hi, just a quick message, managed to make it into israel yesterday, after more than four hours at the border crossing. it was nuts, but an amazing experience… and as usual the latin connection followed me, i met a Brazilian / Palestinian girl in the immigration hall, she had traveled through Dubai and Amman to get to where we were and was going to a little outside Ramallah in Palestine to visit her family.
As for me, following the border crossing, it took me almost as long as the crossing itself to get from the border to Tel Aviv where I met up with my friend Joey Seroussi.
I took two taxis from the border to the Jerusalem bus station (one was a shared taxi costing me the equivalent of US$22 or 75 shekels), then a bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (18 shekels), and then a shared taxi from Tel Aviv to Joey’s place (50 shekels).
When I showed up at Joey’s place I was informed that it was the first night of Hannukah! Could i have picked a better day to arrive… a traditional meal of egg salad, eggplant salad, omelette, bread and cheese was on the table along with a fried jelly doughnut..! Happy Hannukah to my Jewish friends all over the world!
Later in the evening, Joey took me around the city and I have to say that this place is a somewhat like a mix of Montreal and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a very “green” city (at least in the wintertime) with vibrant street scenes filled with lots of individual little store fronts, selling newspapers and magazines and pastries, coffee shops, juice bars, clothing stores, pizzerias, bagel shops, pharmacies, etc… plus from what I’ve heard it’s got an amazing nightlife.
The club Joey took me to was a private lounge he has a membership at called Shmone, which means “Eight” in English. Eight is also meant to be Infinity (if you turn the figure eight sideways), and eight is the number of candles on the menorah, the candles that burned without going out thanks to a miracle from God (according to the Jewish religion)… in fact while we were at the club, the singer at the front of the live band and did an impromptu lighting of the menorah ceremony on stage… It was quite cool.
I’ve been told it’s a must to come back in the summertime and hit the beach and visit other parts of the country. Perhaps a 10-day jaunt is in order for summer 2009? Hmmm I can see the itinerary now, I’d do a couple of days in Petra which I missed this time around, as well as see the holy sights in Jerusalem which I won’t be able to see comprehensively on this visit (given the scarcity of time and the fact that I am staying with a local family in a different town).
This afternoon I went to a bookstore and picked up a Lonely Planet for Israel and the Palestinian territories. It may sound silly, but I feel naked without. They are great books to guide you when you’re unsure of what to do next… and they certainly help save a few shekels, pesos, or yuan or whatever the currency is onf the country you’re in! Walking back to Joey’s place from the bookstore, I walked through suburban Tel Aviv, I came upon five Orthodox Jews (Hasidic Jews) in a children’s playground, using the swings, the merry go round and the see-saw. It was the funniest sight and I so wanted to get a photo of it, but they are very touchy about photography. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask but they turned me down…
An interesting point in Orthodox Judaism, at a certain point in their lives, they will go to study in a communal setting called a yasheeva, where some of them may stay for their entire lives, becoming religious scholars. But these scholars don’t go on to teach at mainstream universities, they will pass on their knowledge to other Orthodox Jewish students… Some of them may choose to be in the real world. Note to self to read up more on the topics they study, and whether they share their learnings with the outside world so as to gain new perspectives. Another interesting point of note – apparently there is a sect of Orthodox Jewism called Magna Carta, they are based in New York and are still waiting for the “promised land”, basically they do not feel that Israel is that place and they are opposed to the existence of Israel as that promised land for all Jews, everywhere.
At the moment I’m now back in Jerusalem, waiting for a bus to the Bethlehem checkpoint (7.9 shekels) at which point I will cross on foot at the Damascus Gate and try to grab a shared taxi into town. I haven’t been able to get in touch with the guy who arranged my accommodation and am hoping I won’t have a problem once I arrive in the town. My mobile phone is not working here (as it’s a UAE phone with provider Etisalat which not surprisingly doesn’t have a roaming agreement with the Israeli providers).
I will then be in Bethlehem for the next three nights, which is Palestine-controlled territory. I will be staying in a little town called Douha Town (or Doha Town) with a Muslim Palestinian family. This was all organised by a fellow I know through a girl I met when I was in Uganda in August 2008. He works for an organisation called the Lighting Candles Organization and he set up the family stay for me. I figured it would be an amazing cultural experience to stay with a local family and also give me a better understanding of what these people go through on a day to day basis.
apologies for the somewhat disjointed nature of this posting… just some scattered thoughts I wanted to get down in writing…
Signing out for now…