Sunday, May 22, 2005

February 2003

Tsfat Blog – Feb 2003

So, there’s a lot of good news, and some “kacha” (so-so) news.

Firstly, the good news is that…it’s been raining heavily all winter! The so-so news is…it’s been raining heavily all winter. Obviously, one can’t pray for rain, and then complain about it. But, it does make life a bit awkward sometimes. For one thing, we have two dogs. The short-haired dog rarely leaves the vicinity of the heater in the living room. But the long-haired dog seems to thrive on the cold and wet weather, and can barely be coaxed into the house, even in the worst storms. She sits outside in the middle of the mulch pile, reveling in the rain and wind, and, of course, when she finally comes in, she’s wet, dirty, and has dead leaves stuck to her fur. She seems to know that we wouldn’t dare bath her in the winter.

We are also loosing umbrellas at an amazing rate – at least one a week. With seven people leaving the house each morning, each of whom wants to take an umbrella with them, I’m giving the local shop good business. The storekeeper has stopped trying to talk me into buying quality umbrellas – he seems to finally understand that he’s doing good business by just letting me restock the cheap umbrellas periodically.

And more good and so-so news…the elections! Israeli elections are finally over, and whether you agree or disagree with the Israeli electorate’s choices, one can only be pleased that the circus that accompanies the elections here has finished. Unlike American elections, where the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties are miniscule, the range here is large and unmistakeable. There is an ultra-Orthodox Sepharadic party, and ultra-Orthodox Ashkanazic party, a religious Zionist party, a non-religious Ashkanazic party, an anti-religious party…you get the idea.. People here are passionate about their political choices, and expressions of allegiance are not limited to bumper stickers…for weeks before the elections, one cannot walk along the street or enter a shop without hearing the devotees of the various parties waxing loud and long about the benefits of their particular party.

Now, of course, the elections are over, and each party has won or lost as much as it’s going to for the next (roughly) four years – now the circus moves to the new big-top, as the coalition talks begin. Sharon, as the new Prime Minister, must put together a coalition of at least 61 seats in the Kenesset – 51% of the plenum. So now our evening entertainment is watching the direction of those talks…the Labor party has vowed that it won’t sit with the Likud, the Shinui party has vowed that it won’t sit with Shas, Ya’hadut HaTorah has vowed that it won’t sit with Shinui, etc. But in the end, most of us cynics expect that they’ll all sit with each other…after all, entering the coalition means receiving “goodies” – money for one’s institutions, passage of laws beneficial to one’s supporters…..I think that I prefer the Democrats and the Republicans!

And onward. Working in the Tourist Information Center, I see the drop-off of tourism, but it simply makes us more aware of those who are coming. For instance, next week, a group of 20 is coming to Livnot for a 2-week program. Even the director of Livnot is a bit surprised…after all, Israelis are unpacking their gas masks and clearing out their sealed rooms. But all 20 who registered are still listed as being ticketed and planning their arrivals, and at the end of last week two more people registered to come! Anyone who thinks that it doesn’t boost morale hasn’t seen my office this week…the locals have been peeking in the door all week, asking “is it really true that you’re having a group? They’re really coming?” And when I say “yes”, they walk away, shaking their heads in wonder, but smiling. REALLY smiling.

Even more than the possibilities of war, we are consumed with news of the victims of the economic situation here…people who are living without food or heat. The soup kitchens in Israel are overwhelmed, and the funds which grant financial help to those who can no longer pay their rents or utilities, much less buy food are stretched to the limits. There are more and more beggers on the street…some of them children, who ask for money for their families, many of them immigrants who never “made it” in their new land. We are asked daily for food stuff, blankets, spare heaters…anything which can help these people make it through one more day. Social welfare has been cut across the board, leaving the unemployed, single parent families, the disabled, and most of all, children, in dire straits. To tell you the truth, I don’t dream about the possibilities of war or attack…but I do dream about these people, the numbers of which are growing daily. Local charities are turning away needy people at the same time that government agencies are cutting social services, and there’s nothing Zionistic or patriotic about the misery that these people are suffering.

Finally, as many people know, we have been given the word…prepare for war. . The army gas mask distribution center has been opened here in Tsfat for the past 3 weeks, and brochures are beginning to make their way to the public in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, French, and Amharic (Ethopian), with instructions of what civilians are to be doing. Being a “veteran” of the last Gulf War, I know what to do…the problem is that, in our house, our “sealed room” is so crammed with day-to-day living that the only ones who could fit into it would be the dogs (they’re small). Besides, I remember from the “last time” that, if people are awakened in the middle of the night from a missile alert, the first thing that everyone needs is the bathroom, which the sealed room doesn’t have. (“Last time” we didn’t have a special sealed room, so we used the kids’ room, which has a bathroom off the side of it, and our confinements were quite pleasant). Anyway, the Home Front has officially notified us that we are to begin stocking canned food, bottled water, a radio with batteries, etc.

All of this is bringing up the “war stories” that many of us have from “the last time”. Much to my surprise, my older kids, who were 5 and 3 at the time, remember vividly the gas masks, rushing to seal up the room during an alert (and then having to unseal the door, push the dog in, and reseal it) and their father’s absence during his call-up to the army. Avishai, 17, is pretty blasé about the whole idea of preparations, and laughs at us while we wonder which crackers will keep best in our little shelter. All of the kids have had soldiers come into their classes to demonstrate the use of the gas masks – it seems that the only one who isn’t quite sure what to do is me. (I didn’t realize that they had made these school visits – I found out when I was reading Margalit a book about a firehouse dog, and they showed the firefighters putting on their anti-smoke masks, and margalit piped up “I tried on one of those in gan!”) As for the general mood – well, it varies…there’s a bit of fright and panic, but for the most part, people are taking a wait-and-see attitude, which is what we’re doing. (I will buy the tuna and crackers, though).

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