Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Silent Night

Christmas Eve at dusk we and a few friends gathered outside of Bethlehem overlooking a hillside field. As the sunlight disappeared we read the story which occurred here one night nearly 2,000 years ago and afterward sang a few songs. Today, Bethlehem is much different and the situation is, well, a bit crazy. However, it was nice to know that despite the lack of external peace, we can experience internal peace no matter what the situation. Merry Christmas to all!

(Bethlehem is in the background)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Crossing of the English Channel - Updated

In a BBC radio interview the day before yesterday the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said that the minor detail of Virgin Birth of Jesus should not be a stumbling block for those who want to join the church.

Dr Williams was speaking live on BBC Radio Five to the presenter Simon Mayo when Ricky Gervais, star of The Office and a fellow guest, challenged him about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.

He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth “as part of what I have inherited”. But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

He hinted that decades ago he was not “too fussed” with the literal truth of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But as time went on, he developed a “deeper sense” of what the Virgin Birth was all about.
Seems the Anglican church has found it necessary to remove those pesky obstacles, be they important theological tenets or whatever, which potential members may find a bit troubling.

And in related news today, it is now official: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Any wonder?UPDATE - Another related story today - "Britain has become a 'Catholic country'"
Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country's dominant religious group. More people attend Mass every Sunday than worship with the Church of England, figures seen by The Sunday Telegraph show...

In an attempt to combat the declining interest in traditional religion, the Anglican Church has launched radical new forms of evangelism that include nightclub chaplains, a floating church on a barge and internet congregations...

The Catholic Church has also suffered a serious fall in the size of its congregations...
That's post-Christian Europe for you.

UPDATE 2 - In the UK's hyper-leftist Guardian newspaper, a Muslim journalist expresses his disappointment that Tony Blair didn't convert to Islam.
Blair certainly admires Islam. He said "under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture." If I admired a faith so much I would convert to it. So I am baffled to know why he has converted to Catholicism and not embraced Islam.
As noted earlier, there is little surprise that Tony Blair either left Anglicanism, or embraced Roman Catholicism (although that would not be my first choice, by any means). I, however, am not the least bit "baffled" why he didn't even consider Islam. That's just me, though.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Home Sweet Home

When we arrived back in town 36 hours ago after another grueling flight from USA we felt our welcome back by the busy people of the area. As I rolled down the car window to assess the coastal winter temperature, the night air was broken with the familiar tunes of helicopters and fighter jets on their way to that Palestinian seaside resort just south of here. Ah, it's good to be back? Our early jet lagged morning brought us the familiar news of more dead "militants" and the ever familiar rumblings of our neighbors' calling cards. If I ever forget how home here feels, just a few minutes' wait and it all quickly comes back. Seems we didn't miss much while we were gone.

Anyway, congratulations to my baby sister for finally getting married! And, sorry Moose - you're now part of the family and we're officially no longer obliged to be on our best behavior (yes, that was our best behavior). Seriously, we love you both and have a great honeymoon!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


One thing which we have been experiencing this spring that we hardly saw last year is dust storms (bet you thought I was going to say "rockets" again, hmm?). They are called hamsin (pronounced "hom-seen"), which is Arabic for "50". Nobody really knows for sure what the connection between hamsin and "50" is, so I won't begin to speculate.

Here are a couple of pictures of a hamsin that just hit the Israeli Negev from Sinai at a speed of about 60 kph (40 mph). These photos were taken from an altitude of 8,000 ft. the sand wall was about 4,000 ft high moving from the west to the east.

We have had several already, to say the least. I don't know all of the details of how it works, but basically it is hot air blowing dust in from the desert. Usually the wind blows in from the ocean, but during a hamsin can blow the opposite way. The sky turns cloudy and orange and can last up to several days. When it is over there is a layer of fine, brown dust on everything. If you are away and leave a window open when a hamsin comes through, expect a mess inside your house when you get back.

(Our car after a rather mild dust storm)

Photos courtesy of The Augean Stables

Feelin' the Love

As the trouble continues to brew not far from us, I have just learned that I am a "Zionist settler" (ha!). According to Hamas' website, that's not a compliment.

...the armed wing of Hamas Movement, has threatened that its rockets will reach the Zionist settlers in the 1948-occupied coastal city of Asqlan [Ashkelon] and areas beyond...
And we have been hearing the "love" everyday. Fortunately, the "gifts" have been falling short of the residential parts of the city, although the sounds remind us that we "Zionist settlers" are being thought of.

(Rockets from Gaza)

In light of this, we decided to celebrate our newly designated status by taking a family picnic. And since the kids are out of school for Shavu'ot, we set out for a couple of uncharted picnic sites. We soon discovered that all were memorial sites from Israel's War of Independence back in 1948. Grim reminders they were, but then again why not? Everything here is a reminder of some battle of some sort at some time, so we decided war memorial it is! The first place overlooked Ashkelon but we didn't stay because a) there was no shade, and b) apparently this is the place where all of the flies in Israel have come to spawn this spring. It did have a good view of the city, though.

(Ashkelon on the horizon)

Where we ended up was called "Hill 69" near Ashdod.

(View of Ashdod)

According to the memorial, we were there two days exactly after the 59th anniversary of the big battle (according to the Jewish calendar), which explains the fresh flower wreaths.

Here's the sign in English describing the battle (click to enlarge for those interested in what happened):

In the end, Hill 69 is a good place to have a picnic. It is quiet, out of the way, good view, lots of shade, and plenty of big ants for the kids to stomp. What more could a family possibly ask for?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Passing Away

Today was my first Jewish Israeli funeral and, well, I won't say that I've been traumatized by it, but I think I'm still trying to process the whole thing. Let's just say it's, um, different than what I'm used to.

The lady who passed away is the mother of someone we know in our congregation. We did not know her very well but I thought I'd go because of our friend. We thought it would be best for Rima to stay with the kids (good move, as you will see) so I headed out by myself. Here, if someone dies they are buried that same day or the next (at the very latest). There is a saying here about mothers of soldiers who lose sons in battle, that on that fateful day: In the morning they have a son, and in the evening they have a grave. Everything is so sudden and abrupt, it seems.

Fighting traffic, I drove east across the country and arrived at the cemetery on time (which turns out to be pretty early here). The few that were there were huddled under a makeshift tent-covering as the sparse raindrops dotted the rocky hills around us. Nobody really knew what was going on as we waited for everyone else to arrive. Soon, hearing cries from the parking lot, we knew that the families had arrived. For a while there was a lot of loud crying and a lot of hugging. Then a small van backed up to the covering. People began to gather around and concentrate their grief in this area.

Again, I hardly knew the deceased, but seeing grown adults (most all of whom were older than me) crying openly, unrestrained, and yelling "Mommy, mommy" and "My love" to the van is hard to see without breaking your heart. I don't know much about the culture here, but it seems that letting out one's emotions of sorrow is to be done here at funerals. Israelis are well known for being rather aggressive and showing a strong demeanor at all times, but one is reminded in times like these that they are very much human and hurt deeply like everyone else.

The two men who came in the van were orthodox Jews and were apparently in charge of these sorts of things. When the time came, they opened the back of the van and pulled out a gurney with the deceased covered with a black cloth, right there in front of us. The immediate family, all with torn shirts, gathered around and expressed their grief by crying, talking, or reading Psalms. A couple of them read a sort-of "goodbye letter" to their mother. Then one of the orthodox fellows, the cantor, sang some Psalms and said some prayers before the "pallbearers" lifted the deceased by the handles of a rubber stretcher off of the gurney and everyone followed them to the gravesite.

Once there, more crying and prayers. One of the granddaughters was slightly unhinged by everything and was screaming and crying uncontrollably "Grandmother, why are you leaving me?!", which didn't help calm things down. The next thing I knew, the two orthodox guys took the deceased, set her in the bottom of the grave, removed the black cloth, placed small concrete slabs over the vault, filled the hole with dirt, and put a small sign with her name on top of the new grave. That's it. Over. Done.

Some of the family read a couple of Psalms, sat next to the fresh grave, squeezed the dirt with their fingers, and then guests slowly filed by and each placed a small stone on top. Then our friend passed out cold. They took her to the side and, with about a dozen people arguing over what to do, she finally came to. That, along with the cold raindrops returning, pretty much sent everyone back to their cars and away. As for me, apart from the deep sadness I couldn't help but feel, I was a bit dazed at everything that just happened. My drive back home was a bit of a blur.

I'm very glad I went and would definitely do it again, even knowing how difficult it is. I will say that I did notice that during the funeral I was feeling a lot of agony inside, which was just a little overwhelming at times (even though everything was in Hebrew), but as soon as the last of the dirt was put on the grave the pain just sort of went away. Maybe for an outsider like me it was like getting a form of closure, in some small way.

Major life events such as these are meant to be shared with those close to us. Also, as they say, we can begin to understand better how different cultures handle these situations. It is like a small window into the inner workings of their minds, if that is possible. It made me very aware of how differently we do funerals back in the States, and how healthy it seemed for people to just let their feelings out and not hold anything in. Someone there told me that Israeli funerals are not usually like that, but mainly because the family was originally from the Arabian Peninsula that it was a bit more animated. Maybe so.

If anyone is so inclined, please remember this family in their grief.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Remembering II

Today was Israel's version of what is Memorial Day in America. My Hebrew class was invited to a memorial ceremony at a school, which so happened to be the same one my daughter goes to.
It was a very somber event and all of the children were on their best behavior (which is unusual in this country).

Everyone takes this day with the utmost solemnity which remembers all of the soldiers who fell while protecting Israel, as well as terror victims, since 1860, when Jews officially began to immigrate back to Israel. The vast majority of deaths from fighting have come since Israel's founding in 1948. Since that time, close to 20,000 have been killed, which comes out to be almost one person per day from the time that the State of Israel declared independence. Today in Memorial Day and tomorrow is Independence Day - sadness one day and celebration the next. Just another of the many stark contrasts which are part of everyday life here.

On that note of gloom, Rima's mother's family has had a difficult week last week. First, the mother of one of her brother's wife died. A few days after that, another sister-in-law lost her father. At that funeral the next day they heard that another sister-in-law's mother died. Afterwards the family was eating together and Rima's mother was sitting next to her other sister-in-law's father. Suddenly, during the meal, the man swallowed his tongue. Everyone freaked out and the ambulance came and got him, but he ended up dying, too. Needless to say, it is a lot they are going through at the present, so remember keep them, and all of us, in your prayers.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Today in Israel is Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom HaShoah. It is the first of several Israeli memorial days in the coming weeks, but by far it is the most solemn. I wasn't planning to post on this but I had an interesting morning.

(Holocaust display at Ulpan)

In Hebrew class (ulpan) this morning my teacher began to explain to us (mostly Jewish new immigrants) about what this day is all about because, surprisingly, many new immigrants are not all that familiar with every Jewish holiday and event. She began by talking about World War II and what happened to Jews prior to the outbreak of the war, and then about the Holocaust itself. A heavy subject to discuss, but this was the time and place for it.

We have several Ethiopian Jewish immigrants (Falasha Mura) in our class and they began to look confused while the teacher was explaining. She noticed their dazed expressions and quizzed them about what they didn't understand. Basically, none of them had heard about the Holocaust, Auschwitz, World War II, Hitler, or why it all happened. The rest of us were fairly stunned that they were completely unaware. Jews not heard of the Holocaust?

Our teacher, with much patience, gave a generalized explanation of what all happened. The Ethiopians were so aghast and distraught that one of them ran out of class in tears. At that point the rest of us were wondering, "How can this be?" when the teacher began to explain to us that about the Ethiopian situation, who not too many years ago dealt with their own genocide, wars, and famine. Many Falasha, in their quest to come to Israel, had to literally walk here through Sudan, with many dying along the way from the harsh conditions, Islamic death squads, rape, and robbery. Many of those who are now here came with absolutely nothing but their clothes they were wearing. In other words, these Africans were a world away and were concerned about their own survival so who can really blame them for not knowing about what went on in Europe a generation ago?

Our elderly French classmate told of how he was one of the Jewish "Hidden Children" during the war. He shared that, when was only 8 years old, his parents changed his name and sent him away in order to hopefully protect him from being rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. He was moved from place to place during the war and, as a result, he and his sister survived. He said he heard that his father was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, then later to Auschwitz where he was killed, while his mother, who went into hiding when the war started, was never heard from again.

The Russian and Ukrainian students were all born after the war but had family that fought and died fighting the Nazis, while some lost family in the Jewish purges there. They also spoke of how they commemorate the World War II victory in their countries now. It is hard to imagine, but the Soviets lost around 25,000,000 people in the war.

At 10am the air raid sirens sounded for 2 minutes all over the country and everyone, no matter what they are doing, stops and stands in memory for those poor souls who perished.

PS - It is worth noting that nearly 6,000,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust, which is close to the Jewish population of Israel (~5,600,000). Iran, who currently denies that the Holocaust occurred as known, threatens to wipe Israel off of the map, effectively aiming to make happen today that which they deny happened over 60 years ago.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Nazareth is a small town on a hill in central Galilee, about halfway between Haifa on the Mediterranean coast and the Sea of Galilee. Lower Nazareth has an estimated population of 70,000. The majority of residents are Arab citizens of Israel, about 35-40% of whom are Christians and 55-60% are Muslims. The adjacent city of Nazareth Illit (upper Nazareth) has a population of 44,000 Israeli Jews.

Besides that, Nazareth is the hometown of my lovely wife and her family. And when I say family, I don't mean family in the American sense. I mean family in the sense that the family has no end, it seems. We enjoy visiting there from time to time to see family (we're working on seeing all of them) and friends. Also, to eat good Middle Eastern home cooking, which also is without end. I usually try to fast before I go in order to be able to be as hungry as I can, so as not to disappoint or offend my overly-gracious hosts.

The worst pronunciation of "Nazareth" I ever heard was an old woman country preacher on community access television call it "Nazariss" (which rhymes with "Lazarus"). Rima just loves it when I say it like that.

Rima was born and raised in a house up on the hill overlooking the city. It is a typical Arab-looking town...
...full of churches...

(The Catholic church)

(The Baptist church where Rima used to go)

...and mosques.
The Greek Orthodox Church (the "Mary's Well" church, supposedly where the angel appeared to Mary) is just below where Rima lived. It is simple, no frills.
Just down the road is the more ornate Roman Catholic Church, or the "Basilica of the Annunciation", which has remains of living quarters from a long time ago. It has obviously received more money from all over the world, which explains why everything looks so clean and nice, inside...
...and out.
Right next to the Catholic church is the Nazareth shuk, or market.
It is an Arab shuk that is markedly different than the Jewish shuk we frequent in our town.
The smells are like your spice rack multiplied ten times, so don't go there if you are hungry...
...or if you are the kind to lose your appetite easily.
If you are fortunate to go to an Arab wedding party, be prepared to have fun because they know how to party.

(This guy has obviously had one too many)

Nazareth used to be a fun-loving place to go, but lately it is becoming more uncomfortable to be in. Most of it has to do with the aggressiveness and hostility of the Muslims who share the city with the Christians. For most of its history over the past 2000 years, Nazareth has been primarily a Christian town, but during Israel's war of Independence in 1948, an influx of Muslim Arab refugees from the surrounding villages and towns that were destroyed changed the population of Nazareth from having a Christian majority to having a Muslim majority. And they brought their hostility with them.
The biggest flashpoint came about 10 years ago when Preparations for the Pope's visit to Nazareth in 2000 triggered highly publicized tensions related to the Basilica of the Annunciation. Israel gave permission for construction of a paved plaza to handle the expected thousands of Christian pilgrims caused Muslim protests and occupation of the proposed site, which is considered the grave of a nephew of Saladin. (His nephew, mind you.) This means the land is partly waqf (Islamic religious endowment) land, meaning the Muslims said it was theirs and it is holy.
(Muslim prayer at the controversial site in Nazareth)

Initially, Israel gave some approval for subsequent plans for a large mosque to be constructed at the site. Not just a mosque, but a giant mosque which would dwarf and hide any sight of the church. This led to protests from Christian leaders worldwide, which continued after the papal visit. Finally, in 2002, a special government commission permanently halted construction of the mosque, which Islamic leaders called it a declaration of war. Today it is simply a plaza area for the public, though Muslims often take it over during their prayer times, daring anyone to get in their way.

More recently, on New Year's Day in Nazareth this year, local Muslims marched provocatively shouting "Islam is the only truth" and "Islam will dominate the world" as they again called for the mosque to be built. The entire article is here and it describes the problem very well.
This is indicative of the problems Arab Christians, in general, face. Instead of fighting for the land which has been in their family for generations, most Christians of the Middle East are simply leaving. In places like Bethlehem, another historically Christian town, Christians are leaving by the droves because of Islamic persecution (see another good article here on Bethlehem Christians). Rima had relatives that lived in east Jerusalem, but recently moved into Israel because of Muslim hostility.

Nevertheless, if one stays out of the Muslim areas of Nazareth, it is a great place to be. There are the most wonderful people you can find anywhere and it gives you the feeling that you are actually in the Middle East, which despite the problems, is a good thing.
If you are interested, read more about Nazareth here.

FYI - If anyone decides to ask me if "anything good can come out of Nazareth", that joke has already been told. Many times. Really. (If you really want to know the answer to the question, the answer is "YES"!)

Monday, March 19, 2007

How Not to Learn a Language

In the last post I mentioned that people should learn Hebrew. As any language, Hebrew has its challenges. One way to learn a language is to associate similar-sounding foreign words with those in one's native language. This technique can help in certain situations but it is not to be used exclusively.

For example, in Hebrew there are words that are the same in English:
The English word for "fax" is fax in Hebrew.
"bank" is bank
"student" is student
"telephone" is telephone
"pizza" is pizza
and "picnic" is picnic.

Some Hebrew words have a different sounding familiar English word, like the Hebrew word safari means "my book"
bat means "daughter"
key means "because"
ear means "city"
car means "cold"
and shalom means "peace". And "hello". And "goodbye".

If you think that's bad, it can get more confusing. The English word for "bear" in Hebrew is dove, and the Hebrew word for "dove" is yonah
"fish" is dog, but "dog" is kelev
par is "bull", but bull is a "stamp"
man is "address", but a "dress" is simlah
"gift" is shy, but "shy" is bayshan
and off is "chicken"... which reminds me of a joke:

An Israeli man moved to America but didn't bother himself to learn much English. He loved to eat baked chicken but could not understand how to get his American oven to work. Thinking it was broken he decided to call an oven repair man. Fortunately, he found one who spoke some Hebrew and invited him to come see if he could find the problem and fix it. The repair man checked the oven, but it was working fine. He then asked the Israeli to see if maybe he was doing something wrong. The Israeli said, "I just put the chicken in the oven and turn the knob to off.
Anyway, to make matters worse, when it comes to personal pronouns, well, "she" is he, "he" is who, "who" is me, "me" is a-knee, and "they" is him.

I do know a little Spanish, though: "Es oh see kay es" (but don't ask me what it means).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Culture Shock - Part 3 of 3

Anything worthwhile is going to be difficult, and living in Israelis no exception. The daily frustrations we may experience here are just part of life, lest we forget that living back in Tennessee also gave us daily frustrations of a different sort. One can sit around and dwell on what all is hard and tedious; or one can acknowledge some of the differences are really blessings that one couldn't experience back in the States.

Getting used to the food here can be difficult at times because we miss our familiar comforts. But let's face it, Middle Eastern food is very good. It is not without reason that probably billions of Middle Eastern people throughout history have eaten it on a daily basis. Some of the most famous people in the world preferred it to anything else: the Pharaohs, Abraham, Moses, King David, Nebuchadnezzar, Jesus, just to name a few. That's a pretty good endorsement.

Ok, there are beaches in America, but no matter where you are in Israel you are never more than an hour away from the nearest beach (unless you are in the middle of the desert, of course, where you are only about 2.5 hours away, at most). For us land-lubbers who had to travel a solid day to the nearest beach in America, it's pretty exciting to be only a few minutes walk to the ocean.

Some people consider Middle Easterners aggressive and very direct. This is true. It is not necessarily a bad thing, though. As with any culture one must adapt – “When in Rome…” Maybe Americans are just more reserved, in general. Neither is necessarily good or bad, and neither is better than the other. It is just the way people in different places live and express themselves within their shared culture.

When Rima came to live in America, she was shocked at how sometimes people (while trying to be nice and thoughtful of her feelings) did not do or mean what they said to her. On the other hand, some people were taken aback when she would be honest with them about something like, for example, a kind of food that she didn’t think was very good. One culture says that when given a food that doesn’t taste good, when asked, one should always say something complementary (even if nothing good can really be said of it). Another culture values frankness. There have been times that I have been “American” here and said I liked something when I really didn’t, and was later chided for not being honest (like, “Why did you say that you liked that when you didn’t??”). People really want to know what you think and will talk to you like you are their close friend, even if they hardly know you. That’s just a small aspect of this multi-dimensional culture, but, in short, it’s a very fun and interesting way to relate to people. And you can’t help but love it.

The Arab hospitality is legendary. When I read the stories in the Bible, the visual pictures that come to my mind are closest to the way Arabs act and live (don’t read too much into that statement than is intended because the differences are plainly obvious). Regardless, one of my personal observations is that, in Arab culture, food = love. If you have the privilege to experience Arab hospitality, you will see that no holds are barred at making you feel like royalty. You will be fed until you can eat no more. Then the main course is served. There have been times that I have felt like I wanted to cry because the food seems it will never stop.

I say that because it seems as if the greatest sin in Arab culture is that one might feel the slightest twinge of hunger at any moment. Ok, I admit that I’m, well, “skinny”. Some might even say that I have a “weight problem”, that I don’t “eat enough”, that I could use to “put on a few pounds”. For Arabs, they see me as a problem that is their mission in life to fix. Believe me, I can spot that look in their eye a mile away when they see me coming.

Sometimes my weight is seen as a poor reflection on Rima as an Arab wife. How many times have we visited relatives and Rima experienced Arab version the Spanish Inquisition about why her husband looks so bad? When Arabs get married, they put on weight. This is the external sign to everyone that the marriage is good and husband and wife are happy (whether that is true or not). Because I have not bloated up with 7+ years of “marital bliss” around my waist, in the eyes of the Arab Rima obviously must not be making her husband happy enough. After all, like I said, food = love. She tries to tell them we are happy and I’m just genetically skinny, but that doesn’t stop them from firing up a personal smorgasbord for me in order to try to fatten me up on the spot.

If my theory (food = love) is true, then I have another theory that this could be part of the problem here in the Middle East between the Jews and Arabs. Due to the fact that Jews keep kosher and can’t properly interact on the fundamental culinary level that Arabs require, the two sides just can’t make that vital connection. Hence, we have an ongoing war. Ok, I know it sounds a little far-fetched but there might be something to it. Who knows?

Again, I could go on and on about Arab culture but one has to experience it firsthand to understand what real hospitality is, which is truly humbling to realize how far short we fall in comparison with our best efforts.

Ok, it is dangerous here, but it also feels a lot safer in some ways. The fact that you see so many soldiers, police, and security guards gives a measure of peace of mind. Even some women are armed with automatic weapons. It is not uncommon to see couples strolling along the beach with a machine gun on one of their backs. Not exactly a romantic picture but, if you think about it, I'm glad someone has something like that where crowds of people are. It is as if anyone tries to start trouble, it will be dealt with quickly. In truth, not much happens, terror-wise, mainly because of the high security you see, and what you don't see.

The winters feel colder here because it is much colder indoors with the stone and concrete houses that are impossible to heat. And the summers are hotter because the same stone buildings are more difficult to cool in this near-desert environment. What is nice is that the rains come only in the winter months. When they do come, it is as if it is springtime. What seemed like a sparse, sandy and dry patch of ground will spring to life after a few showers and grass and all kinds of flowers will arise from what seems like nowhere. It is always a much prettier time of the year than summer, for sure.

But being the "skinny" type, I long for the heat and am ready for the sun to fry everything. Summers are generally pretty hot, but nice. No rain at all to mess up any plans you make. No grass to mow (unless you water it). Everyone is out and about and with all of the numerous parks and nature spots where there are so many interesting things to see and do, instead of hunkered down around their heaters (like I am right now).

Semitic languages are not easy to learn, but they give you a glimpse into the mindset of people who speak them. Although modern Hebrew is quite different than Biblical Hebrew, hearing it spoken and thinking of how to speak it really gives a fuller dimension to reading the Hebrew Bible in a way that it seems more alive, as opposed to just foreign words on a page. There are no secrets to the Hebrew language - anyone can learn it if they are patient and put in a lot of work. What you get for your effort is useful in more ways than you can imagine. So hit the books, everyone!

Admittedly, I never did get into the whole “Walk where Jesus walked” thing, partly because so many of the biblical locations are disputed, uncertain, and/or just unknown. I’m not one that believes that seeing a biblical location helps to understand the biblical text better (in some cases it can actually obscure it). Nevertheless, there are many places that are known and are very interesting to see what they were like. Some places are interesting for historical reasons, while some places are interesting because they are just nice to see and enjoy. This is just a beautiful place to live. Now if only this fighting would stop...


(Walls of the Old City in Jerusalem)

(Elah Valley, where David fought Goliath)

(Golden Menorah, Jewish Quarter of the Old City)

Well, that’s my two cents, I mean, two shekels on the subject of culture shock. Hopefully you can understand in some way how our bout of culture shock has been and what the ups and downs of making life in a new place are. Most of all, I hope it was enjoyable. If not, maybe you’d like one of these across your lip.
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Culture Shock - Part 2 of 3

One of the most annoying aspects of culture shock is the safety issue (and since I have mentioned it previously, I won’t talk about the rockets). One result of the ongoing conflict here is the never-ending presence of security guards at nearly every public building. Imagine going through airport security just to buy a light bulb. It’s not always that bad but one needs to look at it as a small price to pay for a little “peace of mind” to know that not just anyone can walk into the grocery store unchecked.

(Bank security guard during Purim)

What is most disturbing to me is that all of the schools here look like prisons with their high metal gates surrounding the perimeter and armed guards patrolling the premises. It is because of past terror attacks on Israeli children in their schools that such security is mandatory. Unfortunately, terrorists have no shame to stoop to this.

So, as a result of said terrorists, people here in Israel will often give you the "stare". No matter where you are or what you may be doing, you can count on people looking at you as if their eyes are burning a hole through you. At first you feel self-conscious like something must be wrong with the way you look, like your appearance so unusual that they try to gaze inside your soul to figure out what your deal is. For a while I would just look back at people and shrug like saying “What?” until they stopped. Then one day I was at a coffee shop with some friends and realized that I was staring at people who passed by in the same way. Why? Just trying to be vigilant and careful, I guess, ahem…

One of the most potentially traumatizing and intense cultural experiences in the Middle East is going to the market, or shuk.
Not all are the same, but just go to one and you’ll get the idea.
With all of the sights, smells, and sounds of the busy outdoor shopping area, you can feel like all of your senses are being physically assaulted.
After a while, though, you get used to it and actually look forward to seeing what delectable delights are for sale this time around, like radishes the size of your fist and artichokes that could choke a horse.
For me, it helps to go with my Middle Eastern wife, whom I believe has the genetic disposition to bargain more effectively than I could ever dream to be able to do. However, the master Jedi has to be her mother who should strike fear into any poor merchant victim whose shop or stall she might decide to grace).

Best of all, you get to meet some of the most interesting people that you normally don’t get the chance to meet otherwise.
It’s always an adventure and you can’t beat the prices.

Another thing I find myself missing is the show "Sanford and Son". As in Fred Sanford. That's S-A-N-F-O-R-D period.
For the nearly two months we had to wait for Rima's passport before we came, I got into a routine of watching Sanford and Son with her after we put the kids to bed (we didn't want the kids to learn bad words from it like "you big dummy"). They say that humor doesn't translate from language to language and I'll say there is some truth to it after seeing some of the popular shows that are on here. Then again, what can compare to Fred about to have the "big one"?
We don't have cable so I don't get to watch much TV anymore. Even if we had it I wouldn't be able to change channels on account of my artha-ritis.
Anyway, watching TV is bad for you - it can give you a heart attack, you know, a BIG one. As in, “I’m coming to join you, honey” big.

-Enough on the difficulties because we’ll just “count it all joy.” Part 3 will be about the GOOD things that we have to get used to in this new place.