15 October 2006

15 October 2006

Even though I prefaced this whole keeping-a-blog-venture by promising I wouldn't harp on more superficial differences between Israel and the States, I have to share just one.
At the end of Sukkot is another holiday that gets lumped into the former. I won't go into its significance or what happens on it, except to add that one of the additions that are added to daily prayers are two lines, praising God who "makes the wind blow and the rain fall" and asking to "give dew and rain for a blessing." Regardless of where on is in the world, at the end of Sukkot one adds these lines and continues to say them until the next Passover, so as to coincide with the rainy season in the Land of Israel.
The weather reports have said that today it would rain. This morning I looked out at my balcony and at the road, and sure enough, at some point last night, it rained. "Amazing" isn't really the word to describe this liturgical and meteorological synchronicity – more like "right on time." The first rain in modern Israel is the official start of winter, and Israelis react to winter a bit like Washingtonians react to rain or other weather patters: they don't really know what to do with themselves.

11 October 2006

This morning was very much in the same vein as the movie "Groundhog Day," where each day repeats itself over and over again. Again I woke up waiting for a call from the IKEA delivery man…except for the fact that he actually called this time. Around noon the guy showed up, all too eager to get the boxes out of his responsibility. As soon as he was gone, I got to work. In the course of five hours I assembled a bed and bed-side table which fit together. While I was assembling the various pieces, all sorts of thoughts went through my head; the most frequently occurring one being "Is this really going to support the mattress and me?" The bed's structure is a mix somewhere between a traditional bed, a futon, and a K'nex set. After assembling the wooden (read: plywood) frame, one has to add several metal beams, rods, and flat sticks that all connect to one another, after which one adds the futon-like wood beams.

In the end, with my hands feeling like they're riddled with arthritis after holding the tools too tight, my second room looks like a slice of Scandinavia in the Middle East. Since I have an, er, affinity for the Nordic lands (I'm always willing to be sponsored to travel to Iceland), I'm definitely happy with the room. Now if only I could find furniture for the first room…

10 October 2006

10 October 2006

I'm sitting on my kitchen-nook floor, waiting for the delivery of my new bed, mattress, bed-side table and drawer pieces from IKEA. They said they would be here between 10.00 and 16.00, and I'm at the half-way mark now. Still trying to figure out how to orient my soon-to-be bed, I took the opportunity to clean the floor in the second room. I have to use some special cleaning fluid especially for parquet and wood floors, which ends up doing a decent job and smelling of not-too-powerful flowers.
At the same time, outside my porch, are hordes of people walking towards the starting point for the annual Jerusalem March, with helicopters constantly circling above the area. On the Pilgrimage Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot), when pilgrims would arrive at the Temple to offer sacrifices, modern-day Israelis now celebrate by taking to the streets of the capital city in the tens of thousands. Apparently the starting point could be reached via my street, so all morning people passed by – some with baseball caps, some without; some clutching bottled water, others with backpacks; some by themselves, others in finely choreographed groups. Every few minutes I'd hear tambourines and indiscernible singing slowly yet rhythmically approaching. Thinking it would be a group of Hare Krishnas who made a few wrong turns along the way, I'd rush to the window to get a glimpse – instead it would be groups representing youth movements, companies and businesses, or interest groups walking in formation and singing songs about Israel or Jerusalem. For a bunch of Jews, who at least in services I've been to can't seem to continue clapping synchronically to a beat, they got their marching band skills down pat.
Now it's past the window of time I was supposed to sit by and expect a call 30 minutes ahead of the delivery's arrival. I call the moving company, who gives me the number of the driver. Fine, I think, he's a few minutes late of a 6-hour block because of the March, so I'll roll over and play Genteel American. The driver says he wasn't supposed to make the delivery until tomorrow between 11.00 and 13.00 because of the march! I asked if someone was going to bother telling me this news, and said I'd see him tomorrow. I attempt calling back the company – I say attempt, because I called back at least 10 times before I got through to someone again. I'd like to think they Caller ID'd my number and were practicing a sentence that somehow becomes harder to say when in possession of an Israeli National ID: I was wrong.
At this point I'm furious, and as soon as someone comes on the line, I start speaking in rapid-fire Hebrew, demanding to know why no one bothered to let me know about the delivery time change. The woman who answered the phone is caught and says "You're right, I apologize." If I was a little more clear-headed, I would have asked for a refund of the delivery charge, but I was so angry I hung up the phone. At least she apologized, I said to myself, trying to calm down. I eventually realizing there wasn't anything else to do (call the company back and demand someone be reprimanded for this? Please.), so I got to work on making dinner. A huge serving of carbohydrates later, my food coma has calmed me down and I'm interested to see if the driver tomorrow apologizes as well (or if he's got the nerve to ask for a tip).
04 October 2006

After a few days that truly felt like autumn, this morning the summer heat made a resounding return. Assuming that it stays around for only a few days, the humidity-free warmth feels good.

I went to a garage sale hoping to find some inexpensive furniture that I still need – the apartment was located in a nearby neighborhood called Nahlaot, full of small pastel-colored houses that look like an artist colony artificially placed in Jerusalem. This apartment was incredible (if anyone's looking), and the middle-age couple was selling it and moving to somewhere smaller.
No luck on the furniture, though I did get a nice bathroom mat. The walk back provided some great free entertainment. A policeman was directing traffic at a busy intersection that normally has a very long wait for pedestrians. The traffic lights were working just fine, so perhaps there was a motorcade that just went by. Regardless, the policeman was taking his time letting the east-west traffic pass, holding up a quickly enlarging line of north-south traffic that was losing what little patience they already had. As their honking became more constant, the policeman kept letting the other traffic flow, even if there was only one car. From his slight facial expressions, one could tell, as a passerby said to me in his American-accented Hebrew, that he was punishing them for their honking. The cars sat for what must have been close to ten minutes. My sense of humor is hoping that the policeman, on a whim, picked a random intersection and used the authority of his reflective chartreuse vest and powder-blue uniform shirt to create some chaos in the Holy City.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning my apartment. I was in the middle of cooking when the phone rang – a job applied for several hours beforehand was calling me to schedule an interview. Just like finding my apartment, I don't want to jinx this one (even though I already told a few people) – suffice it to say I would be working for one of my former employers in a job I can definitely do.

04 October 2006

01-03 October 2006

Saturday night, after Shabbat ended, I ventured out with friends to witness one of the more bizarre rituals in Judaism – Kapparot. Before Yom Kippur, there's a custom to take a chicken and symbolically pass one's sins onto the chicken while circling it around one's head, after which the chicken is slaughtered for food. We decided to venture into Mea She'arim, an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in north-central Jerusalem, so you can imagine the multiple culture clashes going on. As we approach we begin to separate (I was with three females), as it's usually not appropriate for mixed couples to walk together in this neighborhood. Soon we get to our destination, plastic crates stacked atop one another, all containing white hens. The handlers, teenagers wearing kippot, and one wearing a shirt advertising a dance music record label, sold the chickens (25 NIS, or around $6) to buyers who would intone several blessings while passing the chicken around their head and the heads of their family. One guy in the corner had several crates and was actually swinging the chicken by the legs, finishing with one and bringing out another one. In the middle of all of this is the butcher, sharpening his knife and then holding it between his lips in between slaughters. His plastic apron was dripping with blood, and his table had six metal funnels running to the ground, collecting the blood from this chickens he quickly slices across the neck and then allows to flop around.
Besides the gore and what seems like an obvious question ("Do these people coming to perform the ritual, who by and large don't work for a living, have the money for dry cleaning if the chicken craps on their satin robes and/or shtreimels (fur-trimmed hats)?" I couldn't stop thinking about how the ritual we were watching was perhaps the closest one could approach Biblical Judaism in the absence of the Temple. When the Temple existed, a pilgrim would purchase his offering (sin or thanksgiving) at the gates and offer it up upon entering. What's the difference between this and that, save for location? As I started seeing this seemingly bizarre transaction going on before me in those terms, I was in awe and wanting to leave as if seeing something I'm not supposed to (like being blinded by something divine). As grotesque as this scene was, ladies and gentlemen, think about it the next time you pray for the Messiah to arrive, or jokingly sing along to that Chabad Lubavitch "Mashiach" (Messiah): this chicken-swinging and slaughtering scene is our destiny when the Third Temple is built.

First off, there are the services. I tried out two places, both of which I've been to for Shabbat. Having serious moral problems about buying a seat for services, I decided to show up and try my luck – both times it worked successfully, either finding a non-reserved seat or being assigned one whose original purchaser decided not to use.
The first synagogue I went to with a friend from DC Sunday night. I don't mind not knowing every prayer and hymn sung, I can follow along just fine in the book; the rabbi liked to mumble his Hebrew and the congregation, not knowing where they were either simply hummed along to the familiar melodies, making the experience more frustrating than necessary. The second was a place I knew I liked – there the Hebrew was crisp, clear and modern; the melodies were familiar from back home; and everyone sang along, men and women (men and women sit separately but participate just about equally in the services).
Yom Kippur is known as the Shabbat of all Shabbats (the Mother of all Shabbats, if you will) and this title became clear for the first time to me this year. Just like I wrote about Rosh Hashanah, YK is a very different experience here in Israel. For example, in the midst of the melodramatic liturgy, the prayer leader would burst into tunes normally heard on Shabbat, encouraging everyone to transcend their hunger and existential queries in order to celebrate. If you think Jews can't put on an uplifting service, you're going to the wrong synagogue. The spiritual intensity was palpable, the prayer leader in the late morning had an incredible voice, and only during the afternoon did the prayers drag, mainly because everyone was exhausted by then.
What was even more worthwhile about the day was the complete lack of cars on the road. I'm not talking a significant decrease in road travel – I mean no automobiles whatsoever. In Jerusalem it's apparently against the law to drive on Yom Kippur, with police cars passing every once in a while to enforce it. Not only does this create the visual of people walking in the middle of the street, with kids on bicycles everywhere, but it fulfills one of my many dreams: a world without cars. Sounds once muffled by the incessant honking of drivers came back into range and a level of tranquility descended on the city that the pious, secular, and Luddite could value.

Tuesday I spent what seemed like hours at Hebrew U. working out my schedule. I got the results of my Arabic placement exam, and they weren't what I expected: they put me in Year 1, much to my dismay. The advisor showed me my test, which admittedly had mistakes on it – I didn't vowel the verbs on the first page, despite there being no instructions to do as so. Like many things in this country, I was supposed to infer that on my own. Like duh!
After explaining this to the advisor, along with the fact that I had taken three years of Arabic in the States, he still put me in Year 1, though said that if it's too easy to talk with the professor as there's an outside opportunity to switch levels. Not only is it a matter of needing the next highest level academically – Year 2 only meets two times a week, with Year 1 meeting three times a week. If I'm getting a job, this shortens the amount of time I can devote to both. You can bet I'll be working hard to move on up a level.
I registered for Arabic and my other courses with little problems, at least I hope – the print-out the registrar gave me did not include the courses I already picked via Internet, and by the time I got back to the office it was closed. Hope they all show up online! I then tracked over to the Student Accounts, where I handed in my voucher for tuition from the government, only to be told there's extra fees not covered by the voucher. Of course there is, I think to myself. I get my bill and slump back to the bus stop.