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Friday, April 21, 2017

And now for something (a little) different…

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One reasons I haven’t been blogging so much lately is that I went back to school last year to finally start working my way towards a master’s degree.  This winter, I did a course in Creative Nonfiction, and for the final project, I was supposed to write a narrative essay informed by the techniques of creative nonfiction, as a genre, as well as by graduate-level research into a subject of interest.

So I thought: “What could be more interesting than Israel?”  Obviously!

I have been sharing some thoughts here all along about the idea of politics, and what it means to get political when it comes to the situation here on the ground, and I figured I’d pull it all together into a sort of story of a nice Canadian who is reluctant to deal with politics but who has been forced to due to living in Israel.

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that politics is not what I do naturally, or best. 

So much so, perhaps, that when I tried to write a serious post on Palestinian identity, one person nastily took it upon him/herself (I’m guessing HIMSELF, for some reason) to comment, “Better to stick with tips on a successful Aliyah than playing the political game.” 

Like I said,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5 failproof ways to enjoy chol hamoed in Israel

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If there's a downside to living in a Jewish country, it may be the fact that everybody celebrates the same holidays.  That means everyone is on vacation at the same time.  Which means, in turn, that every attraction, every highway, every bus route and train line, is going to be jam-packed if you're heading to the most popular destinations - and even some unpopular ones.

This Pesach was our (hmm...) eighth chol hamoed living in Israel (Sukkos / Pesach year 5774, Sukkos / Pesach 5775, Sukkos / Pesach 5776, Sukkos / Pesach 5777 - omg, I can't believe it.)

Our very first chol hamoed (Sukkos 5774), we headed to Yerushalayim, little suspecting that everybody else in the country had the exact same idea.  Public transportation in Yerushalayim isn't entirely reliable at the best of times, and this was NOT the best of times.  We spent a large chunk of the day stuck in traffic.  Very frustrating!

I'm not saying Jerusalem is out of the picture.  But based on our experience and some others over the years (!), I've come up with a few rules for planning chol hamoed activities with the least possible stress.

Here are five tips that will help you sail through chol hamoed with the greatest of ease:

1. Book ahead

Lots of attractions here let you pre-book a specific time slot.  We did that for a few activities this chol hamoed, including the Dialogue in the Dark exhibit at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon, a jumping / bouncy castle attraction (also in Holon, we made a day of it), a local trampoline place, and the movie theatre.   Last year, I also bought tickets to a play at the Haifa Children’s Theatre Festival.  During previous chol hamoeds, we’ve done various circus things.  There are always choices like this, which allow you to plan ahead.

The movie theatre is a great example.  Sure, they charge something trivial like 5 shekels extra to pre-book, but you get to pick not only your movie time but also your seats.  Yet the throngs at the box office bely the fact that this is 2017 and such a thing as the Internet even exists.  People show up and then act surprised that there are so many other people; they get into the theatre and act surprised that the good seats are already taken.  Plan a good surprise – prebook and you can waltz right in anytime.  We had to kick people out of our seats, but I tell myself they could have booked online, too.

2. Show up on time

Monday, April 17, 2017

British media: Covering up murder, as usual

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It’s tragic when anyone dies in a terror attack.  But last week’s murder by a Palestinian attacker of a British student in Jerusalem provides an opportunity to view the “local angle” – the British take on what exactly happened.

We all know the truth isn’t pretty – at least, until the British start telling it.  These three media reports are typical in that they sidestep the truth, leaving huge gaps when talking about who exactly committed the murder.

First, we have The Guardian:

Headline:  “Jerusalem stabbing: British student, 20, killed close to Old City”

Paragraph 1:  “British victim of a fatal stabbing”  (who did it?)

Paragraph 2:  “killed on Friday” (by whom?)

Paragraph 3:  “The attack, which police said involved a Palestinian assailant with a history of mental health issues” (involved?  was there anyone ELSE involved?  who exactly did it???)

Later in the article:  “A wave of unrest that erupted in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 260 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese...”  (erupted?)

Blah.

Next up is Sky News:

Headline:  “British student Hannah Bladon's family 'devastated' by her killing in Jerusalem”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Is there such a thing as “Palestinians”? (um, yes?)

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I already know people are going to get mad when they see a headline like this.

Hard-line Israel supporters might say I’m questioning things that should not be questioned.
Meanwhile, liberal non-Israelis will say it’s an idiotic question – so long as someone defines himself or herself as “Palestinian,” that’s what they are.

(The liberal world is very into self-definition these days.  I always have been, too.  My philosophy has generally been that for the tricky stuff, we can let Hashem decide.  Baruch Hashem, I don’t have to be in charge of the universe.)

The problem with this is that a big piece of the argument for the State of Israel these days seems to be “there’s no such thing as Palestinians.  They just made it up.”

There are so many good memes I could raid to demonstrate this attitude.  Here are just a few:

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

(okay, same quote, two different memes)

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Even the Arabs agree (or at least a couple of Arabs):

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Some of these memes rely on the idea that not only are there no Palestinians, but that Arabs are some kind of Johnny-come-latelies to the region…

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Be that as it may.

(Here comes the part lots of folks don’t want to hear.)

Be that as it may.

Because I’m not touching any of these memes.  For all I know, they may be right.  In fact, I believe some are right.

The power of illusion

That doesn’t change the fact that today, for all intents and purposes, Palestinians do EXIST.

Why?  Because of the power of illusions. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quit apologizing–you’re Israeli now! (Or are you?)

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If you’re a person who apologizes, you may find yourself in a distinct minority here in Israel.

Now, me, I’m Canadian.  Apologizing is one of the things we do best.

Here’s proof:

Two days before we left Canada, I was in the grocery store getting some last-minute things to bring with us, and I was pushing my cart down the HUGE, wide aisle, and another woman was coming the other way down the HUGE, wide aisle.  I passed her with my cart and she passed me with her cart, and there was lots of room to spare on both sides.  And as we passed each other, I apologized AND she apologized, at exactly the same moment.

Why?

For being close to each other's spaces.  It's hilarious, but it's also true.  We feel very uncomfortable when we are anywhere near other human beings.  In Canada, there's about 1/4 of a square km for every person, while in Israel (I just checked!) - there's 0.0026982436083974 of a square km.

We also don't want to cause anyone a moment's discomfort. 

On our aliyah flight we switched seats in the middle of the night and the flight attendant was confused in the morning, so I apologized - and she said, "You're Israeli now.  Stop apologizing!"

In Israel it's very warm and very close, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.  Nobody apologizes for anything.

It is a good thing sometimes, to not be too apologetic.  As a nation, Israel sometimes needs to stand up for what it believes in and not let anybody convince us otherwise.  I noticed this bumper sticker on the wall of the bus station in Jerusalem this morning.

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It says:  “Israel:  Trust in Hashem, and not in America.”  Sometimes, Israel is so busy apologizing to America, or at least, trying to look nice for the Americans, that it loses sight of its own values.

The only problem with trusting in Hashem is that none of us have a direct hotline to Hashem, which means that sometimes Israelis make mistakes and don’t apologize.  Either way, I guess, is a problem – too much apologizing, or not enough.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Things that are weird in Israel #17: Bread, bread, everywhere.

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This picture is sadly pretty typical for our neighbourhood.   There is bread on the ground, on sewer covers, almost literally everywhere.

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Luckily, I knew about this before I came to Israel.  According to halacha, you’re not supposed to throw away useable bread – which is defined as anything bigger than a kezayis (olive-sized piece) worth.  (This may apply to other food as well.)

What this means, in practice, is that all over Israel, instead of throwing away bread, people leave it out (as seen here), or leave it in plastic bags, hanging from recycle bins, dumpsters, and other public spots while the contents get moldy, slimy, and disgusting.

Ostensibly, if it’s laid out like this, then people are feeding animals (presumably birds?) with it, rather than wasting it.  But the birds here are kind of picky, and judging from the mold on these rolls, not all that interested in everybody’s cast-off crusts.

I believe it’s a very good thing to think of bread as something special, as something holy, even.  We should put in time and effort to make it.  We should make it as healthy and delicious as possible, and savour it while we’re eating it.  Bread is absolutely one of the holy things.  Mahatma Gandhi said “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

But you know what’s holier than bread?  Israel.

Duh.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The occupation of the eucalyptus

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What’s with all these trees?

One of the first things you’ll see when you come to Israel is that there are trees everywhere. Gradually, it may dawn on you that many seem to be the same kind of tree – the shaggy dog of Israeli horticulture, the eucalyptus tree. And like the iconic sabra cactus, these trees, too, are originally strangers here: imported foreigners, imposters making themselves at home on the desert landscape.

Their Hebrew name is אקליפטוס/ekalyptus. I think in Latin they’re eucalyptus camaldulensis, or Red River Gum, but I could be wrong, because there are something like 800 kinds of eucalyptus out there. These are not the round-leaved, fragrant trees of Australian legend, although they were originally an Australian import, planted by JNF a century ago for a country which desperately needed trees.

Our eucalyptus have long, pointy leaves. The trees hang out everywhere in scraggly bunches, gangly and overgrown: outside of train stations, in parks, gardens, neglected lots. Their bark is scruffy, sloughy, slipping off here and there in patches that make the trees look nothing if not mangy. And they’ll thrive just about anywhere, which is why they are here in the first place.

Over the last century or so since it first arrived, the eucalyptus has become an iconic foreigner here - so much so that one of the best-known Israeli folksongs, written by the First Lady of Israeli song Naomi Shemer, is called "The Eucalyptus Grove" (clip here).

For Israelis, the eucalyptus has come to represent permanence and homecoming after millennia of exile. As the folksong’s chorus goes,

Yet the Banks beside the Jordan,
it’s like nothing has changed,
You’ll find the same old silence:
the scenery’s still the same:
The grove of Eucalyptus,
the bridge and the old barge,
And scent of salty air upon the water. (lyrics link
)

For those who are inclined to political correctness, there is probably much to be read into this thriving occupation of an invasive non-native species, as represented by the eucalyptus.

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