Friday, August 17, 2007

Tel Aviv and Jaffa

I spent all day Wednesday museum-hopping. First, I took the bus to the Eretz Yisrael Museum. Not bad at all—lots of little buildings, each with a different focus. I did wish for someone to comment to as I walked. I covered the entire museum, from beginning to end—history of stamps and coins, of pottery and of glass, as well as a whole section on material culture—how people made food, clothing, and so on. What struck me about this last section was how similar the tools and methods were to those anywhere else in the world. Weaving, bread making, carpentry, and so on seem to have a limited range of variation. It’s a bit like falafel. Every culture has its own version of falafel in pita: some kind of carb wrapped around some kind of filling, generally with lots of options for interest. Burrito, poor-boy sandwich, mu-shu, pasties, and so on.

I almost skipped stamps and coins—I mean, who cares?—but was very glad that I didn’t. I was reminded that stamps, money, weights and measures, standards of all kinds are part of what societies need to manage—the Hubble problems of a few years bear witness to what happens when those measurements aren’t standard. There is a distinction between ideology and values and those tools that need not have ideological import. I say “need not” because, of course, we put all kinds of symbols on our money and stamps—some frivolous (the US series of “biggests”, for example); some not (whose face is on which piece of currency).

I went from that museum to the art museum and had only about an hour there. It was fantastic—great impressionist and post-impressionist collection. Some weird stuff, but I didn’t much care; there was more than enough to see. I had posted earlier about how children in London and France are taught to appreciate art. Well, I saw the consequences at the museum. I was looking at some “weird stuff,” when I noticed a French father and his daughter of about eight. He was explaining some principle of art that was exemplified by the picture—I have no idea what; couldn’t understand the language well enough—and she was nodded with great interest and concentration, adding a few words here and there. I realized then that this French eight-year-old clearly understood more about art than I did. Ouch!

That evening, I took Avital out for dinner. She drove us down to the waterfront, where there were many shops, restaurants, and most of the city enjoying the warm, humid night. It was lovely to be out with her, talking about her experiences growing up in two countries, in the army, and as a scout. The Israeli Scout experience sounds not too dissimilar to 4-H in terms of developing skills and leadership. Avital was emphatic about distinguishing it from US scouting—it has a huge membership; many, many families participate. Much more than school, it is clear that scouting has shaped her. Which makes me wonder about looking at it as an education model for Jewish kids in the states. She also spent her last year in Scouts working with Israeli kids in south Tel Aviv. These are kids who don’t have the resources—money or other people—to run effective tribes, so many teens come to help and she was one. She spoke with great pride of bringing fourth grade Jews and Arabs together and watching them go from distrust to great friendship.

She also spoke of what it’s like to be in the Army—the bonds you form with others, the sense of responsibility of knowing your country truly needs you, and the fact that she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and, until she is done with the Army, doesn’t have to. As we sat on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, we also talked about how there is no sense of danger or war and, late into the night, there are still families and children wandering around, both in groups or alone. So there is a very different sense of what danger means, as well as some interesting ways to compartmentalize it.

It was a lovely evening and ended with each of us showing the others pictures of people and places.

Thursday morning, Karen and Jim’s friend, Yascha, picked me and took me to breakfast. He is a lovely man with a generous spirit. We returned to the same boardwalk, this time in the daytime, and sat speaking Hebrew and enjoying the food and the waves. Then he took me to buy a suitcase (either that or just throw more money at British Air) and headed off.

In the meantime, Steven had arrived from Caesarea, enroute to the airport. We headed down to Jaffa and Neve Tzedek for the day. Actually don’t have much to report on that—both were fine to wander around, but again I am reminded that I’m much more interested in how people live now than in the history of stones. In Neve Tzedek, we did walk through the Suzanne Dellal Dance Center, though, and I felt like I was on a college campus. Amazing place for all kinds of dance. And, on the walk from Jaffa to Neve Tzedek, I detoured into the Mediterranean (finally). I did roll my jeans up, but it took two waves before I was wet to the knees. Warm and salty and very blue. What else is there to say? Anyway, glad I made it in before I left!

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