French Israel

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A brief anti-frumspeak rant
Pinḥas Ivri 17:29 | (0) comments |

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A quick tour of Israel
Caught up in this issue about the dates and the importance of national observances, I have neglected to continue my story about discovering Israel last summer.

Tuesday 10 June 2003
A few members of the Simone family (my hosts, who were family of Atlanta friends) took a free day from work in order to show me some of Erets Yisrael. We took a trip to the city of Teveria and the Yam Kinnereth [Sea of Galilee] in the Galil. Teveria (a.k.a. Tiberias) is an ancient city, one that has traces of cultural vestiges from Israel and Rome dating back a couple of millenia. As I sit here in April, well adjusted to the time zone and many of the sights I have seen in the country so far, I wish that we had spent a bit more time on the historical sites. At the time, though, the easiest and most obvious thing to do was to go to the seashore and take a boat ride.

The bus that we rode to travel up north, chosen by my hosts, took a route through the West Bank because it's shorter than going the Mediterranean coastal route. And it was the most bizarre landscape I'd seen yet in my life: Kilometre after kilometre of desert land, Bedouin camps, and gutted cars parked at the bottoms of ravines. The word "craggly" often came to mind (it's a perfectly cromulent word). Our bus had double windows to protect against the eventual gunfire from bored and apparently malcontent Bedouins sitting in their roadside camps, waiting for a Jewish vehicle (like an Egged bus) to come along. I was assured that such shooting normally only happens at night. Comforting.

We rented a little motor boat for half an hour. Somehow I was put in charge of captaining it. The wind and waves were pretty fierce, and we were increasingly tossed around as we got out to the centre of the sea. When we began to get sprayed and when the water began to splash over the side, I began to get nervous. At this point some of you can laugh at my landlubber naïveté. To that I answer: you try it.

And thanks to the wind, I lost my kippah. It was even clipped down with those metal things that girls use to hold their hair up and that kippah-wearing Jews have introduced into men's fashion. A short moment later one of the children got a phone call from Mrs. Simone asking us how we were doing, and reminding the boys to watch out for their kippah, since this incident had occured the last time. Oh well. I would have to go for a while without.

This was my opportunity to do teshouva. I learned that just as the Orthodox here wear black kippoth, they do not wear clips on their kippoth. Clips are for those who haven't yet learned to keep them on. And this experience showed that, when you really need them, they don't help anyway. They're just ugly. Often, the Orthodox also wear effeminate velvet kippoth, since theirs is an indoor religion. I still didn't change the style. And even though I later got one of those effeminate velvet kippoth for rank-and-file occasions, I still proudly sport a black serougah [knit] job for everyday wear.

After getting out of the sea, we walked for a while, I with peyoth [sidelocks] but no head covering, and embarrassed to say the least. But it's not as if anyone there knew me. In a clothing store I bought a sporty cap that screamed "American!" Any hope I had of passing off as a suave Israeli-born sabra was lost. The novelty of this Fila cap was that it unzipped to form a bare-headed visor: or, alternatively, a kippah as you can see in this photo.

On the way back I learned the meaning of the word Pigoua -- terrorist attack. There had been a bus bombing in Jerusalem. At 5:30p.m., a Palestinian disguised as a 'hassid boarded a 14A bus in front of the Binyan Klal, waited for the bus to roll away for a moment, and then detonated the bomb he was carrying on his body. Seventeen people -- eleven women and six men -- were killed and over 100 wounded. Though we did not learn the details until later, a woman received a call on her bus as we were returning to Jerusalem that afternoon. I tried to call my family, taking the advice of a Rav who said to get in touch with one's family before they see something on CNN. But the telephone numbers I had for using a calling card did not work from the Simone's portable phone. They would have to call me, or wait until I came back.

Of course, I was greeted by desperate e-mail demanding to know my whereabouts. That's when I had to do the damage control. Nothing like the families who lost their loved ones, of course.

So this is what it's like to live in Israel. Those are the thoughts that sank in the next day. Jews in galouth [outside of the country] hear about terrorist attacks every time they happen. But rarely do they see the aftereffects.

Changing the subject. I got out of Har Nof again the next morning to explore Jerusalem, taking the bus this time. At the bus stop I met a nice, elderly French couple. It was wonderful to find such familiarity. Someone was shouting a question to them from across the street, and the man would simply answer with "Ani lo shomea" [I can't hear]. He could hear, but his Hebrew wasn't too good. And he didn't appreciate someone shouting at him from across the street, making the assumption that he was equipped for a conversation in that language. "Pour parler en hébreu il faut montrer qu'on sait parler," he said, or something like that. Before someone speaks to you in Hebrew, they should see that you do speak the language.

As I strolled down Yaffo street again, I stopped again at Mokafé and ordered something more reasonable than an americano, since that hadn't worked out the day before: a double espresso. But the barista remembered me and, with a gleam in his eye, said something to the effect of, "I know what you want!" And made me the same thing he did yesterday. Another reminder that I'm going to have to learn to speak Hebrew.

A bit further down the street, looking for lunch, I came across a crowded bus stop. But this stop was not operational today; its seats were charred, and on them were set numerous burning candles, bouquets of flowers, and books of Tehillim [Psalms]. A debate was going on between an Arabic woman and several Jews over whether the former wanted "shalom". When you can't understand the language, you pick out the words you hear repeated most. I'm not sure what the Arabic wonan's case was, but I doubt she presented it in such a way that it was accepted. A Jewish man, injured, was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the bus stop, making big gestures of reading a newspaper that had a photo of him inside. Maybe he was one of the survivors? He was getting a lot of attention, and his photo was taken many times by journalists. Would the scene repeat itself the next day? Was he showing that he was proud to be back in the place where he had almost died the previous afternoon? I could only conjecture.

At a makholeth on Yaffo I picked up a copy of that day's Jerusalem Post, the only newspaper I could find in English, and took it to Sbarro where I would read it while trying to eat lunch. I say "trying" not just because of the quality of the food (boring, lukewarm). I was reading that sixteen people had died in this terrorist attack, and was sitting behind the large windows that give a great view of Yaffo street, just a few blocks down from where the bus had exploded. By going to Sbarro, I had imagined that I was showing solidarity with the Israelis, knowing that this restaurant had been bombed and rebuilt twice already.

Suicide bomber kills 16 in Jerusalem read the headline. And below it: Hamas terrorist disguised as haredi.

Not a good idea for lunchtime reading. I choked up upon reading accounts of body parts flying through the air, and people "burned like torches".

Quite interesting still was the statement by Jerusalem police chief Commander Mickey Levy that, "last year alone, 11 suicide bombers were apprehended on their way to Jerusalem". They just keep trying. Unfortunately, a few get through.

For the next few weeks, I could not walk on a sidewalk and see a bus on the street without imagining what it would be like to see it explode. What it would look like to see the shrapnel flying outward and toward me. I would have the ridiculous question in my mind, as if it were in a movie, whether I would be quick enough to duck when I saw the explosion occur. As if that would help. Would I be thrown against the next wall, or hit directly by the debris? And of course, I imagine the same thing while riding buses. What if the explosion occurs in the other half? What if the terrorist is standing in the soft, accordion walls of the middle of the bus? And would I know how to recognise a terrorist were he to board? And if so, what would I do?

Mostly, on the sidewalks, I would just envision debris flying outward, from any bus that I saw. But having worked through the above hypothetical cases, I wouldn't hesitate to travel on Egged. My friends would rather walk from one end of Jerusalem to another, or limit their travel to taxis, or just not get out much. But I did not see any way to avoid it. Those methods can hardly be effective.

A full treatment of the pigoua, with photos, can be found on the Israel Foreign Ministry's site. Photos of the victims nearly bring me to tears, even today, over ten months after the incident. And my mood is not much better today, reflecting back on it, as I casually survey the variety of attitudes concerning Israel's upcoming "holidays". (You don' t see the connexion? That's why I just attribute it my mood.) It was not the last time to happen, unfortunately, even as this blog has chronicled already.

HaShem yikom damam.

I'm tacking on this note a few days later from the writing of this posting. I was alerted that my unflattering mention of the Yaffo-street Sbarro's food could be considered lashon hara, slander, and could concievably do damage to the restaurant's business, and could thus be a no-no. I countered that that's what a restaurant review is, and that if their food is consistently disappointing (which it has been), people should be told so. But I was told that restaurant reviews can still be lashon hara.

The solution to this matter is that I must specify that the only Sbarro I have eaten in here is the one on Yaffo street. And that it is now closed and being retooled as a bakery for the Ne'eman chain, who have restaurants in Center One -- good restaurants, I might add.

Pinḥas Ivri 10:50 | (0) comments |

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Apostrophe's: They're not just for Americans to misuse

Here is an oldie from Dave Barry.

Dear Mister Language Person: What is the purpose of the apostrophe?

Answer: The apostrophe is used mainly in hand-lettered small business signs to alert the reader than an "S" is coming up at the end of a word, as in: WE DO NOT EXCEPT PERSONAL CHECK'S, or: NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ITEM'S. Another important grammar concept to bear in mind when creating hand- lettered small-business signs is that you should put quotation marks around random words for decoration, as in "TRY" OUR HOT DOG'S, or even TRY "OUR" HOT DOG'S.

Even top professional writers have trouble with apostrophes, which is why it is important to remember the Three Rules For When To Use Apostrophe's:

Example: "This childbirth really hurt's!''

Example: "There's snake's in the Nut 'n' Honey!''

Example: "Dear Moron's:''

Thus quoth Dave Barry, © The Miami Herald.

Here in Israel, there is an additional use: to translate the word "shel" (shin lamed), which is a preposition traditionally used to indicate the genetive.

In another quirk of Hebrew, in an expression using two juxtaposed nouns, "shel" can also be replaced with the construct form of the first noun. This is called semikhouth in Hebrew. You should find a way to use an apostrophe if translating from this kind of expression, too.

The most important thing for Israelis to remember when translating from Hebrew into English is that you need never ask help from native English speakers. Never mind that they could spot-correct mistakes in three seconds. You studied enough English in school, and you're a sabra, dammit! It would be a grave embarrassment to ask for help. You should, by all means, go ahead and print road signs, shirts, or the name of your business, based on your high-school knowledge of English. You gotta save face.
Pinḥas Ivri 17:52 | (0) comments |

Saturday, April 17, 2004

The game
Thanks to Terry Teachout, who is much more important in the blogosphere than I, for this game. It's simple.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions. (And send the quotation to me, too.)

The honest truth: equidistant from my hand when I read those instructions were Vayikra (the 3rd book of the Torah) and Jerusalem Architecture by David Kroyanker.

"VeSamakh eth yado a`l rosh ha-'hatath, veSha'hat otah le-'hatath bimekom asher yish'hat eth ha-o`lah" ["He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered."]
Vayikra 4:33


"In 1967 the Israeli government launched a huge twenty-year operation, investing vast resources to reconstruct the Jewish Quarter and solidify the Jewish national-political presence."
David Kroyanker

So that's how it works. Follow the instructions, send me your results, and I'll post them here.
Pinḥas Ivri 22:48 | (0) comments |

Friday, April 16, 2004

I'm famous!
I have one line in this morning's HaAretz Anglo File by Sarah Bronson about anglophone bloggers in Israel. Sarah contacted me earlier this week asking all about my philosophy of blogging, and I poured my heart out to her. What I got in return was this not entirely accurate sentence:

Other than their generally right-wing leanings, Anglo-Israeli blogs are as varied as those who write them. For example, on treppenwitz.com, David Bogner muses humorously about his mid-life crisis, while at Tsarphati.blogspot.com, an American immigrant who is newly observant records his observations about the religious community, Judaism, and the Hebrew language.

Okay, not bad, just that
(a) I'm not newly observant, just newly Israeli and new to formal yeshivah studies (maybe that was it?),
(b) it's usually English or Yeshivish language usage I'm picking on, and
(c) I do have a name.

But those are small potatoes. The article had a much bigger scope, and I will ladoun lekof skhouth [give the benefit of the doubt] in this instance. And I hope it will attract some more readers who will evaluate the narrative on its own merits. So, thank you, author-of-this-article.
Pinḥas Ivri 10:19 | (0) comments |

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

It's the spelling that makes it good

Poyo Loko is:
1. A Hispanic rapper or something, in the West-Coast Latin group ITPG (Innocent Till Proven Guilty).
2. A mispelling of the Spanish words "pollo loco", meaning "crazy chicken".
3. A kosher Mexican restaurant in Jerusalem.

Sorry that this is the best shot I could get of their ad campaign. It clearly features a psychologically disturbed chicken, meaning the owners (or publicists) were probably referring to #2, not #1, when choosing the words for the advert.

Some of you will think this is intentional, that the point was to mispell the words to show how crazy the chicken is, and that they couldn't possibly have made such a big goof by accident and let it get into the official documents.

Au contraire, I think it was a total mistake, and that no one bothered to check. Here's why: There are computer algorithms that attempt to spell Hebrew words in Roman letters. (And I do not mean into English; so this posting only marginally belongs in my "Anguished English" rubric.) For example, when I first went to the Misrat HaPnim to register my Hebrew family name, the employee typed it in Hebrew (aleph, lamed, yud, heh, vav), and I saw on the computer screen, almost immediately, the following word appear in a different blank: Eliau. Look at that for a second, and you will see that it is nothing but a computer simulation for the name "Eliyahou" (or Eliyahu, or Eliahu, however you typically see it transcribed in English).

Furthermore, I am keeping my eye on the bus stops here. On one side they tell the buses' destination in Hebrew; on the other side, in Roman letters. Transcriptions vary depending (presumably) on the sign-maker's fancy. (More on this in another post, when I've collected more photos.) So I can spot the trends.

Here's what I think happened. The restaurant was named "Pollo Loco" in someone's mind. They submitted a request for a business licence. They printed the name in Hebrew letters, something like peh-vav-yud-vav lamed-vav-kouf-vav. The words were then transcribed from Hebrew back into Roman letters for the sake of advertising. (Hey men! English is kool!)

This scenario is entirely plausible. But just to be sure, I will (bli néder) pay the restaurant a visit someday.
Pinḥas Ivri 17:27 | (0) comments |

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

As mentioned yesterday...

(It's so good to be Sepharadi.)
Pinḥas Ivri 22:22 | (0) comments |

Monday, April 12, 2004

How I spent my spring vacation

Pessa'h [Passover] just ended tonight, and I will soon be chowing down on spaghetti, unlike many of my friends who are still in holiday mode and doing an eighth day because they intend to live outside of Israel. Sorry, guys.

For the traditional Sepharadi world, tonight and tomorrow (or tomorrow night and Wednesday for those living outside of Israel) is the time for the Mimouna. There is an excellent article describing all the customs and traditions, the mouffletas and beach-side barbecues, the community mingling and shiddou'him [potential marriage matches] that occur now, immediately following Pessa'h.

Of all the Jewish holidays, Pessa'h must be my favourite. Are we allowed to choose a favourite? Pourim and 'Hanouca were contenders in past years, and Succoth might be someday, if I can ever understand it. Let's say that I am most predisposed to enjoying this one because I have more memories of it than the others, and because it's replete with such wonderful meanings. As enigmatic as Succoth can be, Pessa'h goes out of its way to explain its beautiful complexity. Let me sum up a few of things I've learned over the last few years, in 50 words or less, and be yotsei.

Time passing, year after year, on the Jewish calendar could be viewed as a spiral instead of a straight line. Each holiday is on the same point in the spiral as the ones in the years before it and in the years after it. And through those holidays you could draw a line, a channel of meaning and energy particular to that holiday.

Pessa'h, in short, is Independence Day. But instead of being won with a war, our independence is handed to us. I say "handed" in the present tense because it happens every year. "Unlike other Jewish holidays," writes Rabbi Pinchas Winston of Telstone, "the spiritual light that flows down from Above during the first half of the first night of Pesach is a Heavenly gift. Whereas the rest of the year we must do something to draw the light down, Leil Seder the light comes down on its own regardless of what we do as it does every year at this time, ever since the first Seder in Egypt while the firstborn of Egypt were being killed."

The pattern set for Pessa'h can be used each year. Whatever we are trying to accomplish, whatever liberty we are trying to achieve from whatever tyranny, we get a boost so that we can accomplish it. More than usual, that is.

Unlike in the U.S., 'Hol HaMoed Pessa'h [the week between the first and the last day, which are rest days like Shabbath] in Israel is not a time to come to work late every morning and show your coworkers how bizarre you are for not drinking out of the coffee machine. Nor is it a time to keep Kroger afloat for five months by buying macaroons and jelly candies that you never would have eaten the rest of the year. I seriously suffered no deprivation here. In my next entry I hope to highlight some of the food that was available this past week.

Tonight, however, I want to mention briefly a one-day voyage I made on Wednesday, the first day of 'Hol HaMoed. The advertisement was posted around the neighbourhood for a couple of weeks. In one day, you could take a bus trip from Jerusalem to the Galil and back, with excursions into Na'hal Shofet (Park Ramat Menashe, off the Israeli route 66), Ma'arath HaKesheth (a mountain with easy climbing to the top), Shmourath Na'hal Iyoun (with the supposedly widest waterfall in Israel), and a kayaking venture on the Yarden [Jordan River]. A good time had by all. In reality, we skipped the waterfall because, said our tour guide, there had not been much water there lately. Instead, we went kayaking on the Yarden after Ma'arath HaKesheth, and then headed to Tiveria [Tiberias], where we sat in traffic beside the Kinnereth for about 45 minutes, and finally ended the day by going home.

You professional photographers will become nauseous at the sight of my less-than-seamless stitching here, as in the photo above, but give me a break: these shots were taken with a PDA (a Palm ZIre 71, to be precise). This demonstrates what has got to be the most dramatic scenery I have seen in Israel thus far. It is at the Ma'arath HaKeshet ["Rainbow Cave"], at the top of a mountain that affords a view of the highest and the lowest points in the Galil. At the right of this panorama is the trail leading up the mountain from the highway. In the middle are the plains below, and the Mediterranean Sea; our tour guide told us there was a farm in those plains that was partly in Israel, partly in Lebanon. On the left side of the photo is the edge of the actual Ma'arath HaKeshet, which is open on the top and on the side.

We then travelled east, passing north of Tspath and entering just into the edge of the Golan for kayaking on the Yarden. So I did my first Jordan crossing, as alluded to earlier on this Blog. On the way, our bus wound its way around many beautiful mountains, most of them just as lushly green as they were uninhabited. This photo does not do the area justice, but it is the one moment I happened to take a snapshot. It was hard to believe that we were still in Israel, whose capital city is replete with trash, crowds, and ghetto landscaping.

Would it be so difficult just to build a small town out here? Put a cottage on each hill, relay them with little roads to the center, where all the necessities can be found? There are some neighbourhoods of Yerushalayim that don't even have so much -- Givath Mordekhai, for example: no bank, no post office, etc. -- and yet thousands of people live in apartments stacked one on top of another. The Galil isn't even disputed territory.

I'm guessing that I'm not the first to think of this idea, and that there is some incredible reason it's not being done. Whoever owns the land doesn't want to sell it; they can't afford to ship in low-paid Arabic labourers everyday....

Someone please fill me in. And don't tell me there aren't enough Israelis, with no need for housing.

As I said, our final drive took us through Tiveria, where we contemplated taking a boat ride into the Kinnereth [Sea of Galilee], but opted to go home instead, after Arvith [evening prayers] at the kever [gravesite] of Rabbi Meïr Ba'al HaNess. There I witness something I never would have seen in America: a popular turnout, families having barbecues, children helping to light candles beside the gravesite complex. Nothing official, nothing formal, nothing self-conscious, no uniform on these mostly traditional families turning up to a holy site on their first free day.

Z'man 'hérouténou. The time of our freedom.
Pinḥas Ivri 23:10 | (0) comments |

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Please identify me!

The time has come to track down the identity of this Israeli man, or at least the source of the photo. I'll tell you what I know.

The photo was printed in a textbook, copyright ~1953 (i.e. just after the official establishment of the State of Israel), titled Modern Hebrew. If I'm not mistaken, the authors were Harry Blumberg and Mordecai H. Lewittes, and it went through a few editions. Some had photos, some not.

The photos were intended to depict life in modern Israel. There was a kibbouts scene; some people dancing the hora; a Jew and an Arab farmer on a tractor beside the Dead Sea; some important modern building; maybe a couple more.

This one was titled "Oriental Settler". In Hebrew the corresponding caption was "Yehoudi Mizra'hi". That's it.

(The translation in itself is cause enough for comment, but I'll just tell an incident that it reminds me of. It was a dreary, rainy night in Paris and a few family members had come to visit me. I thought I would find a Morrocan restaurant for them, where we could have comfort food. Outside it was simply labled "Restaurant Oriental". At the first sight of this my mother halted and protested, "I didn't come to Paris to eat Chinese food!")

This photo captivated me. I photocopied it and gave it to various friends both in America and in Israel. The reaction is usually consistent. People stare at it silently for a while, and then express some kind of awe. If you were to see it clearly, perhaps you would, too. I'm sorry I can't share a clearer photo.

I have friends waiting for me to dig this photo up and give them a copy. People get inspiration from it. They need to see it.

This much we know. He is Yemenite, and he is plowing a field in Israel. The picture was taken before ~1953. That's about it.

Would you look at those peyoth, geez. Just look at those arms; at that plow; at his face. Someone, please tell me you know more about this than I do. Who is responsible for this? Is it for real, or is it propaganda? Can we just capture this Zionism and bottle it and sell it in the Bucharian shouk?

Major gratitude is in store for whoever can tell me something.

From naomi blumberg
jeudi 8 avril 2004 21:47:09

I don't have any information for you, but my grandfather wrote that book.
I'm sorry. That really gets you nowhere.

From Robin & Ron Zalben
vendredi 9 avril 2004 08:19:08

I have the Modern Hebrew textbook you were referring to, although I don't have your oriental settler in the 1946 edition. The acknowledgements page says "The authors likewise wish to thank the American Friends of Hebrew University, the Gewerkshaften Palestine Campaing and the United Palestine Appeal for permission to use the copyrighted photographs." My guess is that if you seriously want to hunt it down, try the Central Zionist Archives or the UJA.

Michael says: Thank you for the lead!
Pinḥas Ivri 23:37 | (0) comments |