Jared in Israel – Part Quatre

Greetings from Tel Aviv!

Have you heard of it?  Of course you have….its one of those cities that gets mentioned in the news a lot. Remember back in the Gulf War 10 years ago, when Iraq was shooting scud missiles at Israel? Most of missiles landed in the Tel Aviv region. That was a scary time…people had to walk around with gas masks readily available in case there was a scud attack. They also had to build sealed rooms in their apartments to avoid airborne chemicals that was potentially contained within Iraqi missiles. What a way to live your life.

Israel is a country that has basically been under siege since its foundation. They have fought 5 wars with their neighbors against tremendous odds and managed to stay alive in the midst of a very difficult environment.

Everyone in Israel enters the army at age 18. Men go for 3 years or so. Women go for a year and half. In America, at age 18, it would be unthinkable for the average person to go to the army.  Of course, some do, but it’s a personal choice. Many are caught up with deciding on a college to attend, obtaining a job, parental pressures, and so forth. Young adults here are fighting a guerilla war in Lebanon, or patrolling the Gaza Strip raiding terrorist factions.  What a different type of existence.

When I was in Jerusalem staying at the Youth Hostel, there were many soldiers staying there as well. A whole unit of soldiers, called the “Golani” Brigade were in Jerusalem to serve time patrolling the streets of the city in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks, which are always a looming threat here. By the way, my first night in a hostel was not so great. For some reason, the sleeping problem was still there, and it was compounded by the “strange bed” syndrome. I guess I will have to get used to that. 

It’s quite common to walk around and see young men and women in uniform carrying machine guns. Yet people walk around freely, and the cities are bustling like any city with a thriving culture and economy.

So, tonight I am in Tel Aviv staying with my cousin, Sharon. He has an apartment right near Rabin Square, where the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was slain by a fellow Jew who did not agree with his peace moves. This country is quite divided, politically.

The parliamentary government is so fragmented that no one party can gain a clear majority in the “Knesset” (the name of the parliament). In order to form a majority, several small parties have to ban together and form a coalition. Because of that, there exists a sort of tyranny of the minority, because certain smaller parties are able to enforce their will on the rest of the country as their votes are needed to pass coalition goals.

If one of these small parties doesn’t get what it wants, it can threaten the power of the entire coalition. For example, on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, most of the bus lines shut down by law, because the religious factions of the government wanted it to be so. Even if they are not the majority, they get their way. That’s how it works.

Otherwise, Israel is very western. There are all kinds of western icons here: McDonald’s, Burger King, Office Depot, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Ace Hardware, Microsoft, and many more. In fact, now, when you are driving around, you can always see the Golden Arches beckoning from almost anywhere around Tel Aviv. Everyone even has a cell phone…it’s just like New York!

Monday, I am off to Bulgaria for a week or so, and then to Istanbul, Turkey! Once I get there, I don’t know if I will be able to check my email so often (I know, you are saying “whew!”), but I promise to keep this going as often as I can, because many of you have written to me saying you are enjoying these travel blogs.

Please send me email addresses of anyone who wants to be on my list!


Jared in Israel – Part Trois

Once again, I am lucky enough to have access to the Internet here, so I will write as much as I can while I have the ability to do so. Keep in mind, I am doing this for my own benefit as well, because this will be sort of a journal of my travel experiences, which I am very happy to share with you, my friends and readers.

Right now, I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Jerusalem, right outside the old city in the Russian compound. It is amazing to be back here, even though I have been to Israel and Jerusalem so many times before. It always stirs within me the deepest emotions of connection and roots. What can I say? I love it here!

I stole my dad’s rental car, after promising to drive safe and not talk to strangers, and drove to Jerusalem by myself. That was interesting, never having driven in Israel alone. Let me tell you, these people are CRAZY drivers. When you are stopped at a red light, the light turns yellow before it turns green, and they slam their horns yelling at you to go even before you are allowed to. More people die of car accidents here than of terrorist attacks.

Jerusalem is beautiful. This evening I met my old friend Shlomi near the “Mishbier”, which is a landmark in the city center that everyone knows of. It’s basically a glorified indoor flea market next to a very tall building visible from all of Jerusalem.

I was starving, so I had to go right away to McDonald’s for some authentic Israeli cheeseburgers (Shlomi wasn’t hungry yet, so I had to have something to tide me over). I know my way around here pretty well, so I led the way to the Old City (I am speaking of the ancient portion of Jerusalem when I say “Old City”). It is enclosed within the most amazing walls. It is such a beautiful sight, especially at night when it’s all lit up.

Jerusalem is divided into two sections – east and west. The Old City was part of the eastern section, which was captured by Jordan in 1948 and held by them until the 6-day war in 1967 when Israel took the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem. The Old City is the source of one of the biggest disputes ever over such a small piece of territory. Within its walls there are some of the holiest sites to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

For the Jews, it contains the Western Wall that they regard as the last remnant of their ancient Temple. They gather there constantly for prayer and meditation. For the Christians, it includes the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”), the path taken by Jesus to his eventual crucifixion, as well as the church of the Holy Sepulcher, enclosing the site many Christians believe the crucifixion and burial took place. For Islam, the city contains the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site to Islam from which Moslems believe the prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven for a little tour. The city is under a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel captured it in 1967 and annexed it, vowing never again to relinquish hold on the city. The Palestinians, however, regard the eastern section as the future capital of the emerging state of Palestine. So, that presents a bit of a problem when one side holds the other side’s coveted prize. We shall see what happens.

We walked all around the Arab markets, where you can find some of the most interesting cultural items, as well as the standard touristy useless stuff. You can bargain as much as you want here. Never pay what they ask, if you manage to find your way to these markets.

After a dinner of “Laffa” (a giant flat bread containing chicken, humus, salads, and “chips”) at this fine cafe, Shlomi patiently waits for me to finish this update. Tonight I shall have my first stay in a Youth Hostel on this trip….yay!