Sunday, September 5, 2010

Israel is a real place


Jewish date:  26 ’Elul 5770 (Parashath Ha’azinu).

Today’s holidays:  Ramadan (Islam), Laylat-al-Qadr (Lailat ul Qadr, Lailat-ul Qadr, Night of Power) (Islam), Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Henry Louis Mencken (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  A big backlog on anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli War:  “Selective Outrage: Israeli Facebook Photos Spark Media Circus”, “Action Alert: CBC Drags a False Equivalence”, “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Dramatic Reunion Ten Years After The Photo That Started It All”, “Iranian youth athlete withdraws from fight with Israel competitor” (translation:  Iran would rather force its taekwondo fighters to chicken out like wimps rather than let them lose with honor), “Lancet Editor "Responds" to HR Critique”, “Ha'aretz Journalist's Speaking Tour: Sponsored by Anti-Zionists”, “BBC Panorama Shocker: Balanced Review of Gaza Flotilla Incident”, “Incitement is not one-sided”, “Dead Jews and living trees” (some people have completely missed what the Holocaust is supposed to teach us), “The Root of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Classic Islamic View of Jews”, “The Despair of Zion by Walter Reich, and “Egyptian minister calls on Muslims to flood J’lem” (completely forgetting that any Islamic identity of Yerushalayim is completely forged and that Muslim pilgrims there will be giving money to Jews, directly or indirectly, if they want to eat, sleep, or travel).

Topic 2:  I need to start writing about my pilot trip to Israel, my future home, and I still do not know where to start.  So let us start with something basic which at first sounds ridiculously obvious:  Israel is a real place.  Rationality requires us to try to recognize things as they are, for what they are.  The Israel I visited is not a religious fantasy of a Jewish or ecumenical utopia.  Neither is it a successor to Nazi Germany, as anti-Semites would have us believe.  In many respects, Israel is a lot like the United States, being a fully modern, Western country.  This includes the general rule of law and familiar products and technologies.

So how does Israel differ from the United States?  The most obvious (and relevant to this blog) is that while most of the West is predominantly Christian, Israel is predominantly Jewish.  There is a sizeable Muslim minority, and there are Christians, Bahá’ís, and members of other religions as well; but I stayed within areas with Jewish majorities, and this was reflected even within the secular culture.  (I do plan to go into this further as I discuss my trip.)  And while in the United States people are often not so visibly demonstrative of their religion, people who look religious are everywhere in Israel.  Even in Tel ’Aviv, the great bastion of Israeli secularism, there were some people who were visibly observant Jews, including one woman I talked with at a company at which I interviewed.  To be sure, there are enclaves, and whole neighborhoods are set up with particular religious groups in mind.  But in many places, people of different religious strains mix freely and without incident.  This includes on buses; despite what you may have heard about Ḥaredhim (sometimes derisively called “ultra-Orthodox”) holding by segregated buses, I saw plenty riding ordinary, mixed buses.

Israel is also a visibly multilingual society.  In the United States, government-issue signs (such as for traffic and street names) are usually only in English.  In Israel, they are typically in Hebrew, the international language English, and Arabic.  And while the most common language spoken on the street and found in non-governmental signs is indeed Hebrew, I also encountered a fair share of English, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French, Yiddish, and what was probably Amharic.  One may also easily end up talking to people in languages other than Hebrew.  Someone at one synagogue did try speaking to me in Yiddish, which I do not know.  (I got a C in Yiddish in college and have made no attempts to study it since.)  Several people, upon hearing my American accent even when speaking Hebrew, switched to addressing me in English.  (I myself must admit guilt at switching too frequently from Hebrew to English when I had trouble making myself understood in Hebrew.  Hebrew is not my native language, and it requires more mental effort for me to speak or understand.  And I am under the impression that my accent is not the easiest for Israelis to understand either.)

I need to move on to other things today.  I hope to write about the Old City of Yerushalayim tomorrow.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “The transition”:
funny pictures-The transition from good to evil  Now in kitteh timeline form
And again, if anyone knows anything about where this notion of black cats being evil comes from, please let me know.


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