Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Cutest Girl in the World, and I Forgot my Camera...

...I went all the way to Tel Aviv and I forgot my camera. I knew my bag was feeling light. I'll have to explain what I saw in words, but first, I'm going to use the following image as a cheap trick to justify my title and get some people to read:

The Cutest Girl in the World

Now that I have your attention, one of the first things I noticed in Tel Aviv was the clouds...the only clouds I've seen since I've gotten here have been dust clouds. I grabbed a beach towel and a t-shirt for 30 shekels at Shuk Hakarmiel, a nice cheap market. I haggled with the dude selling them, which I don't really enjoy. Haggling is kind of tough for me because I always feel bad about...well arguing. My puny American mind can't fathom haggling for 10 minutes to bring the price down a few shekels. But I have to toughen up. Sooner or later my own reserves are gonna run dry - and then I'll starve ... and then all these damn cats in Israel are going to eat me =).

Oh, I haven't gotten to that. There are cats EVERYWHERE in Israel. I seriously think it's an Iranian conspiracy or something. I don't know why, but I don't trust them not one bit. Not even the cute little kittens.

Okay, back to TA. This city never sleeps. It's cleaner than Jerusalem and I dig the atmosphere: it's modern trendy, as opposed to the super-futuristic Mad Max Jerusalemite trendy. Somehow it seems a smidge more civilized too. The biggest selling point for me is the beach. The TA beach is a huge stretch of land adjacent to nice city conveniences. There's a hip bar every 50 meters right on the sand with lots young people running around day and night. As I walked along the beach, I thought to myself that there was really no question as to which way was West. Had I forgotten that the sun set Westerly, I would have remembered that the Israeli coast faces West. But I didn't even have to think about it as the giant orange inferno dropped behind the horizon. For a few moments my thoughts were in America with my friends and family. I wish you guys could feel the warmth rise as the waves come in, to feel the sun's rays on your skin in this amazing city in extraordinary times. Also, I wish you guys were here, it's a little boring not knowing a lot of people here. Usually I can deal because the camera keeps me occupied, but alas, it was left, battery and all on my desk chair. I promise to come back and record this beautiful place soon.

Jerusalem Nights

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Jerusalem - I love this city

I love this city, I really do.

Two dirty leather-bound and tatooed guys brandishing huge magen David necklaces while wearing kippot and crazy futuristic sunglasses hop on a scooter and scuttle off. As they ride, they pass a Yemenite religious old man teaching a young student about some commentary from the sages. The man doesn't have a penny to his name but he prays every moment of the day. The two walk and talk simultaneously on their way to the bus. On the way to the bus stop, they pass a store where a Russian woman wearing a cross is yelling at the top of her lungs at the store-clerk because the price of tomatoes went up. She's flailing her hands in the air like she's about to hit the man and he's yelling right back in her face. A student eating shuarma in the kiosk next door asks them to quiet down and they both yell at him to mind his own business. The bus drives by, the same to which the religious men were walking. There, one soldier is going to the central bus station to get to his base, another is coming back from a funeral, both are wearing super-futuristic sun-glasses. The air is dry, the climate is so hot and everything is dusty after 11:00, only 2 hours after the street cleaners came by. It seems like a scene from mad-max, but actually it's my neighbors. There's no way to put Jerusalemites in a box - everyone's so different here, and everyone's here for a different reason:

Some people want to get out and are stuck here; some believe that they should never leave; some are journalists that are here to expose some right wing plot; some are journalists here to expose a left-wing plot; there are students, politicians, tourists, Asians, Americans, French, Russians, Ethiopians - just about every nation in the world is well established somewhere in the city. Some people are just plain weird, like the lady that sprayed me with a water gun the other day while walking with a friend.

All in all, it seems that this place is just shy of a controlled anarchy. It's it's own civilized world - and it is that - a whole 'nother world somewhere between the third, the first and the next. It's a world of ancient history hiding behind futuristic sunglasses.

My friend from Beer Sheva say it's a weird place. So do my friends from Tel Aviv. Weird it may be, but still,

I love this city.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

German Colony, Road to Hevron, Ramat Rachel

Images from Ramat Rachel

A few years ago I took a tour of Ramat Rachel. At the time, I remembered the view was fantastic from the kibbutz, but I didn't know for the life of me where I was. After purchasing a map today, I realized that I live very close to the Kibbuts and that it would only take me a few minutes by bus or about a half-hour stroll to get to the southernmost part of Jerusalem. So I packed my camera and took a walk. I went through German Colony, which I think old colony that used to be German and is now Israeli.

The streets there have aqueducts and the houses resemble those of turn-of-the-century plantation mansions. Although most of them have been condominiumized into residential or office buildings, Israelis have maintained their terrific character.

At the end of German Colony, there are two options to go south, one is more of a throughway called the Road to Hevron, and the second is a little more homey, although not that much more, called the Road to Beit Lechem.

Regardless, at some point, I had to cross over to the road to Hevron. The region seemed to get a little more arid, a little less developed as I moved further and further to the edge of the city. Looking back, the view was fantastic. Part of the beauty is that much of the land is undeveloped, unlike America, where it seems everything has been overdeveloped and is almost flat in most urban areas.

It turns out the directions I was given to enter Ramat Rachel were a bit off. I ended up taking a dirt path that's usually used for tractors that take care of the kibbutz's crops. When I got to the top of the hill, the guard told me he couldn't let me in from that side and I would have to walk all the way around the town's gated boarder to get in to the Kibbutz. I tried to bribe him with some cool water I had just bought to no avail. It didn't really matter to me, I got the view I remembered.

To the South of the town (above left picture) is the southernmost Jewish section of Jerusalem called Choomat Shmuel. It looks like they're building up a storm there, I hope they don't plan on giving it away, it looks really nice! To the Southwest is called the 4th Hill (Above Images). Aside from an old mosque (far right picture), the Hill hasn't been developed at all, my guess is it's disputed and it juts into Israeli territory so Arabs can't build there and there is probably legislation passed where Jews resistricted themselves from building there as well.

The city seen behind the Hill on the right is called Gilo. Gilo's perifery was conquered and annexed in 1967. Though most people consider it a part of Jerusalem, there are some that dispute it as a settlement, particularly an offshoot of the city called Har-Gilo. I tend to think that 40,000 people is hard to consider a settlement and is almost a full-out city of it's own but no one elected me prime minister. Gilo overlooks a neighboring Arab village called Beit Jalla. A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Gilo and viewed the unfortunate havoc that was wreaked on the residents by extremists in the neighborhing village. Entire buildings facing the Arab village were sprayed with bulletholes, and it was clear that someone was not intending good things for this neighborhood. After 400 sum-odd incidents, the Israeli government built a 10 foot wall to block the fire and nearly demolished a specific home with a tank round that was firing particularly rabbidly at everyday civilians. The home turned out to be the residence of a prominant Arab who was pretty upset at the destruction of his home. To Israel's defence, his house harbored terrorists that severely injured several civilians regularly - even if his home was being used without permission, there is a point where neighboring governments must take responsibility for their own armies, law enforcement, and justice systems.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jerusalem Day

Rechov Ben Yehuda

I spent another day running from ministry to ministry taking care of business. This time, I brought my camera. Ben Yehuda Street is right around several places I needed to be - it's a pedestrian mall that runs up and down a hill with shops on either side - think Newbury Street just less fancy, but more charming with better and cheaper food. This area is a 20 minute walk from my home or 5 minute ride on the bus.

After finishing up with today's bureaucracy, I went to the old city. I figure it's been almost a week and I haven't gone to the main attraction. On the way over, I started realizing that there were plaques all over the city with a flame on them; I thought they were just a commemoration of a building, but after taking a closer look, each one was a site of a suicide bombing. Just as I took the picture of the plaque, a large bus drove by. It was sad moment; these plaques are all over the city.

Plaque commemorating those murdered by suicide bombers, Large bus driving by

After a moment of grief, I had to pull myself together. Life goes on around here; sitting around worrying won't solve anything. I decided to stay positive and revved myself up to take pictures of EVERYTHING at the Old City, but to my dismay, the whole Northern/Western part of the Old City limits were completely under construction!

Old City from North, Under Construction

So I joyfully walked around the construction to what I've now learned is the Damascus Gate. I quickly realized that I became the only Jew in the vicinity when I stopped seeing kippas, all the signs were only in Arabic, (as opposed to the Jewish sector, in which all signs are in English, Arabic and Hebrew.) and everyone was staring at my big Star of David necklace that I forgot I was wearing. The local population didn't seem to be too thrilled, particularly those selling Hamas bandanas and maps with the entire state of Israel as a Palestinian flag as the map. I didn't really mind, but now and then, I came to an empty road and it was pretty uncomfortable, particularly with the recent journalist kidnappings and here I am walking around with a professional camera. There have also been countless stabbings in the Old City - just today the IDF arrested a man who was walking around with a improvised spike. Needless to say, I buttoned my shirt, even though it was 90 degrees outside and put the camera away for the most part.

Quiet Arab Street, the road to East Jerusalem, Damascus Gate

Iwandered around the Arab sector for about an hour checking out their goods, and smelling their foods. Some of it was interesting, some of it I considered getting but I was getting tired and you can't haggle if you're tired. Finally I stumbled upon a nice Yeshiva student who pointed me in the direction of the Western Wall (just go straight, DUH!)

I'm not going to lie to you, I was instantly relieved when I saw a few Israeli Soldiers wielding M-16s . I just didn't know where I was in the Arab Quarter and I was lost, even though I now know that all I had to do was go straight and I would've been home free. The Soldiers checked out my bag and asked me what I was doing in Israel. They were all stunned and thrilled that I had moved here, I was just thrilled to be out of harms way.

Old City Streets

All in all the Jewish Quarter was much cleaner, and there was an air of bustling commerce. I kind of felt bad for the Arabs in the Old City because hardly any tourists were there, no Americans, no French, not even Israelis who used to frequent the Arab shops for the best prices. Now after 2 intifadas, it seems that many people are more concerned about safety and won't risk their lives for the sake of a few shekels. Either that or they are making a concious political statement.

Kotel with Ramp Under Construction

After getting a quick bite, I went down to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) which was heavily under construction - it seems they are building a staircase to the Arab sector, I wasn't exactly sure for what. The Aish building was under heavy under construction, as were a few other places. Regardless, I went down to have a chat with the All-Mighty to thank him for life, health and beg for better times for everyone. As I entered the kotel's inner section, I was stunned - the entire place had been done over so books weren't strewn all over the place as they had been in years past. There were library walls in place, a nice airconditioning system and lights all around illuminating the place. I wasn't sure I loved it, the feeling of being in an antique and ancient place was an attraction and with all this new stuff, it took away from that, but we live in modern times, I guess it had to have happened eventually.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Trip

These images were taken during a lull of commotion.

The trip was rough. There was a 2 hour delay from take-off because of some security concerns. The flight took off very shakily, and our baggage took 2 hours to arrive.

My flight consisted of about 200 Yeshiva students from all over the States that take a year to study Torah before college. They were very nice and interesting people, but they were so restless - babies crying, minyans (groups of 10) praying, kids running around, and lines at the bathroom like there was no tomorrow. I swear, all that was missing was a few farm animals walking around in the isles and it would've been perfect.

Because of the shaky takeoff and the security situation I couldn't sleep for the duration of the flight. Highlights of the flight were Normandy Nice and Marsailles coasts - they just looked unbelievable with all those lights. The sunrise was a spectacular firey-red inferno on the Greek horizon. Unfortunately, I only took out the camera after the sun rose, once we got to Israel, I had it out and ready to shoot.


Ben Gurion Airport has changed a bit - we used to land in Israel and walk right out of the plane onto a parking lot of sorts - then you'd get into a bus and taxi over to the terminal. This was always fun because there would inevitably be a few people who kissed the ground as soon as they got out. Now there's a new terminal that the airplane just hooks up to. It's less militaristic feeling and it's nice inside, but I liked the old ways.

New Ben Gurion Airport Terminal

Finally, Amos my brother picked me up and took me back to my new place in Jerusalem. The AACI were nice enough to pay for my taxi. On the ride back I remembered how beautiful the road to Jerusalem is. No wonder the world is fighting over this tiny patch of land. I live in a neighborhood called Katamon - it's a beautiful place and the apartment is great. Everyone is very friendly and so far, there's plenty of room for my stuff.

Katamon & Views from the Ride Home