Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflections on Contradictions

Just back from a 10-day visit to Israel, some quick reflections...

I must be getting old.

Six times I’ve been to Masada. Six times I climbed the snake path to the summit where Herod built his palace and fortress retreat more than 2,000 years ago.

On the seventh time, I rested. I took the cable car to the top and back. Once on the plateau where 900 Jewish rebels martyred themselves rather than submit to Roman rule in 73 CE, I opted to sit in the shade after an hour while Gilda and our friend Gemma trekked on toward the southern flank of the desert promontory overlooking the Dead Sea.

On my first visit 45 summers ago, I slept overnight in a barely inhabitable hostel at the base of the mountain, rising pre-sunrise to climb the rocky trail before the desert heat would make the exercise incalculably difficult. Today, a modern visitor center—complete with a McDonald’s!!!!—greets all who come. I resisted the lure of a kosher quarter pounder and fries, instead choosing from the cafeteria fare three of Israel’s signature foods: hummus, falafel and schnitzel.

Ice Capades: Israelis have wised up, at least as far as ice is concerned.

In years’ past, I would be given a cube or two of ice with my soda. Now, they willingly filled a cup to the brim with ice.

Cinematique: Israelis love going to the movies, but they’re in no rush to get to their seats.

Seats are sold on an assigned basis so you know in advance where you’ll be. Moreover, commercials and previews last about 20 minutes before a feature film starts, so a 10 pm post time gives you plenty of leeway to settle in before 10:20.

If you’re watching a comedy, like Bridesmaids (in English with Hebrew subtitles), be prepared for two-stage laughter. The first stage starts when those reading the text get to the punch line before the words are actually spoken.

A Matter of Taste: Gilda loves salads, but Israeli salads were so enormous they almost got the better of her. They burst with flavor and freshness.

Though our nation can point with pride to the efficiency of our food distribution network, Israeli produce more than matches our output. Indeed, comparing the taste of Israeli cherry tomatoes to those sold in U.S. supermarkets leaves an American feeling decidedly inferior.

Who Knows: There must be an explanation, but I don’t know it.

At the Western Wall plaza, a holy site to all Jews because of its proximity to the Temple Mount, religious authorities, and some self-appointed vigilantes, do not permit men and women to stand together and pray. They don’t allow women to walk around with exposed shoulders.

Yet, along the tunnel tour that hugs the Western Wall along its northern path, at the point closest to where the Second Temple stood, the sexes freely co-mingle in prayer, with no one monitoring female attire.

Religion—go figure!

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