Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pictures from Jerusalem

I've been building up a backload of pictures from around Jeruslaem, not related to any particular topic, but timely just the same.

I did have one major accomplishment last week: I finally used my Israeli ATM card. That's not a big deal, I know. Except the fact is, I've been using my American ATM card for quick cash as needed. When you put your American ATM card into the machine here, it figures you're some sort of bewildered tourist and gives you the option of speaking English. Unfortunately, I lost my American ATM card while in the Old Country (California) last month, so I've been walking into the bank to withdraw money. Of course, the bank has weird hours, like 8AM-noon and 4-6PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and different hours for every other day, so I can never quite time my arrival properly. Finally, I had to pay the movers in hard cash, and the bank was closed, so I had no choice but to put my Israeli ATM card in and muscle through the Hebrew. Actually, it was no problem. Just one of those battles that you put off as long as you can, until you're cornered and you've got to stand and fight. Of course, I emerged victorious, cash in hand.

Anyway, to get from my bank to the Post Office (where I had to pay a 250 shekel traffic citation) I walked through Independence Park, camera at the ready.

Tae Che in Independence Park.
More Tae Che in Independence Park.

Of course, with all the high tech and new construction in Israel, you sometimes forget the country's thrown-together, sloppy origins. Then you turn a corner and see something that reminds you.

A very, very public urinal. Gross!

There were a few English posters around. After all, I'm not sure the Israelis would get this one if it were in Hebrew:
Another sign in English, this one more ominous:

The housing market in this country, and especially in Jerusalem, has driven prices so high that Israelis can't afford houses in their own capital, so much so that in the Rechavia/Katamon area, they don't even advertise Real Estate in Hebrew any more. I guess they figure, if you speak Hebrew, you can't afford it anyway.

Further along on the way to the post office, I passed through this cute little street near the main thoroughfare of Jaffa Street:

Not in Jerusalem, but back on the 443 from Jerusalem to Modiin, I happened to be driving to Moishe's house at just the right time. The sun looked like this awesome fiery blob.

Unfortunately, I was driving too fast to get a really good shot of it. But this is looking over the Ayalon Valley, where Yehoshua (Joshua) commanded the sun to stop in his fight with the Canaanites in the Battle of Givon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Mazal Tov!

As our Gemara shiur (shiur=lesson) came to a close, we had a little surprise. Eli (who I first met on the shabbaton in Nahariyah over a year ago) walked out of the room, and walked back in with barrekas, fruits, and some snacks. Why?

Because he's getting MARRIED!

Eli at right. It's so hard to get this guy to smile.

Mazal Tov to Eli. I've been experiencing my own frustrations with the dating scene lately, so it's always good when one of your friends gets married. It's like a flash of light at the end of a dark tunnel, yes, people do succeed at this.

We danced, we sang, we laughed, we cried (well nobody cried.) But then, it's back to work.

Break's over, back to work in our Gemara shiur.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Amsterdam 4: The Venice of the North

So I've been advised, and I think it's good advice, not to go too nuts with blogging about the shidduch stuff. Actually, it's advice I gave my self a while ago (see my post of September 16, 2006.)

"...despite the great writing material it might make, I have decided to initiate a policy of not writing about my dates. First off, these are very kosher, modest girls, and it would be insensitive of me to do so. Secondly, as a rule of thumb, don't write about relationships if you don't want to lose them."

I guess I just got so carried away I forgot my own wisdom. It happens. Anyway, I will return to referring to the dating scene in only the broadest, most enigmatic of terms. And I'm going to have to go back through and edit out the previous references.

But there's plenty of other stuff going on in my life. Let's get back to Amsterdam!

Whoever designed that building to the right sure loved his mother.

One of the main methods of transportation in Amsterdam is the bicycle. Something all but the most dedicated bike-enthusiast Americans have long-forgotten, and Israelis with their maniacal driving habits don't dare do, is the bike ride to work. The entire city of Amsterdam seems to be covered with bikes. And they aren't the $3,000 a piece road bikes that the cycling enthusiasts at my old work used to ride, but these big cast iron cruisers with the girly handlebars.

A massive parking garage of bikes.

Riding along in the canals, there was not a railing or a tree that didn't have piles of bikes cabled, latched, or otherwise attached. People ride straight through the rain and snow. The city seems to have quite a diversified transportation system. You can ride the subway, catch a ferry, ride in the bike lanes, ride the tram, catch a bus, or drive to wherever you're going.

The tour took us through the main harbor to view some of the great ships.

This one was built as a replica of an old Dutch warship from the city's glory days, back in the 16 and 1700's, when Amsterdam was as important a city as Paris or London.

Being a city built on the water, not only are Amsterdam's streets narrow, but real estate itself is also at a premium. The architects who set the style of the city didn't want to waste precious square footage on stairwells wide enough to carry furniture up to a third-floor apartment. Instead, they used roof beams which extend over the street with cast-iron rings. If you want to move into a new place, you just get a couple of buddies to set up a pulley, latch it onto the iron ring, and have them lift your grand piano up, throw open the windows, and slide the piano in from the outside.

Another consequence of the land crunch in the city center was the proliferation of houseboats in the 1960's. These boats have all the comforts of home, floating on the still water. It's a good real estate investment considering Al Gore's concerns about global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. Of course, I don't believe in the global warming thing, since it doesn't seem to be based on scientific evidence, but the Dutch already five meters under sea level, have a lot to worry about if it is!

More canals, and railings with bikes attached.

Another houseboat, and some fancy schancy buildings.

Bridges forever.

There are still traces of Amsterdam's Jewish past, although its Jewish present is not nearly so obvious. The line to Anne Frank's house begins early in the morning, and stretches around the block.

Anne Frank's House as photographed from the canals.
The Mayor's house.

Bikes over bridge.

And that's Amsterdam. Oh, and one more thing that was totally cool but I didn't manage to photograph. Flying out of Schiphol airport - wait a minute, let me tell you about Schiphol. The Netherlands' largest airport was actually a lagoon not long ago, before the industrious Dutch engineers, like a bunch of Zionist pioneers, drained the swamps. In those days, it was a shallow patch of water, where ships frequently ran aground, hence the name Schiphol, Dutch for "Ship Hell."

Anyway, leaving the airport at 2 AM, I saw an amazing sight; acres and acres of greenhouses lit up under 24-hour grow lights to raise tulips for export. As we pulled higher from the Earth's surface, the world looked like a vast chess board, with rectangles of glowing white, interspursed with rectangles of black.

And now, time to go home to the Holy Land.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Amsterdam 3: Downtown

[Shidduch references deleted]

Anyway, continuing with my Amsterdam tour:

We continued from the outskirts and worked our way downtown, and the tour guide showed us some of the nastier parts of Amsterdam, the parts that it is, unfortunately, most famous for. The legalization of prostitution and soft drugs has created a Mecca for "loose" tourists. Still, the fact that everything was advertised in English, and the endless array of Marijuana t-shirts, lighters, and key chains, seemed to indicate that this is mostly an industry geared towards spoiled rich college kids on summer vacation than an overly licentious native population. Back at yeshiva, one of our Dutch students let me in, "The stuff they sell to the Americans is garbage. You have to go to the Dutch coffee shops to get the real deal."

Downtown is also home to some of the Netherlands' cultural treasures, including the Van Gogh Museum. If you're into art in a big way, then this would be somewhere to spend a good week. Since I've gotten into painting recently, I would love to have spent some time in the museums. You know, criticizing the masters from a Bob Ross perspective.


Yeah, that's a bandage on my hand. I cut my knuckle down to the bone on some broken glass right before I got on the plane from San Francisco. It still hasn't recovered completely, and it's been exactly a month.

Some sort of palace. I think this is one of the big art museums. I don't know really, I was pretty heavily jet lagged and caffeinated at this point, so it's hard to remember details. But the buildings sure are pretty. Not like these concrete boxes they make for people to live in here in Israel.

Of course, Amsterdam is also famous for its canals, making it the "Venice of the North." Most of the main streets are canals which were filled with dirt. Many of the canals, however, still remain. The only boats I saw on the canal were low-rider tour boats like these ones.

Next stop: the canals of Amsterdam.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Throw the Blog a Bone

I've been going around all night with this strange feeling, as if I were forgetting something. Getting ready for bed, I remembered... the BLOG! I don't have any prepared remarks, but I can't leave you hanging now, can I?

Well, things are pretty much moving along. The phone still isn't up and running, so it's a bit hard to do my job, but I seem to manage. Moshe came by tonight to take away a bunch of stuff. I only wish I had more time to put my boxes away. This is getting embarrassing, owning all this junk. But I'm back in yeshivah, and I've started taking the beginner's gemarah class. (Gemarah is basically Talmud.) I'd like to get into it, but it presents this whole other way of thinking, of approaching problems. Oh yeah, and it's in Aramaic, so there's another language I've got to learn.

[Shidduch references deleted]

Anyway, more Amsterdam posts tomorrow. Gotta hit the hay to get up early for Gemarah shiur. Good night from Jerusalem!

[Shidduch references deleted]

Monday, October 22, 2007

Amsterdam 2: Windmills, Canals, and Dikes

I managed to get all my stuff out of storage today, and I do mean ALL of it. I'm not sure how on earth I'm going to fit it all in this place. I may be able to move some of it to Moish and Dena's machsan (the storage locker that came with their rental.) My situation is compounded since Moshe never really moved out, so most of my stuff will remain stuck in boxes until he gets the closets and cupboards cleared out. Also, my Vonage phone is still not up and running. I'm still waiting for Bezek Benleumi to change my account to the continuous connection type so I can then arrange with Vonage to get the thing working. Meanwhile I'm sitting here constantly checking my online voicemail to see if anyone is calling, then I quickly call them back using my international long-distance calling card.

Meanwhile, a few more pictures from our tour of Amsterdam...

While wind power could be used for anything from milling flour to textile work, this particular windmill was used to pump water to a higher elevation. This was one fact that impressed me about the Netherlands, and in a way made it similar to Israel; it's a man-made country. Where Israel is constantly fighting the desert, the Netherlands is at war with water. Since most of the country is below sea level, water is constantly leaking in and has to be pumped out by a system of pump stations, dikes, and canals. Without constant work, the country would become a useless marsh, just as Israel would revert to desert without constant maintenance.

The windmill, from the back. It's blades have been secured, so it doesn't actually spin or anything. This windmill is a historic landmark, built way back in 1636.

There's actually someone living in it who takes care of the maintenance. And what's that?
Is he actually growing tulips? Now all he needs to do is come out in wooden clogs and he'd be a walking stereotype.

Front view of the windmill.

Dikes and canals. In the back ground is the heart of the city of Amsterdam, which is our next stop...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Amsterdam 1: Shoes and Windmills

There's good news and bad news on the apartment front.

The good news:
1. I finally moved in last Thursday and have been sleeping in the apartment.
2. I got the Internet up and running today.
3. I managed to unpack most of the stuff I have with me and clear out the apartment in time for the massive shipment I'm bringing in from the warehouse tomorrow morning.
4. I found the cord for my electric razor. Now I can go on dates without looking like Chewbacca.

The bad news;
1. Moshe, who passed the apartment on to me, got into a fight with his future landlady, and it sounds like he won't be moving in to his new place, and is now in the same situation as I was; homeless, looking for a new place. Which means that all his stuff here is going to be moved out much more slowly.
2. While the Internet is working, my Vonage connection (phone over Internet) is not. I spent a few hours hashing things out with the Vonage people by phone today, and we couldn't get it running. I called Bezek Benleumi (my Internet service provider,) and they're changing the account settings so that I can use Vonage, but could take up to three whole days!

Anyway, on my way back from America, United States of, I had a 12-hour layover in Amsterdam. In the airport there's a service that charges exorbitant amounts of money to take you out of the airport and drive you around town during your layover. But, really, when is the next time I'll be in Amsterdam? So I jumped at the opportunity.

First off, the tour guide informed me that what we call Holland is really the Netherlands, and don't you forget it! Holland is just one, albeit the most important, province of the Netherlands. To pile on a bit more confusion, the people speak Dutch, not Netherlandish or Hollandish. You would think, with all their European bureaucracy and love of the metric system, they could streamline all of these ethnicities.

Our first stop was a touristy wooden shoe factory, and appropriate destination since I was with a gaggle of fellow tourists. Wooden shoes are one of Holland's, er, excuse me, the Netherlands' most important products, along with cheese, tulips, windmills, and marijuana.

Wooden clogs were popular since the Netherlands is mostly below sea level, and very rainy, the ground tends to be quite wet most of the year. Holland, excuse me, the Netherlands, was created before Gortex, and the clogs serve as a natural, water-proof shoe.
Wedding Shoes

In this case, we have an intricately carved pair of wedding shoes. The girl's name isn't carved on the shoe until right before the wedding, in case the guy changes his mind.

The shoes are actually made on a lathe from a master, much like a key. Here we see the master being traced at the end of that curved, pointy thing. Under the saw, the block of wood is quickly cut into the shoe shape.

Next, the insides are hollowed out.

So that's where wooden shoes come from. They left us in this place for like fifteen minutes, and we all wandered around the store while they stared at us waiting for us to buy something. That part of the tour was kind of a bore.

Next, we were off to see a historic windmill...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My New Diggs

After searching for weeks and weeks, I woke up a few days ago with a splitting sleep-deprivation headache and was ready to throw in the towel on living in Jerusalem at all. I've been surviving like a Hamas operative for the last two months; always sleeping in a different bed and never staying in the same room for more than a few hours at a time. The gnawing uncertainty of knowing when I would finally have a roof over my head and constant worry about where I would be able to go to get my work done had finally gotten to me. Even the apartments in Pisgat Ze'ev are being snatched up within hours of coming on the market. I made some phonecalls and was trying to get the phone number of a Giva (hilltop settlement/trailer park) I had visited a few months ago that accepts singles. I had talked to some friends about moving out to Ramat Beit Shemesh, which, like Pisgat Ze'ev, is full of married couples, but unlike Pisgat Ze'ev, is far, far away from Jerusalem, (40 minutes by car assuming no traffic.) I called Moshe just to let off steam.

A few hours later, Moshe called me back, "Great news, I just got an apartment on Yochanan Ben Zakai. Do you want my apartment in Baka?"
Baka? A two-minute walk from Emek Refaim? Of course!
After my initial elation, I took a moment to consider the pros and cons.

1. Thriving anglophonic singles community.
2. The price: $500/month, roughly equivalent to what I would be paying were I to stay in Pisgat Ze'ev, and well below market value.

1. Leaving all my friends and family behind.
2. Less natural setting, more citified.
3. I could get more square footage for my money in Pisgat Ze'ev than in Baka.

Oh, and one more pro: The Baka place is available right now.

I grabbed the place. Moshe, the landlady, and I made a deal: I could rent the place if I were to pay for the rent the day Moshe's lease ended, and in exchange she wouldn't post it on the Internet. That way, she doesn't lose a single day's rent, and I have no competition. I gladly grabbed the deal. After all, if this place was anything like all the other places I've seen over the last few months, it could easily be bid up to $600.

Of course, Cousin Rafi looked over the lease with his little red pen. With an occasional outraged, "Mah Zeh!?" (What's this!?) he went to work on it. The main problem was that the landlord wanted a security check for 5,000 shekels, a security payment of 6,000 shekels to be returned after I move out, and a signature from a guarantor. Usually they only want one of those.

I met with the landlady, who Moshe described as a very nice, understanding, person, and we went through the contract. We agreed that I would only need to provide the 6,000 shekel cash security payment, and we could do without the additional security check and guarantor. "You look Yashar" (Yashar = straight, upright.)

Last night I met her at her house, and she had rewritten the contract with my changes included. We signed, I paid, and I got a key, so tonight I sleep under my own roof for the first time in, well, let's see.

I've been living out of suitcases for the last 47 days.

Of course, the place isn't huge, and it's already furnished, but I figured out I can fit most of my stuff anyway.

Here are some pictures (most of the stuff is Moshe's.)

A view from the entrance doorway. That's the door to the bathroom at left, living room in front.
The bedroom. Room for one bed and a slide-out bed for a guest, plus a large closet (not shown.)

The living room. Table, chairs, and bookshelf included.

Window to the back area. There seems to be a preschool out back during the day.

Moshe walkin' round.

The kitchen (part of th emain room.) This one's got an oven, unlike the old place.
The bathroom. With tub! (Not that I'd ever use it.) There's some storage over the tub.Storage over the tub.

The new tenant.
Moshe made us some egg sandwiches with goat cheese. Man, they were great!

This definitely deserves a shehecheyanu (prayer of thanksgiving.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I was going to post some pictures from my layover in Amsterdam, but it looks like I'll be following up an apartment lead tonight, so, no time. Sorry!

But stay tuned, hopefully my homelessness situation will be resolved shortly.

11 PM Update: Just signed the lease, paid my first month and a half's rent, and moved some stuff in. I'm no longer homeless!

Next steps: Install internet connection and get my stuff out of storage, transfer all bills over to my name.

I ain't settled yet, but things are moving!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Leaving Walnut Creek

Continuing my Walnut Creek adventure, it was time to leave my old home and head back to my real home.

The stampede to the food after Yom Kippur:

Yes, that's A. in the bottom right. He happened to come back to visit Walnut Creek at the same time as I did.

Art had us back over to his place for some post-fast gorging.

Art, Lyn, A., and Ezra

Yours truly with Art's son Shimshon, stroking his imaginary beard.

The Deli Boys came over as well, so called because the three brothers run the Kosher Deli in San Francisco. There used to be four but one of them got married. They were surprised to have a dairy meal. "You don't know how often we have to eat meat."

The Deli Boys

The next day it was up at dawn (well, more like 8:30 AM) to pack my things and get to the airport. I had been living out of one of the rooms in the back of the shul, and Hebrew school started up while I was getting ready.

What is it that this kid is reading?

It's the Chabad Hebrew School Siddur, which I put together back when I was a teacher a couple of years ago, still in use! Nice to see I've had some effect on the community.
And back across the Bay Bridge to the airport.
Farewell, San Francisco.