Friday, November 19, 2010

You're Canadian? Well that explains everything

This is my 200th post and I can't think of a more appropriate moment to share at such a milestone. (just imagine the balloons, confetti and trumpets here)

Last week I realized that our car wasn't running smoothly -- actually my husband noticed it but I am not supposed to mention him in my blog, so I am taking full credit for the astute observations about the car.

I took my old car to my new garage where, naturally, there are no English speakers. I could go back to my old garage and speak English -- but at an additional 100% mark-up on all the work. Therefore going to a hebrew-only garage at half the price is, in my mind, worth the extra effort on my part. Trust me, I can make myself understood and the guy who owns the garage simply proceeds as if I understand everything he says. He knows that I don't but acknowledging that would unnecessarily complicate his day.

After I explained my problem in remarkably clear hebrew, we agreed that I would bring the car back the next morning. Satisfied with my successful hebrew conversation, I headed off to the grocery store. For those of you who know me well, the grocery store first thing Wednesday morning is my religion. It would take World War III to move me from this routine.

To make a long story short. At the entrance to the grocery store parking lot, I had a crash with a driver who unfortunately had the right of way despite the fact that he was driving too fast, talking on the phone and definitely not paying attention. I saw him coming, stopped in panic -- in the middle of the intersection. Oh spare me the "you should have" comments.

He yelled. I yelled. We both moved our cars out of the way. We exchanged insurance information and left. My car spent the next two days getting a beautiful new front bumper -- but in the back of my head I knew I had missed my original mechanic's appointment.

After I picked up my newly bumpered car this morning, I drove directly to the mechanic because despite the new bumper, the car was still idling roughly.

When I walked in to the garage, my mechanic looked at me with what I can only call mild Israeli indifference. I jump over a few grease spots and some cables to get to him and I said (in hebrew): "I'm sorry I missed my appointment but after I left you the other day I had a big crash and my car had to get a new bumper. But I still have the other problem and I want to bring my car on Sunday. I am really sorry about the other day."

Simple enough. Genuine. Full of regret. Blah, Blah, Blah.

Well, here's the response I got. Keep in mind that my mechanic was ranting, not yelling:

"You live in Israel now! Stop saying you're sorry. In Israel, people keep appointments. People don't keep appointments. People come late. People come on the wrong day. They don't call. That is what Israelis do. And you have to stop being an American!"

And with that, his little "Welcome to Israel" speech was over. More important, I should have just left it at that, but I never do. So, I said to him: "But I am not an American. I'm a Canadian."

"Oh," he said with a slight knowing smile. "That explains why you are so nice."

And I still have an appointment for Sunday!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Three Jews and A Christian: The Journey Continues

When we last saw our stress-filled, anxious travellers (and their oblivious friend), they were headed to the Via Dolorosa, which I now know means The Road of Suffering.

Entering the Muslim Quarter after leaving the Temple Mount is like jumping from the fire into the frying pan. And yes, in case you are wondering, it is different from the Jewish Quarter -- COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!

Walking through the Arab market means enduring constant pleas to spend your money or at least drop by for a cup of coffee (which probably offers another route to the slave chicks in Gaza thing that I mentioned in the previous post.) It is dark and claustrophobic. Not an ounce of sunshine or an open space to be found. And not one Muslim woman to be seen. You feel like a potential human sacrifice walking through the ancient windy streets....

... which explains how I ended up paying an opportunistic 10-year-old Muslim boy four shekels to direct us to the Via Dolorosa. I know it was ridiculous, but since he wanted 100 shekels for his two minute effort, I think I did okay.

We arrived at the VD at the sixth Station of the Cross, which amounts to an ancient stone brick on the streetside facade of a church (or at least it looked like a church) where Jesus, who was carrying his own crucifixion cross and wearing a crown of thorns, stopped to rest for a second -- and he apparently leaned on the wall RIGHT THERE. Since then, about a trillion people have touched the same spot to the point that there is a noticeable indentation in the rock facade. (And for those of you who do not know what the Stations of Cross are, then if you are interested you can google it. I managed to get all the way to 49 without knowing so you can probably have dinner before you start getting anxious that you don't know what they are either.)

With the Via Dolorosa now checked off our To Do List, we found our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is in the Armenian Quarter and is much airier than the Muslem Quarter. Still not open and welcoming like the Jewish Quarter, but a far cry better than where we had come from.

It took me about 100 attempts to say the word "Sepulchre" properly. Try it, you'll see what I mean. You can hurt your tongue doing so.

When we entered the church courtyard, we knew we were in the right place because there were at least 300 tourists ahead of us. All in little groups with matching hats, listening to explanations in various languages from their tour guides. Suffice it to say that Jesus is a big draw and can really pull in the crowds.

When we entered the church the first thing we saw was a marble slab on the ground and many people lying down to kiss it or rub their belongings on it. I didn't understand what they were doing at first until my Catholic friend pointed out to me that they were rubbing their souvenirs on Jesus' grave so that they could give their friends a touch of his essence. From her persepctive it was no different from us touching the Western Wall as we prayed there. I don't really agree but I do see how she got to her position.

Since Jesus' grave was right in the entrance I didn't feel any need to look around further, but since we were there we decided to be good tourists. Of course, having survived the Temple Mount and the Arab Quarter my Jewish friends were invigorated and feeling a little invincible. So .... in we went.

When we entered the second room we were met by a monsterous black structure that looked to me like a giant incense burner. It was surrounded by a lot of people -- a lot of people. People were lighting candles everywhere. We couldn't figure out what it was but the line up to enter was very long. We finally agreed that it must be some sort of weird altar.

Well, it is good that we are naturally chatty types. We stopped in front of the giant incense burner/altar to talk to a Greek woman who turned out to be a tour guide. After five minutes of superficial Christianity chit chat I asked her what that thing was.

Talk about a watershed moment. It turned out to be the "real" grave of Jesus!

How did she know that for sure I asked her. And of course, I got the usual answer for all tough questions of faith .... it's in the ancient writings. I'm sure she noticed my cynical smile, but she wasn't deterred.

The Greek tour guide was really pushing us to get in line so that we could enter the tomb -- even after I told her that we were Jewish (I was a lot braver after I left the Muslim Quarter). She insisted that it was for all religions, so we nodded and said good-bye ... exiting in the opposite direction. Yeah, like we were really going in there.

(For those of you wondering what the first slab was, it turned out to be a facsimilie of the slab that Jesus' body was placed on after he was removed from the cross and before he was buried. Notice that I said "fascimilie". It wasn't even the real slab so who knows why all those people were going nuts kissing it and rubbing things on it. Didn't they read the guide book? It's all there!)

I think that's enough information for readers today. I promise to wrap up the story in the next installation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Three Jews and A Catholic

Every once in a while you have to step out of your comfort zone just to make sure you still can. In actuality, the trick isn't stepping out -- it's getting back in. Frankly, I am quite happy to live in my comfort zone. If left to my own resources I would never push the envelope. I guess that's why you have to have other people in your life to shove you out of the proverbial plane.

My friend from Canada was in Israel this week. It was her first visit which sounds strange to my average Jewish friend. But that was the catch -- she isn't Jewish and therefore, Israel wasn't at the top of her travel priority list.

I had five days to show her my country. For anyone who lives here or has visited you know that seeing Israel in five days is an absolute impossibility. And by the time all my friends chirped in with their suggestions, I would have needed a month to cover all the sights. Fortunately, my friend had some priorities and that is what landed two of my Canadian/Israeli friends and I in the Muslim and Armenian quarters of the Old City this past week.

Trust me. These are not places we frequent.And after our visit on Wednesday I think I can fairly say that we are pretty much topped up for the next 20 years.

We eased our way into the Old City with a cup of coffee from Aroma. From there we went straight to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. While this might not have been my friend's priority, it was certainly ours! We are all comfortable in the Jewish Quarter although I doubt any of us could have identified that feeling at that point. No one actually said that out loud or probably realized the difference until we left our comfort zone and headed up the ramp to have a closer look at The Dome of the Rock.

When we got to the top of the ramp we were met by the Muslim's all-male Welcoming Committee. Suffice it to say that they aren't that welcoming. The first thing they said was: "Welcome to Palestine." My friend was so excited that she responded in kind and got out her camera. The rest of us just cringed inwardly -- too afraid to show our disagreement and spend the rest of our lives as slave chicks in Gaza.

Our next confrontation only took about three more seconds. One of my Canadian/Israeli travel companions was not-so-gently approached by the Welcoming Committee because they deemed her skirt not long enough. Okay, so it wasn't down to her ankles, but it was perfectly fine for a day in synagogue so we figured it would be fine with them.

Oh, but that would have been to simple. We kept retying her sweater around her waist so that it would hang just so and cover more of her legs. With each modification we would ask: "How's that?" The WC guy would just look glance at her legs (and probably her butt) and say: "No". Finally after our third attempt, she passed the PA modesty test. She could barely walk with her sweater in such knots around her knees but hey, "Palestine" was happy.

By that point the three of us already have a bad feeling and we are ready to leave. My Canadian friend has scooted out of sight snapping pictures merrily -- oblivious to the political undertones of the past five minutes.

We encountered many hucksters in the first 20 meters. Everyone wants to make a buck from the tourists -- which is what they assumed we were (and we didn't correct them). We didn't buy into any of that. However, as our anxiety was growing and we just wanted to find the exit, we bumped into a very smartly dressed young man. We stopped to ask him if he knew where the exit was.

He did, but he also couldn't wait to tell us that he had received special travel papers to come to "Palestine" from Jenin for the day. Oh yay. I thought Jenin was a destitute pile of rubble but if this young fellow was any indication, it is more likely the Paris of Israel. I was dying to ask him how he survived the Great Jenin massacre but I knew better than to stir the pot in the middle of "Palestine".

All the while my Canadian friend is scooting around taking pictures. She wanted to take a picture of the three of us in front of The Dome of the Rock but we had to nix that. When I am dead and gone I don't want a picture of me posing happily in front of that place left behind as a record of my life. When they rebuild the Temple there, she can snap away.

Throughout her picture frenzy we were all edging toward the exit -- and we finally reached the relative calmness of the Muslim Quarter.

When we saw the Israeli soldiers nearby I was overwhelmed with relief -- and so were my two Jewish companions. Of course, that relief was short-lived as we headed out through the Muslim Quarter in search of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.

That's enough for now. Next installment tomorrow.