Friday, December 31, 2004

Don't mind me
The truth is we really don't know what to do with the Gregorian New Year in this country. It is widely regarded with suspicion as a Christian religious holiday and is often confused with Christmas. It is called Sylvester here, apparently after the saint of the day, which is a bit off-putting seeing as rumor has it that he was even nastier to Jews than other people back then.

I have pointed out to friends on a number of occasions that no one calls it Sylvester in English speaking countries that I know of, well maybe very religous people do, and that although admittedly it isn't our calendar, most of us live by it, and not by the Jewish calendar. I've never celebrated it myself though.

Seeing as any religious meaning of this date is lost on us, besides symbolizing the start of some really bad times, it's difficult to get all worked up and excited about the change of a number, which for us is, at best, completely meaningless, and, if we think about it a little, can make us feel a bit squeamish.

All that is not to say that a lot of Israelis do not get swept up by celebrations, and that dealers in so-called recreational drugs don't have a field day in and around the Tel Aviv clubs, or so I've heard, but as far as most of the party-goers are concerned it’s just another 'Seeba le-Meseeba' (reason to party) with some hazy notion of trying to be like 'a normal country' (whatever that is).

So anyway, don't mind me. Now that I've finished putting my foot in it, I'll just say what I had been meaning to say from the start -

I hope you all have a great time in your New Year celebrations and may 2005 be a really good one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


It looks so beautiful, doesn't it? Who would know that it left so much death and destruction in its wake?

Thank you, Our Sis.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

#5 bus, lunchtime, a bus full of acne-challenged school-kids and crotchety pensioners.

Meryl, when you finally get here, I beseech you (Beseech?! Where do I get these words from?), do not, whatever you do, I repeat (and I cannot stress this enough), do not take the #5 bus in Tel Aviv at lunchtime. You’ll be out of here like a shot. I suggest you carry out your very welcome and much appreciated ceremonious bus-ride-in-Israel-for-peace-and-solidarity-with-the-Israeli-people, should you be planning to do so, at some other time of the day and on another other bus line.

Surrounded by three strapping seventeen-year-old boys (or should I say men?) talking endlessly about which examinations they had failed for which elite army units and why, it was I, thirty-nine-year-old mother of one teenager and one pre-teen, who was singled out for a severe prodding in the back from one of the crotchety pensioners for not vacating my hard-fought-for-seat to another crotchety pensioner standing in the aisle.

Not that it was right of me to have not shot out of my seat at the first sighting, from the corner of my eye, of the said standing crotchety pensioner, although I confess I was daydreaming and truly didn’t notice her, but ever since I spent two pregnancies riding Tel Aviv buses, right up till a very fat, heavy, tired, and, yes, crotchety stage of both pregnancies, without once having anyone get up and offer me their seat, I have sadly lost my manners.

On second thoughts: I have suddenly realized that the prodder was paying me a compliment. He obviously couldn’t tell me apart from the kids. How nice. I take it all back. Meryl, ride the bus!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Much of my life has been a continuing struggle to try to grasp the Holocaust. Particular moments in time and certain events have been turning points in the gradual development of my understanding of the horror. I'm not sure why, but one of these events was back when I first heard that Serbs in Croatia were being given ten minutes to pack up and get out.

Colours in Black&White is a moving story about being both Serb and Croat.
And then, every so often, lest we forget, Nature, God, call it what you will, sends us a reminder.

An earthquake guy on Israeli radio station Reshet Bet commented that yesterday's earthquake created the energy of a hundred thousand Hiroshimas.

Makes you think.

Afterthought: The death toll rises and rises. So horrifying.

Some of the places hit worst are high on the list of both Israeli backpackers' and regular tourists' favorites. Around a hundred Israelis haven't checked in yet to say they are okay. At this point, we can only pray that it's just that communications are down, and not worse.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A very Merry Christmas to all Christians, everywhere.

Today we had lunch in a little restaurant in Yaffo. There was a christmas tree there, all decorated with balls and things, and colorful fairy lights going on and off. It was nice. There was an ice cream and Sahlab store next door, and they had a tree too.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

So much to say and so little inclination to say it.
I am not a very sociable person at the best of times, and at the moment, it appears, even less than usual. Blogging, a sort of sociable endeavor, even without a comment option, seems daunting, when the preferred pastime is lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Alisa sent me this intriguing essay a week or so ago. I read it in the Dead Sea. You should read it also. It brings up some very interesting points about the media. I have quite a lot to say about it, but I can't be bothered. I'll just say that: a. It's far too early, in my view, to write off the nation state. b. I think ordinary people are finally on to the mass media and their power over us could possibly actually be beginning to decline, otherwise how can you explain George W. Bush winning the elections in the US, and, even more inexplicable, Arik Sharon's continuing popularity in Israel?

In an attempt to blog while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I've availed myself of Bish's old laptop, and I'm actually lying in bed as I write this. I'm also listening to a very nice children's program on Galei Tzahal radio station. I bet you didn't know that Galei Tzahal had a children's program on Shabbat mornings. Neither did I. Between 8 and 9.

It is not to be confused with the popular 'Makhela Aleeza' ('Merry Choir') of childhood memories (if you are very old, like me). That was on Kol Yisrael, of course, also on Shabbat mornings. I only discovered this program because someone I know was interviewed on it.

Yesterday I made chicken soup for the girls. I haven't done that since Bish and I became vegetarian about eight years ago. So I haven't forgotten how to do it, which is nice to know. Youngest said it was very tasty. Eldest had to rush out to meet friends. "Just a little bowl of chicken soup, before you go," I tried, but she was gone.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Putting Hannuka to good use (?)
Both my daughters have spent a large part of the Hannuka vacation studying!

Eldest has an exam on Thursday in which her knowledge on various 'Heritage' subjects will be checked. Heritage (Moreshet) is a silly name for Zionism, Judaism and Democracy studies, introduced in recent years because of apparent student ignorance on these subjects. Eldest has to learn 43 concepts for this exam. Not that there was any chance of her thinking Herzl was ever prime minister of Israel, but she's so conscientious, she's been in her room cramming away all week.

If she didn't have Mum's exact smile, I'd be sure they'd swapped her in the maternity ward. Neither Bish nor I were ever so studious - Bish because he was far too clever to ever need to cram, and me because I was far too lazy.

Youngest finally finished an overdue project on asteroids, only to move on to building a model of Jericho just before the walls came tumbling down.

[I know you don't believe a word of this. I wouldn't either if I were you, but it's true.]

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Once upon a time, Friday and Saturdays after lunch in the summer were spent in the 'Closed Beach' in Haifa. 'Closed' because you had to pay to get in. We were lucky enough to have a season ticket, and a cabin. After a few years on the waiting list we even managed to get a cabin with a shower.

They were a bit tatty, the cabins, crumbling green plaster, definitely no frills, but not cheap I seem to remember, although I've no idea how much it cost my parents.

The cabin was extremely useful for storing chairs, sunshade, and a bottle of neft and a hard bush for scrubbing your feet to get the tar off. (Whatever happened to all that tar?)

My parents used to meet all their gang. I used to wander off by myself and only come back when it started to get dark.

I used to spend the whole afternoon, bopping up and down on the waves, or climbing over the rocks looking for crabs and other little creatures. Occasionally I would go over to the big swimming pool over on the other side of the beach. I would go on my own, but I wouldn't be on my own for long.

I was always wooed by a little girl of around my age who would decide we were friends. She always had long dark hair, a dark thin body, and the same faded check swimsuit, blue or green or pink. All the little girls had the same swimsuit.

What made me so exotic, so desirable as swimming pool friend of the moment, was the inescapable fact that I had a different swimsuit.

So here I am this Hannuka weekend, sitting with my family at breakfast in a very nice hotel in the Dead Sea, surrounded by other Israeli middle class families. My stay at the hotel is heavily subsidized by my workplace, otherwise we wouldn't be there. I believe this is the case for many of the families around me. And I am thinking that this is lovely, and that thirty years ago things were so very different. Gone are those awful uniform swimsuits. The standard of living of ordinary Israelis has come a long way since those days.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Well, we came home and I had lots to say. But then I discovered they were showing the first three episodes of the Beeb's excellent Pride and Prejudice (which I must have seen at least five times) on TV, and that was that.

So I will have to share my pleasure at watching other Israeli families eating breakfast in an Israeli hotel, some other time.

Oh, and I have more observations on the Zombified issue. This will also have to wait. You see, the thing that happens when I start watching P & P yet again, is that I always have to dig up my very tattered copy of the book (I bought it second hand about twenty years ago and it has had plenty of use since) and read it all over again.

And that's what I'm going to do right now.
Vote Meryl
So I tend to be with Laurence Simon on the Blog Awards thing (although I don't feel as fiercely about it), and not just because I don't stand a chance (you can go and vote for Allison or Dave or me here, and by the way, thank you so much for nominating me, Segacs, even though I've been so lazy lately), but because blogging is one big popularity test from beginning to end anyway, so what do we need blog awards for?

That said the person I would most like to get a blog award is Meryl Yourish. And not just because she's one of my very very favorites, my first stop every day, and not just because I may get a much coveted right-side-bar-link, but mainly because I break out in a cold sweat every time I think that she could finally visit Israel AND HATE IT!

I reckon that maybe if I shmooz her up enough before she gets around to coming, she won't notice the people cutting her in the queue, or the cab driver ripping her off, or people talking to her in Hebrew all the time (just kidding, I know she'll get a kick out of that one), or whatever particularly offensive unpleasantness she may happen to encounter here.

Go vote for her.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

We're off to the Dead Sea as promised. Back Saturday night. Don't come for Spaghetti tomorrow, R.T.
I think this morning's latkes were the best ever.
Here is Mum's basic recipe:
Grate four big potatoes. Let drain.
Mix two eggs, four tablespoons self-raising flour or four tablespoons plain flour and one teaspoon baking powder, salt and pepper.
Heat oil. Get Youngest to make the latkes. Fry till golden.

Here's what I added this morning, all grated:
One onion
One zucchini
One Jerusalem artichoke
A bunch of parsley
Two more eggs
More flour.

As I said, the best ever.
Loving the wrinkles
A reader comments:

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the word "zombified." And I do appreciate the fact that you had not one but two afterthoughts. Nevertheless I think that the word expressed something you really feel. And I'm sorry but I just have to disagree.

Don't judge the Jews by the Holocaust. The Jews of pre-war Europe were a pretty vibrant group. Didn't they think up Zionism? As well as anti-Zionism, and a bunch of other movements.

I totally agree.

He said something about drying the swamps causing ecological problems, as well. I agree with that too. Drying the swamps is this crazy Zionist symbol that people say with half a wink these days. Still it did help in combatting malaria and making the country inhabitable. The big big mistake was drying the Hula Lake. Anyway

Law number one for reading Not a Fish: Always remember that tomorrow I will probably say the direct opposite of what I have said today with much the same conviction.

Law number two for reading Not a Fish: Don't take me too seriously. I don't.

I don't think we should get stuck in ideas. In an argument, fr'instance, most people could (and should) probably argue vehemently for both sides. On this blog I usually make the case for Israel, but in other places, where it is called for, where it is lacking, or in different points in time, I could just as easily be making the case for the Palestinians (They kind of lost me, at some point, when I realized that their leadership was still out to get me in a big way, contrary to public declarations, but I'm still extremely sad that the ordinary people are paying such a high price as a result).

* * * *

I have always tried to steer clear from the subject of Hebrew because it is a divisive one: Israeli Jews speak Hebrew; Disapora Jews, on the whole, do not. But Hebrew is there, it plays a big part in Israeli culture, and ignoring that fact or belittling it won't change it. Actually, this even stresses my point. Israel is not just a place where a large number of Jews live together (That's New York).

Although Israel is very Jewish in spirit, its Jewishness is only part of the picture. Israel is home to a people called The Israelis, a large percentage of whom are Jews.

* * * *

When I started writing yesterday's post about Hebrew, I was thinking about a non-Zionist Jewish friend, who, last time I met him a few years ago, was embarking on a journey to reconnect with his roots. His roots were not Judaism, he said, but, as a Polish-born Jew who fled the Nazis to near-starvation in Siberia, and from there proceeded to Canada, he talked of something elusive that he called Yiddishkeit. This struck a nostalgic chord deep inside me and sent me running, along with a lot of other Israelis, I found, to study Yiddish and immerse myself in Yiddishkeit, and books about Polish Jewry. It was lovely, and warm, and sad, in a way - a path full of insights.

Yesterday's post was a rebellion, as was Zionism itself in its early days, against Yiddishkeit. It's lovely to bathe in the rich waters of nostalgia, and it has its place, but life is here and now. (Even my writing in English is a form of escapism).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Happy second candle of Hannuka
Baruch boa'cha habayta, Azzam Azzam. Hikeenoo lecha*.

The bit I liked best about that Julie Burchill article was her reaction to the fact that they spoke to her in Hebrew on the plane.

Some people just have to be negative and so, of course, she was presented with the explanation that no one expects non-Israeli tourists to come to Israel anymore. Well, yes, but I can think of more reasons. One is that Israeli society is so diverse these days that even if you are a blonde Slavic beauty with high cheekbones, or a black African goddess with long plaits, colorful beads all the way down your back, and ethnic tattoos on you neck, you could still be just as likely to be fluent in Hebrew.

People will speak to you in Hebrew on an Israeli plane, on an Israeli street, in an Israeli queue to buy Israeli tickets in an Israeli cinema (to see an American film), because Hebrew is the language Israelis speak. This is what Burchill was experiencing on that El Al plane.

None of my friends read anything I write because all my friends are Hebrew speakers. I have a good friend who I would really like to share this story with. I think she would be highly amused by it. She knows all the characters. But I can't share it with her because her English isn't good enough, dammit. And Our Sis sends me all these great jokes by e-mail all the time, but I have to translate them all into Hebrew in order to forward them. This is very time consuming. Is it any wonder I've stopped blogging regularly?

People who think Israel is some temporary colonial experiment are missing a powerful point. There are about five and a half million of us Hebrew speaking Israelis round here. For the large majority of us (present company excluded), Hebrew is our mother tongue, and a large percentage of us can't communicate very well in ANY OTHER LANGUAGE! Hebrew is our whole world.

Why should Julie Burchill find that so surprising (even in a good way)?

Maybe people who speak widely spoken languages, like English, French, Russian, think languages spoken by just a few million people are superfluous. They could be right, but what they think doesn't really interest most Israelis. Hebrew is the language they dream in. And it doesn't interest them either that Hebrew was a dead language for thousands of years, used only for prayer and study, up till about a hundred or so years ago. It's alive and kicking now. And how.

And guess what? We get to be the favored few who can read THE biggest bestseller of all times as it originally appeared.

You may have read the Bible. You may have been reading it all your life. You may know large parts of it by heart. But, hey, it's like Shakespeare - you've never really read it until you've read the original (I've read Shakespeare in Hebrew. Believe me, it's not the same). The Bible is rich and witty and wise and many faceted in ways you cannot even begin to grasp, if all you're getting is a translation of a translation. And I say that without being such a Bible scholar, just from a taste here and there. What must the real experts be experiencing? The mind boggles.

And that's because Hebrew is this great language. Hey, I'd be learning Hebrew just to read Yehuda Amichai's poems if I were you.

The resuscitation of the Hebrew language IS the essence of Zionism, one of its greatest achievements, if not the very greatest. We brought a dead language to life. We rejuvenated a zombified group of people. We dried the swamps. We won the wars. And here we are. Not a colonial experiment. Not a foreign element in someone else's land.

Us. Here. Now. Speaking Hebrew.


* = Welcome home, Azzam Azzam. We've been waiting for you.

Afterthought: By zombified I didn't mean to knock the present day Jewish Diaspora. I believe the present day Jewish Diaspora doesn't resemble the Jewish Diaspora of the days before the State of Israel existed. I believe the State of Israel rejuvenated the Jewish Diaspora as well as its own inhabitants, Jewish and non-Jewish (and vice versa), in more ways than one.

Afterthought afterthought: So maybe zombified wasn't a very successful description even of pre-State of Israel Jewish Diaspora.

Okay, I confess. I liked the word and I wanted to use it. So launch a Kassam Rocket at me.

Afterthought afterthought afterthought:I was going to say 'So blow me up on a bus', but I thought that would be even more tasteless than 'zombified'.

This is the point where I know it's way past my bedtime.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Happy first candle of Hannuka!

Monday, December 06, 2004

New hope. Definitely. It is in the air. Now that the locusts have gone.

By the way, I notice the scaremongering newspapers have had nothing nice to say about the Ministry of Agriculture's apparent success in combatting the locust. And if that's not the case, where ARE they? They should be chewing up our humble city garden in Tel Aviv by now.
Hannuka used to be just Hannuka. Not that there is anything wrong with Hannuka, it's only my favorite festival, me being a closet pyromaniac and all. But now Hannuka is also Mum's festival, and always will be.

I'd decided not to write anything about Mum this year, to give her memory the silent treatment, as it were, but in a good way, like a meditative thing. I've written enough, I reckoned.

Still, words written or not, our relationship continues to evolve, Mum's and mine. During the year, I put all her photos away. I decided we both needed a rest. Or have I been hiding? The fact remains that often I miss her just as much, maybe more, and the memory of her passing is just as sharp and painful as right after it happened.

So I don't think about it. Only I see her when I look in the mirror. I hear her in my voice when I speak. And most of all, I see her in Eldest. I see the very best of her in Eldest. And then I know how fortunate I am.

There, I've written, and I didn't mean to.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Oh dear. Weblog Awards time again. I don't think I can take it. Well, luckily some Iraqi is winning so I won't have to get all stressed out this year. I'll just sum up that none of us Israelis will win because The Whole World is against us, and because of anti-Semitism, and Global Warming, and swarms of locust, yada yada yada.

(It's either the meditation or the orange-y liquid on the rocks in the nightclub, something hasn't worn off)

Talking about locust, I saw about five. They flew at the car windscreen on the Arava road. Very disappointing.
Well, you can't imagine two more different holidays just three days apart!

On Saturday I was on my knees in the meditation hall in a kibbutz up north, contemplating my breath, the rain, anger, and seeing things positively. The teacher was wonderful - an Israeli Buddhist monk, fresh out of the monastery in the South of France. I'll tell you more about him some other time.

I was completely silent for two and a half days, so much so that when my room mates rebelled and proceeded to hold a happy-go-lucky pajama party, complete with Tarot cards and stories about trips to India, I said not a word. I didn't even get annoyed. I just rolled up my duvet cover and slipped out. I bravely forged my way in the rain and the wind, to sleep in the nice warm, and, mainly, silent meditation hall. Nothing could disturb my peace.

And then, on Tuesday night I was I was hopping up and down, stomach full of bad beer, on a cruise on the Red Sea, along with similarly intoxicated coworkers, to the latest Mizrahi pop songs.

We were celebrating a big important project that had come to a successful conclusion just a few days before. It was as rowdy and out of control as the previous holiday had been quiet and calm (well, except for the rebels in my room).

The next night we all went to a local nightclub. I'd never been to a nightclub before. Well, besides once, in the late eighties, when a friend organized an African evening in a club in Tel Aviv, long before it was fashionable, and invited us. I think there were about three people there besides us.

The Eilat nightclub could have been quite the anthropological event had I not been completely sloshed. I could have written a thesis on the toilets alone. For one thing, the cubicles were big enough to have orgies in them, but there was a guard on the entrance. There have been a few rape cases lately, so club owners aren't taking any chances, apparently. The cubicles didn't lock and they soon became absolutely filthy, not very inviting for any hanky panky. Oh and the lights in there were so bright you could hardly see, especially coming from the darkened dance floor.

I'm not sure what it was I was drinking but it was much smoother than the beer on the boat, and far more lethal. At three in the morning, my faithful designated driver decided I was getting far too pally with two guys young enough to be… well never mind, grabbed me off the dance floor, hauled me out, stuffed me in a car, and took me safely back to my room. Oh well. No one lets me have any fun (I may have imagined all this. I'll know for sure when I see the photos).

I came home with a terrible cold. I think my body couldn't take the shock of three days of meditation followed by three days of partying in one week.

Next weekend I'm off to the Dead Sea with Bish and the girls for Hannuka.

I do work sometimes. Honest.

Update: I can't really believe I wrote the above, or that I actually published it. What must you be thinking? (I know what Bish is thinking, because he told me. But then, Bish knows me a bit better than you lot do)
It has happened!
Azzam Azzam is free at last!

I'm so happy and relieved. Azzam Azzam is an Israeli who was convicted in Egypt of spying for Israel. Israel has been adamant that he is innocent. Today, after eight years in an Egyptian prison, he was swapped for those six nutty Egyptian students arrested a few months ago for crossiing the border, planning to rob a bank and steal a tank.

(I knew it would take a momentous event to get me back to blogging. I've been completely stuck. Well, I'm so glad it is this event that has finally jumpstarted me)

Update: More about this.