I read an article recently. I don’t have the link any more, but it was headed something like: I’m Jewish. Please wish me Merry Christmas. The article went on to explain that although in the author’s family Christmas wasn’t celebrated, the day was meaningful to him as a day off – a day when they, as a family, did joyful things together that were out or the ordinary.
I get it. I remember, all through my childhood, spending Christmas Day in the home of my aunt, uncle and cousins, eating different foods, doing different things. So when I changed schools at the age of eleven and was introduced to Christmas carols, drawing Christmas trees and exchanging Christmas cards, I joined in. In any case, my aim at school was always to fit in, even though I never succeeded.
The trend continued to university and work. Christmas was always a special time, so it seemed natural to exchange Christmas greetings with everyone.
Then I moved to Israel and, for the first time, Christmas didn’t exist, apart from a few cards I still sent to and received from friends abroad. Christmas Day was spent at work. That’s been the case for most of my time here. Recently, with social media and the ability to listen to BBC Radio 4, the prominence of Christmas has again increased, but it’s still not part of my life. That’s the difference between me and the author of that linkless article. He lives in the US while I live in Israel. Like him, I’m not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas, but for me it’s meaningless.
“Yes, but even if you don’t celebrate it, you do something special on that day,” people say.
However, this year, I will be celebrating Chanuka at the same time as Christmas, lighting candles and eating doughnuts at home and at folk dancing.
But Chanuka isn’t time off, except for schoolchildren and teachers. And us, last year:
Whatever you do, enjoy the next few days, the whole of 2020 and every other year. May whatever you wish for come to fruition.
It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s less than a month to…
…NaNoWriMo! (That month when people all over the world go a bit crazy, trying to write 50,000 words, all in November.)
The question, this year, was never whether I was going to join in. I didn’t even consider missing out on all the fun (and hard work). It was what I was going to write.
I decided on something. I created the book on the new NaNoWriMo website, complete with cover, description, Pinterest board and playlist.
Then I changed my mind. I’m going to rewrite my novel, Neither Here Nor There. When I’ve reached the end, at a date that hopefully will coincide with the end of November, I’ll examine the two versions and decide which parts to keep and which to discard.
Now I have to do some plotting. I’ve already made one decision: the title is going to change. The current title is One Foot. But I might have second thoughts about that. Or third thoughts. The cover will definitely change.
What visitors to Israel should be aware of before flying out, and landing in
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israel?
Is it war, conflict and terrorism? As a tourist, you’re very unlikely to encounter any of that. We (not me, personally, but the authorities) work very hard and put all sorts of measures into place to keep you safe while you’re here. So, don’t worry about that.
What else comes to mind? Probably hot weather and a land of deserts. You might think you can leave coats and umbrellas at home. You might think: tropical.
Well, think again. It hardly ever rains… in the summer. But in winter, we have plenty of rain. Sometimes the heavens open and you can get drenched in minutes… seconds. You might be lucky – most winter days are dry and some are even warm and sunny. But come prepared for rain. Jerusalem, Safed and other parts of Israel can even get snow.
Why am I thinking of this now? Because a friend just came for a brief trip. During her three-day visit, rain poured down almost all the time. And she wasn’t prepared.
Another visitor once came for a ceremony, for which he had to stand outside in pouring rain, and the following day he was stuck indoors when snow fell.
When we lived in the beautiful area of Jerusalem called Yemin Moshe, we occasionally seemed to be standing in a river when we walked up and down its stairs.
Those deserts… they’re only in the south of the country.
You have been warned!
Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.
For the second SIM Talk, I welcome back Jo Fenton to the blog. She brought Tina to Letters From Elsewhere, and also wrote a lovely post for my other blog. I wonder which of the three topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings – she’s going to talk about…
When I was 19 I went on a six-week trip to Israel. It was my first visit there and I was very excited. The main purpose of the trip was to work as a youth leader in a summer camp in Ashkelon, under supervision of a Hebrew speaking youth worker.
I went as part of a group, and there was to be time afterwards for touring the country. I had foolishly planned to do the touring with a young man who was the friend of an ex-boyfriend! More to follow on that subject…
I was a shy, nervous nineteen year old. Although I’d had a fantastic time during my first year at Uni, being away with a group of strangers brought all my social anxiety to the fore.
There were some lovely people in the group, particularly amongst the girls, and I did make some friends. I’m not sure if it helped that my closest friend in the group was a recovering anorexic, and the other girls and I spent a lot of our time making sure she ate, and trying to convince her that her view of her body image was distorted. At the time, I didn’t realise how similar I was to her in many ways, having an inaccurate view of myself due to the unkind comments of just a few.
There was a young man amongst the group – an attractive-looking guy with a charming smile and a Scottish accent. I don’t know if he understood how hurtful he was when he commented almost daily on my nervous laugh. Perhaps he was stupid enough to think he was helping me. Not surprisingly the more he commented, the more nervous my laugh became!
Ashkelon was beautiful. I loved working with the kids, many of whom came from deprived homes; but who were lively, cheeky and resilient. It felt great to be able to do something worthwhile with them. The highlight of each week was the Israeli dancing on the beach, where we would dress up, enjoy ourselves, and socialise. I kept away as much as I could from the young Scotsman. My anxiety always returned ten-fold whenever he was near. I spent several weekends with the girls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and fell in love with the country.
Eventually the time arrived for us to say goodbye to the children, and go off on our more extended travels. My ex’s friend, whom I shall name P to save anyone embarrassment, agreed to do a brief tour taking in Lake Tiberias and Netanya before meeting the girls back in Tel Aviv for the flight home.
P refused to accompany me to Masada and the Dead Sea as he had already been. Without knowing it, he did me a favour, as I’m sure I got much more out of the trip to those fantastic places when I visited with my husband, sons and my mum last year!
From the minute we set off on the bus towards Tiberias, he started moaning: I was cramping his style. The fact we appeared to be travelling together meant that all his potential girlfriends would be put off from approaching him. This complaint continued throughout the three days we spent in each other’s company. He thought nothing of my own feelings, but by then, I was so downtrodden, the idea of me getting a boyfriend seemed a million miles away. One thing I was certain though – he was not on the list!
Overall, the trip did little for my confidence. All the anxiety that had been squashed during my first year as a student, returned in full force thanks to these somewhat insensitive young men. It was not until I met my husband-to-be a few months later, that some confidence returned.
Looking back, I see that I shouldn’t have allowed these individuals to get to me, any more than my anorexic friend should have been affected by the idiots who joked that she was fat. (She was the opposite!) I’m happy to say that I haven’t been criticised for my laugh or my existence since then, and as stated above, I returned to Israel for a most enjoyable and fulfilling trip with my family last year.
Ah, the tribulations of the young! I’m so glad you had a much better experience on your second visit. Thank you, Jo, for that entertaining account, which includes all three topics of the series!
Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.
Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.
When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.
Today, instead of Letters from Elsewhere, here’s a post about me, to catch up with some of the things I’ve done since… whenever.
The other day, I wrote two new verses to an old song. They’re inspired by a strange phenomenon: rain.
Look what they’ve done to my June, Ma
Look what they’ve done to my June, Ma. Look what they’ve done to my June. Well it’s the only thing they could do half right, And it’s turning out all wrong, Ma. Look what they’ve done to my June.
Look what they’ve done to my sun, Ma. Look what they’ve done to my sun. Well, they took some clouds and made them black And covered up the sun, Ma. Look what they’ve done to my sun.
Yes, it’s been raining heavily in various parts of the country, but not so heavily in Jerusalem. There has been flooding. One of the most afflicted towns was Sderot. You’d think they’ve had enough to contend with without the weather joining in.
It never rains in June in Israel. Don’t they know that?
If you don’t know the original song, I’m sure you can find it on Youtube. “Look what they’ve done to my song.”
I haven’t been completely quiet about recent events on the border between Israel and Gaza. On Facebook, I shared several opinions and articles I agreed with. I even started making my posts public. It’s time people knew the truth; it’s important, because ignorant people are making things worse.
This British Jew changed his mind. One of the things that helped him was when he realised, “Over 80 percent of the people who were killed while trying to breach the border were members of terrorist organisations whose direct aim is to bring death and suffering into Israel.”
This Israeli was there, at the border. “The IDF employs many creative means of reducing friction with Gazans and uses numerous methods, most of which are not made public, to prevent them from reaching the fence.”
I think it must be very hard for anyone living in the UK (amongst other countries) not to be influenced by the images and voices on the TV. That’s why I post the other side sometimes, although I don’t know if anyone listens to it.
The people who condemn Israel for defending itself in the only way possible are perpetuating these awful scenes. A strategy that works will be repeated.
I used to think we could ignore people whose opinions are based on lies. But we can’t, because those opinions create the facts.
Here’s another fact that people don’t realise. As I go about my ordinary life in Jerusalem, where I live, or in other parts of the country, I see Arabs – in the streets, in cafés, in hospitals, on public transport, everywhere. Last week I attended my son’s graduation ceremony at Israel’s Open University. Many of the graduates and families were Israeli Arabs. There is more to life than politics.
The Children of Israel spent forty years wandering in the desert before they came to the Promised Land. (Some say that’s because they got lost, which in turn is because men are always too proud to ask for directions.) Some of the Israelites gave up hope of ever arriving and wished they’d stayed in Egypt rather than following Moses out and across the Red Sea as the waves parted. Yet they reached their destination in the end and lived happily ever after… well, almost. We’ve just celebrated their escape from Egypt as we do each year on Seder night – the first night of Passover.
But that’s not the forty years I meant.
Alan Bennett’s first West End play was called Forty years On.
No, not that either.
This is it: Forty years ago, David Drori placed this ring on my finger and we’ve been together ever since… he and I, that is. The ring and I, too, but that’s less important.
When exactly did that happen? This is where things get complicated. The date we remember is 11th April. In fact it’s more than what we remember; it’s the actual date. But is that the date we should be celebrating?
One year, when we were both working in the same office and mentioned it was our anniversary, someone remarked, “This is why you should celebrate the Hebrew date and not the Gregorian date.”
We probably looked confused and she added, “You didn’t get married after Pesach (Passover) did you?”
The asimon dropped. (That’s the literal translation of the Hebrew expression. An asimon was a telephone token, used in public phones instead of coins, probably because of rampant inflation at that time.) No, of course we didn’t. Jews don’t get married from the beginning of Passover for at least thirty-three days (depending on their branch of Judaism) because of the Omer, which is like Lent, I think. But as Jewish festivals take place according to the Hebrew calendar, they vary according to the Gregorian calendar. In 1978, 11th April fell more than a week before Passover. Most years, Passover begins before it.
How does the Hebrew calendar work? A year usually has twelve months, the names of which I learned to recite at the age of five and still remember. Every so often, according to a calculation I don’t remember, there’s a leap year during which a whole month is added.
David has no trouble remembering the Hebrew date of his birthday. He was born on the eve of Passover and was pleased to discover that this year his Gregorian and Hebrew birthdays coincided.
The modern State of Israel mostly works according to the Gregorian calendar. Things would get confusing if we didn’t. And that’s why we don’t remember the date of our wedding according to the Hebrew calendar, although this year it was probably at around the time we celebrated it with a meal in Petersham Nurseries, Richmond Park, UK, before we left for another trudge through the snow.
One thing I can be sure of: There will be no snow when we celebrate again, in Jerusalem, on 11th April.
I’m in the middle of writing and editing and preparing and more, but yesterday we had an opportunity to attend a public rehearsal of Don Giovanni and we took it.
After the performance, we had a bite to eat at the nearby Sarona Market, where we saw this seat. It plays love songs. Well, there’s probably a loudspeaker hidden behind it, but you can sit on the bench and listen to love songs. Isn’t that sweet.
After that, we enjoyed an evening walk by the sea in un-sea-sonably warm weather.
But the strangest things happened during the performance. Really, they both happened. I’m not making this up.
Maybe because it was a rehearsal, a few members of the audience thought it was all right to talk to each other or to use their smart phones – silently. Some people up in the gallery were talking quite loudly. Eventually, the disturbance was dealt with somehow and the talking stopped. Just then the translated text of the opera, displayed above and next to the stage said:
We’ve finally got rid of that fool.
Later, the man directly in front of me was using his phone, holding it so that its light shone in my eyes. I put my hand up in front of me to block the light and again looked at the text of the opera. It said:
He dazzled me for a moment.
I kid you not.
It’s good to get out sometimes and experience life outside the computer.