Tomorrow never knows

mayanAs I’m sitting writing this on December 21, looking out over the gray skies above the Judean Hills, it does look quite ominous. But, it doesn’t appear that the end of the 5,000-year-long Mayan calendar which a global frenzy has surmised signals the final Armageddon is going to result in the end of the world. Some strong winds, whipping rain and cold temperatures perhaps, but that’s pretty normal for late December.

Of course, I could be proven wrong, in which case it’s been a pleasure writing for Israelity. However, I have hunch we’ll still be here tomorrow.

According to Mayan culture expert Dr. Barak Afik, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who specializes in the ancient history of Latin America, the Mayan equivalent of a millennium is a “great cycle,” which lasts 5,200 years. He told The Jerusalem Post’s Melanie Lidman that the current great cycle, which they believed was the fifth such cycle since the beginning of the world, ends on December 21, 2012.

In contrast to the Western concept of time, Mayans believed that time was cyclical. Afik described the Mayans’ view of time as a spiral: We have now finished one circle and are climbing upward to the next. For them, the end of the calendar was a time of deep introspection.

The HU professor explained that if Mayans were alive today, they would ask themselves – as a community – what did we learn during the last cycle? What wars did we fight and how can we learn to make peace with our neighbors? What technology did we invent and how can we use it to improve our individual and communal lives? What is the state of our environment? How are we impacting the natural world? What did we do well, and what did we do poorly? Mayans also firmly believed that an unbalanced natural world, suffering from uncharacteristically strong storms, or what today’s world would call pollution, could only be balanced once internal problems within the community were solved, he said.

It sounds like instead of focusing on end of the world parties and constant replaying of REM’s “It’s the End of The World” and Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World,” we should be taking some of Afik’s comments to heart. Because if any civilization needs some introspection and corrections, it’s our Western one.

And why do I have a hunch the world will still be here tomorrow? I take my clue from the late, great Warren Zevon, who once sang about earthquakes in California and how he wasn’t afraid because as long as he owed money to the bar of the hotel he was in, it would remain standing.

I still have 12 years mortgage payments left, so I’m equally confident that the world will remain whole until I pay my bill.

Discovering what makes Israel special

December 16, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Environment, General, Holidays, Israeliness, Life, Travel 

The Dolphin Reef in Eilat (Dolphin Reef website)

Being on vacation in Israel enables an Israeli to see the country through slightly different eyes.

All those annoying traits like pushiness, crowdedness and in-your-face attitude suddenly don’t seem as imposing or claustrophobic when you don’t have be on the inside, but instead, can look on from the outside.

Maybe it’s because it was Hanukka week and less people were rushing around on work time schedules, but the country seemed to be moving at a slower speed. That’s not to say it wasn’t crowded.

The Hatzerim Air Force Museum was packed with families, due to the fact that there was free entrance during the holiday week. But it didn’t feel cramped, there weren’t any frayed nerves on display and everyone seemed to enjoy the amazing displays, like the aircraft that went on the 1976 Entebbe raid.

The further south we went, the more chill it became, with a stop at Mitzpe Ramon reminding us why it’s one of the most breathtaking sights in the country.

And the real revelation came at our final destination – Eilat. Instead of staying in the glitzy, Las Vegas-style cluster of hotels along the North beach and its third-rate boardwalk, we ventured down closer to the Taba border along the South beach, far less packed, more natural and bohemian and far away from the masses.

Two of the country’s treasures were in walking distance – the Coral Reef Reserve, where ‘swimming with the fish’ is a very positive thing – especially when you come upon a coral cluster inhabited by hundreds of colorful sea creatures – and the Dophin Reef, a true throwback to the bygone hippie days.

Done up in early Gilligan’s Island style, the beach is as unassuming as it is awesome. Whether hanging on comfortable ‘poofs’ (beanbags) along the docks and watching the eight dolphins who live there go about their daily lives, or being move adventurous and free with the funds, and spending a half hour swimming alongside them with a guide, the Dolphin Reef is conceivably the place they were describing when the term ‘paradise on Earth’ was coined.

There were patrons galore at both locations, but nary a voice was raised, a temper flared or a cross word exchanged – as everyone for a short time seemed to be in the thralls of realizing what makes Israel special.

Buses here and there

December 5, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Environment 

The new route of the 18 bus in Jerusalem

I grew up in a small suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area with no public transportation. This was tough because I have always been fascinated (my family would say obsessed) by buses, trams, trains and the like.

San Francisco had pretty much everything a transit head like me could desire, including electric trolleys, streetcars that ran through underground tunnels and, of course, the city’s famous cable cars. But in sleepy 22,000-resident Millbrae, my home town, there was no way to get from our house to the Greyhound bus that ran along the main road – a 45 minute walk up or down a very big hill – or to the Southern Pacific train that was even further distant.

But, by the mid 1970s, all of the little towns in our area began adding their own bus systems. There was no coordination, so you couldn’t actually get from one ‘burb to another without transferring between several buses that wound through every imaginable street up and down all those hills.

But for bus fans like me, it was heaven on earth – each city’s vehicles came from different manufacturers, had different seating capacities, had different logos. I collected all the route maps and saved every one of them until several years ago when my parents eventually moved from our family home and were unwilling to cart my conglomeration of transit paraphernalia with them to their new retirement community.

The highlight of my transit-mania when was when I actually contributed to the planning of the three bus lines in our town. When the city launched the routes, perplexingly, the bus line nearest my house did not go to my high school. I painstakingly drew each of the routes on tracing paper laid over a local city map, showing how I proposed to tweak the routes to better serve the students. Amazingly, my changes were accepted and those routes run today, essentially unchanged.

Flash forward 30 years and it appears I may have done it again, or at least contributed to a team effort. The object of my frustration this time was one of the changes made several weeks ago to the Jerusalem bus system: a re-routing of the 18 bus that used to run from near where we live, on Emek Refaim Street, up King David Street, past the YMCA and Mamilla Mall, and then through town on the way to the Central Bus Station.

The change that took effect at the end of November moved the 18 bus onto Keren Hayesod and King George Streets, leaving King David Street unserved from our part of town. The change made no sense to me: there are already many buses that ply the Keren Hayesod busway; how would someone get to Mamilla without either a schlep on foot or a taxi? Plus, Mamila is the closest stop to the Old City without a car.

I leapt into action. I found the website for the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan and wrote them a note. I liked their Facebook page and wrote a similar note. I chatted with Oren who runs the Jerusalem Bus Map website and Facebook page. I expressed my gripes via email to Marc Render, a friend and transportation planning professional who had been thinking along similar lines. I used Google Translate to decipher the city’s rationale for the change: that Shlomzion HaMalka Street was being turned into a pedestrian mall and, since the 18 used to run on that street, a more drastic re-routing was required that didn’t include King David Street.

Slowly a plan formed: keep the 18 on King David Street until Mamilla and then have it turn onto Agron Street to meet up with King George and continue on the new route. I shot off my suggestion to all the appropriate forums. And two days ago, an email arrived from Reuven at the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan office saying that my proposal had been accepted and would go into effect this Friday.

I can’t take all the credit this time. Marc Render told me he had proposed the same change to the planning committee and he’s a real insider unlike me, just a concerned citizen with a Facebook account and a blog.

But there was a certain sense of validation that it is possible to change city hall, or in this case, the city’s bus lines. My little triumph is certainly not on the same scale as getting the light rail to run properly, but it’s come just in the nick of time. Hanukah starts Saturday night and the Roladin Bakery has the best sufganiyot in Jerusalem. Their only outlet: Mamilla Mall.

Maybe I’ll throw a party and buy 18 donuts to hand out to passengers who get on and off on King David Street. Or maybe I’ll just ride the bus and eat them myself (they have three new flavors this year, including Tiramisu and Crème Brule).

New York Marathon moves to Jerusalem

November 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Environment 

Matt Krieger, marathon man

What do you do when you’re all set to run the New York Marathon to raise money for a great cause and a hurricane gets in your way? In Matt Krieger’s case, transfer the race to Jerusalem.

Krieger is originally from New York but now lives in Israel. He had planned to be in the Big Apple today for the annual mass marathon but he couldn’t get a flight (actually had booked six different flights but the hurricane cancelled them all). And then, of course, the marathon itself was cancelled.

Krieger had been running to raise money for ALEH, Israel’s largest network of facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. He’s already received pledges for over $2,700 (and his goal was just $2,500). So he had to run somewhere.

That somewhere will be Jerusalem, tonight. Krieger has put together his own route, which he says will take him through just about every neighborhood in the city. He’ll be ending up around 9:00 PM in the capital’s Gan Sacher. He’s encouraging readers to come out to cheer, pass out Gatorade or even run a bit with him. Because it’s kind of lonely running an entire marathon alone!

Watching Sandy from the other side of the world

November 1, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Environment, General, Life, News, Social Justice, Travel 

It was a little surreal this past week watching the terrifying effects of Frankenstorm Sandy take hold from the cozy and safe confines of Israel.

A bit ironic, no? I can’t count the times since I’ve been living here when family members or friends would call or email asking about our well being after a bus bombing, rocket launch or even a non-terror-related tragedy like the Carmel Fire.

Now it was my turn to call my family on the East Coast and make sure they were safe and sound. I realized how they must have felt all these years, watching the CNN reports from Israel or hearing about another atrocity and worrying about us.

I remember buying lots of bottled water and supplies too, during the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein launched his Scud rockets on Israel. I also remember donning gas masks and entering sealed rooms, wondering where the Scuds were going to land. This time, the enemy wasn’t a human and blame couldn’t neatly dispersed, but the effects were potentially just as deadly.

It was nice to know though that Americans seemed to be as resilient, courageous and stubborn as Israelis when it comes to hunkering down and weathering the proverbial storm.

We also know what it’s like to dig out from the storm and try to get lives back to a normal routine, and we wish that those who suffered loss of life or property because of Sandy will soon find themselves back on their feet and awaking to a sunny day.

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