Mazal Tov (we take credit cards)

Because there are so many different levels of religious observance, customs, cultures and communities among Jews in Israel, it is always fascinating and fun to go to weddings where things are not quite what you are used to. Expect the unexpected!

Last night we were invited to the wedding of very dear friends of ours. We couldn’t be more different in terms of our backgrounds, yet we’ve remained close for the past 17 years despite living (until recently) on different sides of the world.

We met through our eldest son, seventeen years ago in Baltimore. At that time my son was volunteering through Bikur Cholim, an organization that visits the sick and helps families navigate through medical difficulties. My son met a man and his wife who had flown in from Israel so that the man could receive a kidney transplant. The operation was a success but for medical reasons they weren’t yet able to fly home. They had left 4 small children in Israel under the care of relatives. Pesach was coming in a few days and the prospect of spending Passover without their children was unbearable enough, but it was even more difficult knowing they’d be in a hotel near the hospital, alone. They barely spoke English.

My son called me to ask if we could invite them to stay with us for Pesach, so that they could participate in a Seder and have someone to talk to, since we speak Hebrew. Of course we agreed — the more the merrier, I said.

The father, who was in his 40s, was in a weakened state, but managing fine. He was originally from an island off Tunisia called Djerba, but his family made aliyah to Israel many years ago when he was four years old. His lovely wife is a teacher. Although she was born in Israel, her family originally made aliyah from India; they were part of the Cochin Jewish community. Culturally we couldn’t have been more different, but we hit it off immediately. In between my Pesach cooking and cleaning, I took them on a few drives to show them around Baltimore and we even fit in a shopping trip so they could buy presents for their children. It was the first time in their lives they had been to an Ashkenazi seder, and it was fun to exchange information about how differently we each celebrated Pesach.

We visited Israel a few times in the coming years, and each time we visited our new friends. We kept in touch in the interim through phone calls and emails. Now, seventeen years later, we were invited to their son’s wedding. Not only did the father of the groom survive his kidney transplant — thank G-d, he is thriving. What a miracle that he was able to walk his son down the aisle to his chuppa. Of course we were going!

Now here is where different customs get interesting. In Israel, expenses are very much on everyone’s minds. Most people are of modest means, yet weddings are always sit-down dinners. Families are large, with many extended relatives. Classmates are invited. People tend to have a lot of friends. It’s not an exaggeration to say that 400 – 500 people are the average number of attendees at an Israeli wedding. The wedding business is very lucrative since there are always so many weddings. Since there is lots of competition, the wedding halls go all out in their decor. The wedding hall we were in last night was just outside of Kfar Saba, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Besides the impressive building where the dinner and dancing took place, the outside grounds were landscaped beautifully. There was a giant swimming pool that was the size of a small lake, and an “island” in the middle is where the chuppa was set up. It was dazzling, to say the least.

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So how can the average Israel afford to marry off his children?

At secular Israeli weddings, as well as religious Sephardi weddings, it is the guests who pay for the wedding.

This is how it works:

When the couple gets engaged, the parents pay a small down payment to reserve a wedding hall, which comes with a caterer. The day of the wedding, the guests do not bring wedding gifts. The only gift that is given is money. We are not talking a small sum. The customary amount is around $100 – – per guest. But giving even more than that is not unusual.

That’s a lot of cash, and there have been cases where the money was stolen at the venue. So now wedding halls provide a safe at the entrance. The wedding hall we went to last night had a safe, and next to the safe was a table with pens, paper and envelopes, so you could put money and a greeting into the envelope before putting it in the safe. But this is not all. To make it even easier for guests, wedding halls have now installed dedicated ATMs. The screen has a photo of the bride and groom, and you simply fill in your name, amount, and a message. After you swipe your credit card, you get a receipt texted to your smart phone, along with a pre-written thank you text signed by the bride and groom.

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In the foreground, 2 men write greetings at the table provided with pens, paper and envelopes. In the middle ground to the left, a man enters the amount of his gift and swipes his credit card at one of the dedicated ATM machines.
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The envelopes containing greetings and cash go straight into the safe next to the table
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A close-up of the screen of the dedicated ATM machine. The caption under the bride and groom photo says “We are happy you’ve come to celebrate with us!” signed with their names

When the guests leave, and the bride and groom go off into the sunset, the wedding is still not over for the parents. Now they must settle the bill with the caterer. The safe is opened. The amount collected is tallied, as are the amounts deposited into the dedicated ATM machine. The parents pay the caterer’s bill with the gift money on the spot. Any money left after the caterer is paid then goes to the bride and groom.

Perhaps it’s not quite romantic, but this system does save families (but not their guests!) a lot of financial grief. The guests are not required to pay, but overwhelmingly they want to. The parents don’t have to go into hock to marry off their children (unless they are part of the Israeli Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox community, in which case the custom is for parents to buy their kids their first house). The newlyweds are not left with a huge amount of money after paying the caterer, but it’s usually enough to justify a shopping trip to IKEA to set up their rental apartment.

The wedding was extremely lively, with dinner, dancing and festivities that lasted well into the night. Even though we didn’t know another soul, we had a great time and met lots of really nice people. A wedding in Israel lasts many hours with lots of food, music, dancing and singing; it’s pure happiness combined with spirituality. I’ve never seen anyone get drunk at an Israeli wedding. People are lively – – there is always a guest who juggles fire at some point, or balances a chair on his nose – – but generally guests behave themselves. They are there to truly bring joy to the bride and groom, and they certainly do succeed. Certainly with the guests’ gifts of money, they succeed in bringing joy to the (much relieved) parents as well!

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The Death of Sundays

I confess.  I do miss Trader Joe’s and Costco.  But I’ve learned to live without them quite well, and it’s okay.  But Sundays – – well, that’s another matter.

In America, there is generally a five-day work week, with Saturday and Sunday being the days off.  When you’re a shomer Shabbat Jew, Saturdays are Shabbat, and while they are wonderful, it only leaves Sunday for leisure and catch-up time.

In Israel, there is also generally a five-day work week, but the “weekend” is  Friday and Saturday.  This has serious implications for those of us who keep the Sabbath, especially in winter when the Sabbath arrives at 4 pm on Friday.  You can forget doing many errands on your list since many government offices are closed on Fridays.  Ditto for our bank.  Israel is a small enough country with lots to see so theoretically you can plan a half-day excursion, but you’re always under pressure to allow enough time to return in time for Shabbat.  And it assumes you’ve done all your cooking for the bountiful Sabbath meals well before Friday.

I start my Shabbat preparations on Tuesday.  In the morning I make challah dough.  While it’s rising I go into town for my weekly shopping excursion.  I try not to go more than once a week, since gas is $7 to $8 per gallon and each trip costs me a minimum of $25.  (Consequently many people where I live order their food from town and have it delivered. Even paying a delivery charge is cheaper than driving into town yourself, unless you have multiple errands to run.  But I like to choose things myself.)

I finish the challah and stick it in the freezer.  Then I start cooking things that will hold up well in the fridge, such as grains or hummus.  The next day I cook soup and chicken.  We eat more simply here – – no more cholent or kugels like we ate in the US – – but we do eat a lot of different kinds of vegetable dishes and salads.  Since these are pretty labor intensive and must be eaten fresh, I do save these for the last minute.

Now that Spring is upon us, we’ve been very diligent about our Friday morning excursions.  I love the fact that we are in the Galil, near so many incredible nature sites, and most are anywhere between 15 – 90 minutes away by car (the latter takes us to the upper Galil and the Golan Heights).  After some nice winter rains, the Galil is bursting with rich emerald green grasses and bushes, pink almond blossoms, red poppies and cyclamen.  The rivers, streams and waterfalls are at full throttle – – these will either disappear completely or deplete to a pitiful trickle in summer – – yet the hordes of tourists have not yet descended and we generally have the National Parks mostly to ourselves (we bought an annual pass with a Senior discount).

While every site we’ve visited has been gorgeous, it’s about more than just beauty.  It’s knowing that nearly every square inch has meaning.  It might have been the site of an important village, or an event from the Torah, a momentous battle, a ancient city  or synagogue, a past civilization, the site of a Biblical prophecy or a miracle, the tomb of a holy rabbi, a Crusader fortress or a sheikh’s palace.  We are remembering our history while making history just by our very presence in the Land, and that is thrilling and emotional and spiritually uplifting.  Objectively speaking, Mt. Hermon (on the Syrian border) may not be as majestic as the Rockies or the Alps.  The Negev’s Machtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) may not be as grandiose as the Grand Canyon.  The waterfalls of Metulla (on the Lebanese border)  are hardly Niagara Falls.  But they belong to us because they were given to us by HaShem, duly recorded in our Torah, and they were acquired with blood, sweat, tears and great sacrifice then and now.  There is a deep connection to our Land that perhaps defies logic, but it is the sense that this is home, and this is ours, and somehow through HaShem’s grace we merited to be part of a generation of reclamation, settlement, presence and blessing.

I guess that’s worth the death of Sundays.

 

Fitting In

Recently a friend called from the States.  “When I spoke with you a few months ago, things were still very new and you were in the honeymoon phase,” she said.  “But tell me – now that you’ve been in Israel for several months – – how are you managing . . . really?”

Other than abhorring the absurd Israeli banking system (I’ll save my complaints for another post in the future), I really couldn’t think of a single negative thing to say.  No horror stories of being pushed, shoved, yelled at, cheated, or robbed; I’ve never felt unsafe.  I began telling my friend about my new day-to-day life in Israel, and the more I spoke, the more excited  and animated I became.

“Wow!” she said, “I’ve known you for years and I’ve never heard you like this!  You just sound so happy and positive and alive!”

It’s true.  Every day brings new adventures, new people to meet and interact with, new things to see, smell and touch.  My Hebrew is getting better because I talk all day long.   I am much more outgoing, and I seem to take risks that my former self-conscious self would never have taken (I’m not talking about bungee jumping, but I am talking about speaking up and being friendly to people I’ve never met before in new social situations and gatherings).

I was thinking of why I’m finding life so pleasant in Israel, when so many new immigrants struggle with Israeli culture.  A huge part of it is that I’m able to speak Hebrew, and even though I’m not fluent, Israelis respect the fact that I’m trying hard to converse and expand my vocabulary, which is so necessary to integrate.  Although there are fellow olim where I live that are native English speakers, we do not live in an Anglo “ghetto.”  Instead, we have the opportunity to integrate with Israelis  socially as neighbors, religiously as  synagogue members and Torah class attendees, and professionally as workmates.  We share Sabbath meals  as both hosts and guests.  I belong to Israel-related whatsapp and facebook groups in both Hebrew and English.  I’m not kidding myself:  I will never be considered an “Israeli” by natives.  To them I will always be “the American immigrant.” And that’s okay, because we can still  be friends.  And  I feel so blessed to have made so many new friends!

But it still doesn’t answer the question of why I’m managing so well, not just with fellow American immigrants living in Israel, but with people who are of a  completely different mindset or culture.  I don’t just deal with people in my yishuv who are the same page politically and religiously; I deal with sabras and Arabs and olim from Russia, France, Ethiopia and Brazil who are manual laborers, bank clerks,  store managers, bus drivers, doctors, designers and teachers.   And it’s going great!

I attribute my success and positive attitude to the year I spent in Israel as a high school exchange student, way back in 1972.  In a desperate bid to immerse myself into Israeli student life, my personality became more “Israeli.”

When I returned to the US after that year in Israel, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.  I had become a different person in Israel, and I liked the new me better, but my American encounters were no longer warm and fuzzy.  I no longer fit in.  I was exuberant, impatient and  opinionated;  adventurous; and impulsive. This didn’t go over well in a polite society where people hid their emotions to the point that if they were having a horrendous day, they’d answer “thank G-d” when asked how they were doing.  If you had asked me, you would have heard all about it. and I would not have spared the drama.

Needless to say this disconnect and social impropriety won me few friends.  I soon learned to control myself, and basically I shut down emotionally.  After I moved back to the US and spoke to an Israeli friend who was visiting, she stopped and asked, “What happened to you?  It’s like your soul is dead.”

So imagine my joy when my American caller told me today, “You just sound so happy and alive!”

Thanks to my high school experience in Israel at a very impressionable time in my life, I say what is on my mind, and I rarely hold back.  I interrupt people far too often (although I am working on this).

Today in my village I gave a ride into town to someone I didn’t know.  I introduced myself and he responded, “Oh!  I heard all about you.  You should know, people really like you here!”  and he meant it.  I’m not repeating the story to brag, but rather for you to imagine the validation I felt that things are truly working out for us here.  Despite not having family here, and not really knowing anyone in our town before we arrived, I’m not lonely.  I feel very much a part of something big.

I fit in!

And it feels good.

Government “Help”

As newbies to Israel, job hunting can be a bit of a challenge.  So my husband and I went to a job fair in Haifa sponsored by the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  While this particular fair wasn’t so useful (it concentrated mostly on manufacturing jobs), we did meet with a representative from the Ministry who suggested we take advantage of free career counseling, free resume writing/translation, and recruiting with job leads.  My husband made an appointment for the following day in Karmiel.  Shortly after arriving he called.  “They just informed me that I don’t qualify,” he said.   (He was not discouraged.  In Israel, rules are meant to be broken and “no” never means “no.”  This is important to remember when you are feeling disheartened by Israeli bureaucracy, outdated policies and practices.)  In Israel, retirement is mandatory at age 67 for men (it’s 62 for women, but they have just changed the law to 64).  He was told that the only way to extend one’s work life as an employee is to strike out on one’s own and work as a freelancer or consultant.  My husband suggested that I go to Karmiel to meet with the Ministry job office since I’m 60 and still in the running for employment.

There I was greeted by a vivacious young woman who is a job counselor, and her counterpart, a dour, older Russian immigrant who is a psychologist.  The purpose of the psychologist was supposedly to assess the personality of the applicant, and to ensure that he is a viable and realistic candidate for employment.  The psychologist seemed to suffer from narcolepsy, as she practically fell asleep in front of her laptop.  The job counselor took one look at my resume and told me, “You don’t want to be an employee, you need to be a freelancer.”  I told her I was fine with that, but then she added, “We don’t help freelancers. That’s a different government job office.  But to get there, you will need a referral from the Ministry. ”  Because I didn’t fit into her framework, she told me, she also could not offer the free resume translation service.  Perhaps they would help me at the freelance job office.

So I got back into my car and went to the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  I spoke to the same lady who recommended that I go to the first employment office.  She called the freelancer job office who said that no, they couldn’t offer to translate my resume because I wasn’t a resident of Karmiel, even though Karmiel is the closest city to where I live and the only place near me that has a government office of this nature.

The Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady said she was very sorry, but she couldn’t help me.  Her hands were tied, since the various agencies were funded in a very specific manner and if I was outside the perimeter, the budget would not allow them to make an exception.

I remarked – – while smiling and being totally non-threatening, calm and polite, yet firmly and with conviction – – that it seemed ironic that the entire purpose of the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption was to help new immigrants and returning residents, yet there were stumbling blocks created by the very same office that were counterproductive.  I told her I wasn’t really helpless, that I am a resourceful person and can do pretty well on my own, but that I lacked certain tools because I was new and just needed to know what those tools were so I could access them on my own.  I told her about my job plan and how I had done lots of cold calling and reached out to companies and academic institutions, sparking interest in my services.  I could tell she was impressed and immediately her tone changed.

“I really would love to help you with your resume myself,” she said sincerely, “but I just don’t know any English.”

Aha!  I had my “in.”  I quickly scanned the hall through the open door, making note that there was no one else waiting for assistance.

“That’s so kind of you to offer to help,” I said politely, “because now we can sit and work on my resume together!”

She was trapped.

A very kind friend had offered to translate my resume into Hebrew, but there were some tricky spots that needed a bit of polishing.  So together the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady and I sat over the resume, and to her credit, she did help me a lot.  When she finished editing it, she told me about a free online resume service whereby you send them the text, and they produce a finished copy with select fonts and formatting.

I thanked her profusely and went on my way, stopping to say hi to a friend who works in the same office building.

“She was nice to you?” my friend said, shocked and surprised.  Apparently this woman has quite the reputation of being a short-tempered, burned out bureaucrat.  I never saw that side of her, she even encouraged me to stop in to say hello the next time I’m in town.

I still have to go the the government office that counsels freelancers and provides them with job leads, but that can wait for another day.  Fortunately do to extensive and ceaseless networking I have some promising possibilities within my field.

I have an Israeli friend who is rather anti-religious and barely agnostic.  “The only reason I believe in God,” he tells me, “is that the very existence of Israel is a miracle.  With all the bureaucratic foibles, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished. How else, if not for God?”

Once we figured out how to navigate the system, my husband found work immediately. (Hint #1: never ever send a resume as a pdf; it will automatically be tossed.  They want CVs sent as a Word document.  Hint #2: in the field of hi-tech, the preferred language for your CV is English, not Hebrew. We wasted countless hours working on bilingual resumes).  Although the naysayers said my husband would never find work at age 69 in Israel, even though he was an experienced and expert programmer and systems engineer, within a week he had 3 interviews and 3 job offers in the private sector.  It turns out that Israel is experiencing a severe shortage of people qualified to work in the hi-tech industry.  While the pay isn’t what it was in the States, the benefits are attractive (including a new leased Kia Niro hybrid car and free gas in a country where gas is nearly $8/gallon) and the work is technically exciting.  My husband is actually happier working in Israel than he was working in America.  Who would’ve believed that now, at age 70, he’s doing his part contributing to the Start-Up Nation!

It took a several months and a long bout of disappointing, infuriating and absurd interviews that were worthy of a soap opera, but I did finally find work as a freelance writer and editor, and at a decent wage, too.  I’m currently working with a college in the North translating scientific research from Hebrew to English and writing popular science articles for their donor newsletters. My triumph wasn’t thanks to any referrals by government employment service agencies.  I simply picked up the phone and cold-called my current gig, and the job came seemingly out of nowhere (thank you, God).

I wish this was worthy of congratulations, but I’m now over my head registering with government offices as an independent contractor. I’ve hired an accountant to help me slog through the paperwork and long lines at government offices, including the tax authority and social security (bituach leumi).  The accountant has already warned me that I will likely be subject to an audit and they’ll want to know everything, including a list of the appliances I own (which make no sense).

It may actually cost me to work, but oh! the stories I can tell…

Truman: Ambassador of Peace

In the month before Passover, I walked the hills of the Galilee.  The entire month of March they are filled with wildflowers, including red poppies called kalaniyot in Hebrew, as well as cyclamen, rakafot.

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Once Pesach arrives, so do Israelis in droves on holiday, plus the beginning of tourist season, and – much to my dismay – the end of rain until November and the beginning of tortuously hot, hazy days in the seemingly never-ending summer that starts in April and ends at the end of October. Most of the streams and riverbeds dry out and lose their mojo.

Just outside the town of Yokneam, where my husband works in the hi-tech park (denizen of many Israeli start-ups and now big-name players who are at the forefront of  internationally acclaimed innovation – – this is just one of dozens of similar hi-tech parks popping up all over the country), is a beautiful nature spot called Nahal HaShofet.  It’s more stroll than hike, with its carefully graded boardwalks that descend along a stream-bed and cave amid the heavy vegetation.  I figured I’d spend a quick couple of hours there before returning to the relentless Spring Cleaning that was part of my Pesach preparations.

I thought I’d beat the Pesach rush.  Little did I know that the week before Pesach, when Israeli Jewish school children start their Spring vacation, all youth groups around Israel use this time to walk the Land on organized overnight backpack and trekking trips.   Throughout the Galilee, especially in Keren Kayemet/JNF forests where camping is permitted and generally free, backpackers’ tents spread like colorful umbrella tops dotted the landscape against the lush green  woodlands of pistachio, olive groves, cypress, carob, Aleppo pine trees and thorny grasses.

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The night before it had rained, and as I approached my destination I stopped at a gully that was covered by rainwater runoff that was at least 6″ – 8″ deep.  I normally would have driven my Hyundai station wagon through without concern, but I was alone and was in no mood to get stranded without help in immediate sight.  So I parked the car at the bottom of this gully and walked the extra kilometer up a steep hillside to reach the starting point of Nahal HaShofet.

What a happy accident! Other than a few scraggly campers, the area was mostly empty and the vistas in wildflower-covered groves were among the most beautiful I have ever seen to date in the Galilee.  I was glued to the spot, soaking it all in, truly grateful to be there just then.  It was magical.

 

As I approached Nachal Shofet, I was alarmed to see at least 30 giant tour buses and an ice cream truck parked at the entrance.  There was Arab music blaring, and the voices of many excited schoolchildren.  Just how many excited children enjoying nature would become apparent as I made my way down Nachal HaShofet.

I had picked an Arab town’s school district’s annual field trip day.  At least 1000 (!) Arab Muslim kids and their teachers were there enjoying themselves.  Which would have been fine, except I had my Standard Poodle Truman with me, and generally, religious Muslims find dogs repugnant at best and are terrified of them at worst.  Every time I would turn a corner along the trail and meet up with yet another class of kids, I’d be greeted by 25 – 50 voices screaming with fear at the top of their very healthy lungs when they would see Truman.  My dog looked at me questioningly like a wizened Yoda.  “Seriously?” he seemed to say, because he is possibly the worlds most passive, quiet, non-aggressive and innocuous Standard Poodle that ever lived. And besides, he was on a leash.

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As I waited silently along the side of the trail for yet the next group of children to pass us so we could continue on ahead, a young boy of about 8 asked me in Arabic if he could touch the dog.  I was surprised by his “courage” but was happy to have Truman oblige.  He immediately received the unspoken admiration of  his still-terrified classmates who were convinced there was little difference between petting a poodle and putting one’s head into the mouth of a lion.  They were even more amazed when Truman did not react (in truth, Truman was feeling rather bored).  And then, another boy found the courage to approach, and another, and another.  Soon I had a line of 100 excited, happy and nervous children waiting to pet Truman, and even more amazing – – their stern, grumpy chador-clad teacher wanted to be part of the action too.  Many of them called out “huruf!” (which means “sheep” in Arabic, and indeed, Truman’s coat resembles that of a lamb). Of course I had to photograph the event for posterity – – with the now-smiling teacher included. So now I call my dog “Truman, Ambassador of Peace.”

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The Last Jew of Peki’in

 

Last Friday my husband and I visited the village of Peki’in, about 40 minutes from our home in the Galilee.  It was incredibly moving to meet Margalit Zinati, the 86-year-old lone surviving Jew of Peki’in, as well as visit the cave where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai hid from his Roman oppressors.  I love that every single corner of Israel not only has such a wealth of geopolitical and religious history, but that we feel a genuine spiritual connection and link to the Land we now call home.

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, there were a few families who survived the starvation and massacres; they managed to flee to other areas in Israel.  Twenty-four families of Kohanim (priests) thus settled in different parts of the Galilee, including three places near where I live, but these villages today (Kfar Yasif, Shraram, and Arrabe) are strictly Arab (Muslim, Christian or Druze).

Peki’in, high on a mountaintop in the Galilee, is another village settled by Jews from the time of the Second Temple.  Three now-unemployed families of Kohanim (without a Temple to serve, the Kohanim were without work) came to live there as well.  The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Haninah transmitted Torah in Peki’in, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (who was one of Rabbi Akiva’s greatest disciples)  would hide there.  The synagogue served as Rabbi ben Hanina’s house of study.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1837, but rebuilt in 1873.  Two stones in the synagogue are said to have been brought by the Kohanim from the destroyed Second Temple, and there they can be seen to this day.

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Second Temple relics

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There is a discussion in the Talmud with Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (also known as the “Rashbi”), who was a strong opponent of the Roman regime.  Rabbi Yehuda praised the Romans for their architecture and engineering.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai retorted that the Romans were self-serving, and brought immorality and hardship.  When the Romans got wind of the conversation, they sentenced the Rashbi to death for sedition.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai avoided capture and spent several months hiding with his son Rabbi Elazar in different places in the Galilee, finally settling in a cave in Peki’in where he hid for 13 years.  The cave  was close to a spring and a carob tree; both provided their sustenance.

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The spring.   The statues are of Druze leaders.

To preserve their clothes, they buried themselves naked up to their necks in sand, only wearing their clothes on the Sabbath, and learned Torah all day, every day.  It was in this cave that he studied Kabbalah (Jewish mystical thought) and wrote the holy Zohar, the original book of Kabbalah. With the death of Emperor Hadrian, the decree against the Rashbi and Rabbi Elazar was nullified, and they finally, after 13 years, emerged from the cave that had served them so well.

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The carob tree

Today considered a holy site, the cave and a huge carob tree (likely an offshoot of the original) are visited  by Jews and Arabs alike.  The Arabs refer to the place as “Bnei Yakov” (sons of Jacob). Candles, coins, oil and hastily written supplications are placed at the entrance to the cave by pilgrims and tourists.

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Notes and candles left in the cave by pilgrims

The opening is narrow and the cavern mostly blocked off by boulders – – said to the be result of a major earthquake.

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The narrow entry to the cave

Over time, much land was stolen from the Jews.  In modern times, things did not get any better.  Surrounded by Druze, Christian and Muslim neighbors, some years were, however, peaceful. The Jews assimilated, not in religion, but in adopting Arab dress and language and generally influenced by Arab culture.  These Jews were known as “Mustarabim.”

Unfortunately, Jewish homes and land continued to be misappropriated.  In the 1920s a Jewish school was built, and there were 50 families still in Peki’in.  In the1930s, several Arab pograms during the Great Arab Revolt resulted in Jews being terrorized and murdered, and many surviving Jews fled Peki’in in 1938 – 1940, never to return.  This was the only time in Peki’in’s history that the town was devoid of Jews since the days of the Destruction of the Temple.

Ironically, almost all of the remaining Jewish property was legally sold to Arabs in the 1940s by the Jewish Agency/Jewish National Fund.  Disregarding Peki’in’s important historical Jewish legacy, they  decided for the remaining Jews’ own safety, it was best for the them to settle elsewhere, and they used the money from the property sales to buy land to establish “Peki’in HaHadasha” – a “new” Peki’in  village located a few miles away.

Only a single determined, heroic Jewish Peki’in family returned in 1940: the Zinati Family, who were direct descendants of one of the 3 priestly families who came from the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem to Peki’in so many generations ago.  The patriarch Zinati had been rounded up by a gang of Arabs and taken to the town square.  The mob said he was a waste of a bullet and prepared a bonfire and kerosene to burn him alive.  It was only through the intervention of a Muslim neighbor that saved his life at the last possible moment that he survived.  Life became increasingly difficult, and when the school closed down, the Zinati children were sent to boarding school in Jerusalem, with only the parents remaining in Peki’in.  The son eventually married and left to raise a family elsewhere.  Only the Zinati daughter, Margalit (born in 1931) who by now had finished school, remained in Peki’in with her parents.  At that point, she decided her own fate:  she would never marry.  She felt obligated to care for her parents as they aged, and she knew that if she would get married, she would be forced to live with her husband outside of Peki’in.  She was determined to keep a Jewish presence in Peki’in alive, no matter what the cost.

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Firebrand Margalit Zinati, age 86
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Exterior of synagogue
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The synagogue interior

Margalit Zinati, 86, the priestly daughter whose forefathers served in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, is the Last Jew of Peki’in.  She still receives visitors daily.  She wakes early and hobbles to the synagogue, greeting her neighbors in Arabic along the way.  There, she takes a broom and begins sweeping the synagogue interior, as well as the courtyard with its enormous mulberry tree.  She loves the tourists and Israelis who flock there to see a living testament to a nearly forgotten era.  She entertained us in her heavily-accented Hebrew, reminiscing about her childhood, her neighbors, and Jewish life in Peki’in.  She points out the artifacts in the synagogue that were brought by the displaced and exiled priests from the Holy Temple over 2000 years ago when they fled Jerusalem.  She explains that she is still getting over a bout of pneumonia, but she bends without much difficulty to pick up some fallen mulberries off the courtyard ground, walks to an outdoor sink and washes them off, offering us a handful of the fruit.  Her eyes twinkle and she beams with pride over her role as caretaker of such an important place.  She is an icon, and she knows it.  She shows us pictures from numerous awards ceremonies where she was honored, and brags that she was chosen to light the torch for Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebration earlier this year.

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The synagogue courtyard.  Long ago, this mulberry tree’s silkworms provided material for a silk-making factory

She showers her visitors with blessings, and they repeatedly wish her “good health, until 120.”  Because she is Margalit Zinati, the last Last Jew of Peki’in, and she is not going anywhere.

As we get ready to leave, she escorts us from the courtyard.  “Of all the Jews, only we returned,” she says.  “The other families were too scared.  We’re not afraid of anyone.  We fear only G-d above.”

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a typical narrow street in Peki’in

 

 

Job Hunting in Israel: Great Advice

Perhaps some of you are thinking about aliyah, and wonder about job prospects. I have much to say on this subject, but fortunately, a wonderful German olah (immigrant) by the name of Julia Noa Thanheiser eloquently beat me to the punch. She wrote this for a Facebook group called “Keep Olim in Israel” and that is a group well worth joining if aliyah is on your radar (caveat:  the Keep Olim group doesn’t always stick to platitudes; you will hear plenty of kvetches too; but overall the Keep Olim group gives a genuine picture of the joys and challenges of living in Israel). Julia Noa Thanheiser’s advice is SO true, SO relevant, and SO helpful – – it’s an absolute must-read if you are considering aliyah and will be looking for employment in Israel.

**Happy Monday post!! Successful Aliyah comes with good employment! But how to get there?**
My name is Julia and I am nearly 20 years in Israel. I would say my Aliyah is a success story overall although I had my share of ups and downs. Life isn’t always easy away from everything you know (people and culture), but I love this country, it’s my home and the only thing missing these days is a partner, but I believe when time is right he will come.
I would like to share with you my experience over the years in the hi-tech world. While I established myself in the hi-tech world, I had to change a few things from what I was used to. It wasn’t very easy at start (low salary and very many hours including evening and Fridays) but once you have one good company name on your resume, doors start to open. It doesn’t matter how much money you made in that first job. Just that you worked in a good company.
Then you up your salary job by job until you get to your career. Also note (and I only speak for the tech world) networking is everything. You keep meeting people at different companies. Israel is small. Everyone knows everyone. So even if you are laid off, be nice. You WILL meet them again. And keep in touch with people and network network network. There are a million events and meet-ups for that. One year ago I was made redundant at my company after 10 years of service.
At this point in life I had become a single mom. Being responsible not only for myself but for my adorable 6-year-old made the “fall” much harder. I was very stressed and scared. But I didn’t allow myself to fall. A day of a good cry and then back to what I know…. reach out to my network and search for a job. I sent 200 CVs out in only the first week of job search. I documented every single job I applied to, the contact person, who I knew in the company, and any other useful info. And it was through an old colleague who had moved on to another company, that I was invited to interview at the place I am working the past 12 months. I initially didn’t hear from them after I sent my CV. So I followed up with my friend. She went to talk to the hiring manager who said he wasn’t going to invite me for an interview cause I was lacking one of the skills/requirements. She asked him to meet me anyhow and it would be worth his time. Once they met me they heavily pursued me to come on board and we are very happy with each other.
I have a very high flexibility towards where I work from and when I do the hours to get the job done which allows me to be with my daughter daily at hours she is out of daycare and in return they get the full dedication from me that no matter on an evening or a Friday sometimes – I get the job done.
I am happy at work and happy with my life.

My suggestion for DOs and DONTs re job search:
1) Don’t get drawn into what’s wrong in Israel (there is lots but it will affect your mood and your attitude), refocus on what’s going well
2) Job search is a full-time job. Treat it with that seriousness and time investment
3) Network network network. Talk to everyone you know, post in respective groups (there are many) go to meet-ups (there are gazillions).
4) Always research your potential position. If you know someone in the company contact that person to discuss the position and ask them to send your CV internally. This will up your chances by a lot. Companies prefer to hire friends of employees.
4b) Always adjust your CV with keywords matching the requirements from the job ad. Often automatic algorithms will determine if your CV gets to a hiring manager or not.
5) ALWAYS but always follow up after you sent your CV and also after an interview. Call them and introduce yourself. It is a bit unpleasant/stressful at first but it has only worked in my favor. People were so nice, even scheduled interviews with me right away on the phone even though all I asked was if they had received my CV.
6) When you interview remember you interview them too, whether or not this is a company you wish to work for, whether the job is what you are looking for. This reduces stress and puts you as equals.
7) Accept jobs in great companies also if they are below your standard. I have been offered for example a promotion after only 1 month on a temporary job and spent 3 happy years there before I chose to move on.
8 ) Do your research to enable you to ask intelligent questions about the company and position, the market in question, etc.
9) Return the favor to people who helped you. Invite them for coffee or see how you can put a smile on their face. And pay it forward. Help other people find work. Trust me, they will always remember you. The difference between a well-connected person looking for work and someone without connections can be long months of unemployment.
10) Make use of your advantages. You speak English at mother tongue level, Spanish, German? You have other additional skills? Sell yourself with why this helps your potential employer and the company. What’s in it for them?
Last but not least:
11) Learn Hebrew! While being hired in hi-tech does not require fluent Hebrew, everyone prefers to hire at least basic Hebrew speakers so they don’t have to hold team meetings internally in English because of you.

Good luck!!

ed. note:  in Israel, the term “hi-tech” refers to jobs having to do with computer programming, software design, engineering and architecture, as well as start-ups