Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Remembering the Holocaust during a pandemic

Every year in Israel, exactly one week before we celebrate Independence Day, we remember all the people who have died in the Holocaust.

From sunset the previous day until the first three stars show up in the sky the next day, the entire country is in mourning. Restaurants, theatres and coffee shops are closed. Most of the television channels are paused while the others play Holocaust documentaries or movies such as Schindler's List.

Many national institutes - schools, the Knesset (Israeli parlement) and army bases hold a special ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance. These ceremonies are usually organized in such a way that they coincide with the sirens.

At ten am, loud sirens throughout the entire country bring everyone to a standstill for two minutes so that we all can remember the dead.

Entire highways come to a standstill as drivers pull over, get out of their cars and bow their heads in silence. School children, shop owners, factory workers, office workers, hospital staff and police men and women - nearly every single person in Israel stop what they are doing and stand quiet for as long as the sirens sound.

These sirens, that are placed throughout Israel on poles and buildings, have a special wail to its sound. They are usually used to warn everyone of danger from incoming missile attacks. You can hear their sound deafening loud or a bit muted, depending on where you are. But you will definitely hear them.

Here in Israel we are all Pavlovized to their shrill sound - when you hear that special wail ringing in your ears, you grab the children and you run for the safe room. Or the stairwell or the designated shelter in your area.

But on Holocaust Remembrance Day that same wail means that you freeze right where you are. You stand quiet and you remember all the men and women and children who didn't have a safe place to run to.

Every year it is the same. We stop and we cry and we remember.

We remember the lost mothers and fathers. We mourn the dead aunts and uncles. The murdered grandmothers and grandmothers. The hidden grandchildren who were found and killed. The nieces and nephews who weren't able to escape. We remember the lost and the unknown and the faceless and those who thought that nobody will ever think of them.

We remember because nobody should ever forget the Holocaust.

And then, as soon as the sirens stop wailing, we carry on with our lives. The office workers return to their desks and carry on with their work, the school children go back to their classrooms and the drivers get in their cars and carefully drive off again. We continue to LIVE here in Israel, also for those that have died.

This year however it was different.

The loud sirens pierced a silence on the streets instead of the noise of living. The silence already preceded the sound, continued throughout the wail and stretched on afterwards.

Nobody went back to the classrooms because the schools are already empty. There was nobody to switch on the machines in the factories again. No traffic resumed because the roads are all empty and the office workers didn't return to their desks in the tall office buildings.

However, we still stood still and we remembered the massacre of the innocent. We may not have stood in ceremonies, in the streets or next to each other but we got up quietly and bowed our heads and remembered.

As we stood alone in our isolated homes, we stood together because nobody must ever forget the Holocaust.

Not even when there is a pandemic.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Ten things that I hate about life in Israel

I wish that public smoking would be banned already

If you have read any of my blog posts, you must have realized that this South African has learned to love the land of Israel and all the crazy Israelis inside it.

It took awhile, probably because it took me so long to learn Hebrew, but it has become a place I call home. A tourist may think that the locals are kinda rude, I think that they just have a tendency to speak their minds

Many Israeli's may not eat properly with a knife and fork or know how to stand in a queue but it does not really irk the heck out of me. I think that their warm and helpful nature makes up for these small etiquette faux pas.

Buuttt…..one has to be realistic and acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. Right? So here is my list of dislikes about life in Israel. 

Note that I am not mentioning anything about Israel's unique security situation. Just your ordinary basic garden variety life in Israel dislikes. Most are people related but not all.

These are the things that they DO not tell you about in the tourist brochures...

1. People spitting in the street

This is one of the etiquette rules that I am not willing to give a pass on. I mean, ewww!! WHY would someone want to spit in public and spread their germs all over the place? 
A guy once spat on my shoe in the old city of Jerusalem, though I don't think he was really aiming for me. I just happened to pass at the precise wrong moment to intercept his spit. Only after I gave him an EXTREME lifted eyebrow did he half-heartedly apologize.

2. The dust

The dust here in Israel has terminator tendencies and you cannot get rid of it no matter what you do. It NEVER looks as though you have dusted. You can even see the dust piling up as you are dusting. A tourist once told me that he is sure that it is the constant dust that makes the Israeli's so irritable.

You know how in the Bible people are always washing feet or hanging out at the wells…? It is not because they were all like super pedantic about being clean, it is because the dust is so persistent in Israel.

3. Hamsin and sharaf

Standing together with the dust but definitely deserving their own category of things that I dislike in Israel, is the hamsin and the sharaf. These are two types of winds that we have in Israel. And yes, we name our winds. 

The hamsin gets its name from the Arab word for "fifty" because apparently this hot and humid wind blows for fifty days a year. This wind is so badass that it even irons out the Mediterranean sea into a mirror-still lake.

And sharaf literally means "the burn". It is a dry and severely hot wind all the way from the Arabian deserts that sucks up the moisture in your eyeballs in seconds. 

These winds do not just air dry us out like biltong (beef jerky) but also bring the dust! See dislike number 2.

4. No proper representation 

Okay, this dislike is a bit more serious. As soon as you step off a plane in Israel and get a nice welcome blast of heat to acclimatize you to constant sweat-mode, you will notice that 90% of the population is dark-haired and have Eastern or Mediteranean features.

There are blondes and red-heads, usually chemically enhanced, but they are definitely in the minority. And skin colors range from Russian to Ethiopian with a 1001 shades of brown in between. But if you look at the billboards, magazines and TV - shows, you will think that Israel is just another European country. Everyone on the media looks SO white and does not represent at all the majority of people that you see on the street.

5. Expensive 

For a small country that is filled with dust and thorns and surrounded by enemies, life in Israel is quite expensive. The day-to-day living costs here are often much more expensive than in European countries. Some say that it is because there is no competition here in Israel but I think it is 100% greediness.

6. People who do not give up their seat for older people in the train.

This is something I often see on my daily commute. I do not expect younger people to give me their seat, I am not THAT old, but definitely think that they should stand up as soon as they see an elderly person. 

Talking about train seats..don't you agree that it is reasonable to expect a parent with a bunch of small kids (let's say four or more) to make them share seats? I mean their bums are small enough AND there are grown-ups standing in the aisles after a long day of work….

7. Public smokers

This is probably the thing that I hate the most in Israel. I do not think smokers will stop smoking just because it bothers me so much. It would however be considerate to NOT smoke standing at building entrances (even hospitals!) and at bus and train stations. Even when you cough out loud and cover your face, they just stare coldly at you. 

I cannot WAIT for the ban on public smoking to be finally finalized….though I am realistic enough to not hold my breath yet. Only when I enter and exit a building with inconsiderate smokers puffing away in my face.

8. New immigrants who think they are special.

A new immigrant once told me quite seriously "I made aliyah" and then looked expectantly at me for confirmative approval. (Aliyah is the word used by a Jew immigrating to Israel and means something like "moving upwards"). 

I wish that I could have given a typical Israeli response such as "BIG mistake!" but I just smiled a small "whatever" smile. 

Maybe these people are somewhere getting the impression that everyone in Israel is waiting with bated breaths for them? Jews have been returning to Israel since before there was even a state. The fact that a bunch of latecomers finally straggled in, is not news for the rest of us living here.

9. Seed shell droppers

Israelis are actually quite healthy eaters and love to snack on fruit, nuts and seeds. It is not strange to see people eating from a packet of pumpkin, watermelon or sunflowers seeds as they are watching a football game. Or taking the kids to the park, chilling on the beach or walking just around the 'hood. 

The problem is what they are doing with the shells of the seeds that they expertly remove. Some people spit them out (ewww!) but most Israelis just let the seed shells fall where they are. It is not unusual to sit somewhere on a bench and to see the floor covered with old seed shells.

10. Disposable plastics

Israel is number two in the world for per-capita use of disposable plastic dishes and utensils.

This is astounding when you keep in mind that the entire population of Israel is only something like 8 million people. 

Instead of using dishes made from glass or porcelain, many Israelis (waaaay to many) will just use plastic tableware and utensils in their homes. At the end of the meal everything will be rolled up tidily in the plastic tablecloth and then thrown away. This includes the disposable aluminium dishes used to cook the food in.

Sadly, too many of these plastics make their way to the beaches, fields, street corners and picnic spots. 

The people living in the holy land at this moment in time do not seem to care about looking after the land for future generations. As long as they do not have to wash the dishes right now.

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Special things Israelis say in specific situations

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

What happens in your country when a waiter drops a tray in a packed restaurant and everything on the tray shatters to pieces?

Is there an awkward silence? Does everyone avert their eyes from the embarrassed waiter as he quickly sweeps up all the broken pieces? Maybe there are a few softly muttered curses from him or the floor manager..?

Do you know what happens in Israel in such a situation? 

The entire restaurant, including the manager and all the staff and the people passing by outside, and the person who sneaked in to use the toilet will gleefully shout out in unison: "MAZAL TOV!!"

It means "Congratulations" in Hebrew and everyone is playfully 'congratulating' the waiter on his pending marriage. 

The final act of a Jewish wedding is the symbolic breaking of something by stepping on a covered glass. It is done to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Then it is time to congratulate the couple and dash off to go and stuff yourself.

There are a few other unique expressions or sayings you will only hear in Israel in specific situations, though not in dramatic situations such as dropping a tray of glasses. And yes, of course I am happy to tell you about them 😁.

One of these is the word "tithadash" said to a man or "tithadshi" said to a woman. You will only hear it if you bought or received something new.  

I just cannot think of an equivalent in English. It means something like "Enjoy the new thing."  You will usually hear it from a salesperson who just sold you something or from your friends when they realize you got something new. 

And it only counts for something cool new like a new pair of shoes, car or furniture. Not something boring new such groceries or dishwashing liquid.

Another difficult-to-translate Hebrew word that you only hear in specific situations is the second meaning of the word "bevakesa". 

Bevakesa technically translates into "please" (the first meaning) but it is a bit of an awkward word. Maybe it is because Israelis are not all that polite in the first place 😁. I definitely do not hear it a lot. For example in a packed train or elevator we will never say, "Can you please move aside?". It is more like "Can I get out!?"

The second meaning of "bevakesa" translates into something that means more or less "here, take this thing that I am happy to give to you". You will hear it from old-school Israelis or polite Arab waiters when they bring or give you something.

There is no similar word in English, is there? 
The Arabic word "fadala" however means exactly the same thing.

Be aware that the second "bevakesa" is often said in a passive-aggressive and/or sarcastic way. 

Let's say that you bother a lazy clerk on her extended coffee break for a form or signature or something like that. When she finally hands you the thing and says loudly "Bevakesa!" she didn't really mean that she is happy to serve you. Her tone will definitely let you know that this is more of a #politenotpolite situation. Just smile nicely and reply thank you.

Then there is the expression, "Be' teavon" which means "with good taste" - exactly like the French "Bon appetit". I have found that here in Israel people use it sometimes in a odds situations.

Let's say that you are handed food in a restaurant or in someone's house who invited you for a meal. This is a normal situation to hear "Be' teavon". 

But let's say that you are innocently eating your lunch sandwich in a park and a stranger walks by and says "Be' teavon" or you are just dipping a cookie in a cup of coffee at work and one of your work colleagues says "Be' teavon". Then it means more like "ah, I see that you are stuffing your face again". 

New immigrants or tourists sometimes also say it because they often hear it from the native Israelis. Please don't. Unless you are serving people or have made the food, don't say "Be' teavon"! Just nod your head to acknowledge the person and be on your way. There is really no need to comment on the fact that someone is eating something.

There are also the words "acheri hachagim" which means "after the holidays". There are SO many Jewish holidays celebrated here in Israel that you have to consult your calender carefully if you are planning something.

Often "acheri hachagim" is just used an excuse so check the dates catefully if you suspect that someone is just stringing you along!

And there you have it, a few of the sayings that you will hear in Israel in specific situations. Some are fun, some are surprisingly polite and some are on the sarcastic side, which is actually quite a good description of your average Israeli!

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The tumuli field of Ramat haNadiv

Ramat haNadiv is a small nature reserve nestling close to my town, Zichron Yaakov, in the northern-ish part of Israel.

The reserve was established in 1965, and is actually a burial place for the Baron Edmund Rothschild and his wife Ada. The baron supported the early settlers in the area with money and advice from the leading scientists of the day. 

That is also why the park is called Ramat haNadiv, it means more or less 'Benefactor Heights'. The tomb, that you can visit during the weekdays, is surrounded by a beautiful garden.

And this garden is surrounded by a small reserve. Since we live in Israel, the reserve is not just about the local fauna and flora in their natural state. There are also several ancient archeological sites that you can visit.

One of these archaeological sites is the tumuli field at the southern end of the Ramat haNadiv reserve. The singular for tumuli is tumulus which means "a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves." 

So yes, the tumuli field is an ancient burial site.

The tumuli are not arranged tidily in rows in the way that we are used to in modern graveyards. They seem to be haphazardly scattered all over the hills. Apparently there are 40 of these tombs in the area but I personally have only across a few of them.

The tumulus in the photo is the largest that I have seen in the nature reserve. I think that it is because the Israel Trail passes nearby and modern-day hikers take the time to add another rock to the grave. This grave also overlooks the coastal plains and the Mediterranean sea.

The large tumulus that seems undisturbed for thousands of years

The other tumuli that I came across on my hiking (and photographing 😁) adventures in the reserve are on the other side of the Carmel mountains. They still have a beautiful view but do not face the sea. Which makes one wonder - what's the diffs? Why does one grave get the sea view and the others face inland? 

One can probably speculate that the sea-facing grave is the final resting place of an important person or something. But the truth is just that no one really knows.

The rectangular shape of the tumulus is clearly visible in the open grave.

There are some information boards about the tumuli nearby for the curious hiker. These boards mentioned that these graves are from the Early Bronze age which means about 2500 to 2000 BC. 

The tumuli consist of a rectangular burial chamber, surrounded by a circle of flat stones and covered by a heap of soil and rocks. The tumuli that were excavated showed that they contained one adult, sometimes buried together with a child and one artifact. The archeologists think that the graves belonged to a group of shepherds who lived in the area.
The early Early Bronze age is really waaay back in time but that does not really surprise me. Even Neanderthals used to live in nearby caves in these same Carmel mountains. It makes sense that later on there was also a settlement of people, probably Canaanites, who lived on these mountains that overlook the sea on the one side and have an amazing vantage point inland on the other side.

I find a kind of poetic synchronicity in the fact that ancient shepherds and a modern-day billionaire banker have found their final resting on the same mountain range. The Baron' grave attracts visitors from all over the world while only us locals know about the graves in the tumuli field. 

Their bodies have however all become part of the same earth. And I am sure that their souls are happy with the beautiful place their loved ones have buried them.

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The amazing clock collection in Jerusalem

In the attractive and characteristic neighbourhood of Rehavia in Jerusalem, not far from the president's residence, there is this a small museum called the Museum of Islamic Art

It is a gorgeous museum filled with amazing artifacts. Personally though I think that the museum should be called the Museum of Eastern Art. Most of the artifacts pre-date Islam and/or originate from non-Arab speaking countries such as Turkey, India and Iran. 

It is very likely that this watch was part of the loot of one of the greatest robberies in the art world.

Are clocks from the East?

I will definitely write about all the amazing artifacts I found in this museum (you know me and museums). But in this blog post I am going to focus on the wonderful collection of clocks that I met at the museum of Islamic art. Yup, that is right, gorgeous shiny clocks and timepieces made mostly from solid gold.

The clocks are beautifully displayed.

If you ask me how do clocks and watches tie in with Islamic art, then you are asking the exact same question that I asked the receptionist.

Why not?

The answer was: "They do not really have much to do with each other. But the same woman who created the museum in the first place also needed a place to exhibit her father's large clock collection. So why not? 

Why not indeed? 

The woman responsible for the museum's existence is Vera Bryce Salomons. She loved Eastern art and was a serious collector and built the museum as 'showcase for the Islamic civilization and the Arab cultural legacy'. She  hoped to create a bridge between the Jews and Arabs of Israel via art. Like seriously, who doesn't like to look at pretty old things? (Okay maybe the Taliban...
and ISIS too.)

The amazing companion clock would reset the time of the removable pocket watch so that they are both in sync.

What to do when your dad leaves you a bunch of old stuff?

Vera's dad,  Sir David Lionel Salomons was an English banker with a BIG thing for clocks. He collected nearly 200 of the most amazingly crafted timepieces. Most of them were made in the 18th or 19th century. We can definitely understand where his daughter got her collector's gene from...

Do you also see the "face" in the clock?

One of Sir David's most favourite horologists must have been Abraham-Louis Breguet (born: 1747, died: 1823). He collected many of the watchmaker's amazingly intricate and beautifully crafted clocks and even wrote a book about him called Breguet 1747–1823

A musical fan that keeps the time too
Breguet lived in France, though he was born in Switzerland and was THE watchmaker of his time. All of the A-listers of the time, members of the nobility and other famous people, were his customers.

The best work that he created throughout his entire career must be timepiece that he was commissioned to make for Marie-Antoinette, the queen of France.

The "Marie-Antoinette" from the front.

And from the side.

Marie-Antoinette's wearable

Sadly Marie-Antoinette died at the guillotine before the watch was finished. Breguet himself  had to flee France during the revolution because of his royal connections and the work on the watch stopped for seven years. It was eventually finished in 1802, almost twenty years after it was first commissioned. 

The final cost of the Marie Antoinette (No.160) came to 30,000 francs. A tidy sum even today but a HUGE amount of money in 1802.

The watch has the following functions:

Perpetual calendar
Minute repeater
Power reserve
Pare-Chute (shock protection system, invented by Breguet)
Independent seconds hand

Pretty cool for a watch made 200 years ago, right? 

A gun watch...with a little bird on top!

Enter the villain…

And his name was Naama, Naaman Diller. His backstory started all the way back to 1930's to the hospital room his mom shared with Arik Einstein's mom after the two women gave birth. 

The two women stayed friends and it seems that Naaman constantly compared himself to Arik Einstein, one of the most  beloved and famous singers of Israel.

Luckily for Naaman, he was selected to train as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Israeli pilots undergo rigorous training and the selection process is amazing tough. Even today, fighter pilots are considered the cream of the entire Israeli Defence Force and modern-day heroes. Naaman might not have been a famous singer but being an air force pilot was more than enough.

During one of his training flights he flew over his kibbutz to show off to the people he grew up with. Naaman was not the first, and definitely not the last trainee pilot to do this but that day a particular nit-picky general was visiting the area. And just like that Naaman was kicked out of the pilot trainee program.

The ultimate sulk

It is thought that Naaman must have taken this setback really bad because he turned into a daring and sophisticated burglar. 

And then he set his eyes on the famous clock collection in Jerusalem. He started to case the joint and discovered there was a problem with the alarm system and that everyday a truck parks right underneath a convenient window. He managed to squeeze his skinny ass through this window and stole 106 of the irreplaceable timepieces. Including the Marie Antoinette (No.

From the day (Sunday morning April 17th, 1983) the museum workers discovered the robbery, the clocks just vanished into thin air and nobody knew what happened to them.

I am pretty sure that the thief did not add this chronometer in his bag of stolen goods.

How to sell a famous stolen piece of art

The entire world of clock makers, collectors and buyers were of course aware of the robbery. So when Naaman's widow tried to sell some of these clocks to an art dealer, the dealer immediately contacted the museum. Later a lawyer, acting on behalf of the widow,
tried to work out a deal with the museum about selling them back some of the clocks.

In front is a quarter repeating ring watch made with gold and pearls.

Just before Naaman Diller died of cancer in 2004, he told his divorced wife that he was the daring thief. He left her all the clocks but it was a bit difficult for her to sell them. Even after twenty years.

Eventually the police got involved, as it works with stolen goods. They managed to retrieve nearly all of the stolen clocks from their hiding places in Europe, Israel and the USA.

Pocket watches made in England for the Turkish market with numerials in Arabic script

The shining end

And now the clocks are back in the museum of Islamic Art, shining brightly in their beautiful display cases. Securely in the basement with no access to any windows and a door that looks as if it belongs in high-security bank.

Just more of the beautiful clocks in this special collection

Directions and opening hours:
I highly recommend visiting these amazing clocks with their long and exciting history.

Remember that the clocks are only one part of the museum of Islamic Art. There are lots of other interesting things to see. I definitely felt that I got a TON of value for my entry fee.

The address is: 3 haPalmach street, Jerusalem
Check the museum's own website for opening hours and ticket prices.

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The subtle art of standing in a queue in Israel - a survivor guide

This is NOT queue in Israel, it is waay to calm and orderly

If you visit Israel as a tourist, or are a new immigrant you may get the conclusion that Israelis do not have the queue-standing gene.

They just seem to stand around in a bunch and then use their elbows to move forward when the train or bus arrives or when going through a building's security entrance.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Praying for rain

As a South African living in Israel, I cannot help but constantly compare the two countries. Of course there are many differences but one of the major similarities is our dependence on rain water. 

And since most of South Africa (though not the Cape area) gets its rain during the summer months and Israel gets its rain during the winter months, we are waiting for the rainy season at the same time. More or less during the month of October. It is then autumn in Israel and springtime in South Africa.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Timeline of a 'situation' in Israel

The word 'situation' has a special meaning in Israel. It is usually used when talking about the security situation in Israel but actually compass quite a wide range of things. Such as the situation that Israel is surrounded by not too friendly neighbours. Or the situation that there are a network of sirens throughout the country to warn us about incoming missiles.

Two weeks ago another type of situation unfolded in Israel and this blogpost describes my own personal experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Rockefeller Archaeological museum

For some odd reason, the Rockefeller Archaeological museum is NOT on the list of must-see museums in Israel.

And it definitely should be.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

10 reasons why it is easy to be a vegan in Israel

Israel has been known as the Vegan Nation for quite a while now and has apparently the highest number of vegans per capita. Even McDonalds Israel have started to serve vegan burgers. 

So when a recent vegan Instagram acquaintance visited Israel and posted how easy life in Israel is for vegans, I did some looking around.