© 2020 Drew T. Noll

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dad, urban planning, and the land of Israel

When I was a kid, I grew up in Orange County, California, in the U.S.A. I was born in a town called Tustin, and moved thereafter, to a tract home development in a place in the middle of a really big orange grove called El Toro. We lived there until I was in 1st grade and then we moved to Laguna Beach, California, although it wasn’t like the TV series that you may have seen. Back then, it was a very sleepy and isolated beachside community with a lot of tradition in the arts and to be truthful, drug trafficking. It was heaven to grow up there. We had the Pacific Ocean and the whole town was surrounded by what they called a green belt. This green belt was an untamed natural place that, when we were able to sneak into, became an amazing place to build forts, ride dirt bikes, and just have secrets, and we had a lot of them. My childhood was an enchanting place. It was a place of spontaneous happenings, like the performance art that we did for tourists when we were in high school, and the crazy huts (sukka’s?) we built at the beach to get out of the sun on a hot day. It was also a place of experimentation, in many ways (if you were around then you remember the 70’s right?). We were all trying to find ourselves. We were searching for something and probably never really found, exactly… it. We were a generation that just seemed to be stuck between the 60’s counter culture and the 80’s – what I think back on as the Capitalist driven Consumer Culture’s infancy. The world was about to change.

During this time, my Dad, my hero, was working really hard. He was an urban planner (glorified landscape architect), and loved his job. He worked for the Irvine Company, which was a very land rich entity (in So. Cal. no less.), even though it was all orange groves back then. Gradually, the entire region has become massively populated and gentrified into exactly what you see on TV today. It was a planned community that has grown to exceed its expectations in terms of living, you know, the right way. With all the amenities, just a short drive away, and with parking too! He planned a vast portion of this land into perfect communities. The act of living there was designed, and fit the average person with a tight glove like apparatus. It was perfect and looking back on the transformation, a bit too perfect for me. It was an experiment in culture. It was design, with a capital D.

The reason I am thinking about this, is that there… apparently, wasn’t any planning when they built my current dwelling place from the ashes of 2,000 years of Diaspora. Israel was built over night and on a shoe string. Everyday we are constantly reminded that each little improvement in the cultural entities, the governing bodies, the politics, the economics, and everything, right down to the streets, developments, and communities that we live in, are only there because someone had an inspiration, be it financial or otherwise. The streets sometimes end into nowhere. The developments are often choked with traffic trying to get into one tight little street that feeds a giant area of homes and businesses. And some of the roads can have giant potholes and ridiculous invisible speed bumps that can rip the bottom of your car off if you are caught unaware.

Zichron Yaacov is a small town that was built on the remains of Jewish Romanian emigrant farmer buildings from the 17th century, and if you go back further, Jewish Roman farmer ruins from 2,000 years ago. Barron Von Rothschild has a finger print here, and so does Napoleon. The entire country is built on the ruins and remains of its predecessors, British, Turkish, Crusader, Israelite, and Canaanite. So where does urban planning fit in you ask? In the big picture, urban planning is just another idea to fill our minds with, like interior design, architecture, and art. There is a balance to life and we seem to always need to rock back and forth, like on a teeter totter to find the center. The republicans and the democrats, the capitalists and the communists, the religious and the secular, labor and likud (left and right in Israel) and all of the extremes that we find out there, are there to help to keep us centered. Heaven forbid that we try to be centered like Kadima (the current political entity in Israel) or we might fail miserably to see either the left or the right (and maybe fail at everything else as well). We are all riding a wave, a cosmic wave, that will ultimately take us to who knows where. We just need to keep looking for the rip currents and the backwash, for the swells on the horizon and the El Ninyo storm systems. It will come from every angle conceivable and we all need to be checking, on a daily basis, to the trends of our surroundings and our inner beings.

I can only remember that when I was a kid, my Dad loved his job. He loved making cities. He loved it so much that he was mostly gone, at work. Maybe it was just the 70’s, when parents that grew up in the 50’s were focused on something else. Now, looking back, it is hard to know. My Dad loved me, I know that. I just wish we had had some more time together before he left to, who knows, maybe build cities for The Big Guy in the Sky. In the mean time, I chose to live where there isn’t much real planning, where things happen spontaneously, and I can surround myself with enchantments that inspire the emotions of the hills and ocean of my youth, with Israelite and Roman ruins, Crusader castles, Turkish baths, and all the amazing miracles of a modern, albeit unplanned by just plain men…, Israel.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Shvitote ve oad, ma la’a sote?

(shvitote and more, what to do?)

So, what does shvitote mean you ask? It is a simple answer that has a very long and frustrating explanation. A shvita (singular for shvitote) is usually for a good cause, but also produces much anguish for parents and at the same time, much excitement for kids (see picture for emotional value). Yes, you may have guessed it already; we are talking about the dreaded school strikes. The Israeli school teachers are very poorly paid and have been for long enough to insure that the lower education in Israel is not of the highest caliber. We knew this before we came to live here and left what was supposed to be one of the best school systems in the United States. But we still made the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. This was in part because we knew that education is more then just book learning. We knew that to get a proper education for our children we would really need to step up to the plate and do something extraordinary. We needed to make sure that our children didn’t get ground out from the North American puppy mill of education, with the real danger of having little personal knowledge of the greater world around us. Having come to that conclusion, the only real way of doing that was to make a drastic change.

So we did it. We came to Israel and have been here for a year plus. Our family has adjusted nicely. I am doing great, and have loved it here from the moment I arrived. Adele has had her ups and downs but now she feels very much at home. Zach has been growing steadily, both physically and emotionally and really seems to love it here too. And Josh… he is really just now starting to fall into his new being. We knew that there was this dreaded threat of the shvitote and had some small experiences with it last year however, I don’t think we were really prepared for what seems to be developing this year. At the end of the summer I was so happy to get back on schedule with the school thing. Just to have some structure is so important to a parent’s sanity. So, when the Chagim (Holidays) came around about 2 weeks later we were just relying on pure faith that we would make it through the onslaught of the kids free time. Ok, we made it, mostly unscathed by all this and then 2 weeks into the real school year we were informed of the eminent shvita by very exited children. “Mom, Dad, this one is going to be 2 months long!”

“Yah right, 2 months… sure. Neereh (we’ll see).”

They have had 3 days off now and we don’t know what is happening yet. The kids have made there own schedules about how they are going to use the time (you should see Joshes, you know… math from 11 to 12, right after breakfast and a break. Lunch from 12 to 1 and then another break from 1 to 3. Help with some house cleaning from 3 to 4 and after that another ‘well deserved break.’ Nintendo, cartoons, playing with his new friend Alon until 1:00 in the morning, and get up and do it again the next day!

We are gong to have to work on that one a bit. Welcome to one of the stranger parts of the Brave New Land.

And, speaking of strange, (ooh, what a segway) I had a strange few days at work a few weeks ago. I haven’t written anything about it because we have been having so many holidays that there was so much else to write about and very little time to do it. It is a minor story in this little life of mine, however it seems to be haunting me a bit. It all started when one of the German guys at work got sick and couldn’t work on a really fun project making a Bimah (Stage) for a Synagogue in a town near Jennin called Magan Shaul. The Bemah was a gift to them and had to be done before Yom Kippur so, at the time, we were in a real time crunch to get it done. The job fell to me and with a little help; the African Mahogany Bimah was delivered on time and looked beautiful.

But I am getting ahead of myself. About two days before we needed to be finished with the Bemah a hushed little meeting occurred first thing in the morning. An apprentice that was working with me stopped and looked at the little meeting going on at the next bench over and told me something big had happened. This is a very unusual thing in the miphal (factory) and he waited to see if he could find out what it was. We didn’t actually find out what had occurred until after the morning break. There had been a terrible tragedy the night before and a 5 year old girl had died. She was very sick and evidently asphyxiated on her own vomit. I was very shocked, as was everyone in the nagariah and a weird thing about it is that because it is a self sufficient kibbutz, another coworker needed to spend that day building a little coffin for her out of the same materials that we use to make kitchens out of. He spent all day, in a dark corner, building this little white melamine box to bury the little girl in and then, one of her uncles, another nagar (carpenter) that builds roofing systems, came and hoisted the coffin on his back and left with it.

Nobody talked about what happened for the next week. It was just like it didn’t happen at all, on the surface. The nagar that had hurt his knee eventually came back and I asked him about his knee. His answer was enlightening, in more ways than one, to say the least. I asked him what the doctor had said and he told me that he doesn’t go to the doctor if he can help it. He only prays to heal himself. Somehow, I also found out that this same nagar is another uncle of the little girl that died. I asked around in my Hebrew speaking community here in Zichron and found out that there is also an ongoing investigation into the death of this little girl. In the mean time, the uncle with the knee trouble left work again and when I ask about him, I get a lot of I don’t knows. Crazy… what a world. What a wild ride… I never met the little girl, but maybe I saw her once or twice. Who knows? I don’t really know how to feel about it. I feel bad for her, her family, and her community, but it is conflicting for me. I guess, at the end of the day, I just…lo yodea… ma la’asote…

Shavua Tov Kulam.