Saturday, December 17, 2005

Pilpul - Part 2

16 December 2005
Haifa 14:08

It’s Shabbat in Haifa. We drove up here from Tel Aviv yesterday (Friday 15 Dec.) and experienced something entirely new to us. It was raining in Israel. Squalls and thunderstorms all along the coast. It will rain intensely for a while and then the sun will come out. This weather cycle has been going on for over 24 hours now. Having only been here in non-rainy seasons (or during what everyone swears is an unusual December heat wave) it’s quite a novelty to listen to rain hitting the windows.

Packing and moving got a bit intense so I’m a few days behind with the blogs. But, your luck has run out. I’m going to catch up on a few items.

Back to Rehovot

Last Monday, we (Liz, cousins Marcia and David Chamovitz and I) got a VIP tour of Weizmann Institute. Turns out that Jay Leipzig, the Senior Vice President of the American Committee for the Weizmann Science Institute, and I share a Rabbi or two. Before we left home Liz and I visited with Rabbi Jehiel and Sylvia Orenstein to get tips on what would be good, off beat places to visit in Israel. Rabbi Orenstein said we should get a tour of Weizmann and suggested I contacted Jay Leipzig, who arranged a tour for him. I don’t know Jay so I asked how to find Jay. The Rabbi says, get his e-mail off the synagogue membership list. Fortunately Jay has a sense of humor about these things (I suspect we are not the first people sent his way like this) and arranged for our tour.

Weizmann is one of the world’s foremost research institutes. They work on everything, often using multidisciplinary approaches to extremely high tech (like nanotechnology and alternate energy sources). Next to a field of huge, movable mirrors stands a building with labs used to investigate the uses of sunlight (grow things, make more powerful lasers, etc). The building is set up to have the mirrors focus sunlight into various laboratories or a giant mirror on the side of the building used to step-up the light to get a beam of up to 20,000 suns. Turns out the particle accelerator is obsolete and Weizmann uses the Cern accelerator for its sub-molecular experiments. But a lot of cutting edge research goes on on site.

What’s really notable about Weizmann is that it looks like a college campus, only flat and beautiful. The campus includes Chaim Weizmann’s house. Long before he became the first President of Israel, Weizmann was a research chemist who developed a better way to produce acetone, which, in turn, was used for explosives during World War I. He lived then in the UK and made his discovery available to the British for their war effort. This made him both very rich and very well connected. Which led to him becoming a major instigator of the Balfour Declaration (in which the British recognized the right of Jews to establish a homeland in the Palestine Mandate). Weizmann helped create the State and a research institute in Rehovot.

Weizmann had one of the 30’s hot architects design a home for he and his wife on land that is now part of the Institute. The house itself is worth the tour (and we got to look into closets of art nouveau crystal and wander around the kitchen, both usually off limits but we got the VIP tour). It’s a variation of the International School. For example it has a three-story spiral staircase enclosed inside a curved wall of rows and rows of thermometer windows. The building itself is a work of art and contains a number of wonderful art pieces. It can’t buy you love but money can most certainly buy you a great house.

We Wuz Robbed

The talent show at Beit Noar Kadima was a hoot. My kids did not win but had a good time just showing off. The winner was a young lady who did a hip-hop belly dance to some Israeli pop song. I liked the four kids who used chairs as props and danced to a really strange version of Echad Mi Yodea. * Here are pictures of the girls and me. The first shows me and, from left to right, Keren (9 ½), Orli (11) and Illenit (9 ½), while rehearsing out back. The second shows us on stage and finally a picture of us while I was being thanked.
Carmel, one of the teachers, asked us to come up and said she was going to “talk about me.” I only caught a few words but when she introduced me as Liz’ husband lots of eyes lit up. Liz is well known and very popular here.** So I got thanked for playing guitar, for helping with English and for bringing one large bag of peanut M&Ms. (Israelis love M&Ms. If you want to cheer up someone in the Army just send a couple of pounds of the stuff. The kids inhaled a large bag.)

Jewish Geography with a Vengeance

Friday, 15 Dec, we pack up and leave Tel Aviv. For the rest of December we are going to be bouncing around between Haifa, Jerusalem and, possibly, points north. Yossi the cab driver Deena the real estate agent arranged for us is a friendly guy who was born in Hatikvah. His parents emigrated from Persia many years ago. Liz keeps up a running conversation in Hebrew all the way up the coast to Haifa (a little over an hour in moderate traffic). Yossi is very patient as he conjugates some verbs for her. Though at one point he said, its OK to say it in English. But Liz kept right on. Its good to have a wife who can speak with cabbies and plumbers.

Driving up the coast from Tel Aviv, we pass a number of towns and Kibbutzim. Then, suddenly, we come upon the first mountain range we have seen. So far we’ve been in the coastal plain or northern edge of the dessert. Now we are looking at Zichron Yaakov, once of the earliest Jewish settlements and a wine making center. The city sits on the first mountain you see driving north from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Haifa itself is a modern city built on a mountain. The US equivalent would be San Francisco. At the foot of the hill are great beaches and Israel’s major port. Haifa is a commercial center and does not have the nightlife of Tel Aviv. The old saying is you go to Jerusalem to pray, to Tel Aviv to play and to Haifa to work. Like all stereotypes there’s a lot of truth in the saying. Haifa is a beautiful city. It doesn’t have the run down areas of Tel Aviv. It’s also a city where Jews and Arabs have lived peacefully together for longer than anyone can remember.

Yael Paley, an Israeli friend from back home, has lent us her apartment. Yael spends most of her time working in the US (where her daughters and grandchildren all live) but comes back to Israel for vacations. She inherited her Mother’s apartment and has held on to it. Given what’s been going on with Israeli real estate this has proven to be a good move, even if she doesn’t eventually retire here. But for the next few days Liz and I have free run of a tastefully decorated, cavernous apartment (3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms; 2 bathrooms approaches my definition of civilized which is 1 ½ bathrooms per person). As we stretched out on a giant corner couch, sipping a really good Israeli wine *** , Liz said, “We aren’t really on vacation, neither of us work so we have nothing to be on vacation from. The fact is that we live like this. And we deserve to live like this.” I knew there was a reason I dated her in college.

So today, 16 Dec, is Shabbat and we decided to do the one thing that we routinely do at home but have never done in Israel – we decided to so to services in a synagogue. So far this trip we even walked into a church (St. Peter’s in Old Jaffa – as in raising Tabitha from the dead St. Peter) but have done nothing overtly theologically Jewish. Thanks to the internet we have a list of every Masorti congregation in Israel. Masorti is the Conservative movement in Israel. So off we go to Kehillath Moriya, the oldest Masorti congregation in Israel. We have called in advance so we know that they start at 09:00 (Jewish time, of course) and today is a bar mitzvah. So we get there by a quarter to ten or so and they are just at the end of repeating the Amidah (the Shemona Esreh to the hard core). Everything is in Hebrew but the service is your basic Ashkenazi, Conservative service (with a few Sephardic melodies thrown in with the mostly familiar melodies and a few words added or inverted in some of the prayers), so we can follow along. For the full Torah reading we are handed an English-Hebrew Soncino, a familiar book from back home. Take note Beth El people, these folks start at 9 and finished at 11:30, with a bar mitzvah, with the Rabbi and the bar mitzvah boy discussing the Torah reading and a full Torah reading. They did do the shortened Shemoneh Esreh for Musaf (the concluding prayers) but all in all you had a full service, without responsive readings in English.

Then, at the end came the announcements. Remember my blog about playing Jewish Geography in Busi? Well, here’s proof how small the Jewish world really is. In the middle of announcements I hear the President tell the congregation that Debbie Block-Temin will be back on Tuesday. Turns out her father, Samuel Block, died and she went home to the US for the funeral but will sit shiva one night at home in Haifa. Deborah and David Block-Temin were, back in 1984, members of Park Slope Jewish Center in Brooklyn. Back then they were newly weds who left Park Slope to make Aliyah. When I last heard of them (Andy Fair, do you still have contact?), he landed a job as an attorney in Haifa. Today I learned that he is now general counsel for Elbit, which I think is a major Israeli defense contractor. She became a social worker and works at a hospital for disabled children. They have 5 children. Back in 1984, Liz and I lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn and spent many Saturday mornings at services with the Block-Temins. They live a short walk from Kehillath Moriya. But for the unfortunate passing of her father, they would probably have been in synagogue today. Liz is proud of having found them in the phone book (quick, spell Block-Temin in Hebrew). We’ll try to make contact.

As I write this we are listening to the web cast of NPR (WNYC-FM, a New York City public radio station). Apparently we are not only missing snow and ice storms but also a transit strike. Even raining its reasonably warm here (60s to 70s by day; high 40s to low 50s at night). Winter in Haifa is like summer in San Francisco. So all I can say is, be jealous, be very jealous. And remember that, come January, we are back in Tel Aviv with a spare bedroom.
*”Who Knows One” a counting song sung at Passover Seders in which each number stands for a different aspect of Jewish life, lore or theology. For the Christians in the crowd, think of Partridge in a Pear Tree.

**Digression – Learning English here is very serious business. A lot of technical and professional work gets done in English. Your ability to get into a top rated university hinges, among other things, on how well you do on an English test. Opportunities for advancement in the Army, government jobs and civilian life increase markedly with one’s fluency in English. So getting help with your English homework from someone who came all the way from New Jersey, America to help you is a big deal.

***Barkan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – about $18 retail in the USA; $12 in the duty free shop at Ben Gurion Airport. Anyone traveling through there with room in his or her bags, grab as many as you can carry and I’ll pay you back when you hand them over in Millburn. If they still have the 4 for the price of 3 sale it drops the price to under $10 a bottle.

No comments: