Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gaza Matzav

"You didn't really check it."

The uppity customer seemed to arouse shopping mall security guard from his topor.  Nobody wants to work on a Saturday night, just a few hours after the end of Shabbat (Sabbath.)  "Just go through."

"No, if you're going to check my bag, you have to open it up and look inside!  How do you know I'm not carrying something?  There's a matzav!"

I first got word of the matzav, the "situation," in synagogue on Saturday night.  Rav Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modiin, was teaching a class on Chanukah, the revolt against our Greek tormentors which had started 2,144 years ago in the very same town of Modiin.  Not wanting to desecrate the sanctity of Shabbat, Rabbi Lau had refrained from mentioning the bad news he had heard from his neighbors.  After evening prayers brought Shabbat to a close, as everyone turned to leave the synagogue, he stood up and announced that the modern-day tormentors of the Jews, the Arabs, had struck.

"A barrage of missiles has hit southern Israel, and military operations have begun against Gaza.  We should stay in shul and recite Tehillim (Psalms) to pray for the safety of our people and our soldiers."

The matzav has been a long time coming.  In fact, it never really went away.  Maybe it started with the second Intifada, which never really ended.  Or maybe it began when the state of Israel was declared, after which the state has not experienced a single day's peace, or perhaps when Mohammed exterminated the Jewish community of Mecca.  Perhaps it can be traced all the way back to Abraham, expelling his son Ishmael, the biblical ancestor of the Arabs, from his tent in order to protect his other son Yitzchak (Isaac,) the biblical ancestor of the Jews, from Ishmael's violent impulses.

This particular round of violence was unavoidable.  The late Yasser Arafat's gang, Fatach, in English, "Conquest," pulled off some of the most spectacular terrorist atrocities of the 1970's and 80's but then tacitly, although never officially, recognized the right of the non-Muslims of Israel to live free of Muslim rule in the 1990's.  The newer gang, Hamas, "Fanaticism," sprung up as a more purist anti-infidel organization and overthrew Fatach, but is now also seen as growing soft.  Hamas, like its predecessor Fatach, has been forced to make certain compromises with reality.  A "hudna," Arabic for cease fire of fixed duration, of the past few months during which Hamas has reduced its rocket fire at Israeli cities from an average of six a day down to an average of three per day, and in exchange Israel turned the other cheek, has expired.  During this hudna, Hamas had been busily arming itself with longer-range missiles for the big fight coming.  Meanwhile, breakaway gangs had seen the mere fact that Hamas had been willing to negotiate anything with Israel as a serious violation of Arab pride, and began firing missiles into Israel on their own.  In failing to kill a sufficient number of Israelis, Hamas was quickly losing legitimacy and public support, and no choice but to go to war.

Similarly, in Israel, with no military action against the last seven years of rocket bombardment from Gaza, accompanied by endless negotiations to expand the Palestinian State, the country had been swinging hard to the right.  With elections only a month away, this war could serve as a welcome distraction for Barak and Livini, the two liberal candidates who were so instrumental in creating the monstrosity of Gaza we face today.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the peace processors who authored the Oslo negotiations of the 1990's, which brought the horror and bloodshed of the Second Intifada, had been safely quarantined to the editorial pages of the New York Times for the last eight years.  But with the new incoming administration, they are being pulled off the benches and given rank and influence.  With a relatively friendly president in the White House for another three weeks and an unknown Obama administration in the wings, it was now or never.

For us, the little people, life goes on as normally as possible for most, and ends for some.  After one of the longer-range Grad missiles struck Ashdod, killing a mother of four, I called my friend Gali who lives there to check in.

"Hey, man, good to hear from you!" he yelled through the receiver, "I've got something you might like.  I have a six-outlet extension cord with those weird American plugs!"

"The American plugs are normal," I answered, "it's the Israeli ones that are weird."

"Ha ha.  Okay, so I'll put it in a box and write your name on it, and next time you are in Ashdod, you can look through the rubble of my apartment and dig up the box."

One of my friends at my new job got his reserve duty callup.

"You going to Gaza?" I asked him.

"No.  I asked my commander.  They always send us out there to Shechem or Ramallah to guard the checkpoints.  Then they take the young full-time soldiers who were on the checkpoints and send them to Gaza.  I'd much rather go to Gaza myself.  Checkpoints are boring."

There is, of course, always the concern that a local sympathizer will go haywire and engage in a psychotic jihadist killing spree, as during the Merkaz HaRav massacre or the two bulldozer attacks a few months ago, so security is much tighter.  In fact, there was a multiple-stabbing attack in Modiin and riots in majority-Arab East Jerusalem, but thank god no fatalities so far.  As I'm writing this, I'm in a car driving up north with some coworkers for a project meeting.  There was a brief debate on whether to take the Wadi Ara highway, a short-cut valley through the hills of Carmel which is lined on both sides by Arab villages and sometimes subject to flying rocks when the locals are particularly seething, or to take the hour-long detour.  We decided to go for it.  The rainy weather which has stifled Arab attempts to set fire to the Jerusalem forest and slowed Israel's air force for the day has probably silenced their stone artillery as well.

The matzav is just something you have to deal with to live in the holy land.  Our neighbors in Gaza are raised from birth to revel in the glory of gore and death.  Hamas' children's shows look like grade-B horror flicks, with children barley out of diapers brandishing knives and singing of the honor of drenching the land with their blood.  Every generation of teenagers is brainwashed with heroic music videos of their older brothers from the previous wars throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli border guards or blowing up Israeli school buses.  There's no way to modify such a society, either with carrots or sticks.  The only authentic long-term solution is to ask them, as humanely as possible but with full firmness, to please pack up their bags and seek life elsewhere.  The modern post-Judaism ruling class of Israel, with its moralistic preening and vanity, is incapable of doing so for fear of losing an international popularity contest they actually lost long ago, and so we must be prepared to bear this matzav for at least another generation. 

In reality, this is merely another barbarian containment operation, the sort of thing that must be gotten over with every few years.  The situation at the end will likely look the same as it did a few months before it began, but we dare not stand idle.  Like India, Indonesia, the Phillipines, or any other state unfortunate enough to be located on the bleeding fringes of the Islamic world, Israel is again being probed and challenged.  The question the fanatics of Hamas are asking is whether Israel is ripe for fatach, for conquest through jihad.  We must again risk our lives to answer, "No."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Secretary Hillary

In appointing Hillary to Secretary of State, Obama has made not only a clever political maneuver, but probably the least bad decision possible, at least as far as Israel is concerned. During the election, Obama's paying homage to Jimmy "Israel is Apartheid" Carter and seeking advice from Zbigniew Brzezinski on the middle east was enough to cause any lover of Jewish political freedom in Israel to break a cold sweat.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a known quantity. Sure, there was the time she hugged Suha Arafat immediately after one of Suha's anti-Semitic tirades. I don't think Hillary actually believed Suha's rehash of medieval accusations that Jews poison wells and the like; she was merely doing the smart thing rather than the right thing. And let's remember, Suha's husband Yasser said and did far worse and still received kisses on the cheek from Israeli Prime Ministers. The main thing I like about Hillary is that, despite her failure in this election, no ego that big sits still for eight years. She is running for President in 2016, age or no, and she will need to avoid alienating her Jewish supporters.

Let's be clear; this will be no Bush administration. No more friendly Whitehouse meetings with the latest Israeli Prime Minister, both pretending to care about the lack of a 23rd Islamic Arab state called "Palestine" for the press while dealing with adult issues like Iran and Al Quaida behind closed doors. For eight years, under Bush, the Democratic party has complained of his squandering the goodwill of the world the United States received by the death of over 3,000 civilians on September 11th, or of having alienated anonymous moderate Muslims by passing moral value judgments about America's adversaries. The new focus on America's "image abroad," rather than achievement, is worrisome because a clash of interests is coming.

America's European allies share none of America's sympathy for Israel's predicament. Europe views Jewish political independence not only as annoyingly cumbersome in disrupting relations with their Arab suppliers of energy, but also as enraging to the surging Islamic minorities gestating within their own borders. In Europe you don't need to be a classical anti-Semite to want to see Israel wiped off the map, a realistic assessment of your own self-interest will do. Hence, every time Bush visits Europe he is hounded by dignitaries and world leaders exasperatedly imploring him to please "do something" about the Middle East. "Something" always boils down to accelerating the destruction of Jewish villages, sanitized as "Settlement Dismantling," or lowering Israel's defenses by removing life-saving checkpoints, sanitized as "Easing Up Restrictions."

The real clash of interests will come when Obama's promise to support Israel's freedom clashes with improving America's image abroad. President Clinton's response was to sidestep the issue by having an all too willing Israel feed the alligator of the Palestinian Authority, arguing that supplying them with land, weapons, and vast sums of cash was in Israel's interest. Now that this method has been discredited, and Hillary's husband's foreign policy legacy is forever tarnished by this failure, I have hope she will have learned. I don't have faith in Hillary to do the right thing, but I do have some hope she will do the smart thing, and perhaps give Obama a moment of pause before opting for image over substance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Solar Dreams

Last I wrote, I was in a bit of a low. I suppose the nadir was my 30th birthday party, when all 15 of my guests canceled within 24 hours. At the time, I decided it was time to put some forward movement into my life, to get a job, and now I've got one.
I'm working for a Jerusalem-based company which develops solar-thermal power stations. The technology was developed by a now defunct Israeli company called Luz, named for the biblical city where the Jacob had his dream of angels ascending and descending a great ladder (Breishit/Genesis 28:10-15,) which he then renamed Beit El. Back in the 1980's, Luz developed a system for generating power by using parabolic-shaped troughs to concentrate sunlight onto a black pipe.

This collector tracks the sun on its path across the sky throughout the day.

Oil pumped through this pipe is superheated by the concentrated sunlight. The superheated oil is then used to boil water and run a steam turbine generator.

Solar Thermal Collector Array with steam power plant

In 1991, after building several solar-thermal power plants in California's Mojave Desert, Luz went out of business. The failure boils down to an end of tax credits for renewable energy and the falling energy costs of the 90's and early 00's. Now high energy costs and increased tax incentives in Europe and California have revived interest in renewables. Another factor is the worldwide panic over global warming. While neither I nor any scientist or engineer with whom I have discussed the issue over the past 8 years actually believes that there is validity to climate change theory, the enormity of the popular panic, especially among those who were swept into office in the United States earlier this month, will have some fringe benefits. Because solar technology results in zero emissions, if the cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions championed by President Elect Obama is actually passed into law, then there's going to be bonanza of renewable energy projects. To my mind, this can have only positive results. When Iran buys Uranium centrifuges, Russia purchases a new warship to bully its neighbors, Al Quaida finances the training of its next pilot, or a Palestinian Authority "activist" buys C4 explosive to incinerate innocent Israelis, the money that finances this evil can always be traced back to oil. Even from a purely economic standpoint, I think it would be fair to place a heavy tariff on fossil fuels to balance out the lives and treasure lost fighting wars to secure them.

While America is still waiting for some sort of renewable energy program, the Spanish government has commissioned the construction of forty 50-MegaWatt facilities in various locations throughout southern Spain. The deal is that if the facilities are online before the end of 2010 then the Spanish government has agreed to purchase power at a favorable rate for the next several years, which will make the construction economically feasible.
Solar collector arrays like this one have been operating in the Mojave Desert for decades

Meanwhile, the original members of the Luz team have reassembled into several competing companies. One of them, Solel, has stepped up manufacturing of parabolic troughs in the expectation of increased orders.
Most of the engineers from Luz reassembled to form the company Luz II, which is persuing the solar tower concept whereby a series of mirrors tracks the sun and concentrates the sunlight onto a boiler, which is used to generate steam and run a steam-power cycle. Their technology has great promise, in that it does not require sunlight to heat oil, which then heats water, but boils the water directly, resulting in greatly increased efficiency. Of course, their technology has never been tested in the real world, but they are in the beginning stages of designing an enormous facility for Southern California.
A Solar-Thermal Tower
As opposed to Luz II, with its hundred plus engineers, I'm working with a team of 9. We are very much a startup, and are focused on fulfilling the Spanish government's contracts with the more proven parabolic trough technology developed by Luz. On the one hand, working for a startup carries some risk, in that things can go downhill in a hurry. On the other hand, being in such a small company provides an opportunity for much more rapid advancement. Unlike a big engineering firm with layer after layer of bureocracy and waste, with corner offices and reserved parking spots, I get to talk with my CEO every day.
I do miss the hours of yeshivah learning I used to be able to do every morning, but I'm also enjoying the fast-paced startup atmosphere. We're located in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem's business park, probably the only economically productive neighborhood in the city, with dozens of high-tech companies. There are kosher places for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all over the place, and I get to meet other young professionals from neighboring companies and listen to them complain about their bosses. There's also a shul (synagogue) across the street where I can catch daily prayers, and a few shiurim (Jewish learning opportuinities) as well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Only In Israel

Only in Israel do you go to Ikea, pronounced "eekya,"...
... to find a fully-functional shul inside!

Not only that, the Sweedish meatball cafeteria was fully kosher. If I had a house of my own and didn't care about quality furniture, I would live in this place! I only wish I had discovered it before I bought all the stuff for my apartment when I first made aliyah.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Election Day

Supporters of various parties and candidates set up tables and banners near the entrance of a local Pisgat Zeev polling station.
Yesterday, I was off to cast my vote. In Israel, the government sends you a little card with the address of your polling place, usually a local school, and a poll number, and you take it with you to show at the door. My official address, as far as the government is concerned, is still my cousins' place in Pisgat Zeev where I lived when I first made aliyah. Unfortunately, my card got lost in the bureaucracy and I never received it. I called the tol-free 1-800 number that lets you enter in your identity card number and then responds with the polling location. Busy. I tried again and again over the last 48 hours before the polls opened, but it was busy the whole time. So someone from Nefesh B'Nefesh said, "Why not just find out where your cousins are supposed to go and then go there. You all have the same address so it should be the same place."
So I called my cousins, went to the site, and waited while they checked the list. Of course, I wasn't on. Meanwhile, I bumped into my old friend Tzvi at the entrance.

"Don't speak, do! Arcadi Gaydamak for Mayor"

"Hey," I asked him, "who you voting for?"
"I'm casting a blank ballot."
"You came all the way back here from work during your lunch hour to cast a blank ballot?"
"I want 'em to KNOW I don't like 'em."

"The Hope! Nir Barkat for Mayor"
The polling people couldn't find my name on the list, so they gave me a number in the Jerusalem municipality to call. The municipality gave me the number of the elections division. The elections division told me to call this guy named Avner Cohen and gave me his number. Avner told me to call the interior ministry, who then referred me to the Jerusalem branch. Finally, I received my polling address and poll number. It in a different part of Pisgat Zeev, so it was back to my car to ride across town.

A poster for Meir Porush, referring to the exodus of Israelis leaving municipal Jerusalem for the more affordable outer settlements, "100,000 new residents," and below, a cartoon of Porush, with "Jerusalem will love Porush"

Polling is much more effective here. The poll is in a classroom. Only one voter is permitted in the room at a time, and you are carefully watched by elections officials and representatives of the parties on the ballots. I went in and was asked for the voter card which I immediately told them I hadn't received. From their nonchalance, it seemed that this is the sort of thing that happens all the time. They checked me off the list, and I went behind a cardboard screen. Picked one yellow card for my choice for mayor, and one white card for my party choice for city council. Stuffed them in the envelopes, walked around and dropped them in the ballot box. It's a much more effective system than in America. No hanging chads or guessing at the voters' intent here.

Ballot Slips

A Barkat supporter walks around an intersection passing out flyers while keeping an eye on his campaign posters.

Israeli elections are also see much more involvement. Every street corner is plastered with signs, and activists with walkie-talkies stand guard over their respective candidates' signs. Slogans blasted over loudspeaker from passing cars, flags, activists and candidates shaking my hand. It was like a big party.

Meir Porush supporters got out of school early to guard campaign posters.

Meir Porush's little helpers

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's happening in Jerusalem? Elections!

Israel's first Hareidi (aka Ultra-Orthodox) mayor, Uri Lupolianski, nicknamed "Loopy," is facing mandatory retirement due to a rotation agreement between the Lithuanian and Chassidic branches of the Hareidi party, United Torah Judaism. To replace him, three candidates have joined in the running.

In last place:

Arcadi Gaydamak

Aliyah isn't just for refugees any more. Plenty of wealthy Anglos have made a home in the holy city, and over the last several years, with the sky-high Euro, rising anti-Semitism in Europe, a wave of French immigrants have arrived as well. Now, even a Russian oligarch has seen the wisdom of living in Israel. Wanted on illegal weapons smuggling and tax evasion charges in France, Gadyamak has been in Israel since the 1990's, and makes his base amongst the Russian immigrants who came at that time. He's spent the recent years digging from his deep pockets to sponsor hospitals, children's homes, and social welfare programs. Still, in a capital city whose voting population is about a third secular, a third national-religious, and a third Hareidi, there is no natural block of voters for a candidate who can barely speak Hebrew and English, and addresses crowds through an interpreter. He seems to be polling well amongst the two non-Jewish demographics; the Russians and the Arabs, but over all, he's still at the bottom of the pack.

Then there are the two front-runners:

Meir Porush

He's being called a scion of a 10th generation Jerusalemite family. (Can someone tell me what a scion is?) As United Torah Judaism's new candidate for mayor, without lifting a finger he already has an automatic voting block of one third of the city. While most Hareidim are personally politically apathetic, their rabbinic leadership always coalesces around a candidate, and these rabbinic endorsements result in turnouts in the Hareidi sector of over 90%, and of almost 100% voting for the endorsed candidate. Porush was recently caught on tape saying, in Yiddish to his supporters, that as the it would be difficult for a non-religious candidate for mayor to ever win in Jerusalem again. Of course the tape was translated and rebroadcast ad nauseum by Israel's anti-religious media, but his point was that on demographics of the city. With Hareidi families having ten to fifteen children and secular families having two or three, in the future secular candidates will not be viable.

Nir Barkat

On the opposite end, there's Nir Barkat. Semi-balding and bare-headed (secular,) at first, Barkat is eerily reminiscent of the previous mayor of Jerusalem, current failed and soon-to-be-indicted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Posters have threatened that, just as Olmert made a 180 degree turn and began advocating a retreat from East Jerusalem once he was promoted from Jerusalem Mayor to Israeli Prime Minister, so too might another secular mayor like Barkat. Some of the bumper stickers reading, "No faith in Barkat ," play off these fears of his lack principle due to his lack of religiosity. I don't buy it. United Torah Judaism was as complicit in the Oslo negotiations with the PLO in the 1990's as were the secular parties. They therefore bear as much responsibility for the grotesque acts violence and terror which subsequently rocked the country, and trying to smear Barkat with Oslo just because he's not religious doesn't pan out in my book

Barkat is no Olmert. He actually made his millions as a high tech entrepreneur, and has spent five years on the city council, unlike Olmert who inherited his position from his position from his father, who was a hero of the resistance to the British and later became a hawkish politician. Barkat has also been actively courting the Anglophonic and National Religious demographics, both of which I belong to. His positions are focused on constructive action, and he favors the rebuilding of Jewish life in East Jerusalem, a topic dear to my heart.

I'll be voting Barkat, if for no other reason than he's the first candidate to make an active appeal for my vote and doesn't assume it's coming his way as a matter of course. Also, he was once a fully-functional, successful human being outside of the corrupt Israeli political establishment, with no investigations or arrest warrants outstanding, which is more than can be said for many Israeli politicians.

As for how the rest of Jerusalem votes, it's up in the air. Despite polling which would indicate Barkat being far in the lead over Porush, the 90% turnout among Hareidim gives Porush a hefty boost beyond what polls might indicate. So it's going to be close, and I'd better get off to the polls.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Three Elections

I have suddenly been thrust out of obscurity.  Being an American citizen, I can vote in the American presidential elections.  As a resident of Jersualem, I get to vote for the new mayor and city council next week.  Meanwhile, the Israeli national government just fell, and the Prime Minister's unelected replacement, Tzippi Livni, lacked the political skill to build a coalition of her own and now we're going to new Israeli national elections at the beginning of next year. 
The U.S. elections are probably the most worrisome, and with the U.S. wielding a virtual veto over Israel's foreign and domestic policy, there's a great deal of concern in this neck of the woods about the new face coming to the white house.
Of course, this whole election is about Obama, the other presidential and vice-presidential candidates being treated as stage props.  Among the rumors circulating are those of his Islamic upbringing, but that doesn't bother me.  After all, with a Muslim father, according to Islam, he is automatically a Muslim himself, and his nominal acceptance of Christianity carries the death penalty in his father's religion.  This might cause him some difficulty in the fundamentalist Islamic regimes like Iran he threatens to befriend.  There is also concern over his race, as previous black politicians have toted grievance-mongering anti-Semitism, like Jesse Jackson wanting to destroy Israel or Al Sharpton calling for a boycott of Jewish businesses, but I don't think Obama is an anti-Semite.  At least not beyond the fact that his liberal ideology itself, with its belief in a nonracial, irreligious, classless, genderless society is hostile to Judaism's approach of separation between Jews and Goyim, women and men, secular and holy. 
There is great fear of Obama in Israel, partly because of his middle name, and partly because violent terrorism against Israeli Jews has become the latest pet cause of the European states among whom he would like to, "Restore America's image."    His assembling a team of America's premier Israel-haters as Middle East advisors is cause for grave concern.  Given his complete lack of experience, he will likely absorb their politically correct but historically twisted view of the Arabs' century-long Jihad against Jewish emancipation in the holy land as some sort of struggle for Palestinian civil rights.  Even Condoleezza Rice referred to Israel's life-saving checkpoints as reminiscent of the Jim Crow with which she grew up.
McCain, on the other hand, is no savior.  His positions on negotiations with Iran, the creation of a Palestinian State carved out of Israel's bosom, and other issues of regional concern have recently flipped to being reassuringly conservative.  However, the fact that he held views similar to Obama's before he began running for the highest office indicates that he may pitch a steadfast line, but his heart isn't in it.  His failure to run a coherent campaign and his selection of a running mate with almost as little experience as his opponent is hardly inspiring.  Still, as a person having faced true evil in his past, once subjected to the daily intelligence briefings and being confronted with the depravity of the regional regimes, one would hope that at least some sense of moral clarity would seep in. 
By contrast, given the people whom Obama has befriended in the past, having relations with Hamas bus-bombers or Iranian hate-mongers probably wouldn't be such a novel experience for him.  Perhaps Obama is divine punishment to the Jews for some sort of misbehavior.  Of course, I remember, eight years ago, writing that G.W. Bush would be, like his father, a Country Club Republican, sneering and hostile to Israel.  Boy did I have him pegged wrong!  Maybe I've got Obama all wrong too, and he will completely break with the views of his friends and advisors to become a truly noble person.
Based on social positions, and my gut, I have to go with McCain, even though the polls indicate Obama will almost certainly win.  Still, as a person who believes in the unseen hand of the Creator directing events, I am not all that entranced by politicians.  I don't find McCain or Obama, "scary," like some, because I don't see them as being particularly powerful in the long run.  A truly powerful person is one who has mastered his ego and can exercise control of his appetites, which pretty much eliminates politicians by definition.  As for me, all that's left for me to do is fax in my absentee ballot and try to live a decent life, come what may.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Job

So I've started my new job, and so far, so great!  It's very startupish; I'm only the seventh employee, and they only got an actual physical office a couple of months ago.  There's plenty of potential for advancement, and a lot of risk as well.  If they're still here in three months, I might get to be a Project Engineer (my boss' job at my old company) as opposed to a Staff Engineer (what I am now.)  If not, I'm on the street, and it could go either way.  But it's an interesting project and I think it's going well.  The other advantage is that I'm interacting with some of the other companies we've partnered with here, so if I lose this job, I would still have an inside leads at other companies.  Unfortunately none of them are in Jerusalem, but we'll worry about that if it becomes an issue.
The other cool thing is I can show up whenever I want (9:30 AM for me) as long as I work a full day, I'm working in Har Hotzvim (a high-tech park in Jerusalem that's really happening,) there's a minyan every hour on the hour across the street, and there are endless places to get kosher lunch.  So it's an interesting project, minyans, kosher lunch, nice people, and I'm getting a paycheck in the middle of a recession.  Sure beats sitting around the house wondering what to do with myself!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shabbat Shetach

This shabbat was my first Shabbat Shetach. The first Sabbat Shetach was organized by local singles for college students all over Israel to have a little get together in nature, a relief after a month of being with families and sitting in shul over the holidays, and before returning to student life. Since the first Shabbat Shetach, some have graduated and begun the rest of their lives, and the group making the semi-annual pilgrimage to nature has grown. I heard about it via an email which led me to a Facebook site. At first, I was hesitant, since it was an Israeli crowd, but it has been my goal to break out of the Anglo bubble, so I took the opportunity, and had a great time.

The Shetach is an area in Gush Etzion, in the settlements south of Jerusalem. In the forrests surrounding the settlement of Alon Shvut, a family of pioneers built a home and inn, really more of an enormous open-air cabin, and constructed a small zoo with all sorts of horses, donkeys, emu, and more.

Horses walking around

The people arrive

The open-air cabin where we stayed.

Sunset through the trees

Sunset through glassIlana, who made it all happen

Ilana and Gadi, the organizers, collecting payment

Ilana (Center) and the gals

After Shabbat, packing up and moving out. Back to real life.

Jennifer and Sharon

Doron and Me

A night-time shot of Beitar, the Hareidi (Ultra-orthodox) settlement city in Gush Etzion

A closer-up of Beitar

So, I was a bit worried about going, being a non-native Hebrew speaker, but I seemed to do well, had a great time, and met many new friends. Hopefully, we'll all keep in touch, and this will be the first of many for me!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Big Day

Well, good news: I got a job!  I'll be working for a small start-up company which designs large-scale solar-thermal electricity generating stations.  The salary is a bit low, but with the world economy in a nose-dive, my own startup in on hold, and everyone trying to grab and hold what they can until things clear up, I figured it was a good idea for me to do the same.  I could have made more a year ago, but today isn't a year ago, today is now.  They promised me three or four months worth of work, and then more if the company were to continue growing, which is the plan.  The fact that there are only six other employees, and plans to fund raise and expand in six months, would also put me in good position for promotion in the future.  So there's a bit of risk in taking the job versus taking a more steady job, but the potential for reward is also great.  And anything is better than sitting in my apartment reading other people's blogs.
The offer came suddenly last Friday, and I start Monday, so all the tasks I've been putting off for the last few months; renewing my car registration, paying my back electric bill, taking care of my traffic ticket; suddenly had to be accomplished in one day.  I made it through security at the Israeli DMV at 10:15 AM.  I pulled a number as I strolled into a room stuffed with Jews, Arabs, Bedouin, foreigners, basically the whole world.  It would be a perfect poster for the peace process except everyone looked ready to kill their fellow customers to shorten the wait. I read my number: 501.  I looked at the LED display, "Now Serving: 238."  Oh no.  I have to sign the contract for my new job at 11 AM.  No way I'm going to be through this mess by then.  I walked up to one of the friendlier-looking patrons and asked him his number.
"And what number were they on when you got here?"
"And what time was that?"
"Quarter past nine.  An hour ago."
Okay, let's do some math here.  240-110 = 130.  And he got here an hour ago, so they must be going through 130 customers an hour.  501-238=263.  263 is about twice 130, which means I've got two hours until they get to my number.  I strolled out the door and did some shopping, drove to my new workplace, signed my contract, met my new co-workers, and headed back out to the  DMV.  I walked through the door at 12:10.  As I walked through the door, I glanced at my number, 501, and looked up at the LED Display.  "Now Serving: 499."  Oh, yes!  Thank you GOD!  Blessed be he who created a world governed by mathematics!
Strolled right up to the front counter and took care of my business.  As I walked out I glanced at the numbers being dispensed by the machine for the customers who were just walking in.  989.  Oh, those poor, non-mathematical creatures.  Feels great to be an engineer again.
I got home flush with victory, but the place was eerily silent and dark.  Not even the compressor on my refrigerator made no sound.  I tried a light switch: no juice.  It appears to be a power outage.  Took my daily hour-long jog, figuring the problem would be fixed by the time I got back.  Winding down my jog, as I approached the building, I looked through other peoples' windows and saw that their lights were lit.  Great, problem solved!  But when I came into my place, nothing.  Nadda.
I tried flipping the main circuit breaker in the hallway repeatedly.  Nothing.  I knocked on my neighbor's door and, when she opened, I saw that her lights were on.
"Anything strange about the power today?"
"Yes, it kept going off and on a minute or so ago."
Oops.  Apparently I had been flipping the wrong breaker.
Called the electric company and learned that my power had been disconnected due to my, um, tardiness in payment.
To make a long story short, once the power is off, you can't turn on your computer to pay the bill, so you have to go to a neighbor's house.  If you try to use your laptop from your neighbor's house, you realize that once your power has been disconnected you are considered a deadbeat and can no longer pay by Internet at all.  And if the whole reason you didn't pay was because you never got the paper bill due to unreliable mail service, then you have to go to the heart of the beast, the electric company building on the other side of the city, in order to print up a new bill and pay it in person to get your power turned back on, which "only takes twenty minutes."  Then you get home, the lights are still off, and you call the electric company, they will kindly inform you that it should be back on "Around ten tonight."
So now I'm sitting here at my friendly neighbor's house, well-fed, writing this post.  Of course, they realized that an adult is now in the house, and took the opportunity to take a night out, so now I've been drafted into babysitting while I blog.  What a day.  New job starts tomorrow. Gotta get ready here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Old City in the Morning

I recently had a chance to walk through the Old City of Jerusalem at sunrise. Just posting a few shots here.

Looking south toward Abu Tor and Armon Hanatziv

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Volunteering at Pnei Kedem

In my previous post on the Pnei Kedem kite festival, I mentioned that I had volunteered there last summer. It occurred to me that I never actually posted the photos on the blog, so it's time to remedy that mistake.

An areal photo of Pnei Kedem
Map indicating Pnei Kedem's location, somewhere between Jerusalem and Hebron, a bit to the east.

We all met at the bus station pretty early. The bus ride from Jerusalem to Pnei Kedem can take an hour. Unlike Efrat or Tekoa, Pnei Kedem doesn't have it's own express road into Jerusalem just yet. Maybe some day, once the place gets a bit larger.

Mail collection

One thing is for sure, if you like quiet, you'll love Pnei Kedem

Anyway, we set to work.
Guys in "Lawrence of Arabia" head T-shirts, looking busy.

Some of the outpost's smaller residents return home from school.

Looking east, toward the Dead Sea

You can't see it here, but the wind was so strong, it was pretty much impossible to paint while standing on a ladder. I would get halfway up and be blown clear. Locals report that sometimes the winds are so powerful they can tear the roof right off of a trailer.

Yours truly, painting the big green stripe over fiberglass on the molding of the shul.

The girls painted the playground.

And some of the soldiers on guard came through to do some pullups.

The sun slowly set as Shabbat descended over Pnei Kedem