“The main thing is not to be afraid!”

Episode II: The Empire Staats Back

Congress doesn’t start until next week, so I don’t have anything to report about how that all works, or whether it’s interesting, etc. etc.

I do, however have some updates on what I’ve been doing here, so read on if you want to know. Oh, and I’ll reveal the meaning of the title at the end (maybe you can guess the reference yourself…?)

In Soviet Russia, plane flies you!

I bought my ticket through the yeshivish deal aggregator DansDeals.com, which I highly recommend for Dan’s scrupulous eye for deals on airfare and clothing, but not for his scruples (his credit card practices are super shady!). Either everyone else on my plane did too, or Transaero is just always packed with Israeli meshichist Chabadnikim and their annoying children.

Also, as we came in for a landing, it started raining on my neighbor from somewhere inside the plane. I don’t know what that meant, but I was glad to be getting off the plane!

The layover was interesting, if uneventful. I found myself wondering what each Russian I saw thinks of their country. Most of my knowledge about Russia comes from studying U.S. history, so there’s an obvious Cold War emphasis. It would have been interesting to explore the Evil Empire a bit more, but a tourist visa costs $300, and my layover was only 3.5 hours anyway.

Contrary to my assumption, the plane from Moscow to TLV was actually quite nice, with cool LED lights that changed according to whether they wanted us to be asleep or awake. Now I’m slightly less scared about the flight home!

Tel Aviv

Once on the ground in Israel, I took a train to Tel Aviv, and met up with my friend Eitan for pizza and beers in Sarona (have you been to Sarona yet, reader? If not, go!). It was great to see him!

Medical student on the left, road-weary traveller on the right

From there, I met up with Josh at Google (no tour this time), and together we boarded a bus to his house in Givat Shmuel. Josh lives in a house with 11 other people. All together, they pay less in rent than Ron, Kevin, Dovie, and I do for our 4-bedroom. Josh introduced me to some of his very interesting friends, but I was a terrible guest and passed out very early.

And I just realized we didn’t take a picture! Shoot!

Erev Shabbat

The main event, the World Zionist Congress, takes place in Binyanei HaUmah, a large convention center in Jerusalem. So yesterday, with a couple of chocolate croissants in hand, I bid Josh a tearful farewell and boarded a bus to Jerusalem. I found myself staying far more alert than usual as I stood at the bus stop, rode to Jerusalem, and made my way to my lodging.

Most interesting was the way each gun I saw made me feel. I’ve never thought twice about the prevalence of machine guns in Israel (most in the hands of uniformed soldiers). While seeing a gun in America is unnerving, I barely even noticed them in Israel. This time, however, I’m noticing every gun, knowing that its handler could be the next passerby to stop a Palestinian terror attack, or, conversely, that a terrorist could grab the gun (as many have in recent days) and use it for his evil purpose. I still feel pretty neutral about guns in Israel, but I’m noticing them more.

When I got to Jerusalem, I went straight to my hotel — the Agron Hostel in the center of the city. This place holds a special nostalgia for me, as it’s where I lived for the first half of my year in Israel on Nativ. It always feels good — and a little funny — to be back.


As Shabbat began, I made my way to Sod Siach (with a fortuitous navigational assist from my friend Sam), which was quite lovely, and then on to dinner with my friends Arie and Sara Tova, who brought me along to their friends Noah and Livia…who hysterically turned out to be Rich Moline and Joni Crounse’s son and daughter-in-law (Eemah and Abba, the Molines send regards, btw).

This morning I went to an old favorite, Shira Hadasha. I saw lots of great people there including Sam again, David Levin Kruss of Pardes, and good old Chancellor Eisen. Then I met up with Maya for a terrific lunch that she facilitated. It’s always so great to see good friends and meet the people who are important in their lives.

…Speaking of which, after lunch I went to see Kira, and hung out with her and a bunch of her friends (including Razie and Paul!). By the time I got back home, Shabbat was over!

Color War

I’ve come to the decision that Israel must be having color war (/Yom Sport/Maccabiah) right now. Why? Well, there are hand-painted banners everywhere (see the picture at the top of the post), I saw this sing-off going down on Friday…

…and tonight I passed this pep rally!

Let’s unpack:

The picture at the top of this post is a hand-painted banner hanging at the top of Ben Yehuda. A chapter of some youth group from deep in the West Bank (assuming I’m understanding “Snif Mitzpeh Yericho” correctly…) painted it in response to the latest round of violence.

The next picture, the “sing-off,” is the weekly protest at Kikar Pariz. Every Friday morning a group of (mostly) women gather to silently protest the occupation. This week, a group of men in blue, with flags, had gathered opposite the women and were singing boisterous religious songs. I thought the proposed dichotomy interesting: the proper opposite to professing an opposition to the occupation is professing a love for God. I think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is best viewed through a nationalistic lens. The conflict between the Israeli left and the Israeli right though? That one might be religious.

The final picture is not a pep rally at all, of course, but rather a rally put together but the political far left (Meretz and Hadash) in opposition to the government and policies of the Israeli right. The most prominent sign, with the Meretz logo at the bottom of each one, said “Send the Intifada Government Home!,” tying the latest round of Palestinian terror to the policies of Netanyahu’s right-wing government. This kind of linkage is pretty close to beyond the pale in American Jewish discourse. Yet the 1000 or so Jews who turned out to march down Hillel on a Saturday night (a work/school night here, remember) seemed to feel quite strongly. Political discourse in this country — anything but boring!

Looking ahead

The Congress starts tomorrow or Monday or something, I honestly don’t really know — but I’m looking forward to finding out!

P.S. The title of this post, based on the second-released Star Wars movie (because the first post, on a whim, was named after the first movie), references Herzl’s other book, The Jewish State, or, in the original: Der Judenstaat.