Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jewish Pirates

A number of different projects have put me, recently, into the world of the Jews who lived through the Spanish Inquisition.

I've been writing some material about the era, and also, came across a book, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" which recreates the era in which any decision that the Jews made could result in horrible torture and death. The "safest" move was to convert and become Christians -- though that brought its own dangers. Yet so many of the Jews of that era tried to escape, or live as hidden Jews, because they couldn't abandon their heritage.

The Jewish pirates, by the way, were Jews who escaped to the New World and, when the Inquisition followed them, were forced to again set sail and find new places to live. Some were able to settle in Jamaica, which they helped the British capture in return for the British promise to allow them to live as Jews. The new Jewish "pirates" then used Jamaica as a port from which they could attack the Spanish fleet -- to strengthen the British, to whom they owed a great debt, for money (of course) and, purely and simply, for revenge against Spain.

Growing up, we read about the Spanish Inquisition as "history" but didn't really internalize it. It was a historical episode, and, the narrative read, Jews who didn't want to convert simply left.

But it wasn't that simple, and, as I often do, the more that I learned about the period, the more i internalized the fear, the despair, the hopelessness of the people who were caught in the web of the era. Just "leaving" meant boarding rickety ships, relying on wicked captains, and heading off, penniless, to the unknown.

Staying meant living under constant scrutiny and knowing that, at any moment, an "Old Christian" could accuse you of "Judaizing" and your next step would be the auto-de-fe...burn to death at the stake. It was no coincidence, by the way, that Jews who were put to death had their property confiscated -- there was a lot of economic incentive to accuse someone of Judaizing.

Last night I had a dream about boarding such a ship and heading out into the waters to the unknown. Maybe that has something to do with other things going on in my life....I'm not enough of a dream interpreter to say. But what I do know is that I felt, even for a few, unconscious minutes, the utter terror of what my ancestors must have felt as they sailed off to the unknown. For no other reason than to ensure that their descendents -- me -- would be able to hold onto their Jewish heritage.

Humbling, to say the least.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Those Racist Israelis

Typical Saturday night at our local hospital. I went to visit a neighbor. The place was buzzing....two Ethiopian kids had found a couple of unused wheelchairs and were zipping down the hallways near the Emergency room. Everyone just walked by them, smiled a little, and left them to their fun.

Up on the ward three nurses were handing out meds, an Arab male nurse, a Jewish nurse with a head-covering and a Druze nurse with a Druze-headcovering. Most of the patients seemed to be Arab or Druze, but a number were Jews.

About 8:00p.m. a little band, comprised of a few Hassidim and non-Hassidic religious Jewish men and boys made the rounds, playing lively music (I guess to mark the end of Shabat) on a guitar, flute and rolling organ. They went into each and every room (unless asked to refrain) to play music for the enjoyment of the patients and visitors.

At the nurses station, two doctors, a Russian and Arab, were reviewing charts together.

It doesn't need to be noted that each and every patient, regardless of nationality, religion or skin color was getting the same pretty-good-quality treatment (admitted, it's a small-town hospital, not the Mayo Clinic, but still....) 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ah, Israel.....

My cousins, the New Zealand couple, have been waiting for their official marriage certificate to be issued from Jerusalem so that they can continue the process of buying an apt in Safed (!) Obviously, this is something that I want to help facilitate(!) so when they went back to NZ for a 2-month visit, they asked me to track the arrival of the certificate so that it could be brought to the bank for all the paperwork to be completed.

This process has taken over a month so I was able to finally track it down at the Haifa office of the Rabbinute where the secretary told me that it had just arrived because the driver, who normally transports documents to and from their offices, was sick. For over a month, nothing moved because this one guy was sick. So Israeli.

Anyway, in another Israeli move, she said "I don't want you to have to wait for the mail to bring it to you -- Rabbi so-and-so from Safed is going to be here tomorrow, and he'll bring it back to Safed for you and you can pick it up from his house.

So that's what I did.

Then, when I took the document to the guy who's supposed to take it to the bank and told him the story, he told me his own "only in Israel" story -- he had a prescription for some medication, and when he took it to the pharmacist, the pharmacist noted that the doctor had forgotten to sign the prescription. Just as this guy was starting to think about how he'd have to go back to the doctor's office and then back to the pharmacy, the pharmacist told him "no problem. I'll give you the medicine. My co-worker has to go near the doctor's office later today....he'll stop in and get it signed."

I just realized what an international Shabbat meal we're having. In addition to the Chinese food that I wrote about, tonight's dinner is raviolli (cheated -- bought a package), miso soup and sushi (+broccoli, corn and the rest). Yum.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chinese Xmas, Safed Style

Throughout Xmas day I was treated to the postings of all the Jews that I know in America getting ready to indulge in the American-Jewish Xmas custom -- Chinese food. I guess that the tradition, which I don't remember from my time, grew because on Christmas, the only restaurants that are open are Chinese restaurants, because the Chinese don't celebrate Christmas either.

So now it's a "hazak" -- strong custom -- at least in some sectors of the American Jewish community.

Well, my mouth was watering. I love Chinese food as much as anyone. But the only Chinese restaurant in Safed is a place called "Thai Bar" which is operated by a bunch of Moroccan and Tunisian kids, fresh from their army service, who just fry everything in tons of oil, smother it in some kind of ersatz sweet and sour sauce, and call it "Chinese" (or Thai....I'm not being picky).

I rarely cook in the middle of the week, but I do tend to go a bit out for Shabat, so guess what Shabbat food is? 

I coated chicken nuggets with corn meal and baked them so that they're nice and crispy. And rice. Cut up chunks of onions, carrots, red peppers, zuccini and cauliflower and will plunk them, with some pineapple chunks, in a homemade sweet and sour sauce (thanks

A few days late, but since Xmas in Israel is barely noticed anyway (at least not in my neighborhood), it'll be fine.  

don't know where this appeared, but it's been making the rounds on FB. Chinese and Jews....what would our ancestors have said?

Hamas and Psalms


A couple of weeks ago a notice went out on our local Safed newsletter, asking for someone to take over saying 3 psalms every morning. It's a custom, that if a group of people get together to say psalms, and together they say the whole book, it's as though each person personally said the whole book of psalms.

Anyway, there are a number of groups in Safed including a new one that got together in the memory of someone who recently died. Evidently someone had to bow out of their commitment so they were looking for someone to say #10, #11 and #15.

Since I'm working from home now and have a few extra minutes in the morning, I volunteered -- first time. I mean, it can't hurt.

Well, I think that it's #11 -- it clearly references "Hamas" there, as a violent entity!  I was, shall we say, stunned.

Who's going to tell the guys in Gaza that King David predicted their rise 3000 years ago?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Projects and projects and projects and.....

I wanted to take a photo of my guest room, but the cat and turtle wouldn't move
This summer will mark the 8th year that I've been renting out my little Safed guest room to tourists. Talk about writing a book! 98% of my guests have been lovely and I've even managed to stay in touch with a few of them -- some come back, others send friends, and others just write once in awhile to say "hi."

When the war broke out in 2006, a number of my former guests wrote to me to ask me if I was OK. One of the people who wrote had, actually, ended up not even staying in my place because I didn't have a/c at the time, but she still wrote to check up on me. Ah, Jews...

Last week's guest was a guy who comes to Israel every year to volunteer at the local JNF forest. He was over 6 feet tall and, although he stayed for 5 nights, he complained that the room was too small (never mind the bathroom, where the poor guy couldn't even fit under the shower). Unfortunately, the room just wasn't built for tall people. On the other hand, there's a really sweet couple staying there now and the husband is probably as tall as the guy from last week, and he says that it's fine. Go figure.

I've got two new projects going now, in addition to my regular work. I'd also like to work on developing my website and blog and see where it takes me. There aren't many other websites about Safed that stay updated, as I try to keep mine up to date. I try to put up new information about activities in the city, remove links to businesses and sites that have closed and maintain a running list of local accommodations. None of this is a money-maker but I wonder if there's some kind of way to use it to bring in some income. On the other hand, I don't want to turn it into one big advertisement.

A friend used to operate blogs (successfully) and she said that she'd try to organize a workshop for people in Safed who are interested in learning how to develop a blog/website.