This month let me paint you an impressionist picture of the little things that make up life in Jerusalem.
I’m sitting in a cafe Friday afternoon drinking my latte and the person at the table next to me, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, motions to my watch and says “excuse me, what time…” I assume they want to know what time it is now. But: they finish the sentence, “what time... does Shabbat start tonight?”
Every Friday, there is a comedy troupe that performs from 11-1. They do a mixture of skits, music, and an interview with some well known Israeli. They are kind of a Hebrew version of the Jon Stewart Show and they are hysterically funny. But: the performance is all about the parsha of the week. And the audience is mixed religious-secular. And the name of the weekly show is “Kalabbat Shabbat”, a mixed up Kabbalat Shabbat.
3,000 people join us on Shlomo Carlebach’s 15th yartzeit for a concert in his memory. It’s a frum rock happening. The guys hawking T-shirts outside have made a shirt with the same font from Carlsberg Beer which reads: Carlebach: Possibly the Best Rebbe in the World.
The red and green traffic lights on Derech Hevron, a major street (think Bathurst Street), are timed so that when you have to cross three stantions, only one at a time turns green, thus making you wait three times to get across one busy street. Nu, you think pedestrians are as important as drivers?
We go to Ulpan every Tuesday night, the quintessential Israeli experience. Our class is one Russian nun in a habit, one Syrian priest in full black regalia with a black hood (his native tongue is Aramaic), one haredi woman (whose native tongue is Yiddish), a sprinkling of Americans, French, and Spaniards, 2 Israeli Arabs. We are in the highest level, so we do lots of complicated Hebrew grammar, and get this: one student is a professor from Harvard who taught himself fluent Hebrew in 3 months.
We meet someone new and they immediately invite us for Shabbat. ‘Nuff said.
I’ve decided the Israeli national sport is car-honking. Long and loud. Silver goes to the person who can lean on their horn the longest. Gold goes to the guy who passes on the right, makes a left in front of a moving bus, and never lets up on his horn. Next up: mezuzah-kissing.
I’m watching older folks on the bus and I suddenly realize: a whole generation of the first pioneers will soon be gone. And with them, go the stories that I was raised on of draining the swamps. And with them goes the poetry and the music and the Israeli dances and the camp-fire sing-alongs and the kibbutzim (all of which are now privatized) and maybe even the tiny-cut tomato and cucumber salad for breakfast that marked the Israel of my childhood and teens. I feel a sudden deep sadness and wonder who, and what, will replace the chalutzim who built a country because they had an answer to the question why? Go watch the incredibly moving film Galilee Eskimos-- if you can find it.
Israelis use so much English in their Hebrew that you can just about make up any word you want from English to Hebrew just by adding an “ah” at the end or “oot”. Here are some of the new Hebrew words (that have perfectly adequate Hebrew equivalents)I heard just in the last week:
l’sa-mes (to text using SMS)
l’gagal (to google)
l’fass-beck (to “facebook”)
celeb (celebrity) and its cousin: celebriti-oot (celebrity-ness)
ha-elitah (the elite)
And sometimes Israelis just throw in English words (when talking to other Israelis!) for no apparent reason except to demonstrate their English competency: like: “anyways,” “let’s go,” and “no problem”.
Last week we went on an all-night desert hike in the hills of S’dom. We arrived down south at 11 p.m. and hiked till 5 a.m., seeing the sunrise at the end. We meditated on the strange moonscape of white chalk mountains which tower above you and yet crumble in your hand. The full moon was so bright it cast shadows as we walked silently in the valley, flanked by winding white walls and cliffs. The silence was so powerful it practically echoed and played tricks on me; one minute I thought I heard a bird, the next minute the wind whistled and it sounded like a car. Even though it had rained in Jerusalem the day before the desert just 2 hours south was totally dry; the brush crackled underneath our feet. Ha-midbar (the desert) mid-aber (speaks.) The desert that speaks.
I realized there are 2 Walls in Jerusalem. A wall that separates- the security fence. And a wall that brings together- the Western Wall. And they both sometimes do just the opposite as well: the security wall brings together, while the Western Wall separates. Odd. And very Jerusalem.