Eric's journal from the Israel – Jordan tour

 July 1 to July 10, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - Day Two

We had a reminder, today, of the nagging stress and tension with which the people of this region live on a daily basis.  A terrorist commandeered a bulldozer in Jerusalem and careened into the crowd, overturning one bus and multiple cars.  A citizen recognized what was happening and fatally shot the driver.  A policeman jumped onto the bulldozer and found the man was already dead. Three people were killed and more than 40 wounded.

The last act of terrorism in this area was three months ago when a suicide bomber killed himself and four children who were in line for an event.

We asked our driver Danny for his impressions of the incident. He said that they try not to let it impact their lives—that there have always been fanatics, even since biblical days, and that they have learned to live with that reality.

We talked about the creation of Israel with Danny and the cultural attaché, Efraim Cohen.  Their perspective is that had the Arabs accepted the 1947 United Nations partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states that the Palestinians would, today, have their own homeland.  Instead, upon British withdrawal from the area, all Israel’s neighbors rejected the UN declaration and David Ben Gurion’s 1948 proclamation of the state of Israel, and war ensued.

Though significantly outnumbered by the Arab armies, Israel won the initial battles and occupied large areas of the Negev (in the south) and Western Galilee that had been allocated to the Palestinians under the UN partition plan.

But war ground on for nearly a year, and the Israeli’s lost 6,000 lives or nearly one percent of the Jewish population at the time.  Eventually, the city of Jerusalem was divided into two (under the UN plan it was supposed to enjoy international status).  Israel controlled the western half and the Jordanians occupied the eastern section, including the holy sites, as well as the entire West Bank.  Egypt took the Gaza Strip and Arab Palestine never came into existence.

As we were driving to our first performance of the day, Efraim told us the story of Tel Aviv’s founding.  Anti-Semitism has been a reality for centuries-- from Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt in 1280 BC, to the Assyrians destroying the kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, to Muslim armies conquering Jerusalem in 638, to Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492, to pogroms in Russia in 1881 following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, to, of course, Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933.

Efraim said that in 1909, things were heating up for the Jews in Yaffo (Jaffa).  Sixty Israeli families decided to leave the city and form one of their own.  They drew lots for land, and the city of Tel Aviv was born.  Today it is a modern, European-like city of 360,000 with a metropolitan area encompassing 2.5 million citizens.  It was named for something old and something new: Tel means an archeological mound and Aviv is Hebrew for spring. 

We picked up Lily Obadiah, cultural specials for the Embassy and made our way to the Janice and Phillip Levin Music Center serving the Tel Aviv-Yaffo municipality.

Established in the early 1960’s as an offshoot of the Tel Aviv Youth Band, the Center has been identified as a home for music lovers and young musicians growing up on the area.  Leading Israeli musicians are part of the Center’s staff, and the curriculum focuses on teaching students how to play an instrument.  Students participate in music theory classes and are members of one or more orchestras or musical ensembles. Every two years, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Youth Orchestra, a full-scale symphonic band, travels overseas to perform.  They played for Bill Clinton when he visited Israel in 1996. Many of the students are admitted as members of the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra and some eventually pursue higher musical studies in Israel and abroad.

We played for an enthusiastic group of boys and girls for about an hour. Their English was sufficient to introduce our stories and songs without a translator.  The director had been there for a year and was very welcoming. She even danced the polka with us, explaining the steps to her students.

From there we left for the hotel for a quick bite to eat before our evening performance.  We walked the streets of Tel Aviv which are vibrant like every Mediterranean beach town and found a place to eat before our rendezvous with the van.

Efraim mentioned that when he retired next year he planned to get more involved with the University of Tel Aviv.  He has already begun discussions with them about increasing their international student body and wondered whether the University of Maine would be interested in pursuing the discussion.  I told him that we did, indeed, have in interest in international programs and asked whether Israeli students might come to Maine, as well.  He thought they would, and we exchanged cards agreeing to continue to the conversation.

We arrived at the Tel Aviv Folk Club and learned that we would be sharing the stage with four or five Israeli musicians—which was great.  The club meets the first and third Wednesday of each month. The first musician was Ariela, who is the club’s organizer. She played guitar and sang with a beautiful voice.  The whole evening was a throwback to folk clubs of the 1960’s in the US.  The musicians sang in both Hebrew and English and many of the songs in their own language were originals.  The songs in English were mostly familiar, including some by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and even Tom Waits.  The audience sang along with the songs they knew, and one had the impression of a real family of music lovers.

We were the last to play and began close to 11:00 PM.  We played well beyond midnight and kept getting calls for encores.  We might have stayed even later but Andy and Lily had an early day planned, so we packed it up and headed for the hotel.

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