Changing and staying the same.

I came across an old article written up for the Jewish Press, for which I was interviewed. It ran 9 months after I made aliyah, and reading it just now freaks me out a bit.

Why? I supposed because of the time that has passed, what has happened since that article was published, and also because so much has changed – and stayed the same. For instance:

Like many other olim, Elisheva came without her family or friends and she never realized how important they were to her and how much she would miss them.

That is not only still true, but grows worse with time.

Elisheva has a strong Zionist ideology. She believes that whoever can, must come live in Israel. She does not accept what she considers petty excuses and she thinks that it is every Jew’s responsibility to come to support the one place that is ours.

Ha. Not still true. I guess you could say I’ve become more realistic in my thinking.

Her decision to come on aliyah was finalized after five years of activism…

Is it weird how I’ve totally forgotten that part of my life? As if it was a distant dream?

Some days she feels challenged, but most days the decision to come makes all the sense in the world.

Flip that around now, so it reads like this: Some days the decision to come makes all the sense in the world, but most days she feels challenged.

She believes that an oleh needs creativity, open-mindedness and patience if he or she is serious about making it in Israel.

I pretty sure I will always believe that, no matter what I go through.

The Rich Little American game.

Sometimes I long to play the Rich Little American game.

Basically, it’s a game that plays on the fact that I can pass for a tourist with loads of money to spend and respect to demand. I can go on a weekend holiday somewhere in Israel, give my passport number, pay in dollars and get treated better.

I can play on the stereotypes allotted to my American half of self, despite ever actually having been a Rich Little American before I got here. In New York, I never could have pulled this off. But here, I can hide, for just a moment, behind my thick Anglo accent, my cheery, optimistic disposition, my politeness.

I do get some sort of sick pleasure out of it. It’s more than a weekend holiday at that point, it’s a vacation from my life. From being an olah chadasha who does need to pay the bills off an Israeli salary, who daily struggles to speak eloquently, working to be accepted.

The problem with the whole thing is… to actually play, you have to have the money. So I rarely get to partake in the game. But the rare times that I do… Well, that’s a real vacation.

Israeli ping pong.

It’s amazing how quickly intolerance, distrust and disgust ping pong in this complicated Israeli society. I find myself going back and forth between seething at the secular and religious; at least it’s equal, right?

Example #1

Last Friday I bought a copy of Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper with a left-secular orientation. On the front page was a short article, translated from Hebrew, written in a free-flow style, detailing the author’s experience at the Biblical Zoo last week. The scene included a heavy representation of charedi visitors, as school is out. The article, undeserving of the front page to be sure (news is never slow here), is written with an air of absolute disgust, disrespect and misunderstanding of charedis. An excerpt:

“At the sight of a monkey swinging from a branch, did it occur to them that the animals locked in their cages are ten times freer than they, who are squeezed tight by their black caftans and the burden of a large family? See the papa bear who has decided to take a dip in the water basin… He doesn’t have to say any prayer.”

Burden of a large family? Doesn’t have to say prayer? Why can’t this writer respect the fact that these people, for the most part, have chosen their path? There are plenty who leave, and plenty who are stuck, but the bottom line is, it’s a value to contribute more Jewish children to the world. It’s a value to pray, to show appreciation for what has been given.

I was repulsed by the article and the lack of any attempt to seek dignity or reason behind this population so misunderstood by the secular Haaretz editorial team. The article gets worse from a journalistic point of view, but this isn’t about crappy Israeli journalism.

The editors know their audience is not the type to be in contact with charedim often, and certainly not in a positive light; why not seek to create a bridge of understanding? Where are those secular values of open-mindedness, empathy, understanding? What about education, so built on, so emphasized in the ‘enlightened’ secular world? Why aren’t you educating yourselves on what these ‘other’ people are really about?

I could only think of my own charedi brothers-in-law, who are smart fellows – who are amazing fathers to their kids – and consider education, including the worldly, with the highest respect. I’d be embarrassed for them to read that crap.

Example #2

I cannot shake off the behavior I witness at times – and more specifically this week – on the sherut on the way home from Bar Ilan. The sheruts come from Bnei Brak, and are usually nearly full of charedi men and women by the time they get to me. Because the women and men refuse to sit next to the opposite sex, you kind of have to maneuver a situation where you’ll get a seat and not be kicked out for lack of gender-friendly seats.

This week I, clad in jeans and very very short sleeves, alighted the sherut and very quickly was faced with cries of, “No, no! There are only empty seats next to men! You can’t come!” These were actually loud, obnoxious voices as opposed to polite pleading – and spoken by the women, at that.

Either way, I ignored them and scanned the van to see where I could maneuver someone to allow for a seat. Before I got that far, a secular-looking guy in the front got up and told me to take his seat; somehow he had been sitting next to a charedi woman. I thanked him and sat as the women beside and behind me offered only dirty looks.

Something I never ever will understand about a large sector of the charedi community is why they don’t look at every opportunity as a chance for kiruv. Instead of steeping me (and, incidentally, the writers of Haaretz) deeper and deeper into a mode of hatred, why not try and embrace me, warm me up, make me feel comfortable? Of course – don’t invite me to your homes; I wouldn’t want your children exposed to my upper arms and foul mouth either. But in these small, every-day instances, where you have this chance, for just a minute at a time – why not make the best of it?

Conclusion

I really do expect more from the religious because the philosophy demands more. But I also expect more from the liberal-secular community, as people who pride themselves on open-mindedness, enlightenment, understanding.

There are good and bad people on both sides of the equation, and it’s long time for both to step up to the plate. You don’t have to be a corrupt Israeli construction company to build bridges in this place, but you do have to be excellent at ping pong if you’re going to survive without bridges.

Nu, how much money?

Mazal tov! Here is a genius website I have to share, for Israeli celebration-goers in doubt of how much of a gift to give (Hebrew-only): KamaKesef?

My favorite part is that the ‘submit’ button says, “Nu, kama kesef?’

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Zara gets classy at Malkha Mall.

As zealous Malkha shoppers may know, Zara shut down a few months ago for renovations. The trendy, classy, expensive store has reopened, even trendier and more expensive than before. And with its new store come new store windows, decked out with the classiest mannequins.

And I mean, classy mannequins:
So classy. So very, very classy; wait – did you catch what the respectable gentleman holds in his classy hand?
Indeed, the fine mannequins of Zara read the Jerusalem Post.

A view of yet another Israeli first.

I love going to the eye doctor. Is that weird?

I just love the clicking sound the lenses make when your face is in that huge thing and you have to say which was clearer, one? Or two? One? Or two? This one? Or this one?

Today I went to pick out new glasses and get my eyes checked since it’s been a while and my parnasa involves staring at a computer screen for 8+ hours straight.

First of all, Israel is really into buy-one-get-one-free deals when it comes to glasses (actually, when it comes to anything). So here I am, trying to pick out not one, but two pairs of glasses. And if you know me, I’m real picky about glasses; one out of two times, I screw up and get stuck with a pair I hate (Well, since I’m getting two here, I guess the numbers are in my favor).

Secondly – damn was I disappointed when the doctor didn’t use the big face-seeing thing and instead put this third-world glasses-device on my face to check my vision! No clicking sound. Just… awkward glasses-device.
Finally: We had been wondering if I’ll look at rows of aleph-bet or numbers or pictures or what, since we were pretty sure it wouldn’t be giant E’s. My husband guessed it would be numbers, since there are so many immigrants here. Numbers are universal and the first thing you learn in Hebrew is numbers. Clever guess, and he was right.

“Shesh. Shalosh. Neera li… tesha?”

It’s really something else having to keep up with all the instructions in Hebrew. I assumed based on what I know of years of eye-doctoring and I just hope I don’t get stuck with glasses made for someone far sighted or legally blind (though I’m close enough).

“Shmone. Shtayim o mashahu. Arba. Mashahu.”

I did that a lot – “Mashahu.” That’s not a number, folks. That’s crappy vision, in any language.

Simchat Torah come early… in Katamonim.

Katamonim never ceases to surprise or amaze.

Tonight – despite a major Beitar game just a few kilometers away – my neighbors celebrated the reopening of a beit knesset the only way it knows how: Music, lights, dancing, bullhorn, clapping and a whole lot of M’pei El…

The party started at the beginning of our one way street, with one police van in front of the crowd and one in back; it seemed fitting, considering these cops were probably also our neighbors.

The music filled our apartment and when heard the obligational bullhorn, we knew it was time to perch ourselves at the window.

“COME OUT EVERYBODY! IN HONOUR OF THE TORAH! (And maybe you have to live here to appreciate the funny in this) COME OUT TO YOUR WINDOWS, YOUR MIRPESOT!”

We turned to one guy and asked him which synangogue the Torahs were going to, considering there are about 14 on our block alone. He just shrugged and said, what’s the difference?

Here’s how it started:

Here’s how it climaxed:

There you have it: The fabulous neighborhood of Katamonim: live, to theme music.

The truth about milk and honey.

Fear not; I will be the first to admit my last post was utter and total crap. Milk and honey? It sounded nice but I don’t feel it.

Here’s the truth: Israel has made me a crappy Jew and an even crappier Zionist.

I don’t really have those initial oleh-chadash-feel-good-moments anymore. I don’t even miss them. Instead, I’ll be riding a bus, watching an oleh-chadash hippie hopeful walking out of Misrad HaPnim and I’ll get annoyed. I’ll be in a taxi and the driver hears my accent and he tries to overcharge me. I peer over at Arabs standing next to me in a Talpiot store and I’ll think about how much they probably hate me.

I’d like to write about it more, to explain ‘the truth’ above, but now is not the time. I just wanted to get that off my chest.