A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Chelm Exists in Haifa:

Israeli Humor

The town of Chełm decided to build a new synagogue. So, some strong, able-bodied men were sent to a mountaintop to gather heavy stones for the foundation. The men put the stones on their shoulders and trudged down the mountain to the town below. When they arrived, the town constable yelled, "Foolish men! You should have rolled the stones down the mountain!" The men agreed this was an excellent idea. So they turned around, and with the stones still on their shoulders, trudged back up the mountain, and rolled the stones back down again.

Allow me to introduce myself. Earl Shugerman is my name. I am a proud immigrant to Israel of five years. I moved to Israel at age of fifty eight from Colorado. 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.

Haifa (Hebrew: חֵיפָה‎‎, Hebrew pronunciation: [χeiˈfä], Ḥefa; Arabic: حيفا‎ Ḥayfā[2]) is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of over 268,000. Haifa is a mixed city: 90% are Jews, more than a quarter of whom are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, while 10% are Arabs, predominantly of the Christian faith. It is also home to the Baha'i World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the history of settlement at the site spans more than 3,000 years. Over the centuries, the city has changed hands numerous times. It has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the city has been governed by the Haifa Municipality. The weather is balmy although a bit cold at times in the winter. There are two major universities, a large and well known tech center and lots of parks and fun things to do. My famous place to hike is Park Carmel. Our region’s most famous resident was Elijah the Prophet. He reportedly lived his nomadic live in the Carmel Mountain Range.

I have enjoyed many blessings and faced many obstacles in adjusting to my new home. One of the greatest obstacles to overcome is to learn a new language especially at my age.

Israel offers newcomers the opportunity to study in an Ulpan. The Ulpan is a four hour a day program where new immigrants study Hebrew and receive some orientation to their new homeland. Private tutoring is available at a fee. I chose to both attend the Ulpan and receive private tutoring. My tutor Elinor Kimmel used the children’s stories about the citizens of Chelm as our study guide.

Almost every culture around the world has developed stories about fools in their midst. It’s a way of gently poking fun at themselves. In Jewish folklore we find a wonderful mythical town in Poland called Chelm located in Poland in the days of old. The residents are usually happy, gentle folk who also share another virtue – they are considered fools by everyone living outside of Chelm. But the Chelmites know they are the great sages of the world, the brightest of bright. Stories of the Chelmites have adorned Jewish humor and folklore for centuries.

…Two men of Chelm went out for a walk, when suddenly it began to rain. “Quick,” said one. “Open your umbrella.”It won’t help,” said his friend. “My umbrella is full of holes.”

“Then why did you bring it? “I didn’t think it would rain!”…

My favorite cafe in Haifa is the Ego Panorama. The owner is a long time resident of Haifa named Hannah. Hannah’s family came to Israel in 1948 from Poland. They were fortunate and thankful to have escaped the horrors of the Holocaust. I sat down yesterday to eat and study my beloved Chelm stories at The Ego. Hannah came over to me and began to giggle in a good natured way. “My family is from Chelm” she informed me with great glee. Chelm exists! It is a nice sized community in Poland of no particular distinction other than its contribution to the world of humor.

The greatest joy that I have derived from my immigration to Israel is learning about the great diversity of culture and history that this nation has to offer. I can visit the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem. And Tel Aviv in the same day! Israel is a nation of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze and other citizens. In many cases we manage to live together with a fair degree of harmony. Israel is a nation of immigrants from virtually every nation on earth. It is common to sit at The Ego and listen to fellow diner’s converse in several languages!

Posted by eshugerman 19:58 Tagged travel colorado panorama jewish israel humor dan haifa hebrew immigrant chelm Comments (0)

Gossip and Political Small Talk in Haifa Israel !..

What is Balagan(mayhem)

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. Politics were not the most integral part of our lives, at least in my social world.

Life in Israel is very different. It is saturated on a daily basis with political ideology, confrontations, and agendas. It is rare in this country to ride a bus, go to a cafe or attend any social function that do not include heated political debates. It is very common for me, as an American immigrant, to answer questions about the United States and Barack Obama's political views. I answer with a wry smile, "I am a Republican".

Many of the world's political myths, fallacies, and fables may be much more noticeable in Israel than elsewhere. Foreign aid is one example of a how these fallacies can affect Israel and our relationship with The United States. Many Americans have the false impression that Israel and The Palestinians receive enormous amounts of American financial support. The total percentage of Israel's G.N.P. that derives from foreign aid is a mere three percent. Much of this three percent is from loans on military hardware. The Palestinians also receive a negligible amount of American aid by many standards.

The peace process is another example. Many people question me, and other Israelis, about the intervention of the United States in the peace process.Both Israel and the Palestinians are independent national and political entities. Israel is a nation of thirty three major political parties. The Palestinians have a wide range of political views. The media is inundated with debates about a subject that, in the truest sense, is overly simplified and complex. These debates create tension and misunderstandings between the nations.

Israelis spend a great portion of their time discussing internal politics as well. It is common to be sitting in the mall and hear a conversation about a political leader's reported ties to the KGB. The subject of illegal foreign workers for domestic help is another of the favorite political topics. Israelis spend much time talking about ?sss illegal foreign worker or ?sss reported treatment of her domestic help. I wish more time was spent on discussing health, education, and welfare.

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.

My belief is that the biggest political issue facing Israel today is that Israeli political leaders are restricted in direction and conviction. The nature of Israeli politics- the numerous political parties, the wide range of political opinions- makes it difficult to evolve. I grew up in the United States where it was hard for the two political parties to reach agreement and implement policy. Imagine what it is like to have thirty three major political agendas rather than just two. I am amazed that this new, small, and beleaguered nation functions so well. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others share a fairly democratic although jaded society

"You can't improve on saying nothing." Golda Meir may have been right. Israel therefore of a nation of perfectionists!

It might seem to the readers that I am frustrated or even angry at the verbose nature of my new neighbors. I have learned to ignore the gossip and occasionally participate in the political "balagan" 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. 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!

Twenty percent of Israelis are not Jewish; yet we manage to live together in a jaded but fairly democratic society! The diversity of cultures, ideologies, and cultural backgrounds are a great joy to me in this amazingly complicated nation. Please come and see it for yourselves!

Posted by eshugerman 04:23 Archived in Israel Tagged politics israel gossip golda Comments (0)

Nazareth Israel

Home of Jesus

Christianity is the world's most popular religion, with an estimate of 2.2 billion adherents. This religion has followers in virtually every country in the world, and its strongest growth is in developing nations. I live in Israel and love visiting the holy sites of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Nazareth is particularly inspiring to me as a Jew and an American immigrant. It is a city that combines the history and cultures of the three major faiths in a peaceful and harmonious community. It was of course the home of Jesus and a special shrine of Christianity.

Christianity started about 2,000 years ago in the country of Judea, which is presently known as Israel. Israel had become a melting pot of various cultures, with many cities and farms. During that period, Rome had control over Israel and the Jewish people were subjugated and felt the need to seek freedom and independence. The Jews refused to accept the pagan ways of the Roman Empire. Many Jews believed the coming of the Messiah was their best hope for deliverance from Roman oppression and of course for spiritual salvation. Jesus of Nazareth was born during this tempestuous time of Jewish history. He was a Jew and observed all aspects of Judaism. He also knew Jewish law very well. When Jesus was in his early thirties, he began going to various villages, teaching and healing people along the way. The world was literally revolutionized by his teachings. Jesus taught a far more universal form of Judaism that prevaled in the era of his life. People began to question their leaders and the Judean community sought change.
(In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them."In this passage, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that he didn't intend to abolish the old Jewish religious laws, such as the Ten Commandments and the various regulations on marriage, inheritance, property rights, diet, and similar matters.)

Nazareth (Arabic الناصرة an-Nāzirah; Hebrew נָצְרַת) is a town of about 60,000 people in northern Israel, about 88 miles north of Jerusalem. It is the capital of the northern region of the country and the largest Arab city in Israel. Jesus grew up in Nazareth with his mother Mary, making the city one of several Christian pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land.

In Jesus' time, Nazareth would have had a population of about 500. Indeed, in the New Testament, Nazareth is depicted as an obscure backwater. In the Gospel of John, people who hear of Jesus of Nazareth ask themselves, "What good could come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46)

Nevertheless, the New Testament reports that Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:26), the site of the Annunciation (announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior) and the town in which Jesus grew up (Matthew 2:23, 13:54; Luke 2:4, 2:51, 4:16). Nazareth is mentioned 17 times in the New Testament. Jesus eventually left the village for a wider ministry although he was always known to some as a "prophet from Nazareth in Galilee" (Matt 21:11).

The two most famous churches in Nazareth are the Church of the Annunciation and St. Gabriel's Greek Orthodox Church. The two churches are connected by a spring and well, while the spring supplies the water to the well. It is believed to be the spot where Mary got the Annunciation of the upcoming birth of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox Church is the site of the spring, and the Church of the Annunciation is the site of the well.

The Jesus Trail begins in Nazareth. It is a 65 km walking trail which connects many of the sites where Jesus did his ancient ministry. One of the important sites of the trail is Tabgha which is believed to be the location of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish. In this location there is an ancient Christian site- the Church of the Multiplication.

Christians inhabited Nazareth by the 4th century, if not earlier, but pilgrims were not much interested in the site initially. It was not until the 6th century, when legends about Mary's life in Nazareth began to circulate, that Nazareth became a Christian pilgrim destination.

Modern Nazareth is situated among the southern ridges of the Lebanon Mountains, on the steep slope of a hill, about 14 miles from the Sea of Galilee and about 6 miles west from Mount Tabor. I used to to do the annual jog to the top of Mount Tabor. I won't lie, it's an exhausting treck- but the scenery was well worth the effort. The modern city lies at the bottom of the hill which views the ancient city. Nazareth has a population of 60,000. The majority of residents are Israeli Arabs, about 35-40% of whom are Christians and the rest are Muslims.

The historical sites bring Nazareth a wide array of tourists from all over the world. However, it is still a warm and welcoming place, and one of my favorites in Israel. It is located in a valley surrounded by greenery and fertile farmland. Nazareth is a town that combines ancient history with a modern society. It is always exciting to visit the holy sites and yet enjoy a robust and modern city. Nazareth has my favorite pizza joint in Israel- New York style pizza served with American beer. Near the central bus station is my prefered shoestore in Israel- they have a wide variety of American brand shoes. Nazareth, of course, maintains its tradition of wonderful Arabic cuisine- always a treat. Nazareth also offers a traditional Arab style Shuk or market. The city is a short bus or car trip to The Sea of Galilee, Acre and Jerusalem!

Posted by eshugerman 03:00 Archived in Israel Tagged travel israel jesus bible christianity galilee judaism Comments (0)

Israel, A Nation of Remembrance.

Children in War

I immigrated to Israel five years ago from Colorado to Haifa. What an incredible journey!

Understanding the culture of Israel is a great challenge to many new olim or immigrants. Israel is a nation where the Jewish faith and history are very much a part of daily life. It is a nation where the horrors of the Holocaust are not and must not be forgotten. We remember the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem in our hearts and prayers. "Next Year in Jerusalem" is the prayer that mourns our past suffering, but also gives us hope for the present and future. Tisha B’Av, is a day of evel or mourning in Israel. This day mourns the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and all suffering endured by the people of the Book. It is a day of fasting and other acts of observance. Businesses and schools may be open depending on the type of service or affiliation.

My most satisfying experience in Israel was working in a Moadonit or after school program in my Synagogue, Or Hadash. This was my favorite experience at the Moadonit that occurred during Tisha B’Av in the summer of 2009.

Forty kids aged six to ten enjoyed various summer activities including volleyball, soccer, and dodge ball. The director, Jaffa, also gave a one hour presentation describing the building and destruction of both Temples. We also discussed the Holocaust and Israel’s memorial day. More than twenty thousand Israelis have died in open conflicts or by acts of terrorism since the rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948. The Holocaust is almost always in the minds and hearts of Israeli Jews. We must never forget the murders of millions whose only sin was being born Jewish or having Jewish ancestors.

We had a short question and answer period after the presentation. I was surprised that none of the kids asked why we talked about these topics during summer fun time or complained. I asked my two English speaking “friends” in the group Naomi (8) and Shachar (7) to explain everyone’s cooperation. Naomi spent two years in Boston and answered in wonderful English; “most Israeli kids understand that remembering the past protects us in the present and future”. Shachar an American olah agreed and showed great pride in her new Israeli citizenship.

The following day, we had a group of visitors from Boston come to visit the Synagogue. The group was composed of roughly one hundred adults and kids from a sister congregation. We enjoyed dinner together and then went on a tour of the Temple’s bomb shelter. The shelter is an area of three hundred square feet that also includes a separate bathroom, shower, and first aid room. During the second war with Lebanon the twenty kids from our day school and fifty local children spent their days alternating between the shelter and our school facility. Each time a siren wailed the kids and staff ran down the three floors from the classroom to safety. Our previous past congregation president Jesse led the tour and explained to us that many Haifa residents left the city during the fighting but many chose to stay.

Jesse, who is a physician and American born, mentioned to me that my friend Naomi and her family chose to stay.

Posted by eshugerman 13:50 Tagged colorado israel war holocaust jerusalem or tisha b’av oleh hadash Comments (0)

Pittsburgh Before Mean Joe Greene!

Watching the Super Bowl from Israel

Growing up in Pittsburgh was fun, even though I was one of the few Jewish kids in those times that didn't grow up in Squirrel Hill. I was so blessed that we lived in Oakland near Shady Side and in Point Breeze, in the days when Shady Side was world known for its famous jazz clubs, chic restaurants, and fashion boutiques. I could romp in Frick and Schenley Parks, and even walk to Downtown Pittsburgh on an energetic day. My friends and I cheated the law by drinking beer at the Frick Park Memorial where Mr. Heinz reportedly invented modern processed Ketchup. Those were the days when Downtown was composed of large General Stores that ranged from the very basic Woolworth to upscale Gimbles. I did commute to Taylor Allderdice High School to get the best education in the area. Mom also wanted me to meet nice Jewish girls.

I had access within a walking distance to all the major sports activities of that era. I am dating myself by admitting that I fondly remember the days of Forbes Field, Original Hotdog Shop, and the years when Pittsburgh's sports were actually the goats of professional sports. I even remember Forbes Field when it was the home of both the Pirates and the Steelers. My parents also remembered the days when the Pirates and Steelers were both named the Pirates.

In those days, Pittsburgh really was the "Steel City", as the United States Steel was still dominating the industry. Yes, we really left for school in the morning with clean white shirts that were a faded grey by the time we came home in the afternoon. Air pollution was a problem then as it is today. My two sisters and I still have the occasional sinus problems decades after we left the region.

One of the major reasons that H. J. Heinz holds a fond memory for me is that in those days students toured the Heinz Factory where we received free spaghetti with pickles and ketchup. Sports tickets in those days were fifty cents a person. Hotdogs, peanuts, and cotton candy were the main tastes of the diet in the stadium.

Dad was an executive for Foodland Supermarkets. That was the main reason that I developed my life-long love for food. Mom was a housewife- in the days when most women did not work. My grandfather, Sam and our black dog- Archie were my two best friends. I might also add my parrot Homer. Grandpa and I used to take Archie on walks in Schenley Park with Homer riding contently on Archie's back. Needless to say, the scene o f Homer riding Archie's back produced a lot of mirth in the community and made us rather well known.

My Grandfather managed a shoe-store. He was always chewing a stogie. In those days they actually believed that tobacco was good for the health. As grandpa stood by this belief he also was convinced that alcohol was good for the body and the soul- therefore I had my first whisky sour at the age of 12. Not to worry, this was limited to Friday evening supper. Like many people in Pittsburgh he was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. Polish was widely spoken in those days and people took great pride in their ethnic heritage. There was also a tragic side to ethnic issues of the days, as people of color were indeed second class citizens.

One of the things I developed growing up in Pittsburgh is the strong commitment to social issues. I spent the rest of my career/personal life promoting programs for people with disabilities. Even though discrimination was rampant in Pittsburgh, there were a lot of leaders in Pittsburgh that stood up - like Mr. Heinz who believed in equal rights for all. Later, his son- John Heinz went into politics to bring about the positive change. He helped promote legislation for equal rights for women, reforms in banking, and in expanding Medicare insurance. He was also active in promoting rights for senior citizens, and legislation toward protecting the environment.

I still follow my beloved Steelers during the Super-bowl from 6,000 miles away in Israel. Last year's Super Bowl was broadcast on several networks in the Middle East. I watched it through the MeTV while sipping a beer at a local pub. I was stunned to listen to the game both in English and in Hebrew simultaneously. All the other patrons were non-Americans, but many of them understood the rules of the game and helped me cheer for my favorite team. Still, there were tears in my beer when the game was over.

The national sport of Israel is soccer. In Hebrew it is called football. My friends and I joke a lot as to which country has a right to call its national sport football. I enjoyed a certain glow from the sense of solidarity from sharing my football ardor with my new Israeli neighbors. It has indeed become a small world since my days growing up in the steel city. One of my toughest challenges in life is adjusting to the world of modern mass communications. However, when it comes to the Super Bowl- thank goodness for satellite television.

Posted by eshugerman 09:56 Tagged football soccer israel side super pittsburgh heinz bowl oakland steelers shady gimbles Comments (0)

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