Despite being one swelter of a day, the heatwave started to break this afternoon as the breeze that pours through my southern window returned, along with a very overcast sky. The temperature read 80 F on my alarm clock, which it hasn’t registered for some time. If this was summertime in my native DC, it would the sign to get inside as the heaven are about to send down a huge storm. Even here, overcast skies are a very ominous event.
At about 7:30pm, the sky got darker and as I looked outside I could’ve sworn I saw rain fall. To further investigate, I took out a rather empty garbage bag to the communal trash, just to see – alas, no rain. The branches of the willow tree across the street were waving about furiously like pompoms in the hand of an overeager cheerleader. Just as I convinced myself it was raining, a rumble seemed to come from outside the window.
Thunder?! I excitedly asked myself. Nope, the roaring boiling of water in my electric kettle.
I went to a party in the shuk, at first reaching what looked like a bar mitzvah party back in the States – out-of-date music, Jews awkwardly dancing, and a lot of people standing by the walls. Hoping we found the wrong party, turns out the Greek music party that took place the other week was going strong. Pictures above.
It’s hot here. Despite a daily regimen of several popsicles and cold showers, nothing can compete with the heatwave that stubbornly sits on the city. The air-conditioner that I’ve valiantly avoided using all this time needs to be fixed, helping my apartment turn into a walk-in humidor. Today is hovering around 38 degrees Celsius, to which everyone has responded by lowering their inhibitions and proudly displaying their sweat marks. Today is also the start of several weeks’ of festivals, fairs and celebrations falling under the banner “Jerusalem Summer, A Special Summer for Everyone,” this year being the 40th year of the unification of the city. One of the day’s events was a block party on an alley off of the pedestrian mall in the city center. While this pedestrian mall is home to tourist traps and equally annoying tourists, this alleyway is home to a café/bar normally unapproached by non-locals. There were vendors of all kinds, serving alcoholic drinks varying from the local arak to the more European shandy and even the dreaded Red Bull energy drink with vodka. The live bands may have a song or two on mainstream radio, but the tourists would have no context for their sounds (HaGirafot, MC Karolina, Soulico), providing a nice change of pace to the normal street music (Russian violinists playing Israel's Best Hits, Korean Christians singing a capella, American hippie-wannabees trying to capture the sound of their parents' generation). The scene was definitely young: the hipster-meets-Eurotrash look of Mohawks, white-rimmed sunglasses, slip-on Keds and t-shirts with incomprehensible English; the forced hippie look of flowing pants or skirts, meter-long dreadlocks and looks of smugness-cum-chill; and the occasional clueless who stumbled onto the scene. While it was fun and a nice break from the doldrums that usually encompass central Jerusalem, and the wind finally returned to cool off the pulsating crowd, it was still too hot to be outside.
The cool breezes on which I last posted are all but gone, leaving us in full-fledged summer with little relief in the evenings. It’s back to crossing the street just to walk in the shade, two shekel (50 cent) popsicles every few minutes and extending one’s stay at a store or friend’s apartment to absorb their air conditioner’s bounty.
The other day was Tisha B’Av, “the saddest day in Jewish history” or more perhaps “the Jewish Friday The 13th” when we commemorate the destruction of the two Temples and a whole host of other catastrophes. Jews seem to always fight wars in the summer, with the heat potentially getting to their heads. Despite or because of its mood, the book which is read to commemorate the day, Lamentations, is one of the most powerful in the Bible. True, it’s full of gore and gloom as the author, traditionally ascribed to the melancholy prophet Jeremiah, describes the destruction of the First Temple at the hands of the Babylonians; but it’s so angst-filled and existential that the former teenager in me eats it up every year. We may be asking to return to the days of old, where devotion to our national deity entailed blood sacrifices and the subsequent communal barbeque on the Temple Mount; but when else during the calendar year do you hear Jews chanting, in the traditional Near Eastern poetic form of parallels within a verse, “Why have You [God] forgotten us utterly/Forsaken us for all time?” (5:19) Combined with the melody used to chant the scroll, and you got one public fast that predates that puts the Gothic outlook to shame.
After the open house at the Interdisciplinary Center the other week, I decided to apply. I only took one class in International Politics as an undergrad and I barely passed, being completely turned by the theory-based approach. True, my whole four years was about learning in an interdisciplinary manner, and the idea of being a diplomat floods my mind with images of Embassy Row in DC and cocktail parties with English being only one of several languages used to recall witty anecdotes, both of which compel me to start walking towards the Foreign Ministry under the blazing Mediterranean sun – but would that be enough to get in? Two days after I applied and sent everything in electronically, I got a brief voicemail message that I was accepted into the four-semester research track which includes writing a thesis. There’s so much to consider before paying the inevitable bill that will arrive – am I willing to pay the difference in tuition from Hebrew University, am I going to move to Tel Aviv to be closer to campus, will their army liaison help me in getting the academic deferment that up until now I’ve been struggling to receive – that at first all I needed to hear was that I got accepted. That’s still sustaining me as I await further developments, look for a job and figure out when I’m next going back to the States to visit.
We’ve just entered another general strike declared by the Trade Federation. Almost every public sector of the market is affected, except most notably (and importantly) the banks and bus companies. Unfortunately, the strike includes the airport which will start tomorrow morning. Not only does this mess up the hordes of tourists that have thankfully returned to the country for the summer, but a very good friend of mine from high school is immigrating tomorrow morning, technically a few hours after the airport strike begins. Even if she is able to arrive, most likely it means she won’t get her luggage and the paperwork she has to fill with the various ministries will have to wait. Welcome to Israel, indeed.
Lots to figure out and lots of motivation but little interest in going outside and into the furnace of late July.
Thursday was Part One of my Arabic final which would entail solely of translating an article into Hebrew with the use of dictionaries. Called in the entirely original Hebrew an “unseen,” this type of testing baffles me. If there were vocabulary words we had to know in advance, or if there were questions about the article that needed to be answered, this would prove an important test; while knowing how to effectively translate is an important skill, somehow three hours of thumbing through a dictionary seems like a waste of time. As if the style of testing wasn’t frustrating enough, the first sentence of the article summed up everything wrong with Arabic education in this country: “What’s Israel’s differentiation between an ‘agent’ and ‘spy’”? I grew angrier and angrier as I translated the article, as it was clear we’re learning Arabic for the sake of working in the security services in the near future. Never mind understanding our neighbors in the way Spanish is taught in the States, let alone getting some history, culture, and society enrichment…we need to learn how to translate from the Arabic “the two spies were sentenced to seven years, one of which was commuted.” I left the test foaming at the mouth, cursing the school out as I made my way home.
How did I get over this? By going to an open house of a new degree program at the Interdisciplinary Center, the first private university in Israel. After a long time of planning and waiting, they’re finally ready to open an MA in Government program with a focus in either Diplomacy & Conflict Studies or Counter-Terrorism with an optional research track. My two good friends from NYU and I went, salivating over the program and its teachers. The registrar of the program is a fellow NYU graduate; the classes sound incredibly interesting; the place bills itself as an elite insitution of higher education; the three of us together again in a self-described elite school.…I know I’m not content at Hebrew U and often fantasize about leaving without a definite plan, but the morning at the IDC in Herzliya seemed to fit together.
Shabbat was spent eating at friends’ and catching up on sleep. Saturday was filled with cool breezes rushing through my apartment, carrying along with it the bells from the Monastery of the Cross, located in the nearby valley and thought to be the spot where the tree from which The Cross was made grew.
I thought Israelis were very patriotic for theUSA today. On the ride back from campus this morning, the neighborhood ultra-Orthodox were in droves along the road waving and screaming at passers-by; the same revelers created bonfires and set other things on fire, in good American fashion; and walking past the Interior Ministry office, I noticed they took the day off along with the postal workers and other civil servants. Maybe I was hoping for a little bit of fireworks here, but it turns out Israelis weren’t being patriotic for America on this fine Independence Day. The ultra-Orthodox were protesting the newly appointed government ministers, the rise in bread prices or a myriad of other topics in the best way they know how: burning down their own neighborhoods. The civil workers were on strike, for reasons unreported in the papers today. Oh well, there’s still plenty of illegal fireworks to be shot off and beer to be consumed in this country of ours. Despite (or perhaps because) I grew up in The Nation’s Capital, I’ve never been that patriotic. I’m a big supporter of nationalism in general, but the USA itself hasn’t been one of my passions. Sure I can’t stop watching reruns of “The West Wing” and I’ve always looked forward to the fireworks on the National Mall. Sure I met up with friends tonight and we ended up drinking Miller Genuine Draft beer. Not to mention I’m up at a very late hour listening to Ray Charles sing the best version of “America the Beautiful” ever recorded. But these are all symbols and clichés, and while they bring up great memories for me they have no patriotic weight.
But listening to the Israeli national anthem? That one gives me chills every time I hear it.
Happy American Independence Day from the land that inspired the quote on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout the generations…”
So much to update and most I’ve already forgotten.
I finished another round of supervising birthright israel buses, this time as school already had resumed. When reading for each class amounts of 20 pages in English per week, homework for Arabic is already manageable, and being bored is one of the nicer ways of describing the state of affairs with my studies at the present time, taking off two weeks was exactly what I needed. Three of the four latest buses were comprised of participants who’ve already graduated college, creating a relatively calmer atmosphere and great bonding opportunities with them. Even with a few bouts of drama and one hospitalization for dehydration (I lost the bet with a colleague on this one), it was an excellent experience. Some good stories as well. To add to the excitement, my mom and one of my aunts were here for the past three weeks. A combination of work and vacation for my mom, my aunt hadn’t been here in 34 years and so they traveled around the country, and we met up for a family friend wedding (playing The Muppets and 60’s British pop music during the processional) and quality time in Jerusalem. Originally I was going to hang out with them here and there, definitely when they would be in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but the last group of buses came a few days after they arrived. At first I was hesitant to take the job because they were coming and undoubtedly wanted to see me. I decided to take the job, not necessarily because I needed the money, but because I want to make this situation as “normal” as possible. When a relative visits you from another state, often you don’t take off the entire time they’re in town to be with them. Even though a 6,000 mile flight is not a visit to another state, this place is going to be my home for the foreseeable future and so it feels great to have friends and especially family coming to visit as if it’s a routine event. Let’s hope more are coming in the near future, including both of my parents.
Last night I met up with colleagues and we all ended up meeting at an “Only in Israel” type of event in the covered section of the shuk (outdoor market). Crammed into one of its alleyways, with a café as its epicenter, is a Greek music dance party. The trio face the café entrance while the participants crowd around on either side, some a table strewn with empty glasses and bottles, others hovering around. Perspiration mixes with the cool breeze, leaving an eerie glaze on the olive-skinned revelers under the fluorescent lights. At the same time the music transports us to a more Aegean location, it’s clear we’re in the market where only hours before fish heads and sugared pecans would have welcomed us.
Off to sleep in a slowly cooling apartment. We’ve been smacked by a two-week heatwave which I luckily avoided by being on the road and away from home, where the antique air conditioner isn’t working. The cool evening breeze that typifies Jerusalem in the summer is slowly coming back, along with my favorite parasitic house pet: the mosquito.
*I just noticed that this hasn't been updated in quite some time. To the handful of readers who read this, thanks for not nagging me to update, and I promise to try to write more often*
For the sake of family and friends that may or may not visit me in Israel, I'm keeping this blog as a glimpse into my life here in the Jewish State/Middle East/etc.
This is not a blog that will go on and on about factoids, like for example they sell here milk in plastic bags -- yes, it's called halav b'sakit (milk in a sack), let's move on.
If you can't tell from my tone, I'm not a fan of blogs. That being said, here's what's going on: