Israel: Days 2 and 3

September 4, 2023 • 10:00 am

Note: click the photos to enlarge them.

I spent most of yesterday with a man who works with a private agency that translates documents from the Arab world (also Russia, China, and other countries) into English and Hebrew, so that we (and other government agencies) know what is being said in mosques and in Arab state media.

If you know where to look, all the stuff to be translated is online, including sermons in mosques.  Lots of horrific things have been revealed, but I’m not sure how much of what I heard is for public consumption. Suffice it to say that the day was very interesting, and I learned a lot about how Israeli security works.

On the way to meet my friend, I passed the “Kippa Man” stall, a place that sells only kippas, the Hebrew word for the Yiddish “yarmulke”. These are the skullcaps or beanies worn by observant Jews. There are many stores selling them in the center city, some (like this one) selling only kippas, while others sell them along with other souvenirs, like the tee-shirt below.

You can find a kippa to fit your style and taste. The prices below are 20-25 shekels, about 5-6 American dollars.

But you can also buy other souvenirs. Here’s one that caught my eye, but I didn’t buy it. (Wearing it on an American campus would get you demonized!)

You can get burgers at his McDonald’s but no milkshakes (or even milk). It’s kosher, Jake!

At my friend’s office, he showed me a rare document: Mahmoud Abbas‘s Ph.D. thesis, for which he paid a thousand bucks. Abbas, of course, is the president of the Palestinian Authority, apparently for life. (He was elected in 2005 for a four-year term, but extended it indefinitely, and is sill in office.} He’s also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Abbas is 87, and apparently will leave office only in a box.

Abbas doesn’t read or write Russian, so it’s weird that he has a thesis written in Russian and conferred by a Russian university (it’s about the dangers of Zionism with an addendum that denies the Holocaust).

Tablet has an article about it, saying that although a 19-page abstract is available publicly, this document isn’t:

Abbas’ dissertation has been a subject of considerable interest over the years. The thesis isn’t publicly available: By all accounts, it is kept in an IOS special storage facility requiring special authorization to access.

Well, no, because I saw it. But I can’t read Russian so I can’t shed  any light on it.  It appears to be Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda, and I don’t know who translated it into Russian, or even if Abbas even wrote it (his signature is at the bottom).

Lunch at a nearby restaurant: hummus and falafel at last! It was very good hummus, thick and creamy, mixed with hot, crispy falafel balls and served with good fresh pita bread, but my host old me that there is far better hummus to be had in Jerusalem. Ergo my search continues. He also demanded more olive oil from the waiter for me to pour atop the dish. I was still full from he huge breakfast at the hotel, so this is all I ate.

The next three photos are by Jay Tanzman, whose captions are indented.

Public toilets (read the red sign):

“Information for Shabbath [Sabbath] keepers. The toilets are activated by pressing an electric button.”

JAC: Since pressing a button seems to involve forbidden “work” on the Sabbath (which is why my hotel has a “Sabbath elevator” in which you don’t have to press buttons, as it stops on every floor), why is it not considered “work” to flush by pressing a button in a public toilet? This must have been the result of a fierce rabbinical discussion. Later, I was told that perhaps the Orthodox are being warned that they would have to press a button if they flushed, and that might deter them from doing their business.

But why not use the system they have in U.S. airports: when you stand up, the toilet automatically detects that and flushes. Standing up after using the john cannot possibly constitute work! As for urinals, they can flush sporadically without pressing buttons or pulling levers.

Jay says of the photo below: “Speaks for itself.”

[JAC: The Gazans were firing missiles at Tel Aviv just in the last two weeks. Fortunately, the Iron Dome knocks out nearly all of them. I have been told what to do if I hear the “incoming missile” siren: run, following everyone on the street.]

A group of young soldiers on their way somewhere. I surreptitiously took their picture from behind. I cold have gotten a picture from the front earlier, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.
Note that there are both men and women in the group. In Israel, everyone except the Orthodox Jews must serve two to three years in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Even Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot did her stint. The exemption of the Orthodox from military service constitutes, in my view, an unwarranted coddling of religion, one of the things that makes Israel a partial theocracy.

This is a photo Gadot put on her Instagram showing her reporting for duty at the IDF for the first time. She served two years, from age 18-20, as a combat fitness instructor. This is after she was crowned Miss Israel in 2004.

Gadot in uniform. I love Jewish girls! (And don’t dare criticize her for doing her mandatory military service for Israel. She’s already taken a lot of heat for that from those who hate Israel, simply because she was born here.)

This afternoon we went scouting for good hummus again. On the way we saw what looked for all the world like an Orthodox Jew playing electric guiar for money in the streets. That can’t be rue (for one thing, the hat is wrong, and it’s culturally inappropriate. You be the judge:

And for lunch we went to a well known hummus joint in the center city, Hummus Ben Sira. The hummus plate came with lots of fresh pita bread, a big plate of hummus topped with whole chickpeas and olive oil, salad, and tomatoes, pickles. and sliced onions. It was a lot of food!

The hummus was creamy and delicious, beating yesterday’s selection (see above) by a long shot.

Jay had shakshouka, described by Wikipedia as

Maghrebi dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion, and garlic, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. According to Joan Nathan, shakshouka originated in Ottoman North Africa in the mid-16th century after tomatoes were introduced to the region by Hernán Cortés as part of the Columbian exchange.

This spicy dish is common for breakfast in Israel; in fact, it was on this morning’s breakfast buffet:

A hungry customer waiting for his hummus:

Jay (Tanzman) and Anna (Krylov) in front of the hummus joint. If you’re in the Center City, I recommend this place, but the most famous ones in Jerusalem are in the Old City, where we’re planning to go tomorrow.

A panoramic view of the walls around the old city:

. . . and more shelters. The area near where I took the photo above is a gorgeous residential area, but houses are hideously expensive in Jerusalem:

One of the quiet and lovely streets nearby:

A house sign, which I’m told shows the family name:

And of course no matter where you are, there are always bomb shelters nearby:

Jay found a friendly and meowing tabby street cat to pet. Jay and Anna own two kitties, including a gorgeous gray British Shorthair named Mishka (see here; their other kitty is Geddi).

This has got to be the world’s fanciest YMCA: the Jerusalem International YMCA, whose construction began in 1926 and took 7 years.

Across the street is the King David Hotel, the most prestigious place to park your carcass in the city.The hotel, which partly housed British military before Israeli independence, was site of an infamous Jewish bombing in 1946, when the Brits were fighting the Jews.  From Wikipedia:

The British administrative headquarters for Mandatory Palestine, housed in the southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, were bombed in a terrorist attack on 22 July 1946 by the militant right-wing Zionist underground organization the Irgun during the Jewish insurgency. 91 people of various nationalities were killed, including Arabs, Britons and Jews, and 46 were injured.

The hotel was the site of the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine, principally the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. When planned, the attack had the approval of the Haganah, the principal Jewish paramilitary group in Palestine, though, unbeknownst to the Irgun, this had been cancelled by the time the operation was carried out. The main motive of the bombing was to destroy documents incriminating the Jewish Agency in attacks against the British, which were obtained during Operation Agatha, a series of raids by mandate authorities. It was the deadliest attack directed at the British during the Mandate era (1920–1948)

The King David Hotel:

From Wikipedia, the hotel after the bombing:

A colorful kitty statue nearby:

. . . and a fancy and very expensive pottery shop, which had lovely handmade stuff:

We saw a lot of security today, with heavily armed cops stopping people on the street (we didn’t know why) and asking for their ID. Across the street from our hotel as we returned, two guys were getting badly hassled by the cops.Again, I have no idea why:

Thus endeth Day Three of the Trip to Israel.

24 thoughts on “Israel: Days 2 and 3

  1. I have had shakshouka! Twenty-odd years ago there used to be an Israeli restaurant on Devon Avenue (West of the Indian restaurants). A friend and I went there a few times, and I always had shakshouka.

    I also agree about the automatic toilets. I don’t see how those could be more work than pushing a button.

  2. Fascinating, as usual!

    I am reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Bart shouts “You guys rock!” to two Rabbis Bart mistook for ZZ Top – walking on a NYC sidewalk.

    One rabbi says – with perfect accent :

    “Eh – maybe a little!”

  3. About the lovely handmade pottery. The tradition here goes back to Mandatory Palestine and Armenian artisans from Kutahya, who developed the style of pottery you saw. I had a student from one of the families involved in ceramic work in Jerusalem. Buying a few pieces involved a lengthy visit to their shop and refreshments. I recommend reading about the tradition and the outstanding artists. Note also the ceramic number plates for houses, street signs, and so on. Again the widespread use of tiles goes back to mandatory Palestine and the difficulty of finding one’s way around a rabbit warren of little streets and walkways. So the Brits had people who made tiles for labeling the little streets.

  4. So cool. The food looks awesome. After the death of my maternal grandmother in 1967, my grandfather traveled to Israel to mourn and to visit his Israeli family. He stayed at the iconic King David hotel. I still have a few coins and other memorabilia that he brought back. If I ever get to Israel, that’s where I’ll stay if I can afford it.

  5. Wonderfully informative post!

    The lavatory sign states, “maximum time to remain in the cabin is 15 minutes. The door locking mechanism will then be released automatically.”

    I recall a particularly distressing outing involving an errant hemorrhoid and a bout of recalcitrant constipation (very bad combo) that necessitated an hour in a Disney stall. I cannot imagine being prompted to vacate with the click of the door lock springing open.

  6. I am happy that you like it here.
    A few comments:
    Most McDonalds in Israel are not Kosher. The kosher ones are not unique to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is far more religious then most of the country (but it’s not the most religious city, in terms of its population makeup).
    In regard to the guy playing the guitar, it makes sense that he is orthodox. As you must have noticed in Jerusalem, many religious Jews don’t wear the “right hat” or any hat at all, except for the kippa.
    If you want to eat hummus in the old city, go to “Lena”. It’s a tiny shop close to the Damascus gate and their hummus is a legend. The area is not very safe for Israeli Jews nowadays, but it you can pass as a tourist, I believe it should be okay.
    Are you giving any lectures in Israel? I would be happy to hear you speaking in person and many of my fellow atheists would be too..

  7. Re electric flush toilets: you’re not supposed to “complete a circuit” on shabbos or yontief. It’s considered building, which is work.

  8. Thanks for the update – the hummus looks great.

    Note that there are both men and women in the group. In Israel, everyone except the Orthodox Jews must serve two to three years in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Even Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot did her stint. The exemption of the Orthodox from military service constitutes, in my view, an unwarranted coddling of religion, one of the things that makes Israel a partial theocracy.

    I spent a couple of days with some young Israeli women in Greece in the ’80s who had done their military service shortly beforehand. Their toughness and resilience was remarkable. Kudos to the Israelis for calling up both women and men. And yes, the religious exemption is egregious given that the religious right get to influence government policy without putting their lives (and those of their children and grandchildren) on the line.

    1. The Gadot beret wearing style would have made my basic training drill sergeant turn purple!! Style beats all.

  9. Wow! Jerusalem looks like a very fascinating place. I assume it’s similar to continental Europe where it’s easy to get around if you speak English. I’m making this assumption since many of the signs are translated in English.

    Looking forward to your next travelogue.

  10. No milkshakes? That’s a crime against humanity. At least my wife and daughter would say that. My view amounts to more ‘live and let live’. If some folks want to ban milkshakes, let them. Nice pictures!

  11. You refer to the Mandate era (1920-1948). My grandfather served as an officer in the British army in Mandatory Palestine. He told a story which I wish I had questioned him about in more detail when he was alive but I was only a child when I heard it. Briefly, somehow he and another soldier were captured and tied up in a basement. He was stripped of his uniform – I think this was the purpose of the capture, to acquire some uniforms. Later they managed to wriggle free, and had to run naked through Jerusalem back to the barracks!

  12. Thank you so much for letting us all share your trip to Israel. I’m learning so much from you — and from the readers who are telling their family stories. The hummus looks fabulous. I hope you have a marvelous vacation and don’t spend any of it in an air-raid shelter.

  13. I think that in your previous posts Prof (E) it is the first time I’ve ever heard you comment “It was a lot of food!” like you weren’t up for it…
    Made me smile.
    The guitarist? was he any good?
    Was it rock Jewish style, that would make it interesting.

  14. We’re going to have to teach you to make hummus, Jerry! It’s easy and you can flavour it just as you like. Sometimes when I make soymilk I use the leftover okara (bean pulp) to make a faux-hummus that work out surprisingly well.

  15. Ref. that T-shirt. My fellow grad student @ Rutgers was a handsome Italian-looking guy (whose grandmother used olive oil on his baseball glove). His standard pickup line was, “What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this?”

  16. So glad you’re having a good time in Israel, but gosh do you have some wacky misconceptions about Orthodox culture! If you ever want someone to answer your questions around that topic, I’m happy to do so.

  17. Maybe someone translated it already, but my translation of the title of the Abbas dissertation is “Connections Between Zionism and Naziism.”

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