Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jew in a Box

      I had planned to write about the High Holy Days. That was the plan- a straightforward, and hopefully humorous, account of my second Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as an Israeli. But honestly, Rosh Hashana was lovely and uneventful and Yom Kippur I was battling what can only be described as the plague, so I don't have that much to report. Then, two things happened that gave me the urge, the need, the desire- to blog. And I live for that.
     The first was a life- changing book I just finished and the second was an unpleasant Facebook exchange (although these days, aren't most of them unpleasant?) The book I read was called "Catch the Jew" by Tuvia Tenenbom and it is his account of trying to get the gist of this whole "Israeli- Palestinian" issue by speaking to a representative of basically every faction in Israel. He talks to Arabs and Jews, Europeans and Africans. He talks to the Right and the Left, Hareidim and "settlers", Bedouins and MKs- he really gets around. It's fascinating, but what stuck out to me is his accounts of discussing the divides specifically within the Jewish community. He pokes fun at everyone, basically, but reserves most of his wonder (and, honestly, ire) for Israeli Jews who hate their fellow Jew. Some of it is really hard to read, and even harder to digest. Here he is, in the one Jewish country in the world, meeting Jew after Jew who hates Jews, hates Israel, and dedicates their lives to destroying both from the inside.
      Act Two. In a Facebook group this evening (mostly dedicated to promoting democracy in the Middle East), someone posted (and to be more accurate, posted during Shabbat) "How much of a internal threat are Orthodox jews (sic) to the state of Israel? In what ways and why? I'm guessing not all orthodox jews (sic) fit in this description but the ones that do." And then in the comments, people were discussing it.
         Now, after scraping my jaw off the floor, I responded to the nature of "Sorry this Orthodox Jew couldn't respond, as it was Shabbat, but this post is rude, divisive and unnecessary." But I was still stewing. I will say this; I think the guy who wrote this meant Hareidi/Ultra- Orthodox Jews. And I will further say this- I don't care. Because for whatever problems I may personally have with specific political issues, I love Jews and will always try to defend them. And it makes me nuts that I live in a religion where I have to spend so much time defending and rationalizing and debating and arguing with and disagreeing with and analyzing my fellow Jews. It got me wondering how much time a devout Christian or Muslim or Buddhist spends defending his fellow coreligionists. 
      It says in the Torah "Love your neighbor as yourself" and yet we Jews have built within our tiny community even tinier factions still. And it has become all the more apparent now that I'm Israeli. Sure, in the States we had different groups, but we were all still American Jews, bound together by the fact that we were the "other", this tiny (but well-known) minority within a huge American population. Here in Israel, the Jewish state, we are blessedly not the "other." And this is great, and this is bad. Here, being around other Jews is no great shakes. And because they're everywhere, factions form quickly, so people know where in this sea of Jews they belong. Sure there are times when we can all come together, like when we're huddled in bomb shelters or competing at the Olympics, but generally- there are schisms. Left vs. Right. Secular vs. religious. Vs. Hareidi vs. Hasidic vs. "settlers" vs. Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim vs. Ethiopians vs. Russians vs. Bibi vs Buji vs. Sabras vs. Olim vs. me vs. you and so it goes. 
         And dear reader, I am ashamed to admit, of course I engage in it too. Of course I classify myself and people I meet. Sometimes I wrinkle my nose, sometimes I like someone instantaneously, knowing nothing much about them. Sometimes I clap for statements I agree with and sometimes I "boo" politicians with whom I disagree. Sometimes I judge and sometimes I'm harsh. I forget that they're also Jewish, but that they grew up differently than me, with a different family and different life experiences. There's a guy who tells everyone he dislikes me and the only reason I can think of is because we disagree politically. I've always been nice to him, we have similar social circles and we're both Anglo olim. But politically, we diverge and so he dislikes me, and I in turn him. But I get to thinking about this and become uneasy. I say that I "love Jews," but isn't he Jewish? Aren't Jews who live outside my box Jewish? Aren't they also my family? Shouldn't I defend them the way I did "the Orthodox" in that guy's Facebook post, or in any instance of anti-Semitism where I would go to bat for any of my Jewish brothers and sisters, regardless of the "box" in which they live?
       I was hanging out with my friend Eli, talking about this dilemma, and it struck me that Eli is a guy who cares nothing about boxes. I asked him how he is the way he is and he said "I just hate everyone regardless." He is an extremely friendly guy and he was joking. The subtext was that he just loves everyone regardless. He basically just sees humans as humans and it got me thinking. I need to start seeing Jews as Jews, now living in Israel more than ever. In America, it was easier- it was our little subculture in a vast non-Jewish country, but here I need to be careful. I need to mean what I say and say what I mean. I don't have to agree with the people who think differently than me, but I have to hear them. I don't have to join people who live differently than me, but I have to defend them when I can. And I don't have to give up my ideals, but I have to understand that they may not be everyone's ideals (although they should be- they're really good ideals. Kidding!) And this year, in Israel in 5776, when I say that I love all Jews and I want to actually LOVE ALL JEWS. I think I can do it- wish me luck!
Pretty deep Jerusalem graffiti

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Get On The Bus, Gus

As an underqualified but highly motivated Aliyah tour guide, I thought I’d give my perspective on the transportation system here in Israel. Please read on for the good, the bad, the ridiculous and the insane of Egged, Dan, Kavim and more- AKA- The Israeli Bus System.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am something of a bus novice here in Israel. In my early days of visiting Israel, buses did not have a good reputation. And by that I mean that they were terrorist targets and gave me and my mother feelings of panic just walking near one. Was this a fair assessment? Kind of. There were definitely attacks during those years of the Second Intifada where just the sight of a bus would have me crossing the street, but the vast majority of buses rolled on, safely and soundly. This fear, however, led to strict instructions by my mother to never, under any circumstances, take a bus. It also compelled her to pay for the taxis that would inevitably become my preferred mode of transportation. As the years passed and my trips to Israel became more frequent and longer, my mom was kinda like “This is getting expensive.” And once the money train stopped, wouldn’t ya know it? I started taking the bus again! I remember my triumphant return to a public Jerusalem bus, marked with only two short prayers to G-d for my safety and 10 friends taking photos of the auspicious occasion. From then on, it just wasn’t that bad.

In New York, I had a car. I wasn’t one of those cool New Yorkers who lived on the subway, or the less- cool ones who rode the LIRR (kidding!) I lived in the outer boroughs and worked in several different schools as a speech pathologist, so as the saying goes “I lived in my car.” I remember when I told my mother I wanted to make Aliyah, she said “How could you leave your niece and nephews? Daddy? Your car?!” She, and I, if I’m honest, knew how attached I was to having my own vehicle. I’m a goer and a doer and being on someone else’s schedule, in this case, the Egged Bus Company, was going to be a challenge.

And a challenge it has been! I would like to take you on a sample bus ride to work so you can understand the little difficulties that add up to a total bus headache. What you want to do first is download the Moovit app for your phone. Created by Israelis (of course) this app uses GPS to create a bus/train/walking route for you, tell you how long the trip should take and estimate how soon your bus will arrive. I would like to emphasize should because being wrong is not unheard of. So you choose the route that looks easiest. Sometimes that route will take 2 buses- don’t do it. Do the “more walking” option because honestly, the only thing worse than waiting for one bus is waiting for back to back buses. So you get your bus and you’re the third person to board. Except because it’s Israel, people cut in line and you become the 6th person to board. Except because I’m from NYC, I get back to being 4th. Okay. Unfortunately, the first person is paying with cash (a 100 shekel bill on a fare of 6.90) and the third person’s bus card is malfunctioning but feels that a 5 minute argument with the bus driver would be the best course of action (pro tip- you will never win with the bus driver- the house always wins.) Finally, you swipe your card. When I first moved here, I would buy rides in increments of 20 until I discovered the “monthly unlimited” option (cue the angels and harps.) I have to tell you, as a former shopaholic- this card is my one monthly splurge. For about 65 dollars, I can ride as many buses and light rails as I want for the entire month! It’s amazing! And I know you’re thinking- okay, Jords, relax- but it is basically the biggest purchase of my month nowadays, and I look forward to the 1st of every month now for just that reason. A whole month of unlimited bus rides, far as the eye can see!

Did I actually take a selfie with my Rav Kav? Yes. Because it's love.
So I’m on the bus, right? Great. There are only 2 types of buses generally. Completely empty and bursting at the seams full. So your ride will go one of 2 ways- seated or smushed up against the handrail, praying for the next stop to be the one the entire bus is waiting for. Let’s say it’s empty, as most of my morning ones are. I get my seat and it is glorious. I put on my headphones and start reading one of the 50 articles I have “saved for later” on my phone. Inevitably, the bus will stop and more people will get on. And inevitably, regardless of how many empty seats are around me, their seat of choice will be next to me. Often I have wondered “why?” Why sit next to me and invade my space when there are so many other’s spaces that can be equally invaded? I believe it comes down to these elements: 1) I am clean/smell good (cannot be overstated on a Jerusalem bus) 2) I look safe- say what you want about political correctness, but the young American (because apparently it’s obvious) woman of ambiguous religious level is always a safe bet. I won’t be fervently praying next to you, reeking of smoke next to you or loudly gabbing on the phone next to you and 3) I look like I want nothing to do with you. Why is this a plus, you may wonder? Because I will not speak to you, not breathe on you and not cough on you unless my life depends on it. And when you are on your way from or to work, that’s a real blessing. This is all well and good, unless you’re me and you would kill for an empty seat next to you once in a while. Or would it be possible that the person next to me is a cute, religious young man once in a while? Nope. I attract every other type of person though- men and women, children and the elderly, Hasidic and Arab, French and Israeli- I am an equal opportunity seatmate.

Once on the bus, the driving style of the bus driver is really anyone’s guess. The majority of my rides are smooth and easy, but I have definitely had more than my share of rides that ended with my kissing the sweet, sweet pavement upon reaching my destination.

You have buses that come super late and buses that show up early, so you can wave goodbye to them with tears in your eyes as you hunker down to wait for the next. You have buses with open windows in the rain and no A/C in the summer. Some of the hottest days of August are not complete without a sweltering standing-room-only ride chugging up the hill from the Old City, smelling the smells and feeling the feels of your fellow man as you blast your music, think of puppies and pray that the lights all turn green. You have the people who will talk on the phone as if they are on their own patios, sharing all their private information with everyone around them, and the old ladies who will shush you when you quietly chat with your friend. You will have the tourists who will inevitably miss their stop and then get detailed directions to get back on track and the old timers with their carts full of produce, who have been taking that bus and that route since its inception.

You will see the hills of Jerusalem and the Judean desert and the highrises of Tel Aviv, and the passing trains, the fallow fields and a herd of cows and then an hour later, a line of camels. You will see heart-stopping drops and your ears will pop as altitudes change. You will traverse the entire country in less than a day and experience the wonder and the miracle of this land on every trip. And you will miss your car, and pray that one day you will be able to afford one here. But in the meantime, you will make the best of this time on the bus, when you can turn on your headphones, stare out the window and enjoy the beauty of your new home.
All day. Every day. Hi Israel.