French Israel

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.

PinḼas Ivri 10:50


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