A Travellerspoint blog

Brother Can You Spare a Million?

Life in Israel

I am writing this story from the perspective of a five-year American immigrant to Haifa, Israel. Many of my years in America were spent on the beautiful Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. By many people's standards I enjoyed a quiet, idyllic life of peaceful serenity. Many of my thoughts and those of my neighbors-were filled with green surroundings, beautiful lakes, and regional wildlife. My life as an Oleh (immigrant) is certainly far from serene.Why did I make this dramatic change in my life? There are many reasons. The most important is that I firmly believe that the return of the Jewish people to the land of our roots is destiny. It is a destiny with spiritual, religious, social, and political implications that have already proven to have historical implications. Haifa was my choice of city in this incredibly complicated and diverse nation due to the beautiful scenery, balmy weather, and cultural harmony of this glorious metropolis. Haifa is located on the sea and hosts a wonderful tiyelat or boardwalk.

At some point in your first few months as a new immigrant in Israel reality sets in and challenges replace idealism. You realize that, even though your decision was the correct one, you still must overcome some hurdles that you hadn't expected before your sojourn to the holy land. My experience has been that dealing with the differences in culture are the greatest obstacles to overcome for new Olim to Israel. I have also learned that my prejudices are an obstacle for me as well. I brought a series of expectations of life in Israel that turned out to be very different than reality. Israel is a nation of seven million people from numerous social and cultural backgrounds. Twenty per cent of Israelis are Muslim, Christian, Druze and other faiths in addition to the Jewish citizens of this new nation. There are three national languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Russian is widely spoken.

Gossip is a favorite pastime of many Israelis. I learned very quickly upon immigrating to Israel to protect personal information with great diligence. The purchase of a new shirt can often be the subject of great interest in my community. My love life is shared with my closest confidants only, at times to my regret.. Judaism considers gossip spoken without a constructive purpose (known in Hebrew as an evil tongue, lashon hara) as a sin. All the tenants in your building know how much you earn and the size of your monthly payments. What will be the eternal fate of my neighbors!

Even though they teach you the word "savlanut" or patience, no one seems to have any. There is no shame in asking. You can negotiate a parking fine and generally get out of it. No one will refund your money, once you've parted with it, it is gone for good. Refunds, even at many large stores tend to be a difficult battle at best.

My greatest frustration in dealing with some of my new neighbors is the "all Americans are friars" mentality. Friar is the Hebrew word for sucker. The belief is shared by many Israelis is that all Americans are millionaires and easily part with their riches. In my five years in Israel, I've been asked to buy homes by non-owners several times. Strangers have begged me for loans on countless occasions with vows of poverty accompanied such pleas. Much of the time I discovered that my neighbors were far better off than I am financially. There have been many occasions that fellow diners in restaurants tried to stick me with every one's bills. I try to confront these obnoxious behaviors and always get the same response. "Your a rich American, what do you care!" I have come to learn with time that all French, Spanish, and Russians tourists and immigrants are rich also! I should have no difficulty meeting a nice and wealthy Jewish girl in this country.

I have given great thought and received much counseling on the subject of Friarism. I must remember that many of my new neighbors come from the most difficult backgrounds in history. Indeed, the old axiom that money is the root of all evil may also apply in Eretz Canaan. Perhaps the scarcity of natural riches in Israel concerns all of us. Let us blame Moshe or Moses for our errant behavior. Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against our famous forefather. He took us through the desert for forty years to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!

It might seem to the readers that I am frustrated or even angry at the spiritual nature of my new neighbors. I have learned to ignore the gossip and occasionally greed surrounding me. I try to remind myself that many of my new friends come from backgrounds where it was prohibited or even dangerous to speak openly or enjoy opportunities that we all take for granted. I have learned to truly appreciate the freedoms that I enjoyed in The United States and now enjoy in Israel.

"Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here." Thank you Golda Meir!

Posted by eshugerman 07:47 Tagged travel israel haifa hebrew Comments (0)

Holocaust! The Rightous Gentiles!

"Lest We Forget"

This past week was Holocasut Memorial Day in Israel. Paying homage to six million murdered Jewish brethen is particularly painful here in Israel. Many of us lost friends and family. This is a nation where the constant fear of destruction has been an ongoing part of our lives for sixty-four years. Yet, we gratefully remember those non-Jews who helped us during our darkest days and support us in our current struggle to survive.

It is generally believed that six million Jews perished as a result of Nazi genocide. Hundreds of thousands of others would have joined them were it not for the courageous intervention of a few world leaders and thousands of individuals who risked their lives in order to save Jews from the gas chambers. Many of these men and women paid for their heroic efforts with their lives. There were those who stood up and fought for justice.

Those who resisted the Gestapo during the infamous round-ups and hid Jews did so at grave personal peril. Any person caught hiding a Jew was immediately shot on the spot or taken out to be publicly hanged.

Those non-Jews who worked at great risk to their personal safety to save Jews became known as the “Righteous Persons” (or sometimes Righteous Gentiles). There are thousands of stories of great valor which will never be told because the Nazis executed many of these Righteous Persons. Among those whose stories one of the most celebrated is that of Raoul Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who made it a special, personal mission to help save the Jews of Hungary. More than 30,000 Jews received special Swedish passports from Wallenberg. He set up "safe houses," distributed food and medical supplies, and virtually single-handedly set up a bureaucracy in Budapest, Hungary's capital, designed to protect Jews. More than 90,000 Budapest Jews were deported to the death camps and murdered, and Wallenberg's efforts may have reduced the number of those murdered by half. As a diplomat, he successfully confronted the Nazis at great risk to his own safety. Following the "liberation" of Budapest by the Soviets, he was arrested by them, thrown in prison, and never heard from again. Reports often surface, unconfirmed, that he is still alive, although the Soviets announced his death two years after his arrest.

I immigrated to Israel five years ago from Colorado. My greatest blessings in Israel have come as the result of interfaith activities in Haifa, my new home. I have participated in Soccer leagues with our Muslim neighbors in Israel. My Synagogue, Or Hadash has hosted an interfaith choir with Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze members from Europe, Israel, and America. We have joined with the Catholic Focolare in monthly study sessions, interfaith youth sports activities and a spiritual retreat at Kibbutz Nes Ammim. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from dozens of countries attended the event.

I want to thank our non-Jewish friends everywhere for your continued support. Please come and see this incredible nation for yourselves!

Posted by eshugerman 03:55 Tagged colorado israel holocaust nazis gentile judaism interfaith raoul wallenberg nes ammim Comments (0)

The Druze in Carmel Israel

Life in Israel

This story was written prior to the Carmel fires which devistated the region that I love so much in 2010. I am writing this post from the prospective of an American immigrant to Israel of five years. I am proud to be the honorary interfaith coordinator of Temple Or Hadash in Haifa. My greatest blessings have been the result of participating in interfaith activities with our friends the Focolare (the largest Catholic outreach movemensit), and several other religious groups- including our Druze neighbors. I live in Haifa. Daliat El Carmel and Osifia are two Druze villages close to Haifa in the Carmel Forests.

The Druze have lived in the Galilee and Carmel area for a thousand years. Even though the Druze language is Arabic, their religion and culture is seperate and unique. They speak a special dialect of Arabic that sounds much like Syrian dialects of Arabic. They are neither Muslim nor Christian. They number about one and a half million in the world. However, the vast majority live in the Galilee, Southern Lebanon and Southern Syria. The Druze have no political aspirations to be an independent nation. Their emphasis is on spiritual and not secular issues. They are fiercely loyal and equal citizens of this nation. The Israeli Druze serve mandatory service in the Israeli military..

The Druze religion was founded just about a thousand years ago. In general they have chosen to keep a lot of facts of their faith secret. I can tell you a few details they shared with me. Four prophets carry the Druze messianic message. The first three are the biblical Moses, Jethro, and Muslim Muhammad. According to the faith, the fourth prophit- Hamza Ben Ali was the strongest of the lot. He approached an important sheikh in Egypt in 1017. The shiekh had accepted him immediatly and nominated him as the spiritual leader of Egypt of the time. Hamza was a spiritual leader for 22 years. His era was the opportunity to join the Druze religion. After that time, one has to be born into the religion to be a part of it.

I enjoy visiting our Druze neighbors.The atmosphere of the villages is warn and open. Anybody, including the villagers, can choose either to dress traditionally or in designer clothes. The village, like the rest of the world, started as an agricultural society. Today professions range from sheperding to computer programming. The countryside is beautiful and pastoral, yet the scene is dotted with Mercedes, upgrade shopping, and your expected McDonalds. There are wonderful restaurants and shops.

The highlight of my visits to the Daliat El Carmel village is the Yad La Banim (tr. hand of our sons) Center. This type of facility is common in many different parts of Israel including Haifa. The primary reason for building these centers is to commemorate those who gave their lives defending the nation. In Daliat El Carmel, 330 of the Druze community are honored for giving their lives defending Israel. For instance, the guide of my first tour Jaber, lost his uncle during the struggle for independence against the British occupation in 1947. His uncle helped many of the resistance leaders hide from both British soldiers and the followers of the Grand Mufti (leader of the Arab Leagion). One of the people he assisted was the former Haifa Mayor Aba Hushi.

The war memmorial was built in 1980. The Druze got the authorization to build the Yad La Banim near the historical site of the house in which author and British MP Sir Lawrence Oliphant and his wife resided. His assistant, Naftali Zvi Hertz Imber, resided with them. He was the author of the song that eventually became the Israeli national anthem. Tradition has it that he was more inspired by the view than Zionist aspirations when writing the song.

The mayor's office and other modern government offices are situated in the village's Yad La Banim Center. During our tour we met many of the community's residents and visited their homes. Hospitality is a very important part of their tradition. I am glad that I have the oppurtunity to experience it. I was even invited to an upcoming wedding during my first visit to the villages.

This monstrous fire burned millions of trees, destroyed countless homes, and most horrific of all took the lives of forty three human beings. Yet, goodness and kindheartedness came from around us and beyond. The Druze villages were among the most hard-hit areas of the fire's fury. The residents of these villages and all of us in Northern Israel thank those who offered support and solidarity. Rebuilding has progressed rapidly. The residents have a long tradition of spirituality, a strong family base, and tenacious ability to adapt that had enabled the inhabitants of these villages to move forward.

Posted by eshugerman 14:02 Tagged israel carmel haifa or mcdonald's interfaith druze hatikvah hadash judasim Comments (0)

Interfaith Peace Efforts in Israel

Life in Haifa

I am writing this story from the vantage point of an American Immigrant to Haifa Israel. My five years as an "Oleh" or immigrant have been challenging but incredibly satisfying. I want to thank Rabbi Edgar Nof and my Temple, Or Hadash, in Haifa for warmly accepting me and helping me adjust to life in Israel. My experiences in interfaith activities at Or Hadash have made me a passionate supporter of dialogue between peoples and have helped me to cope with the challenges of immigration.

The side of life in Israel-Palestine that gains media attention is that of conflict and anger. Sadly, this side of life does exist in this region. However, there are efforts made by many Jews, Christians,and Muslims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian borders to bring harmony. This is particularly true in Haifa "The City of Peaceful Co-Existence".

Or Hadash puts a great deal of emphasis and energy into interfaith actions and words. Or Hadash networks with the Muslim Achmedia, with the Druze community, and many other faiths to build better relations. We enhance our own spirituality by sharing our lives with friends from other faiths.

I would like to share a bit about our relationship with the Catholic Focolare- the largest Catholic outreach movement in the world.The Focolare does a myriad of spiritual, cultural, social, and economic programs worldwide- based on their primary tenet "Unity for All". The members of the Focolare live by the golden rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." For the past five years Or Hadash and the local Focolare have met monthly in a joint study meeting. We study each others holy writings. Our goal is to learn from each other not to change or judge the faiths of our friends. This past year, our monthly meeting was held on Dec 22nd, just three days before the Christmas celebration. It is very common for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to share our holidays together in Haifa.

In these monthly study meetings, we study both the Old and the New Testaments with the goal of understanding each other's spirituality and not contesting it. This year we met during the week of Easter and Passover. We talked about the origins of both holidays and some of the common traditions.

We have participated in activities sponsored by the Focolare that have been incredible. Or Hadash took part in a four day interfaith spiritual retreat at Kibbutz Nes Ammim in the Galilee. The event was done in the summers of 2009 and 2010. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border took part in the retreat. We studied each others holy books, prayed together, and enjoyed meeting participants from dozens of countries. Our only real source of contention was the nature of the cuisine! We were the first Jewish participants in this convention in the history of Israel-Palestine. .

We also send a delegation to the world renowned Run4Unity. It was held for the first time ever in Haifa in the year 2007. Youth from Israel-Palestine participated in a variety of sports activities held at Haifa's Carmel Beach. Several hundred youth from Israel and Palestine shared this activity without contention. Jewish, Christian,and Muslim young people participated. This year the event is being held in Caesaria in May.

In April of 2011, Or Hadash held one of the most exciting, beautiful and historic events at our congregation: INTERFAITH-DIALOGUE-PEACE CONCERT, HEALING THE CARMEL.

It was a first time in our congregation’s history that Muslim, Christian and Jewish choirs, musicians and singers came together to sing in unity for peace at Or Hadash. A Muslim choir from the Achmaddiyyan community, along with their Muezzin Umar Sharief, two Catholic choirs singing in Latin, English and Arabic, a German group of 11 young musicians, and Or Hadash choir – Shir Hadash, all came together in an inspiring evening that touched everyone and will be remembered for years to come.

A crowd of almost 300 people gathered at our synagogue for the event. Representatives from the three faiths spoke to the guests, emphasizing the importance of music and the significance of coming together to sing for such a noble cause.

An Arabic TV channel (Al Hura) from the US, arrived to document the evening. The German newspaper Die Welt sent reporters to cover the event. Haifa’s local media was present as well.

My favorite interfaith experience at Or Hadash took place in November of 2009. We joined our friends from the local Muslim Achmadi School in Haifa to host a youth "Soccer for Peace" program at their school in the Cababir part of Haifa. The Achmadiyya are peaceful followers of Islam. They have more than one hundred million followers in the world. Many live in Indonesia, Pakistan and England.

Youth ages to played a three game tournament that had both boy and girl players participate. Our team coach was Timothy Crowe, a Southern Baptist envoy to Israel from Dallas Texas. The kids enjoyed the beautiful Haifa fall weather, and a feast of cookies, cakes, pizza and soft drinks that followed the games. We are looking forward to continuing and expanding this activity in the fall of this year. I am looking forward to telling the readers more about the "Soccer for Peace" program in future posts.

Posted by eshugerman 09:29 Tagged israel haifa southern baptists judaism interfaith achmadiyya focolare catholicism Comments (0)

The Shulamit Hotel, Life in a Haifa Suburb

Yes-we have Pizza Hut!

We were sitting in our favorite cafe. Our server Chen was a native born Israeli or Sabra. She is finishing her degree in Social Sciences at the University of Haifa. I am an American immigrant to Haifa of five years. We decided to write about life in a Haifa suburb.

Kiryat Sefer is an upper middle class community in the Horev area of Haifa. It was my first home in Haifa, Israel. I immigrated to Israel five years ago from Colorado. What an adventure! Travel is wonderful in Israel. I can visit the Galilee, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, in the same day from my home in Haifa.

Horev is an alternate appellate for Sinai, where Moses received the Torah and the Ten Commandments. It is located on the bus route to the University of Haifa and two Druze Villages about thirty miles South of this quaint and sedate residential center. This wonderful community is a perfect blend of beautiful apartments, a large array of mid-priced restaurants, and upper-end shopping at a local mall.

In Israel, medical and dental care is universal. Their facilities are dotted throughout every community. It is even possible to receive care at virtually any time. Due to the nation’s socialized health care system, health care costs are 20% of most western nations. The quality of care competes with virtually any nation in the world. Horev offers health and dental care within walking distance from most homes!

My editor and I lived at the Shulamit Hotel, an institution of Haifa originally built in 1953 by the Feldman family. The Hotel originally had twelve rooms and was named after the owner’s daughter Shulamit. At the hotel’s prime, the desk clerk Debby mentioned that the capacity of the Hotel was 300 residents. Famous dignitaries such as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin visited this pristine establishment. The Hotel was a Hotel/Motel that had both monthly and short term residents when it closed two years ago.

Israel, can be a pleasant surprise to an American immigrant! The Hotel was within walking distance of a Pizza hut, Domino’s and McDonald’s. Many other restaurants of various culinary tastes and price ranges were also close to our home.

There is an English Bookstore named Lia's Books, which is owned and managed by two Vatekot (veterans) from the UK. The Bookstore serves as both as a source of reading material and impromptu welcome wagon for Anglo immigrants. The city Zoo is a fifteen minute walk or short bus ride. The world famous B’hai Center is also a short bus trip from this community.

The combined residential and transitional nature of our hotel community gave us an endless series of social adventures. Life in The Shulamit was interesting. The residents came from from a multitude of backgrounds,, I met a retired Florida resident who just finished a six week volunteer nursing program in Beer Sheva. There was a group of Nigerian sailors who were guests of the Hotel. I met a representative of the E.U. at our local Pizza Hut. Hotel residents include a graduate student in Biblical Archaeology, a retired Brazilian businessman, an American born school-teacher, and a certified massage therapist. At any given time, you could sit in the Hotel Lobby and listen to conversations spoken in multiple languages.

Local residents are quick to “adopt” newcomers, as most of our neighbours immigrated to Israel after its founding in 1948. My life was everybodys business. Gossip is the "national sport" of Israel. I learned very quickly that "silence is golden" in Israel. Muslim, Christian and others live in this community. This is a a reflection of life in Israel. Israel is a nation of immigrants from almost every nation on earth. We all live together in a fairly democratic, but jaded society. Please, come and see it for yourselves!

Posted by eshugerman 11:58 Archived in Israel Tagged hut society israel pizza haifa islam christianity judaism suburb immigrant Comments (0)

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