Wednesday, January 31, 2007


This week I passed my driving exam - no small thing since most Israelis have to take nearly 30 lessons before they qualify for the exam process. Thankfully, I only had to take two lessons since I have a foreign license. I have 3+ years driving experience here and, after the lessons, I feel more confused about driving than I ever did before.

The entire license-getting experience is quite expensive and surprisingly stressful. What I found interesting is that you show up and a prep guy sits you in the car with seat belt on and you wait. Then, out of nowhere, the one giving the driving test appears out of nowhere, sits down in the passenger seat, and the driving test suddenly begins. When the test is over, he immediately leaves the car and disappears into the crowd. After waiting 24 hours, you then call to get the result. Why? Because in the past fights would regularly break out between the test-er and test-ee after the exam, so a sort of chronological buffer zone was created to give the test-giver a sporting chance.

Anyway, I get my actual drivers license card in about two months (everything takes forever here), but before submitting the final form we noticed that my family name in Hebrew is spelled completely wrong. It's in the ballpark, but wrong enough. In order to avoid possible problems in the future from having a glaring error on an important piece of identification, we tried to get it changed before sending the form off for processing. Then the real obstacle course began:

1) Called the license office to get them to fix their mistake and give us a corrected form. No, they must have a letter from the Ministry of Interior (across town) telling them what my name is. What that has to do with a driver's license, I had no clue. But, then again, what do I know about how things are done here?

2) Went to the Ministry of Interior, waited in line, and finally requested the letter we needed. No, they cannot do that because there is no official spelling for English names. Besides, what does the Ministry of Interior have to do with a driver's license? The clerk asked rhetorically. She agreed that it was a significant mistake and said that since the license office made the mistake, they should correct it themselves.

3) Went back (across town) to the license office, waited in line, and finally requested them to make the change for us. No, that cannot be done because it should have been done in the beginning of the process, and were asked accusingly why we didn't correct her at the time. She said that once we get to this point it is impossible to make a correction. We then asked why we were told to go to the Ministry of Interior when we called and she said that we should not have gone there (as if we just decided to do it on our own).

In the end, we were told that once I get my Israeli ID they can make the correction, but that will be some time from now. This is not an isolated or unusual incident, by any means. Things are done much differently and they take a lot longer than I'm used to but, then again, I'm definitely not in Tennessee anymore.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Touchy Subject

I remember when I arrived in Israel in early 1998 while the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was in full swing, and the talk everywhere here was not so much about if Clinton lied or not, but that Monica was Jewish. I had no idea (and really didn't care) but what it did was highlight the difference between what was interesting to people here and people in the States.

For the record, I don't like politics (too depressing) and I hope this doesn't fall in that category. I do not know if Jimmy Carter's new book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid is newsworthy in America, but here it is a hot topic of conversation. I am no expert in the field, but I do have my somewhat informed thoughts on the subject.

First, Jimmy Carter points out that he is not referring to Israel as being apartheid, but Palestine (specifically, Israel's actions in the territories). He is correct because Israel cannot be considered apartheid in any way. While prejudice is present in every country, Israel is no exception. But Israeli Arabs, like Jews, have the right to vote, serve in parliament if elected (several Arabs are currently members of the Knesset), though not obligatory they may serve in the army, are eligible for financial benefits and social services, have the Arabic as an official language, and so on. It is by no means complete or perfect, but minorities in Israel have more rights and privileges than anywhere in the Middle East, BY FAR. And as a minority with my Arab family here in Israel has been treated well by the government, even given preferential treatment over Jews for the reason we are not Jewish in some instances. Sometimes it is actually better treatment than America in certain similar circumstances.

As far as "Palestine" goes, in my opinion, the reference to apartheid is severely misplaced. In the territories, there are separate roads for Jews and Palestinians. Why? Because of terror attacks. There are Jewish settlements, but they are temporary and land occupied can be given away (as seen with the Gaza evacuation). While Jewish settlements are relatively free of Arabs (there are a few Arabs living in some), Palestinian cities, towns, and villages are completely free of Jews by law and force of death.

The Security Fence, also referred to as the "Apartheid Wall" by detractors, is undoubtedly an ugly scar on the landscape.It is a response to terror, first and foremost, and was erected during the height of the current bloody intifada. It is actually 97% fence and only 3% wall (the wall parts are to protect from gunfire. It is temporary, while lives lost by terror are permanent. Happily, it is working.
Israelis has learned that ruling over Palestinians is a lose-lose prospect and have shown they are willing to sacrifice deeply in hope for peace. Christians, Arab or otherwise, have more freedoms and rights here than anywhere in the Middle East, including Islamic-majority states elsewhere. Though not perfect by any means, Israel is a beacon of freedom in a region which knows nothing of the sort. So with all due respect to former president Carter, his comparison of Israel to apartheid is simply wrong on every account.

Forgive me for this plunge into controversy - these things will be few and far between. On a lighter note, if you are interested in more of this former president's activities, see the next entry.

UPDATE - Mr Carter recently apologized for several (what he calls) "mistakes" in the book and says the said offending errors will be corrected in the next edition.

Think of a Happy Place

For some time now Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have been unhappy with Southern Baptists and want to give their fellow Baptists a "smiling alternative".

Exasperated by the persistent conservatism of their own Southern Baptist Convention, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are trying to organize an alternative organization for liberal Baptists.

"This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity," Carter enthusiastically announced to reporters earlier this month.
A new Reformation? Sounds big.
Instead of traditional Southern Baptist-style biblical teaching, along with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, this new kind of Baptist entity will fight poverty, global warming and war.
I wonder, how does one fight against war? I assume they are against the notion of "war" and "poverty", but who in this world is for those things?
The new group will be less "negative and judgmental" than the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention...
Sounds rather judgemental.
Basically, the former presidents, who staged their press conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta, along with dozens of "moderate" Baptist leaders, want Baptists to sound more like politically correct Episcopalians.
Who are fracturing and shrivelling away as we speak.
In his book of last year, "Our Endangered Values," Carter likens "fundamentalist" domination of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran.
Yes, Southern Baptists have the tendancy for violence, kidnapping, terror, uniformed religious police, political assassinations, and funding international terrorism. That is what is known as "hyperbole".
But how noteworthy that the "New Baptist Covenant" seems to define itself not be creeds or theology, as conservative Southern Baptists do, but by generically left of center political and social goals: advocating greater environmental regulation, opposing U.S. military activities, advocating larger welfare state programs.
They talk about impacting society, but it makes you wonder who is really influencing whom.

Here is the final analysis:
Traditional Christians understand their faith through common understandings of God, salvation, and personal ethical behavior. Religionists of the left often see these historic tenets as inconsequential. For many of them, religion is just an instrument for political activism. The "New Baptist Covenant" claims to be only a smiling alternative to the supposedly frowning Southern Baptist conservatism. But it sounds suspiciously like a southern-friend version of left-wing Social Gospel lobbying, of the sort that has emasculated the declining mainline Protestant denominations.
Interesting article, read the whole thing and see what you think.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On American Soil

For many people in this world, this (on right) is life's Holy Grail. Especially in this part of the world, America is both despised and longed for (one of the many contradictions one has to accept without explanation).

Americans tend to take their citizenship for granted, but living in another country inevitably makes most people appreciate and/or understand our country more clearly. Although America has many virtues, the universal scourge of bureaucracy afflicts everyone regardless where one lives. So, the simple act of renewing our daughter's passport required me, my wife, and my daughter to personally appear at the US embassy in Tel Aviv (many cities away) early in the morning with a pile of documents proving that we're not attempting to commit an act of fraud.

I was hoping to get some pictures of the ordeal but as we approached the embassy prudence dictated that I should not get the camera out lest the numerous security agents suddenly become interested in me. Anyway, my camera was confiscated by security when we entered. So much for that idea.

What I noticed and thought was interesting (as with every US embassy I have ever visited) was that the line for people wanting some sort of visa to enter America was six to seven times the length of the line of Americans needing to take care of business. Of the other embassies we passed on the way, there was no line to be seen. Quite telling.

On the bright side, the embassy is located right next to the beach and weather was nice today (cold, but nice) so I got a few pictures along the way.

Delapidated charm of older Tel Aviv
Up and down the beach
My "introverted" daughter Galia at the Opera Tower building
Soothing fountain. Notice on the wall on the back right is a display (if I had bothered to photograph it) telling that the first Knesset asembly in Israel in 1948 convened here at the Opera Tower. The modern day Knesset is in Jerusalem.
Home sweet home
In the end, everything was taken care of and we returned back in time for a late lunch of fish from the Sea of Galilee (they have teeth, you know). Not bad for one morning.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

College Football

Last night I indulged myself and watched my first and only football game since arriving last year. A friend invited me to his house and watched the Florida/Ohio State game, which started at 3am. Although it was difficult to cheer for the Gators, they fully handled the Buckeyes and one has to give them credit. So, to all you Gator fans out there, congratu

Sorry, these "Big Orange" fingers just couldn't finish that last sentence (you get my drift).

This was too good to pass up:

University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino tearfully announced this week he is leaving the Cardinals to take the same position for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Stunned defensive lineman Earl Heyman reflects on hard times:

"I think it'll bring us extra-closer," Heyman said. "We've faced diversity this whole season."
But diversity aside, life is full of tough decisions.
"I thought he was going to be here for 10 years," Heyman said. "But you can't fault him for looking out for his family."
True, but...
Less than six months after signing a 10-year, $25 million contract with the Cardinals and saying "this is where I want to be," Petrino made the decision [to coach Atlanta] public.
Hard to argue with a guy wanting to put food on the table, you know.

(via Tim Blair)

Monday, January 1, 2007

Tour to Jerusalem

This summer my Hebrew class took a tour to Jerusalem and I thought I'd share a few pictures from the trip.

First thing you need to bring for any tour is a local sniper. Just in case.

First stop is Latrun where the armored corps museum is located.

Next is Mount Hertzl - a nice hanukkia for the holiday.

On Mount Hertzl are the graves fallen soldiers and important Israelis.
Top to bottom: Yitzak Rabin (R) and wife Leah; Golda Meir; Theodore Hertzl, founder of modern Zionism.

Next stop was Yad V'Shem, the Holocaust Memorial museum.

A verse on the exit of the memorial (Ezekiel 37:14).

In Jerusalem, a nice little neighborhood called Yamin Moshe.

One of the battle-scarred gates into the old city.

Arguably the most contested piece of real estate on the globe: Temple Mount.