Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mourning and Memory: Yom Hashoah

Yesterday, April 28th, was Yom Hashoah here in Israel. The National Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust.

It started Sunday night, April 27th (In the Jewish calendar one day is from sundown to sundown).

My program was invited to attend the official State ceremony at Yad Vashem, where we listened to speeches by Bibi, President Peres, and the Speaker of Knesset, heard musical performances, and most importantly, heard the brief testimony of seven survivors, six of whom lit torches in honor of the 6 million.

The next day was a normal business day, but it didn't feel like one. At 10 AM a two-minute siren went off and we stood, silent, heads bowed, lost in thought as the sound pierced the entire country of Israel.

What did I think of? The same thing that struck me at the State ceremony...that we were mourning these people from Israel, our own state. And the beauty and importance of this country struck my heart.

We are still here. A whole nation remembering and honoring our lost, but strong, vibrant, bartering in the shuk and relaxing at the beach. Those people in unmarked graves with no family left to mourn them will forever be remembered and cried for by us.

And our lives, with all our joys and sorrows, are a testament to the failure of the hatred that snuffed them out.

It was a hard day. So hard that just writing a brief post about it on Facebook brought me to tears multiple times. The pain that our people suffered, the memories that survivors live with every day, I usually push it aside. I couldn't function with that sorrow every day. But yesterday I faced it, I let it wash over me because that sorrow is part of who I am, is part of the Jewish people. It's a sorrow that pushes us forward, to be strong and brilliant, to empathize and to help whenever we can.

I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world yesterday.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Through the Looking Glass: It's Coffee Time

I've decided to call this section, where I talk about my observations of Israeli life, "Through the Looking Glass" because landing smack in the middle of another culture and learning about how they operate can sometimes make one feel like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through an alternate reality. There are many similarities and there are also some differences—whether amusing, frustrating, or exhilarating.

Today's topic is: Coffee. More specifically: The Israeli obsession with instant coffee.

My New Best Friend
So, full disclosure, I love love love coffee. In America I would brew some vanilla flavored or classic Mokka-Java in my coffee pot every morning and drink it black. And then maybe get an afternoon iced coffee from Starbucks. With some vanilla syrup for good measure ;) The true coffee snobs will scoff at me. I didn't bother with a French press, or a pour-over chemex, I let my ground coffee beans sit in a bag on the counter for weeks, and I even added sugary syrups and flavoring occasionally. But I did draw the line at instant coffee. I experimented with it when living at the dorms at UCLA, where I couldn't plug in a coffee pot and we had to hide our electric kettle when the RA came by, but it was always disgusting.

However, here in Israel I have had to adjust my attitude. American-style drip coffee appears to be a rarity here (although I found one café on Emek Refaim that sells a good big mug of strong brewed coffee), it's mostly espresso-based drinks and instant. I haven't seen a single coffee machine in my 6 months here. In this environment I have actually grown to like Nescafe, the ubiquitous instant coffee here. The only other kind I've seen is the red canister of Nemes, which I personally think tastes like dirt. Based on the preferences of everyone at work, so do they. At work I have 3-4 small cups of Nescafe with a few tablespoons of 3% milk a day (the whole dairy-fat thing deserves to be the subject of another "Through the Looking Glass" post I think).

Most of my daily coffees are part of the delightful Israeli coffee-break ritual, which I love. It begins when I walk in first thing in the morning, and we spend 15-45 minutes (depending how much work there is that day) sipping milky coffee and chatting. I love this. It's a great chance to practice my Hebrew and ease into my day, catching up with the girls in my office. Of course, the spokesperson's office never sleeps, so they are answering calls and writing emails while we sip our warm beverages. Then usually around 11 I go back downstairs from my upstairs corner and sip a coffee and catch up, although sometimes if I’m very busy I skip this. Then in the afternoon, around 2 or 3 I’m back at our little coffee corner, dumping a tiny spoonful of instant coffee in a little cup, to swirl with hot water and milk for my latest fix.

I never thought I would actually develop a taste for instant coffee, but I suppose it’s more of a taste for the friendly conversation and the short breaks it provides in my day, when I can get away from the computer screen to interact with other people and walk up and down some hallways and stairs to shake off the cobwebs.

My office works hard, but they know how to enjoy the day as well—with a cup of Nescafe and a bageleh.

Bageleh: salty sesame cookies that go perfectly with a milky Nescafe.
Picture from: http://www.eatdreamtravel.com/2012/07/jerusalem-light-and-stone.html#!/2012/07/jerusalem-light-and-stone.html