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Getting Our Bearings -- Elkanah? Ariel? It’s Geography Time; Plus a Little Bad with the Good

In my second blog (the first from Israel), I described a bit of the geography of Israel with an emphasis on Efrat. I continue with a little more geography, this time with an emphasis on the central area of Israel (north of Yerushalayim), where I spent Shabbat with Ezra and Shiri.

Ezra and Shiri chose to live in the small suburban settlement of Elkanah, with a modest population of 4,000, due east of Tel Aviv, three miles over the Green Line. (Elkanah is the name of Samuel’s father; we read about his wife Chanah on the Haftarah for the first day of Rosh ha-Shanah.) Ezra attends IDC in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv (westward), and Shiri is a student at Ariel University, so they compromised geographically and rent in Elkanah.

Ariel is much deeper east into the territories, 12 miles beyond the Green Line. (Remember, Israel’s east-west width is exceedingly narrow -- only 30 miles from Herzliya to Ariel, which is itself 12 miles beyond the Green Line.) Ariel University is the center of a large settlement with apartments, shopping, parks, etc. It was established in 1978 and has about 20,000 residents; it is the fourth largest settlement in the territories. Like Efrat, settlement in Ariel was prompted by ideology, defense, and cheaper land prices (though I think mostly the latter).

Tel Aviv, as you know, is the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan area -- filled with commerce, restaurants, nightlife, fashion and energy, a faint Israeli echo of New York. By contrast, Yerushalayim is a little more St Louis-like -- featuring some restaurants, universities, and historical sites, but much more simple, reserved, and community-oriented. Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, is the home of the Technion (Israel’s MIT), and the Bahai Gardens. (Bahai is a fairly recent non-Jewish religious faith.)

(For some perspective, the population numbers apparently are/were: [not including the suburbs] Jerusalem [west] 400,000; Tel Aviv 250,000; Haifa 267,000; Netanya 171,000. If one adds the suburban population -- that is, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area -- the number swells to several hundred thousand more.)

My Friday afternoon drive to Elkanah for Shabbat was terrific. The highway through Yerushalayim to the Elkanah area was surprisingly traffic-free, and the 6- and 4-lane highway was like new. It took me an easy 1 hour and 20 minutes. The only glitch was that my IPhone had little battery life left, and I wondered what would happen if it died -- I needed it for directions and communication.

On Friday night, although the sanctuary was filled with 200+ men, services were less than positive, mostly because the man sitting next to us talked incessantly. On Shabbat morning I moved my seat, just in case, and a certain man invited me to sit next to him. I learned from him, a lecturer in civil law, that he was an 11th generation Israeli! To put that into perspective, his family in Israel dates back to about, and maybe even before, George Washington! He told me that four streets in Petach Tikvah are named for branches of his family. And, BTW, he told me, the man who just chanted the Haftarah is a circuit /appellate judge. That was worth it!

Shiri cooked delicious Shabbat meals and we talked, studied a little Torah, and played board games, and she helped me with a few words and terms from Hebrew articles. Then Shabbat ended. Ezra and Shiri needed to study for finals, so I headed back south.

The less than 1 ½ hour trip from Efrat to Elkanah did not repeat itself on the Motza’ei Shabbat return home. First, I took a wrong turn and was forced to stay on one of Israel’s main highways back north toward Elkanah for seven miles. Then, finally getting from Yerushalayim to the tunnels to Efrat, I got stuck in a 45-minute standstill. Some drivers cheated, making the wait even more annoying. When I finally passed the traffic blockage, I saw three or four Arab men standing at the side of the road while Israeli military, with guns pointed, were arresting them.

It’s still real in Israel.


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