Israel. Religion, Faith, Hebrew and Solar Energy.
The real Israel - people living ordinary lives in an extraordinary place.
People who visit Israel say that there is something special about it. Something special in the air. Air in Israel is different. Aura there is different. Even experienced travelers, who went around the globe, who visited all corners of the world admit that Israel stays apart from other places. When you step on its land you feel the difference immediately. It's in the air. You feel it with all your pores, its above understanding, you can't articulate it. You just feel it. In Israel even hereditary atheists become less cynical; they feel the sacredness of the place.
Not to sound pathetic, I'll tell an old joke which I've just recollected - A journalist went to interview heads of several countries. He visited American president first. During interview he paid attention that there were many telephones in the office; all phones were of black color, except one which was red. The journalist asked what all those phones were. "Well," answered the president," This one is a direct line with the Russian president, and that one is a direct line to the president of France, that one...." And he named countries. "What about the red phone?" asked the journalist. "Oh," was the answer, "That one is a direct line to God Almighty." The same story was in presidents' offices of other countries. Black phones were direct lines with foreign presidents but the red one was a direct line with God. When the journalist came to interview an Israeli prime-minister, he also saw many black phones and one red one on his table. He decided to surprise the prime-minister with his knowledge and said, "I know what the red phone is for."-"That one?" said the Israeli prime-minister," Ah, that one is local."
Now, after you laughed or at least grinned, I'll tell you that it is true. Some people consider that the sacredness of Israel is conditioned by Bible, by the fact that we read names in the Bible and see in Israel all these places in reality. I haven't read the Book before I came to Israel. Remember- I grew up in Soviet Union, where the Bible was read underground. I got it in my hands ones for a couple of hours when I was 20 and all what I had time to read was The Song Of Songs of King Solomon. I was never an atheist before; as well I was never religious. I am a believer and think that faith stands way above religion.
If you don't have your eyes wet when you go up to Jerusalem for the first time, something is wrong with your spirit. The road to Jerusalem is cut out in the rocks. It goes up, as Jerusalem lays high in the mountains. In Hebrew they don't say just "to go to Jerusalem", it sounds like "to ascend to Jerusalem" and when you go out of city, it sounds in Hebrew like "to descend". Apparently, not only its geographical position is meant here.
On the way to Jerusalem, close to the city, you can notice remains of military vehicles on the left side from the road. These are real remains of fighting equipment left from the military actions in 1948, which started immediately after Israel was proclaimed as a country.
The old equipment was left there as a memory of those battles, as it is not at all common in Israel to make monuments, as the second commandment prohibits making any image.
Country of Israel lives without Constitution, so Bible laws are considered legal.
I didn't have any problem that in Israel government is not separated from religion. Lots of secular Jews are outraged that there's no public transportation on Saturday, that malls are closed, as well as many entertainment places. But if you are not looking to make a problem from this, there's no problem. In some cities there are alternative shops working all the time. Many people have their own cars and go travelling any days. There are travel agencies that organize tours on Saturdays. I think that if you are not going to become religious and obey their laws, you shouldn't live in orthodox quarters. As a Russian proverb says, "В чужой монастырь со своим уставом не ходят», meaning «You don't implant your rules in a strange place», in short, when you go to Rome, do as Rome does. I agree that some times it's archaic when religion has to rule. For instance many religious Jews are not doing anything except reading prayers and fooling us that they are doing it for our salvation. They and their families live on welfare for generations. Practically they parasite on other people's labor. But again, it can happen in any place. It's sad though, when religion is substituted for faith. You can make quite well in Israel without religion, but it is hard to live in Israel without faith.
Hebrew, language of TANAKH
People in Israel are very warm and hospitable. Israel is a country of immigrants, so usually there are at least two languages in a family, the language of grandparents (depending on the land of their exodus) and Hebrew. Hebrew, language of the Book (TANAKH), was not spoken for ages. It was mostly written language. Male Jews were able to understand and speak it in a limited way, but it was not the spoken language of many. Until Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, pioneer in the revival of Hebrew, introduced it to everyday life through his own efforts and enthusiasm with the help of people surrounding him.
When we moved to Israel my son was a three year old kid who could speak Russian very well. He was a witty young man, listening and absorbing all what was spoken around. He probably heard how old immigrants were saying to me, that I should work hard to learn Hebrew, but I shouldn't worry about the kid. "Children are picking up a new language naturally", they say,"You won't notice how fast he'll start speaking Hebrew and forget Russian". My son was attending a local kindergarten, where they spoke only Hebrew. After four months the teacher got worried why Reuven didn't speak Hebrew yet. "I see that he understands everything," she told to me,"but he wouldn't say anything." At home I asked my son what the problem was. He lowered his eyes and confessed, "If I start speaking Hebrew, I will forget Russian. How am I going to talk to Grandma then?" I felt my eyes wet. We think that immigrant children don't have any problems; that they integrate into new life naturally. We are very egoistic. Children are the same human beings; they are just smaller in size. I explained to my three-and-a-half-year-old son that he would not forget Russian, he would know two languages. The next day he produced a long and eloquent phrase in front of his kindergarten teacher in a beautiful Hebrew. They made a celebration for him that day, sang for him Israeli songs, draw pictures for him. He was a king for the day.
Outhouses VS Solar Energy and Drip Irrigation
Our first rented apartment in Israel was absolutely empty. We brought our first beds and chairs from the street. People put outside what they do not need, usually it is something still good. Neighbors brought to us bags with clothes for my son. All around us were friendly and tolerant to my broken Hebrew. As we didn't know much about Israel, the same Israeli natives didn't know much about the place from where we came. Russia was a symbol of woods and bears for them. My neighbor, an old Morocco immigrant was genuinely surprised to learn that we had a bathroom with a bathtub in the old country. They were sure that in Russia we had just outhouses. I didn't tell her, that for some remote places in that big and rich country it was true. Even now some parts there still can be called "unwashed Russia". Israel herself made a speedy progress from an outside water closets country to a Hi Tech society. While people all over the world are spreading demagogy about alternative energy and saving of natural resources, Israel is living it.
Sun and water.
Two things that amazed me from the first day were big white barrels with black mirrors on the roofs of the houses and thin plastic pipes on the ground around the trees and bushes. The first was called "Dood shemesh" (Sun boiler), a system that uses solar energy to heat water for household needs. Israel has sun all year round and even in rainy winter days sun is able to heat water through the clouds. As a back up all houses have electrical water heaters as well. Energy is not wasted in Israel. People heat their water by electricity only when it's needed. My cousin, who lives in Kazakhstan, liked the idea of "dood shemesh" so much, that he built one in his country summer house.
Plastic pipes on the ground around trees and bushes are an excellent example of drip irrigation, widely used in Israeli gardening and on the fields. Israeli farmers pick up harvest twice a year. Israeli people prefer to buy local food products, and in the stores there are like 90% of "made in Israel" goods.
When my little son learnt from a neighbor, that Israeli farmers feed their cows bananas and oranges, he said, "Ah, that's how banana milk and orange milk is made!"
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