Archive | August, 2012

First Year’s Report Card

28 Aug

This week marks our first year anniversary since we returned to Galilee, Israel after having lived in California for many, many years.  To keep us from going nuts, Pnina and I made a pact, a promise: never to compare out lives in L.A with that of Israel.  In the beginning, in mixed company, we would start out with, “Yes, but in America [ fill in the comparison].”

We since stopped.  Almost.  So for the sake of this First Year’s Report Card, I’m making an exception and telling of our impressions:Tailgating

Drivers in Israel: They’re all mad, mad, mad.  During our first month in Israel, awaiting our imported car to arrive from the States, we rented a car.  Wanting to pay the car rental with our Visa, we read the card issuer’s policy in small print: “VISA does not offer accidental death insurance in Israel and Jamaica.”  In other words, if a wild Jamaican tourist drives here with Bob Marley on the radio and a Jamaican Jerky chicken stuck in his mouth, and from the opposite direction comes an impatient Israeli with falafel balls in his pita —–  They both meet in Heaven.

You can’t just snooze at a red light.  The split-second the light turns green, the guy behind you leans into his horn.  Honk!  Honk!! HONK!!!  The guy behind the guy behind you is honking, and the guy behind the guy behind the guy behind you joins the symphony.  There’s always someone overtaking you to your left, slams the accelerator on the open highway, returns to his lane an instant before crashing into a cement truck coming the other way.  Tailgating is everywhere.  Stare into the rear-view mirror and there’s someone sitting on your bumper, an inch from your tailpipe, going at 90 kph, nudging you to get out of the way.  Honk!

Road signs are a joke.  They’re of a different size, different color, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, with arrows pointing in every direction.  By the time I figure out which is which,  I’m off to a highway going the wrong way, to Ashdod.  Next turnoff: Egypt.

Biking in Kfar Tavor, Galilee

Mountain Biking: Great trails in and around Kfar Tavor, for every level.  I bike twice a week with a couple of guys, and a group of 10 men on Saturday mornings.  The landscape is rural, valleys, hills, meadows, creeks.  The jokes come fast and furious and so does the pedaling.

Gas Prices: At $8 a gallon, it costs me plenty to fill up.  But the attendant offers to wash my windshield, check the oil.  I fold the receipt of 500 Shekles ($125) and get in the car.  The attendant taps the glass.  I roll down the window.  He says: “We have specials today on Home Drinking Systems, Coca-Cola family pack, and flat screen TVs – which one do you want?”  I drive off.  What ever happened to “$20 on 4?”

Grocery Store: At the cash register, part 2.  The cashier points to stuff.  “We have a special today on kitchen towels, light bulbs, batteries, nail polish remover, mouse traps – which one do you want?  Did you say nothing?  We have a special on Home Drinking Systems.”

Personal Space: There isn’t any (see tailgating above).  People stand so close to you, they can count your eyelashes, smell your aftershave or perfume.  I get to smell what they had for dinner.  At the ATM machine, they’re so close behind, they might as well punch in your PIN code.  How many Shekels should I get for you,  Haver?  500?  1000?

Volume:  There are three settings to TV volume: High, Higher, and did I pierce your eardrum yet?  Walk into someone’s home and the TV is at full blast.  The host is welcoming you into the living room, a hug or a kiss, motions you to a chair, no explanation why the TV anchor is shouting.  Coffee anyone?  What did you say?  Begin sign language, tilt hand toward mouth as if sipping something.  Did you say COFFEE?

Breakfast at Israeli Cafe

Coffee: My rule of thumb: if you can’t enjoy it black, no sugar, then it must be bad.  Starbucks for me was always burnt, awful.  Here, to sit at Aroma Cafe, Greg’s, Cafe Cafe, Cafe Joe, Arcafe, Cafe Hillel – to name but a few – is to enjoy the best coffee ever.  Whether it’s a cappuccino, an Americano, or a small Turkish at a local joint, it’s always hot, foamy, flavorful, aromatic, and energizing.  Order the Israeli Breakfast, sit back, relax.

Beer: See coffee above.  A bottle of Goldstar at the end of a hot day is the beginning of a wonderful evening.

Hummus plate in Nazareth

Humuus:  And the winner is…. a small restaurant in Old Nazareth.  It’s creamy, the garbanzo beans are soft, the pita is fresh, the olive oil peppery, and the occasional bite into a tomato, pickle, and yes, raw onion, completes the $6 feast.

Double Dipping:  How about triple dipping?   Much of the food is brought to the table in buffet style; it’s meant to be shared.  For some reason, there are rarely serving utensils, not in restaurants, not in homes, not at wedding banquets.  Knives are optional.  The fork does all the work: cut, stab, scoop, bring to mouth, dip in another plate.  Repeat.  Need napkins?  Good luck.

Paper Towels: The worst ever.  Thin.  disintegrates in your hands.

Toilet Paper: The worst ever.  Thin.  disintegrates in your butt.

Mosquitoes: Fuck ’em.

Dust storms in April and May: see Mosquitoes above.

Television: Great movies, fantastic documentary channel, engaging films in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Swedish, Serbian, Persian.   My twin daughters watch nothing but American shows.  They tape them, watch them again and again, and are able to quote complete lines from Modern Family and Big Bang Theory.

Business Hours:  Israelis haven’t given up on their afternoon siesta.  It’s not proper to call or visit anyone between 14:00 and 16:00.  Confused?  Time is kept here on 24-hour military clock.  Signs outside the bank, the clinic, the post office read something like this:  We’re open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday 9:30 – 13:00 and 16:30 – 18:00.  Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30 – 14:00.  Fridays 08:00 – 12:00.

People: I run into Arabs that look like Jews, and into Jews that look like Arabs, into Russian Jews that don’t look like Jews, and African immigrants who want to be Israelis and Israelis who don’t want them to be Israelis, and American Jews that look like… American Jews.  The common denominator is that they’re all friendly, for the most part, will strike a conversation instantly, will share their life’s experience with you, offer to help without being asked, will lend you tools, advice, whether you asked for it or not, invite you in for coffee after having met you 5 minutes ago.

“Hey, Maurice, come on in.  You’re sweating.  Here’s some water from our Home Drinking System.  My wife just baked a cake.  Here, grab a fork.  Yes, dip it in the chocolate.  Now dip it in the plum sauce.  What?  I can’t hear you, the TV is on.  Bathroom, you said?  Yes, it’s down the hall to your right.  There’s a new roll of toilet paper on the floor.”

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Ramadan done done

15 Aug

It’s summer in Galilee.  The roads are less travelled.  There’s a sense of emptiness, fewer crowds.  You might think it has to do with the heat, or the rush of Israelis to Europe on their version of “en vacances,” or it could be that the price of gas at the pump has climbed to $7.00 per gallon.

But you’d be wrong.

Ramadan 2012

It’s Ramadan, a month-long ritual of fasting, prayer and abstinence.  Unlike the solar, Gregorian calendar of the West, the Moslem calendar is lunar-based.  Its year is 11 days shorter so Ramadan falls each year at a different time.  This year: Mid-July to mid-August, are peak summer months.  The last time this happened was in 1980.  At this pace, Ramadan will not “escape” the summer calendar until the year 2020.

The Moslem Arabs are in virtual hiding, away from the scorching heat, 132 degrees Fahrenheit in Baghdad and Kuwait, and 100 degrees in our neck-of-the-woods, Galilee.

Which explains why everything’s at a near standstill.  The construction sites near our home are nearly abandoned.  The heavy cranes are idle.  Trucks roll by less frequently.  In the fields there are fewer hands to pick the crops.  Arab handymen, domestic help, and rock masons are hard to come by.  They don’t answer their cell phones much, let all go to voicemail.

To many Jewish Israelis it’s a mixed blessing.  You can’t find a plumber to fix your leaky faucet, but the roads are empty, the public swimming pools are without women wading in the water in their burka or hijab.  There’s plenty of parking at State parks and nature reserves.

For an entire month the Moslems fast from dawn to nightfall, from 4:30am to 7:30pm.  Not one morsel of food crosses their tongues, no water quenches their thirst.  Sex is out of the question.  And you can’t light up a cigarette, either…

breaking the fast in Ramadan

What percentage of Moselms sneak a bite privately?  No one knows for sure, but  Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, a reporter for NPR, reported yesterday that cafes in Ramallah, in the West Bank, are crowded.  The customers eat behind lowered window blinds, behind closed doors, away from anyone who might snitch on them.  No one in the cafe wants to go on record but they do admit they eat secretly.  “There are a lot of pretenders.”

It’s a late July evening and I’m seated on a lounge chair in our rooftop balcony.  The sun has set behind Mount Tavor in the west.  The air is still hot but there’s a slight breeze.  The sky is turning from orange to purple.  The muezzin at the minaret of the nearby mosque summons the Moslem believers to prayer, to break the fast.  His cries on the amplified loudspeaker slice the air.  And then, without notice, the bells of the Church of Transfiguration atop Mount Tavor peal loudly.  The sounds invade each other’s space.  The church bells continue to ring.  I can’t decide if it’s a symphonic medley of brotherly love, an ecumenical cooperation with Islam, or an overt competition for dominance of the airwaves.  I get up and lean over the edge of the balcony and watch the passersby.  Two men with kippas to their heads are heading to the nearby synagogue, most likely to observe Tisha B’Av, to pray over the destruction of the First and Second Temple.

Moslems celebrating end of Ramadan at Tel-Aviv beach

They don’t seem to hear the muezzin nor the bells.

All this night air makes me hungry.  I go down and into the house and prepare a turkey sandwich, extra mustard, extra pickles.  I take my feast into the bedroom and lock the door.  I’m not sharing.