Thursday, February 5, 2009

Notes from the Holy Land

It's been a while since we've been able to post a new article on our blog and things have changed fairly drastically in many ways since our last posting. As always in this life, some of the changes were for the better and, to keep us on our toes, some were naturally for the worst, but we roll with the punches and, as this snowy-pated generation used to say, "We keep on truckin'".

Things are jogging along as best as can be expected given the looming cloud of economic Armageddon that's gathering world-wide these days. I feel like someone sitting quietly on a hilltop under a spreading oak tree on a crisp, clear summer's day watching with growing fascination and horror as I watch two thundering hundred-car freight trains hurtling toward each other at the foot of the hill around a blind bend at full steam.

Bucking the seemingly universal euphoria that has accompanied Obama's election as President, I just have a gut-wrenching feeling that this is a disaster of monumental proportions just waiting to happen. The fact that within the first couple of weeks of his administration he's chosen a couple of the most corrupt and scoff-law politicians on the Hill for positions of power, and then been forced to admit that he "screwed up" is hardly the stuff to inspire reckless confidence in his ability to handle the impending decisions he'll have to make that will, literally, mean life or death to millions, if not billions of people around the world.

While his election as a black president has undoubtedly been an historic event in the history of a traditionally white, conservative political community in America, he's not going to be able to coast on his color in the face of internationally color-blind power politics. For the aggressive, power-hungry and, increasingly religiously fanatic Mohammedan political forces rearing their heads, sniffing for the scent of fear in the West and testing the new opposition, the color of the blood in Obama's jugular vein is the same as any other victim's no matter the color of their skin.

Now, here in Israel, we're looking forward to our own elections in the near future and, hopefully, we'll see a more pragmatic and less corrupt administration under someone like Benjamin ( Bibi ) Netanyahu. Our dream team is Netanyahu, Moshe Arens, Natan Sharanski and a few of the political young Turks to the right of center. With Olmert leaving with a cloud of corruption trailing in his wake and other high ranking politicos facing serious police scrutiny, the nation's definitely ready for our own clean sweep for "Change" and Hope" for which the U.S. voted. Fortunately, the choices we have in Israel have already been battle-hardened and will be up to the tasks before them. Obama seems to feel he can pick up the hang of the presidency as he goes along. Not a good sign.

The major voting bloc in Israel is the Russian community and, contrary to the intentions of the Left Wing who brought them over by the hundreds of thousands in the hope they would bolster the Leftist Socialist parties, have been some of the most pragmatic, right-wing voters in the country. After so many of them endured the horrors of the Second World War and experienced first-hand the terror of the Nazi regime, they are listening with an extremely critical ear to the rhetoric of Ahmadinajad's anti-Semitic rants and the terrorist tactics of today's Muslims in general. They, before anyone else, realize that they no longer have the vast, empty, frozen wastelands of the Soviet steppes and the ferocious Russian winter to protect them from the Arabs as they protected them against the Nazis. Where they were used to measuring distances in tens of thousands of kilometers, now they measure in tens of hundreds of meters. This entire nation of Israel holds barely a third of the population of the city of Moscow. Now they can not only see the wolf at their doorstep, but can actually hear him panting. I think Bibi's going to be our next Prime Minister.

While the mainstream media is still overwhelmingly biased with oil-soaked reportage in this neck of the woods, there are growing signs that the Arabs grossly misplayed their hand when they jacked up the price of oil to over $150 a barrel last year. The reverberations from that money-grab have further crippled already reeling economies around the world and now the new Leader of the European Union, Czechoslovakia, is voicing, for the first time, a loud and unequivical denounciation of the Arab States and Islamic terror. The President came out and boldly stated that is was sheer insanity to pour billions and billions of dollars into the Palestinian territories for reconstruction, humanitarian projects and infrastructure when Hamas just takes the money, squirrels most of it away in Swiss numbered accounts and then turns around and provokes Israel by firing rockets into civilian populations which means repeated destruction of the "reconstructed" areas by the Israeli forces. . . and then, of course, another financial windfall for the corrupt Palestinian leaders who whine and whimper about their demolished homes and lands.

Our oldest son is thriving in the army now. He's back home almost every other weekend and it's a bizarre feeling for an ex-American G.I. ( me :-) who was posted halfway around the world during the Vietnam War to have a son whose most likely battleground would be just hours from his own house. I think it must be even more traumatic for the Russian parents of the soldiers serving in the Israeli Army. Again, it's that awareness of the distance thing.

I'm going to take a break here and add an e-mail that we got from one of the guys I work with. I think it deserves some kudos for giving a bit of insight into Israel that I don't have the talent for. The guy's name is Lior ( Lee - OR ) and he and his family went down south with some stuff for the troops fighting the terrorists in Gaza. I'll let it speak for itself:

Lior's Update:

I just got back from the Gaza Israeli border. Yesterday, as some of you may know, our son called us in the morning to tell us that his unit was being pulled for 2 days from Gaza to rest and refit and that they were going to let the parents of the soldiers come and visit briefly.

I immediately told my boss that I had to go and see him. He gave me the day off and offered to get a ride to that area., The company I work for was sending 2 cars to the area to the local hospital to take gifts to the wounded soldiers in the hospital in Beer Sheva.

Later he told me that the company was gathering things for me to take. Then shortly thereafter he offered a company car for me to take, his own personal company vehicle, as he went out and gathered items to send to our soldiers fighting in the south.

During the night we got calls from Pinny, our son, that they were moving out at dawn. We weren't happy. Then in the morning he told us they would move out at around 10 am.

We left at 8 am. Its about 250 kms to there from where we live in the north in Carmiel. In the car were my wife, a close friend of the family Paula and myself driving. Paula's boyfriend, Noah wanted to come but he was afraid he might lose his job if he took the day off. Our other son, Shlome, wanted to come and also our daughter, Chana.

It seemed a little too dangerous to take him with us. I would not been able to deal with it if he was hurt in a rocket attack.

And Chana wanted to come but we were too pressed for time to make the detour to get her in Tel Aviv.

We took off and were in constant communication with Pinny.

The car had a GPS that took me in the wrong direction. So I used the old fashioned way, pull over and check the map. LPS, (Lior Positioning System).

By the time his unit was on the move we were still 100 kms away. Also, as we left 3 rockets hit the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona.

We were worried but, as I told my wife, our mission was to get to the south. The chances looked pretty slim that we would catch them before they deployed again. I have been on numerous US Army deployments and I know first hand that things get delayed. I relayed this to her and prayed to God silently that we would find him. Although personally at the time I gave it a 2% chance of success.

As all this was going on, the driver of the vehicle that was transporting the soldiers, a civilian, overheard my son speaking Spanish on his cellphone. He asked him where he was from and my son relayed the whole story. As it turned out the driver was from the same town, Carmiel, as we are.

Shortly after that the bus they were on experienced some mysterious mechanical malfunctionsn that kept delaying them.

In the mean time we were called by a liaison to the army that had heard we were coming with food and snacks for the soldiers from the north and told us how to get close to where they were being deployed and promised to get the items to the soldiers.

We ended up south of Sderot ( Google it ) at a crossroad to a kibbutz call Be'eri. Army activity was extreme. You could hear the jets and helicopters flying overhead.

As we came around the corner we saw a bus pulled over with 3 officers yelling at the driver and the driver scratching his head looking at the engine.

Just then our son came out with his sergeant and waved us in. We had quite an emotional moment. We got out and started to hand out bags of food and snacks, some brought by us, some provided by friends, some by the company and cookies baked by a friend of ours, Sarah, and of course Coca Cola and two large trays of food. ( Chicken Fajitas and a Cuban dish called Picadillo). . . Google it.

The officers came over and clearly they were upset. Once they realized who we were, how far we came and what we risked to get there they quickly realized they had been had by the bus driver.

It was a miracle, suddenly, the bus started and was running fine.

While we got to spend time with our son 2 rockets landed nearby. My wife asked me about the noise and I innocently told here it must be trucks bouncing down the road. We could clearly see the buildings on fire in Gaza from there, from the airstrikes.

We took pictures, ate and spent time with him.

The morale of the soldiers was low when we got there.. However when they saw us and realized also what it took for a family to drive there they were amazed. One came up to us and told us that up until they saw us they were wondering what the hell were they doing.

Then they said now they understood what they were fighting for and that if there were common citizens willing to risk their lives to bring them food and gifts they could understand who they were fighting for also.

They loved the hot food and the cookies, candies and cakes.

We stayed as long as we could and then we had to leave.

It was 505 kms roundtrip. Thank God for my stubbornness, the bus driver, my wife's ability to handle 2 cell phones simultaneously, her ability to cook, the company, especially my boss, and the chance to see my wife's and my son's faces light up when they saw each other.

You never know what tomorrow brings so we just went for it.

Life is full of good moments and bad.

Today was a good day.


That's pretty much a "slice-of-life" peek at what goes on in this country. As in so many other situations, the key to the success of something can depend on the most unusual factors, in this case it was the simple ploy of a stubborn ( and typically compassionate ) bus driver that saved the day.

And now, on to more mundane matters. We're slowly coming out of winter now, with the last gasp of rain squalls drenching the north and center of the country. Pretty soon it will be Spring again in the Holyland, the weather will be hotting up and the sweltering winds coming off the Jordanian desert will be driving Israelis to the beaches of the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. Slim, seductive, olive-skinned Israeli girls will be sharing the sands with the older Russian women who are, essentially, pallid beachballs with legs at the best of times. There will be the wafting, mouth-watering smells from the seasoned lamb kabobs over the charcoal grills, the sweet, cloying smoke of the mint and honey soaked tobacco of the nargilas ( hookah water pipes) and the throbbing sounds of the Middle East music blaring out of little Fiats and Skodas driven by teenage Arabs and Sephardic Jews crusing the beach-side drives.

While the tension of this neighborhood is always in the air, somehow Israelis, whether Jews, Arabs or Christians, all manage to find a way to relax together, even if it seems to be in constant high gear.

The on-going war against Hamas and the Palestinians is one in defense of this pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and a drive for progress scientifically, socially and religiously and it will be a never-ending one until the Palestinian Mohammedans have been pounded back into the desert.

For those who brand Israel as a "racist" state, I would ask them where the Jews are in Gaza? Where have the Christians of Bethlehem disappeared to? While Nazareth, the home of Jesus, in the Jewish State of Israel, boasts one of the largest and most prosperous Christian communities in the Middle East, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus has seen its Christian community dwindle to less than 20% of what it was before the Palestinians took control. Now it has become a city where Christians live in fear, held to their homes only through their faith while enduring constant harassment and attacks by the Mohammedan occupiers.

As we continue our struggle against the forces of barbarism in the shape of Mohammedan terror fueled by Arab oil and the ever-present anti-Semitism spawned over the centuries by the Catholic Church and the Mohammedans, the iron-clad fact that sustains us is that we have not only endured and survived the terrors and tribulations of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the mighty colossus that was once Rome, the scourge of the Church and the Mosque, the abasement by the Ottoman Turks, the satanic psychosis of the Nazis, and now the pure evil of Islamic terror, but we have, against all historical odds, actually regained our ancient homeland and thrived and prospered in the arts, the sciences, the humanities, blazing new pathways for healing and uplifting the mind, the body and the soul of the world.

Like Lior said . . . . it's been a good day.

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