Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Is How You Live In Israel - Part 3

As this blog was being written, the war was starting to wind down. Amidst a flurry of diplomatic moves, it was becoming clear that the Israelis and the Palestinians had reached a meeting of the minds - sort of. Everyone preferred to have the actual shooting part of the war end before Barack Obama was sworn in as President. It seems that no one wanted to overly annoy him on his first day in office. Plenty of time for that later.

Meanwhile here in The Bubble, life goes on pretty much undisturbed. Thursday, 15 Jan 2009, was a day on which Liz was scheduled to go to the Matnas in Rishon to help high school students with their English. Faced with most of a day on my own I made two decisions. First, I would, for a change, contribute something myself by lending my body to A Package From Home. Second, since this meant getting up before dawn to catch a bus to Jerusalem, I would reward myself for my good works by meeting up with Mauricio. Thursdays are his Jerusalem days which means I'd get the pleasure of his company and a tour of Old and Center City coffee houses, a good lunch and a ride home. So I got up early and traveled to Jerusalem, noticing more security than usual at the bus stations and the entrances to the Old City but nothing that slowed down my journey.

My foggy memory says that I've written about A Package from Home, a wonderful organization founded and led by Barbara Silverman, that provides bags of clothes, toiletries and munchies to soldiers who do not have families in Israel. If you're interested, here's their web site Barbara has moved into a synagogue in Rehavia where her minions rearrange the tables to form long rows on which are piled the various goodies to go into the bags. In the past, the volunteers would take empty bags and walk down a row putting in the socks, tooth paste, Bamba and the rest of that day's supplies. Today, Shira Gilor, Barbara's Project Manager and all around right arm, has decided to try something new. Instead of us walking with the bags we would each take a station and add whatever was in front of us to bags being passed along. With agile youth on either side of me this was something akin to Lucy in the bon bon factory though only a few of us older folks got the joke as, from time to time, someone would moan "Oh Ricky." This system worked well as we packed a couple of thousand bags and I became intimate with dozens and dozens of pairs of socks.

After packing the packages off to various locations in and around Gaza and a base up north, I called Mauricio and was told to meet him at the Arbaah Cafe (The Quarter Cafe). Having actually paid some attention to where I was going during a previous Thursday in Jerusalem (blog of January 6 on the recession and lunch) I was able to direct a cabbie into the parking area of the Jewish Quarter and hike in from their to the cafe. . Angelo made us a fabulous pasta and salad lunch. Mauricio's other friend, Sergio, is a retired chef who now does some gardening and has rediscovered religion. I met them at a cafe in the Old City and we walked down to the Kotel where Mauricio, at Sergio's insistence, put on tefillin. As the conversation was mostly in Italian and Hebrew I never found out just why this ritual was being undertaken but it was a sunny day at The Wall, so why not. I went with Mauricio on his business rounds and then we drove back west over the mountains and back roads. More scenic and beats a lot of rush hour traffic.

Mauricio likes to drive into Jerusalem by the scenic route. Instead of using one of two major highways he comes in on the ridge of the hills leading to the city. This is a very beautiful way to travel as much of the way from the Beit Shemesh exit off Route 1 to the Bethlehem-Hebron Road (yeah, more about that in a bit) winds through JNF-planted forests and terraced orchards. Along the way we had three reminders of more serious events. First, Keren called to say she was heading back to the Army. Then we stopped at a memorial and outdoor arena used by Keren's engineering brigade. The Memorial is for all Brigade members who fell in battle starting with the members who built the "Burma Road" to Jerusalem in 1947-48 and, in the form of a computer print out taped to the wall of names, a young man who was killed in Gaza just two days ago. With too many soldiers in between. Then, while cruising along listening to a pop song on the radio (Aya Korem singing Kayitz for you Israeli pop fans) the DJ broke in and quietly said "Azahka b' Beersheva, Ashdod v'Netivot" This was a warning of missiles heading toward those three cities. And then back to the music. Mauricio says this is an insane way to live. He also had a mix of old rock and roll songs so the trip included our singing along with Eric Burden, Procol Harum and The Trogs.

Mauricio swung so far south of Tel Aviv that he came up through Rehovot and Rishon Letzyyon. Liz had spent the afternoon at the Matnas (community center) in the Ramat Eliahu neighborhood of Rishon, She goes there on Thursdays to help tutor high students in English (while they work on her Hebrew, she thinks its a good deal). So Mauricio decided to pick her up and drive us both back to Tel Aviv. While waiting for Liz Mauricio shopped for fruits and vegetables at a market near the Matnas. I suddenly started to sneeze (something organic hit my allergy button). The woman running the market offered me a tissue. Her husband gave me half an orange and said I should eat it, it would be good for my cold. Its a country populated by Jewish mothers of both sexes. The orange was delicious, so I bought 8 to take home.

On Friday, 16 January, Liz worked for Fugee Friday, a group of volunteers organized by James Fox a grad student (for more see Every Friday afternoon, they gather food donations from shuk merchants and distribute it at a shelter for African immigrants. These are illegal, economic immigrants who walk from places like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia and manage to get over the border without being shot by the Egyptians. The Israeli government hasn't quite figured out what to do with these people but Israelis are stepping up to help with shelters, food and, sometimes, jobs. Donated food also goes to Israeli families living in the same poor neighborhood. This is the side of Israel that the Western supporters of Hamas don't want you to know about.

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