The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"I saw a gate in Jerusalem with two signs on it: Bruchim Habaim [Welcome] and Ayn Kenisah [ Do Not Enter]." — Yehudah Amichai

“But I grew up in Poland, where it gets so cold, vodka freezes!”
“But I’m from Toronto, where it gets so cold, gas freezes! ”
“But I was raised in Minnesota, where it gets so cold, the snow falls out of your breath!”
“But there’s never any snow in Jerusalem!”
These are all the responses to “you can’t imagine how cold it is here in Jerusalem in the winter.” Second year students talk about the winter the same way Darth Vader talked about the dark side of the force. Sabras and olim alike note with the weary “just-you-wait” attitude that confidently tells you there is no form of cold like that which rushes through the Judean hills each winter.

This past week has been a very full one for all of us here on the 11th floor, including a serious shift in the climate. Blue skies that were unmarred for months are now shrouded in clouds of every variety except mammatus clouds (which often come with tornadoes).
And rain has come, along with temperatures in the 50’s and dampness. This, as most North Americans will tell you, is known as fall. There is little real winter in Jerusalem as most Canadians know it. It’s just that November is four months long.

Of course this was not just a long week because of the climate. We lost Thursday’s precious social evening (and shopping/Shabbat prep) hours because we all went on the “Masa Goes North” extravaganza. Thousands of young adults studying in Israel this year are getting funding from the Masa foundation. This past week found 2000 of them on a train to Acre (or Akko). The train was filled with people dressed up as characters such as Einstein and Herzel, as well as a drumming group and a small klezmir band. The actor playing Herzel wore a top hat and tails (a long tuxedo), and he led a rousing game of “Herzel says.”
“Herzel Says Hands Up!
Herzel Says Hands Down!
Herzel Says Lift Your Bag.
Okay, Sit Down. ACH!!! YOU ARE OUT!!! HERZEL DID NOT SAY!!!!”

My friend MK speaks German, and he spent a bit of time learning about relativity from the actor who played Eienstein- all in German! The train was decorated with flags (as in the bad photo), filled with 2000 students in their late teens and 20’s meeting and renewing friendships, and sharing three bathrooms. The train was a very scenic ride, weaving through Jerusalem suburbs, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and other towns along the way.

After the lovely train ride, it was a lot of hurry up and wait, mixed with mismanagement. Busses carried us distances we could have walked. Signs pointed to bathrooms with no toilet seats- or no soap. The participants all paraded through he streets of Akko; too bad the residents of the city were not warned, and found themselves unable to get about their business without warning.

“We forgot Rule 12,” lamented a long time aquaintance, “never let Israelis plan something this complicated if its not a war.” Did we know that we were supposed to bring some money? Yes. Did we know that it was to help the economically devastated town that missed an entire tourist season of over 1,000,000 visitors? No. Did we know we would be led right through the shuk (old market district) of the city, and that we were supposed to shop? No. Did half of the participants go on a tour of the Akko citadel instead of the shuk? Yes. Did we wait for three hours before the concluding ceremony and concert? I’ll leave that one up to you, dear reader (photo is of citadel walls as we waited).

The ending ceremony was a bizarre mix: dancers and singers performing Zionist classics in the style of “Up With People;” The Minister of European Felt Exports made a welcome speech; a heartbreaking memorial to Michael Levin, who fell in combat with Hezbollah not more than a few months ago; another heartbreaking speech from the mayor of Akko thanking us for coming, and a performance of the neo-hippy Israeli group Gaya.

After the fireworks and speeches, 2000 people all had to go home- by bus. Busses often had mixes of two or three groups (e.g. Young Judea, Bnei Akiva, et. al.) assigned to a single bus, which meant that some busses waited 45 minutes for people who never showed (remember rule 12?) and everyone else waited 45 minutes just for the dozens of buses to get out of a parking lot the size of an inflatable kid’s swimming pool.

Masa is still a worthwhile organization, and there are 8,000 students who are getting funding to study here- please support it. But maybe next time they will make sure those who plan the event are as good as the actors who made that train ride so much fun!

Preparing for Shabbat on Friday was a frantic rush, but Saturday lunch saw the 11th floor filled with guests. The day had dawned grey, and a dreay rain falling. But by noon, we were back in the relatively warm apartment. There was much food, drink, and singing in complex harmonies. Salads were crisp, the chicken was hot and spicy, and the kasha was delicious. Some napped on our couch, and some stayed until havdalah. The crowning touch: a rainbow appeared a few hours into lunch- the perfect symbol to mark the weekly parsha…the parsha of Noah.

Hmmm…. Two weeks ago we prayed for rain- and got it. This week, we talked about the rainbow, and one appeared. Its rather fantastic, but I hope this trend ends before we read about the 10 plagues.


Blogger R & E Leder said...

Too bad you didn't know about taking $$ when you went to Acco. If you go to Acco again, you must stop at the Hamudi Drugstore (spice merchant) in the old city of Acco. Don't ask me how to get there (we stumbled upon it accidentally when leaving the citadel). Kurdi & Berit are the owners. They're wonderful people and they have awesome spices and like to spend time talking and philosophizing with people (so expect to spend a couple hours there if you have the time). If you do go there, Eric and I would love to give you a list of spices we'd like to buy and I'm sure Mila & Eli would like to give you their list too.

6:35 PM  

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