French Israel

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Coming Soon to a Neighbourhood Near You

Some explanation:
Kever Rachel = the tomb of our mother Ra'hel, wife of Ya'akov, whom he buried in Bethle'hem.
Hevron = Hebron
Diskont = English transliteration of the Hebrew transliteration of the English word "Discount" (cf. Mark Twain, Jumping Frog: In English, Then in French, Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil)

All buses have protective shielding against gun shots.

I think I'm actually going to do this.
Pinḥas Ivri 14:06 | (0) comments |

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Self-referential warning sign

This is between Giva`t Mordekhai and Nayot on HaRav Herzog highway. I do not think I have ever seen a sign spell out its genre before. Note the extra length needed for that purpose.
Pinḥas Ivri 18:12 | (0) comments |

Friday, August 13, 2004

Speak the Language of the Hebrewman

Israeli singer Ehud Banai (his official site here; you can browse CDs for purchase here) has a song on his most recent album Ana Li titled "Hebrewman". It's a sort of rallying call for the Hebrew language. Speaking Hebrew connects one to an ancient tradition going all the way back to "Let there be light", and can be used for everyday use by persons today who want to "open their souls" include themselves in that noble and powerful legacy.

Ironically, the song is mostly in English, but that irony is attenuated a little by the fact that the song is reggae, and that it's epic-sounding bridge is in Hebrew. And while much of reggae today has been cheapened and bastardised by synthesisers and drum machines, Ehud Banai is a folk musician who uses real instruments for his Israeli rock-and-roll. The line in this song that best connects it to the original reggae (i.e. Rastafari) tradition is the claim that "From the deepest mess of downtown Babylon / It will take you to the next train to Mount Zion". When the rastafaris use the term "Babylon" they are talking about the colonial English government of Jamaica (and by extension the whole white-dominated political system), and when they use the term "Zion" they are usually talking about Ethiopia, as ruled by their messianic figure King Haile Selassie I (1892-1975).

They got it from us, of course. When we Jews say "Babylon", we're talking about our exile, as in the Psalm "Al Naharot Bavel" ("By the rivers of Bavel, there we wept and remembered Tsion"). And when we say "Zion" we mean Zion, here in Jerusalem.

By the looks of Ehud Banai and by the high quality of his music you would probably be inclined to call him a 'hiloni [secular] (that is, if you were inclined to participate in that damnable Israeli game that we all play called "Stick them in a category"). From some of his lyrics, though, I'm inclined to label him as a Masorti [traditionalist], though. As if that matters to some of you.

Anyway, he is right, of course. The Jewish national identity can only be fully reestablished (after a couple millennia of dispersal) when we all learn to use the Jewish language.

And that was enough of a reason for me to drop out of yeshivah and enroll in an Oulpan [Hebrew-language school]. Well, that and the fact that my right to enroll for free was limited to a certain amount of time after my aliyah.

But it's ironic nonetheless that I would have to leave the Orthodox yeshivah in which I was studying in order to study Hebrew. The explanation is simple: the yeshivah teaches guys how to study texts and learn to obey the mitsvoth. Everything is taught in English, even if the texts are in Hebrew or Aramaic, because that is the language spoken by all of the students there. And because most of them will probably return to their English-speaking homelands after their time of dedicated study. Some language skills are taught, but those classes are not the focal point of the yeshivah education. In other words, the yeshivah is not a training camp for future Israeli husbands and dads, or for Hebrewmen.

Just one anecdote. Some of the guys who come in have Israeli relatives; sometimes one of their parents is Israeli. A Persian guy with an Israeli mother (I think) came into my section of the yeshivah from Los Angeles and was even in my Gemara shiour. We would each take a turn reading from the text as we studied it, one day each person, and it came his turn one day. Now, most of us stumble over the words because they are in Aramaic and without vowels, but by this point in the class we are supposed to be a little familiar with the statements under investigation. But we still end up sounding like backpackers trying to read a street sign in Eastern Europe. This guy took his shot at reading the words, and did a superior job. He had the accent down pat and everything.

The rabbi's response: "Could you read that again, and sound a little less Israeli?"

I don't know if that did it, but the guy soon left the yeshivah and went to another one.

This is a dichotomy I cannot live with. My limoud is suffering right now, but it is a planned sabbatical. Meanwhile, at Oulpan Etsion, I'm learning the ins and outs of Hebrew grammar, and being forced to put it into practice. With the correct pronunciation to boot. The atmosphere is more like that of a university (cough mixed cough), with its dormitories and everything. And it is true that not everyone there is serious about learning; nor is everyone religious. But they are all olim 'hadashim -- new immigrants from various countries: England, France, South Africa, Australia, Russia, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba... Most of them just arrived less than a month ago. Some have family here, but most do not. Some are religious, and some not. But they all have some kind of quasi-religious Jewish identity that led them to make Israel there new home, beginning in Jerusalem.

Someday we'll all get out of Babylon.
Pinḥas Ivri 14:53 | (0) comments |

Monday, August 02, 2004

Since beginning Ulpan Etsion a couple of weeks ago, a few things have become clear about my aliyah, in August of last year. I would like to mention a few of these experiences, as it may be of some help to those who are in the process. I'm also helping that someone who is more experienced, and can see the mistakes I'm making, will perhaps enlighten me so that I can avoid future trouble.

This is not intended as a blanket criticism of Israeli bureaucracy -- I have seen it operate quite efficiently sometimes. Despite the strikes and the horrible lines at the Misrad HaPnim [Interior Ministry], I have been able to do most of what I needed to do. I could outdo many tales of woe from fellow Olim with similar anecdotes from my experience in France, just to give an example, from when I moved there a few years ago.

When I first decided to consider aliyah seriously -- and by that I mean within the year -- someone gave me the contact info of the shaliach in Miami (I was living in Atlanta at the time). I called his office; they sent me some information, and within a month or so he made a two-day visit to Atlanta to interview candidates. That was in the spring of 2003.

I must wonder now, in retrospect, if this is way conspiracies are perpetuated. Left to my own devices, would I perhaps have walked into the offices of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta first, and discovered the blinding light of clarity? Would they have helped me immigrate to their country, or would they have told me (more likely) that immigration was not their job, and directed me to the Sochnut [Jewish Agency]?

If I were immigrating to a different country, one which didn't have an Ethno-Religious Agency, how would I have done it? I guess I did not study civics well enough; I do not know whether that is the job of a Consulate or of an Embassy. Or of some third party, which has a history of confiscating and losing some 12,000 passports of North-African immigrants.... [Revised: I heard 12,000 on the news; the linked article says 20,000.]

Back to what really happened. I brought all the requested documents and photos to my meeting with the shaliach. He was kind and professional, and gave me a rundown of information about things such as the Sal Klita and the ulpan, the one-way flight on El Al, a taxi ride to my destination (whatever that might be), and the like. He told me his objections to the shipping loan, which he expected to be cancelled any day (it was, as I understand it from the Merkaz HaKlita). One thing I remember him mentioning in particular was that if I lived across the city from where the ulpan was located, the state would pay for my transportation. He was about to retire in a few months, and was happy that my target date was within his regime, so that I could be added to his statistics.

I had a few hang-ups: I was about to make a pilot trip to Israel (first ever), so would be needing to have my passport with me for that. That could make it tough for his office to get my passport at the time needed to put a visa in it. And what's more, my passport was about to expire, since it dated from 1993. In retrospect, again, I wonder if I could have renewed the passport during my six weeks here, and obtained the visa then. Probably not.

At the opportune moment (after my pilot trip), I was visiting some friends in Washington, D.C. We were close to the neighbourhood with all the Embassies, and I had a bright idea: since time is of the essence, why not take my new passport to the Israeli Embassy for the visa? I called the shaliach's office, who told me that would do no good. They really needed for me to send it to Miami, so they could take it to the consulate there, and send it back to Atlanta.

They were efficient, though. I had the passport-cum-visa back in my hands a few days before the flight.

I had exactly three questions for the shaliach's office during the filing process:

  1. Could I import a firearm? I realised that obtaining a permit to carry one would be more difficult (yes, I know I do not live in the shta'him [settlements] at this moment, and that it would be easier to obtain one if I did) but since I was moving to Israel for good, with everything, would I at least be allowed to bring it into the country for storage?

  2. Could I import a motorcycle? Though not much of a biker, I had been without a car for a while and was borrowing a motorcycle from a friend. It was old and third-hand, although in excellent repair, and would take up much less room on a lift than a car. Perhaps I would buy it from him and bring it with me. Besides, there was little chance I could afford a car here.

  3. Could I use my Hebrew (rather than English) family name in the immigration? After all, all documents from this point on would be in Hebrew, not English, and so many immigrants had done so before. (Many Europeans did so, often just choosing a Hebrew name for their family, and all politicians are required to do so, as I understand the story.)

His answers were:
  1. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.

  2. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.

  3. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.


Obviously, all three questions needed to be answered before I got there, even if the first two were a bit bizarre. But they were not answered, leading to some measure of inconvenience. (And I dropped the motorcycle idea altogether.)

Regarding the ulpan, I have now discovered that there are some Olim moving directly into the dormitory facilities of the ulpan. Sure, they're paying, but it is much cheaper than typical apartment rent.

And even though the free ulpan credit lasts the first eighteen months of one's Aliyah, it should be stressed that the first six months is the best time to do it. I discovered the hard way that the Sal Klita runs out at six months, and that any continued payments after five months are based on weekly visits to the Lishkat HaAvodah [Bureau of Employment]. This is in conflict with the ulpan, but the Misrad HaKlitah [Ministry of Absorption] just chastises me for not going to ulpan in the first six months. At least the Lishkat HaAvodah does not chastise me for not finding a job, as they say I should not even bother until finishing ulpan.

No one told me about the option of living at the ulpan. And since it is better to do this at the beginning of one's aliyah, I think I should have been told about it while still in the U.S. Like, before I was frantically calling distant acquaintances, looking for a halfway house.

And you can forget about transportation across to the ulpan, if you are receiving Sal Klitah or unemployment money... Which you are, if you are studying at the ulpan when you are supposed to.

As a result of these experiences (which I am only skimming now, leaving out the real salient details), I am simply wondering: what exactly was I doing with the Sochnut?

But how else can it be done?
Pinḥas Ivri 18:12 | (0) comments |