Well, I didn’t actually think I would write an email this week, but the open computer resting on my dining room table seemed to summon me, so here I am. Not sure why though.
The pursuit of excellence, the dream to succeed, to be the best. Or, to simply do your best. To compete in friendly competition. That is the appeal of the Olympic dream. For those of you who know me well, you know that I am an Olympic fanatic, winter and summer. I love watching the sports, the competition, the sportsmanship. I particularly enjoy the figure skating, men’s, women’s, and pairs, ice dancing, speed skating and downhill skiing of winter sports, and swimming, gymnastics and running (track and field) of summer sports. I watched the Olympics as a child with my parents and family and as an adult with Meyer and kids. We cheer for our favorite athletes and truly get caught up in the excitement. The beauty of the Olympic landscape has always appealed to me and this year is no different, save for the fact that for the first time, I watch from Israel. There are very few events that we watch live due to the ten hour time difference between Israel and Vancouver, British Columbia, and we watch not NBC, but Eurosport. The coverage is very different but exciting nonetheless.
The Israeli delegation consists of three athletes: a brother-sister ice dance team, and a male downhill skier. While neither event is expected to yield a medal for Israel we find ourselves drawn to their excitement and dreams and aspirations. The ice dance duo will be dancing tonight to Hava Nagillah and with any luck, I’ll be watching the tape tomorrow night (if we can figure out how to set our DVD) and will be cheering them on Sunday and Monday nights.
Tuesday was indeed a fortuitous day for Israel in another sports arena, tennis. One year ago, Shachar Pe’er was banned from competing in Dubai because of her Israeli citizenship. This year, she was permitted to compete, and is doing so magnificently. Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post front page photo showed Shachar Pe’er serving her opponent. Not so unusual. But, in the stands watching the tournament were Dubai governmental officials and leaders dressed in their traditional Arab garb. And there was Shachar, serving to win. Win she did. And yesterday, Thursday, she defeated Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark to whom she lost one month ago at the Australian Open. Today, she just defeated a Chinese player to advance, astonishingly, to the semifinals. Imagine that. An Israeli female tennis player, once barred from competition, currently enduring constant vociferous, raucous anti-Israel protests and demonstrations in an Arab country, enduring shouts and accusations of being a murderer, on the cusp of winning the competition. She has refused to answer international media questions regarding Israeli politics stating that politics and sport should not be mixed. Win or lose, she has demonstrated grace and championship on and off the court.
So why do I write so much of sport? Because, unfortunately, there has been too much destructive and depressing news this week in Israel and I feel compelled to seek out positive and encouraging things to write about. The Dubai assassination of the Hamas terrorist, whether or not carried out by Israel, has turned into an international condemnation of Israel yet again, due to the British citizen passport/stolen identity debacle, the continuing Iranian nuclear threat, the Tel Aviv University professor condemning Israel and her policies while speaking at a university in London, or the horrible accusations of sexual misconduct purported against Rav Elon, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hakotel. The ensuing consequences of these stories are yet to unfold, however, certainly, no results portend well for those involved.
Ok, now time for a bit of humor. Monday morning started out like any other day for me. I started out for Jerusalem to attend my Ulpan course. Traffic was terrible, but finally I reached Ramat Eshkol where I switch buses for a bus to Keren Hayesod. Weather has been phenomenal this week with temperatures in the high 70’s and 80’s so there I was in my Capri’s and short sleeve shirt (I was wearing a light denim jacket) in a very charedi/yeshivish neighborhood where there are some segregated buses, which I absolutely abhor. There are debates and discussions going on in the Knesset regarding the segregated buses and the effect they have on the population. In any event, I boarded a non-segregated bus populated with mostly but not entirely Charedi men and women. There was a seat available across from where two Charedi men were sitting and much to my surprise, some elderly women chose to stand rather than to sit across from these men. Well that for me was outrageous, so I sat in one seat, tapped one of the woman on the shoulder and told her that it was ok for her to sit next me which she did. The men across from me said nothing, but lowered their gaze. No problem there. But a verbal dispute erupted between a charedi man and a kippa sruga clad gentleman each accusing the other of not being part of am yisrael, of Israel being better off without each other, etc. Such a shame. Each, in my opinion, should take a lesson from sports competitors, like Shachar Pe’er, and learn to live together and respect each other. In any event, the dispute continued, the accusations flew and tempers flared. The other charedi men on the bus joined in and I sat there, mesmerized by this unseemly sight. Across from me by the window sat a young man, around twenty years old, in one seat with a gift he had taking up the second seat and no one dared ask him to remove the gift to free up the seat. And here I was watching both these scenes unfold. Had I wanted that seat, that young man would have removed that gift or it would have been removed for him. At another stop, a woman boarded and couldn’t make her way into the bus because of the fight ongoing conflict between the two gentleman, so she proceeded to argue and shout with the bus driver. So here I am, on a bus, listening to two groups of foolish people partaking in the most asinine of arguments, watching this lone young man refuse to relinquish his seat, and mustering all the control I had to not open my mouth. When I arrived at Ulpan and told of my adventures and acted them out to the class in Hebrew, well, you should have seen the laughter and astonishment. My teacher had tears rolling down her eyes. It was truly a miracle that I kept my mouth shut, and truly hysterical that I was able to entertain the class in Hebrew like that. But quite frankly, the whole incident was very upsetting.
Anyway, life in Israel continues uneventfully for the Stepners. My job search continues, unsuccessfully thus far which is very frustrating for me. I would really rather not have to work but that is not to be. So I continue to search. The problem is, I don’t really know what I want to do. If I were a physician, a computer expert, electrician, teacher, social worker, scientist, technical writer, and the like, I would be employed already. My field here exists, but no luck in job procurement thus far. So I try to be patient and positive, but it’s not always easy. Like I wrote in last week’s email, trials and tribulations abound. Eitan is doing ok, but was sick this week. He is much better now and is going to Eilat early Sunday morning with his school for a three day ‘tiyul shnati’. They will be hiking intensely and sleeping outdoors. Yechezkel is winding down his army preparations and will be going into the army on March 23 in some non combat (probably) area. He is not happy about that, but that is what the army has decreed. All jobs in the army are vital for Israel’s defense and that is what he holds onto. We won’t know exactly what job he will have until he goes in.
Time to sign off and wish all a Shabbat shalom, a truly peaceful week. I pray the Olympic spirit of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendship prevail in all aspects of our lives. Enjoy the competitions, cheer for Shachar Pe’er, and pray for monotony in Israeli politics. Wouldn’t that be great. Of course, Gilad Schalit remains in our prayers. Stay warm all, and I’ll ’see’ you all next week.