Sunday, 11 June 2017

Lets do something I haven’t done since our trip to India – blog our trip to Israel

Most of this was written up while we were away, so hopefully it *feels* live, even though we're home now.

Despite some suggestions otherwise, this is not a pilgrimage, at least from my perspective, even though I have received information that started “Fellow pilgrims”.  Pilgrimage to me implies travelling for religious reasons, and that’s really not why I’m going to Israel. Perhaps Chris’s reasoning is different, at least a bit, perhaps not.

A question that’s come up in various ways is whether there’s a historical validity to bible events and Israel. When a work colleague heard where we were going they expressed doubts about this, and someone else I know from another company who had been previously had done a ‘secular tour’ that he said was interesting while expressing unease about the religious tours. I’ve studied a little, have a bit of a sense of the history of the area up to the 4th century, and am hoping these will help me see through the religious traditions that have sprung up.

One of the guidebooks I’ve seen described the mother of Roman emperor Constantine – the first ‘christian’ emperor, although some did express faith at times apparently – as the most successful archaeologist ever. Everything she looked for, whether the birthplace of Jesus or the ‘true cross’, she found. I suspect we owe a lot of the sites now revered to her. Perhaps some of them may even be the actual places as claimed? Who knows.

At the airport. It’s almost impossible to stand back and look at the experiences we’ve had so far with proper detachment, and I find that really frustrating. I hate when personal feelings get in the way, but from arriving in the airport, this trip has been tinged with Jewishness that feels in your face. It’s almost like a challenge is thrown down every time one interacts, that even though they are just doing what they do, wearing what they want etc. The people look different, even though most of those I’ve seen so far must have European blood. There’s also a characteristic body shape for most, tending towards the pear for both sexes over about 40. It’s quite odd. Skull patches – too small to be caps - abound, held on by some invisible adhesive in many cases and hair grips in a few others. Plus one homburg on top of a large black velvet skull cap.

Lack of sleep may have also jaundiced my feelings a little.

Friday night I was still in the throes of a nasty cold, and although it seemed to have abated a little last night (Saturday) it was still present and sleep was not. Travel arrangements were what they were, and we were awoken at 4.45am to travel to the airport at 5.30. Naturally the plane was delayed, but only by an hour, so I guess we should be grateful.

The security experience at the airport was actually slightly less bad than expected, though we did get a mild grilling about what we were doing, where we were going and staying etc. There’s a side of me that sees this as entirely reasonable and another that says “sod your country, I don’t want to visit”. Tolerance generally wins out, but the other feelings never completely leave.

Now on the plane, the b*st*rd in front of me has leaned his seat back and is standing in the aisle, occasionally leaning on the top of the seat, pushing it further back toward me and making it more difficult to type this. I am not charitable toward those who recline seats on aeroplanes (birching seems a fitting punishment) and firmly believe it’s time all seats were made without the ability to recline.  Generally we’re all cramped and uncomfy in an older 737-800, there’s lots of noise from a higher level of chatter than one normally seems to find on flights, and I'm unable to sleep but tired from various early starts.

The plane seems really old, without a personal entertainment system, but with a streaming service for personal devices. We only discovered this would be the case a couple of days before leaving, and that didn’t really give enough time to do the old fashioned thing of visiting a library for books etc. The streaming system is not impressive: apps are available for Android & Apple devices, but not windows phones. HOWEVER if you have a windows 8 or 10 laptop you can stream, but this Macbook is unable to do so, despite downloading & installing silverlight as required. I did manage to load some films onto the hudl tablet, so at least Chris has something to watch. Lunch was just odd. Sweet soft dough-pastry thing filled with ‘swiss cheese’ (I later learn that the hostess said sweet cheese, but my ears & her accent made something different) pots of what appeared to be fromage frais AND yogurt, although the roll was nice.

Well, I’d say things can only improve, but I know that’s just foolish optimism. ;-)

I have also been trying to figure out why ‘Jewishness’ feels like a provocation when other middle eastern behaviour ranges from fine to fairly threatening but on nothing like the same level. I wonder if it’s because inside me there’s an expectation that ‘they’ are like ‘us’, but to ‘them’ I am a gentile and ‘they’ are separate and different. Also having spent most of my life completely steeped in the bible, it is ‘my’ culture too, and naturally I identify as belonging to a kind of greater nation of Israel, when the reality is nothing like that at all.

Someone is probably going to find this offensive. If that’s you, consider that I’m trying to work through thoughts and feelings in order to understand, but if you want to take offence the be my guest.

And then we arrived.

Immigration was slow, and someone was having ‘problems’ at the front of our queue for a long time. Actually immigration was like immigration is almost everywhere, with long, slow-moving queues and at least a 1 hour wait for foreigners. Questioning was less intense than at departure when we finally got to the desk, luggage arrived and at last we left the airport.

Our guide, Foteh, seemed a sensible, down to earth and practical chap, and also a baptist Christian (it makes a big difference here, with Christians being born into their ‘faith’, rather than by personal belief or understanding) although his family actually originated from Italy, coming over in the 12th century with an early crusader group, and thus would have been Roman Catholic. He also did his best to win us over as a group, and that helped too.

Tel Aviv was warm, with soft, spice-scented breezes and a fabulous sunset over the sea as we arrived at our hotel. Dinner was a buffet and fine, and we then had a walk along the seafront before bed. The city itself is large, with lots of big buildings and an impressive skyline, but also a lot of poverty and people living in scruffy, semi-derelict conditions.

The difference between the ‘in-your-face’ Jewishness and actually being in Israel is enormous. Perhaps it’s because we’re paying guests rather than gentiles in a foreign land, but we were made to feel welcome and invited instead of undesirables.

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