Category Archives: Life

Reflections on the Last Day in Israel

S

5:30 am, our last few hours in Israel.

All I can say about it is Wow. It’s certainly been a trip and a half. We’ve seen the country at its best and, unfortunately also at its worst. We’ve had the good fortune of having some of the most popular tourist sites in the world almost completely to ourselves. We were active participants in the events here, we like so many people here it the south, had to make 30 second dash to the shelters, and in one heard the explosion of rocket hitting the ground a few hundred meters from where we were hunkered down. We saw the Iron Dome, positioned in the fields around the nearby community of Kiryat Gat.

And, like many people here we after a few sirens and a few explosions in the distance we become sort of nonchalant about war and our own safety, instead of dashing the 50 meters uphill to the shelters we justified not going because they ever hit anything anyway. Thinking about it, when was the last time I went into the basement for a storm siren in Minnesota? I’m thinking about 1997.

We were close enough to Gaza that we could hear the shelling from Israel. There was an artillery battery about a mile or so away from us, the frequency and intensity of its low frequency but very substantial booming was our own indicator of the intensity of the fighting in Gaza. We guessed correctly that Israel was sending troops in last Friday by the intensity of our 3:00am wakeup call. And we were new exactly when the ceasefires were in place on Saturday morning, the silence was deafening.

We did a great deal of our travelling via public transportation. We tool local busses to Jerusalem and trains to Tel Aviv and home from Haifa. That in itself gave us a few into Israeli society that you’re not going to get from an air conditioned tour bus. We travelled to Jerusalem on Sunday mornings for no good reason other than that’s when it worked out. Sunday is the start of the work week in Israel, it’s when kids in the military go back to their bases after weekend leaves with their families. Our bus was the opposite of an “express” bus, we stopped more times that I can count on that trip. At every stop we picked up kids the same ages as mine in their uniforms. At one stop the three kids who got on the bus were kids of Ethiopian immigrants, two boys and a girl. The two boys were religious, they were wearing kippas. The girl was carrying a riot helmet and a baton with her, in addition to her automatic weapon. Also on the bus a few of the Heardi, the ultra-orthodox in their black suits and white shirts with ubiquitous giant black hats. The juxtaposition of these two groups of Jews really struck me.

It seems more than fitting that our last day of touring was in Tel Aviv. In my past trips here Tel Aviv wasn’t on the itinerary. There’s not a ton of sightseeing in Tel Aviv. It’s a place to go if you want to sit on the beach, go to a mall or experience some great restaurants. Tel Aviv is ground zero of Secular Israel. My cousin kept referring to it as a “free” city. It’s the only place in the country where the grocery stores are open and the busses run on Saturday. It’s the one place in the country where there was a protest last week against the actions in Gaza. When we walked the streets, especially a day after Jerusalem, I was struck by lack of Heradi on the streets. “They aren’t welcome here” was my cousins comment. Tel Aviv is, when there aren’t siren going off, a travel destination for Gay and Lesbians. It’s an open progressive city, it’s outrageously expensive and according to my son, it’s the goal of every young secular Israeli to live there.

While there we visited Rabin Square and saw the spot where Yitzak Rabin was assassinated. There’s modest memorial at the corner of the City Hall building that the place. As Mickey explained the events of that evening it was painfully obvious that he was deeply affected by them. To set the stage, the square is a city block that has a small pond on one side, a single olive tree in planter in the middle, the rest of paved. At the north end is a raised area and behind that is City Hall. Around the square are the 4 story apartment buildings that sort of define the city.

To paraphrase;

We really had the feeling at that time the peace was at hand. The country was very optimistic. We were very close to an agreement with the Palestinians that everyone could sense was going to bring a genuine peace to Israel. Rabin came here to this square to participate in a peace demonstration. Almost the entire country it felt like, was packed into this block. He spoke, and sang a song about peace and really we thought it had arrived. But, (and he pointed to the buildings around the square) up there were the counter protesters, the religious and the right wing. The religious parties were furious with Rabin. There were Rabbi’s leading prayers for his death, it was crazy. But, it’s a free country and anyone can say whatever they want, and they. No one thought much about it.

After the speech he descended from the platform and went to get into his car. Security was tight they were looking for terrorists, Arab terrorists specifically no one ever thought to look for Jews. And right here a Religious kid, wearing a Kippah, from Bar Ilan University, the Ultra-Orthodox school near here, came behind him and shot him three times in the back.

After that day Shimon Peres became Prime Minister but he lost the next election and Netanyahu and Likud came to power. The government took a hard right turn, settlements increased, and relations with the Arabs got worse, we really felt collectively that a light was snuffed out that night.

On the memorial it was supposed to be written that Rabin was killed by “an assassin wearing a kippa”, it was going to be our way (the secular Israeli left) of reminding people that this was not an act of Arab terrorism, this was Jewish terrorism. But, there was a massive outcry from the right and it never happened.

Then the really profound statement

Most countries in the development go through some kind of Civil War. There’ some battle, ideological or political for the soul of the country. In Israel we haven’t had that war yet, probably because we too busy fighting to defend ourselves. But as the country has grown in prosperity and strength, it’s my sense that this event is a small battle in that war between the ultraorthodox, the settlers and the far right, and the secular left.

This a country wrestling with a lot of problems. But a lot of her strengths get lost in the discussion, especially in the international press. This is still a democracy. Everyone in Israel has the right to vote and speak their mind.

Interestingly on the city buses in Jerusalem there are signs that say “By law anyone is entitled to sit anywhere they choose. It is against to law to force people to move.” This sign BTW, directed to the Ultraorthodox men who would object to having sit next to a woman, especially a secular woman, because they might accidently touch or worse, she would corrupt his thoughts or his ritual purity because she may be “unclean”. Apparently there’s been a problem of women getting harassed by these guys.

It’s one country around here where issues like equality for 20% of the Israeli population who are Palestinian, or settlements and politics are openly debated. Israel doesn’t have it right but they talk about it and the vote on it.

This country has a booming economy at the moment. 2000 years of stressing education and learning is finally paying off as around the world power shifts to the geeks, there’s a high tech boom here fueled by Israeli and Russian mathematics and innovation. And there’s a growing disparity between the wealthy and middle classes as the price of housing goes through the roof. We saw Intel, all over the country (facilities were protected by Iron Dome) SAP, etc in Tel Aviv and Haifa. Skyscrapers and development town tenements.

No issue here in Israel is easy. Everyone single one is like an onion, layers on layers on layers of complexity. A great metaphor can be found in Jerusalem, at the church of the Holy Seplecure. In the 1800’s a repairman left a ladder up there as he was installing some windows for the Ethiopian Orthodox chapel. None of the other groups in the Church, the Greeks, the Latins, the Armenians etc could agree on the work and no one could come to agreement on who should go up there and take down the ladder after the work was completed. They argued about it, any move to do something would indicated the supremacy of one group over another simply because they had given approval without consulting the others.

150 years later, the ladder… it’s still there.

Agreements here require enormous strength, and have to come from strength, a strength that at the moment, is a little hard to find. People like Rabin come along once in a while, but they do come along, I just hope everyone can recognize them when they do and have the courage to act.

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The Opposite of Minnesota Nice- Israeli Pushy

Speaking of which, if my cousin tells me one more time to “Israeli up” I sweat to G-d I’m going to get very cross and just may give him the sternest of frowns.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the last 30 years or so is Israeli recalcitrance.

Case in point- when we were touring around the Crusader castle in Akko yesterday we came across a gate that ajar. Signs all over the gate in literally every written language west of the Euphrates said “Keep Out” and “Closed”. Cousin Mikey looked at the gate, looked at us and in two seconds looked back at us and announced “If they didn’t want us in there they would have locked the gate. Welcome to Israel” and pushed his way through. Followed BTW by Mrs S, and all the little S’s. Me… A rule is a rule and if the sign says to keep out they must mean they want you to keep out. If you stop doing what sings tell you society will breakdown and… “Come Gary, Israeli up and come look at this.” My kids found this particularly humorous.

And in I went, all they could do is tell you to leave… or take you down to the lower part of the castle dungeon and chain you to a wall and throw away the key. It’s been done there before.

Israeli’s have a reputation for being a little bit.. what ever the opposite of Minnesota Nice is. Pushy in a way that would make Garrison Keillor blush.

Yesterday I stopped into the post office to change some money. Post offices in Israel are like post offices anywhere, long lines, windows with half-awake bureaucrats slogging through a boring day and people who are a touch uptight about having the wait in the lines. At least they’re air-conditioned, which yesterday was a big deal. Three people were in line ahead of me, three people, and still endured a 20 minute wait. One lady didn’t really speak Hebrew so well, she spoke Russian. She was having a difficult time explaining to the clerk what she wanted, basically a package. After a few minutes of frustrating sign language and broken Hebrew, a fellow in line behind started translating for the two of them between Russian and Hebrew. The clerk must have been new because she didn’t exactly know how to do what the woman wanted. No problem, the other three or four patrons in the place started coaching her, at some decibel level on what she should be doing and, as Nate explained between snickers, with contradictory instructions.

Meanwhile at window #2 a lady in line wanted to pick up a package that was in her husband’s name. Against policy. That conversation went downhill in a big ass hurry as the woman went off on the poor clerk. But being Israel he was happy to start yelling right back at her and for oh.. 10 minute so there was a heated exchange that basically covered two topics – 1) Give me my package and 2) NO and get out of this office. Rinse and repeat. Sort of symbolic of the state if relations around here, stubborn non-negotiable positions spiced with a certain endemic recalcitrance.

There’s a certain psyche here that says “don’t give an inch”. Comes up in international relations as well as in day to day interactions.

But at the end of the day, people here, by and large are very giving and warm. You want your relationships with people to be just as warm. In Minnesota we tend to start new relationships on cold, gradually warming up as we get to know people. Here they start hot, and over time things settle down and you develop a nice warm relationships. Different approach to the same end.

 

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Touring Israel Local Style

There aren’t many tourists in Israel at moment, for obvious reasons. The running joke is everywhere we go the business and tourism folks already know about that “family from Minnesota”. It’s basically us, a few groups of pilgrims in the Christian holy sites and a couple busloads of Jewish kids on Birthright trips touring the country in mass. This has worked out pretty well for us for the most part, no lines anywhere.

When we came up to the northern part of the country, (Up North ironically as they say here) we encountered masses of Israelis on “holiday” if you will. It’s been really interesting to see how the country reacts in tough times. For the last week or so all of the national parks, archeological sites, beaches and so forth have been free for people with ID cards from the South. In addition local business are offering discounts on food and lodging for folks looking for a few days respite from sirens and rockets. And on the social networks lots of kibbutzim and a some individuals have offered to take in folks from the south for free.

We’ve been touring around with my cousin Mickey for the last few days. Mickey lived in Minneapolis for a few years a while a back and we become really close during that time, it’s been really fun to hang with him. It’s also been really beneficial from a cost standpoint. Mickey made arrangements, before all this crap started, for us to stay on kibbutzim for some of the nights we’ve been out touring and we’ve had a few meals on kibbutzim. Not a lot of tourists on Kibbutzim We’ve been to about 5 over the last couple days. Basically we’re staying on the farm if you will. Modest but comfortable accommodations. In Haifa we’ve been staying in an Air B&B. This one is an apartment in Russian part of Haifa. The apartment is one of the endless tenements that dot Israel’s cities. It’s really nice but again, modest. Two bedrooms in about 700 square feet. Pretty typical for middle class Israel.

The meal strategy has been to go somewhere cheap for breakfast. Cheap is the grocery store for yogurt, veggies and bread or find an Aroma, the local version of Starbucks. There, for about $9.00 you can get the Israeli breakfast plate; three eggs, a cucumber and tomato salad, a scoop of cream cheese, guacamole (not really guac more avocado and mayo) and tuna, and 4 slices of thick brown bread. That meal lasts well past lunch! For dinner we’ve been eating a lot of falafel and shwarama. Yesterday we ate dinner in Dahlit Al Carmel- a Druze village above Haifa. The food was not only outstanding, there was a ton of it. A TON; eggplant salad, cumber salad, carrot salad, Turkish salsa (local term for a spicy mixture of veggies and spices), cabbage salad, salad of unknown origin (Pickled something, don’t know what) pita, hummus and tehina, cooked lentils, two kinds of grilled chicken, grilled seasoned beef patties, fries and dessert. Drinks were free.

I might go a couple days without eating after that meal! We also had some interesting conversations with the folks who owned the place. More on that later.

We’re really seeing the country down close and personal, no programs or guided experiences. Yesterday we went to Dan National Park. Had a chance to hike by the River Dan, one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River. Also in the park were excavations of the ancient city of Dan. No tourists there, the hike is too long for them. But the place was pretty busy with Israeli’s, many from the south who were up for a hike under the cool canopy.

Today we’re off to Acco to see the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land, then up to the Technion in Haifa to see where Nate’s been going to school the last year.

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Israel- First Week Recap

We’ve now been in Israel a week. I’ve started and stopped several posts in that time, frankly it’s been hard to steal away and write when you’re hanging out with extended family. Everyone here uses a very archaic communication method called “talking”. So inefficient.

It’s really been an amazing week and as anyone who knows me or has read this space for a while knows, I DO NOT use the word “amazing” lightly. On the one hand it’s been quite an experience to be here during war time. The “situation” is always in background, in conversations with regular Israeli’s it comes up the time. How can it not. Yesterday there was news that two American kids who were serving in the IDF, both from Haifa, were killed in action. It was interesting to see Nate, at our first stop during the morning, make a beeline for the newsstand to get a paper to see if it was anyone he knew. He’s mentioned several times that some of his friends from school have been called up and are somewhere in Gaza. In Israel everyone knows someone who has killed in fighting and each loss is taken personally by everyone.

One of the American kids was laid to rest yesterday has no family in Israel, his parents flew over the day before for the funeral. Social networks in Israel, specifically WhatsApp which seems to be the most popular texting application, lit up with messages about the kid,and this family. The call went out that if anyone had time on Monday the funeral would be in Haifa and if a few people showed up to support the family since they know no one here it would be nice. 18,000 people showed up.

I’ve also had some talk about the other side of this issue, the elephant in the room if you will. What about the people on the other end of the bombs and artillery, the people in Gaza who are getting pounded at the moment. I’m getting a little anxious from a few sirens I can’t imagine actually living through a shelling day after day. For the most part there is a sincere sympathy. There’s a few folks I speak with on the Far Right who articulate a “they’re getting what they deserved” message, but so far that’s only one. For everyone else there’s more of a sense of this is a necessary evil. The rockets have to stop. There was really strong shift to this opinion after Hamas started infiltrating Israel through their intricate tunnel system. Once that started my sense is that there was a stronger feeling that something has to be done.

Enough politics, that’s a whole ‘nuther debate.

So why am I dropping the “amazing” word?

Top things about the trip so far

#1 and there isn’t a number one high enough for this. Reconnecting with family. As all readers here know I’ve been estranged from my folks for 10+ years. Not going into it here. Some of the collateral damage of that relationship has been a disconnect from the rest of the extended family as well. Coming here I’ve had a chance to sit with cousins I haven’t seen in years and reconnect and it’s been fantastic. Not to mention that they have gone out of their way to make us feel at home, to the point that I feel like I’m taking advantage. Now, I know family well enough to know that we fully subscribe to the Food is Love theology, but my cousin is such an outstanding cook and the whole family so generous that we gots to do something. ‘know what I’m say’n.

2- Food. There’s nothing more personal than food and I’m doing some reconnecting there with foods I haven’t had in 20-30 years. Specifically homemade hummus and tehina at every meal. Salads at every meal, Kiebe- Lebanese meatballs covered in a bulghar wheat coating and deep fried, the best homemade babaganoush I’ve ever eaten, on and on. Kunafa and baklava for desert.. and frankly the best mangos I’ve eaten since Florida.

3- Immediate family- My work email password expired on Sunday and I can’t recover it from here.. so I’m disconnected. Sometimes it’s the little things G-d does to remind you he exists.. (Speaking of which, Cheryl, Nate, Eric and I found ourselves alone in the very small crypt of the Holy Seplecure, Jesus’s tomb. They only want you in there for a few minutes, for most to say a little prayer and get out for the next group. It’s only about 5X7 foot space. 4 Jews in there talking history, and I made the comment “lets get out of here and make room for the believers.” Right after that I thunked the top of my head bending down to exit the small crypt. As Eric said “the Thumb of G-d! Thankfully I didn’t utter some words I usually come out of my lips in that situation. Not really the place)

While it’s been awesome to see Nate, it’s been more awesome to see everyone together. I couldn’t be prouder of this family and how they’ve handled the situation here with humor and wicked defiance. When I suggested that this might not have been the best time to come here the middle kid said “and let the terrorists win? Hell no!” Have to say that was a moment.

The kids have been great sports putting up with cramped cars, makeshift and sometimes less than luxury accommodations. There’s hasn’t been one complaint about anything except… the rock beach on the Sea of Galilee. They were really hard on the feet. I was pointing out that the landscape around us is where Jesus did most of his preaching and where his disciples came from. Comment from Eric “and he couldn’t do anything about the rocks?”

*smile*

Finally #4- Nate. Having not seen him in a year the changes are huge. Confidence, attitude, a certain worldliness… all amazing to see. Not to mention how well acclimated he is. Reading the Hebrew newspapers for us to tell us what’s going on. (although Cousin Mickey is faster with his cell phone) conversing with people in stores and restaurants and filling me in on jokes at dinner when I’m missing the translations.

One week down, one to go. I haven’t been this content in and at peace with the world in years.

Now if they can get the flights going again …. All will be good.

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Travelogue Israel- A Warm Welcome

Rather a hot welcome depending on your perspective.

We arrived safely in Israel late Thursday afternoon. Travel was uneventful thank goodness. Except for the comments from TSA and gate attendants who all felt compelled to remark when the saw our final destination of Tel Aviv. We sort of got a look that said “oh.. there… good luck with that.”

Arrival in Israel was remarkably smooth. For some reason I expected there to much more rigor around entering the country. This is my third trip here, and the last two times I recall getting scrutinized in the airport, questions from passport control, customs going through my stuff. This time it was zilch. The long wait we experienced at the immigration desk was not due to vigorous questioning it turned out, rather it was due to the two young ladies in the booth chatting about dates. There you go. Even the line at the customs entrance was it turned out was due to the bottle neck of getting through the gate.

Flying into Ben Gurion airport for the first time in 30 years or so I was struck by the miles and miles of high-rise offices and apartments in Tel Aviv. From the ground it looked to me like the national tree of Israel has become construction cranes. They were everywhere. Clearly there some positive economic activity going in this country.

Our flight over was pretty empty. By my recollection this was the first empty flight I’ve been on in recent, and not so recent memory. We were on a wide body Airbus 330, the one with the 2-6-2 aisle seat configuration. When I booked our seats the flight was looking full, so I thought. We could have each had a row ourselves. Worked out well for my son who helped himself to an executive bed shortly after takeoff by stretching out across the six seats in the aisle.

I know why the seats were empty, at the moment Israel is probably not high on most folks list of travel destinations, adventure travel aside. We are staying on my cousins Kibbutz in the south of the country, south being where the action is. The Kibbutz is about 20 kilometers or 15 miles or so from the north end of the Gaza strip. As we drove south I found myself scanning the sky for the contrails of incoming rockets or the Iron Dome interceptors shooting them out of the sky. I saw neither. As we continued south we passed signs for Ashdod and Ashkelon, cities very close to the strip who had been getting more than their share attention from Hamas. Mickey was explaining that these rockets are really pretty benign. “They’re basically tubes filled with rocket fuel and very little explosive capability.” “Have you had any hit the Kibbutz?” “We only had sirens twice since this started. We had one hit an old chicken coop, the army did more damage digging the fragments out of the ground when they severed our internet lines, then the actual rocket did.”

Comforting.

The Kibbutz is not an area that’s covered by the Iron Dome. Since these rockets aren’t guided, Hamas really has not good way to aim them, and since there’s a lot of them coming, they only use Iron Dome to protect population centers. We were close to the town of Kiryat Gat, which is covered by Iron Dome, but far enough away that if the trajectory for the rocket was us, chances are it would hit in a field not a house, so no worth and Iron Dome interception.

“You won’t see anything on the Kibbutz:” I was assured. “Besides if something does come near is, it’s because someone in Gaza is a really bad shot.” Not as comforting. And, you’ll hear sirens, if you should hear them, and it’s unlikely, head to the shelter.”

Perfect timing, about a minute later the Israeli civil defense announcer broke into the radio programming, rockets were headed toward Ashkelon. Again I strained to look west to see if I could see anything. Nope.

We arrived to a very warm welcome on the Kibbutz, family I hadn’t seen in years, decades in some cases. 15 minutes after arriving I had a Turkish coffee and pastry in my hand and found myself amazingly content. Tired, but content. After catching up and sharing news we sat out on the porch and continued chatting when I heard a staccato boom, twice and then a third. “Iron dome, from Kirat Gat.” Erie sound.

After a bit Laura, my cousin and I took a little walk across the lawn to the small Kibbutz museum. They had a display case of things that had been found around the Kibbutz; Roman jars, oil lamps, a Crusader artifact with a Maltese cross. As we were looking the Kibbutz warning sirens went off.

The Civil Defense system in Israel has be one of the most sophisticated in the world. When rockets are launched from Gaza the system instantly tracks the trajectory of the missile and sounds the warnings where the impact is expected. When the siren sound the sweet elderly lady who spoke very little English but who ran the place went to the middle of the room, got on the ground and covered her head. “Po Po”, here here she said, patting the ground and indicating that we should do the same. I looked over at Mickey, he was showing Laura some artifacts in the case, looked up and me and whispered “don’t worry about it”. As I started to kneel down he said to me “don’t don’t don’t. nodding his head. It was a little weird, to make the lady happy or listen to the cousin, who BTW< handn’t stopped sharing history with my daughter. She was oblivious.

After a few seconds the sirens stopped.

I looked around “are we done?” Mickey, without looking up, “Wait for the boom”… and on cue there was a boom.

A BIG boom, and unlike a firecracker, there was a deep resonance that said Big and Close. Mickey looked up from his private lesson with my daughter “oo.. that was close!” A minute later there was another siren. The woman dropped to the ground again, Mickey with “don’t don’t don’t” and again the sirens stopped. This time there was no boom.

The rocket had hit a field about 100 yards from we were. The rest of the family had gone to the shelter across the lawn from the house and were coming out about the same time as us. Amazingly everyone was in kinda of a jovial mood.

That’s how life is here. Under a constant threat life goes on. People have a little bit of a sense of humor about things. The rocket had ignited a grove of eucalyptus trees where the Kibbutz puts on their picnics, comments were we should thank Hamas for clearing out the brush we hadn’t gotten around to in years. Hitting the grove was one thing, had they it the pizza parlor.. then we might have to get pissed.

After the excitement settled down we went back eating and chatting and then came the Israeli response; a very low and very substantive booming, like thunder in the distance. Israeli shelling and airstrikes. .

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Travelogue Israel- A Warm Welcome

Rather a hot welcome depending on your perspective.

We arrived safely in Israel late Thursday afternoon. Travel was uneventful thank goodness. Except for the comments from TSA and gate attendants who all felt compelled to remark when the saw our final destination of Tel Aviv. We sort of got a look that said “oh.. there… good luck with that.”

Arrival in Israel was remarkably smooth. For some reason I expected there to much more rigor around entering the country. This is my third trip here, and the last two times I recall getting scrutinized in the airport, questions from passport control, customs going through my stuff. This time it was zilch. The long wait we experienced at the immigration desk was not due to vigorous questioning it turned out, rather it was due to the two young ladies in the booth chatting about dates. There you go. Even the line at the customs entrance was it turned out was due to the bottle neck of getting through the gate.

Flying into Ben Gurion airport for the first time in 30 years or so I was struck by the miles and miles of high-rise offices and apartments in Tel Aviv. From the ground it looked to me like the national tree of Israel has become construction cranes. They were everywhere. Clearly there some positive economic activity going in this country.

Our flight over was pretty empty. By my recollection this was the first empty flight I’ve been on in recent, and not so recent memory. We were on a wide body Airbus 330, the one with the 2-6-2 aisle seat configuration. When I booked our seats the flight was looking full, so I thought. We could have each had a row ourselves. Worked out well for my son who helped himself to an executive bed shortly after takeoff by stretching out across the six seats in the aisle.

I know why the seats were empty, at the moment Israel is probably not high on most folks list of travel destinations, adventure travel aside. We are staying on my cousins Kibbutz in the south of the country, south being where the action is. The Kibbutz is about 20 kilometers or 15 miles or so from the north end of the Gaza strip. As we drove south I found myself scanning the sky for the contrails of incoming rockets or the Iron Dome interceptors shooting them out of the sky. I saw neither. As we continued south we passed signs for Ashdod and Ashkelon, cities very close to the strip who had been getting more than their share attention from Hamas. Mickey was explaining that these rockets are really pretty benign. “They’re basically tubes filled with rocket fuel and very little explosive capability.” “Have you had any hit the Kibbutz?” “We only had sirens twice since this started. We had one hit an old chicken coop, the army did more damage digging the fragments out of the ground when they severed our internet lines, then the actual rocket did.”

Comforting.

The Kibbutz is not an area that’s covered by the Iron Dome. Since these rockets aren’t guided, Hamas really has not good way to aim them, and since there’s a lot of them coming, they only use Iron Dome to protect population centers. We were close to the town of Kiryat Gat, which is covered by Iron Dome, but far enough away that if the trajectory for the rocket was us, chances are it would hit in a field not a house, so no worth and Iron Dome interception.

“You won’t see anything on the Kibbutz:” I was assured. “Besides if something does come near is, it’s because someone in Gaza is a really bad shot.” Not as comforting. And, you’ll hear sirens, if you should hear them, and it’s unlikely, head to the shelter.” Finally, there’s a cease fire for tomorrow morning. Better.

Perfect timing, about a minute later the Israeli civil defense announcer broke into the radio programming, rockets were headed toward Ashkelon. Again I strained to look west to see if I could see anything. Nope.

We arrived to a very warm welcome on the Kibbutz, family I hadn’t seen in years, decades in some cases. 15 minutes after arriving I had a Turkish coffee and pastry in my hand and found myself amazingly content. Tired, but content. After catching up and sharing news we sat out on the porch and continued chatting when I heard a staccato boom, twice and then a third. “Iron dome, from Kirat Gat.” Erie sound.

After a bit Laura, my cousin and I took a little walk across the lawn to the small Kibbutz museum. They had a display case of things that had been found around the Kibbutz; Roman jars, oil lamps, a Crusader artifact with a Maltese cross. As we were looking the Kibbutz warning sirens went off.

The Civil Defense system in Israel has be one of the most sophisticated in the world. When rockets are launched from Gaza the system instantly tracks the trajectory of the missile and sounds the warnings where the impact is expected. When the siren sound the sweet elderly lady who spoke very little English but who ran the place went to the middle of the room, got on the ground and covered her head. “Po Po”, here here she said, patting the ground and indicating that we should do the same. I looked over at Mickey, he was showing Laura some artifacts in the case, looked up and me and whispered “don’t worry about it”. As I started to kneel down he said to me “don’t don’t don’t. nodding his head. It was a little weird, to make the lady happy or listen to the cousin, who BTW< handn’t stopped sharing history with my daughter. She was oblivious.

After a few seconds the sirens stopped.

I looked around “are we done?” Mickey, without looking up, “Wait for the boom”… and on cue there was a boom.

A BIG boom, and unlike a firecracker, there was a deep resonance that said Big and Close. Mickey looked up from his private lesson with my daughter “oo.. that was close!” A minute later there was another siren. The woman dropped to the ground again, Mickey with “don’t don’t don’t” and again the sirens stopped. This time there was no boom.

The rocket had hit a field about 100 yards from we were. The rest of the family had gone to the shelter across the lawn from the house and were coming out about the same time as us. Amazingly everyone was in kinda of a jovial mood.

That’s how life is here. Under a constant threat life goes on. People have a little bit of a sense of humor about things. The rocket had ignited a grove of eucalyptus trees where the Kibbutz puts on their picnics, comments were we should thank Hamas for clearing out the brush we hadn’t gotten around to in years. Hitting the grove was one thing, had they it the pizza parlor.. then we might have to get pissed.

After the excitement settled down we went back eating and chatting and then came the Israeli response; a very low and very substantive booming, like thunder in the distance. Israeli shelling and airstrikes. . The booming was frequent and loud. Something serious was up.

Overnight I was pretty sure we’d be running for the shelters again. We were staying in a separate house on the Kibbutz, as part of showing us around were led to the two nearest shelters. If you ehar the siren, just go to shelter. I slept in my shorts.

We did not hear any sirens overnight, we did hear lots more explosions and lots of jet noise.

Friday morning dawned beautiful..

The weather was fantastic and for a while at least I believed the booming has stopped. When Mickey came by to pick us up I learned overnight the IDF had gone into Gaza. The rockets were less numerous but the booming..

We’re getting a very authentic experience here. On the flip side, not a soul at any of the tourist sites we’ve visited. Little bit of a silver lining.

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Kid Update

Watching the news rather intently these days due to events in Israel. I’m have to admit a little bit of angst, on Wednesday the Sankary Clan is heading to Israel for a two week holiday. At the moment there are no plans to cancel or move the trip. For one thing we into the airlines for $8,000 so t5he discussion ends with me right there.

I’m also thinking how could we decide not to go but be ok with having our son live there?

And finally if we don’t go, the terrorists win.

I’ve had a few inquiries from folks about his welfare, thanks to everyone in my little blog family for asking.

Here’s the details-

Nate lives in Haifa, Israel’s most northern city. At the moment Hamas rockets from Gaza have not been able to reach Haifa, they’ve fallen about 12 Kilometers short, not that they haven’t tried. The problem in my mind is the only rockets that can reach Haifa from Gaza are the Iranian supplied advanced rocket that carry a much bigger payload than what typically lands in the South.

Nate has reported sirens in Haifa, but nothing more.

This weekend he went down to the family farm (Kibbutz) to hang out with the cousins and relax. The Kibbutz is about 15 kilometers from Gaza, in the second ring of warning ranges. So far they’ve not had any issues there, the Kibbutz is small target. The goal of these attacks is to panic the Israeli public as much as it is to kill folks. These are terror strikes not tactical strikes. Wasting a rocket on farm wouldn’t be as interesting as trying to hit Jerusalem or Beersheba which are nearby.

I’m really proud of the kid for his attitude and strength in this thing. He told me over the phone the other day that he knew this was a possibility when he went there, and he wouldn’t have done anything differently. This morning he was swimming in the pool at the Kibbutz, watching jets overhead.

Next week its our turn to demonstrate some courage and get the plane to visit him and not let terror dictate our lives. On the other hand maybe the crowds at the tourist stops will be a little lighter.

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4th Weekend Update

Fourth of July weekend. In previous years this was my favorite week of the year, between July 1 and July 6. This year won’t be quite as a fun as previous, I have no time off per se. New job and all. I miss having vacation time. Not that I don’t, I just don’t have much and the little I do I’m hoarding for a two week trip to Israel in two weeks to see the kid.
Frist vacation that hasn’t been a visit with the inlaws in 20 years.
20 years goes pretty fast when you’re paying attention. 25 years ago, after repeatedly being woken up by Mrs S for my snoring I went down to the guest room to sleep, just until my cold went away.
Yea.. time does fly when you’re not looking.
We’re up at the lake this weekend, Mrs S, the daughter and I. Our annual 4th Weekend visitors are coming up today, it will be good time, but somethings are missing. The boys won’t be here, the one in Israel is still in Israel, the one in Minnesota is working over the 4th. The other families son figured that since our boys aren’t going to be here, he won’t come.
Which means no water fight on the pontoon and no fireworks from our house.
Which is fine by me, the fireworks part, not as much the pontoon part.
I kinda liked the pontoon water fight.
We used to put up 4th of July decorations around here. Now we just never take them down. So for a few weekends a year we look more patriotic than we really are. If they come up a holiday for being lazy, I’d fit right in. Maybe that holiday already exists, I believe it’s called Wednesday.
We missed the fireworks this year. For some reason the lake vibe was pretty low key, odd given that the 4th was on a Friday. Should have been a hugish deal, just wasn’t, don’t know exactly why.
The weekend is still excellent, don’t get me wrong, there’s just not quite enough of it.

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My Big Fat World Cup Lie

I’m a filthy liar.

Well, not filthy given my nearly OC like affliction when to comes to showering and flossing.

But I am a liar. I’ve been telling lies my whole life, and especially the last couple weeks.

For example-

“I like soccer!”

I want to like soccer, really do. This isn’t a malevolent lie like “checks in the mail”,  but reality is… I’ll watch soccer as long as I have a laptop open on my lap because frankly, I find it just a tish boring. Which explains another little fib of mine-

“I was awake”.

I think I have yet to get through an entire game, or match as the aficionados say, without dozing off for at least a few minutes. And during a couple games over the weekend,  I missed about an hour, from 10 minutes in, through the halftime show and all the way to 75 minutes.

Speaking of minutes in it finally dawned on me why these European games do clocks backwards, counting up instead of down, because it never ends. Counting up or down, which one makes more sense is a matter of debate. Just like the debate over the metric system vs our random like system of measurement. BTW, personally I have to side with the metric system, makes more sense to do things in base 10 instead base long dead kings thumb joint and forearm measurements.

But this business of counting up instead of down… I’m not there. I believe they do it that way because I’ve learned that really, only the referee knows for sure when a game is going to end, and that feels kinda random to me. I think the way they end these games is a little bit anti-climatic to be honest. Feels like they go all out, bust’n ass for 90ish minutes and then, whistle and… all done. Referee picks up the ball, everyone swaps shirts and we all go home. Just plain odd.

And somewhat unfulfilling to be honest.

I’m not fan of the penalty kicks thing either. My kid was a goalie, hockey goalie. On those rare occasions when a game would end with penalty shots that was my clue to go start the car. No one likes to see their kid lined up in front of a firing squad, even if he’s wearing a helmet and pads. But at least the hockey goalie has a chance at stopping the puck. Soccer goalie.. mostly luck, he guesses what side the shooter is going toward and if he’s right, there’s a 30% chance he’ll get it. If he’s wrong, well not his fault. In hockey on the other hand,  when the goalie misses a shot you can legitimately blame him, which is sort of cathartic, brings closure. It’s nice to be able say that something was “all his fault”. Relieves me of having to expend too much emotional capital on explaining why the team lost. Same goes for baseball, I can always say “the pitcher sucked.”

After 120 plus minutes of USA Soccer yesterday I didn’t really feel the closure that I require in my sporting experiences. We lost to the better team? Granted. My kid was sitting next to me, he’s a big soccer fan. Just last week he made the comment that a Uruguayan player who if he were in preschool would be tagged a “biter” was a “brilliant footballer”. WTF? I had to send him outside clearly the FIFA World Government subliminal mind control campaign was working on him. “Footballer” really? And don’t say brilliant.

And as long as I’m talking about him, I’m filing papers against the kid for being an unpatriotic subversive douche waffle. He was cheering for the Belgians. Why? Because he’s a big fan of the beautiful but boring game and wants Belgium win the tournament. Which is odd given that we have no known connection to Belgium, which sort of like Europe’s version of Maryland if you ask me, a little insignificant state that you read about occasionally and enjoy the chocolate, but since it’s so small you never really meet anyone from there.

I was presenting on a conference call yesterday with about 30 European colleagues and I was asked about how America was thinking about Belgium. “With all do respect, most Americans think Belgium is a brand of waffle and they don’t realize that it’s an actual country.” Fewer still could pick it out on a map. And I would point out that if I stopped 100 people on the street here in the US and asked them to point out Maryland on a map, I’m pretty sure the results would be just about the same.

I’d even be willing to bet that there are more than a few American’s who think Delaware is an island because on a lot of maps, the label is floating of the east coast, where that intersection of glorified counties that they call states on the eastern seaboard being so small on most maps that the “Label” called Delaware is actually bigger than the “State” called Delaware if you were to strictly compare from a cartographic perspective.

And before you start thinking about reporting me to the Patriot Police, prove me wrong. Jay Leno devoted 1/3 of life to showcasing the intelligence of the average American on the street. Granted he was in LA which is a whole different level of stupid.

We Yanks are just not that complicated. And maybe that’s the problem with soccer, it’s really complicated. It has to be! It simply has to be far more complicated and sublime that anything that I, and the rest of my co-countrians are used too (or interested in). There is no other explanation as to why the rest of the planet gets so caught up in a game where 11 seconds of action are squeezed into 90ish minutes.

They’re seeing something we’re not.

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The Death of Content

Another week goes by and I didn’t write a thing for this space. There was a time when I was writing almost daily, did that for years. Looking at the back log here that’s how I was able to accumulate as many posts as I have.

Funny thing this blogging nonsense- it’s clearly a dying art, now left to Mom’s and the occasional last surviving wanna be writer like myself. With only two notable exceptions, the 20 or so thoughtfully written blogs I followed back in the heady days of the early 2000’s are all gone. And these were great bloggers, not some bullshit 10 posts and then I gave up sorts of blogs, these were blogs that regularly published, had lots and lots of content and I thought would last forever.

Well at least longer than three or four years.

Enough wallowing.

Part of the reason I don’t write much anymore, or at least I don’t finish shit I started anymore, has to do with a Facebook.

Facebook, talk about the ultimate love hate relationship. Love that I can keep in touch with friends and family. For you young people out there who grew up in the pre-interwebs days, there was a time when the only way you could communicate with family in faraway places was via the phone, and we’re not talking the cell phone, I’m speaking about something called land lines. We didn’t call them land lines back then because that was before we had any alternatives, we just called them phones.

Man that was a colossal waste of time. Chatting away incessantly about nothing. Much better to read a couple posts about what folks are doing in their lives, hit “like” once in a while to let them you know you care, and move on.

And if you really need intimate one on one communication, send a text.

Or even better a tweet so you can keep it down to a few succinct lines. Nothing worse than three page email about what time you want me pick you up from the airport.

Problem is I hate Facebook. Last week I learned that Facebook users had are being subjected to ad hoc psychological experiments designed to manipulate our very emotions. Makes me wonder exactly what Mark Zuckerbergs role at Facebook really is, he doesn’t strike me as being so insidious as that. Doesn’t strike me as being that smart either but who am I to cast stones…

 And who are these “data scientists” who are trying to deliver us packaged and sanitized to their advertisers? BTW as a Sankary policy any ad that shows up in my news feed automatically gets a negative comment about how the product sucks or some gripe I have about it or advertising. (and you know me, I have a lot of gripes) Interestingly enough since I started doing this the ads in my profile have dropped significantly. I’m not the only one, literally every ad I see on Facebook where comments are allowed, the comments sections are overwhelmingly negative with people dropping notes almost exactly like mine. You’d have to be a fool to do the newsfeed ads on that medium. Of course since I run adblocking software I don’t see any other ads or feeds so I don’t know what else is being pushed my way, my Facebook page is pretty empty other than content.

Blogging has been distilled down to its very basic components thanks to Facebook. No need to wax profoundly on topics, share stories or opinions or really think much anymore. Just post an update or two and your good to go.

And as a result America is now the ADHD nation. We have the attention spans of shrews.

Myself included. I can’t even get through a half hour TV show anymore without reaching for a tablet or the phone. So how am I supposed to focus for an hour on writing a thoughtful well written blog?

First world problems.

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