29 August 2007

28 August 2007

The other day, I got so fed up with waiting around to find out whether or not I got the academic deferment, I emailed my contact at IDC to say I would go to the recruitment board personally and camp out until I get a reason based at least somewhat on logic. I asked for the name of the person she was working with, perhaps as a way to expedite the process. I got both the name and phone number of the person -- when I explained that not only had I been waiting for some itme for an answer but that I'd shortly be leaving the country for the holidays, that got the ball rolling. Soon they were asking for my acceptance letter to IDC, which had me going once more to my favorite place -- the recruitment board.
The guard at the entrance told me he thought the person in charge was in a meeting. Although it was already 3:30pm I decided to take my chance and entered. The floor looked like they had decided to commemorate the first anniversary of the Second Lebanon War by having soldiers trudge in fresh Lebanese mud. Two yeshiva students were waiting outside the office. After ten minutes of waiting, I decided I would return in the morning.
I'm almost home when the phone rings. It's the army. They want my recruitment letter faxed to them ASAP and my deferment request would be as good as approved. After explaining that I don't own a fax machine nor have any access to one, I ran home and asked my contact at IDC if she had a copy, and if so would be so good as to fax it over to the army. A few minutes go by as the clock on my cell phone flips to a quarter to five. Their office is closing, I nerviously say to myself, do they have a copy or not?! They did, they faxed it, and soon afterwards I got confirmation from the army that they received it.

Nothing is resolved quite yet, but two important lessons from this continuing epic:
-I got more done to advance my case in several hours than what had transpired thus far. I'm not doubting my contact at IDC at all, but it's interesting that I got father ahead after I was told we had bothered the army enough.
-Israelis have a fetish for fax machines. "Could you fax it to me?" was asked by three different people in one day. They're scared of email, but faxing? Fuggetaboudit.

Yesterday I decided to pursue an equally important goal: going to the beach. After a late start of filling my iPod with various radio shows (and getting introduced to This American Life), I headed out for Tel Aviv and its municipal beaches.
Just like in America, there are public places that are a microcosm of the entire society: transportation hubs, areas of entertainment, shopping malls, etc. Although I promised in this blog's intro not to fixate on "Only in Israel"-type moments, here are some from a random day at the beach in late August:
~A pack of arsim trying to bury their friend in the sand, incurring the wrath of the beach-chair rental guy for using his shovel, and the most adamant of the friends, the obese one, using every expletive known in the Semitic language family (including the Arabic and Hebrew versions of "son of a prostitute" in one breath. Very coexistence.)
~The two guys, one shirtless and the other in a polo, trying to sign up American tourists for a new credit card on the beach. Last time, they were spotted handing out cans of Goldstar beer to those who signed up. Ruin your credit score and get a free can of warm Israeli beer!
~French, French, and more French. Notable spotting: Improvising shade on a baby stroller with a monochrome Yves Saint Laurent scarf.

I met a friend from college and his dog for a walk and decided to check out a quasi-rally nearby. The parents of Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was kidnapped a year ago near the Gaza Strip, decided to celebrate his birthday the other day in public with a cake and stickers/magnets/flags calling for his and all MIA soldiers to return home. Drawing news vans and onlookers, the somber music and fake-looking cake combined with passers-by loading up on the free giveaways was not competition for the dog and his playful encoutners with other dogs. An interesting type of rally which hopefully had more participants after we left. A sad and pathetic state of affairs.

Coming home on a sherut, the driver made a detour to an alternate road since the main road was backed up with traffic. We took Route 443, that road, which during the worst of the violence in the past seven years was barred to American diplomats. The road takes a northern approach to Jerusalem, cutting through the "West Bank" and passing by all sorts of notable security-related landmarks. The van was silent, both because of the late hour and with the realizaton of where we were. Silent, except for the three women sitting next to me in the back. Their loudness increased when they answered their cellphones and the one next to me was at the point of hysteria upon retelling the story of how someone named Sharon was 90 minutes late in meeting her (Sharon can be a male or female name here). I was trying my best to not flip out at this irate woman's intense obnoxiousness by blasting my iPod and the broadcast of This American Life, ironically about heartbreak. If I wasn't slightly convinced that this woman would stab me with her eyeliner pencil if I told her to shut up, I would have; instead I sank into the corner and joined in the collective exhale of the other passengers shen the talkative trio got out.

24 August 2007

Scene: any time in the last month

Got over the ear infection quickly, only to discover a true miracle. After much searching, I finally found limes in this country. Incredible.

Summer in Jerusalem weather-wise is enviable: dry heat during the day and a 20-30 degree F drop at night that theoretically requires long sleeves and no air conditioning. Except for the occasional heat wave (like the one we’re in right now), “summer” is perhaps a misnomer here.
That all being said, one thing I could do without is the amount of fireworks shot here. It seems every night someone is celebrating something with a fireworks display of at least five minutes. Now I love fireworks like every other red-blodded American expatriot, but there's a limit to the amount of times one can hear 'BOOM' echoing across the valleys. Walking around the other night, I was amazed at Israelis and tourists out and about with looks of panic on their faces as a huge display was detonating in the center of town. Then again these are the same people who caused four deaths in car accidents in 24 hours the other day.

This country is currently experiencing the 2nd Plague of Egypt. Whether they’re from the Parisian suburbs or the port city of Marseilles, they’re to be found everywhere in this country on their vacation: loud and blocking sidewalks in Jerusalem; loud, half-naked and blocking sidewalks in Tel Aviv; and so on. They snatch up the bargains at the end of season sales, they cut lines without blinking an eye, and numerous other offenses that have me cursing under my breath. Their obnoxiousness rivals that of the American tourists, an incredible feat indeed.
A friend accused me of being a racist, which doesn’t really fit here. The Washingtonian in me naturally dislikes tourists, especially the ones who act as if they own the location they’re visiting and can do whatever they want because they’re throwing money around. Self-centeredness is not a good trait, even on the already awful French.


I let slip in a previous post that I was waiting for a deferment. The vast majority of Israeli citizens have to serve in the army or perform national service, including new immigrants. For myself, a single male who moved to Israel at age 24, the requisite service is six months; as I’m an only child, I cannot be automatically placed in a combat unit and will end up in a desk position, in slang known as a jobnik. While the term can be used in a derogatory manner, the last thing I would want to do is basic training for six weeks with a bunch of 18-year olds who’ve never worked a day in their lives, not to mention cause undue stress to loved ones back in the States. My call-up date is November 7, interestingly enough the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

At the same time, I’m transferring to The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya for a Masters’ in Government. From the day I applied I told them I would need help in acquiring a deferment from the army for the duration of my studies. A person working for Student Services would be working on the case, I was told. One week was spent getting a hold of the person. Another week was spent explaining my details. The next week involved me going to Herzliya in the middle of a lightning protest that shut down the main entrance & exit to Jerusalem, in addition to taking three separate buses, just to meet to go over my story. And then the last several weeks have been comprised of me calling and emailing said person for updates, being told we’d find out by such-and-such a time, and repeating the process over and over again. Sounds fun, right??

For the last month I’ve been waiting, unable to move forward with any plans, job prospects nor any thing else, waiting to find out what’s happening next year. Not just because I’m anxious for an answer, I decided a while ago that I would be fine with either outcome. While going into the army now will help me financially (soldiers with no immediate family in Israel get many perks) and potentially advance job prospects here, continuing in academics would be equally rewarding and beneficial.
So for now it’s a lot of waiting around, going to the beach in Tel Aviv, drinking water and exercising. If I don’t hear soon, before I head to the States for the holidays, then most likely I’ll ask for a deferment from school and get the army over and done with. I’m told I look good in green.

03 August 2007

2-3 August 2007

Random Political Celebrity Moment:

Tipsily walking back from the annual Beer Festival, a friend and I walk by two men engaging in a conversation in the middle of the street after midnight, one barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt and the other in a black suit. As I walk by, I notice their faces. As soon as we pass them, I turn to my friend and say “Omigod! Do you know who they are?! That’s Dan and Sallai Meridor!”
I call my friend who moved to Israel last week to tell her who was standing right by us, and she said I had to talk with them. Gathering all the strength a man has with his share of beer in the bloodstream on a Wednesday night, I went up to them.

Translated from the Hebrew:

“Excuse me, are you the Meridor brothers?”
“Yes we are”
“I just wanted to introduce myself, I moved to Israel from Washington, DC. I think you know my friend who used to work in the Embassy?”
“Of course! What are you doing now?”
“I’m transferring my studies in Government to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya”
“Best of luck to you”
“Thank you, nice to meet you, Shabbat Shalom”

I was talking with a former Justice Minister and the current Israeli Ambassador to the USA in the middle of the street in the middle of the night with no security guards. Up there with motorcades and the drones of surveillance planes in the middle of the night, random politician spotting makes this place feel more like DC. WOW.

Today was mainly spent waiting for the doctor-on-call at my healthcare clinic to diagnose what I already self-diagnosed: ear infection. Never having one when younger, I could quickly tell that the black hole of pain on the side of my head wasn’t normal. After two hours of waiting, she finally prescribed a lot of antibiotics to be taken multiple times per day. Blecch.
The rest of the day was spent updating my CV, getting interviewed for an article on nightlife in Jerusalem, and stocking up on East Asian groceries at a store where the Japanese female cashier told me about a concert this Saturday night in flawless Hebrew.

Fun, pain and surrealism all at once. I think I'll continue my rental contract through next year...