Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thank You, Madame Lippe!

From what I remember, I pretty much slept through high school, so you can imagine my surprise when I was in Paris, and realized that I was managing to understand and to make myself understood with my high school French!

I'd heard the usual stories of how cold the French were to tourists, and how they would sneer if you tried to speak French.

I'm happy to report that I had the exact opposite experience. No matter where I went, people were friendly and helpful. No sneers came my way, only smiles.

I found myself reading menus and ordering without a problem, asking for directions, and even making small talk- all in French. There were even a couple of times when people asked me for directions! (For that, I need to thank (with a chuckle) my hairdresser, Avi, who has many French clients. He told me that he was going to give me a hairstyle that would make the French think I was French!)

So a big thanks to my high school French teacher, Madame Lippe. I guess that even when my head was down on my desk I was paying attention, afterall!

[Kudos, as well, to the inspiration I get from my husband, who is fluent in three languages, fairly conversant in another, and with the phrases and words he's picked up in a couple of others, never hesitates to try to communicate.]

Monday, May 25, 2009

After Vacation, a Dose of Reality

This article appears in today's Jerusalem Post. A similar article appears in Haaretz.

'Home Front Drill Scenario Not Fiction'

The upcoming home front drill, Turning Point 3, is based on a scenario in which "a combined missile and rocket attack on Israel from all sides combined with terror attacks from within," and is "not a fictional scenario,", Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilan'i told members of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

Vilna'i briefed the committee on the state-wide drill, scheduled to begin on May 31. The threat of missiles hitting mainland Israel "is not unrealistic," Vilna'i continued. "If a war breaks out, that is probably what would happen."

According to Vilna'i, "In conducting this national home front drill we aren't looking to scare anyone, but rather prepare ourselves for a threat which has its writing on the wall."

The drill will include all emergency response teams, all government ministries as well as the entire civilian population. According to the military, people will be asked to choose secured rooms or bomb shelters, and ensure that they know what to do in the event of war.

During the exercise, 252 local councils and municipalities will open 'crisis rooms' and will respond to various simulated emergency scenarios.

The exercise will be the third home front exercise to be held since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and since the Defense Ministry's National Emergency Administration , which is responsible for setting national emergency standards, was established.

This is the link to original article: Home Front Drill Scenario Not Fiction

A related article, about a recent drill held by the Israeli Air Force can be found here: IAF Holds Massive Exercise Simulating All-Out War

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Street of Rosebushes

After assuring me that life was wonderful, with no problems, the young Hasid I was talking with glanced at his friend and said, “Well, there was that time when Palestinians marched through the streets.”

“Oh, and remember that night when they threw stones at all our doors? That was scary.”

“Is that why the police vans are blocking the Rue de Rosiers?” I asked. “Do they feel a need to guard you?”

I was in the Marais, the traditional Jewish Quarter of Paris, talking to two young Hasidic men I had approached on the street. I spotted them as I was leaving the district, and they happily answered, ‘yes’ when I asked them if they spoke Hebrew.

They were thrilled when I told them I was from Israel, and wished me a warm welcome. I told them that in Israel we hear that France is dangerous for Jews, and they quickly told me I didn’t have to worry, no one would ever think I was Jewish.

The conversation above started after I explained that I was wondering how life was for them.

When I started to plan my visit to Paris, my husband made a request. "Please don't go to the Jewish Quarter. I don't want to have to worry about you."

His words didn't surprise me. Newspapers in Israel regularly run articles on how dangerous France has become for its Jewish citizens, and I remember when there were terror attacks in Paris's Jewish Quarter.

I assured him I would be careful, and promised not to take the private walking tour of the area that I had been considering.

But after three days of riding the metro, and seeing Jews in yalmulkes and in chassidic garb ri
ding without being harrassed, I decided to visit the Marais.

On Sunday morning, I took the metro to the St. Paul station, and after a few minutes walk down narrow, pleasant lanes found my path blocked by two large police vans.

I had arrived at Rue de Rosiers (the Street of Rosebushes), the heart of the Jewish Quarter.

The street was filled with pedestrians. Rue de Rosiers is a pleasant brick-lined pedestrian mall, populated with clothing stores. You have to walk a couple of blocks before you get to the Jewish area.

The first thing that struck me was that all the Jewish and kosher stores have large Stars of David on their awnings, and painted on their windows. It was a bit creepy- for the first time in my life I felt like I was in a ghetto.

There were bakeries, falafel stores, book stores, and cafes, all bustling with customers. I went into a bakery and asked the young man behind the counter if he spoke Hebrew. He told me he did, and I asked if he would mind my asking him a few questions.

When I asked if he felt Paris was dangerous for Jews, he gave me a strange look and said no, it was perfectly safe, and that Jews had a very good life. I bought some cookies, and continued walking down the street.

The day was pleasant, and I ventured down alley ways and into small squares. The main streets were a mix of stylish clothing stores and busy cafes, but the side streets were quiet residential areas. I saw a few mezuzah adorned doorways, but most of the area seemed newly gentrified, with little indication that it was a center for Jews.

A short while later I spotted my Hasidic friends.

Their response to my question about the police vans was that it was probably because it was Sunday, and the police were expecting a lot of people, and wanted to make sure there wasn't any trouble.

"But don't worry," they repeated. "You have nothing to worry about. You really don't look Jewish at all."

"Rue de Rosiers" painting by
Mary Ellen Mueller-Legault

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quest, and the Game of Life

Life lessons come from all sorts of experiences. We learn from our parents, teachers, friends, and even random people we meet on the street.

If we're lucky, the lesson will be clear and unmistakable, but some need a while to simmer- days, months, even years- before their message is absorbed.

I've learned some important lessons from games I've played.

When I was a kid, a bunch of us would gather on Saturday afternoons and play the game Risk. If you're not familiar with it, Risk is one of those 'conquer the world with your armies' type of games, and it involves rolls of the dice and some strategy; a game can easily last an hour or longer.

From the very first time I played the game, I had to win. I played with passion, with intensity, and with determination. As the years went by, my intensity grew each time I sat down to play, until one day I realized I wasn't having fun anymore. More than that- I didn't like the person I became when I played Risk. I was obsessed, controlling, and ruthless.

Just like that, I stopped playing. Not surprisingly, none of my friends objected to my bowing out of our games. Several years later, my husband and I played the game with some friends, and 'ruthless Ruth' came out again. That was the last time I even thought about playing Risk.

Fast forward 30 or so years, to the cruise I was on a few weeks ago.

On Royal Caribbean ships, a game called 'Quest' is played one night during the cruise. No one really talks about it (supposedly there's an understanding that you don't give out the details of the game); all they'll say is that it's an adults only scavenger hunt, and it'll have you rolling on the floor, laughing.

The game was scheduled for around 11pm on Thursday night. Happy, excited voices filled the air as people arrived to play. The ship's cruise director, who acted as MC and judge, divided the auditorium into teams, and looking stern, reminded everyone that the point was to have FUN, and that we were playing for key chains, for goodness sakes!

I thought his comments were a bit odd. No one ever mentioned to me that we were playing for any sort of prize. All I knew that the next hour was going to be a blast. I was, indeed, there to have FUN.

That's when I became aware of the people surrounding me. They were in an absolute frenzy, organizing, plotting, strategizing. Someone handed me a huge tote bag, bursting at the seams.
"Quick- hide this!!"

I must have reacted slowly, because the next thing I knew, a woman seated near me jumped to her feet, and grabbed the bag out of my hands. "HIDE IT NOW!" she screamed.

That's when I saw the look in her eyes. A look that I recognized from long ago. It was my Risk look.

I touched her arm, and said softly, "Hey, we're here to have fun."

She pushed me away, and hissed words I prefer to forget, in a tone I'll never forget.

I knew that I had to get away from her, and quickly arranged to change my seat with someone in another row.

As I sat in my new seat, in the moments before the game began, I felt my eyes opening to a new reality, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I understood the state of the world:

After all, if passions can run so strong over a GAME, then what chance do we have of creating a true and ever-lasting peace?!

[Quest was an absolute blast, BTW. Oh- if you think you'd like to try your hand at Risk (and maybe see if you'll become as ruthless as me), you can find an online version here.]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mona, the Mariner, and Me

I haven't posted for a long while, because I've been traveling! Got back last week, jet lag is gone, and I've caught up with the pile of things that awaited my return, so now I can sit back, stretch out, and start writing about my trip.

In seven weeks, I went to Paris, New Jersey and Los Angeles, took a cruise to the Mexican Riviera, went hiking in the San Francisco area, then went back to LA and NJ for a few more days before heading home. I spent time with friends and family, and met some terrific new friends, too.

I made a few notes while I was traveling, and took a few pictures (not nearly enough- I'm going to have to work on that!), and learned a bit about myself. I had an absolutely wonderful time, and can't wait to get going again, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how nice it feels to be home.

I'll take several posts to write about my trip, but for now here are a few highlights:

  • The Eiffel Tower is a wonderful folly! It doesn't belong in its setting, it's a whole lot bigger than I thought, and the hourly light show at night made me laugh with delight!
  • I strained my neck in the Louvre, looking at the ceilings. No guidebook had prepared me for the beauty of the actual building.
  • Waking to the sound of your ship's horn, then opening your eyes to a sea of fog- hauntingly lovely.
  • There's nothing in the world better than hearing your grandchild laugh and laugh and laugh- especially when he's being entertained by one of his sisters!
  • Meeting new people and making new friends are always a highlight of my travels, and this trip was no exception. But, this time I also found that returning to your old 'hometown' can be nice, too.
  • I had a chance to fulfill a long-held wish: to hike along the Pacific Coast Trail in San Francisco. It was even better than I had hoped it would be.

That's a nice way to begin writing about my trip. In future posts, I'll reflect on the people I met, the things I saw, and lessons I learned about myself.