Last week was an interesting and eventful week for Israel but, then, they all seem to fit that description. It was also a fun and satisfying week for me.
I was walking back from the post office last Monday. One tends to go to the post office a lot more frequently in Israel because it is the place where one makes a variety of payments to the government, and at least this one seems to do that quite a bit.
Between the post office and my apartment building is, among other things, the Israel Bar Association, which hosts seminars and meetings for lawyers and law students. Gathered on the steps for what appeared to be a break were about 30 young people, Among them were young Arab women in fashionable head coverings and designer jeans, Orthodox Jews with men wearing kippot (head covers), and an assortment of other people in a variety of colors, sizes, and garb.
I thought once again of the difference between the Israel I have come to know and the Israel portrayed in the world’s mainstream media. I thought the same thing a few days later as a young Arab woman, also wearing a fashionable head scarf, worked the cash register in my line at the supermarket and spoke Hebrew that was obviously a lot better than mine.
Tuesday of last week was an all-star day. My daughter, her boyfriend, and I drove up to the north of the country on Monday night. We were among the first in line Tuesday morning at Israel’s only ski resort. Mt. Hermon is on the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
One can only imagine what might be raining down from the Heights on Israel today had it returned the Heights to the Syrian regime. And one can hardly imagine the slaughter and torture being inflicted by the thugs of the Syrian government on their own people just a few kilometers away.
Despite Israelis’ feelings of inferiority about the the size of the resort and the age of its equipment, when the mountain has adequate snow coverage, you can have a fun day of skiing. We did. The place was packed, but most of the people packing in were not skiers. Snow is not an everyday thing in Israel, so when it comes, Israelis come out to play.
The resort has a huge area for snow play and it has lifts specifically for non-skiers to ride to the top and back. It is a little different experience to be skiing under a lift carrying religious Jews in their traditional outfits, Druze in theirs, and any number of people shouting out accolades at your ability to get down a slope on boards or warnings to be careful in a variety of languages, including any manner of broken English.
It was a terrific day. We followed it with a three-and-a-half hour drive down from the Golan Heights, alongside the Sea of Galilee at sunset, and down the Jordan Valley into Jerusalem. After a brief stop at our apartment, my daughter and I headed for our first-time voting in an Israeli election.
I will always be a late-coming immigrant to Israel: broken language, basic perspectives and bearings from my home country, and, of course, never having that ubiquitous Israeli experience, service in the Israel Defense Forces.
For me, then, voting is an exclamation point on my citizenship. I get to have my little bit of a say in the future of the country. (Of course, taking cover during the red alerts in the recent war served as a pretty fair exclamation point as well.)
There appears to be no prohibition on campaigning within 100 yards of the polling station, as there is in California. Or, if there is such a prohibition, then, like many other things here, it is treated as a mere suggestion that is often ignored.
As we approached the school where our voting station was located, representatives, primarily young people, from about five or six parties approached us with their last minute pitches. Having already decided who we were voting for, we politely declined their efforts to engage us.
The line at the station was short and we were inside quickly. As I described in a recent post, Upcoming Israeli Elections: The Rundown, Israelis vote for a party, not individual candidates. There is only one booth. In front of the voter is an open, shallow box, divided up into sections of about 2 by 2 inches.
In each section of the box is a stack of pieces of paper, each with the letters representing one of the 30-plus parties that are running. The voter simply takes a piece of paper representing the party he or she wants to vote for, puts it in an envelope, leaves the booth and puts the envelope in a slot in a blue box.
The whole process took no more than 30 seconds. For a Californian accustomed to lengthy ballots with any number of candidates for various races and as many as 15 or 20 initiatives, it was a bit of culture shock. Is that all there is?
Still, I felt great about participating, as did my daughter. And, when the poll workers found out that we were new citizens exercising our franchise for the first time, they felt great, congratulating us and wishing us good luck. One started singing a song of congratulations.
To make the day complete, we went out for sushi which, along with pizza, is everywhere in Israel. A great way to end a great day.
A day or two later I read an article on Freedom House’s annual report stating that Israel is the only free country in the Middle East. Again.
As if voting, skiing, and eating sushi wasn’t enough to redeem one’s faith in the goodness of life, I made a discovery a few days later. I found something that may be less expensive, or at least no more expensive, in Israel than in the U.S.: car repair. Oil change and new oil and air filters, four new spark plugs, and brake check, for 530 shekels, which equals about $142.
Even more remarkable, I think I have made an invaluable discovery: an honest car repair shop. I go to the Ovadia car repair shop in the crowded and chaotic car and other stuff area of the Talpiot industrial and commercial district in the southern part of Jerusalem.
Talpiot has every kind and every size of automotive-related shop one can imagine. The Ovadia’s are a father and three sons, religious Jews from Yemen. Only one son speaks English and it is limited. So, in addition to an honest car repair, I get to practice my Hebrew. It’s a two-fer.
The question probably on every one’s mind: do religious Yemenite Jewish car mechanics have calendars with naked women on the walls of their shops? I have not done a survey of all such shops, or even more than one.
Based on my time searching the walls of the Ovadia’s shop, my answer is “no.” Instead, they have a calendar full of all-star Sephardic rabbis. Very exciting. I have no reason to believe that the Ovadia’s are a representative sample of Israel’s car-mechanic population.