Some Thoughts from Israel (11/1/2014)

1) On Monday afternoon, my RRC class took a field trip to Mount Herzl. Our teacher guided us through how Israel established a civic religion in its early days to promote a national identity, and we experienced how that identity changed over time.  Overlooking Yad va’shem, we analyzed the national calendar to see that after the Exodus during Passover, a short time passes before Holocaust memorial day.  After that day, a week, or a shiva, passes before memorial day and then independence day, as if to state that the Jews wandered in exile, faced some tough times, and then gained freedom on the backs of those who fought.  We learned about the right wing’s successful fight to re-inter Jabotinsky on the mountain (over Ben Gurion’s dead body) once the labor movement lost power,  We saw the new memorials to the Moroccan Jews and the Ethiopian Jews and the long-overdue recognition of the non-white Israeli experience.  We saw how the graves of fallen soldiers evolved over time from faceless and conforming military style graves to graves overflowing with pictures, quotes, anecdotes, and mementos.  And I stood frozen ten feet away from a young man, younger than me, as he smoked a big joint and sat stunned, stoned, and teary-eyed by one of the fresh graves from this summer’s battle in Gaza.  This was a new grave, so it was not faceless, and there was a
purple beret resting on the face: The same color beret that my friend wears.
2) On Sunday, I went to the beach with Nathan (my roommate and
classmate).  I sat and watched two beautiful young women show up to my left and two not so beautiful young men show up to my right.  As the women were settling in, one of the guys picked up a frisbee and threw it right at the girls.  The other guy ran out in front of it, turned around halfway through his run to flash a double thumbs up to his friend, ducked so the frisbee went over his head, let it hit one of the girls in the back, and then struck up a conversation with them.
The conversation lasted about 10 seconds, and he sauntered back to his friend.  On his way, he saw me laughing, and yelled at me in Hebrew. I told him that it was a good effort, although a bit obvious.  He didn’t find it funny. The week before on the beach, Nathan and I watched as a Russian tourist approached a beautiful young woman by herself.  He asked her if she had a boyfriend.  She said yes in American English.  He asked if she “wants to change him.”  She said no.  He griped about how US sanctions aren’t hurting the Russian government and are just hurting the common people, and then he walked away.  I said to her, “That was pretty funny and painful to experience from over here, how was that for you?”  And I made a new friend.
3) On Monday evening, Nathan and I took the bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv after a long day of classes and the field trip to the cemetery on Mount Herzl.  We were almost the last ones on the bus and we ended up in the fourth to last row.  Everyone else knew better.  Occupying the back of the bus were a group of 10-15 kippah clad, Beitar scarf wearing, teenage boy soccer fans.  In Israel, Beitar sports teams are identified with right wing politics, and have been since the days of Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.  That night, Beitar Jerusalem was playing Ha’Poel Tel Aviv, the club identified with left wing politics.  As soon as the bus left the station, they started obnoxiously singing and banging on the windows.  I couldn’t quite follow their Hebrew, but the chants sounded like standard ‘go team go’ chants.  I put in my headphones and tried to fall asleep.  About ten minutes into the ride, one of the two young women sitting behind me all of a sudden became very angry and told them to shut up.  They didn’t listen and they made fun of her.  The other young woman went to the front and talked with the bus driver.  The boys kept singing, and I caught the words ‘communists’ and ‘gays.’  The two adult Beitar fans in front of me were smiling.  The young women threatened to call the police, the boys did not stop, and the police were called.  At the only bus-stop between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the bus driver calmly told the boys to shut up.  They did not listen.  A middle-aged man from the middle of the bus came back and screamed at the boys, they did not listen.  In the next round of singing, I caught the word for ‘Arabs.’  One young woman called the police again, and the other stood up, started to walk away, and started crying.  The teenagers saw her crying and finally started to quiet.  I asked her why she was crying.  She said that she was upset because the boys were singing, “Death to communists, gays, and Arabs.”  She was a kibbutznik fresh out of the army working as a rappelling guide at Mitzpeh Ramon, the big crater outside of Be’er Sheva in the Negev.  The adult Beitar fans in front of me smugly asked her why this made her upset.  After all, the Arabs wanted them dead, so… fuck them.  She asked if they had any Arab friends, and they didn’t.  They were wearing kippahs, so she asked them what the core of Judaism is and quickly told them that it is to love your neighbor as yourself.  They said that the Palestinians are living on their land and keep trying to kill them.  Another middle aged man from the middle of the bus came back and tried to explain why blanket statements about all Arabs are wrong.  The Beitar fans challenged him to bring them one Palestinian who recognized their right to exist.  He listed several, but they did not care.  People in Israel pretend like facts matter here, they really don’t.  Those guys weren’t angry, ignorant, or misinformed, they were hurt.  The kibbutznik cried and the Beitar fans screamed as we pulled into Tel Aviv.

4) I try to go to the gym once a day.  There are a few free outdoor gyms on the beach to choose from.  My favorite one is in front of the Renaissance hotel, and I like to go there when the sun is setting over the sea.  This is when the athletes show up.   One day, there was a small group of mean looking Hispanic boxers.  They shadow boxed, did one-handed pull-ups, and hand-stand pull-ups.  There is almost always a tall athlete who looks like he played ACC basketball.  I can’t help but stare at the stab wounds in his lower back.  On the volleyball courts next to the gym, there is usually a game of two on two hands-free volleyball happening.  These guys are able to play volleyball with their feet, chests, and heads better than I can with my hands.  It is one of the more impressive things I’ve ever seen. Tuesday evening, there was a lean Arab man at the gym, about my height, without an ounce of body fat, exercising on the pull-up bar. He patiently waited in line until it was his turn, and then when it was his turn, everyone at the gym stopped to watch him.  He pushed himself over the bar and did vertical push-ups.  He then put his body in front of the bar, perpendicular to the ground, with the bar in front of his elbows and behind his back, and spun back-wards around the bar until he cared to stop, at which point his body was parallel to the ground until he was ready to let go and allow the next fat tourist a chance to attempt a pull-up.

5) Last Thursday, a teacher of mine laughed at me when I told him that I wear a suit on Shabbat at Shul.  Another student called me James Bond.