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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

This is what an Israeli voting booth looks like.

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We vote for a political party, not a candidate, the ranks of which are chosen within the parties. Every party has an alphabet letter or letters (some symbolic or spelling out words or names, others seemingly random). These letters are printed on little slips of paper. You are given an envelope, you choose a piece of paper, insert it, seal the envelope, and drop it into a slot in a box. Easy.

Today I was presented with no less than 35 choices. It’s simple in a way, but a bit daunting to be presented with such a choice. Doesn’t it look like a board game? Or Scrabble? I’m told this was always the system. Avoids all the “hanging chad” and computerized voting machine problems. The only real way your vote can be voided is if you place more than one paper in the envelope. No pesky representatives from local, state, and national districts, no judges to choose, just one party, one paper. My choice: Meretz.

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The 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament) are then allocated according to the percentage breakdown of the votes. Then comes the dirty dirty wheeling and dealing between parties in order to form a ruling coalition, eg “bribing” religious parties with minister of transportation (no buses on the sabbath) and education, etc etc.

Luckily – we got a day off work! Something other countries should implement. Certainly affects the turnout. And what a lovely day we got – sunny, 25 degrees! If only we got a vacation in the middle of every week. Brunch is so much sweeter on holiday. I especially love to eat bacon unapologetically in Israel.

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I’m an American living in Israel, and today I watched the Presidential inauguration live on C-Span (weeping profusely at all the right moments, as I do), wondering why the hell I’m here.

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Tomorrow is election day in Israel.  It’s one of the most harrowing, uncertain elections in recent memory.  Unlike my firm Democratic roots stateside, I’m firmly undecided in Israel.  It’s a strange position to be in.  Being “liberal” or “conservative”

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doesn’t mean much when there are literally a dozen parties from which to choose, nobody will win a majority, and it will be up to the President to grant coalition-forming power to the party most able to form a working parliament (Knesset).  Let the cabinet-bargaining begin.  I’m wavering between Meretz and Labor.  If it were only a matter of voting my beliefs, it would be Meretz, the unwavering liberal party with human rights at its very core.  However, in Israel “making your vote count” OR “not throwing your vote away” often means to vote for the ideologically closest medium-to-large party, helping to put them in a position to get enough seats to form the ruling coalition.

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That party this time is Labor.  For a long time now it has been almost invisible in government, and now, it’s suddenly stronger, perhaps a real threat to (what used to be center-right) Likud (who now readily form coalitions with ultra right wingers and build new settlements and buy up East Jerusalem and openly threaten Iran).  I grew up in a Jewish Labor youth movement.  My problem isn’t Labor, most of its ideals are fabulous.  I’m just off religion, and would very much like a party that’s doing something about human rights in Israel.  The Arab issues, the territories, the settlements, Jerusalem, the immigrants, refugees (legal and illegal), asylum seekers, foreign workers, ignorance, prejudice, and hatred.  And of course a party that is not interested in starting WWIII.

It’s baffling.  Voting what you believe or voting to enable a party that could potentially topple Likud’s Bibi (Netanyahu).  I did the latter last time in 2009 when I voted for Kadima and its leader Tzipi Livni.  She didn’t win, and both Meretz and Labor lost major numbers in parliament because so many liberals ran center to Kadima to “make their vote count.”  Did it, with such a seat loss?

I think I’ll vote my conscience tomorrow.  Politics are best left undisclosed in polite circles.  I’ve learned far too much about fellow employees and friends of the family, things that disgust me.  Racism is so blatant it doesn’t shock most people.  Is it time to go home?  I still refer to America as home.  Do I miss it so much, see it through such rose colored glasses, because I’m not there?  Perhaps.  Probably.  But there is no beautiful national rhetoric here.  No togetherness.  No dreaming big dreams.  No building the future together.  I heard a woman yesterday saying, “I’ll vote for the opposite of what the Arabs want.  Anyone they’re for, I’ll be against.”  No “We the people.”

Is it possible to love one of your countries more than the other?  Is love even necessary?  Is absolute loyalty?  Is it even possible for a dual citizen?  I obviously came here for a reason.  Now, I can’t remember what that was.  Is that a sign to leave?  I’m far from elated at the prospect of tomorrow’s election.  I’m expecting disappointment.  Do I care enough to participate in the fight when there is no unified vision?  I feel most Israelis don’t even care about peace anymore, and for those that do, the realistic prospect of attaining it seems next to impossible.  How do we balance being good citizens, acting responsibly, giving of ourselves, with being good TO ourselves and trying to live happy lives?

I’m just going to focus on President Obama’s wonderful speech today, maybe watch some West Wing reruns, and daydream of better times.  Twiddling my thumbs uselessly, until tomorrow.  At least I get a nationally-sanctioned vacation day – something the USA could actually use.

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“One last look…” he said. There goes a man who knows the value of treasuring a moment. Linger he did.

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Being a long-term expat gives a person a unique perspective, as you well may imagine – an outside eye with insider access – and in the case of these bloggers, the ability to be ambassadors to the world at large.  It’s been a while since I focused on food myself, and I want to highlight to whoever may be reading, a review of some incredible blogs – AND – their very special qualities.  I’ve chosen and linked some specific posts to shed a light on the diversity of boutique dairies and cheeses, markets, spices, comfort foods, and out-of-the-way corners/villages/eateries that guidebooks would never even know to mention.  Enjoy!

Milk, Dairies, and Cheese

Israelis love their cheeses, eaten (much to my chagrin, actually) very fresh.  For fresh cheeses, however, they’re extraordinary.  A huge variety of cow, goat, and sheep cheeses are produced by the largest and smallest boutique dairies all over the country.  Baroness Tapuzina told us about her visit to the Ein Kamonim goat far recently.  Sarah Melamed of Food Bridge posted about a comparison between camel, cow, goat, and buffalo milk, oh my!  To add my recommendations on Israeli cheese, I adore the Markovitch Dairy – run by a sweet couple, on their own, with their goats, near Petach Tikvah – they make a cheese very similar to Camembert, with a blue center – during events they cater, they stuff big majoul dates with a softer goat cheese – to die for.  A bigger better-known artisanal cheese-maker is the Jacobs Farm – they make a hard cheese with pimento and caraway seed that is so incredibly different – it took me a while to like it, but I adore it now.

Markets and Places

Pita with zatar

My friend Liz, of Cafe Liz fame, is truly a market connoisseur.  Actually, most of these bloggers probably are, but I as know Liz well and we hang out in Tel Aviv quite a bit – she has been my personal ambassador to some gems.  Here, she tells us about Ramle, an out-of-the-way melting pot of a little town near the airport with an incredible history.  Here, a foray into the Levinsky Street market, undoubtedly the best place to buy spices in Tel Aviv – a bizarre 2-3 blocks of storefront if you’ve ever seen one.  And in a post I highly recommend, Where to Buy Food in Tel AvivLiz compared the prices of several basic food items at the shuk (market), and several commercial and organic stores around town – with very interesting findings for the consumer.

Sarah has a whole page devoted to shuks (markets), that you should really check out.  She’s written about Nazareth on a couple of occasions, somewhere most of us urban-folk would never venture.  The food scene is incredible there, and the New York Times recently featured it in an article, “Nazareth as an Eating Destination.”  A great pictorial is Spice Up Your Life in Nazareth, and a more complete anecdote is Nazareth Shuk: A Kaleidoscope for the Senses.  Another great post is by Miriam Kresh, the veteran blogger of Israeli Kitchen, also littered with fabulous photographs.  Miriam’s knowledge of the natural foods around us and the making of such basic (yet to us, complex) processes such as wine-making, soap-making, lotion-making, olive-pickling, and much more is astounding.

Comfort Food Around Us

Stuffed peppers

The new Jerusalemite among us is Ariella, of Ari Cooks.  A trained pâtissière, I love reading through her recipes.  A recent post of hers focuses on soups, Soups for Thought, and it was so so so good. So apt for the winter, so cold this year, making up for last year’s heat wave.  She links to several other soup recipes, so it’s an excellent resource.  Miriam has a great post on pickling olives at home, a local staple, olives are.  Sarah is hands down the kubbeh expert among us, and if you don’t know what these lovely semolina dumplings stuffed with meat are, do click her link.  Here is also Sarah’s excellent, beautiful, and brief journey through Israeli foods, including the ubiquitous falafel, foreigners so know us by.

I have skipped so much and focused on too few blogs — the amount of recipes, the innovation of this cooking, this east-meets-west, foreign-domestic, old-new, always fresh outlook displayed by the food bloggers of Israel is inspiring.  If you live here, I hope you choose to eat well and eat interestingly.  If you don’t live here, when you visit, make food a priority.  It’s so special and vibrant and fresh here.

Have a great week, all!  Here’s to getting through the winter!

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OMFG they must be joking. That’s what I first thought when I saw the headline in the Green Prophet: Jordan’s Crazy Star Trek Park Will be a Cleantech Showcase.  A Star Trek theme park?  My kind of vacation.  As some of you know, I’m a bit of a nut about Star Trek.  Apparently King Abdullah II is a huge huge huge Star Trek fan, too, and he even managed to get himself a role as an extra in Star Trek Voyager.  So now he’s gone and found over a billion dollars to build a Star Trek theme park in Aqaba?  Meters from Eilat, Israel’s year-round scuba-snorkel-spa resort-city?  Umm.  Wow.

Here are the related articles.  Have a blast.  Check out some of the titles (giggle giggle). I’m sort of in shock.

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It dawned on me recently that I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t even live in Tel Aviv.  I live on the Dizengoff corridor, and that’s about it.  With regular forays into the Rothschild realm, and occasional ganders into arty-yuppie-land, Neve Tzedek, I sometimes take peeks at the sea on weekends.  Basically, I enjoy strong coffees in various cafes around the city, about which I know a great deal. On Fridays I run wine tastings at Tel Aviv’s best wine shops, and when I’m in good spirits, on Saturday nights I hop between posh wine bars and local pubs. My yoga studio is three blocks away.  My new gym is 5 blocks away.  The longest trip of the week I make is a ghastly 20 minute bus ride to my therapist, followed by another 10 minute bus ride to my meditation class, followed by one 10 minute bus and one 5 minute bus home.  That’s my marathon day.  And I never have to leave the borders of Tel Aviv.

Adding to my insular lifestyle, I don’t typically read Israeli newspapers, and I have somehow managed to keep up with the basics by listening in on bus and taxi drivers’ radios here and there.  When I walk by a kiosk, I take a look at the headlines and then walk off.  Once in a blue moon I’ll pick up the International Herald Tribune…but mostly because it has the New York Times’ arts & leisure section which contains the crossword puzzle I miss so much ’cause doesn’t it feel so much better to complete it on paper with pen instead of on a computer screen.  For news, I read the BBC online, I surf the Huffington Post a few times a week, and I click on interesting links my friends post on Facebook and Twitter.

Pathetic, isn’t it?  It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit.  It’s beyond stagnant.  It’s positively vegetative.  Me! Me! I used to work in PR and read/skimmed half a dozen papers every day.  I saved searches on Yahoo news, BBC, AP, AFP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, ABC, even Fox, and more. Local, national, international.   I LIKED reading newspapers, even as a child.  I liked the feel in my hands, I liked to be in the know.  I felt it was important.  And it really was.  It still is.

What happened to me?  Did the news become too painful?  Did I slowly succumb to life as a numb couch potato?  Did I choose the easy way out without even knowing it?  Being proactive is difficult.  For me, reading the news, taking in all the pain (along with the joy and innovation and intrigue), many times leads to action.  It’s hard to really know about the injustice in the world and sit idly by.

Better to not read the news.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Not really.  Because I know in many ways I’ve been a bump on a log.  Sure, I work hard.  I try to improve myself through yoga and meditation and running in place like a hamster.  I read great books, the greatest books.  I think big thoughts.  I write creative little sketches.  I play with words.

But I haven’t been participating in anything.  Is the daily grind of trying to make a living (which in itself isn’t easy) to blame?  Is social networking partially to blame?  The immediacy of the medium makes it all seem more important than it is.  And it’s addictive, too.  Talking talking talking.  Links links links.  When I could be out learning how to sail, or participating in a knitting group, or better yet, helping people who are suffering by, who knows, teaching, building, cooking, writing…etc, etc.

I don’t live here.  I have thoughts of “going back.” But if I haven’t really tried, how do I really know I don’t like it here.  The politics are worse than in any place I’ve ever been.  Maybe even Russia.  Well, maybe not Russia.  People die here needlessly every day.  There is a violent uprising in Jerusalem right now, a 45-minute drive away, and I’m sitting here typing in my sunny beautiful living room eating a ripe avocado and gourmet French cheese.  What gives?

Passover is in two weeks.  A holiday commemorating the Israelites emancipation from Egyptian slavery.  Every year I think about the people who are still enslaved today.  In Israel we’ve got refugees, asylum seekers, and yes, lots of illegals, all fleeing terrible conditions in Africa, coming across the porous Egyptian border every day.  As a nation we grumble angrily, curse them coming, and mostly don’t offer any kind welcome.  And here I am, uselessly trapped in my own tiny little silver-spoon world, despite the “financial difficulties” I still face.

My Passover resolution: free myself by helping others.  And to put down the sci fi for a moment and read a newspaper each and every day.

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