Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't mess with the Zohar

Zohar is an Israeli man who had a month's vacation from his job in the military last year.

He spent that month traveling through California, Colorado and Texas, and found our house through We let him sleep in our basement for a few weeks.

Now, good karma comes into play. We're staying at his apartment in Tel Aviv.

It's amazing how a border -- an arbitrary, imaginary line -- changes everything.

As soon as we crossed into Israel, we faced a new language, new code of socially acceptable behavior, and new standards of health and hygene.

The hummus here -- as opposed to in Egypt -- is sold in a safety-sealed plastic package, without flies. The prices here have quadrupled. It's acceptable to wear short skirts here. Instead of people fasting for Ramadan, public transit shuts down for the Sabbath.

We seem to have arrived in both Egypt and Israel exactly in time for their annual religious holidays. We spent Ramadan in Egypt; now we're spending Yom Kippur and Sukkot at Zohar's kibbutz in northern Israel.

I never took the time to describe the "iftar," the breaking of the fast, that happens every sunset in the Arab world. The bustling, crazy, traffic-choked streets clear out. The loud panic subsides to a whisper. For a brief hour, the streets are completely quiet. All you hear is the Call to Prayer singing "Allah Akbar" and all you see are groups of men sitting together on rugs, eating their first meal of the day.

Here in Israel, we're about to witness Yom Kippur, the day of judgment. Everything shuts down on that day -- no public transit, no jobs. Everyone fasts.

Maybe the more countries change, the more things stay the same.