with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

The Shuk and Yad Vashem

Walked the beach with Maureen again this morning. That’s three times out this week, three times more than in the past two months. It’s good to get out and about. The exercise and fresh air is certainly helping me clear my head and heart. Coming home is still painful, but the pain is an old friend now and it will soon find a comfortable spot to rest in the back of my heart, right along all the rest of the sad memories. It’s a bit crowded in there, but it will be among good familiar friends and family.

We came back up through the souk (in Israel pronounced shook), the Carmel Market, a wonderful open-air market in the heart of old Tel Aviv. As it was still early morning, we had to crawl past the delivery trucks and battle the old prune-like men pushing carts of all shapes and sizes loaded down with goodies and food, or racing back to the warehouse or delivery truck to restock. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the place is a buzz with activity. Maureen and I have our favorite places and sellers, and we had a good time teasing one of them, a young man who works for his family business selling lettuce and herbs. He has grown a terribly ugly “goatee” that looks more like a Mr. T mohawk on his chin than a real goatee. He is such a handsome young thing, and Maureen just loves teasing him, but this thing on his face is ridiculous. I don’t have a problem with facial hair – in fact I force my hubby to wear his sweet beard that I adore – but this line on his chin looked silly. Maureen told him it was crooked. I made him look at me and I studied it carefully. I apologized and told him that indeed, it was crooked. “You’ll have to start over.” He wasn’t too thrilled with that, but he smiled and laughed at us all the same.

When he turned away to enter the stall, Maureen grabbed me and hissed, “It’s awful, but then, again, it depends on what its purpose is.” I had to stop and figure out what purpose…and then it hit me. What a delightfully nasty biddy that woman is! And one more reason why I adore her. Criminally nasty! I giggled and then our young friend wanted to know what Maureen had said. I couldn’t tell him, as I’m not sure how much English he could understand, but he got it without me saying a word. “It was nasty, wasn’t it?” “Of course it was!” I laughed, and he laughed, and he gathered up my baby lettuce and fresh tarragon with a grin.

A lot of the sellers speak mumbled Hebrew, coming from Russia, Arab lands, and elsewhere, or have been here in Israel for so many centuries, their version of Hebrew is their own, I often have trouble understanding their numbers when they give me the totals. There are male and female references for the numbers, so you don’t just learn one through ten and so on, you have to learn one through ten in the male version, and then one through ten in the female version. There is something similar in Spanish speaking countries, but the difference is consistent and small. In Hebrew, the words sound completely different in some cases. “Hamesh” and “Hamesh-ah” will get you a female and male number five. But when it comes to twos, oh, boy. When you want to count or find out how many of something there are, two will get you “sti-eem” or the rarely heard masculine version “schn-iem”. When you use two as an adjective, like there are two cups on the counter, you get “scht-ey” or “schn-ey” (female/male). Combine this with double numbers, like “ezreem ve sti-eem” and you got yourself a mouthful already without any help from accents and lazy lips. So I hand over what I believe to be about the right money in bills, and I get change back.

I’m down to the last bits of bills and into my coins when I decide at the last minute, backpack and hands full, to buy a pomegranate. They are so tasty here. I pick out a bright red one, bursting at the seams, and hand it to the seller. He tells me that it comes to “schmo-nah schk-leem” (masculine version of eight shekels) and I understand him. And I’m surprised because I have problems with telling the different between twos, sevens, threes and eights (they all start with schz-blah).

Delighted with myself, I struggle with the handfuls of bags and my wallet, and watch coins flip into the air and down into the old wooden stand. I shove the money into my pocket and start moving pomegranates around to barely get my fingers on a five shekel piece, only to watch it slip and slide out of my fingers and down into the crevice of the wood slats, buried under kilos of pomegranates.

The young man comes around and smiles at me, speaking chop-chop English as he snaps up the fruit and rearranges them to get clear access to my change. But it is really stuck down deep and will require pulling everything out. He just finished stacking all these within the last 30 minutes, so taking it apart isn’t in his agenda. We can tell, though, by the colors on the edge of the coins what is there, and he tells me it is 15 shekels and he gives me change from that. He smiles and tells me he’ll pull it out in the evening. “This is not first time.” Maureen and I were delighted with his courtesy, seeing so little of it when we shop. We thanked him profusely and made our way up the narrow market street.

At the top of the market, Maureen headed off for a morning meeting and it took me five seconds to decide to take the bus home. This was just more than I wanted to carry up the hill to our home. For that hour of the morning, the bus should have been packed, and I was nervous about getting on with all my shopping bags in my hands and the full backpack, but the bus was barely half full. No one, except me, was standing up. Usually it would be packed so tightly, faces would be pressed against the windows. Either there are fewer people taking the buses, or fewer workers heading to work. I don’t know, but it was a little scary. Not scary like terrorist, but scary because of the change. For the past couple of months, even though there have been no recent bus attacks, fewer and fewer people are riding the buses.

I read in the paper that Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center in Jerusalem) is only six months away from their official launch of a web site listing the names of Holocaust victims. It is in testing mode now, and it sounds wonderful. Family members will be able to search for lost relatives, and some may find out the truth when it was so difficult before. Currently, Yad Vashem has more than 3 million names in their own internal computerized database, but they have been working for over ten years to digitize all of its archives. They hope to get as many as five million names online by the end of next year. Wow!

Officials say that the web site will be interactive, with the ability to search and research as well as provide information and feedback, even to give testimony about the lost family members. They want “a page of testimony for every victim of the Holocaust as a symbolic tombstone,” according to Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem’s Directorate, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. Since I am redoing my entire web site, this ambitious project really impresses me. One of the features they will have is the ability to search various phonetic spellings of names, with the page actually offering suggestions. Other Holocaust museums around the world will be able to add their data and reference this unique database as the project gets going. Isn’t that incredible. What a project!

I am thrilled to be living here at a time when Yad Vashem is undergoing such an amazing transformation from a memorial place to a full-blown educational/museum/research facility. Over the past four years, I have watched the place recarve an entire mountain. The architecture is incredible, looking like an airplane crashed into the middle of a mountain, buried inside of the mountain with projections on either side. I’ve seen the final models and I couldn’t believe they could do it, but never tell an Israeli he or she can’t do something. They will jump in with both arms and legs and damn the rest of you, they will do it. It’s incredible what they have done in such a short time in this place. While I’m not happy with everything they do, there is a lot that overwhelms me with their passion and determination against incredible odds. I can’t wait to see the finished project when it is done next summer. Maybe we will actually attend a few of the opening ceremonies…among the millions of others. Yad Vashem is such an incredible place, and I’m thrilled to have spent so many hours there over the past few years.

Another day spent plodding away at validating this darn web site, but it gets closer all the time. I think I’m down to the nitpicking, but I might as well get it right this time to make the “next time” easier. I’m actually having some fun with this, too.

Brent tried to view the new pages from his computer at work and found it a complete mess. Since the computer is Hebrew-enabled, it skewed everything to the right side of the page, flipping and flopping sentences and periods all over the place. Graphics were scattered with text overlapping – it was a mess. I have to do something to force the page to stay left-to-right since the language code I’ve put in isn’t working. I’ve asked about in a couple of HTML forums and maybe someone will come up with a better answer than the vague ones I’m finding on the web standards pages. With millions of Internet users browsing the web with right-to-left software, this is actually a more common problem than you would imagine, so I want to solve it.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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