Tag Archives: London

Stop the Train – I want to get off!

6 Jul

The summer’s hot in Israel and I’m not talking about the weather.  Last month, three young Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were kidnapped by Arab terrorists.  The terrorists murdered the boys and dumped them in a field.  Last week, an Arab teenage boy was kidnapped, his body burned.  Was it murder committed by Arabs?  Was an act of revenge committed by Jews for the three boys’ killing? The police is investigating.  Update: The Israeli police and secret service have made arrests; they believe it was a group of Jewish boys who’d killed the Arab boy.

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jews and Arabs relate to loss of life differently.  There’s no sugar-coating this difference.  The entire State of Israel was in mourning following the death of the three boys.  Whether you are on the left or on the right, every single Israeli felt as he had lost a son, a collective tragedy.  I don’t doubt the Arab boy’s mother is grieving.  But not the surrounding Arab community.

Jerusalem train during better days

Jerusalem train during better days

Instead, they took to the streets, hurled stones at Jews and security forces, burned tires, blocked streets, destroyed portions of the Jerusalem Light Rail that runs through their neighborhoods. To repair the trains will take months and cost millions.

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

To think that Arabs and Jews could live together; it’s naiveté that borders on stupidity.  Take the city of Jerusalem, for example.  Its eastern flank has been “united” with western Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967.  For decades, steps were taken to unite the city.  Israel’s tourist office, the city mayor, the media – they all speak of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Yet few advertise the fact that almost 40% of its population is Arab.

How would London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo be able to operate if 4 out of 10 of its residents were hostile or uncooperative?

Yet Jerusalem hides this fact.  It hopes against hope that “we can all get along.”  Arabs migrate from surrounding villages and towns to East Jerusalem.  There they intermarry, prosper and multiply.  Jews, in return, add more Jewish neighborhoods on hillsides in a game of one-upmanship.

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

The Jerusalem Light Rail, open for business since 2011, is the flagship of public transportation. It was to be the experiment to unite both sides of Jerusalem.  At 9 miles long, the slick, electric train makes its way through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.  Each day, 130,000 passengers cross town.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Suddenly, for the past three years, Arabs who were confined to their homes could step out their front doors, hop on a modern train, and minutes later find themselves in fashionable shopping promenades, markets, city hall, university, and much more.  Now sitting inches apart on board the train, Muslim women wearing Hijabs to cover their faces stare at Orthodox Jewish men wearing shtreimel and tzitzit.

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

But if the Light Rail can be likened to an artery that meanders through the body, the blood cells (Jews and Arabs) are sick of each other.  They want to flow in separate bodies, in separate veins.

Poor Englishmen and poor Englishwomen board trains in East London to London’s West End and there’s no war at the end of the day.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and there was no war.  There were Germans on both sides of the wall. During the Los Angeles Riots of  1992 Blacks burned down their own liquor stores, markets, gas stations to protest against years of neglect by the Whites on the Westside.  But at the end of the day, when the dust and smoke settled, there was a truce, rebuilding, hope.

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs and Jews share no common future.  The events of the last few weeks prove that.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions, and although Jerusalem is in God’s backyard, heaven is a long way off.  The Arabs’ carnage of the Light Rail and other violent demonstrations are evidence that we’re different peoples.  We should disengage from each other.

My station is coming up.  I’m getting off.

What about you?

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a World Cup Slob

21 Jun

Plates and cups clog the kitchen sink.  Empty beer bottles roll back and forth in the front yard.  Dirty, sweaty clothes pile up in the laundry room.  This is the life of a World Cup slob – me!

This is what the World Cup does to some men – turns them from Metrosexuals to Neanderthals.  The few times I looked at myself in the mirror the past 10 days, I don’t recognize the image.  The clean shave has been replaced by a prickly stubble; the eyes are bloodshot from staying up past 2 in the morning; the hair’s wild.Kitchen sink

What’s even better (worse?) is that I don’t have to report or answer to anyone.  Days before, my wife and daughters flew from Israel to  California for a summer vacation.

I have the entire house to myself!

During the World Cup, other than part-time work, I don’t do much.  Weeds sprout in the garden undisturbed.  The sun beats down on the uncovered lawn furniture.  My dog howls for attention.   The trash can in the kitchen smells.  Ants crawl on the countertop.  The toilet bowl has many colors;  white is not one of them.   The towels are crunchy.  The bed is unmade; the decorator pillows are on the floor.  The fridge releases an echo when open.

But I’m happy.

World Cup

World Cup

The Wold Cup – the celebration of football (soccer) – comes once every four years.  Over 160 nations compete to be in the Wold Cup.  Only 32 make it.  For me, it’s not just a celebration of the beautiful game; it’s a celebration of life.  Fans in the stadiums all over Brazil jump for joy, hug strangers, shed tears of victory or defeat.

For many fotballers, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  They’re at the top of their game.  These superb athletes represent flag and country.  They fight with the skin of their teeth.  They defend, attack, score, pray, rejoice.  It’s the ultimate rush.

From the comfort of my armchair at home, I cheer and heckle, watch replays of goals in slow motion, somehow feel the unbearable Brazilian heat, the cold, the humidity, thirst, exhaustion.

pile of clothes

It’s great to hear old-timers speak of past World Cups: 1966 in London, 1970 in Mexico City, 1994 in the United States.

I AM such old-timer.  As a kid, I watched a Wold Cup game in 1966, on a black-and-white TV, in a crowded cafe in Rome, with my father.  I watched the 1970 Wold Cup on a giant screen at the Forum Sports Arena in Inglewood, California, again, with my father.  And I watched the 1994 World Cup in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, live, with a friend.

On the radio recently some Israeli women complained that during the World Cup they had turned into “sports widows or girlfriends.”  The talk show host responded:  “Listen, women, once a month, you’re unavailable for a week.  Once every four years, men are unavailable.

Equal abuse for all.  Laundry

The Final is almost three weeks away, but already, the World Cup in Brazil is destined to be one of the best.

Come July 14, a day after the final, I promise to shave more often, to tak out the trash, to wash, to kill ants, to clear out the fridge.  But until then, I’ll remain a happy slob.

A final note from where I’m reporting: Israel did not qualify for the World Cup.  But no worry — if there’s ever an accountants World Cup, I’m sure Israel will win.

Until then, Israel can only dream of reaching this event, as shown in this YouTube clip.

 

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem of Gold, Dollars, Euros

29 Mar

The year is 1971 and I’m on board a Greek ship sailing from New York to Israel.  The ship’s captain is throwing a dinner party in the ballroom.  The mood’s festive and gay.  Passengers dance, hold balloons by strings.  Israelis and other nationalities hold hands and circle the dance floor.  Age 16, I sit on a comfortable armchair and watch the spectacle.  Then, the music stops.  Dancers stop in mid-step.  A woman approaches the stage, taps the microphone a couple of times, casts her hand over her eyes to block the stage lights.

Overlooking Jerusalem

Overlooking Jerusalem

She sings “Jerusalem of Gold:”

The mountain air is clear as wine
And the scent of pines
Is carried on the breeze of twilight
With the sound of bells…..
Jerusalem of gold
And of bronze, and of light
Am I not a violin for all your songs.

 

When she’s finished, there isn’t a dry eye in the house, including mine.  Israelis, Europeans and Americans cheer and clap.

Four years earlier, following the 1967 Six-Day war, Israel, the underdog, wrested East Jerusalem from the Jordanians.   Euphoria was at its peak.

Jerusalem Apartment Building

Jerusalem Apartment Building

Fast forward more than 40 years, to 2014.  Jerusalem is no longer a sleepy town nestled in the Judean Hills.  Instead, it’s home to 800,000 residents, 10% of Israel’s total.  Its population is double that of Tel Aviv, it’s land area is greater than Paris.

And its challenges are greater than all of Israel’s cities.  A Forbes Magazine survey rated Tel Aviv as Israel’s No. 1 city.   Jerusalem was not even in the top 10.

Why?

Jerusalem’s population tells the story.  Depending on your political persuasion, Israel “annexed” “occupied” “liberated” “united” East Jerusalem in 1967.  That came with a price: Arabs and immigration from overseas.

1/3 of Jerusalem’s residents are Arab, mostly all in East Jerusalem.  The remaining 2/3 are split evenly between Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Secular Jews.

Imagine you’re the Mayor of Jerusalem, Israel’s state capital.  Given the complexities, try running the city for a day.

Good luck.

Jerusalem apartment interior

Jerusalem apartment interior

My wife Pnina and I are in Jerusalem for a couple of days.  We’re staying at a quaint hotel, taking in the sights, enjoying the food and markets.  We’re also checking out the real estate.

Jerusalem is not Manhattan, but when it comes to home prices, it might as well be.  The prices are closer to God, than to mortals down on earth.

Two women real estate agents greet us at noon.  They’ve prepared a list of homes to view.  We pile into their car and off we go to Rehavia, the German Colony, Bak’a, Ein Kerem, Katamonim – some of Jerusalem’s choicest areas.

The shock is immediate and painful.  Small, cramped apartments in often tired buildings are beyond our pocketbook.  The average 100 sq. meters ( 1100 sq. feet) apartment is going for $1,000,000.  And it’s not even move-in ready.  It’s mostly a shell of a home.

Pnina outside Jerusalem hotel

Pnina outside Jerusalem hotel

Here’s of one the real estate agents talking: “The place has great potential.  You can knock down this wall here, redo the kitchen there, upgrade the bathroom over there and you’ve got yourself a gem.”

The “For Sale” flyer will show the home as having 4 rooms, but in Israel the living room is counted as one, so is the converted, enclosed balcony, and a small space behind the bathroom, fit more for birds and pigeons….

On to the next home, and the next, and the next.  The common denominator is that most apartments are empty.

“Who lives here?” I ask.

Turns out there’s an epidemic of absentee homeowners in Jerusalem.  Many of the apartments remain empty 10 months out of the year.  Rich Jews from Brooklyn, Paris, London frequent their Jerusalem home-away-from-home once or twice a year, mostly during Passover and Rosh Hashanah.  The rest of the time the apartment collects dust.

In highly desirable neighborhoods, it’s not uncommon to see 1/3 of the buildings empty of residents.  It’s a ghost town of sorts.

Who’s got a $1,000,000?

Jerusalem Gay Parade

Jerusalem Gay Parade

Definitely not your average Joseph or Moshe or Sara.  They’re struggling to make a living, barely getting by.  They can’t afford half that price.  Many are Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews with extended and expanded families.  Gays, squeezed from all sides, choose Tel-Aviv, instead.

That leaves the out-of-town investors from Europe and America to run the show.  Supply is low.  Demand is high.  It’s a market that’s ripe for a price hike.  The locals sell out and move.  For them, it’s as if they hit the Lotto.

Who’s left in Jerusalem?  Mainly it’s the Super rich with their dollars and euros.  And the Super poor with their shekels.  The secular Jews, the middle-class, college-educated, unable to afford a home, are moving to the suburbs of Tel Aviv, taking with them vitality and know-how that’s deeply needed by an overly Orthodox Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Machne Yehuda Market

Jerusalem Machne Yehuda Market

And the city is showing its wear and tear.  The fabric is becoming undone.  I don’t know if the claim is verified, but many say the Arabs (East Jerusalem) and the Orthodox don’t pay their fair share of property tax.  They get government exemptions and subsidies for having large families.  They don’t pay, or they under-pay.  Either way, the neglect in the streets is apparent.

Trash piles up.  Ugly billboards, legal or not, are posted on walls, lamp posts.  Schools underperform.  City services suffer.

Dinner at a Jerusalem restaurant

Dinner at a Jerusalem restaurant

And yet, there’s something “golden” about the city, inexplicable, intangible, holy, captivating.

Olives in Machne Yehuda Market

Olives in Machne Yehuda Market

David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, said during Israel’s War of Independence: “Jerusalem can do without Israel but Israel cannot do without Jerusalem.”

It’s the end of the day.  The sun glistens on the stone-covered buildings.  We say good-bye to the real estate agents and head to Machne Yehuda open-air market.  We settle for freshly baked bread, dates, olives, sit down to dinner and order grilled vegetables, wine.

The price?  Less than a million.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel – the Land of High-Priced Milk… and Honey

18 Jan

From my rooftop balcony in Kfar Tavor, Galilee, I see the smoke stacks of Tnuva Industries.  It’s the largest dairy plant in the Middle East.  Every day, hundreds of trucks bring in the raw milk for processing.Food2

For most Israelis, lunch is the heavy meal of the day.  It includes chicken or beef, and rarely fish although the Mediterranean is a stone throw away.  Dinner is the “light” meal of the day: typically scrambled eggs, dices tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, and lots and lots of dairy products: milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt.

One of the reasons for leaving Los Angeles was the belief that the cost of living is lower in Israel, that food prices are cheaper.

False!

It’s not even a contest.  Consider that Israelis, on average,  earn 1/2 of their American counterparts and the food price comparison becomes obscene.food1

Take a quart of milk, for example.  In Israel it costs $1.85 a quart or $7.50 per gallon.  And since you’re making half, it’s as if it cost $15 in the U.S.

If this were to happen in the U.S., there would be blood, I mean, milk in the streets.

But here, people complain and groan and continue to drink.  Why?  Tnuva Industries is a monopoly, controlling 85% of the dairy market.  Which is why it can charge the U.S. equivalent of $3.50 for a small container of cottage cheese, and $9.50 for 10 ounces of “Swiss” cheese.

I love beer.  But at $12.85 for a six-pack of Goldstar (think double, remember? $25.70), I measure my consumption of the lovely beverage.

The price of bread is outrageous.  A sliced loaf will cost you $5.00 (think $10).

Apples?  $2.10 per pound (think $4.20/pound).

A bag of frozen peas?  $3.80/pound (think $7.60).  Why so much? Are there little people with little fingers counting those little green pease before they put them in the little bag?  Or is the cost of ice?

How about some cereal with your expensive milk?  Then empty your wallet of $6.50 ($13).Food3

Want lunch with chicken breast?  $3.75/pound (think $7.50)

Even fruits and vegetables, the main staple of the Israeli diet, is not within the reach of many.  What’s irritating is that top-quality produce is flown daily to grocery stores in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, yet here, in Israel, second-grade produce costs more.

That’s a lot of fertilizer on your face.

Elite-Strauss is a giant food cartel.  They monopolize everything on the supermarket shelf, from chocolate to coffee, to snacks, to cheeses, to ice cream.  Osem Industries, another food powerhouse, control pastas, rice, sugar, flour. Telma controls cereals, soups, canned goods.

Unlike countries in Europe, Israel imports less food.  There’s no competition.  And if there are imports to be had, guess who the European exporters partner with?  You got it: Osem, Elite and Tnuva.  They have s small army of lawyers who are able to decipher the red tape, the cost, the paperwork, the crazy documentation needed to import food into Israel.Food4

What’s absurd is that Israeli-grown food costs double here than it does in England.  Raisins cost double in Tel Aviv than in London.  Same for dried apples. Walnuts costs more.  And the list goes on.

A recent survey found Israeli food to be 30% more expensive than European.  Germans and French earn more, so do the math.

There are multiple reasons for the high prices but none are convincing.  The giant food companies say that the Israeli market is too small, fewer consumers, therefore, it has more operating costs, hence the higher price.  Belgium and Portugal have similar population size as Israel’s and their prices are much lower.

Kosher laws add to cost, food producers explain.  It’s not a reason, but an excuse to raise prices, to pin it on the “fall guy.”

To keep their market share, these big companies control the supermarkets.  They dictate the prices, give incentives for displaying their products on the shelves, and penalize them for introducing a competitor.

Supermarkets are tacit allies.  They can’t afford not to cooperate.  Products will be pulled off.  A small importer wanted to introduce the famous Cadbury chocolate.  Suggested retail price?  Half.  Elite squashed them.

So how do we get by?fruit

We buy imported beer when they’re on sale.  We stock up.  We gave up milk for health reasons; we use just a little to splash our morning coffee.  Instead, we grind almonds, throw in soft dates, and hit “blend.”  The result? A refreshing light almond milk drink.

We hardly eat cheeses.

Bread?  My wife bakes, instead.  Or we buy great tasting whole-wheat pita bread from the Arab villages.

In 2011, thousands of Israelis flocked to the streets in protest.  A grassroots movement came into being.  Tents were pitched on fashionable Rothchild Blvd in Tel-Aviv.  Television crews came and went.  Debates were held on TV and radio.  It was called the “Cottage Cheese Protest.”

The Big Companies said they’re listening to their consumers.  They promised change.  In time, prices came down. Very little.

The tents in Rothchild folded.  People went home.beer

It’s back to business as usual.

I’m going to take a break now.  Pour myself a frothy beer.  Watch the golden color.  Sip.  Then dip our homemade bread in olive oil, and watch the world turn.

The Big Guys get all the breaks.

Cheers!

___________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Hebrew’s origin found in London. Almost

8 Dec

My family and I are at the British Museum as part of our recent vacation to London.  The Egyptian Rosetta Stone takes center stage on the ground floor.

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

Visitors surround the black rock tablet: 4 feet tall, 2 feet wide.  The upper slab is inscribed in ancient hieroglyphs, the middle, less ancient, the bottom, Greek.   Once the Rosetta was “discovered” in 1799, the enigmatic language was finally solved.

That opened the door wide open to interpret the secrets of the Pharaohs. Some 3800 years ago, to communicate, to record events, the Egyptian elite relied on 800 (!) signs and pictures.

Try ordering something on Amazon with this many signs.

The Egyptian scribes were the privileged few; they were holy, almost godly.  They doodled and drew symbols while the illiterate masses built the pyramids under the desert sun.

No afternoon tea back then.

This monopoly of the language would have continued unabated if it were not for a few Canaanite miners from the Sinai Desert.  In the Bible, Canaan is described as the promised Land of Israel, a pledge God had made to Abraham.  In actuality, Canaan was part of lower Levant – stretching from southern Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, to Lebanon, Israel, Sinai Peninsula.

The Canaanites had a love-hate relationship with the Egyptians to the south.  The Canaanites were good tradesmen. They were good with numbers.  And they worked in Sinai’s turquoise mines.  The turquoise stone was the most precious in the Ancient World and was prized by the Pharaohs.

So, the Canaanites, holed up in the mines for months, with nothing to watch on NetFlix, and unable to order pizza, decided to interpret the hieroglyphs etched in the rock slabs.

They were not an educated bunch, according to Orly Goldwasser, a professor of Egyptology at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.  But what they wanted most was to communicate with their bosses in Egypt without having to carve and chisel hundreds of pictures and symbols, many of which they had no clue about.

House pictured as a square became the letter "Beit" - B - the sound for "house"

House pictured as a square became the letter “Beit” – B – the sound for “house”

So, they started to abstract the pictures into sounds.  The word for “house” was no longer a series of obscure images, but a simple picture of a square – the 4 walls.

The picture for Ox became the sound for the animal - ALP - then Aleph - the first letter of the Alphabet

The picture for Ox, the animal, became the first letter of the Alphabet

The word for “ox,” a pack animal, was produced with only one picture and then its sound, in Hebrew, ALP, became the letter Aleph in the alphabet.

The letter “r” was represented by a sign shaped like the human head, ras being the Semitic word for “head.”

The Hebrews, the ancient people of Canaan, along with the Phoenicians to the north, further developed and simplified the language.  800 symbols had become fewer than 30.

Talk about getting rid of excess fat.

Over the centuries, the modern letter, abstracted and simplified, have little resemblance to the original pictographs

Over the centuries, the modern letters, abstracted and simplified, have little resemblance to the original pictographs

But this revolutionary invention lay dormant for hundreds of years.  The Egyptian snobbish elite weren’t ready to ride into the sunset just yet.

Until the Greeks stepped in.  Then the Romans came.  Then the rest of the late-comers.  People communicated.  Trade flourished.  Ideas blossomed.

And the rest is history.

I leave the Rosetta Stone exhibit and head to the museum’s inviting restaurant.  The entire coffee and pastry menu fits on half a page, not an entire wall.

All thanks to a bunch of dusty Canaanite men in the turquoise mines.

Coffee anyone?

_______________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Orthodox goes Unorthodox

26 Oct

What would you do if you were told what to think, what to say, what to read, who to socialize with?

This is not an idea lifted from George Orwell’s book “1984.”  This Mind-Control is taking place in 2013, in some of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.  Israel is predominantly secular (75%), but if you were to go into Mea Shearim (One-Hundred Gates, in English), one of Jerusalem’s inner-neighborhoods – you step back in time and space.  Jews there don’t live in the 21st century; they live in a world all their own.  The men wear all black, the women are rarely seen or heard – they want nothing to do with the State of Israel.

Bella Mendel Today

Bella Mendel, Center

They await the coming Messiah to redeem the “true” Israel.  Until that day, they live in a separate state within a state.  They spend their days in prayer.  They don’t get involved with any of Israel’s citizens, and they refuse to enlist in the military.  To many secular Israelis, this “Neturei Karta” sect (Guardians of the City) is a thorn in their side.  And a pain in the rear.

Bella Mendel, age 24, and the mother of two, “escaped” from Mea Shearim.  Bella appeared on a much-watched TV talk show this week.  The moderator, Dan Shilon, asked her to share her story.  The first thing you notice is her constant smile.  She’s wearing a fashionable purple dress and knee-high boots.  Her luscious brown hair hangs on her relaxed shoulders.  “I grew up in Mea Shearim,” she starts, “I’m one of 14 brothers and sisters.  I was told what to do and what not to do since I was little.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

The Neturie Karta Jews settled in Jerusalem some 200 years ago, originally from Hungary and Lithuania.  To this day they speak Yiddish, not Hebrew.  Bella Mendel didn’t know any Hebrew until age 10, when she secretly “smuggled” in a radio.  The broadcasts opened her hears.  And her eyes.

She rebelled.

She was beaten.

At 15, a matchmaker “introduced” her to her husband-to-be.  Bella says to the camera:  “My family thought I was a trouble-maker.  They sent us off to London, to my aunt, to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Stamford Hill.”

Stamford Hill?

I stare at the TV screen.  That’s where I grew up as an eleven-year old, decades ago.  I can still remember the black-clad men rushing off to synagogue.  Even then, as a boy, I stepped off the sidewalk anytime I saw them coming my way.  I can still smell the London bakery, the Kosher butcher.

My old stomping ground in London's Stamford Hill

My old stomping ground in London’s Stamford Hill

Bella continues: “I ended up in London’s shelter for battered women.  I couldn’t endure any more beatings from my husband.”

“What about your two children?”

“They were taken from me.  But civil rights groups won them back for me.”

“Now that you broke away from the life you know, do you keep in touch with family?”

“They’re still in Jerusalem.  I live in Tel Aviv – ‘City of Sins,’ according to them.”

“What do you want to do in the future?”

“I don’t have a university degree; I never went to high school.  I was kept at home, underfoot.  So I have a lot of catching up to do.  Now I live every moment to its fullest.”

Do you still believe in the Torah (bible)?

“Yes.  Only one verse: ‘Love your Neighbor as Yourself.'”

I switch off the TV.  I can live with that.

What about you?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Tel Aviv vs. Galilee

23 Feb

Quick!  Name a city in France.  Name one in England, in the U.S.

If you’ve chosen Paris, London and New York, you’re not alone.  Which is to say, in Israel, it’s all about Tel-Aviv.  The city here is nicknamed the “Country of Tel-Aviv,” as if to say, there are two countries in Israel: Tel-Aviv and all the rest.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Urbanization is at an extreme pace in and around Tel-Aviv.  People flock to it in numbers, for jobs, for a way of life.  The young and the restless are willing to put up with rented apartments that are small even for pigeons, put up with leaky plumbing, peeling paint, no elevator, no parking, no privacy.

Why?

The city has a buzz.  It’s where you live, work and play.   The city’s not homogeneous; it has its rich sections and poor sections.  Rothschild Blvd is the line in the sand.  To the north of it: cafes, museums, theaters.  To the south: slums.

But you’d be hard pressed to find a place to live, even in the south of Tel-Aviv.  Competition is cut-throat.  Put an online ad for an available apartment and there will be hundreds of applicants at the doorstep willing to bid up the rent.

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

Centralization has gone mad.  Years ago Israel’s main population centers stretched from what was known as “From Gadera to Hadera, ” referring to “border towns” 25 miles south and north of Tel-Aviv.  Today, it’s been reduced to about a 10 mile radius around Tel-Aviv.

Everyone’s climbing over each other’s back to get into Tel-Aviv.  Skyscrapers, 40 and 50 stories high, are going up.  Old, rundown neighborhoods are being gentrified with lots of new and old money.

Forbes Magazine in its Hebrew edition ran a survey of the 10 best cities in Israel.

Number 1?  Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem?  Not a prayer.  Not even in the top 10, somewhere around 15.  Haifa?  Dead in the harbor.Tel Aviv

All the remaining 9 are within spitting distance from Tel Aviv (Herzelia, Givataim, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Rishon Le Zion, Holon, Bat-Yam).

Forbes’ criteria was clear-cut: educational level, ratio of university graduates, centrality vs. the boondocks, access to art, green space, employment opportunities, income, longevity.

Towns and villages in Israel did not see kindly the results of the survey.  “What about the quality of life in the countryside?”

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

In 2011 my wife and I and two of my four daughters moved from Los Angeles to Israel, to Kfar Tavor, to Galilee.  Even then, in the U.S., at the mention of Galilee, more so Kfar Tavor, the common response was: “Wow, what a quality community you’re moving to!  Well done!”

Kfar Tavor evokes positive and emotional feelings far beyond its 4000 residents.  It has history.  It CREATED history, established in 1901 by European Jews who wanted to work the land.

Even here, even now, when I visit family and acquaintances in Bat-Yam ( 2 miles from Tel Aviv! ) — to them  Kfar Tavor sounds romantic, rural, green, pure,  the Old Country that was lost in 21st century Israel.

A national survey of  Israel’s “Non-Metropolitan” communities shared the sentiment: it placed Kfar Tavor near the top of the pile.

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Yet, as a resident and the owner of a nice home that overlooks the fields of Kfar Tavor, I sometimes question their judgment.  And their taste.

Yes, Kfar Tavor is nice if you enjoy going for long walks among olive groves, almond orchards, vineyards.  Kfar Tavor is nice if you want to explore great bike trails.  It’s close to streams and rivers, to the mountains of Galilee.  Around our home there are Jewish communities, kibbutzim, and Arab villages.

Kfar Tavor has celery, onion and parsley fields, olives, almonds, grapes, figs, irrigation pipes and sprinklers, a water treatment facility, a sports center, a soccer field, a swimming pool, a community center for performances, an elementary school, one library, one post-office, kindergartens, senior center, two clinics, two synagogues, a town hall, mini-market, one  butcher, one  kiosk, one gym, one pizza delivery joint, one Chinese Take-Out, one sit-down restaurant, one cafe, one winemaker and cellars, one hair salon for women (men walk bald), one clothing store for women (men walk naked), one-one-one-one, and lots of dogs doing their business wherever the hell they please.

Kfar Tavor IS  the Tel-Aviv of the rural countryside.

Absurd, but true.

Jews and Arabs come to shop here.  Kibbutzniks come to watch a play or a recital.  Junior and adult basketball teams hold their tournaments here.

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

We’re on top of the pile.

Yet I itch for the allure of the big city.  With Pnina, my wife, it’s worse.  Her itch has developed into a skin rash.  She craves the big city.

I want to see colors other than gray, the predominant color in people’s hair in Kfar Tavor.

I want to see styles of clothes that don’t resemble biblical sandals and Kibbutz overalls.

I want to see slick, fast cars, not John Deere tractors.

I want to hear languages other than Hebrew and Arabic.

I want to see summer dresses, bikinis, cleavage; I want to smell bus fumes (?), perfume, aftershave, salt air, the sea.

And I don’t want to drive two hours one-way to Tel-Aviv to get my fill of the big city.  And yet we do.  We book a hotel night once a month, go with the girls, see the city, cringe at the noise, jaywalk, drink a beer at a cafe, savor a great cup of coffee, try the many dishes, run in the sand on the beach.  And when it’s all done, we pile into the car, drive the two-hour ride through coastal highways, through vast meadows and hillsides, through Arab towns and villages until we see the dome of Mt. Tavor.

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

We got our lungs full with Tel-Aviv oxygen.  Until next month.

It’s nighttime in Kfar Tavor.

Black sky.

Millions of stars.

Quiet.

I sleep.

Chirp.  Chirp-Chirp.

Crickets, any one?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.