Friday, February 27, 2004
We'll take a deconstructive walk down nostalgia lane on another day. For now, suffice it to add a couple of links in the right-hand column: the independent student newspaper The Red & Black and the fiercely independent Athenian weekly Flagpole.
And I take no responsibility for their content. Just for my rights to evoke an Athenian atmosphere for all those who can dig it.
And for all of those who made Athens Jewish life what it meant for me -- Shabbat Shalom!
Sunday, February 22, 2004
I was running a tad late for yeshiva anyway -- today being Rosh 'Hodesh, the tefillah took a long time, and I had slightly overslept, enough to miss my 6:00a.m. minyan. So by 8:36a.m., when I got the notice on my telephone, it seemed more appropriate to find out what had happened than to run and jump on the bus in order to continue studies as usual. Can we really continue as normal, almost as if nothing happened, providing someone we know isn't on the bus when it happens? (I'm still trying to figure this one out, and plan to write more about it in the future, hoping to get your comments on the subject.)
A search of the local radio stations proved to be no help, as they were no doubt not yet ready to report the news. I'm spoiled by my instant messages on the telephone just when big things like this happen (the slaughter occurred at 8:30; the news was on my telephone display six minutes later). Radio MiKol HaLev was running its typical English-language programming for that time slot: back-to-back adverts for Jewish businesses, all presumably in New York, leading up to Dov Sherin's talk show. Surely they know what's going on, I thought. But apparently not. Just one clueless commercial after another.
Only Radio France Internationale gave me all the details available at that instant, and they reported it in an appropriately distraught, caring, and non-pro-palestinian way. The other news programming I have heard from them also seems not anti-Israeli or antisemitic. (Their nearest broadcast point, mind you, is located in Amman.) You francophobes can chew on that for a while.
The last time this happened was three weeks ago, in nearly the same place. Today's murder took place opposite the Gan HaPa'amon [Liberty Bell Park]. The pigoua [terrorist attack] of 29 January, an equally beautiful Thursday morning, took place on a number 19 bus on Re'hov Aza [Gaza street -- no connexion to the Gaza region].
I was already in the yeshiva at that point, standing in the Beit Medrash when we began hearing sirens, one after the other, and the messages started arriving on my phone. We were encouraged to say a couple of tehillim [Psalms]. After Gemara class, my 'havrouta [study partner] Asher and I decided to go down as close as we could to the scene of the crime.
The area in which the exploded shell of the bus was well guarded. So we took a walk around the neighbourhood, noting undercover security officers along the way. (One of the dangers in past attacks has been a repeated attack on the people who arrive on the scene to help the victims.)
Even a couple of blocks away, one could see the effects of the shock of the bomb. Shattered storefront windows...
...and shattered car windows.
But of course property damage, which has no doubt been repaired and covered by insurance, is a trifle compared to the carnage. In this particular case, the aftermath is documented . The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made a video of the aftermath available oneline so that all can see the reality of this gruesome act. Maybe you are ready for it; maybe not. My personal tact, as I fumble seeking the proper response, is not to avoid reality but to be as familiar with it as possible. For those who would tend to agree, you can see the Foreign Ministry's report at this site. A link to the video can be found on that page.
The blasted hull of this bus is now on display in a downtown plaza of the Hague, as an international tribunal tries to decide whether Israel has the right to try to monitor access into free territory of the Arab squatters living in their settlements. Presumably the blood and entrails have been cleaned off the handrails inside and properly buried.
HaShem yikom damam.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
This past Friday was a beautiful day in Jerusalem: bright sun, a few clouds set against blue skies, a perfect cool temperature (cool but not too cool), and a constant refreshing breeze.
I had to go to the yeshiva that morning for a test on the sugiya [sub-chapter] of Gemara that we in my class just concluded. I had resisted it at first, since the commute takes about 45 minutes each way across town, and Friday mornings are usually better spent preparing for Shabbath. But Rabbi Polani, the maggid shiour [teacher of my class] strongly encouraged me to do so. It would be good for the group to finish together, he reasoned, and to feel closure here at the end of the week. Cake and drinks to follow. So I did -- not for the party, but to finish the sugiya en beauté. And he was right; it was worth it. In fact, I got so absorbed in the test that I walked out with the rabbi who gave it to me as soon as we were finished. Completely forgot about the party. By 10:10 I was on my way, taking the bus to go to King George street, where there is a store in the Paamon [Bell] Building that distributes weekly newsletters, Le P'tit Hebdo in French and sometimes Torah Tidbits in English. And then I was back on the bus to come home, listening to the radio for one of my favourite moments of the week, a live Sepharadi music programme on with Moshe Habousha that comes on Radio MiKol HaLév on Friday mornings. I was already significantly more productive on this Friday morning than usual. Life was good.
Traffic on Yaffo was as disorganised as usual,
the Generali building cast a cool shadow under the winter-angle sunlight,
and even the inexplicable quirks in public engineering even looked beautiful.
Shabbath began in the same vein, but then the afternoon's skies became cloudy, the air balmy. Cold mist was followed by cold rain, followed by sleet, but after an hour or so the sound died away. Around 3:00 in the afternoon, in Givat Mordekhai where I was spending the day with the Simone family, we looked out the windows to find the street turning white.
Séudah Shlishit [the Shabbath afternoon meal] was short for the neighbourhood children in the Givah. They got out as soon as possible to play in what is obviously a rare snowfall.
And it didn't let up. The return home, in Bayith VeGan, looked threatened by the shutting down of all public transportation and the unavailability of taxis. My roommate and I set out into the snowfall, which was growing more persistent, and we knew we wouldn't be able to walk all the way up the hill. And just when the sludge on Sha'hal street seemed impossible to conquer, and it seemed that we might have to turn around and spend the night with our host family, a kind 'hiloni [secular] man getting in his SUV offered us a ride.
Despite the snowstorm, I wasn't going to let myself get my hopes up of cancelled classes. Not after my history of several almost-snow days in Athens and Atlanta that should have been the real thing, but were not, leading to severe disappointment (and resentment toward the administration -- there is a story here dying to be told, of a high-school principal falling on her rear end after failing to declaring a snow day when she should have, but I will refrain from such schadenfreude). But I certainly stayed up late enough last night to keep an eye on the weather and the news, hoping for the best. And this morning, when it was clear that public transportation was not running, I finally, confidently declared vacation.
The "after" side of this photo doesn't do the landscape justice; it would have been much more impressive during the blizzard that was going on at 4:00a.m., when I awoke to the sound of strong winds and more hail. By the time I took this photo, much had melted.
Besides getting a few much-needed groceries, I spent a while today morning looking for somewhere to sled. Alas, Sderot Hertsel (Hertzl Highway), whose bus and taxi lane the previous night looked like a prime candidate, was sludge and ice water by the time I got out. The neighbourhood children (and some yeshiva and seminary students) were working on their snow art. Some had the brilliant idea of building an igloo by packing snow into a plastic ice-cream box, and were doing a great job. Whereas others sufficed with snowmen exhibiting appropriate existential angst.
Or perhaps it was an Ashera pole. It was not to last long. Not in this neighbourhood.
As it turns out, Bayith VeGan is usually the first and the last place in Jerusalem to have snow because of its location and elevation, according to some veteran Jerusalemites. So over in yeshiva land, on the northeast side of town, the show went on, despite the fact that many rabbanim were late. My 'havroutha [study partner] kept calling, trying to convince me that I be more shtark [a Yiddish word] and should do my best to come in, taking an expensive taxi, a limo, or whatever it took. By midday a few buses were running, but I had missed most of my classes anyway. It would be back to serious limoud [study] on Monday.
My 'havroutha, like most of the guys there, didn't have to commute far, since they live three minutes away from campus. And they obviously didn't understand the importance of a rare snow day.
Monday, February 16, 2004
In plain English, this is the story. A few months ago I began publishing a Blog both about discovering Israel and about leaving behind my life in America. The story began properly in June, as that was the time of my first exploratory visit, and continued (as these things tend to do) up to the present. And since I wanted to tell the story properly, I dated the posts according to the timeline. As I began building the blog, I culled some notes, journal entries, newsy e-mails written to family, and more newsy e-mails written to friends (with the gory details added), and filed them under their original dates.
Seen in their proper perspective, some things began to make more sense. It took a while. I found photos to match the text, and it turned into a marvellous adventure in narration. It had only one minor, but fatal flaw:
It was very unlikely that someone was going to read all those archived postings.
And as the weeks passed and as I plugged in the chronologically correct story, life went on. And as it did, a situation developed. I euphemistically call it a "situation", but it is in reality a much bigger. It could be compared, as the saying goes, to a splinter in my mind. It continues today, which is why I persist.
Describing how this situation came about, what were all the clues leading up to it and what were its consequences, seemed to be the first step in solving it.
But that's me, not you. The problem was with you; you were probably not going to pick through the swine mud looking for pearls. After all, that's the nature of the Blog. You want to see what's happening most recently, not dig up so many past articles in hopes of constructing a coherent three-dimensional picture.
Not to mention that elaborating on the story from with seven to eight months of hindsight borders on being disingenuous. But that was the least of my worries. If you keep reading you will perhaps understand.
The story developed more quickly than I could tell it. (And don't forget that I was doing this while trying to maintain a yeshiva study schedule.) Before the blog was officially announced, the project was getting out of hand, compounded by the relentless forward movement of time.
It seemed there was little I could about that. So I took an executive decision this weekend to start from scratch. Okay, not quite from scratch, but from this date. The story will be told afresh, with occasional flashbacks to old posts. (The template had to be changed after I discovered that the one I was borrowing from Blogger was also used by a widely read blog written by a call girl, under the name of a film with Catherine Deneuve playing a similar character. I shall not be providing a link to that site, but if you are curious enough you can find it yourself.)
Otherwise, my plan is to keep you informed about what's going on in Israel, specifically in Jerusalem, and about my transition from university studies and life in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia, to a life of yeshiva studies and full-fledged Judaism here in the center of the world. I'm a relative newcomer here, and I realise the reader may have had much more experience with this environment -- or, on the contrary, find this life thoroughly bizarre -- so I invite your e-mails. The address is at the end of postings or in list of links in the right-hand column.
Sunday, February 15, 2004
"Who I am"
"How I got myself into this situation" ?
No, definitely in that order. Although vice-versa would make more sense, in this antipodean blog-reading format. What do I mean by that?
Blogger is an ingenious tool for web-journal hosting (note my duly-placed link in that sycophantic statement). I have been keeping a journal for something like fourteen years -- i.e. a real, honest-to-goodness, handwritten journal. In my adolescent assurance that whoever was reading my journal, decades or centuries in the future, would want to know the complete story, I began each volume with a request to the reader not to read it until he or she had completed all the previous ones. The volumes were numbered for easy reference. Alas, I finally gave up on those pleas for contextuality in the preface of something around #15.
I have been mildly computer-literate since I was a wee lad, first cutting my teeth on a TI-99/4A and then upgrading, seriously, to a used ITT Xtra XP to learn all about DOS and IBM compatibility while in high school. College days saw my entrance into the world of Unix and internet. I used to be on a discussion list named Causerie, based in Canada, on which francophones and students of French alike from various continents would discuss "de tout et de rien". And e-mail has been my friend ever since.
So I'm no slouch at journal-keeping nor at use of the internet to keep in touch with a contingency of readers. And I don't know when I first heard of the idea of online journals -- though with some scraping of the memory cells it seems like it was around the same time I heard of webcams sitting in persons' apartments and broadcasting their lives to the public, Jennicam being the infamous, albeit pioneering example. So that puts the date at early 1998. And though both technologies seemed pretty unappealing at the time, the weblog has certainly proved that it is far more useful than I will ever be, and shown me to what degree I am out of it (since I discovered the genre only a few months ago).
Having said that I must return to my point, which is that there is one drawback of the Blog format which I find unsettling. The postings (or "posts" for you cavalier, progressivist users of the English language) are published in reverse chronological order.
That means that everything I have just typed will probably never be read after the next couple of weeks, if it is ever read at all. That's why I did not put much care into its writing.
It also means that if I were to provide some background information about myself, right here and now, you (gentle reader) may never be able to make sense of later postings, without rummaging through the archives. Which I am SO CERTAIN you will do, since I will kindly ask you not to read the new postings without having read the old ones. Yeah, right...
To be continued... (which means, you've have a better chance at seeing the continuation than ever seeing this).
And so it begins. A hastily chosen title ("Marching to Zion: Michael's Jerusalem Journey"). A free template. Some useless, pre-fab links. No photos. Behold, ô combien rude, the birth of my BLOG.
The title is so hokey that it's likely to change soon. So here it's on the record.