Monday, July 26, 2010

Streets of Tel Aviv

I noted in my previous post my stop at the Etzel House and my walk around Tel Aviv. I'm always struck, when I go to Israel, by the contrasts as I move from block to block. Tel Aviv-Yafo appears, in some places, like a cosmopolitan metropolis and in other places, like a third-world slum. Keep in mind that Tel Aviv is younger than Boise, Idaho. It was established in 1909 as a settlement for Jews outside of the city of Jaffa (or Yafo, the Hebrew name). Yet it's a world city, and a place where cultures and markets meet rather than collide. It has almost twice Boise's population with more than twice its density (that is, twice the population on less space).

Tel Aviv is sometimes not much to look at, especially in the areas close to Jaffa. There's a lot of construction, and many of the buildings are run down. Graffiti is everywhere.

I asked a coworker about the graffiti, and he indicated that people just didn't have the energy to keep up with it. He recounted an experience he had when the local authorities had required him to rebuild a wall on the boundary of his property. Within hours of it being completed, he caught a couple of kids painting on it.

Amid all the old townhouses is new construction, and since the town houses are owned by multiple parties, the upkeep is sometimes a little uneven. Here's a place in Neve Tzedek that caught my eye. While the doors downstairs are quite stunning, the balconies are falling apart.

Right across the street was this beautiful house.

You'll often see two apartment complexes, one next to the other, identical in design, but one looking rather shabby and the other pristine. In a way, it sounds a bit like the Boise north end.

As I was wandering around Neve Tzedek looking for a restaurant, I walked past this compound. If anyone of my readers knows Hebrew, feel free to add a translation. Sorry for the poor quality.

It's really easy to get hung up on differences in other locales. In Sant Cugat and Barcelona, it was the poor sewer ventilation. In Israel, it's trash collection. I got momentarily lost in Neve Tzedek and walked past this street. In Boise, the trash collection contractor would leave a nastygram on this pile.

All of this contrast, but so much charm as well. On my last full evening in Tel Aviv, I took these shots of Neve Tzedek, a neighborhood close to the hotel. You can see how densely packed the houses are. There's something compelling about these warrens

The street along the left is Yitzak Eichmann, which leads up to Shalom Tower, the beige high rise on the left. It was the first high rise in Tel Aviv. The most visible street in the image below is Pines Avenue, which runs right across Shabazzi. There are some good restaurants on Shabazzi.

Finally, on my last evening in Tel Aviv, I visited Carmel Market to get a shot of the market after hours. I don't know just how garbage collection works in Tel Aviv, but I wouldn't want to have to clean out the market place after hours.

My last day on the ground I spent hitting some other museums and walking around Jerusalem. I'll post those photos soon.

*As it turns out, I hear Masada is miserable at this time of year. Perhaps I lucked out.

H.P. Lovecraft?


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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why obedience?

Last Wednesday evening, I had dinner with a former coworker of mine and her husband in Yafo. It took us a little while to settle on a restaurant because I had had some trouble locating a strictly kosher restaurant in the area. Neve Tzedek seemed to cater more to the secular crowd. I finally asked the concierge, who must not have understood my question. Fortunately, Ian figured I might need a little help, and he booked a reservation at a restaurant close to my hotel. The food was excellent, and I had a very nice conversation with Jo and Ian.

I asked about their daughters, and they gave me a good report on the events of their lives. The younger finished her military service within the last year. The elder was pursuing graduate studies and seeking work as a part-time editor. She also informed me with clearly visible relief that the elder daughter had returned to religious observance. At its very basic, religious observance involves keeping Shabbat, praying three times a day (or four on holidays), observing rituals that accompany various activities (such as prayers before and after meals), observing the high holy days, and observing Kashrut or the dietary laws as well as other purity laws. The basic law is outlined in the Torah in the 613 mitzvot or commandments, the Decalogue being an overarching set of categorical commandments underwhich the remaining commandments fall. This description is a simplification the law, but I think it captures the essence.

Many Christians consider these observances to be the "legalism" that Christ condemned in the gospel accounts, but Jesus was an obersvant Jew. His beef was not with the Law of Moses but with the interpretation given to these laws by various rabbis and scribes during and before His life—those laws that added to the burden of others or allowed one to avoid the spirit of the Law while fulfilling the letter. However, to look at the Law only as a set of restrictions is missing the point of obedience to the commandments. As one rabbi put it, each mitzvah performed was an act of love given to God. If they understand, they obey out of love.

This point is also lost on many Christians (Catholic and non-). We think of the moral teachings in scripture to be voluntary or matters solely of "personal conscience," which, in fact, is mere personal preference. Or worse, we judge them to be artifacts of a culture having little relevance to our times now. Adhering to ritual or moral obligation is condemned as legalistic or Pharisaical. These people miss the point of following moral teaching. First and foremost, it should be motivated by a love for God and a desire to please Him. He is a forgiving, merciful God, but that is no reason to disregard the Law. It is a reason to follow it.

We must look at obedience to God as part of having a right relationship with God. Just as we respect our parents' wishes out of love, we do as God has revealed in scripture and tradition because we want to remain in relationship with Him. When we sin and "miss the mark" (hamartia), we turn even if only slightly away from that relationship... as if we're looking at God askance, distracted by something else to the left or right, or even behind us. Enough of these turns, and we are moving away from God, not toward Him.

Are their consequences to disobedience? Absolutely, just as there are natural consequences when we break relationship with anyone in our lives. Why would we expect to have a good relationship with someone if we constantly do things to injure that person? Sin results from our selfish tendencies, our concupiscience, and the consequences of sin is separation and isolation. We see this principle operate in human relationships all the time. Our human relationships, being analogous to our relationship with the Father, exemplify the effects of sin and obedience. Just as we honor father and mother by showing them obedience appropriate to our stage in life, we do the same when we obey God and the Church He founded.

Back in the USA

Greetings, all. I arrived back in Boise around 3:30 PM GMT. My last day, as usual, began around 7:00 AM in Tel Aviv, with checkout at 8:30, followed by a trip to the Palmach and Eretz Israel Museums in Ramat Aviv. I can heartily recommend the first (an experiential museum following the lives of seven recruits as they train to serve in the elite commando unit) but did not have time to adequately appreciate the second. From there, I caught a taxi to the Arlozorov bus terminal, a secondary terminal in Tel Aviv. I took 480 into Jerusalem and spent a little time visiting some landmarks in the city (the King David Hotel and the YMCA), walked across the western end of the Valley of Hinnom to the Old City. (The valley might not quite start at that spot but is just a few kilometers from it.) I zipped back to the hotel to make sure I didn't miss the last bus before Shabbat, then walked from the Arlozorov back to my hotel down Rothschild Boulevard, arriving back around 6:00 PM. I left for my 11:50 PM at 8:15 so I had ample time to clear security. (They recommend arriving three hours in advance.) I took my middle seat on an 11-hour flight and settled in for 11 hours of tossing, movie watching, reading. It was a long flight. I had two layovers. No wonder I started to crash hard by 7:00. Anyway, I will have some pictures up this week. It's good to be home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tel Aviv-Yafo

Aside my commutes to the work site in Rehovot, I have pretty much been in Tel Aviv for my entire stay here in Israel this time. My first night was simply a struggle to stay awake until after Mass. I had dinner at a restaurant in Old Jaffa in the square close to the plaza in front of St. Peter's Church. I took this photo of a minnaret from my table in the restaurant. If you look at some of my earlier photos, you'll see other perspectives on this tower.

Here is a shot of the same minnaret with the beaches of Tel Aviv in the background.

While I waited for Mass, the folk choir practiced in the plaza. The Mass I attended is usually attended by the Filipino Catholics in Jaffa. They tend toward a more worship charismatic style, but they are quite conservative. They hand out shawls to women who approach the Eucharist with bare shoulders or clothing they consider to be insufficiently modest. Many of the hymns they sang were in Tagalog, although the priest celebrated Mass in English.

I had scheduled a day tour to the Dead Sea and Masada, but the tour company (which will remain nameless) didn't get my reservation (even though it was five days prior to the tour through their web site). I understand, though, that Masada is absurdly hot at this time of year (40-45 C). Most people go very early in the day. My colleagues suggested I go during the winter months. So instead of running off to Masada and bathing in the Dead Sea, I took a four-hour walk in central Tel Aviv.

The first notable sites just outside of my hotel are related to the conflicts here. Across from the hotel on the beach is the Dolphinarium. I've posted about this club and the bombing that shut it down. The victims were mostly teen-aged immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It's still unchanged from what I can tell.

The Hassan Bek mosque is across the street. No picture, but I've posted that one before. My colleague here told me the back story about the person who built the mosque, a former police chief from Jaffa (Yafo) who had a less than stellar reputation.

I walked south toward Old Jaffa to see the Etzel House, a small museum dedicated to the IZL, an early defensive organization sort of like a militia. It was also known as the Irgun. It took part in some actions that were clearly terrorist (King David bombing), while others were bungled affairs that seem to have been exploited for propaganda (Deir Yassin). Menachem Begin was a leader in this organization at one time. The IZL was later folded into the IDF. The museum has some interesting stories about the War of Independence and the conflicts before. There's no pretty story to tell about Palestine prior to partition.

This building would've been on the outskirts of Jaffa in a no-man's land between Jaffa and Tel Aviv during the War of Independence.

I walked about two miles north and found another grim landmark. Mike's Place is a blues club just of the beach. It's notable for two reasons. First, it sits next door to a nondescript concrete building with no obvious markings which happens to be the US embassy. Second, it was the target of a bombing in 2003, just short of two years after the Dolphinarium bombing. My colleague tells me that some of his friends were injured in that attack.

One of the best things about launching out on an unstructured walking tour is that your come across oddities that catch your eye. As I was walking along HaYarkon street, I noticed this interesting stratification of the rock on the side of the road next to the sidewalk. All along the street, the earth looks this way. I can just imagine how long each strata took to be formed and how quickly the layers of ages were breached to build the road and sidewalk.

I made my way east and came across block after block with hedgerows of these flowering shrubs. Don't know what they are, but I like them.

Another interesting aspect of travel is seeing how differently societies deal with common threats. In the U.S., it's still common to see wooden utility poles. In Israel, the utility lines are held up by steel towers marked by very clear warnings.

About 10 feet up, these towers have a ring of length spikes that stick out and slightly downward. I think they're trying to discourage climbers, but I may be wrong.

I'm also struck by how different building standards are from country to country. Here's another image featuring a utility tower but of a scaffolding next to a condominium under construction. I don't think OSHA would ever let this project proceed.

By this time in my walk, I had circled around Carmel Market and HaKarmel heading back to the hotel. I saw this print, which I seem to recall seeing on previous visits.

Three blocks later, and I was back at the hotel with sore feet and a fairly good sunburn. Tel Aviv like most of Israel is an interesting study of juxtaposition--beauty next to decay; ancient grandeur next to modernity.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Prayer Request

I received some disappointing news today. I won't share the particulars, but if you would keep me and my vocational discernment in your prayers, I would greatly appreciate it.