A First Time Visitors Impressions Of Israel
Tel Aviv by Wayne Simpson
Well, I have wound up the work portion of my trip today. I installed a system at a company called Electric Fuel (Hashmali Delek). They make batteries for electric cars and cellular telephones. They have a real laid back watch dog - half shepherd- whose name is delek, which means fuel. He just lays around all day and everybody talks to him and pets him. I can't imagine him guarding anything. He is more like a mascot.
I installed new software and made a minor repair at Tel Aviv University. For a university it looks kind of shabby, but there is serious lithium battery research going on there. Apparently Israelis don't fund their universities as lavishly we do. I also did some software work for Tadiran and fixed a minor problem for them.
I spent two days at the Israeli Defence Forces military base. The Israeli army reminds me of the Keystone Cops the way they do things. It takes a crew to do anything and most things are kind of disorganized and bungled. Their facilities look kind of makeshift. Most of them are very young. All Israelis, including the girls are required to do a stint in the military - 4 years I think. As an alternative they can serve in the police force. They all wear plain uniforms a little greener than our olive drab ones. Most of them carry their weapons all the time. But they are all really friendly. The officers don't seem to demand a lot of military courtesy like in our military. Their army is different because it is a popular army. They operate in an entirely different manner that our army. Officers come up through the ranks rather than going to officers school. Not many of them are career officers. A person who does not serve in the army will have a very difficult time getting a job in Israel. It is considered part of being an Israeli. Make no mistake, however, if Israel is threatened, these people are up to the task of defending it.
I am surprised at how friendly all Israelis are. Most of them speak English as well as Hebrew. They are very understanding of my butchered Hebrew. My contact here is named Arieh. I have been with him all day long for a week. He has helped me a lot with my Hebrew and learning the customs. He seems to be a typical secular Jew. He doesn't have much nice to say about the "religious people" as he calls them. The Heradim, the ultra orthodox Jews, here try to force their practices on the whole country, but 90% of the people are not religious and they don't like to be told what they have to do. If you drive a car through the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on the Sabbath, they will throw rocks at your car, in spite of the fact that it is quite a bit of work to throw stones and it doesn't look like they should be working on the Sabbath. They will shout and mistreat women who do not dress according to their standard of modesty. That means wearing short sleeves or shorts dresses that are too low cut, etc. They are always trying to use their political clout to force legislation that suits them. They usually have families of 6 to 10 kids and the other groups of people are worried that they are trying to simply populate themselves into control of the country. Ari says that most of the men who visit prostitutes here are the religious men. They would not dare to carry on with one of their own women, because of the backlash from their community. I guess we don't have a corner on religious hypocrisy in our country.
I hear talk about the heredi all over Israel. It is said that they do not serve in the military. The reason is that hey do not recognize the government of Israel as legitimate because it was not established by the Messiah. Likewise, they do not pay taxes to the state. They are able to get by with it because of their tight communities and their trade among themselves.
I realize that this sounds very negative. But I read an article in the Jerusalem Post that put another spin on these folks. Sam Orbaum, who writes a weekly column and who has written many politically charged articles criticizing the heredi, devoted an entire article about what was right with these people. In his glowing article he said:
"Their charity, social consciousness, good deeds, communal welfare and human kindness may be unparalleled among the communities of this country.From birth through to death you can be helped by one do-gooding heredi concern or another. There is a wealth of nationwide organizations like Yad-Sarah [the hand of Sarah - presumably the wife of Abraham] providing free medical equipment for all who ask. Children with Downs go to Shalva, with cancer go to Zichron Menachem.My sister was once laid up with a broken leg, and heredim came to her home with cooked meals. Free, of course... Ezer Mitzion run[s] a fleet of more than 30 ambulances - free, of course- to transport children suffering from cancer from anywhere in the country to the Childrens Hospital in Petah Tikva... [the] family can stay at the nearby Ezer Mitzion Convelescent home... Yeshurun, a Chabad affiliated resturant in Tel Aviv, feeds any beggar who walks in...In a hospital... is where they are most outstanding. Making no noise about it, they simply go about helping people... Every day, a happy heredi lady... goes from room to room offering cooked meals to families attending patients.Preceding my bone marrow transplant, the hospital requested several dozen platelets (thrombocites)...word got around somehow to heredi circles. Two carloads of yeshiva students went to the hospital and rolled up their sleeves for me...We do it all the time. [one said].
Ari speaks highly of the Chasidic Jews. He says they are strictly religious but they practice their ways in their own communities and don't bother anybody (sort of like the Amish in our country). They practice an attitude of love and respect toward others. He calls them the "good religious people". Most of the Israelis are pretty tolerant of other religions though, particularly Christianity and Islam and Bahai. (Bahai world headquarters is in Israel.) They don't have much bad to say about them. They are pretty laid back people for the most part.
Tel Aviv has no parking meters. It's residents buy a parking permit and park everywhere free. Everybody drives small cars with European horns. They express themselves liberally with them. But the streets are in contrast the their lifestyle. The streets are a free for all. It's insane. I am afraid to drive here. But public transportation here is really good and not too expensive. They have the neatest street signs - they are all internally lighted and very easy to read at night, written in Hebrew and English. The medians often are filled with small (about 3 x 5 feet) internally lighted signs that are used for advertising or street information. There are no billboards.
From my 9th floor balcony I can overlook the Mediterranean shoreline. It is very beautiful. I open up the balcony door at night. The breeze coming from the sea is great for sleeping. I took a walk along the beach today. It was very pleasant. The Arabs really love camping out. I see their tents all over with their grills spitting out great volumes of fragrant smoke. Arab cuisine is more to my taste than Israeli cuisine. I am using the word cuisine facetiously, since I really like my meals kind of simple and homey. The Arabs are great ones for grilling meats over an open fire.
There are a lot of ethnic groups here - Russians, Ethiopian, Bulgarian, Romanian (Gypsy), Arab, and Indian, Australian and American. They love American money here, everybody takes it. Even Ari wanted to buy some of my American dollars. During my stay I heard that the Israeli government had adopted the American dollar as a second official currency. I don't understand how that works, but I discovered that the the Shekels that I paid 32 cents for are now suddenly worth only about 25 cents. Bummer.
Everybody is in a festive mood here because Passover started tonight. The Seder will be eaten tomorrow. You think Thanksgiving is pig out time, you should see Passover. They have a Seder scheduled at the hotel tomorrow and I was invited to go, but I didn't think my Hebrew was good enough to be entertained by it for 3 hours even if I was eating and eating and eating. Can you imagine eating for three hours, course after course of meats, fish dishes, salads, pastries, fruits and veggies and wines. What clinched my decision not to go the the seder was the price for the meal - $125. Besides, I have been to a Seder before - one conducted in English. So I had an idea what the experience would be like.
Israeli cuisine is not really my bag. The seasoning is kind of intense with unusual spices and the varieties of foods are hard to imagine. There are more kinds of vegetables grown here than I knew there were in the world.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel is hard to believe. There is a table about 30 feet long lined with countless kinds of vegetable plates and cheeses and breads and pastas, and quiche and scrambled eggs. But no meat. Because dairy foods are served, no meat is allowed. Fish is allowed, however. Fish for breakfast is unusual. Usually about 3 kinds are served, all cold on various vegetable plates. I tried some but didn't care for it. I'm am pretty sure one kind was raw. In addition to all of this, there is milk and coffee and juices and pastries on another long table. There is also this amazing automatic juicing machine that you can operate to get fresh squeezed orange juice. It is so intriguing to watch. It somehow scoops the entire meat of the orange in one stroke with what looks like a very large mellon baller. All of the oranges are virtually the same physical size. The Israelis have a genetically engineered orange that is called a mandarin, but I don't think it is the same as our mandarin oranges. It is large and produces a large amount of juice. It is very clear and tastes like Texas oranges. Very delicious.
There delicious looking pastries everywhere. Too bad I can't eat all of them because I am diabetic. But I could probably not fit in my plane seat to return home.
The next day is the Holy day so most of the Jewish businesses are closed. I am going to knock around Tel Aviv today. I'll walk to Old Jaffa, an Arab city about a mile north from the hotel. Tel Aviv means the hill of Spring , by the way. It has simply grown up around Jaffa. Jaffa is very quaint and dates back to the early 1800s. It is just filled with small, shotgun style, shops and businesses. Most of the storefronts are only about 12 feet wide, but they are very deep. The buildings have a kind of drab greyness to them, but is a very comfortable looking place. Here and there the arch of an ancient doorway is cemented up. Most of the shops are kind of cluttered and homey. A few are very modern and dressy. I notice that many of the business names are simply English names spelled out in Hebrew letters. I passed an elegant looking dress shop. The name of the store was SEXY - spelled in Hebrew letters, of course.
Jaffa is one of the most ancient cities in the world. The name is a corruption of Japheth, the son of Noah who is said to have founded this city shortly after the flood. It is connected with water in another way as well. It is the city from which the prophet Jonah set sail to avoid the mission that God had assigned to him. He departed here to sail to Tarshish (some say that is another name for Spain). On the way a great storm came, and he ended up spending 3 days in the belly of a great fish. The modern harbor here is right on the edge of a shoal. There is a striking view of Old Jaffa, which is on a hill, from the harbor. There is a large sculpture of a whale here in memory of Jonah. There are archeological excavations ongoing in a part of the city. I did not get to see them because they were closed for the holiday.
Every block seems to have one or two mom & pop grocery stores. The selection is surprisingly limited though. They don't stock even half of what one of our convenience store would carry and they have a sort of general store quality to them. I went into one of the supermarkets, but it was nothing like our giant supermarkets at home. It was about the size of our neighborhood grocery stores, but you could get most anything you needed there. Many strange kinds of cheeses and vegetables, and fish. They sell milk is plastic bags here - very strange. I went in a Super-Pharm drug store. Most of the shelves were filled with cosmetic items. No shelves of patent medicines were there. All such medicines are kept in drawers and are dispensed by the druggist, even aspirin. There are none of the giant department stores or malls that we are so accustomed to.
Saturday I am scheduled to take a tour Bus (arranged free for me by Ari) to Jerusalem for all day, but Instead of coming back to Tel Aviv I will stay in Jerusalem for the rest of the week. I am looking forward to the trip. I'll try to tell you more about it later.
(c)Copyright 1998 by Wayne Simpson Distributed by Biblical Research Foundation 629 Lexington Road Sapulpa, OK 74066
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