Israeli Cousins

July 10, 2007

These last few days we were quite busy getting our new place set up, so I did not have much time to post another entry. We also just got wireless Internet set up in our apartment (woo-hoo!).  But before I update you about Jerusalem, I need to backtrack to our visit with Eric’s cousins.

As I mentioned the other day, Etamar, Eric’s fourth cousin picked us up on Friday and drove us to his place in Zichron Ya’akov, a pretty Israeli town established in the 1882 by Romanian Jews, and supported by Baron de Rothschild Fourth and fifth generation Israelis still live there.  

Some of our route to Zichron followed the wall/fence that separates Israel from the territories. When you get drive around this country, you really see how small it is and how closely situated the towns in Israel and the Arab villages in the territories are to one another. Etamar told us that he and his family are moving to a Kibbutz (a communal living space) not very far from the Green Line and very close to an Arab town called Baka. He also said that Zichron is close to an Arab town called Pharades (the Arab word for Paradise), which supposedly has a lot of poverty and other social problems.

One of the first things we learned about his family is they like quoting from Spaceballs and The Princess Bride, two movies revered by my family (although they didn’t mention Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which is another Zimmerman classic). We visited his parents in Kiryat Tivon last time we were here, and we hit it off. We also met his grandmother, an incredibly intelligent and vibrant woman who survived the Holocaust and spoke English much better than we spoke Hebrew.

Currently, Etamar and his wife Anat live with their delicious seven-month-old, Nadav, in a two story apartment in Zichron. Etamar is the CEO of an electronics company that created a pen that scans documents. He’s also taking online classes at a business school in Liverpool, England in pursuit of an MA. Eventually he’d like to get a PhD as well. He’s as passionate about family genealogy as Eric, and I’m sure they’ll be going over old records and family trees in the near future.

They decided to move to a kibbutz because it offers more of a community life for them. While they will be partaking in some of the kibbutz’s activities, they are not actually joining as members. While kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) were established to carry out the early state’s socialist ideals, many have had to compromise their principles, scale back on agriculture and find additional modes of income. Increasingly more members of Kibbutzim commute to their jobs as opposed to working in one of the kibbutz’s industries. Last year, Eric and I stayed at, Kibbutz Lotan, an eco-concscious kibbutz in the Arava (southern Israel) called Kibbutz Lotan that was founded by Reform Jews. 

Visiting Etamar and his family offered us an important glimpse into the lives of Israeli Chilonim. Like most of Israel’s Jews, Etamar’s family is not religious (although unlike their American counterparts, they are much more aware of Jewish holidays and customs). They have very negative feelings towards the religious establishment in Israel, partly because religion is heavily politicized here. Unlike the U.S., religious sects can form their own political parties and can wield enormous political influence in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), where political parties must create coalitions in order to gain a majority.  

The religious authorities also determine who is a Jew and what constitutes a Jewish marriage. Secular Israelis either bite the bullet and get married by an Orthodox rabbi or get married overseas. Etamar and Anat were married by an Orthodox rabbi, while Etamar’s sister decided to get married in Prague in a civil ceremony.

Etamar provided an interesting perspective on how Israelis deal with serving in the army. He says that he’s tended to view his time in the army as if he were going to a second country. I think it’s similar to how folks keep their work and home life separate in order to maintain their sanity. As I learned from my previous trips from Israel, it’s one thing to know Israel by reading books and scanning news on the Internet, and it’s another thing to live here. In many ways, living in Israel is like living in the U.S—sure we have a war going on in Iraq but people still have children, go to their jobs and enjoy life. In fact, despite all of the goings-on, Israelis are overall quite happy with their lives, according to a poll conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics  Go figure.

After we spent time with Etamar and Anat on Friday and Saturday, we went to a family lunch hosted by his aunt and uncle. These get-togethers happen on a regular basis and alternate among family homes. We remet Etamar’s mother and father and also met his sister, brother, as well as his aunt and uncle’s children. The food was delicious and the company was amiable. Etamar and his brother also liked taking lots and lots of pictures of their family in action—so I didn’t bother to take any with my camera. J  I’ll try to get those from him in the next week.

I think being surrounded by all of our extended family helped accustom us to our new surroundings and grounded us.  I felt like I was a part of this family even though I was just starting to get to know everyone. The genuineness and the warmth that emanated from them reminded me of my own family. They do the same things that we do—eat, hang out, laugh, eat some more—and I think my parents would like them a lot. My Israeli cousin’s on my Dad’s side of the family are also really down-to-earth people and look forward to meeting up with them in Tel-Aviv.

Before we said our goodbyes, Etamar’s sister invited us to her wedding party in July (Even though they got married in Prague, they still wanted to celebrate with all the mishpacha and friends). Now that should be something to blog about!

It’s 7:30 pm here and there’s a breeze blowing into our apartment. Yes, the summer evenings here are delightful. When I feel a breeze here, I first think a storm is coming in, but then I remember that it doesn’t rain here in the summer. The daytime is hot and dry, but it’s much more bearable to walk around here than in DC (code red, anyone?). But you do have to keep drinking—and I mean ALL THE TIME. When I saw the play PANGS OF THE MESSIAH at Theater J last month, I noticed that the Israelis seemed to drink water a lot. And now I understand why J.

Signing off…

Rebecca Z

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