Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To never forget

The last two days have been dedicated to a Shoah (Holocaust) Seminar, and so naturally I feel I should dedicate an entire entry to it, partly so you can know what we did and also as a way for me to reflect personally. The Seminar was devised by Ilana a teacher at the Machon who had studied the Holocaust under Elie Wiesel, a distinguished Holocaust survivor and writer. The seminar started yesterday morning at nine, in my opinion it's a very bad idea to start a seminar dedicated to the Holocaust with the wonderful prospect of an extra hour's sleep. Nevertheless when the time came to get out of bed it was as hard as if it was eight.

I am pretty sure however that you are not particularly interested in what time I woke up but the seminar itself. The morning was spent in talks about Britain's relation with strangers and particularly the Kindertransport, a group of about 20,000 German Jewish children who were taken out of Germany in 1938 and were brought to foster homes in England. The morning session was certainly interesting but lacked any real emotional touch, I was pretty sure that would come in the afternoon with the trip to Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum and is the main centre for Holocaust education in Israel, if not the world. Yad Vashem has been around for many many years but a couple of years ago a new museum was opened on the site to replace the old one which had been around since the fifties. The new museum designed by the well known Israeli architect Moshe Safdie is carved into the ground and in the shape of a large glass triangle. Many different reasons for the shape have been suggested for the design including the idea that the triangle is the strongest physical shape and that it represents an arrow going through the heart of the Jewish people.

Before going into the museum we were introduced to our guide, who handed out ear-pieces to each of us. Once we had put them in our ears and spent the inevitable five minutes pretending we were in the secret service we proceeded to the museum. By way of the ear piece our guide was able to talk quietly into a small microphone and we could all hear perfectly. It was these earphones that without a doubt ruined the Yad Vashem experience for me. By having a guide hurrying the group along it meant I was unable to take in the staggering amount of information before me, and it also meant I had a constant conflict between the information in front of me and the information in my ear. In fact I was unable to engage until I entered the final room, the halls of records.

The halls of records is a circular room filled with shelves. On two-thirds of the shelves are boxes and in each of these boxes are a group of records of someone killed in the Holocaust. In these boxes there are about three million people listed. Looking at the boxes as they went all around the room above and below me, for the first time in my life I truly understood what six million means. It is such an unfathomable number that it takes some sort of physical representation to make you fully realise the horror of what happened. Outside the museum there is a viewing platform that looks down onto Jerusalem, symbolising the hope and result of this terrible tragedy. I turned away from this beautiful view vowing to return whilst I am sill in Jerusalem and to dedicate an entire day to it.

At Yad Vashem there are several other monuments beside the museum, because of time constraints we are only able to visit two. The first we went to is the Children's memorial, this is an underground memorial in which there are several candles in the centre, which are reflected by a thousand mirrors giving the impression of millions of candles, representing the 1.5 million children killed the during the Shoah. At the same time names, ages and birthplaces are read out in English and Hebrew. On tour this memorial had had the biggest emotional affect of me and I have left with a tear in my eye, this time around I attempted to summon similar emotions but was unable to do so, I put this down to the lack of novelty in the memorial.

In the evening the entire Machon snuggled into one of the classrooms and watched a film called "Out of the Ashes' about Dr. Gisella Pearl, a Jewish Hungarian woman who attempts to resettle in America following her survival of Aushwitz. The film shows us a unique perspective as she had been a doctor in Auschwitz and was able to see the mad experiments of Mengele, who the film depicts with a warm charm, which made the man seem truly terrifying, particularly when considered in juxtaposition to the terrible things that he did with those fell under his knife.

We began today with a panel debate on the necessity of Shoah education and its importance today, whilst the talk was very interesting I found myself drifting off once to often, and so do not really feel I can give a proper summary of what was said. The next talk was on the relationship between Israel and the Holocaust, and I am sorry to say that the same thing applied to this talk. The next session was a workshop on the position of God in the Holocaust, and here I very much engaged for two reasons. First because it was in a much smaller group and second because I was absolutely enraged by what we were discussing. We were shown the opinions of two Reform Rabbis who highlighted the two opposite ends of the scale, one who said that we must abandoned the traditional opinion of God as an all-powerful good God would not let the Holocaust happen, and so we must turn to Jewish paganism, and if you think that was bad the second one said that God was very much part of the Holocaust as it was necessary step in the evolution of the world to move away from medieval isolationist Jewry and into the modern world, and for that six million Jews must die for what to me is an inevitable step in the history of mankind. I was infuriated by what I heard and let it be known, my own conclusions are that the only world the Holocaust can occur in is a godless one.

After lunch we had a talk from a survivor from Hungary called David Frankel, a former teacher at the Machon and now an established Israeli judge. He spoke with great freedom about his past in occupied Hungary, the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen and his life in Israel afterwards. He spoke with great passion about his experiences and about his beliefs on the subject, which as you can imagine were very strong. Undoubtedly the best way to relate to the Holocaust is to listen to survivor's first hand, and it is a great shame that this opportunity will not be available to future generations.

The Seminar was concluded with a Tekes (ceremony), designed by a group of Machonikim of which I was one. We had spent many sessions designing and preparing the tekes and I am very pleased to say it went off almost perfectly. People were lead into a room which had on its perimeter and its diagonal dissections tables chairs which connected different tables. The tables represented different communities which suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazi's, I had Budapest. Everyone was given a chance to look at the different communities whilst in the background there played a video depicting Jewish life and traditional Jewish music. Then all went dark and onto the screen came a series of anti-Semitic messages from the time of the Nazi's, this was followed by a piece of music called Different Trains, using music to depict the horrors of the Holocaust, then after a brief moment of silence and darkness a short video called the Return to Life was played, which talked about life after the camps. We then broke into discussion groups to process the previous two days. After twenty minutes of discussion we reconvened around a single candle to give our own small reflections on what we had learnt from the seminar. We closed the ceremony singing the Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem, but also a song of hope, a song that was sung as a last act of defiance by those who lost their lives in the Nazi gas-chambers.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shabbas Together?

I am writing only a few hours after the finish of the Machon Shabbat Byachad (think thats how you spell it), which I intend to describe now is some detail. In order for you to understand the issues in question and why there is a question mark at the end of the title, I should give some mention to the make up of the blog. The Machon is a non-religious Jewish institute, and so its participants came from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. All Jewish denominations are represented here right from modern orthodox all the way to liberal Judaism, and everything in between. Shabbat Byachad means this weekend we all stayed at the Kiriyat and had Shabbas together. Therefore the big question is how do you have a shabbat which makes everyone happy and comfortable with the way things are done. Many people wanted to have a strict orthodox shabbat, which means no music, electricity or general creativity, luckily major conflict was avoided and everyone respected those who were uncomfortable with breaking shabbat.

Before I go onto the services, where most of the conflict was caused, I should really mention the planning and everything else. The machon is split into two chavura's (groups coming from the word friends) and it was down to my chavura to run this shabbas. We all divided up responsibility between different groups and I became part of the onegg (friday evening activity) group and the steering comittee, whose job it was was to organise everyone else. I very quickly took control of the onegg whilst becoming almost irrelevant on the steering comittee, probably down to my own laziness. Essentially the steering comitte fell into the control of one of its members, Amelia who essentially took it upon herself to organise the shape of the whole shabbas. Coming from someone who uses his coat pockets as his filing system her organisational skills scared me.

The byachad started on Friday morning with a charity breakfast, and although I was rather disgruntled about having to get up at 8 in the morning on the weekend (in Israel Friday is the weekend) I was instantly cheered up by the sight of bagels, my first since I had come to Israel. We had woken so early because soon after we had finished breakfast we borded the coast and drove for about 1 hour and a half to a kibbutz near Rahovot, where we volunteered for a charity called to Table to Table, by picking the tomatoes that the farmers had left behind, which would then be sent to those who could not afford them. We did this for about an hour, as we needed to get back in time for shabbas which comes in at about four in the afternoon. Back at the kiriyat I had a quick lunch and then spent an hour preparing for the onegg.

After a quick shower and group photo we brought shabbas in with the traditional candle lighting and kabblas shabbat service, a service full of joyous meant to express the Jewish joy at the advent of this special day, it is not meant to cause pain, annoyance and confusion. And alas we reach the time where we must look at services. There had been a general consenus in our early meetings that we should do all praying as one group and not split into denominational services, thus the group who role it was to plan the services was charged with the task of coming up with services that everyone was comfortable. The comittee was comprised of at least one person from each denomination in attempt to make everyone happy and make sure that nothing got done. I thank the Lord I was not on this comittee so I can only judge by results, which were not favourable, and on this I am supported by most of the comittee. Kabblat Shabbat was a total mish-mash and I was not alone in being totally confused in what was going on. Before dinner an ad hoc gathering convened in the hallway outside the dorms for a polite discussion (heated arguement) about the service, and the way people acted towards it, apparently some walked out. Was a conflict brewing at the Kiriyat or was it an isolated affair.

Dinner was very pleasant with good food, no wait sorry I apologise its just natural when talking about a meal to talk about good food, I shall rephrase, edible food, a good atmosphere and lots of singing, something that I felt had been lacking at meals since I got here. Yet for once everyone sat down together at dinner as one and sang their hearts out with all the wild, repetative and downright weird songs that traditionally accompany a Jewish dinner on a Friday night.

After dinner was the onegg, which as I stated earlier it was my duty to run (therefore there might be a certain bias in the following paragraph). An onegg is traditionally a time when everyone gets together to tell stories, sing songs and play games, although in a Noam onegg we play all the most disgusting and depraved games we can think of. I was told very early on to avoid that sort of onegg and so went in search of an alternative. An idea for a very different onegg was presented to me, in order to remind us all of Friday night TV why dont we run 'Have I Got Jews For You'. Thus a number of us came together to devise said program in which there would be a number of rounds based on British Quiz Shows in particular 'Have I Got News For You' and 'I 'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'. Without going into to much detail we had five different teams and then a panel of judges, who held up signs with comments and scores based on how funny the answers were, of course we were deliberatly not keeping score. I obviously am not going to rave about the program being mine, although I will say though that it was very well received and when it was announced that it was the last round, there was a general murmur of dissent and we decided to put another round in, so that seems like a fairly positive indication.

The next morning I was dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of 10 am, for sharharis (morning prayers), once again confusion ensued, although this was largely cross denominational as parts of the service done by all were inexplicably left out. Following the service we had lunch complete with more edible food and singing. After lunch there was an array of activities to choose from and I decided to have a go at touch American Football. This particular sport was chosen because Danny, my roomate and the one running the program, had an American football in the room and so thought that qualified him to run a game, he unfortuneatly possessed absolutely no knowledge of how to play. Nethertheless we compiled a set of rules which all were happy with and we believed bore a slight resemblance to the game. Playing 5 a side for half an hour provided more that enough excercise and a draw was a perfectly acceptable result.

Following this we went as a group for a gentle shabbat stroll along the Tayelet a promenade which looks out over Jerusalem, providing the most wonderful views. Normally we are not allowed on it as it runs through certain Arab villages and is thus deemed not safe without a guard, which is a great shame and it is very near to the Kiriyat and provides excellent escape. The stroll was thus very refreshing and relaxing and provided a lovely conclusion to shabbat. Finally we returned to the Kiriyat for Havdalah (a short service which sees out shabbat), which was held on the roof. We were brought up to the roof one by one, and were given a lit candle, we were then asked to walk through a path of candles and stand around a candlelit circle, it had the distinct feeling of a very Christian service. Nonetheless the service was very atmospheric and pleasant and the candles provided enough heat to keep off the encroaching cold, made worse by our positioning on the exposed roof.

As a post-shabbat activity we went as a group to the Soup Cafe (that's Cafe not Kitchen) a small restaurant in central Jerusalem. The Soup Cafe is one of the more interesting ideas I have seen for a restaurant. It is a very small rustic place which looked like it was in need of a paint job. It served only soup and drinks, and was very well known for its Jazz Scene. It is apparently normal for people to come with their instruments and play to the rest. We came with both drums and guitars and a few people played the piano they had there, however being the sole clients in the Cafe for the first hour and a half (we had booked the place out) we were unable to hear any of the music the place was famous for, although I did catch sight of a double base on the way out.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I had always assumed that during my year in Israel there would be certain places I would be unable to visit, in particular the West Bank and Gaza. So imagine my, and everyone else's, surprise when we were informed that the Machon would be taking us right into the heart of the West Bank to the ancient, violent and hugely contreversial city of Hebron. I had never even considered the possiblity that this might happen, so was taken completely off guard with the news.

To prepare us for the trip we were given a talk last night by an Israeli Arab called Mohammed Darawshe, an eeducator on the Israeli Arab conflict, a representative to the Kenesset during the Rabin administration, and the Capaign manager to the Israeli Arab community for Ehud Barak. Considering this it is not surprising to here that he set out a very articulate and reasonable look at the conflict, and it was very interesting to here the story from the Arab narrative. It was a positive talk and he spoke of both the struggle and successes of the Israeli Arab community, and the talk was truly enlightening, although it only really concerned the plight of Israeli Arabs and not the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. The only criticicsm some had after the meeting was that we were hearing a voice of reason and there was a general feeling that this was not the way the majority would present the situation, although there are solid statistics to show that nearly all Israeli Arabs are happy to be Israeli and see there future in the land of Israel.

As a prelude to Hebron however, the talk failed, nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. We arrived in Hebron at around two, following a 45 minute drive. We started our tour in the Jewish neighbourhood of Avraham Avinu. In Hebron there are 90 Jewish families, and most of them live in the neighbourhood of Avraham Avinu. We were taken into the house of an alumni of JFS who had made aliyah around twenty years ago, and soon after doing so moved to Hebron where she lived with her family of eleven children. As we sat in her living room she told us of a Jewish life in Hebron, the way she and her family had spent a year being shot at from across the valley and why the Jews should be in Hebron. I got the feeling that she was trying to moderate her words, but the disdain in her voice when she said the word 'Arab' was highly noticeable.

Following this talk we went to the Cave of Machpela. The Cave of Machpela is the reason why Hebron is a place that inspires so much conflict, as it is the resting place of the patriachs and matriachs of the three major religions, and anywhere that says it is the last resting place of Abraham is bound to cause conflict. The Cave itself can not actually be seen as it is covered by a rather large building built as a memorial to the cave. I have to say that I found it very difficult to connect with what I saw there, the synagogue there was like any other and the memorials which had been installed to commemorate the patriachs and matriachs seem to be of an Arabic design, and I must admit I had the feeling of 'what on earth is all the fuss about'.

Outside we were greeted by Mihael a member of a society called "Breaking the Silence', an organisation set up by former Israeli soldiers, who took it upon themselves to educate those who come to the area on what they as soldiers were asked to do in the reigon during the time of the Intifada. He introduced us to the area outside the cave and then took us on the tour of the area, it is this tour which if you will forgive me I intend to spend some time over.

Before I describe the tour I should explain something about the situation in Hebron today. Up until 1929 there had been a thriving Jewish community in Hebron but in 1929 it was massacred and driven away, a fact that is quoted by many Jews in the area. Under the partition plan Hebron became part of Jordan in 1948, but being part of the West Bank it was captured by the Israeli's in the Six Day War of 1967, soon afterwards a smal Jewish community moved into the area. In an attempt to keep the peace in Hebron it was divided into two, as part of the Second Oslo Accords in 1996, the far larger Palestinian area known as H1 and the, smaller Jewish area called H2. There are around 130,000 Palestinians living in Hebron, in comparison to about 600 Jews settlers, which include residents and Yeshiva students. The army presence is huge with about one soldier to settler.

Our tour was limited to the street of H2. Very quickly, as we moved away from Machpela, we walked down roads which used to contain vast thriving markets with thousands of people, the same streets were now deserted. Soldiers guarded either end of the street. Palestinians are limited as to what streets in H2 they can use, and even those who live over the street are not permitted to make use of it, instead the roof serves as the only way into H1. The silence was eery, and it was exacerbated by the frequent army posts, constant grafitti and closed shops, it was a ghost town. Occasioally a small patrol comes down the road, or a group of small children run down the road but quickly dissapear into the side streets, signs of life are infrequent.

But underneath the silent surface there is a constant tension, which frequently boils over, and small incidents between Settlers and Palestinians cause 15-20 minutes of chaos, before everything returns to the dead normality of H2. Both the settlers and Palestinians of Hebron are the most violent of their kind. The tension was unquestionably noticeable, although that could have been down to the vast amount of barbed wire, which will always make you feel uneasy. It is apparently normal for settler children to throw stones at Palestinian children as they return to school. Considering this the army presence seems completely necessary, whilst the settlers remain. Even worse the settlers resent the army, and there is a constant tension between those who are doing protecting, around the same age as myself, and those they are trying to protect. A poster on the wall reads 'Soldiers the uniform you wear does not cover the crimes that you do against Jews'. It does seem a tad ungrateful that the army does so much for the settlers without even the slightest gratitude from the settlers.

We finished our tour at Yona Menachem Renneret Yeshiva, this was an almost unheard of event that a Yeshiva excepts a mixed group into its walls. Luckily for us the head of the Yeshiva is the half brother of Chaggai, one of the educators on the Machon. Two things were different for me about this visit the first being that I had never been inside a Yeshiva before whilst people were studying, but far more importantyl I agreed with what I heard inside the Yeshiva. We were spoken to by two people the Head of the Yeshiva Chaggai's brother, and one of his students. The Rosh (head) Yeshiva had in the past told his students they were not to engage in any violence and thus on the whole the students are at peace with both the Settlers and Palestinians. He said that the reason they were there was for religious and not political reasons. The student that spoke had been born in England and had made aliyah with his family at a very young age. He told us that there were around 200 students and that they came from places like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and were drawn away from there relative comfort to the hard life of a student at Yeshiva in Hebron for spiritual reasons. In the past the Yeshiva had brought most of its goods from the Arabs but since the division this option was no longer open to them, and thus the Yeshiva is very self-contained, yet it is a hard life at the Yeshiva with a poor quality of life, although it seems that spiritual nourishment is all that is needed. There are also benefits for going to that particular Yeshiva as those who have studied there often get into the best army units.

I feel that I should say a word or two about my feelings on the issue. It would seem that the only logical soloution other than the tough restrictions in place, would be to remove the settlers. Yet Hebron is one of the four religious cities in Israel and one of the holiest Jewish sites, and there are many people in Hebron who are there not as a Davka (spite) but for real religious reasons, and no matter what my feelings are about religion I cannot advocate moving those who are there because they believe withall their heart that they should really be there, because of its religious significance. What the correct soloution is I do not know, but perhaps I should mention the words of Mihael our guide who said that no matter what we do we must be aware of the cost of our actions, and only when we do that can we progress. After hearing these words I walked towards the Yeshiva, before entering I turned and looked at the sky, all that was left of the setting sun was a splash of blood red across the darkening sky, and that together with the deserted street is how I shall remember my time in Hebron.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Out and About

As the winter slowly begins to descend over the hills of Jerusalem and the temperature starts to drop, so to does the general feeling towards Kiryat Moriah. Thankfully this week I was given several opportunities to get away from it, for various periods of times. On Monday we went to Tel Aviv to visit the Independence Hall and the Palmach Museum. I had been to both on tour and neither had changed within two years. Unsurprising really considering the sole exhibit of Independce Hall is the Hall itself, where the Declaration of Independece was signed, it had been made to look like how it was when the Declaration was signed almost 60 years ago. We were in the hall for abour half an hour where we were given a short, and thorougly uninformative talk (we had all before, ad nauseam). After the halls the group split into two groups one going to an area of Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek and the other going to the Palmach Museum, having done both on tour I opted for the latter, the reasons for which will become immediately apparent.

The Palmach was the elite unit of the Haganah (the pre-state army). The museum is one of those new fangled museums which does away with the idea of interesting artefacts and documents and relies totally on films. The group of around thirty is required to go through a series of rooms where there are a series of films which narrate the story of a unit of the Palmach. I suppose the museum was so good because whilst it was very informative there were lots of great special effects and bomb sounds which appealed to the young boy that still lingers within me.

The following day during Ivrit we went to the Zoo. Yes, I too found it very difficult to work out the link between the two, but it seemed that the Ivrit department thought that a visit to the Zoo would help us with out Hebrew, I told you it was bad. In order to fulfil the Ivrit part of the trip we were given a questionare in Hebrew to fill in as we went around the park. Needless to say it was completely ignored, and once again the spirit of the young child came through as I found myself immersed in the mating and fighting rituals of the squirrel monkey, just how big a pelicans beak is (and its big) and the elephant doing its business right in front of you. I failed to mention that the Zoo was a biblical one, which either means only the animals found in Israel during the time of the bible, or every animal on Noah's Ark which, last time I checked, was all of them.

This shabbas I had my first weekend in a while away from the Kiriyat, although not Jerusalem. The reason being, I attended the Tribe Shabbaton. Tribe is the youth wing of the United Synagogue, and a Shabbaton is where you stay somewhere for Shabbas and you do lots of Shabbasy things, thus making it (in a rather round about way) a Shabbaton. Around 200 people attended the Shabbaton, which took place in the Jerusalem Gate Hotel. The participants mainly included Yeshiva Boys, Sem Girls (Yeshiva is a school for pure Jewish learning for boys, a Seminary in the same for girls) and those on programs like FZY and Bnei Akiva. I was part of a contigency of around 11 or 12 from the Machon, and two from Noam. Owing to the make up of those in attendance, for the first time since I had been here I was exposed to some very religious (and occasionally right wing) views, which was refreshing Machon being a very left wing place. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, especially I was able to see friends who were on different programs in Israel and also old youth leaders, one of whom I hadn't seen since he made aliyah four years ago.

The program of the Shabbaton was jam-packed, when we weren't eating we were praying and when we weren't praying we were attending talks on various issues from torah, jewish identity, trading soldiers and the gay parade. One talk I want to give particular attention to was given by a Dayan (judge) of the London Beth Din (Rabbinic Court), who was good enough to share his 'wisdom' with those present throughout the course of the weekend. With his high-standing he was given the chance to speak several times, and on the whole he spoke on the same message. His message was make the most of the opportunities you have been given by your parents and use them to your full advantage. No problems so far. He then made the seemingly logical step that this meant spending every moment of your waking life in the study of torah, and that apparently is a fulfilling use of your gap year. Admittedly he did praise those on other programs and those volunteering, but it was quite clear in his eyes studying Torah was the most noble pursuit a Jewish teenager could engage in. His words angered me, what infurited me came not from the Dayan but from one of the organisers of the event. I should note I have this story second hand. My friend mentioned to one of the leaders of Tribe Israel that one of the weekly Tribe Shior (torah talks), was going to be happening at the same time as a rally for Darfur, to which she replied "I actually think that going to the Shior and learning torah will be more helpful to those in Darfur than going to the rally." I pray she was not being serious, and was just trying to sell the talk, nethertheless it was still the icing on the cake, and the idea that studying torah can do any good for anyone other than yourself became even more far-fetched. I apologise, I feel that that mini-rant has marred my opinions of the weekend. I should reiterate that I really enjoyed the weekend, although that could have been because the food was so nice and plentiful.

Other things I have done this week included on Thursday going to see the new Bond movie Casino Royale. The film itself was very good, Daniel Craig is excellent as Bond (even though he may not look the part) and the film is well worth seeing, it is however a somewhat unconventional Bond film. If you have ever been to a cinema, they have something that I don't think they have anywhere else in the world, a break in the middle of the film, and I mean in the middle of the film. It does not matter if a character is mid-sentence, if the film reaches its half way point the film will stop. Luckily the stopping place was rather appropriate this time round, but that didn't stop my surprise when half way through the film the screen went blank.

The same point was also raised on Saturday night when I went to my first Israeli Comedy Gig. I had been rather scared that my year in Israel would mean a year without comprehensible stand-up comedy, an integral part of my life, and I was dreading a year without live comedy. So imagine my joy when I was told that some of the group leaving the Tribe weekend after Shabbas had gone out were going to a comedy gig. The venue was in the unlikely location of the basement of the Orthodox Union, the comedians however were very funny. The theme of the night was being an olim (someone who has made aliyah (someone who has immigrated to Israel)), and I left in a very good and fulfilled mood, a lovely end to the week.


P.S. Please check back very soon because I have a feeling I will be posting my most interesting entry to date within the next couple of days.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Up until a couple of days ago I had a very clear idea of what this week's entry was going to involve. It was to be titled 'pride and prejudice' and was going to be a summary of the weeks conflict between the cities ultra-orthodox and gay communities as the gay pride march, which occured on Friday drew closer, and then to top it all off I was going to finish with a first hand account of the rally.

Then why you might ask am I giving you a summary of what I wanted to write but not actually writing it. The answer is that as I am sure most of you know, the Israeli army in response to four kassam rockets hitting the town of Ashkelon, fired two shells into the town of Beit Hanoun killing 18 including women and children. This fairly obviously cause a global outcry and condemnation of Israel's action. An inquiry was held and Ehud Olmert announced that what had happened was down to a technical failure and what happened was against policy. That did not stop Hamas and friends issuing in response 80 solid terror threats in retaliation.

Security was tightened, the gay pride march was cancelled as it was going to take 10,000 border police to guard, and they obviously needed to be on the border, and so only a closed rally was held inside the Hebrew University an area much easier to secure. For us on the Machon it was Lockdown. Lockdown means that for a certain period of time (the entire weekend) you cannot, with a very few exceptions i.e. with express permission, leave the Kiriyat Moriah. Although this did not pose too much of a problem for yours 'chronically lethargic' truly (even though I could not go to the rally, obviously off limits, I could lie in) it did for many of his friends, especically those who had made reservations in hostels around the country, and so it went from what was probably going to a very empty Kiryat to a virtually full one, bang goes the peace and quiet I had been looking forward to.

The question then arose how do we keep ourselves entertained for the weekend, especially since we were not allowed it. One of the soloutions was to have a 24-athon which means watching an entire series of 24 in one go. Although I have seen every single episode ever made I was still up for the challenged, and so we all settled in. Word of warning, when doing a marathon of anything make sure the DVD's arent cheap Chinese fakes and that the discs do actually worked, and so by episode three we were forced to give up the endeavour. Tonight in a spirt of concilliation the Machon are bringing in a Karaoke company to keep us entertained, which promises to be fun.
Untill next time

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Blind Memory

I have once again come to the time of the week when I feel committed to sit down and contemplate my next entry (if you have to yet to establish the pattern its somewhere between Thursday-Monday), and once again I am considering what to write. What immediately jumps to mind is Yitzhak Rabin who was murdered eleven years on Saturday last, or about dialogues in the dark a museum about blindness or even just begin to tell you about some of the lessons here at the Machon, an issue I believe I have neglected recently. I feel that all of these subjects deserve some time, but I promise I will be as brief as possible, and I really mean that this time.

I will start with last Monday when the Machon went to a Museum called Dialogues in the Dark just outside Tel Aviv, this involved walking around a museum in pitch black, so that its impossible to see anything. The purpose of the museum is to try and help one to appreciate life without sight, as you experienced a market, street, boat and bar without any visual aid. All the museum guides are blind and at the end our guide spoke about life as a blindman. The experience was truly eye-opening (excuse the pun) and really helped me to understand what blindness is like, and just how hopeless I would be without sight.

As I mentioned at the beginning Rabin was assassainated 11 years ago, and so over the past few days this fact has not been let slip from the forefront of our minds. This started as early as Wednesday when we had a discussion and then memorial ceremony at the Machon, where Rabin's life was recounted accompanied with poety, songs and the Dead Poet's Society. Then a brief respite as media and political tension and tributes built up until Saturday the anniversary of the death. After Shabbat a rally was held in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. All of Machon plus around ten thousand others attended. It was after a rally for peace in that very square that Rabin was shot 11 years ago and now the rally is in his memory as well as for peace. The rally was 'non-political' although even a non-Hebrew speaker could sense the way the rally leaned to the left, and the attacks on the goverment, the war, Peretz and Lieberman were prevalent, particularly in the speech of award winning author and keynote speaker David Grossman. In a sense the rally seemed like it was going through the motions and lacked any passion in its celebrating of Rabin or its quest for peace, and its opposition to the goverment was very much the order of the day.

Something that I dont think any of the paper mentioned was what came after the rally. I speak of the torential downpour that occured around five minutes after the rally finished and lasted about ten minutes. For my part I was in a coffee shop throughout its duration, but it was very amusing to see thousands of people running down the street for cover. I am also positive that there were certain settlers in the West Bank saying that this was a message from G-d that he did not approve of the rally, whilst those who attended would say that as it came after the rally it was meant to be approval, as the rain was seen as a reward. On a more personal note many people I was with said they found the rally an experience/moving, I personally felt none of this. I found the atmosphere to be subdued and lacking of emotion and obviously not being able to understand the language did not help my experience of it.

Finally I will turn to lessons, from now on until I have covered them all I will talk about one set of lessons at the Machon a week. I shall start with Ivrit. One of my main tasks here at the Machon is to learn Ivrit, many things hinder this, they include I knew none to start with and so am naturally in the bottom set, I am terrible at languages, and the lessons themselves. The favourite activity with the lessons is complaining about them afterwards. There are four Ivrit lessons a week each 90 minutes in duration. The teaching is not as bad as it once was and we are starting to cover some ground, that doesn't stop the classes being too big, the lessons being deadly boring and my complete inability to learn languages. Many people have reverted to messing around or just not attending at all. To be honest things are looking up and we are finally beginning to confront grammar although its gone from being too little to too much. I get the feeling I learn more from taxi-rides than I do from classes.