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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Jerusalem of Above and Jerusalem of Below

No matter how holy a city, commercialism
After already having fulfilled the standard verse of "next year in Jerusalem", I took it one step further last Thursday night. I went along to the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah - the World Maccabi Sports games, an International competition where around 7,000 Jews from around 70 countries compete against each other. It is a kind of mini-Olympics, where past and future Olympians compete along-side amateurs. I last attended this ceremony 20 years ago, as a teenager. But I digress, the special part was the opening ceremony itself, which more or less started with the singing of Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem. Singing this for probably the first time as an adult, in a crowd of 35,000 people, in the capital of the Jewish people (as the prime-minister told us on the night - Israel is not a country belonging to the Israelis, it belongs to all Jews).

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hebrew Conjugations Gone Mad – Tech Speak in a Foreign Language

In the tech space in most countries, the English language rules. However, my experiences at work in Israel have really brought to my attention how a language can change through common usage. The following English verbs have crept into the Hebrew lexicon and allow for the full conjugation according to the rules of the Hebrew language. And maybe this is what I find interesting, that not only is the English word used, but it is altered through conjugation. Using the ‘real’ Hebrew word instead of the English word will get you a puzzled look from your conversation partner. Most of these words I have learnt at work, in the hi-tech sector, but many of them are used every day by non-geeks as well…

English Phonetic Hebrew
To configure (eg., a setting on a computer application) L'kanfeg לקנפג
To format L'farmet לפרמט
To filter L'falter לפלטר
SMS essemess אסמס
To interact with someone on Facebook L’fassbeck לפסבק
To be purged (reflexive) L’hitpargej להתפרג’ג'
To be made active L’actev לאקטב
To synchronise L’sunchren לסנקרן

Of course, many English nouns are used as well instead of their Hebrew counterparts. Nouns are a lot less exciting because it seems to be much more acceptable to use the ‘real’ Hebrew word rather than the English one. Additionally, the only ‘change’ they undergo is that they take on the Hebrew form of the plural rather than the English.  The interesting part is guessing whether an English noun becomes masculine or feminine – and this pretty much goes by feel. For example:

English Phonetic Hebrew
user/users user/userim (masculine) יוזר/יוזרים
host/hosts host/hostim (masculine) הוסט/הוסטים
periphery/peripheries peripheria/peripheriot (feminine) פריפריה/פריפריות
function/functions foonktzia/foonktziot (feminine) פונקציה/פונקציות

And then there is my very favourite adjective, found a lot in apartment rental ads, the word is “בילדאין” (bildin), sometimes written as two words “בילד אין” (bild in”, the second word, in Hebrew, is a negation word. So after spending quite a bit of time trying to figure out what the word “bild” meant, I finally realised that just like the term used in English for parking brakes in a car (hand-brakes) has morphed into the amusing “ham-brakes” in Hebrew, “bildin” is basically the English term “built-in” – referring to an oven or something similar in the kitchen. Go figure!

Of course, this is just the tip of the ice-berg, I could go on forever…

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Israeli

The Israeli is a curious creature. Despite the Israeli being made up of one part of nearly every country in the world, and only a minority of Israelis able to actually call themselves second generation Israeli, this creature has a unique behaviour, which rather than being a mix of all the components making it up, has its own special characteristics. Out in the wild, the following characteristics can be clearly seen, almost without exception:
  • Opinion is as good as fact. If an Israeli heard a piece of information from someone they know, this information becomes fact, even if it flies in the face of logic or truth. An example of how this is embedded in the culture: a private company produces a booklet with the values of all cars of all ages. This has become the reference book when buying and selling a car. The only important thing when setting the sale value of your car, is what the book says. Similarly, negotiations are all centred around the value in the book. Precise percentage discount values are specified for different situations - number of owners, type of previous owners, etc. However, try to argue about the price due to a factor that is not specified in the book and it is a lost cause. The book says so, therefore it is true.
  • Whatever your interaction with one of these specimens  they are doing you a favour, even if it handing over money in return for goods they are selling - by taking your money, they are doing you a favour.
  • Despite being a tipping culture, service oriented Israelis are few and far between, that you sometimes may be forgiven for thinking you are in Australia.
  • When something does not go the way an Israeli wants or expects, he finds it necessary to shout and swear at who/whatever is causing distress. Additionally, the Israeli will try and involve all bystanders within a 50 foot radius in the complaint by shouting a series of rhetorical questions at them, such as; "How can they give us this kind of service?", "I have been waiting here for 30 minutes, how is it acceptable that a bus isn't here?" or "I have never had to do this before, how can they say this? This isn't normal!"
  • After giving him the finger because he honked at you as a result of you obeying the road rules but him not liking it, he pulls up next to you to ask you "why?" He actually listens to your explanation, and then, with only a slight hint of ridicule, wishes you "a very happy holidays from the depth of his heart".
  • Whilst more than happy to fight for his country, in a war, where real deadly weapons are used, the Israeli is shit-scared that somehow if he lets you off the train before he pushes himself onto the train, the train might leave without him. Although this extends to all forms of public transport, it is most evident on the trains.
And like all Israeli documents, the following disclaimer applies: All references to males in this document apply equally to females. Similarly, all references in the singular apply equally in the plural.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Modern, Yet Behind The Times

There is no doubt that Israel is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. This is what the statistics say. Silicon Wadi, the concentration of hi-tech start-ups along the coastal strip from Tel-Aviv up to Haifa is second only to Silicon Valley (and actually beats Silicon Valley in some statistics). Take start-ups out of the equation, and you still have the dozens of huge international companies who have chosen to set up one of their few offices outside the USA, in Israel. Of course, the cynical amongst us (me included, at times), would argue that one of the main reasons for this is the relatively low cost of labour here compared to the high productivity - I wouldn't be surprised if Israel tops the world 'productivity / labour cost' list. However, when it comes to day to day interaction with this country, one could be forgiven for thinking that it is only just emerging from the middle ages - and I'm sure some would argue that this is because people have bigger fish to fry here than to worry about the small stuff, but I would argue that it's because technology companies are so focused on the big money, that it's much more lucrative simply to export to larger markets, than to try and work within the Israeli market. So what exactly am I talking about?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Little Bit Like Africa

I have decided that there are a lot of similarities between living in Israel and living in Senegal. In many ways Israel is a particularly technologically advanced nation, but in many ways, there is a slightly less modern feel about it. However, unlike Senegal, I like this less modern feel – it has character and energy.

Haifa is already growing on me. A city where Jews, Arabs, Druze and Baha’i live in relative harmony, it feels very much a multicultural city. I hear Arabic as much as I hear Russian. I don’t feel uncomfortable at all when I walk past an ultra-orthodox Jew on the one side of the street walking his son to synagogue, and see a Muslim on the other side on his way to the Mosque. My neighbours speak Arabic, yet half the doors in the corridor have mezuzot on them. Of course, some of the benefits of this multicultural city seem very selfish – I have the option of eating kosher if I want to, but I am also free to go shopping on Saturday. On the other hand, Haifa feels very much like a large town, rather than a city. There is no significant CBD with lots of skyscrapers, people dawdle (except when driving) and the place really isn’t so polluted (but perhaps I’m just comparing to Dakar…).


Today I went to the local shuk in Wadi Nisnas, the majority Arab neighbourhood bordering on my new home in downtown Haifa. Not only was it open on Saturday, it was thriving with people, guarded at all entrances, something which didn't feature on Friday. And as I am still getting used to, I walk past the security checkpoint and casually get asked whether I am armed, in the same manner as someone else might ask me for the time. I walk through the crowds, notice the children’s entertainment, and the band on the roof playing what sounds like a Yiddish twist on Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. I go in with a shopping list – a new apartment needs a lot of basics. However, a few hundred shekels later, I leave primarily with lots of Middle Eastern goodies. Halva in multiple varieties, more baklava than I can possibly eat (though that won’t stop me trying), fresh pita, chocolate croissants, rougelach (similar to a chocolate croissant, but the chocolate is rolled into it rather than put as a filling, and then it is topped with icing sugar), a half kilo back of za’atar (my favourite spice of all time which seems to be sorely lacking in many countries), and of course, a few things I actually needed…

Monday, 17 December 2012

Going Home

I am about to embark on what is likely to be my last flight this year – the one that will take me to my homeland and hopefully fulfil a dream of almost 20 years. I have spent much of this year doing travel related things: packing up one home of 11 years and one of 2 years (not to mention packing and unpacking through two temporary homes); I have spent more time in airports this year, than even I, as a pilot, thought I would – about to embark on my 40th flight of the year (not counting ones I piloted myself) and my 7th intercontinental one; I have destroyed 2 suitcases and lost numerous items along the way. But now, I am going home – I hope.

This will be the second goal fulfilment this year – the first one being the opportunity to work in a humanitarian aid situation. Done and dusted (but of course, maybe it could be different next time?)

I approach this with much trepidation – so much more than going to Denmark or Senegal. I go without a solid home and without a job, but because I want to. On and off for 19 years I have been thinking about this. Reliving childhood memories of fun, friendships and freedom. Yet I go back with the expectation of hard times, a large pay cut, and still being thousands of miles away from my family. I am excited though – I know opportunities will await and there will be a life to live. It has been nice to be able to say: לשנה הבאה בירושלים (next year in Jerusalem), and actually mean it. It has been nice to think that, although I have rarely been directly affected by anti-semitism in the past, now, I will be living in a place where my government does something about it. I look forward to feeling my religion, rather than just practicing it. I look forward to going home.