2011-04-29

The National Library of Israel as my new workroom

Since I stopped being a student, I always preferred working at home both in Japan and here in Israel. I went to university libraries mainly when I needed to copy articles from academic journals I do not subscribe. Otherwise I did not feel any need to go there and worked at home as I have my own private library, which meets most of my needs. But I am starting to realize that many people go to a library and work there not (only) because of books stored there but (mainly) because of its atmosphere.

Among the public libraries that are accessible to me, Bar-Ilan University Library is supposed to be the most natural "habitat" for me theoretically as I work at Bar-Ilan University, but since I commute there from Jerusalem and for some other reasons, it is the least convenient for me. I like Hebrew University Mount Scopus Library, where I spent five years when I was a doctoral student at the Hebrew University, but unfortunately, it is too far from my apartment in Jerusalem.

Recently I started to try to work at the National Library of Israel (formerly known as the Jewish National and University Library). Its biggest advantage is that it is quite close to my apartment (only a ten minutes' bus ride), but I have never liked its system of asking us visitors to leave our bags in the cloakroom, which is very inconvenient. Having compared the pros and cons of these three libraries as well as the option of continuing to work at home, I have decided to start working at the National Library on those days when I do not teach and have even started to enjoying this, especially because I have seen that I can work more productively, seemingly thanks to the atmosphere. I definitely prefer working there when I have to concentrate on writing papers as I am freed from my neighbors upstairs who bother me with their incessant noise. I also see quite a few colleagues of mine and shmooze with them during tea or lunch break, which is nice and refreshing.

No visitor to the National Library can fail to notice the renovation it has been undergoing recently. To my great surprise and joy, I have found recently that this renovation is only a part of a bigger master plan of renewing it with the ultimate purpose of relocating to a new building to be constructed near the Knesset and the Israel Museum, which is even a walking distance from my apartment. According to its renewal master plan the new National Library seems to become an impressive place with the state-of-the-art library information technology. But until then we still have to wait some more years. Unfortunately, its renewal will not be completed before my first sabbatical, when I am planning to stay in Jerusalem and work at this library five days a week.

2011-04-22

Silence (= absence of noise) vs. silence (absence of speech) in Israel

Paradoxically, I suffer both from silence and from lack thereof in Israel. The word "silence" in English is ambiguous: it can mean either 'absence of noise' (שקט in Hebrew and 静寂 in Japanese) or 'absence of speech' (שתיקה in Hebrew and 沈黙 in Japanese); I will call these two meanings of "silence" "silence (1)" and "silence (2)". What bother me here are silence (2) and lack of silence (1), especially when the same people have these two attributes at the same time.

I have almost given up any hope of escaping from lack of silence (1), that is, noise, whether verbal or not, not only in Israel but also anywhere in the world. Even where there are no noisy people, there will always be other sources of noise, including barking dogs and chirping birds. But I still find it difficult to understand and accept silence (2) of so many people in Israel, unlike in Japan.

The most perplexing and irritating kind of silence (2) here, which is even more rampant than in Japan, is lack of verbal responce of so many people to a sincere question I ask them, even when it is for their own benefit. They can be people from all walks of life, including a number of acquaintances, neighbors, students, colleagues, and even friends of mine. I have encountered this kind of silence (2) so often that I have already come to a conclusion that it is ingrained in the Israeli culture of communication.

There are behaviors I cannot accept but I can understand, e.g., smoking, eating junk food, etc. But I can neither accept nor understand the behavior of ignoring someone else's sincere question, which does not require even a few minutes to answer. Every time someone displays to me this enigmatic behavior that is totally beyond my comprehension, I feel like stopping and even choking them ;-) to ask them to explain it to me.

2011-04-15

Irritation at biased political criticisms of Israel

It is true that especially since I received Israeli citizenship, I have come to fulfill the obligation of kvetching as a "good citizen" about Israeli society and its culture. ;-) But on the other hand, I do get really irritated every time I encounter biased political criticisms against Israel, especially in Japan. This is not because I have a blind faith in the country politically, but many of these critics apply a different, often higher, standard to it, distorting facts, thus demonizing it. Israel may not be a perfect country politically (and socioculturally), but it fares far better than many of the countries in the world, even among developed countries, and definitely in the region.

I know some anti-Israeli political groups in Japan; I have just found that recently one of them waged a nationwide campain to boycott Israel (and were even successful in harvesting some "crop"). There seems to be a clear correlation between these critics of Israel and their political propensity - they are ultraleftist "peaceniks". I have also read some online articles by some of the "ideologues" of these groups. They must be scholars, but some of their criticisms are based on distorted or fabricated "facts", which often are utter nonsenses at best. Sometimes they also sound very emotional and full of hatred and malice against Israel, though it cannot be a manifestation of antisemitism.

My sincere questions to them are why they feel no self-contradiction between their political criticisms of and activities against Israel and failure to apply the same standard to those rogue nations they fervently (and blindly) support, if they are really motivated by conscience as they seem to be claiming tacitly, and why they ignore and fail to condemn, whether intentionally or not, those crimes targeted at Israel. I do not know what their real motive is, but I do know that it is not (and cannot be) pure conscience.

PS: My political views about Israel are very close or identical to those of, e.g., Alan Dershowitz and Caroline Glick.

2011-04-08

Growing sense of sociocultural alienation in Israel

When I still lived in Japan until I moved to Israel in the summer of 2004, I used to suffer from the sense of sociocultural alienation there. So when I was offered a position at my present workplace and started living here, I thought naively that my agony would finally come to an end. Back then I never imagined that I would have a sense of sociocultural alienation in Israel, but sadly, I have turned out to be wrong; the more time I spend here, the stronger this sense seems to become.

Both in Israel and in Japan I am familiar with what constitute sociocultural problems for me and know how to cope with them. But coping with problems is one thing, and understanding and accepting the rationales for them another thing. Recently I have started to feel so strongly that I simply understand more and more behaviors of more and more sabras, including some of those with whom I come in contact on a regular basis, less and less; I have even given up any hope of understanding them.

Back in Japan I did not feel that I shared more or less the same sociocultural values with many people living there. But gradually and steadily I have come to realize that I do not seem to share with many sabras many of the sociocultural values that are important to me. At least with my sabra colleagues in the academic world I am not only spared this sense of alienation but even feel really comfortable. But everywhere else outside this "ghetto" I find myself asking myself constantly what the average sabra wants me (not) to do. I am not trying to accuse sabras and their culture specifically. I am sure that everywhere I go and settle down, I will encounter the same problem.

But in the meanwhile I am here and have to struggle with this growing sense of sociocultural alienation. Fortunately, I have enough friends I socialize with rather frequently - my fellow "aliens". It does not seem coincidental that almost all of them are foreign born or have spent many years abroad. Of course, I am not trying to alienate myself from the society here, but except when I am with other researchers in the ivory tower I cannot help feeling alienated here.

One of the last straws that broke my back completely is that a certain group of sabras I cannot specify here repeatedly accused me of lack of order. I am sorry for my lack of humbleness, but since childhood I have always been complimented for my order, both physically and figuratively, by my teachers, classmates and students alike in Japan, which is one of the most orderly countries in the world, and order has been one of the highest values in my life. So I have concluded that although I and those (and other) sabras use the same word, we mean two totally different things, and I am afraid that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Since I "discovered" this and other fundamental (and unbridgeable) differences between me and many sabras, I have simply stopped even trying to understand them. Of course, there must also be good exceptions outside the academia, but unfortunately, these sociocultural exceptions seem to be few and far between. In this respect Israel is quite normal like any other society in the world in that many of its members do not deviate (too much) from its sociocultural norms-shnorms, for better or for worse.

I have to conclude this rant by adding that in spite of what I have written above, there is one area of life in which I am very glad to be in Israel in general and at my present workplace in particular - research.

2011-04-01

When and how (not) to complain à la israelienne ;-)

Complaining is the second most popular "physical activity" among sabras, the most popular being eating, of course. ;-) When I started living here, I thought erroneously that they would complain to everyone about everything all the time. But I have come to realize that there are contexts in which they do not complain, while I would, and in which they do not complain directly, while I might.

Here are some of the "rules of thumb" for new immigrants, tourists and anyone else who is interested in the sabra "culture" about when and how (not) to complain à la israelienne: ;-)

  • You complain not for social justice but mainly for your personal convenience, which often contradicts social justice.
  • You complain about your "rights", while ignoring and failing to fulfill your obligations.
  • You complain back to someone who dares to complain to you about your "pleasure", e.g., when your neighbor dares to complain to you about your "joy of Sabbath" of listening to your favorite "music" at full volume or organizing an "athletic meet" of your small children (and their friends) in your apartment.
  • You do not complain to anyone about any personal or social misconduct you yourself may (or do) make, e.g., when someone is hours late for an appointment or even forgets it completely, cuts into the line for a bus, or contaminates his or her surroundings with crazy impatient honking or lousy loud mobile phone calls in public; this seems to be a "gentlemen's agreement" à la israelienne.
  • You do not complain to anyone about his or her not apologizing to you for his or her apparent misconduct.
  • You do not complain to anyone directly but slander to his or her boss if you sense some potential damage to your pratictical benefit by your direct complaint.

Of course, all of you are more than welcome to complain to me about this list of mine, but à la israelienne. ;-)