Brent & Alison in Israel

Monday, June 19, 2006

Goodbye, Israel...

Well, we've been back in the States for about three weeks now, and I decided I wanted a concluding blog post.

Our last weeks in Israel were hectic but amazing. We went to Petra (ok, not Israel, it's in Jordan) which was one of the most extraordinary sites I've ever seen. We watched the sunset from the mountains at the top with three other tourists and three bedouin, and then hiked down in the dark. We took a donkey back to the bedouin village, drank tea with our hosts, and listened to one of their sister's, wearing a full hijab and robe, tell us dirty jokes in impeccable english.

All year I meant to post about the shuk (open air market) which was my favorite place in all Jerusalem. The produce is amazing, and amazingly cheap. The crowds are overwhelming, but once you learn to navigate them, friendly and helpful. And like all Israelis, full of suggestions on what to buy, how to cook it, etc. The smells are overpowering, and usually delicious-- walking less than one city block, you get fish, fresh meat (not actually a bad smell), strawberries, mint, cilantro, oranges, the spices, turkish coffee, and bakeries. The sounds are also amazing-- the shopkeepers shouting about their wares-- tut sade, kilo l'arbaa, kilo l'arbaa-- that's strawberries, four shekels for a kilo (or about 50 cents a pound). The best are the ten year olds, helping out in the stalls, shouting and imitating the fast, loud cadence of the grown men. And when I said goodbye to my baker, he came out from behind the counter to give me a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and a blessing for health, joy, and a speedy return to Israel. Stop and Shop looks pretty bad by comparison.

Our last shabbat in Jerusalem we went to the Kotel, or Western wall, for the end of shabbat. The area is packed with religious Jews, eating the ritual "third meal" and waiting for the sun to go down. There are teenagers dancing, and everyone singing the soft, goodbye songs that go with the end of the day. We watched the sun set, reflected on wall, saw the sparrows swoop and glide above the people praying, saw the flowers growing out of the crevasses in the stone, and went ourselves up to the wall to say goodbye to Israel. It was magical.

We're so happy to be back in America, with complete linguistic competence in every situation, and most importantly with friends and family. But...

I saw a some beautiful photographs of Israel the other day, and it pulled on my heart like nothing else. Now, with a little bit of distance, I think that Israel, and my relationship with it, reminds me of some particularly unhealthy relationships I had in college. I love it so much, and with such passion, but it is tragically, fatally, an unstable relationship. The place is so deeply flawed, and my knowledge of that makes it all the more romantic. I miss it, almost viscerally, but I'm not sure I can ever have a relationship with the place that is not, at the heart of it, tragic.

Thanks to everyone who kept up with the blog all year.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Avatiach, avatiach!: Take Me to See Pagan Things

some of you might recognize the other couple in question.
Avatiach, avatiach!: Take Me to See Pagan Things

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


טקס (tekes):
n. rite, ritual; celebration; formality

There are many tekesim this time of year. Last week was Yom HaShoa, holocaust memorial day. For two minutes, at 10 am, the air ride sirens blow, and everyone stops where they are. The cars stop on the road, the drivers get out, and stand motionless by their cars. The pedestrians stop. I was at the post office. The clerks stop, and stand. The people in line stop shifting on their feet, in the international dance of post-office aggrevation, and go still.

I knew what to expect, but it was still incredibly moving.

Today is Yom HaZikaron, memorial day for the soldiers killed in Israel's many wars. Last night, Brent and I, and another rabbinical student and her husband, drove out to the home of a lovely Israeli family who were cousins with someone the students know from the seminary. We had dinner at their house in Gannei Tikve, and afterwords walked to the central memorial square of the town, where there was a tekes. Since my Hebrew is still only so-so, I managed not to understand the slightly offensive talk that the town rabbi gave (soldiers as temple sacrifices, sheesh). But the teenagers sang, and danced, and there were performances, and wreaths. A picture of every soldier from the town killed was projected on a screen, and their names read. The dates of death ranged from 1947 to 2002. We all stood silently together at the beginning for the siren, and we all said HaTikveh together at the end.

This time, I had no idea what to expect, but still, incredibly moving.

And tomorrow, for Yom HaAtzmaut (Independance Day), we're off to barbeque with a geologist I know in Jerusalem. It's nice to feel like we're getting to spend some time with Israelis in these oh-so-Israeli days, like we're getting plugged into the close-night family and friend structure. (Although I don't expect the barbeque to be moving, exactly.)

Sheesh, after all this time, my Zionism is really being rekindled. Who'd have thought?

Wild Life

The first thing I heard this morning was Brent speaking to me.

He said, "There's a cat asleep on the couch."

Oh. So that's how that hole in the screen got there.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A new form of narcissism

So one thing you can do with a blog (if you don't already know) is see how people are finding it. For example-- if you go to my webpage, there's a link to the blog. Lots of people enter the blog that way. Some people enter via google searches. Some of the common ones are on the theme of "Alison & Brent Israel." Clearly, these are people who know us, and are just hunting for our blog.

And then yesterday, I found that people were entering by these two google searches:
"wierd skype" (also, "israel skype")
"cultural dislocation".


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Passover redux

So Passover in Israel is a kind of amazing experience. This whole "Jewish society" thing? I could get used to it.

First of all, I had a huge break from work. Semi-mandatory, as the A/C, etc, wasn't working in the lab, so to come in anyway would have been truly diligent. Which I'm not. This nice long break meant that I had time to clean the apartment, shop, and cook for Seder. All on different days.

Secondly, everyone in the shuk (market) is also preparing for pesach. So everything is marked Kosher. The bakeries put up a wall a few days ahead of passover, and on one side, they still have pita, and on the other, nasty kosher-for-passover baked goods. Nasty, but easily accessible.

Third, if you want to get your dishes or pots and pans kashered, there are people set up everywhere with these big, giant pots (think, "boil, boil, toil, & trouble" meets Costco) full of boiling water, into which you can dump your (normal-sized) pots. And there are people everywhere to "sell" your chametz to. Again, I mean, everywhere. The bus station, for example.

Our seder was great-- Brent got creative with arts & crafts supplies (which he bought at a haredi a&c supply store, who knew?) and made costumes and props for the seder. Our participants were highly cooperative, and got into the story-telling very nicely. The food turned out fine, too.

In the middle of pesach, it appears that the thing to do is to buy a cheap grill, and go sit in the park across the street from our house, and grill meat, and eat it, every day. It was a bit of a zoo, but in a good way.

And finally, at the end, we were invited (immediately after the holiday ended) to a Maimuna. This is a celebration for the end of pesach, originally Moroccan, I think now more generally Sepharadi. Our downstairs neighbor is Moroccan, so we went there. The origin of the celebration isn't clear. It has something to do with Maimonedes, or maybe his father. And something to do with spring. And with the end of the holiday. And dairy. Another explanation we heard is that in Morocco, all the families had different traditions of what they did & didn't eat during pesach, so they wouldn't eat in each others' houses. After the holiday ended, though, they wanted to demonstrate that they were all still friends. So they had this big celebration. The one we went to involved a whole fish in a dish of flour, fresh wheat, candied eggplants, nice scotch, and a slighly obscene number of crepes. Yum.

Friday, April 07, 2006

General Updates

Sorry I've been a blogging-slacker of late. No excuse.

Things in Israel are good. The country is starting to gear up for Passover. Today, me and all the neighbor ladies discussed housecleaning. Also, the neighbor kid, ~13 year old boy, joined in the discussion. He's one of my favorites. This still being Israel, everyone had an opinion about the best way to clean.

I was recently discussing this habit of Israelis (telling you how to do things) with a ~60 year old Israeli physician. He said, "Well, yes, it is difficult. But there's another side to this trait of Israelis. If there's something you need to get done, then you can do it." When I asked what he meant, he proceeded to tell me this story:

When he was a younger doctor, he did some training in the US, in Harrisburg, PA. He and his wife and 2 small children felt they needed a car, because "being in the suburbs without a car in the US is like being in prison." When he bought the car, he was shocked to discover that the liscence plate didn't come with the car. He asked the seller what to do, and the seller said, "no big deal, just go to the DMV." But when he went to the DMV, he learned it would be about a month until the plate was ready. He couldn't argue his way out of it, so he returned to the hospital where he was working, and asked his boss to call the DMV for him. Let's review:

he asked the head of his department at the hospital to call the DMV for him.

It's impossible to explain to an Israeli why that was wierd. So finally, his boss called the DMV (probably just to pacify him), and of course, they said, "What do we care if you're Dr. Big-Shot at the hospital. It's a month for a new liscence plate." In Israel, of course, if you got an important enough person to call for you, they'd make you one special.

Skype is wierd, part II

Brent just called a cell phone in Ghana from the computer.

They discussed the recent solar eclipse, visible both in Jerusalem and Sokode-Bagble.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Skype is wierd

Skype is the internet program that allows us to use our computers as a phone. Three wierd and funny Skype experiences this week:

1. I was on the phone with my dad, and Brent tried to use the Skype text-chat feature with Ilana, but accidentally called her instead. So we conference called. And then we thought, just for kicks, why not conference in Ilana's dad. In Bosnia. So we had a Jerusalem-DC-Jerusalem-Sarajevo conference call.

2. The phone rang, and though I didn't recognize the Skype caller, I picked up. He had clearly spotted our last name in the Skype directory. "Ms. Spodek?" asked a man with a South African accent. "Yes..." "I was just wondering, are you related to the Spodeks of Toronto?"

3. I'm in an internet cafe, working wirelessly, and my computer rings. I make shabbat plans with Ilana. And get off the phone.

If you don't have skype, really, just get it. . Our username is alisonks, or search for Alison & Brent Spodek. Give us a call, you never know where we'll be!