Thursday, January 05, 2006

...and the music played

Today was the day that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled to have angioplasty to close the small hole in his heart that was said to be the source of his 'very minor stroke' of two weeks ago. Instead the country awoke to reports that the PM was still in surgery for a major stroke suffered while he was on his way to the hospital late Wednesday night. All in all Sharon was in surgery for over 9 hours as the neurosurgeons attempted to stem the massive hemorrhaging taking place in his brain. The PM is now in a chemically induced coma which will last at least 24 hours and maybe more. His days in government are clearly done and the country is now suddenly faced with a very new and different reality.

The radio stations were filled with solemn songs throughout the day and the country is in a somber state, with news and discussions dominated by talk of the PM condition as well as likely governmental and election scenarios over the coming weeks and months.

Ariel Sharon is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the country and has been for the last 50 years. Founder of the mysterious 'Unit 101' which specialized in raids against terrorists in the 1950's and integral figure in the formation and development of the legendary Israeli paratroopers, his methods were oft ridiculed and called into question and almost always outside the box. Despised by the Left for his role in the Peace for the Galilee War in the early '80s and for his central role in the creation and support for West Bank and Gaza settlements; in the last 2 years the roles were reversed and he became despised by the Right for his sudden reversal and abandonment of Gush Katif. Even today, as the person who has shifted dramatically to left many have still not been able to completely embrace him and are unable to look beyond the past that they so despise. So, while his party was expected to be swept into office...he was still not a loved figure.

Despite his controversial persona the country is now rallying around the call for tefilla (prayer) on his behalf. While many disagree with his policies, both old and new, most acknowledge that he has contributed much to the success of Israel over the past 57 years and pray on his behalf as a hero of Israel regardless of his political policies.

Here's praying that Ariel ben Devorah (Ariel son of Devorah) sees a speedy and full recovery.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Surprise in the Shadows of Smokestacks

For the first time since we made aliyah 18 months ago, the parents Sussman (that's Romi and Josh for the uninitiated) went away for a brief mini-vacation, thanks to the visit of Grandma and Grandpa Sussman. We spent the night in a nice little hotel in Zichron Yaakov. About 30 km south of Haifa, the picturesque small town sits on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. Zichron is one of the earliest permanent settlements built during the First Aliyah in the late 1880's and 90's and they have done a wonderful job of restoring some of the original homes and creating a nice pedestrian area in the center of town. We had a really nice time shopping, eating in the sidewalk cafes and visiting the very well-done museums in town (one on NILI the WWI spy ring centered in Zichron and the other about the First Aliyah whose members founded Zichron along with numerous other agricultural settlements, many of which were sponsored by Baron de Rothschild). We also took in a really interesting tour of the Zichron (Carmel) Winery, the first in Israel and still the largest in the Middle East (which even the tour guide admitted wasn't the biggest feat on earth given the muslim prohibition against alcohol production and consumption).

The next day we drove a few minutes to see the amazingly intact Roman aqueduct on a public beach in Caesarea (see the picture above), then meandered through the beautiful neighborhoods of Caesarea. On the way out of town, we stopped to pick-up a quick soda at a gas station and were shocked when we saw a sign for a kosher sushi restaurant attached to the gas station. A bit sceptical at first, we went in to investigate a bit more. The inside was very nice and newly re-done in traditional 'sushi restaurant' motif, sushi bar and all. We immediately scrapped our plans for an early dinner on the beach in Netanya for a lunch of delicious sushi. The sushi was fresh, good and quite moderately priced!! We spent the whole meal celebrating our little find and trying to figure out just how cool it is to be able to eat kosher sushi on the side of the road in the shadows of the famous smokestacks of the power plant in Hadera. Our trip was officially topped off by lunch and we then drove around the fancy neighborhoods of Herzilya Pituach and wandered on the boardwalk in Netanya before returning home.

As I wrote to a friend yesterday, this trip reminded us of the majesty that is living in Israel in our homeland. While we enjoyed our travels in America visting New York and Boston, Williamsburg and Philadelphia and all the other wonderful places and sites that America has to never moved the spirit like travelling through Israel does. In Israel we are visiting our history, the history of the Jews--both ancient and modern. We learn of the heroes of Zionism, who sacrificed more than any of us can contemplate, who built this country by reclaiming the lands from centuries of neglect in conditions beyond terrible. When we travel our land we are touched by the beauty and the history of a land that is ours and that speaks to our souls.

We look forward to sharing our land with anyone who wants to come for a visit (and anyone who wants to come to stay!)