Monthly Archives: May 2011

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming to Israel

I’m not normally into pithy list-based blog posts but today I am making an exception. There are less than two weeks before I leave Israel and I still have a ton of school work to do. So in the interest of procrastination I give you the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming to Israel.

1. It is possible to become bored with Hummus… And all mediterranean food.

Tuna and Egg Sandwich on Kosher for Passover Bread (read: edible styrofoam)

I found my culinary experiences in Israel quite lacking. Yes, being here turned me on to a variety of ingredients I wouldn’t otherwise have learned to cook. And, yes, the food here is good (most of the time). But…

I have gotten bored with pita and hummus. There is only some many months one can live on pita and hummus before they lose their charm.

And I swear to god if I see another olive — someone’s eye will be replaced with it!

Israeli sandwiches are gross. I still do not believe that hard-boiled egg and tuna salad are a valid sandwich combination (Sorry Adi!)

Also, cucumbers. The winner of the Most Wasted Veggie Award. I hate you because you lure me in with your sweet siren song of, “I’m cheeeeaaaappp!!”.How do I cook with you? You aren’t a cookable vegetable. You are only good cold and in salads. And you go bad to fast.

2. I would become racist.. against everybody.

I have learned an equal opportunity dislike toward everyone: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arab-Israelis, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Jewish-Israelis, orthodox people, Ethiopians, Yemenites, Russians, Americans, Druze people, Arabs, Europeans, etc.

(I think there might be something in the water here.)

To expand on one group particularly close to my heart. There is nothing like leaving the United States to make me realize what a unlikeable bunch Americans can be.

We feel more comfortable traveling en mass. We are loud as hell and can be incredibly disrespectful towards local customs and people. We perpetuate the stereotype  of the drunk, slutty American woman. I know that I am an offender of all of the above at one point or another, however, I try to at least recognize when I have made a mistake. Sometimes, I suspect my introspective qualities might be more the exception than the rule.

3. How beautiful this place is.

Beautiful Eretz Israel on a cloudy day.

Israel is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I have never lived in a place where the sky was so blue or where the top of every hill offered a beautiful view. Even the Negev Desert, the most barren wasteland I’ve ever seen, has its own stark beauty. No one told me how beautiful it would be here. The Mediterranean is gorgeous. Even when it rains it is beautiful.

I was totally prepared for a dry and dusty desert. Basically, Fresno, CA with and abundance of camels and a dearth of Mexican food. What I got were rolling hills, lush greenery, wildflowers, and sandy beaches!

4. More people die in car accidents than terrorist attacks.

Even at the height of the Second Intifada this was true. (I have a reference for this… Just to lazy to link to it. If you want it, email me.)

Israeli drivers drive stupid fast and believe the lane lines are just for decoration. Throw in bus drivers with something to prove, general Israeli bravado, and you have a recipe for death with a side of road rash.

I thought India was bad but I think this might be worse. Israeli driving is deceiving because, unless you look closely, it looks like American driving. People stop at stop lights, avoid flattening pedestrians, and follow basic right of way rules. Then you get in a car or a bus with an Israeli driver and begin to reconsider all of your life decisions.

One quickly learns the skill of sizing bus drivers up and rating the likelihood that their driving will result in death or serious injury.

5. I’m jealous of Jewish people.

This country is very hard to live in if you are not Jewish. I feel like most Israelis are warmer and more open with Jewish students than they are with non-Jewish students.

When meeting a new Israeli the conversation will inevitably turn towards religion. This is always my least favorite part of the conversation because it can completely change or derail it. One of the parties (Normally, me. Because I want to rip the band-aid off fast.) with ask the other, “So, are you Jewish?”

“Yea, I am. What about you?” they ask.

“No, I’m Christian,” I say, waiting for the Inevitable Shoe to Drop.

“Oh. That is good. I guess.” they say as I watch the Welcome-Sister-From-Another-Country expression in their eyes fade. From here the conversation will turn to the usual questions, Why are you here? How do you like it? And the conversation is essentially killed.

One is assumed Jewish until proven otherwise. When one is Jewish, people will speak to you with a little added bit of warmth, they will invite you to Shabbat dinner, they will find out who your relatives in Israel are, they will tell you the best places to visit in Israel. When when is not Jewish, people relegate you to the category of amicable stranger. They are polite but there is always a distance. The easy amiability is lost.

It sucks watching Americans with a different religion get a warm reception, while I am pushed to the sidelines.

At least the cats don't care I'm not Jewish.

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Independence Celebration

The day after Israel’s Memorial day is Independence Day. The transition from sad to happy is fast. The traffic stops this time for street festivals. The sounds of air raid sirens are replaced with fireworks. People in Israel know how fragile life is and Independence Day celebrations are an effort to make the best of every moment.

Jordann and Jackie

Independence Day 1

Independence Day 2

Hannah 1

Hannah 2

Ind Day 3

Ind Day 4

Ind Day 5

Ind Day 6

Me, Jackie, Hannah

Independence Celebration, a set on Flickr.


The Bloody Cost

The most eerie part of living in Israel is knowing that every square foot of this land is drenched in blood. Everywhere you look there are reminders of this. On one of the main roads to the university, there is a monument to 17 people who lost their lives in a suicide bombing during the Second Intifada. Occasionally, one finds plaques and signs memorializing soldiers who died in combat. These reminders are everywhere, one need only recognize them.

Perhaps the most acute reminder of the human cost of war is Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaZikaron). This year it was on May 9. Yom HaZikaron is the one day a year that the entire country stops for at least a few moments in remembrance of soldiers who sacrificed their lives. Every year on this day at a certain time the air raid siren is sounded everywhere in the country. This is the signal for everyone to pause what they are doing in honor of the dead.

If you have never heard one before, an air raid siren is the most unearthly sound I have ever heard. When one hears that siren, one knows that it means one of two things: death or destruction. I guess it is fitting then to use the siren to memorialize the toll of independence.

The flag of Israel at half mast during a Memorial Day ceremony.


Flag at Half-Mast

Flag at Half-Mast by EKerrCarpenter
Flag at Half-Mast, a photo by EKerrCarpenter on Flickr.

The flag of Israel at half mast during a ceremony for Memorial Day


Dear America: An Open Letter

Dear America,

Congratulations on the killing of your archenemy Osama bin Laden. You must feel really great. After all, it has been 10 years long years since the Twin Towers came down and 3000 Americans lost their lives. Everyone remembers how surreal that day was. That was the only time in my school career that my parents let me eat breakfast in front of the television. It was the first time in my young life that I felt a deep sense of insecurity and fear. No one knew what tomorrow would bring. Not even the people who were supposed to know. In the days that followed the dust began to clear. The reordering of things began and an epic witch hunt began.

Ten years later, we can finally put the ghosts of 9/11 to rest.

But…

How can you celebrate the death of a man responsible for killing 3000 Americans when your revenge cost 6000 American lives? Not to mention the ruination of untold lives of civilians in the path of your wrath creating soil rich for the planting seeds of hate and extremism.

Somewhere in his special corner of hell, bin Laden is laughing. His masterful plan of death, destruction and insanity evolved to something far more destructive than he could have imagined. He may be dead but we have to live with the consequences of our actions.

Sincerely,

Emma


The Holocaust in Israel

Yesterday, was a national holiday here in Israel: Holocaust Remembrance day. There is a national time of silence at 10am where everything in the country stops and people stand still to commemorate those lost in the Shoah. It was eery experiencing the act of an entire country stopping for one minute. The only silence deeper than that of an entire country taking a collective breath, is that of death.

___________

"The Stones Weep" by artist Miriam Brysk

This year, I was in Jerusalem for Easter. I decided to make that the day that I would go to the Israeli museum devoted to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem. Normally, I go out of my way to avoid all things related to the  Holocaust but I felt that this museum was important for my understanding of Israel.

I went into my experience in Yad Vashem with memories of the Washington DC Holocaust Museum. The DC museum is an architectural work of art. It is beautifully designed and inspired the redesign of Yad Vashem 5 years ago.

The content, however, is a different story. The Holocaust is depressing and there is no way around it. But there are ways of presenting the narrative that end with a measured amount of optimism and hope that humanity has learned something. The museum in DC does not do this. In fact, one of the last rooms you into in that museum describes genocides and ethnic cleansing that have happened since (Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, etc.).

Also, it is worth begging the question: why is there a Holocaust Museum in the capital of the United States? The answer lays in America’s powerful Jewish lobbies vested interest in perpetuating the narrative of Jewish victimhood. Their interest is in keeping the attention and thoughts on what will happen to Israel should America withdraw its support.

Yad Vashem’s purpose is different. It has a three-pronged purpose. The first, is to research the victims and keep their memories and stories by collecting interviews with survivors, documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.), memoirs, photographs, and personal items belonging to victims (clothes, toys, etc.). The archive of Holocaust items in Yad Vashem is the largest and most thorough one of its kind in the world.

The second purpose, is to tell the story of the Holocaust and its victims. They do this through the Museum. The narrative presented is surprisingly balanced and detailed. As one walks through the exhibits there is special care to explain how ordinary people are swept up by extraordinary events. As I walked through the museum I found myself wondering if it had been me in Nazi Germany what would I have done? Like most people, I would like to hope that I would have fought in the resistance or helped hide a Jewish family but who knows? The propaganda of the time was so insidious and Hitler was so charismatic.

Yad Vashem’s final purpose is trying to interpret the impact and cultural significance of the Holocaust while it happened and since it ended. The museum has a huge collection of art and literature having to do with that time. While I was there, there was an exhibit of art from the ghettos.

As the people who were alive during WWII pass on, I feel that this is the most important thing that Yad Vashem does. As the years go by the legacy of the Shoah will be less asking how it happened and more how do we interpret it.