Nostalgia Sunday – Herzl’s 150th

Tel Aviv is celebrating Theodor Herzl’s 150th birthday tonight on, you guessed it, Herzl Street. Blogger Tel Aviv Rooftop reports that “there’s not much celebrating going on,” aside from a few young men dressed as the founder of the Zionist movement and handing out flyers. He’s also posted some nice background information and some truly excellent pictures that illustrate how Herzl’s visage continues to inspire artists, including graffiti artists.

Back in the day, art nouveau artist Ephraim Moses Lilien was a key figure in the creation of Herzl iconography. Lilien may be best known for his photograph of Herzl looking out over the balcony, and he often portrayed Herzl as a modern-day Moses delivering his people to the Promised Land.

These days, someone has been running around the city for months now, spray-painting and stenciling the following message under Herzl’s face, “lo rotsim, lo tsarikh”, (If you don’t want it you don’t have to have it). Much is lost in translation but take it from me, it’s a very witty if negative restatement of both Herzl’s famous statement, “If you will it, it is no dream,” and something that Israeli parents tell their insolent little children.

Herzl is everywhere you look. Why, only a few weeks ago, we purchased a shirt at the Tel Aviv T-Market emblazoned with a Rastafarian version of Herzl and the word, “Uganda!”, in reference to Herzl’s 1903 proposal that the British colony in Africa serve as a temporary refuge for the Jews of Russia.

He’s up on a water tower on the side of the highway as you enter the Herzliya municipal boundaries. Herzliya, of course, is named for him and the city’s seal features seven golden stars, Herzl’s proposed flag for the Jewish State: “the seven golden hours of our working day.” And no, his vision did not include the Seven Stars mall.

Or did it? After all, Herzl envisioned a modern industrialized Jewish state where factories would produce goods round-the-clock,a state that would “make it possible for our unfortunate people to live a life of industry for it is by steady work alone that we hope for our physical and moral rehabilitation.”

He also envisioned a pluralistic society, “founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations… It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples. … What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt. There is only one way to do it, the highest tolerance. Our motto must therefore be, now and ever: ‘Man, you are my brother.’”

It’s worth bearing in mind that in addition to his careers as a playwright, journalist and latecomer visionary politician, Herzl was a Utopian novelist. And the name of his book, Altneuland, Old New Land, was translated in Hebrew to “Tel Aviv”, which became the name of the first modern Hebrew city.

One good place to learn about the man that got it all started is the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem, a modern educational center that uses audio-visual and online technology to convey Herzl’s story and vision in a meaningful way. The website includes a timeline of events, a photo gallery and a collection of postcards featuring Herzl’s image.

The army is a picnic

January 20, 2010 - 9:46 AM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Food, General, Israeliness, Life, War 

There’s nothing like a picnic outside an army base to rekindle any lost sparks of Zionism.

I’d have to say that the scene last week outside the Ketziot base was an example of something that’s uniquely Israeli – I can’t imagine it happening in any other country.

Our daughter’s in the early stages of six-months of basic training at the base, which is deep in the Negev, south of Beersheba, only a handful of kilometers from the Egyptian border.

Given the chance of spending a restful Shabbat at home or driving two and a half hours each way to spend a couple hours with her during ‘free time’ on her Shabbat on the base, we chose the only possible option.

So loading up the back of the car with a cooler filled with lunchtime delicacies, we headed south. Once you get past Beersheba, there’s not much else – it gets more and more desolate and desert-ed.

Even though I had spent three different reserve duties at Ketziot, where there is also a prison housing Palestinian detainees, I wondered a few times if we were on the right road. But sure enough, the turnoff for Ketziot eventually showed up, amid ‘camel crossing’ signs and the ocassional lone tree.

We drove down the narrow road and turned into the parking lot, only to find… a party! The lot was filled with dozens of cars, and the a neatly designed picnic area – complete with wooden, covered benches and tables, and a large swath of artificial grass – was packed with families and their soldier children.

Some families seem have brought their entire kitchen with them – with portable coffee makers the item of choice for many. Parents were moving around from group to group, handing out cookies, and soldiers were waving their friends/comrades over to introduce them to their parents.

It was like visiting day at college, except the students all had rifles slung over the shoulders and had great tans. After the allotted time, the families started packing up for the long ride home, and our children walked back through the gates of the base to get some rest in their tents until Shabbat went out – but not before handing their parents plastic bags full of laundry.

Hopefully, the visit had recharged them sufficiently to start the week of shooting, drilling and soldiering in good spirits. Only six more days, and they can sleep in their own beds for a couple nights.

High school musical – the hike

November 9, 2009 - 8:49 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Travel 

hike1A uniquely Israeli creation, the tiyul shnati (Annual trip) has been part of our family’s lives since our oldest child was big enough for one of the outdoor overnight, multi-day trips.

Whether they attend secular or religious schools, the annual trips are generally chock full of walking the land, camping in the rough, rope and ladder climbing water hikes, barbecues, cameraderie, pranks, and living and breathing Zionism.

With 10 months spent cooped up in the classroom, middle and high schoolers earn their three days out in nature, and our 15-year-old son was up bright-eyed and ready at 5:30 am this morning waiting for one of us to drive him to school.

Of course, it’s not primarily about Zionism, it’s primarily about pranks. When I asked him what kind of pranks the kids play on each other these days, he recounted one successful mission last year of entering another tent in the middle of the night, and scrawling in red marker the name of a body part on the forehead of a ‘friend.’

The preparations begin days earlier, with the required trip to the candy story for obligatory ‘junk’ bag of everything we don’t let him have the rest of the year. The school list of required equipment includes enough bottles of water to stock a small pool, but he also insisted on buying a six-pack of Coke. Both the portable music player and the cell phone stayed at home, which was an accomplishment in itself, and almost worth the cost of the trip.

Which is a sore point – a number of students weren’t attending the trip due to the expense involved. On top of the annual school fees and miscellanous charges, the school charged NIS 790 (almost $200) for the trip. I know that there’s the costs of the buses, the guides, etc… but they’re not even staying in youth hostels or hotels, they’re camping out!

If it’s a class trip, meant to build a spirit of student togetherness, there should be a way for all the students to go, even if it means cutting out some of the schedule and shortening the outing by a day.

It’s a macro problem, but this morning, we were dealing with the micro, hastily digging the forgotten sleeping bag out of the closet at the last minute. With that squared away, our young man took his last shower for three days, packed an extra pair of shoes for the water, reluctantly stuffed in something to wear if it got cold at night, made sure he had his red marker, and put his candy in a water-proof section of his backpack. With attention to detail like that, he’ll go far in life.

Nostalgia Sunday – Young Judaea Year Course 1978-9

August 16, 2009 - 6:27 PM by · 5 Comments
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Nostalgia Sunday 

Here’s where I’m not. I am not in New York City this weekend, at the big Young Judaea Year Course 1978-9 reunion. As much as I reconciled myself to that fact months ago, I still feel a pang of regret at not meeting up with people from that first, most formative and important year of my post-high school life.

Here’s the end-of-year photo of Year Course Section 3. What you see is a group of hormone-addled teens relieved to have made it to the end without killing one another, and bewildered by the thought of starting college after a year of “real life in Israel”.

Section 3_group_photo

Whereas the other Year Course groups, Sections 1 and 2, spent most of the year studying in Jerusalem and toga-partying on kibbutz, Section 3 had a unique module that placed us for four months as para-social workers in development towns, in our case, Dimona and Mizpe Ramon. And so, while living in these “Turn Left at the End Of the World” places gave us a more than slightly skewed notion of “real life in Israel” — and our contributions to the field of social work were minimal– we did have our own apartments! Which is pretty heady stuff when you are 18 years old and just out of the house. No wonder I felt compelled to document the Dimona digs. Here’s our kitchen, complete with the ubiquitous Armenian pottery mugs from the Old City…

And our fab apartment block!

Prior to development town, we lived on Kibbutz Neot Mordechai, on moshavim (agricultural towns) and in Jerusalem. Like all other groups, we toured the Golan and Galil. Here’s the Good Fence between Israel and Lebanon — probably a lot smaller than you imagined.

And the Negev, Arava and Sinai, where we made like Bedouin trackers, but with little sense of direction and even less sense of style.
2 section 3 boys

Like all other groups of young people in Israel at that time, Israeli and non, we happily wrecked our tailbones for life on that mode of transportation known as a “Tiyulit”, a sort of tin box on wheels, the interior lined with long hard wooden benches.

What can I say? We were a geeky bunch. Plus, we didn’t get haircuts for months at a time. (Yes, that is me in that image below, on the far right, under that mop).

3 section 3 girls

One place our section didn’t get to spend much time, regrettably, was the youth movement’s Kibbutz Ketura. The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive has an amazing movie from 1976 , called Arava, that documents the founding of the kibbutz — an inspiring miracle in the sand that is still making the desert bloom to this very day with algae farming, exotic plants and solar power.

Kids, there were no cell phones (I probably spoke to my family three times that year, mostly because I couldn’t be bothered to wait in line for the public phone), we barely had any cash (certainly no credit cards), parental visits were not encouraged and you only flew home to the States if you were kicked off the program. Ah, those were the days…

A good number of the members of Young Judaea Year Course 1978-9, from all sections, live in Israel and while few of us could be at the real-life reunion, Facebook has provided a platform for a virtual one. Feel free to take a peek.

My dad, the permanent Zionist

July 22, 2009 - 2:37 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, Life 

A favorite photo of my father and my husband at our wedding a few years ago

A favorite photo of my father and my husband at our wedding a few years ago

I’ve been off Israelity for more than a week now because my father died nine days ago, at the age of 81, after several years of sickness. As is often the case in these kinds of drawn-out illnesses, his death was not unexpected, but came upon us suddenly, so it felt surprising despite knowing that this day would come. So the funeral and shiva were really a celebration of his life, as many friends and family sat and talked with us, my mother and three siblings, telling us stories about him and letting us describe who he was and how he lived his life.

He was a Conservative congregational rabbi for 40 years, and then moved to Israel to retire, a decision that had been many years in the making, and one which didn’t surprise anyone who knew him. For my father, Israel was the be-all and end-all, the Zionist homeland, the meeting place for all Jews, and in particular for him, the Brooklyn-born and New Britain, Connecticut-bred Ted Steinberg who was turned on to Beitar in his youth and tried to fight in the 1948 War of Independence. (While en route to then-Palestine with his college buddies at the tender age of 20, their shop was waylaid in Beirut because of their illegal visas and they spent two months in a Lebanese prison camp before the U.S. State Department got wind of the situation and had them freed.) He then spent the next 44 years teaching, learning, sermonizing and thinking about Israel, before making aliyah with my mother 17 years ago. In between, he brainwashed the four of us, creating, as I like to call it, the influences of Zionism through osmosis.

As my mother says, he always wore rose-colored glasses when it came to Israel, and had a hard time seeing anything negative about this confounding country. But what made me happy during shiva were all the anecdotes, stories and visitors who exemplified my father’s soul and spirit.

There was the Iranian woman rabbi whose name I recognized, who told me that my father persevered in including her in his weekly study group of fellow rabbis who weren’t so sure they wanted a woman in their very male crew. There was the friend who told me that my father’s weekly stint in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens convinced him to join the same group of volunteers. A younger rabbinical colleague emailed us that my father shared with him one great piece of advice, which was, “On every page of a sermon there should be a window and a smile.” Which was very much my father’s m.o.

And one of my favorite moments was when my gardener, Yossi, came to pay his respects. For my father, the fact that I have a Jewish gardener for my small plot of Israeli land with whom I can discuss the issues of Jewish law and its effects on my fruit trees, well, hey. That’s why he moved to Israel. For me? It’s Zionism through osmosis, and I appreciate it more than ever.

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