Plumbers with degrees

February 2, 2009 - 10:16 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: History and Culture, Israeliness, Life 

plumbersDon’t even ask. We’ve been dealing with a huge home problem the last few days – whenever we turn on our shower or sink, the water flows directly through our downstairs neighbor’s ceiling onto their floor.

To make a long story short, we’re using our mortgage insurance which we pay monthly, and is earmarked for this very sort of problem. Well, it takes a while for the company to send someone, and when they finally did, he didn’t really fix the problem. He returned and again, soon after he left, the leak returned. So now we’re talking a few days since I showered, my downstairs neighbors are pissed off, and I’m spending most of my time on the phone with the insurance company trying to get someone competent to show up.

We’ve been shuttling off to other neighbor to get our kids bathed, and have gotten used to brushing our teeth and washing up at the kitchen faucet – which luckily is connected to another pipe. The final straw was yesterday though, when a flush of the toilet also caused water (I hope it was just water) to flow downstairs.

Finally, this afternoon, the company sent another team – known as the supervisors – to get to the bottom of the affair. Alon, a shaved-headed, earring wearing 30-year-old, and David, a veteran of undertimed age, but vast experience, showed their mettle, and within a couple hours, we had no leaks, running water, and working toilets.

During the course of their work, we got to talking, and as a result, Alon and David have a new title – Plumbers with Degrees. David, it turns out, is a university lecturer on the Torah, and Alon is studying for his masters degree in history. They both supplement their income by being the best darn plumbers in the greater Jerusalem area.

So next time you want to talk Moses, Maimonides, and the Civil War, while at the same time get your pipes cleaned, you know who to call.

Statuary Style

November 8, 2008 - 11:13 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General 

Jews aren’t big on statues – you won’t find too many bronzed generals on horseback in Israel – although I actually found one, of this guy ( What monuments there are dedicated to a person or group are generally abstract sculptures, where you can kind of make out the human form (, or completely symbolic, like The long ingrained strictures against graven images run deep in the Israeli psyche, to the extent that you won’t even find images of people on Israeli coinage (a special edition of a five shekel coin with the blurred image of Maimonides raised some eyebrows a few years ago, though).
There does seem to be one outlet for statuary that appears to be acceptable in Israel – sculptured topiary, made out of a bushes and shrubs. I’ve seen “statues” of birds, rabbits, cows, even people. And then we have this prime example: Don Quixote (know as “Don Kishot” in Hebrew) in a Petach Tikvah high tech center. The Spanish hero sits atop a horse – much like this “real” statue ( Next to Don at this industrial park (not seen) is a topiary of his sidekick, Sancho Panza. Topiaries don’t seem to have raised the hackles of those most likely to feel uncomfortable with statues (religious Jews), maybe because their not “etched in stone,” so to say.

Eschatology, Israel Style

November 6, 2008 - 12:41 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General 

A small country risen after centuries of exile and wandering, surrounded by enemies that seek to destroy it, with a large religious population – it’s an eschatologist’s dream. Jews in general, and especially Israelis, are experts in seeking out signs of “the end,” the final redemption in which the Messiah comes and declares the victory of the Kingdom of G-d.
As an observant person, I subscribe to the idea of the Messiah, who can come at any moment and redeem the Jewish people The Talmud discusses various scenarios of what that redemption would mean, and the circumstances under which it would occur. Then there’s the “great war” that is to precede the coming of the Messiah – the War of Gog and Magog, which may or may not be a prerequisite to the final redemption. Rabbinical opinion on the identity of this entity also varies, with some attributing it to a specific king/nation, and others describing it as a force.

In other words, the subject is one of deep mystery – as Maimonides says, these matters “cannot be [clearly] known by man until they occur, for they are undefined in the words of the prophets.” There really is no point speculating on the identity of Gog, Magog, the Messiah, or any of the other features of the “final days,” Maimonides says – we won’t understand the scenarios laid out by the prophets until they actually occur.

But of course, Maimonides’ logical approach to the subject is not shared by everyone. There are many who insist on speculating on the identities of all the figures and events described by the prophets regarding the coming of the Messiah – in fact, a cottage industry in such speculation has sprung up in recent years, aided by the “advances” in the “science of Torah codes,” where hints of current or future events are discovered by counting off equidistant letter sequences in the Torah. There are several web sites, and at least one best selling book, that purport to show that historical and current events were predicted by the Torah, using various code combinations. And, of course, future events, as well. But they don’t always work as their boosters hope they will.

Latest evidence: Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States. For Israelis, Obama is a mystery – other than what he said during his campaign, little is known about his views on Israel, the Middle East, the peace process, etc. In recent weeks, there has been all sorts of speculation – on the one hand, he supposedly palled around with PLO supporter Rashid Khalidi of Columbia, and on the other hand, his Chief of Staff is going to be, according to media reports, Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel, whose parents are Israeli (his dad was a member of Menachem Begin’s Irgun, no less), and who himself volunteered in the IDF. Go figure!

But the arrival of a new president – especially one as exotic as Obama – is a gold mine for those looking for “hints” of the future. Add that to Torah codes methodology – and you come up with the formula cited at (page is in Hebrew), where the name “Obama” appears in code in the book of Ezekiel, smack in the middle of where the Prophet discusses Gog. Busted! And Obama, who seeks to “unify” everyone, is a perfect candidate – his “unity” program is, according to this theory, to get the rest of the world to gang up on Israel!

But Obama has some competition for the title of Gog – George Bush! According to, (a page created in 2002), it’s Bush who is Gog, based on a couple of complicated formulas in Genesis and the Book of Isaiah. Even his name is suspicious: Drop one letter from the Hebrew spelling of “George,” and you get you know who!

Well, Bush still has 75 days to go Gog over Israel, although it’s hard to figure how a lame duck president would get away with that. As far as Obama is concerned, I’m betting he has a lot more on his plate than our chronic controversy with the Arabs of this land. But here’s my question: If Bush fails to fulfill his Goggist legacy, does that mean the mantle automatically passes to Obama? Or does it mean that Obama gets a pass, too? Gotta love that Eschatology!

Urban chic witch doctor

June 17, 2008 - 12:32 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Food, Travel 

UzieliShuk Machane Yehuda’s resident shaman, Uzi-Eli Chezi runs his retail stall like it’s part theme park attraction, part spiritual folk remedy center. Uzi-Eli bases his natural remedies (various juice mixtures, soaps, creams, serums) on recipes from the writings of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, a North African Jewish philosopher from the Middle Ages who is also known for his contributions as a physician.

“Both of my grandfathers – who were brothers – would make holistic energy drinks,” Uzieli recently told Jerusalemite, the Jerusalem culture guide. “When I finished my army service, I spent five years traveling through 12 different countries, learning about herbs and natural medicine. I used this knowledge to create formulas for healing drinks,” which he soon began to market out of his own home, before opening his shop in the shuk five years ago.

These formulas rely heavily on gat (khat, a leaf known for its energizing properties) and etrog (citron, the local yellow citrus fruit most famous for being shaken with the lulav during the holiday of Sukkot), and he buys all of his ingredients from his neighbors in the open-air market. He also creates remedies from kombucha mushrooms, dates, fenugreek, passion fruit, goat milk yogurt, pomegranate and apple.

Uzi-Eli explains:

Drinking etrog juice leads to strength in the body, and feelings of satiation and calmness. It also improves heart health, and will make a person smell better. It helps fight depression, helps cure hot flashes in women and gives men strength and virility.

But even if one questions the true healing merits of Uzi-Eli’s concoctions, one surely must give him credit for the place he holds in Jerusalem’s cultural landscape. The guy has regulars and potential customers alike constantly approaching him (or sometimes submitting to his offers) for consultations, which almost universally end with some gat extract being schpritzed down the throat. Plus, he is just about as esoterically charming an institution as one can find in the shuk, so who cares if his schug (a traditional Middle Eastern condiment of ground fresh chili peppers and herbs) isn’t as spicy as the next guy’s?

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