Monday, February 06, 2006

Demonstration Dayreams

Photo courtesy of JoeSettler, my demonstration co-attender of many years. Note, this picture is not of my son...or me.

Last night along with over 100,000 people, I attended the hafgana (demonstration) at Kikar Zion in Jerusalem, where we protested against the Israeli government-sanctioned police brutality towards the Amona protestors last week.

My three oldest kids wanted to attend, but due to logistical issues of getting them from the Muqata, Yeshiva, and the like, only my 11 year old son made it to Jerusalem.

Squeezing my hand tightly, my son and I snaked through the packed streets of Kikar Zion, listening to the speakers drone on and on. Hardly anyone really listens to them anyway – you go to be a number, one little extra added space to a sea of people. The ideological teenagers go for the same reason they were at Amona. The less committed go for the social scene; imagine seeing 100,000 of your closest friends from school, camp, your neighborhood and those you met on every vacation you ever took.

No matter how many people show up, you always see familiar faces…my son even found his best friend there. While I saw the requisite number of friends, it bothered me that the median age had dropped significantly since I started going to these hafganot. OK, so I’m getting older, but I was still there -- maybe just because I’m young at heart. But where were all the tens of thousands of people my age – they only decided to send their kids?

Spotting JoeSettler, the 3 of us continued walking around, till we decided to get a bite to eat. Maneuvering through the crowd, we ended up at Apple Pizza off the King George pedestrian mall. And that’s when the daydreaming started…as I was transported back 20 years in time…

Apple Pizza hadn’t yet opened during my first year in Yeshiva; there was only one place for yeshiva and sem students, one year programmers, and tourists to get decent pizza and hang out -- the semi-mythical Richie’s Pizza on King George. Their pizza wasn’t amazing; the crust was flat and the cheese wasn’t really mozerella, but at the time it was the closest thing to homestyle American pizza. But it wasn’t only the pizza that brought everyone to Richie’s pizza. Back then, cell-phones were a dream that hadn’t been invented yet, payphones were sparse, and news traveled a lot slower. The easy going desert pace in Israel back then bares almost no similarity to the high-tech, hyper connected Israel of today.

Calling oversees in those days from a payphone meant dropping “asimonim” – little round phone tokens into the payphone and calling the international operator somewhere in Tel Aviv. If you were lucky enough to get through, you would tell her the number you wanted to call (collect, of course) and she would call you back with the connection. As soon as she hung up, you would pray with all your might that:

1) The number she was calling would answer.
2) The operator would call you back and not decide to take a falafel break
3) The person standing on line behind you, also waiting for the payphone wouldn’t try to kick you off the line
4) The phone would still work well enough to receive the call from the operator
5) The phone wouldn’t ring with someone other than the international operator.

Lots of things could go wrong…and they often did. It’s not surprising how religious we all became after a year or two in Israel – it wasn’t the yeshiva, it was from the spiritual experience of successfully calling oversees on the payphone.

Yet what made Richie’s pizza so special was the huge cork message board that covered the wall opposite the counter. A patchwork of folded over notes, napkins, and random papers, it was a modern tribute of the notes-stuffed Kotel, except instead of messages to G-d, this message board was the epitome of modern communications in Israel. With no easy way to contact anyone, you would leave a message on this board with the recipient’s name on it, and when they got around to it, they would pick up their message from the cork board, and maybe leave one as a reply.

With many parents having no way to contact their kids in Israel, they would call Richie’s pizza in Jerusalem and leave messages to be written down onto notes and then tacked to the message board. This service alone made it worthwhile for parents to give their kids extra pizza money – since it was the easiest and surest way of getting a message across the ocean.

The other main attraction at the time was the grand opening of Carvel ice cream across the street, at the bottom right of the Shalom Tower. Thursday or Saturday nights we would wait on line for over an hour to get that cool and smooth, soft ice cream. Waiting on line was half the fun, as guys and girls hung out on line, laughing away the evenings...with not a worry or care in the world. Where else would people wait on line for over an hour, in stormy cold winter weather, for ice cream?

Strolling around the center of town, I would meet friends from all around Israel; Yeshivot, Seminaries, University, Bnei Akiva Hachshara…and some friends who volunteered for the IDF…

And then, dragging me out of my daydream, my son asks me for more pizza.

It’s so odd that my children are not far from that age when they’ll be hanging out at the same places I did.

We hang around the hafgana a bit longer, buy some t-shirts and sweatshirts, and head for home.

And the daydream still lingers in my head.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Don Radlauer said...

Hi Jameel -

It's good to hear someone else talking about "waiting on line" - a perfect example of the superiority of New York English as opposed to other, lesser versions of the language. Thanks! (g)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Hi Don -

I contemplated using the word "queue" but decided against it.

You can take the kid out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the kid.

Tehilimzugger said...

With the proliferation of the Internet, the term waiting online is reserved to describing those precious wasted minutes when one has clicked a hyperlink and is now anticipating the emergence of a new page. Waiting IN-line is now what bank robbers do before they get up to the teller.

Lab Rab said...

I don't have the same pizza memories ... but the Carvel at the Shalom tower was absolutely heavenly.

My yeshiva time was also before the proliferation of cell phones for kids; but we had email. It was thus a much more individualized experience. The pizza place as communal message board seems so typical of Israeli society.

Oh, and yasher koach on going to the hafganah (and to Joe too).

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Lab Rab: Oh, I forgot about you and ice cream :-) But yes, Carvel was amazing...any weather, any time...even if it meant waiting an hour on line.

In the era I was posting about, only a select few knew what email was... I would hoard email accounts since they were such a commodity. My MIT email account was priceless! Since I had one, I was able to convince some people at Bar Ilan to let me send email from there, since if I had an account at MIT, I must have been pretty serious.

Missed you at the hafgana. Hope to see you at the next one.

Jack Steiner said...

Waiting on line- feh to that. I actually have blogged about that one. Treppenwitz had a good post about his days at Ritchies. A bunch of us (myself included) used to go there.

Not to mention that I remember Carvel quite well. Close to Hamashbir, it was a nice snack in the evening.

the sabra said...

" go to be a number, one little extra added space to a sea of people. The ideological teenagers go for the same reason they were at Amona."

hmm i don't know. i dont think i agree. maybe i just didnt understand what you were trying to say. what are u implying by that-re the idealogical teenagers who went to amona?
that they went stam to go?
that they didn't think they would accomplish anything?

lisoosh said...

I still have some asimonim. And yellow ten shekel notes with Golda. And blue five shekel notes.
I didn't live in Jerusalem at the time, I was in a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley almost 20 years ago. The whole are used to shut down for siesta. The bus to Jerusalem used to go through Jericho.
I do remember when Dizengoff Square was full of felafel stands and Ben Yehuda (Tel Aviv) full of open stalls selling nuts and spices. Does this make me old?

See Jameel - I do check in on you from time to time.

Batya said...

I'm older. When I was a student here, there was no Richie's. Also the ice cream was horrid. But the bagel macher near the Yaffa Gate was open 24 hours a day.

I guess I'll have to blog some of that history.

Haddock said...

THE solution:
please look to my latest blog...

Elster said...

Wow - waiting on line for a collect call to call you back? Not good times. Not good times at all. And I thought I was old....

Anonymous said...

I m old. -ANand i was at the hafgana.You are right -where are the parents.I go back to the Sova restaurant right off KING GEORGE.

Unknown said...

It's BIG Apple, not "Apple"!!!


Old man. ;)

Pinchas Floyd said...

a lot has changed from 40 years ago

but some things havent...

the rolling stones are still getting censored on live tv :)

...of course, those old farts were before my time

i'd love to se more pics of the protest

Jack Steiner said...

I miss McDavids and Chocolate soup.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

The Sabra: The teenagers at Amona were there for purely for idealogical reasons, and not so much for the "social-get-your-head-bashed in" scene. However, at the big hafganot, you get all sorts of people coming for different reasons.

Ezzie: I'll call Apple pizza whatever the heck I feel like, you whippersnapper! Old man? Heh...when do you want to play hockey so I can kick your butt?

Phish: I'll try to find some more pics and send them your way.

Batya: Remember the Egged buses where you had to pull a string to ring the "next stop" bell?

Lisoosh: I drove through Yericho in 1993...I was one of the last Israeli civilian drivers to go through Ramalla in 1995 before the bypass was opened.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Phish: The ultimate picture compendium from the Hafgana can be found here:

lisoosh said...

Jameel - I was on a bus that got STONED in Jericho once. Not long before the bypass road was built. That was freaky.
And I hitchhiked through there once too (pre intifada).

Never been to Ramallah though.

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

Thanks Jameel, now I really feel old. Those are my only memories of Israel (well not of Ritchie's or Carvel's - I would never be caught hanging out there - way too American. To satisfy my sweettooth, I would spoil myself by patronizing the "new" bakery that made delicious cookies just across the street from the Shalom Tower.)
It's so hard to grasp I have been an adult for 20 years now. Those memories are like yesterday. I have often thought that I didn't want to return to Jerusalem because of how much development has occurred there. Jerusalem had always had a special hold over me, something I just couldn't put in words. I would hate to think that spiritualness and charm of the city would be lost to commercialism. Up until I started blogging six months ago, I really wasn't in touch to the Israel of today. It's quite amazing the transformation but like you said it has been 20 years. What else should we expect? Even though we want life to stand still from the time period we so fondly remember, which was comparatively a very peaceful time, we are no different from the generations before us, reminiscing of their past.

Are any of those old hangouts from the early to mid 80's still around? I think Norman's is...but what about the Cinemateque; Beit Tea; Don't Pass Me by Tea & Pie; the Book store/Home-made Ice Cream store; and all those Pubs?

MC Aryeh said...

Jameel - Glad you are beginning to share some early Israel memories. By the time I got to Israel asimonim were a thing of the past. I did get to see Yericho, though. I think my yeshiva was one of the last groups to go....

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