Israel Stories

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Grail Quest – Part 1

The sun that had shone so fiercely during the day began to sink slowly, plunging the Temple Mount into a confusion of dark shades and shadows. Migrating birds overhead sang there evening vigil as they returned to the surrounding hills and the safety of the pine trees. The call to prayer echoed across the valleys as multiple minarets, bathed in the green neon glow that surrounded their parapet’s, simultaneously chanted the Koranic verses of divine submission.

On a similar evening 900 years ago (without the neon) Godfrey de St Omer, one of the founder members of the Knights Templar, committed to writing five short words that would hold the key to a 900 year quest and the future fame and fortune of one individual. Those words translated from the Latin were; ‘The Grail is a fake’. The Grail will never be found but Dan Brown still got his money.

With a supreme stroke of genius the Knights Templar created the myth in order to reap the benefits of 900 years of merchandising even surpassing George Lucas’s Star Wars.

The legend and myth of the Grail and the extraordinary pull of the Knights Templar which led men to give up their money, possessions, land and livestock to the church, enabled them to become the wealthiest organization and allowed the church to cash in and increase its powerful hold on the Western World and beyond.

The beauty of the Grail is that not only did it not exist but it was never defined as a definite object. Was it a chalice, a plate, a stone and scroll or just good advice? The truth is nobody knows or probably will never know except of course for Dan Brown and a guy I used to work with from Somerset, England.

Roger claimed he knew the exact resting place and secret of the Grail. According to his very secret information, passed down from father to son to internet, the Grail was buried in a chamber below Glastonbury Tor, a strange and almost supernatural hill near the town of Glastonbury in the south west of England.

Together we set off on our own Grail quest. As we drove south west from London I wondered what the Opus Dei, Knights Templar and all the other secret organizations would have thought of us; an observant Jew and Roger the son of parish vicar on their very own Grail quest. We drove passed Stone Henge instilling within us wonder and dread. How did the ancients lift those stones, why did they waste all those virgins lives, if the virgins were martyred did they have 72 terrorists to look forward to in heaven?

Glastonbury Tor said to be the mythical isle of King Arthur’s Avalon, rose out of the landscape, its strange tower looming menacingly. The meeting place of lay-lines, mystics, hippies and spiritualists. Not far down the road are the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, the last resting place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Every educated English school boy knows the story of King Arthur, Excalibur and the Grail Quest. “Come Lancelot, I said to Roger, let us climb the Tor, retrieve the Grail and all England shall be saved.” He was not impressed. “This is serious, this is the Grail.” Serious business I thought.

We climbed the Tor, noticing the strange ridges that had been cut giving the hill a screw like effect. Roger told me that from the air the Tor represents a pregnant mother. Great, now I have to be careful where I walk.

“How did the Grail get here from Jerusalem?” I asked Roger, genuinely interested in his response. “Some bloke brought over and buried here I think.” “So you’ve researched this thoroughly then”, I joked with cynicism and sarcasm.

I told Roger of the Crusader sites in Israel and the legacy they left in the form of many national parks. Roger was planning a trip to Israel to research his Grail quest.

We reached the top and stood under the shadow of the tower. Roger asked me the time. “2pm”, I told him. Roger ran round the far side of the tower and began to look around, running his hands along the cold wind-blasted walls. “Quick”, he shouted, “come here I’ve found something”. Not knowing what to expect but still remaining extremely cynical I ran over to him. I saw he was holding a piece of paper and could make out some of the letters on the top of the page. Each letter was in a different color, the first letter was G, the second an O, the third an O, I couldn’t see the next letter but the last two letters were L and E. “Well, I’ll say one thing, Google is the font of all knowledge”, I joked. Roger looked deadly serious, he had been duped. His information had led him to the Tor, he had found the marker stone and had dug out the sacred scroll which would lead him to the Grail.

Roger read the scroll; ‘I Godfrey de St Omer, of the founder members of the Knights Templar, can confirm that the Grail is a fake, sorry and have a nice day.’ “Don’t worry Roger”, I tried to comfort him. “Still from the top of the Tor the view was fantastic!”

Onward to Jerusalem………………

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Highwayman

I dialed *147 or whatever it was and they told me to go to the office of highway and road repairs.

Mr. Extraordinarily Long Nose Hair sat on the corner of his desk excavating his huge cavernous nose. “Er, excuse me, sorry to disturb you, are you in charge of roadway repairs?” “No,” he barked rather nasally, obviously with one stubby finger blocking a nostril, he was probably in charge of archeology. “Can you tell where the office for road repairs is, please?” He looked at me with a ‘for crying out loud I am very busy’ look and with his free hand pointed down a long corridor.

What I didn’t realize was he was pointing down a long corridor out of the building, round the corner down the road, to a new building where the office for roadway repairs was located on the second floor at the end of another long corridor.

I knocked on the door. Inexplicably, the same man stood in front of me, still digging for gold in his long nose. You know your head’ll cave in if you carry on, thankfully I only thought, mouth clammed shut.

Without asking how he had made it to this office before me, I started to tell him of the problems with a road near my house that had been damaged by an overweight truck.

“What number ticket have you got?” he asked. “What ticket?” I asked. “When you were in the other building there was a sign which advised you to take a ticket and await your number. When your number comes up you can then ask your question.” I am going to kill this man, I thought. I ran back to the other building, got my ticket, found the number display and waited. Half an hour later I realized it was broken.

I ran back to Nose Man and told him that the ticket machine was broken. I showed him my ticket and he asked me to wait in the corridor outside his office. Another twenty minutes went by as I stood and watched him drilling for oil in his nose. I was certain he would rupture something and waited for the large spurt of blood. It never came.

He walked to the door and asked me what I wanted. I told him the problem. He asked me to fill out a form, asking for my name, address, mothers maiden name, ID number, education, army service record, criminal record and of course credit card details. I mentioned this might be the wrong form. He looked at it said “just fill in your name, address and phone number and give it back”.

After doing this he opened up a large filing cabinet and withdrew a huge folder with, what seemed to be, several thousand forms similar to mine. He motioned that I should sit at his desk. He opened the folder, placed my paper on top of the others, closed the folder and replaced it in the cabinet.

Now what seems to be the problem?” “Well because of building work I think several trucks have ruined the road surface and it’s become dangerous.” “Danger!” he cried “Danger!” He jumped up from his desk and for a split second I naively thought something truly remarkable would happen, he would deal with the situation. But of course life isn’t like that, not here in the Holy Land.

“Here,” he said passing me a piece of paper, “call *147 and tell them what the problem is.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Ambassador (HaShagrir)

I’m still trying to find that magical combination that would produce Israel’s super ambassador and champion of advocacy. It’s difficult. The other night I found myself shouting at the television. The program was HaShagrir and one of the contestants was spewing her rhetoric about the need to allow all the Palestinian refugees back into Palestine and compensate them and the other was saying that we need to keep a tough line against those who preach our destruction. Now its easy when you on the extreme right or left, you have no problems in stating your absolute, clear cut, totally blinkered opinion. But when, like the majority of us, you have become so confused between right and wrong, where you rally behind one politician only to find you’re still moving forward when he has made a U-turn and when you see the appalling tragedy perpetrated by the Palestinian leaderships lust for power, money and blood, you have to ask yourself what is right and wrong.

So who is the perfect Shagrir?
The Shagrir should be right, left, and center.
Speaks at least Ivrit, English, Arabic, Russian, and Amharic.
Knows Israel politically and historically, geographically, culturally and religiously.
Has a realistic approach to security, the Palestinians and a general understanding of the world’s attitudes towards Israel and the Jews.
Ideally worked in the city, on kibbutz, on a falafel stand, in a market and in a factory.
Has lived in the north, south east and west, in the Golan, Galil, Jordon Valley, Haifa, Sharon, Judea, Samaria, Shfela, Jerusalem, the Negev, Dead Sea and Eilat (to name but a few areas and places!)
A person who has done the army, yeshivah, sherut leumi, been a lifeguard, taxi or bus driver, played basketball professional, floated a dot com and swept the streets. Worked in hi-tech, biotech, low-tech, software, hardware, manufacturing, law, medicine, accountancy, tourism, advertising, internet and worked in an office, from home or in a field.
Someone who is irreligious, national religious and ultra religious.
Someone who knows how to carve sh’warma, roll falafel and knows the difference between lafa and pita.
Someone who is orange, blue and white all over.
Someone who is rich middle class and poor.
Someone who lives in an apartment, duplex, triplex, cottage, house, villa, estate, ranch or sleeps on the beach.
Someone who is a sabra, an immigrant, has a holiday home or visits Israel.
Someone who weeps on Yom Hazikaron and celebrates with all his heart on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

I am sure you can find yourself in more than one of theses categories so I guess you’re the person for the job.

Since that probably goes for all of you, on this Yom Hazikaron and Chag Atzmaut make a concerted effort to love your country even more and do everything you can to defend her, support her and celebrate her.