Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're Here!

We’re in Israel. We arrived last evening at about 7:00 pm Israel time (12 noon EDT), to be greeted at our hotel by Steve Kerbel and Danny Siegel. Steve had a “welcome basket” for us – almonds, chocolates, and plums. It was nice to see a familiar face so soon!

The trip over was, well, a “trip.” Suffice it to say I broke my previous record by logging 32 hours of wakefulness. When I was young – and foolish??? – all-nighters were a part of the routine periodically. That was a LONG time ago.

First impressions of Israel?

The airport was big (so was Madrid’s, for that matter). Security lines moved quickly; everything was clearly marked, even for a non-Hebrew speaker. We were actually in and out of the airport in less than an hour. We were met by our pre-arranged taxi driver right on the other side of the gate, who reached for our luggage and got us on our way to Jerusalem in short order.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was interesting. Taki pointed things out and gave us a mini-tour as we drove. We were both delighted to see directional signs to places we’d only read about – Petah Tikva, and Mod’in, to name just a couple.

We saw fences around Arab settlements, a prison holding Palestinians, and a demonstration in a Haredi neighborhood with a huge police presence. The reason for the demonstration? A woman who is a member of that community was arrested for child abuse. The community maintains that they have the right to discipline their own members – it’s not the police’s job to do that. From what Taki told us, however, the abuse had been sustained over a number of years, with hospitalizations along the way.

The situation was evidently well-known within the community. The resentment (and subsequent protests) resulted from the perceived interference of the “outsiders” (the State).

I wonder: who speaks for the children, who cannot speak for themselves? Isn’t it the obligation of the community to protect those who are defenseless?

Sometimes I wonder which is the group that presents the greatest danger to Israeli society: the Palestinians (who are a threat from without) or those Haredim (who are a threat from within)? Both are situations that are much more nuanced than I’ve presented here, I know, and yet…..

I also was curious about how I’d respond to the actual “land” of Israel. Full disclosure: I grew up in the lush farmlands of the State of Wisconsin, where the green is a treat for the eyes three-fourths of the year. The sky is “big” there, too – not as big as the Dakotas, but far bigger than Maryland. Heat makes me itch – brown, I interpret as “barren” and depressing. I’d read Walking the Bible, and seen lots of videos, movies and pictures of the land. With the exception of Ein Gedi and the Galilee, there didn’t appear to be a lot of what my psyche has had imprinted on it as “beautiful.” How would I respond to the “real thing?”

It is brown. Some parts are very barren. In some areas, there’s been reforestation – with trees I don’t recognize, but nonetheless, green spaces to gaze upon. In some areas (outside a couple of the Arab settlements) the hills leading up to the settlements were covered by olive trees. Not big – more what I would call “shrubs” in size instead of trees. Taki explained that olives are a vital crop in the Arab economy in those areas.

The land has a kind of grandeur to it. It’s hard and dry-looking with what appear to be terraced areas carved into many of the hills outside Jerusalem. It almost looks tired, if land can be described in human characteristics. Tired, but undefeated – it has seen much in the millennia – and has survived.

Jerusalem is busy – crazy traffic (people park on the sidewalks in some places), horns blaring, much construction. Our hotel is on King David Street, at the top of a hill. Walking downhill is a joy (winding around the construction and the sidewalk parking). Returning uphill is an experience best taken slowly – at least by this out-of-shape fifty-six year old.

But the breeze is a delight! And the evening cooled off nicely.

Today’s been a busy one – many impressions rolling through my mind. I’ll try to process them today and post them either later today or tomorrow.

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