Four months after my first visit to Israel, in Jerusalem, I was given the opportunity to go to Israel again, this time to Tel Aviv for the Ex Libris System Seminar 2009. Tel Aviv is a modern city, only 100 years old, located on the sea, far from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon. The allegedly 4000 years old port of Jaffa (Yafo), originally an Arab town, is part of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality. Unlike Jerusalem there is no large orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in the city center.
But on Shabbat (when religious Jews are not allowed to work, which includes operating machines), my experiences were:
In our hotel:
– No scrambled eggs, but only boiled eggs – Bread toaster had been removed – Espresso coffee machine (button operated) had been removed, only ready made coffee – On the other hand, besides the Shabbat elevator (stops at all floors, no need to press a button) the other elevator operated normally
In the streets:
– No buses, only taxis – Tel Aviv quiet (less cars, shops closed), Jaffa very busy
Hotel reception says everything is closed, but the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is open (fortunately)
In our hotel in East Jerusalem (Arab area), there were no such restrictions.
In Western Europe it is unthinkable that there is no public transport on Sundays. Even without the problematic Jewish-Arab relationship Israel is a very complicated society.
Went to the USA for the very first time January 15-25. Spent first couple of days in the Rocky Mountains in the snow, in Grand Lake, Colorado, with my pals from the IGeLU Steering Committee and some of the PWG Coordinators, before going to Denver for four days of meetings with ELUNA and Ex Libris. Some observations: – Although America seems very familiar (because of American movies, TV, books) it is also completely different from Europe – No tourists in Grand Lake, they are a summer resort – Lots of snow, but locals complaining about lack of snow – Although out of season, lots of bars and restaurants open, but they close at 9 PM! – Americans are very friendly – Americans serve very big meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner; it is normal to take half of it home – Haven’t seen any live moose, only a lot of other forms (labels, pillows, signs, …) – Snowshoeing is nice – Buffalo Bill has picked a very nice place to be buried
During my visit to Jerusalem I got interested in the Hebrew alphabet. When abroad (or in certain areas of your own city), it disturbs me not to be able to read the local signs. When going on vacation, I always try to master some elementary knowledge of the local language, by means of short language guides, etc. At least I want to be able to read the most important signs, like “entrance“, or “exit“, and order “two beers“. With a lot of languages it is easy to read the words, try to pronounce them and get a sense of their meaning if they are related to languages you already know. But in a lot of other cases completely different “alphabets” are used. Some are derived from the Latin alphabet used in Western European languages (for instance Cyrillic in Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, etc.); others have a comletely separate development (like Chinese, Japanese, Korean); a third group share the origins of the Latin alphabet, like Greek, Hebrew and I guess also Arabic.
Since my early youth I have always been intrigued by languages, scripts and alphabets. I remember trying to figure out Phoenician letters (from library books); I learned Greek and Latin in school; I have books on the history of scripts, alphabets and languages.
My trip to Israel triggered my interest in languages and alphabets, but also my other field of interest, history, society and politics. I am now reading books about the Israeli/Palestine situation (like Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, by David K. Shipler), but I am also trying to teach myself the Hebrew Alphabet and some of the language. I discovered a free online tutorial with downloadable PDF text book and learning software at Foundation Stone. Very useful.
What struck me immediately is that the Hebrew characters that have the same origin as the Latin vowels, (A E I O U) are used as consonants instead of vowels, I never realised that. Vocalisation is handled by adding combinations of dashes and dots, more or less. So, to my surprise I realised that the “aleph” (א) that corresponds to the Latin “A, a” and Greek “alpha” (α) is not pronounced as an “a” like sound at all; it is a consonant that is not pronounced or is some kind of guttural “bridge” between two vowels. Never too old to learn…
From November 11 until November 16 I visited Jerusalem for the first Ex Libris Developers Meeting. For someone who is interested in art, history, culture and politics a very interesting city. But visiting this city is so different from any other historically interesting place that I have seen before.
It already started right after our arrival at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport. While waiting for the taxi shuttle to Jerusalem to depart, there was a man with a gun hanging casually from his shoulder walking around. All over Jerusalem you see armed guards in the streets, civilians, police, military, men and women. This is quite unusual for people like me, from a quiet western European country like The Netherlands.
Another striking phenomenon of the Holy City (holy for three world religions): the apparently strict territorial division between “cultural” groups (as I prefer to call them). The historical old city inside the old walls consists of a Muslim, a Christian, a Jewish and an Armenian area. The new city around it has two parts, the western Jewish city and the eastern Arab city. The Jewish city also has different areas for orthodox and “modern” Jews. Apart from the new wall that separates Israeli territory from the Westbank, there are no physical borders between these city areas, but hardly anyone will voluntarily go to the “other side”, and this is especially true for Jews and Arabs, as far as I have been able to see.
It is a fascinating situation, one minute you feel like walking around in a rather cosmopolitan Arab city, go some ten meters further down the road and you are in an eastern Europe orthodox Jewish “stetl”. In the early morning being awakened by the muezzin’s call, in the evening drinking a Belgian draught beer in an Irish pub in a modern city center. Having meetings during the day in an office building in the new business area, walking on old Roman stones in the evening.
And then of course the magnificent and impressive sanctuaries of Muslims, Jews and Arabs within a stone’s throw of each other. Food for thought.