Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Place of Refuge

Lunched with new friends from Boston: both grads of a famous dayschool high school in NYC area. Both distanced from that world, philosophically and in their life style; both committed to giving their kids enough knowledge/exposure for them to make an informed choice about Jewishness. But will that work in Diaspora? They had lots of historical/ethnic/religious experience; their kids will be that much further from those sorts of people/places/senses. So they come here and I can tell they're feeling as if "wow: here we wouldn't have to work so hard at all of this stuff." Just to be. Hebrew, Shabbat, the air.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Charley on the MTA

I rode the bus today, for the first time. A city bus that is. We promised our mother we wouldn't--at least the kids and my wife--which presumably included me as well. The Gemara on that Mishnah is that we don't apply that restriction to inter-city travel. The central bus station seems well secured, it's fast and cheap and we feel a safe and practical mode of transportation. We avoided renting a car; the trains get poor reviews for speed, so the bus seems the best bet. But in the city felt scarier. On this bus security types came on at some point downtown; with German shepherds to boot. I'm not used to feeling joy at the sight of a big dog but in this case I liked it. We live right on a bus line, and I took a nice tour of the city, literally going at least half way around it, from our part of southern Jerusalem, past the King David Hotel, up Jaffo St, then all the way up into the hilly outskirts. Why? Because I wussed out and didn't ask the bus driver where I should get off, and the little the taciturn man provided I didn't fully make out. But I eventually found my destination. People looked thoroughly buslike--staring out the window, talking, sleeping, the normal range of what people express on buses. Amazing: the human ability to compartmentalize/forget/rationalize call it whatever you want. Wonder if that'll happen to me.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

1 + 1 = 0

This may read like Berenstein Bears for Adults, something like "Berenstein Bears and Too Much Sabbatical." File this away dear reader in the "stop whining about doing something that most of us never get to do" category, by all means. Allow me my self-indulgence for the moment. I spoke with an old friend tonight, who's lived here for over twenty years, is raising 4 kids here, etc. His youngest is in the States right now, with her mother who's on a sabbatical of her own. The 8th grader faces a nice choice of high schools. So does my daughter. So why am I envious? Because I'm unresolved about my daughter's options, Jewishly and otherwise. Real three bears stuff and I don't feel any of the choices taste right. Bottom line is that the Jewish thing in America is inorganic in some deep way. The street isn't Jewish, the language, the time of day, etc. It's not a moral criticism, it is what it is. A non-Jewish space and time. It's just different here. Yes the split between religious and secular exists, and yes the state-run Orthodox mafia does violence to Judaism, but in spite of those problems this is a Jewish place/space. And the educational possibilities for kids to grow Jewishly are tremendous, in spite of the overburdened underfinanced school system generally speaking. And my kids aren't going to benefit from those, not in any real sense.
That's a way of stating my ambivalence about my own place in the universe. I'm here for too long to be a total tourist, yet for not long enough to be here, dealing with things like "where's your kid going to school next year" kind of stuff and everything else. Like I said, I know it sounds like sourgrapes: the point is I'm so lucky to have two places to live in both of which I'm doing interesting things, yet it feels like they add up to less than one whole place. Leah Goldberg wrote a poem about pine trees where she reminisces about her native Lithuania and its forests. The pines, ill-advisedly planted here by incompetent planners, suggest to her that maybe she's neither place: she's the pine tree planted in the wrong soil, stuck somewhere between Lithuania and Tel Aviv. As much as I hope and intend for this time to be precious for me and for us as a family, I cannot see how this feeling will subside. If anything the opposite.

Floor Wax and Butterscotch Pudding

"It's a Floorwax; no it's a butterscotch pudding" proclaimed Dan Aykroyd on an early SNL skit about a product that tasted great and cleaned floors too. Here it's gas stations that double as bakeries: we fill up a car with gas at the filling station, run inside to get sesame rolls, baklava etc. And its all kosher to boot. Elsewhere in Israel they might not be kosher meaning they might sell milk and meat products, but everything would most likely be kosher. Whatever happened to filling stations just carrying Sourpatch Kids and Wrigley's Gum?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Streets Dark with Arabs

We live on a main thoroughfare, a six lane road, well lit I'm glad to say. I went around the corner tonight to the local supermarket to buy some items. Still loving being able to go to the market, hit the meat market, and see all that kosher stuff. And wishing the checkout counter person a Shabbat shalom. Walked home with the stuff, dark out. Two men ahead, young men. Not sure if they're Jews or Arabs: we live fairly near an Arab neighborhood quite close to the Old City. If I walk at my pace I'll catch up to them and then I'll know by what language they're speaking (Arabs of course speak Arabic when they're not with Jews). On the other hand if I'm closest enough to them to hear that then I'll know for certain that they're Arabs and then I'll freak out a bit. I thought the Jewish state existed so we wouldn't be afraid of non-Jews? Joke's on me. And on my phobias. Or on the world. Or both. But I brave thing, walk at a normal pace, catch up and pass them, and sure enough they're Arabs. And couldn't care less about me in their midst. And my heartrate returned to normal, as I reached our building. But not after nightmaring that they'd pick up a stone and throw it at me.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

All Wet

Went on our first tiyyul yesterday, the Fellows that is. All the way to Haifa practically, and back in one day. It rains here everday lately; I keep remembering Joseph's dream of 7 fat and lean years. The rain matches my mood and present physical state, a bit sick and sick at heart. We sat through two sessions, one on teaching peoplehood, the other on community building. The first seemed a bit vague and simple too simple for us; the latter too rushed to be more than interesting rather than rewarding. Bottom line is that this country, this people constantly worries about how to build peoplehood and community precisely because it needs those things desperately. The revolution failed meaning that not all Jews came here, and those who didn't don't connect deeply to the revolution. They may cry when they hear HaTikvah, and when they come and go from here, but the daily engagement isn't there. And Israel's growing up, becoming more complex, more divided, less mission-driven. Probably inevitable. But given that some Jews get there mission from Torah and think THEY'RE ABSOLUTELY POSSESSED OF TRUTH, where does that leave the rest of us humble uncertain types? Hence the need to talk about community building, as an intellectual and organizational imperative. A colleague said "all nationalisms worry about their existence: who they are, what they're becoming, etc." Ok, maybe, but most of them aren't dealing with homicide bombers and tiny spaces.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Poor People of Color

E played with a friend yesterday, a little Ethiopian girl. It never occurred to us that the mom wouldn't pick up the 4th graders and take them home--but she works and the kids walk home by themselves. The 4th grader supervises the younger kids; at home the teenage son supervises all. Great that they're integrated into the school; my wonderful daughter sees color but sees through color. I kept asking her where her friend came from; she insisted "from Israel." Tried to tell her that all Israelis come from somewhere else, she mercifully fails to see that. I picked her up at the apartment--a cramped messy affair in which the kids watch tv after school. No stressed out parents trying to help their kids become lab rats to get ahead. But will they be able to "compete" for the goods when the race starts I ask myself? The old freedom/equality thing.