Tuesday, June 03, 2008

2.23 She's Back!

I have really missed you, my old pal, blog. What can I say; academic papers and exams were more important than you? Well of course not, I just needed to maintain a little time- management. Just to fill you in, my little savior, I am one year in to my masters. Was it all that I made it out to be last year, as I quietly muttered words of excitement and thrill to you over coffee? Well, it may have been an international programme, designed for all those derivatives of the Anglo world, lovers of everything presented in glossy magazines, a well-spoken receptionist and efficient itineraries fit only for the queen. But kid me not, how could I forget those little niggles of Israeli culture? I thought they only existed in the supermarkets, post offices and banks. How did they worm their way into the cracks of academic administration and library resources of an international course? I hear you gasp in horror. Well what can I say; disorganization must be to Israel what 5 o’clock tea is to us Brits. Not that good for our health, but we just cannot seem to live without it.

Anyway, how has this left me? My eyes are straining somewhat more, I now type on Word with a zoom 150%. A little rainforest has grown on my shelves and in boxes. And no doubt, I am dazed and confused as ever.

I will fill you in soon with my life developments. I just need to get back to time-management and terrorism.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

2.22 Christmas in the Holy Land

Christmas used to be one of my guilty pleasures. I would gaze out my bedroom window and glare at the buzz and movement of Christmas celebrations amongst my neighbors. White Christmas would play on the radio, the adverts would be filled with bells and jingles and I would participate in the office party, like a spectator getting drunk at a stranger’s wedding. Truly, I indulged in this festivity in secrecy, one of those Jewish guilt trips.

Coming to Israel, I had to say goodbye to that voyeurs delight. I could no longer participate in the Christmas joy, as little as I did, as here there would be no Christmas. The Israeli December is all Hanukah and no Santa. And of course, my loyalties lie with the doughnuts and candles. But deep down, along with the rest of my Jewish guilt trips, which I won’t divulge into here, I also wanted the festive songs blaring out people’s cars, department stores filled with tinsel, Santa’s grotto and Spice Girls switching the lights on Oxford Street.

Israel of course feels like the twilight zone. I spent my whole life living in a framework of the Xmas/New Years and Easter period as a background to my serious practices of Hanukah and Passover. This background washed away and I would never know what the rest of the world was doing. Except yesterday. I strolled into the supermarket to stock up on all the ingredients for a health-healing chicken soup. All that was on my mind was the celery, chicken bones, parsnips and carrots when, low and behold, I was faced with a selection, yes a selection, of Santa chocolate boxes and Christmas sweets galore. You may think this would have delighted me and settled my Christmas-sickness. But, instead I felt a little distressed. A little insulted and disgusted. It was as if I had been handed my chicken and it was garnished with a rasher of bacon. Someone had mixed up the ‘meat and milk’ in the supermarket and it just wasn’t right. I just guess I can’t have the traifer in Israel. This would yet another English memory.

Monday, November 26, 2007

2:21 Biros to Paper

As part of my aforementioned tochnit, this winter I started my Masters. I went back to the student life of chewed-up biros, doodles, daydreaming and photocopying. The programme: MA Government in counter terrorism. As my university experience was nearing 6 weeks ago, I wrote the following account (yet as usual, I never quite got around to the editing and posting part of blog writing):

September was close to being the worse period of my whole Aliyah experience. It felt as if weeks were being spent in a waiting room; and as each day turned, I was unsure if I was to be directed to the entry or exit door. Days grew longer and meaning hollowed out. Suddenly, every aspect of my life turned around in one fail swoop, from negative to positive, worthless to worthwhile. All I needed was a little structure. This neurotic rant is clearer once it’s placed in the milieu of my career. If I haven’t mentioned already, I am a freelance research analyst: self-dedicated, self-structuring and self-amusing.

This morning, I started my day like any other … sat in my office space, the coffee shop, accompanied by my reliable colleagues: Mr laptop, sat upright on the table and surrounded by a scattering of papers, my 'large americano' pal, who was accompanied with the jug hot milk on the side, and my ever delectable French croissant, who was bursting with almonds and decorated with icing. I began to write the introduction to my next project: Corporate Social Responsibility in Sudan. My boss claims this report is to be of 'lighter' substance than the predecessors, which all delved into the discussion of death, torture, terrorism and suicide.

This ever-ensuing heaviness of work content, alongside the isolating elements of freelancing, has made the past four weeks of September totally unbearable. Thank goodness for change.

The difference to this morning was the following: the tingling sense of excitement fighting for the space in my tummy with the toasted almonds. I am starting university this week, to venture back into the world of academia. All those lovely, comfy, cotton-filled qualities of guidance, timetables, syllabi and teachers’ guidance are upon my door step. I will continue to be the freelancer, although with a new perspective, in which the shading of light seems so much brighter and luminous.

And this new week brought the end to the shittiest month of my two-and-a-bit year Aliyah experience to a close. At that moment, the only direction in my life seemed to head onwards and upwards.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

2:20 A Plan for the Olah Chadasha?

This Yom Kippur, the one time I actually divulged in complete (convenient) religious observance, I reached many conclusive realizations. These revelations primarily existed as concepts, drowning amongst the many concerns that chewed away at my state of ease for the last two years. Although it wasn’t till now, on utterance of a few words by another, that they took a big enough bite for me to fully accept: “you don’t come to Israel to make money or to have a ‘career’; you do that all before you get here and then you live.” This concept smacked me around the face at one o’clock in the morning during the holy night, over card games and shesh besh. Words of amazement concerning Aliyah and the unfathomable Anglo Olah were passed over the table with the playing cards among the native Israelis and the English girl. “It is funny, we (Israelis) are all trying to get into the countries you (olim) came from, and you all want to come here.” I had heard this time and time again, yet for once I felt like the fool. The traveling Israeli laid down his winning hand, turned his head up and said in a convincingly serious tone, “my plan is to make money, as much as I can whilst I am young. It isn’t going to be here, so I will go anywhere where it is possible.”

As a new citizen, an olah chadasha, such infamous statements are too often imparted by Israelis. As much as these comments mock my move of Aliyah in the past, for once it made me really think: “What the hell have I been playing at the last few years?” When the Zionistic pursuit and sense of belonging dissipated in the milieu of life, what was I left with?

Once upon a time, I was all too eager to establish a meaningful life, full of meaningful ingredients: charity, NGO, low-paid work and long hours, in which supply-chain management towards my own security was absent. My reality was the eventual minus numerical value in Bank Leumi, freelancing work hanging in the air by a thread, and as time was dripping down to my ankles, dreams that I conjured up many moons ago were fading fast. So, I had to come up with a 'tochnit', a plan, for the next few years. This was a prerequisite, a necessary evil to avoid the transformation of the happy-go-lucky Olah Chadasha into a self-hating Israeli. I couldn’t create this tochnit by myself, as Mr Effy was a huge consideration. So together we created a plan for the next two years, a sort of blueprint to ease my mind and bring me closer to my dreams.

I wrote these paragraphs the day after Yom Kippur, but never posted them as they all seemed too reactionary of a simple 'bad day'. I suppose this is due to my own concept of happiness changing with each day.

Currently I am reading a romance, Suite Francaise, set during the First World War in France. The main characters have to abandon their lives in Paris to seek refuge in villages across France. Their departure from their Parisian homes and what they take with them reflect the values they place in respect to their individual lives; for the writer, his transcripts were the centre of his worthiness, for the wealthy Parisian family, it was ornaments and jewellery, and for the elderly working class couple, it was the protection , health and love of each other. As the history develops in the book, their homes are destroyed and left simply with the items still on their backs. Any time I read about war, I cannot avoid refleting on the situation of the country I live in. A month ago war seemed imminent, and today who knows. I spend so much time considering tomorrow, my future, but hardly consider the true innate meaning of happiness, hidden beneath the layers of pleasure, envy and pressure. Yet all these plans in the end could mean nothing. Homes are destroyed, and the things we spend our lives striving for could disappear in a flash. Yet through this, we are still left with ourselves, alone with our innate desires and dreams. Maybe I will need to revise my tochnit.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

2:19 New Changes For an Old Timer

I confuse the barrier between sentiments versus details far too emotional for this platform. The former being the comfort of a night with an English friend, accompanied with a dj and crew from Brixton, London, inside a cozy little bar on Lilenblum in Tel Aviv. The latter being the ensuing feelings it left me with, living here. At times in the bar, I forgot which city I was in; the music so smooth and funky, that it must be a West End bar. I was only reminded it was still Tel Aviv on the arrival of skinny tanned guys, holding scooter helmets and wearing flip flops. Maybe the dense humidity outside has been playing with my thoughts, confusing the disparity between desires in dreams and the pain of reality hitting the depths of my stomach.

A dear friend just made Aliyah. Over dinner, we discussed the new beginning. The excitement of her arrival bounced across the table and fell into my lap. The innocence of the three-week thrill of summer settled into the corners of her eyes, like a glistening tear drop. Did I have any wise knowledge to impart to her over the Thai noodles and Peking duck? Well, I felt like the bitter old woman that needed to give her a smack around the face, dash the innocence off her grin, and to tell her my real thoughts of how it is to be here. But I couldn’t bring myself to it. I suppose the move of making Aliyah is what it is, the remnants of a dream or fantasy that materialize into a fresh page in Israel. To take the excitement of ‘Aliyah’ is to say there is no point in dreaming. But what makes this page fresh? A new start for me actually started a week ago. A fresh page within inside myself: I swept out the dust in my cupboard and I came to realize what my new start was for the last two years. This page was regardless of city or weather, but was a fresh start for me, from within myself.

Back to the bar with the Brixton crew, it was strange that I never felt more at ease. I wonder if I had swapped places with my friend at dinner, that I would have felt the same pain and joy in the bar. Even though I am the Jew in the land of Jews, I still feel like the foreigner. And even though I have been here for two years, I am still no more, no less than a London girl. So, one piece of advice to add to the ‘Aliyah guidebook’: new places don’t necessarily mean new pages.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

2:18 A Confused Identity

Thank goodness for YouTube. This tele-visionised parallel universe enables me to watch the many programmes I miss in Israel. This includes Channel 4’s documentary, ‘The War on Britain’s Jews’, which I could view yesterday. My initial thought was 'it is about bloody time.' Anti-Semitism isn’t a new phenomena to me at all, in the real sense. Only now, however, in 2007 was light shed upon this reality, as the world of media decides to spit out populist-controversial documentaries along with the barrel of others focusing on the geo-political dynamics of today.

Instead of being an informative 60-minute viewing time, it was trip down memory lane. I remember the bullying, or should I say the anti-Semitism, experienced by all of us Jewish school kids: the spitting, the hitting, the ‘jew jew don’t spit on my shoe’, ‘dirty jew’ and ‘scum’. Police escorts after school to Kentish Town Tube station, taking diversions home to avoid the conflict from the kids on the estate we would pass. Recollections of nearly being pushed on the train lines at Finchley Central Tube station and the intimidation by a group of girls in Camden town came to surface during this documentary. The bullying was due to the simple fact: we wore a blue sweatshirt with a gold menorah, and the letters J.F.S. embroidered underneath. At university, it didn’t end. My housemates were followed home from synagogue and later would find a brick lying nicely in their car the following evening. Anti-Semitic remarks continued at University conferences, followed by again, the spitting. I suppose it made me somewhat bitter towards the British nation. Yet, once coming to Israel, I never felt more nationalist towards Britain. Strange.

The latter part of the documentary played tribute to the whole Israel-Jew concept, one dynamic fuelling racism into the other. This is when my own identity got entangled. Whilst the sale of Arabic-translated versions of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in a sweet shop in Edgware Road infuriated me, I maintain pride towards my distinct British-ness in Israel, from my p‘s and q’s and my afternoon cup of tea. But having dwelled on the thought of reality, the level of hatred existing in England against Jews demonstrated in the documentary, enlightened old memories and turned me into a somewhat confused soul. And now I do not feel like such a proud ‘Brit’, as it is Britain increasingly despising my community.

Much commentary following the programme on Channel 4’s website took the unsurprising turn of discussing the single issue: Israel as a terrible country, and that the balance of a debate should reflect this. Obviously much of the general public did not get the point of the discussion. This precisely demonstrates that the Jewish identity in Britain is irrevocably and inevitably tied in with the politics of Israel. I am a British Jew living in Israel, yet I still do not believe I should carry the weight of the Israeli government's decisions, unless I was to sit in the Knesset and influence them.

I still distinguish between my ‘Jewish-ness’ versus my ‘Israeli-ness’, which are two disparate identities. I am firstly Jew and I will not be defined by Israeli politics, whilst now holding an Israeli identity.

I highly recommend watching ‘The War on Britain’s Jews’, presented by Richard Littlejohn, on YouTube.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2:17 A Train Journey in My Old Town

I was a little jet-lagged yesterday. I arrived in from London at 5am, home, few hours sleep then out to work, to my monthly-meeting with the other ex-pat researchers and our boss.

The lack of sleep made me somewhat delirious, strolling to and from the meeting in a state of part-unconsciousness, on auto-pilot. I wasn’t quite use to the heat, having retuned from London’s drizzle. I reached my apartment, not even recalling the journey there, and then realized I hadn’t for one moment gone through the whole Israel versus England conversation in my head. Actually, for once I was feeling neutral, impartial; well, I am not really sure.

London was another short trip, a four-day cramming exercise of family, friends, shopping and drinking expeditions. I felt much the same way, neutral, impartial; well, and again, I am not really sure. I have been fizzled out from concentrating on the emotional grand scale of my life, and began to notice the little differences. London is a great character. It is quirky, somewhat easygoing, a little funky, a little hectic, but at the end of the day, it is always up for a good time. It is reliable, its dynamics polite, smiley and always maintaining an arms-length zone of courtesy. The cobbled-streets were reliably tough on the soles of my feet, the shops were reliably generous in their end-of-season sales, the pubs were reliably laid back and in good spirits, and my friends, well, they were all reliably amazing.

My last evening, Saturday night, came in a dash. I met an old school friend, to reminisce in the motions of a Thai curry and a pint on Angel high street. I jumped on the tube in the leafy suburban stop of Woodside Park, to head towards the city. Tube journeys in London are a voyeurs’ dream. The train is reliably filled with jellybean allsorts. A couple dressed in black attire, heavy eye-liner and tattoos. Students stand by the doors, dressed in fairy hair bands, sparkly bangles and oversized sneakers with red and blue stripes. An elderly couple sit squeezed together, murmuring under their breaths and gazing at the various characters in front. And, as per usual on a Saturday night tube ride, a group of girls on a hen (Bachelorette) party clambered on to the train, heading to town to celebrate.

My initial thought was how different these girls were to my Anglo crew in Tel Aviv. On a Thursday night in Tel Aviv, my girl friends and I make our way to the latest hangout, our attire not that glitzy, not so glam; but who needs sparkly tops, high pin-pointed stilettos, and top-shop accessories in the heat of the city. This group, on the other hand, was dressed in an array of colours and sparkles. Skimpy floral dresses, red hot pants and boob tubes. One girl pulled out her collection of star-shaped earrings, asking the other dressed as Marilyn Monroe, “low-dangling stars, short-dangling stars or studded stars?” From far away, the group was polished. But when close up, the bronzed tan legs in the four-inch heels became a hazy tint of patchy fake-tan. The bold red-coloured lips became a smudging glaze of burgundy. And the security of their group presence became an individual collection of hesitant, insecure girls, confirming their appearance in their purse mirrors and in the reflection of the train window. Yet, just as my girls do, without fail, the cameras were out, flashing away at the grins and the poses, grasping the moments of innocence.

And what makes me pause for thought is the realization that these girls now have the same fears as me. Israel use to be one of the lone countries, shaded grey under the gaze of terrorism and fear. Yet London was now tarnished, consumed with an inner fear of the unknown. Exiting Angel station, I noticed reactionary posters plastered on the walls by the ticket gates. Look, Listen, Speak. I guess for this reason, my old fears of living in Israel have been neutralized by the thought of how London is now.