkenazim and I happily study them pretty much daily (Chofetz Chaim, who else). On top of which the Shul in my heart in the South of Stockholm is Ashkenazi and most of my closest friends as well. My problem is the Ashkenazi push in Israel for hegemony over religious institutions. And I have even bigger problem with the fact that it's almost become a national sport to try to shame and ridicule the greatest Torah scholar alive because of his "Arab" pronunciation (TV has actually texted his speeches at some occasion) or his sermons. And honestly, isn't it a bit unfair to call him the most dangerous hate mongerer in Israel, when the truth is that 99 % of the very few real cases of hate mongering, whether in writing, price tag operations or sermons, actually emanates from the Ashkenazi Settler community?

I have the deepest respect for Ashkenazim, we are all just Jews, and this is immensely more important than the things that make us different. I'm just worried what will happen to the Mizrachi heritage once Rav Ovadia is gone. And I'm very tired of mudslinging against Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbis.

Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef

Nippy morning, Beer Sheva

So this morning when I hit the streets of my desert metropolis I actually wished I had put on a hoodie or something. It actually felt a bit cold, which obviously means it wasn't very cold, maybe around 18 degrees Celsius, but still. When the sun comes up it will probably be in the lower 30's, again, but the nights and mornings are slowly getting cooler. Then again they are predicting high 30'es again toward the end of the week, but the unusually heat for this time of year is not what has the people buzzing, but rather the draught, as Israel suffers from a chronic water deficit problem. Lake Kineret (The Sea of Galilee) is Israel's biggest water reserve, and this and others need to be replenished by rain. And it doesn't rain.....Beer Sheva hasn't seen rain in six months.

Flowery drill instructor in in action
Other than that I had a productive day yesterday, even though I overslept. So I went to Ulpan to encounter another subgroup of conjugations for irregular verbs in future tense. Our drill instructor, sorry, teacher Ronit was in a splendid mood and didn't raise her voice once, not even when I arrived 2 hours late. After that I made pasta and sausages for me and Quentin, ate, cleaned the kitchen AND the stove, my room and the floors. I then worked out (the belly is going away!), went to Shul for Mincha and listened in on a lecture and following heated quarrel about the private versus public reading of The Schmah prayer, went to the Rabbi for Gemara studies and discussed reward and punishment, and then sat down to write a blog post. About the great Russian influx to Israel. in the 90's And got stuck. And the piece became half a novel, and I realized I simply new too little about the subject to make something worthwhile of it. So it gets to bide its time in the drafts list until I know what to do with it. Some time I'll try writing something about the ethnic interplay here in the Merkaz, instead of going for the big picture.

Meanwhile, life is good and, this morning, like ever now and again, it dawns on me: I'm in Israel! It's not simply a question of religion. I like the country, simply put. Maybe it's still the novelty of it, we'll se what happens when I start working and move out of the sheltered existence that is Merkaz Klita Yeelim. Time for class. I'm leaving you with a picture of the coolest lighter I ever seen. A facsimile of the Palestinian Post (currently Jerusalem Post) of May 14, 1948.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Introducing The Hardline...

For those of you who don't know your pop history, or those who are simply too young or too old, may not know from where I've stolen the name of my blog. So - those of you who do know might elucidate the former group in the commentaries below. The elucidators may however not be aware that this artist's present legal name is ‏Sananda Francesco Maitreya.

Sananda back in the day....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tel Aviv in pictures

Spent Thursday in Tel Aviv, buying Swedish snuff and hanging out with Jonathan and Sanna. I also managed to snap a few pictures with my trusty old cell phone. Tel Aviv is messy, noisy and stressy, and it's architecture is a hysterical blend of Bauhaus, Neo brutalism, experimentalism and hyper modernity. More on Israel and it's architecture in a later blog post. For now, I'll leave you contemplating the pics. 

TA Central bus station 


TA Philharmonics building


Old and new TA

Bus station, Lewinski street entrance

Friday, October 22, 2010

99 Problems...

There is something special with musical crossover cooperations. When artists who have a very clear cut musical and semiotic identity have the guts to pick up a cover from somewhere completely unexpected or calls up a guest artist on stage from a completely different genre. The swedish folk punk band (think the Pogues) Traste Lindéns Kvintett used to do a Swedish version cover of Motorheads' Ace of Spades with guest guitarist from a Death Metal band, and Motorhead (Or rather their legendary dictator Lemmy Kilminster, inofficial coolest white man alive) themselves, are legendary for their fantastic covers of Metallica, Sex Pistols and a bunch of others. The "Classic" Motorhead setting actually broke because of Lemmys insistance of covering country classic Stand by your man - Philthy Phil took his heroine addiction and left in protest.

A bunch of years ago MTV picked this up by making different artist "Mash up" a few of their best pieces. Most of these cooperations weren't much, but it resulted in a cooperation that actually came out better than the original tunes and resulted in the Mini CD Collision Course, with kingpin Gangsta Rapper Jay-Z and Nu Metal crown contenders Linkin Park mashed their best tracks. And does this swing!!!

The best track by far on this CD is 99 Problems, which has the extra touch that the Jay-Z track with that name is actually a paraphrase on an Ice-T track with the same name (the lyrics is basically quite changed from Ice-T's version to something slightly more PC...). If you think Rap usually has too little bite and Nu Metal has too little Swing, this is the record to get your hands on! If you can sit still through these 6 Metal heavy, Hip Hop bumbing, Jazzy jumbing tracks, you are probably a Zombie.

So here I am, listening to Collision Course, recently arrived to lovely Beer Sheva after a visit to Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv I followed up a tip I had gotten from a Swedish friend here. Apparently A nice person has come up with the splendid idea to start importing and introducing Swedish Snus in Israel. For those of you who don't know what Swedish Snus is, it's a classic Swedish smoke-free tobacco product, made up of fine grain tobacco, salt and water, and then packed in small pouches, that you discretely put under you upper lip. This way you get your nicotine along with a smooth tobacco taste, without bothering anyone else and without risking your health. The importer has even taken the bother to kosher certify all the ingredients which makes this Swedish Snus the first kosher certified tobacco product in the world. The brand is tailor made for the Israeli market, and is called Stop. In Sweden Snus has become a major in the last few years, precisely because thousands of people are using it to stop smoking, hence the brand name Stop. In any case I managed to find the tobacco store which is selling the Snus, and I bought 10 of each taste, regular and menthol. After some looking around I managed to get the phone number of the manufacturer, a religious Jew and recent Oleh Chadash, and he tells me that he came up with the idea of introducing Swedish Snus in Israel as a way to get people to stop smoking (Israelis smoke like chimneys and smoke health issues is a big problem), and as he wanted influence the religious, orthodox and charedi Jewish community as well, he took the trouble of getting a kosher certificate.  Now his company Swedish Tobacco has started distributing to stores all over Israel and if you feel like kicking your smoking habit, you'll find more information on their web page:

In TA I also met up with Jonathan and his girlfriend Sanna, and we spent the night eating Burekas, talking, and generally having a good time. Jonathan is one of the driving forces behind the Stockholm Beit midrash and Sanna works for the Swedish-Israeli Information Center.

OK - candle lighting time! Have a great weekend and Shabat Shalom!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Politics on Facebook...

Woke up late today, meaning around 8 AM, with a clear idea in my head: I need to stop waiting my time discussing religion and politics with people who don't understand even the basics of either. There are libraries and there are books. You can either read them of not, but I will no longer try to explain the history Israel and it's conflicts, the evolution and content of ideologies, plain empirical fact or the nature of rational argument, in Facebook commentaries. And speaking of commentaries, I'd love it if you'd leave them here rather than on Facebook as many of my readers aren't on said social media.

Quite naturally I will break my promise of not participating in FB debates, but let's see how long I can keep it up;-)

Other than that an eventless day so far so not much to report. We had a grammar test and I was once again reminded that my knowledge of temporal conjugation of hebrew verbs is a joke. Spent the break discussing the politics of war with Jochanan, a former Iraq veteran who has a few insights to it, as well as 3 very cute children. He and is wife has been here for 6 months and the are in the same class as me. Their youngest child was born here.

Jochanan and his youngest daughter
In any case Jonathan and his girlfriend Sanna is in Israel so I'm off to Tel Aviv now to meet up with them. Eager to here some reports on the Status in Stockholm. I will spend the bus ride of 1.5 hours accompanied by my beloved Hebrew verbs, future tense.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Shalom Chaver, Goodbye, friend."

So, after a bad nights sleep I miraculously managed to get up at 5 AM to go to Shul. Night owl as I am, you still gotta admit that there is something special about early mornings, before the sun has rose above the horizon. A cool stillness, empty streets, already warm but not yet hot, the day waiting to kick in.

Merkaz Klita Yeelim, 6 AM
After Shul I went to the usual coffee shop for my morning cup of cafe afuch (literally backwards coffee, basically a latte) at the coffee and tobacco stand. The owners are two olim from France who have been here for 15 years. They are very nice people and at Ulpan break a line of coffee abstinent students form a line here, but at this early hour the customers are far between.

The nice lady who makes my morning afuch
Today was the 12th of the Jewish month Cheshvan and the 15th anniversary of the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. A lot of people nowadays, while commemorating his death, write off the Oslo process as a historical parenthesis, that was doomed to failure from the outset. There are valid arguments to make that point, but human memory is short, and what people forget is just how much the earth shook under those few years. They forget how people on both sides were filled with hope and excitement (as well as, no doubt, fears and worries). A peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Yasser Arafat came back from exile in Tunis, to a welcome worthy of a semi-god. A friend of mine spent one of his army years doing joint security patrols with PLO soldiers (!), and learnt Arabic in the process, cause as he said: "They were very proud people. They spoke perfect Hebrew, but as our (!) closest officer was an Arab, they refused to speak it." Today hope is gone, and it's hard to remember that it ever existed. And it's very easy to focus on the mistakes that where made, that it was all a castle in the sky, built on unattainable dreams, by dreamers. It's easy to say that Yasser Arafat was nothing but a terrorist (and that he was, worst kind), and that he never dreamt of peace. But it is also possible that he dreamed of peace, and simply chickened out when Rabin was murdered. In either case he then let his henchmen bomb Oslo to smithereens and that was that. Today the lefties and Peaceniks have successfully co-opted Rabin's legacy and they have spun layer after layer of mythology on top of it. This has made the Rabin memorial, and specifically it's content, a contentious matter in Israel. But the truth is that Rabin was neither a lefty nor a peacenik, neither hawk nor dove. Rabin was a hawk. A peace hawk. That is what made him unique, and that is why Arabs as well as Jews trusted him. Finally, the truth is that we will never know what would have happened if Rabin had lived. And that is a great loss.

So Ulpan today started with a talk about Rabin and his legacy. Later there was a short memorial, which carefully avoided an over-politizised discourse. Young Russian Olim took turns reading facts in Hebrew about his life and work, friends and hobbies, likes and dislikes. A few songs were played. It was solemn, but still very every-day life - no big gestures, no sentimentality. A couple of the youngster had a tear or two in their eyes, and then that was that.

Afterwords we delved once again into the mysteries of Hebrew future tense and counterfactual imperfect statements. And this is what I'll keep doing the rest of the night. So with the words of President Clinton at the graveside of Yitzchak Rabin, Im signing off for today:

"Shalom Chaver, Goodbye Friend."

Yitzchak Rabin 1922-1995

Hebrew grammar

So yesterday went by fairly uneventfully. In keeping with my self-diciplinary ideas I cooked my own dinner instead of going for Schwarma, and then ate it with Quentin. I also managed to spend large part of my post Ulpan day in the company of the future tense verbs of binyan Paal. And I'm starting to grasp them which means I'm back where I was the last time I took my Hebrew studies seriously, 5 years ago.

I also waisted my time debating a fairly nasty letter that the NGO Women at the Wall had directed to the Israeli government and the general public. They were basically describing Orthodox people as a screaming, feces-throwing mob, while disingenuously seeking monopoly for their own brand of Judaism. I fail to understand why feminist Reformniks, who make a point of breaking every Hallacha they come across, feel it absolutely necessary to imitate prescribed Orthodox and male behavior in the one place in the world where it will be seriously hurtful - the Western Wall. Then again, The Israeli Rabbinate, along with a minority of Charedim, is hardly doing their part to decrease tensions.

Other than that I was in a strangely great mood yesterday, even after talking to the seriously sour lady at The Western Wall Herritage Foundation to change the bookings for the Underground Tunnels tour for a US friend.

The night ended with Ester trying unsuccessfully to first hypnotise Noddy, and then via mental powers make him light as a feather, so that we would be able to lift him on our fingers. This after some serious persuasive manoiuvers courtesy of Tweety. So Ester would repeatedly tell him that she would make him "light as a feather, light as a feather, light as...". After which 4 persons would press down on his head and....well. Try to lift him from the chair using two fingers under his arms and knees. None of it worked. Noddy seemed to be saddened that he wasn't able to be hypnotised, but with the screaming and shouting going on in the loft passageways, outside our open door, it's hardly surprising. Personally I strongly doubt I could get hypnotised in a sound-proof studio. I'm a control freak. I'd just get bored. At best.

"Light as a feather, light as a feather, light as..."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Discipline... something I've been drifting out of during Chagim, basically a result of having no fixed schedule except for eating absurd amounts of food and being in Shul. But now that the Ulpan has started i dearly need to get my shit together. Work, work, work!

Last night however, the rather rowdy apartment gang stayed late, and Noddy showed off is skills at impersonating colored South Africans (apparently "colored" is the politically correct term for the mix between blacks and whites in South Africa) and Arnold Schwartznegger.

"Daaemn" Wee gatta giet auta hier, die ting iz ganna blooooow!!"

All this to thundering laughter and Tweety said she started to feel her place as court gester/impersonator threatened. I suggested a division of labour - Noddy would do the famous peeps and she would stick to the local Merkaz characters. In any case it was difficult to get any home work done. Bad excuse. Discipline, like I said.

Noddy impersonating a Gremlin
Went over to the bank and tried it Israeli - I didn't get a number and instead just walked up to the clerk's booth, sat down and asked for my debit card, which I ordered a month ago. It worked out splendidly, and I only had to sign 2 papers and I got my card and left. Ulpan (for you who don't know, this is a methodology in language training invented in Israel and successfully exported) today was good, and Ronit (my drill instructor....sorry...teacher) didn't scream at me for being an hour late. We are still mostly working future tense.

At coffee break me and Brian discussed "HaMatzav" (literally "The Situation", meaning Israel vis a vis the world, primarily the Palestinians) . We are both certain the staus quo is going nowhere good. So....1 state, 2, 3....? Nothing will happen with the current leadership anyway. The heat is back with around 37 degrees and the eventual cool breeze. Life is good.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shabbes in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef....

So, basically I spent Friday in TA and Shabbes in Ramat Beit Shemesh with Richard (visiting from Sweden) and Yehuda and his family. We had a nice time, went to the beach in TA, ate, prayed, drank good whiskey and wine and well, I snapped a few pics:

On our way to the Mens only beach...

Ramat Beit Shemesh....

Yehuda emerging from the Mikveh

Birra Motzei Shabbes....

Chaya-Mushkas post shabbes dance...

Rev Yehuda....

Touchdown boy II

Action shots

* Landed on Ben Gurion and as I started to walk out of the place a see a woman holding a sign with my name on it. She takes me through customs, a few corridors and sits me down in front of a very thin greyish file clerk who looks like a depressed Russian. The Clerk gives me a bunch of papers and 1200 shekels in cash and a Taxi voucher.

* First Shabbes. Quentin takes me to Shul and I meet Rabbi Nissim for the first time. Pavlova sits across from me at the Shabbes table and gives me dirty looks and asks his son in Spanish whether he believes I'm Jewish or nor, and whether I'm Ashkenazi or not. Then he starts on a monologue of how everyone in his family are Jewish, Sephardi, except his former wife who is Ashkenazi. When we walk home he tells me in Spanish that dressing white and black for Shabbes is not a Jewish thing: "You have no idea why you do that!! You understand nothing! You think you so religious, you think you are better than me??? I'm Sephardi, Ima sheli Sephardi! Mi Turkia, entiendes??"

* Arriving in Beer Sheva with a shitload of luggage, after the cab driver finally has got the directions right. And I'm met by the guard who has no idea where I'm supposed to live. At the same time there is another Commotion going on - to cops are called to the scene to help a tenant against her flat mate who has assaulted her. Morris - The Big Boss of the Merkaz - is angry at the assaulted girl for calling the police and forcing him off his ass and having to take responsibility for one of the many crazies he gives room and board. I finally get my room. The heat is like a burning wall, and I'm soaked through in 5 minutes.

* Galina works at the Absorption office. The absorption office is to sign for me so that I will get my monthly Oleh allowance, and is supposed to help me to an Ulpan Hebrew class. Everyone in the absorption office speaks to eachother in Russian, I might as well have been in Moscow. She supposedly speaks English so she calls in a translator and then we conduct the interview in Hebrew. She tells me my Hebrew is too good, so "Sorry, but we can't help you, we only have Kita Alef in Beer Sheva." I try to suggest that there might be also a Kita bet, but she is very sure of herself. The translator takes pity in me and tries to say that it's actually "Our job to try to help the Olim, maybe there is a course at the university?" Galina shruggs her shoulders and looks a bit taken aback. She gives up a big sigh and looks miserable.

4 weeks later after having chased the director of the Ulpan for a while I find myself in Kita Alef after having done a diagnostic test. And I'm informed that there are indeed Kita Bet in Beer Sheva. Galina has, as is very common here, not a clue to kak, or even the basics of her work. She is just employed.

* The apartment gang. Seeing as my flat mates are nice and social people, our apartment is becoming a meeting point for an assorted bunch of people who converge here during the day, and whose primary members are: Tweety, whom I described above and who is responsible for making up most the nicks used in this blog, Vibe, a south-african bearded dude who got his nick from his belief that one can enter the vibe of ones internal organs and get good advice from them (he made aliya based on their advice), Batia, a very kind South-African lady with two kids, Hotlips, a former pole dancer, David who bicycles everywhere and is constantly worried about his learning skills, although he also is learning quite a lot, Noddy, who sadly has a virus infection and is in and out of hospital, and Ester, Irish-South-African Hypnotist who once put Quentin under hypnosis.

Part of the gang...

The Vibe is having fun....
Explaining his good vibe....

Dave is being studious...

* The supermarket. Supersol in Yeelim, Beer Sheva has the most disorganized, inefficient cashiers on the planet. Even if you are first in line it can take ten minutes to get to pay for your 5 items - they speak on the phone, with each other, or just run away as soon as a problem occurs with one of the other cashiers, to argue, help our, or just hitch a break. And you are never first in line in any case - as soon as the number of customers diminishes, they close all cashiers but one. Still, they are mostly nice and you can buy 95 % alcohol for no money at all (nope, haven't tried it).

Touchdown boy

The weeks leading up to my immigration to Israel, the most common commentary was that I should keep a blog over ensuing events. No such has so far happened, mostly because I've either been idling around, celebrating the exhausting string of Jewish Holidays that plague autumn (a period referred to plainly as "chagim - holidays), or running around in general. And as I don't have the time to chronologically relate everything that been going down in almost 2 months, I'll simply try to make a quick sketch of the places and persons in the coming days:

Merkaz Klita Yeelim

Home, sweet home......

Is a dump, fair and square. it's some 350 meters of grey concrete times 4 stories high, and on the website they brag about it being the longest building in the Middle East. It looks like a Soviet suburb. It is only the only building in Beer Sheva without A/C. And seeing Beer Sheva is smack in the middle of the Negev desert, there is a reason why all the other houses do have A/C - the summer temperatures can reach 48 degrees celsius. My flatmates made me go buy a fan the first night and I heeded their advice. Some 360 Russians, Latinos, South Africans and Yemenites live here. They sometimes get on each others nerves and fist fights are not unheard of. For reasons I fail to grasp the armed guards do not consider it their job to break up fights. Exactly what the consider their job is unclear, except being bored out of their minds and pushing the button to open the main gate.

The Laundromat

For these 360 peeps there are 4 washing machines, and usually they break down twice a week. They also don't clean your clothes very well. Once I stuffed 2 machines full and ended up with 10 kg of dirty, wet and cold clothes. I spoke twice to the guard who didn't consider this his problem, then onto the boss's secretary who did not consider it her problem and asked me to talk to the boss. "Ze lo tafkid sheli", he grumbled. I asked him whose damn job it was - mine? After a shouting match he called up the guy whose job it was, then gave the receiver to me. A stream of angry Hebrew in my ear. I gave it back to mister boss...

The characters

Benjy and Quentin - my flat mates, and fantastic people both of them. Former business men, body builders and really nice guys. Showed me where the buses are, told me to buy a fan, where to find the defunct washing machines and how to get a paying card for them, and all the other stuff you have to know to get around here. Because there is not one written piece of paper of how anything works in Merkaz klita.

Rabbi Nissim

Moroccan Rabbi who teaches at a Satmer Yeshiva in town. As the Satmer do not accept money from the government (they are Anti-Zionist), he hasn't been paid for 6 months. Marvelous guy whose doors are always open and with whom I spend most my shabbeses. He has 13 kids, loves his Arak and Brandy, and is teaching me Gemara. Lives in a house close to the Merkaz. Among his less fortunate traits is that he asks me to translate and explain things to Pavlova (below) who despite his own beliefs can't understand Hebrew (or much else). And Pavlova doesn't like to be told what to do and interprets absolutely anything as an attack on his personal honor.

Rabbi Nissim Amar and 2 of his sons


Madman. Famous for pulling a knife on a couple of drunk Russian kids for messing with his son. Hailing from Chile, he walks around in a beard and shorts, questioning people as to whether they are Jews or not. This is his only topic of interest - repeating that he, his son, his mother, his father and his pet parrot are Jews, Sephardic Turkish Jews to be exact. He is insulting everyone and starting fights by rudely questioning others Jewishness or by just generally being a jerk. Sooner or later someone will punch his teeth out, it's just a matter of time. The sad thing is that every now and again he does make an effort to not be an asshole - you can really see him straining. And then he goes back to what he does best.


The only Welch Jewess I met. Has complete knowledge of the Merkaz Gossip and is making up nicknames for everyone in her Ulpan class, whom she also impersonates with great skill. Basically she is very funny. She and her boyfriend also adopted a dog that was found in a garbage dumpster (pets are forbidden here, hence half of the tenants have pets), but they eventually had to give him up.