Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Life, Text, Art

Went to my first artsy thing last night, on a cold rainy evening that reminds me of our wintry prayers for life-giving moisture. Scenes of Judean stone soaking it up out in the hills somewhere so we'll get to enjoy the waterfalls in Ein Gedi a bit later on. Tucked in at the beginning of D. Bet Lehem and stretching to D. Hevron, the yard could be a venue for the Sopranos. Dark and desolate, old buildings now occupied by edgy clubs with names like Negro, and The Lab. Not for old married fogeys I think. A colleague's wife wrote a play based on a medieval Jewish story about a complicated relationship that begins between strangers, involving courtship, commitment, abandonment, loneliness, death, reconnection and procreation, all with God present somewhere in the saga. The players, all or mostly all I think religious, sat with some of us afterwards to discuss the play. A great Jewish dialectic ensued: the tensions between artistic truth and religious truth; textual truth and existential truth, God and man, man and woman, the works. What does it mean to be religious here? When a woman covers her hair she signs something, but what? Depends on how precisely she covers: all of her hair/head, only some, hair cascading to her shoulders in plain sight or not, endless variations all suggesting some sort of allegiance to some affect, some community, some tradition, some fad. So many "little things" signing bigger things. Hard to discuss things with Jews: like an adult ed class run amok some audience folks won't let others talk, not even the cast. One guy accused the players of liberal religion: God should serve us rather than the other way around, and that secular/hilonim have no sense of service. It's never boring here.

Smiling At Strangers

One needs to concentrate extra hard here on traffic, bearing in mind the notorious reputation Israelis possess for fast and tragically reckless driving. In the USA as a pedestrian I rely on the rules of the road, and making eye contact with drivers, and even a smile to connect to them so they won't moe me down. I tried the same here: forget about it. I smile the goofy American smile--the driver justs look back at me hard and vacantly. Israelis live on either side of conventional American politeness. Rudeness brusqueness bluntness counterpointed by "WELCOME WE ARE YOUR FAMILY HERE'S A CAKE OR CHALLAH WE BAKED FOR YOU SHABBAT SHALOM." The driver in the car's preoccupied or looking at me thinking why the hell is he smiling at me--he doesn't even know me. It's a relationship or not, substantial or not, none of the I just met you and I think you're the greatest person I've ever met facile stuff. Charm doesn't work here--I think the likes of Clinton would have a tough go of it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Teaching History

Presented today with Leon on this re. adult learning in America. The Israelis know little or nothing about the so-called "Renaissance" in American Jewish life. Gave some postcards and snapshots of our programs, and talked about how history works. Torah and peoplehood tie us together, hopefully with some content as well as mythologically. That's about it. We lack a common historical narrative, that's for sure. Historical study both creates a safe space and yet carries danger for us--heretical stuff.

"May I Go to B'nei Akiva?"

So said G after her FIRST DAY at Rebbetzin Milon's alma mater!!! I think she competed with her little sister, who made lots of playmates just in the first few days. So number one child went off to school with nary a complaint, and got right into the swing of things. We picked her up after school, wondering what we'd find and there she was on the curb looking like any normal young teenager among her peers. All seem like nice girls. And number one daughter asked us, per her new friend's invitation, "May I go to B'nai Akiva tomorrow after school?" A young frummock ideologue in training? I think not. We (old lady and old man) trailed behind the pack as it wound through Rehavia into Katamon, like the scene where the townspeople trail Michael Corleone and his intended on their first date in Sicily. That made two new walks home all the way from Rehavia to the Colony to Baka to home in one day, in the morning wife and I hit one of the little bakeries that provide the caloric energy that make such nice tiyyulim possible and necessary.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'm a crab

As usual my wife figured me out before or right alongside of me: she said something to the effect that I'm not so happy we're all here together. Usually I'm here alone, hanging out with friends and doing my thing. Now I have to share Israel with them, and myself with them. Right on target. But that seems to be abating now, as we get into a routine. Leon and I discussed our presentation this week; we both feel the frustration of sounding like someone not quite us in a foreign language. I don't feel ready to give a full frontal talk in Hebrew, though I know that trying is part of the battle though I'm not certain how much. I'm shooting for the March presentation to wow them with flawless nouns and verbs if not adjectives and adverbs.


We're settling in. Zonked on Thursday; E went to school on Friday. Gutsy kid--mixed right in. She told us she understood little or nothing, but the Anglos helped her through. She'll pick up the lingo faster than I will, that's for sure. Tomorrow's G's turn. Dinner with our best buddies here: kubbeh soup, lamburgers, chicken, the works. They're the closest thing to family for non-family that I can imagine. Sleep deprived; we woke up at 2 and talked to 4, read cookbooks. Barely made it to shivyonim minyan this a.m.--I heard the haftarah and the ladies heard hymn of glory. Had a hard time following the drasha--to much noise. I'm getting there though just have to stick with it and stop thinking about it. Great lunch with the lobbyist en famille. Just a beautiful first Shabbat. Met another family in our building; everyone's so nice--friends of friends brought a cake over before shabbat. Sure enough, E played with a bunch of kids all afternoon and by the evening was trying to talk to us in Hebrew. The whole country feels like one big family. Comforting and exhausting all at once.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


We arrived, nice and early in the morning. I feel myself in a state of shock, can't believe that something I wanted so much to happen happened. Now the hard part: not driving the family crazy and letting them love this place on their own terms. Avoid controlling behavior? Why start now? G may have broken her toe hence we couldn't walk too much, but took care of more registration stuff, brought E to school where she'll start tomorrow, and got a sense of the neighborhood. Our lovely French neighbor and daughter came down, with homemade challot in tow, to welcome us.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Did I mention that I'm going back to school for another degree? This one in cellphoneology. That's what it takes to figure out what kind of phone to buy, what carrier to use, and what plan to have. I took a walk to what Israelis call a Kanyon--a mall. A nice young lady tried in vain to help me, at a kiosk of a carrier located in front of a drug store. Hopeless. I need a manservant--19th century style. I think this one I'll give to my wife to handle when we arrive...


The no-weekend thing here's annoying to us spoiled Americans; we must make do with Fridays which gets tied up with Shabbat. Went to the new school for E; felt the stress of "will they make me go to the municipality?" Told me to return Sunday. Fell asleep and woke up just in time to make dinner, as the guest of DG and family. Lovely people; nice guests also here on sabbatical. I felt at home. Missed my family; as usual the first day or so aloneness feels like a relief then loneliness sets in. I guess without them I'd be miserable being with people dramatically happier than I. Went to the S's newish minyan--nice but froze my butt off in an underheated matnas gymnasium. Lunched at Yehuda's--more good chow including cholent with bones!!! and pupiks au vin. Quite haute cuisine. I made a playdate with Nehara. Good conversation featuring Orthodox mendacity: one of my favorite lashon hara topics. Saturday night with the Friedmans. Here's what I love about this country: I call her and she says "where were you on Shabbat? I expected you to come by." I muttered something to the effect that I didn't want to become a pest, which she dismissed as probably untrue and certainly irrelevant. People visit here, spontaneously and casually. Sounds like community to me.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Lots of good energy there: met with two folks, one an educational researcher and the other a philosophy/text/lit person. How to unzip knowledge of teachers; train them to get the narrative and create public knowledge shared by professionals. It's lonely being an expert sometimes. And create too little "case knowledge" to share. I realize I'm a Kantian about this project: I created Me'ah in my image; Me'ah created me. And that's what this project will be too: an act of self-reflection and reflection on the Other, and an act of self-re-creation and re-creation of the program which in turn will re-create me. There's a mouthful.


I walk a lot in Israel. One reason I feel no need for a car. It would render me a suburbanite again: driving to the market, to friends, etc. The best exercise and the best way to feel the city. Yesterday I walked around Talpiyot, today around Katamon. Just to be a part of things. My Hebrew's improving, slowly but surely. A bit less afraid to inflict it on others, a bit more able to express myself. Today I had my first downer conversation with a friend from the states who returned here after several years in the USA. He seems unresolved about Israel: wonders about its viability and survival and reluctant at best to commit to it and risk going down with the ship. He'd as soon leave. Wonder how many feel that way. I restrained myself feeling how inappropriate it is for me to lecture him on his Zionist obligations. Only an American Zionist would be so stupid.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An End to Cold Showers

Can you believe it--I may have been turning the faucet in the wrong direction. Enjoyed my first hot one this morning. So now all feels right with the world, hygienacly and otherwise. Have some food in the fridge, money in the new bank account. The small pleasures. Today at K discovered the bureacracy of Israel: only one person can register E--only that one person, trained in theoretical physics of course for this high-level work. It'll have to wait till tomorrow when she'll be there.
Did I mention I shopped at some store the name of which I still cannot remember, on Derekh Hevron. The basics: not even fleish.


I want most to learn Hebrew. Period. I met the tutor at Mandel and I hold high hopes--realistic but high. Damn the embarassment: full speed ahead. Today Oshrat accompanied me to the kids' schools; we registered the kids or at least G anyhow. I talked some; she talked the most. I need to overcome the passivity that overtakes me. Just push myself all the time, and it'll become less of an effort. Then we bought a choco and croissant at a cute place Nocturna on Bezalel in Nahlaot near Bet Ha'am.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Great way to begin this blog: talking about cold showers in Israeli apartments. Can't write much now: waiting for the plumber to arrive to check the dud shemesh. My wife's not here anyway; nothing wrong with a few cold showers. I'm so busy doing things that only last night I glimpsed the Jerusalem sky pinkish as the city went to down to sleep. Earthly and heavenly. And then there's the kubeh soup at Hamusta. So through my myopia of thought reality the place and people intrude once in a while. Great learning with Halbertal on the Jewish welfare state. What I wouldn't give to flip pages of the Bavli looking for the apropos story the way I flip through Jane Austen...