Monday, January 27, 2014

The Times They Are Achanging.

I have lived in Israel as an Israeli for 25 years.  As a result, I have witnessed massive changes to Israeli society over this period, slightly more than one generation.  The way of life here is now significantly if not almost completely different than that of the Israel I came to. This change is most easily felt in the small details of life.  I have made a very partial list of then and now.

1.       Israel had one television and no cable system.  Everybody watched the same programs. Today, Israelis have access to an immeasurably greater quantity of channels, but not necessarily a better quality of programs.
2.      Phone lines were hard to get and involved significant waiting time and/or protection.  I walked and made phone calls from the public phone booth, like most people.
3.      The public phone booths themselves used phone tokens called assimonim in Hebrew, coins with a hole and slot in the middle that only were good for the phone.  People walked around with pocket filled with them so as to always be able to make a call and because, curiously, they were considered relatively protected against inflation.
4.      The city buses had no air conditioning.  Apparently, feeling hot was considered normal, not awful as it is today.
5.      The most popular car by far was the Subaru for no clear reason whatsoever.  For years, the brand had the highest resale value of any company.  Today, it is hard to find a Subaru in any parking lot.
6.      The post office had an ink pad for illiterate people to use by “inking” their fingerprint when signing documents.  I suppose that it exists today, but I haven’t seen anybody use it for a long time.
7.      Every Friday afternoon, on the only government station, an amusing rabbi would joyfully mumble a few words about the Shabbat reading and, slowly and clearly, would say “Shabbat Shalom”.  His name escapes me, but I actually went to a wedding conducted by him.  Ah, the days of cheerful rabbis.
8.      At the local grocery store, a macolit in Hebrew, it was common practice for the goods to be behind the desk of the grocer, meaning you had to ask for the item you wanted.  Shopping in one of those places was a real scary challenge for new immigrants.
9.      To the best of my knowledge, I don’t remember any problems finding parking in most places for one basic reason: the average person couldn’t afford a car.
10.   The shekel to dollar exchange rate was 1.5 (as compared to 3.5 today).  Neither makes any sense to me, to tell the truth.

As Bob Hope said, thanks for the memories.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shabbat Confusion

Israel, as its founding document says, is a Jewish democratic state.  As most of world has experienced, there is a constant tension between those freedom and religion.  For example, many American cities had Sunday laws, similar to the Shabbat by-laws in Israel, closing stores on Sundays, not exactly freedom of occupation.

A tourist travelling in Israel on a Saturday would be forgiven for not quite understanding what exactly Shabbat means.  Depending on the place, the roads and shopping centers may be completely empty or packed to the gills.  Is Saturday a day of rest or not?  The answer is as unclear as in regards to other aspects of Shabbat behavior.  For example, is it okay to have a child’s birthday party on Saturday keeping in mind that some of families keep the Sabbath?  When my daughter was small, parties were during the week.  Today, I am not so sure.  Many but all people avoid talking about money on Saturday, at least with strangers.  Most Sabras do not call people they don’t know on Saturday, but most will use a telephone.  Workers strive to avoid working on Saturday to spend time with family and friends. In other words, Shabbat is a day of rest (from work at least) but not a restful day for many Jews.

Shabbat remains different from the other days of the week but not in any uniform way.  While some people keep the Sabbath according to the book, others less religious keep some of the spirit out of respect or self-interest.  In this sense, Israel is Jewish and democratic, every Jew “respecting” the Sabbath in his/her own way.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Non-trite eating

To eat is such a nondescript verb, flatly describing the physical action of putting food in your mouth and swallowing.  The English language with variety of roots and structure has countless more precise ways to describe the context and richness of that necessary act of nourishment.

Some terms add the element of time.  You have breakfast in the morning and brunch between 10-2, often on a weekend day.  You lunch (but not always have lunch) in the afternoon followed by an afternoon snack, at least for growing children.  You have dinner in the evening or a supper later in the evening dependent on whether you eat American or European style.  Of course, you can snack between meals and nosh at any time.  Depending on our activity, you may have a late night snack to hold you until the morning, when it all begins again.

Other terms add quantity. Picking at your food meets you are not very hungry. A light meal is at any time but in moderation.  If you have a bite, you eat enough to meet your energy needs as is grabbing some chow. By contrast, if you scarf your food, you eat fast while pigging out and stuffing your face imply maxing out your calorie content.

The purpose of the occasion can also be expressed in the verb.  To do lunch is meet someone for the lunch, where the main function of the mouth is actually to talk.  If you are going to have a coffee or a tea with someone, you will probably eat something with your hot beverage but the biscuit is not the purpose of sitting down.  If you munch in front of the television or after smoking marijuana, you may not even taste the snacks. By contrast, to dine is to consciously choose to enjoy food.  Even more serious, if you intend to feast, the food is the prime attraction as in a holiday dinner or birthday celebration. 

So, in some ways the word eat is like the word thing: it says so much that it says so little.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Alphabet Soup

Learning languages sometimes involves learning different languages or, for languages using the same letters, different names.  For example, the letter e is said differently in English and French.  In further consideration of the matter, another interesting fact of letter names is that the same sound often has a meeting of its own, whether or not spelled in the same manner.  Of the twenty six letters in English, eighteen of the sounds are also words.  I identify the following as words in the dictionary:

A – Aye, I have a dollar.
B – A bee can be very busy.
C – I see your bet and raise you five dollars
G- Gee I am sorry for spilling your drink.
I – I use my eye to see.
J – The jay is a beautiful bird.
L – When in Chicago, you can take the el.
M – The em is a type of dash as compared to the
N –the en, the difference between them almost nobody knows.
O- Oh, I forgot my keys.
P-Beer makes me have to pee.
Q- Standing in queue is not my favorite activity
R- You are what you are.
(S) – Yiddish – Esse mein kindt – eat, my child)
T- Before going to the tee, we’ll have some tea.
U- You know about this one.
X-With the popularity of divorce, there are many exes out there.
Y- I don’t know why that is true.

The neglected letters are d, e, f, h, s, v, w, and z.
In a more polyglot vein, the Hebrew alphabet also has it sense – able side:

Bet – as in stupid in French, bēte
Hey – as Hey kid, wake up!
Vav – a hook in Hebrew because of the shape of the letter
Zi’in – the male sexual organ in Hebrew
Het – a sin in Hebrew
Tet – A head (anatomical) in French, tēte, as well as a famous Vietnamese month
Kaf – As in put your hand over your mouth when you cough
Mem – the same, mēme, in French
Nun – as in that famous western, High Noon
Ayin – an eye in Hebrew
Peh – mouth in Hebrew
Tzadik – a righteous one in Hebrew
Shin – as in don’t kick me in the shin
Sin – as in a Jew eating a ham and cheese sandwich on Yom Kippur

Next time, I’ll get back to words.
If you have any additions or comments, feel free to make them.