Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stories, Observations and a Few Odd Facts

As you may know, I am especially fond of story. Nomi, our guide in Israel, was an excellent storyteller and in the course of our trip, I've filed away many interesting stories, observations and a few odd facts. And of course good stories are meant to be shared.

The Haredim
On the flight to Israel, there were many Haredim, the extremely religious Orthodox Jews easily identifiable by their attire. The word Haredi actually means one who "trembles at my word". In Israel we saw many bearded men wearing large black broad brimmed hats and on the Sabbath we spotted one with a "streimel", a large traditional fur hat. The married women dress in black and white and wear a head covering or a wig. Usually they have several young children in tow. I watched them with some curiosity, wondering how they saw the world. Often in arranged marriages, they know no other world than the closed society in which they were raised. On the flight to Israel I awoke to men standing in the aisles in morning prayer, prayer shawls held aloft, then drifting down round their heads, they could as easily been at the Wailing Wall. Within the prayer shawl they created their own private world of prayer as the breakfast carts maneuvered around them.

Nigerian Pilgrims
Along the way we observed large groups of Africans all dressed in matching brightly colored garb. Nomi advised us that these were Nigerians and their government began to pay for Muslims to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Christian Nigerians said, "What about us?" and the government began to pay for them too to go to the Holy Land. They only receive $1000 which is a fraction of the cost of
travel. Thus they economize wherever possible, buying one bolt of material and each sewing their clothing from it. As she told us this story we drove by the place where the Jordan River flows into the sea of Galilee and there the pilgrims stood in the river awaiting baptism.

The Druze
Another interesting ethnic and religious group that we observed were the Druze. The Druze are loyal to the country they live in and as a result often end up on opposite sides of conflicts. Many are in the Israeli army. They are found in Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. You cannot join the Druze religion because they believe in reincarnation so you must be born a Druze to be one. They are identifiable by the white head covering and black loose pants that they wear. Many of them live in the Golan Heights and speak fluent Hebrew.

More Than Food
I loved the Israeli food and I don't think I had a bad meal in the course of the trip, but meals often proved to be about far more than food.

One day we stopped for lunch at a goat farm and our guide struck up a conversation with a gentleman who had come there for lunch. Upon learning that she was a guide he asked where the group was from. To his amazement it was the very organization where his child had spent a year working with the local community in Illinois, in fact many of the people around that table. Now what are the odds?

At another lunch stop at an olive farm we heard the story of the late Ehud Yonay as told by his wife. His family had settled in that community in the 1920s. The community was originally created by Hasidic Jews from Poland who gave up waiting for the Messiah and came to Palestine to farm the land. Ehud went to California where he wrote the original article that led to the Top Gun film. He was also the author of No Margin for Error, the story of the creation of the Israeli Air Force. He later returned to run the family olive farm where we had stopped for lunch.

Tel Aviv Cats or Be Careful What You Wish For
In Tel Aviv you will see many feral cats on the streets. In fact there are 39,000 of them, one for every ten residents. Why so many? Apparently in the 1930s cats were brought from England to deal with a rat problem. They quickly multiplied and now if you see a cat with a striped tail it likely has British ancestors.

Bauhaus Architecture
Tel Aviv has the distinction of having the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings with 4000 buildings in this style. In the 1930s German-Jewish residents fled Germany and accounted for this building boom. So we have architecture driven by anti-Semitism.

The Second Temple Menorah
When the second temple was destroyed, the Romans had a quandary. Their practice was to take the representations of the gods of the people they conquered and treat them in a humiliating manner. What to do with a people who believe in one God and do not make idols? Instead they took the grand menorah from the temple and took it back to Rome in a triumphal procession where it is depicted on the Arch of Titus. So where is the menorah today? Rumor is that it resides in the Vatican.

The Calendar
Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why September begins with the root word for seven, October-eight, November-nine and December-ten? But wait a minute, they are actually the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th months. The Roman calendar began with March so this numbering was once accurate. The Julian calendar established by Julius Caesar added two additional months, January and February. The Roman Senate named the month of July in Julius Caesar's honor for reforming the calendar. It replaced Quintilus, then the 5th month. When Augustus came to power they renamed the month Sextilus as August in his honor. Not wanting to slight either Julius Caesar or Augustus they made both months 31 days in length.

And a few interesting facts....

The Dead Sea has nothing living in it. I suppose the name is a give-away, but it never dawned on me that it has no fish. The sea is 33% salt versus the ocean which is only 3%. In Hebrew it is called the Salty Sea.

A home is only taxed when it has windows so you will see many Arab homes without them. I recall a similar system in Mexico involving not finishing the top floor.

As we passed City Hall in Jerusalem, our guide pointed out the bullet holes in the building. She related a story of the mayor's secretary exclaiming "They are shooting at us!" to which the mayor replied, "Duck, madela, duck". (madela means young woman in Yiddish)

And a few food facts...
Bananas are often seen with a blue bag over them so they ripen at the same rate.

After 15 years they cut down palms and replant them as it is too hard to harvest them when they are too tall. Well that makes sense, doesn't it?

Supposedly there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate which represents the 613 commandments that Jews are to fulfill. This is the reason the fruit is often a symbol for Jewish organizations.

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