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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Partial Eclipse

There was a solar eclipse today. In Israel it was only partial, but still quite impressive.

Sadly, while I was watching the sun being gradually eclipsed by the shadow of the moon, I could not but think about the greater eclipse that occurred only hours earlier: the great vanishing act of the Israeli electorate. In this election - which saw the disappearance of the third largest party, the near-disappearance of the ruling party and the suprising rise of a party of sexagenarians - a large portion of the Israeli public chose not to choose. This election set a record low turnout (just over 60%), in a country that used to be proud of the deep involvement of its citizens in the democratic process.

Some say this is the result of a general feeling of "what's the point?". Israelis have long distrusted their politicians and with Prime Ministers such as Netanyahu and Barak who can blame them? But maybe this is only another sign of Israel growing up and becoming a "normal" country; after all, in most Western democracies the voter turnout is even lower. Perhaps it is time to follow the Australian example, and fine people who choose not to vote. Especially as election day is traditionally a day off in Israel, giving people ample time to spend a few minutes fulfilling their democratic duty. The chutzpah has no limits..

Back in Tokyo (For a Short While)

Three months after leaving Tokyo, I was back. A whole week in Tokyo, mostly business, but with a weekend in the middle.

Truth is... it felt like home. No problem giving the taxi drivers directions in Japanese, no need for a map to get around and a general feeling of ease and familiarity. Yes, I know it's only been three months, but given my hectic work schedule of late and the incessant running around getting settled back in Israel, it seemed like much more.

The Japanese are as polite and as service-oriented as ever. No big suprise here, but now that I'm back living in Israel, the contrast is even starker. Nobody tried to jump a queue; nobody ignored me when I stepped up to a service counter (be it in a shop, a hotel, a train station... anywhere); and most importantly, nobody pushed, shoved and shouted his/her way through. In a way it's ironic: a metropolis triple the size (in population) with merely a fraction of the stress and tension so common on Israeli streets.

But I ramble... It was great to be back, if only for a short while.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Leipzig, Germany

On my way to a meeting in Magdeburg last week, I stopped for a few hours in Leipzig, a city of half a million inhabitants in former Eastern Germany.

Leipzig is "the city of Bach". The great composer spent the last three decades of his life here, as the director of music and cantor at the St. Thomas church. Outside the church stands a larger-than-life statue of the plump Sebastian. Leipzig also prides itself for other notable German culture heroes: Goethe studied here; Felix Mendelssohn lived here.

In more recent history, Leipzig is known as the city where the "Peaceful Revolution" began in 1989, with demonstrations outside the famous St. Nicholas church, culminating in the fall of communism and unification of Germany.

The old city centre is a small area, easily explored on foot, enabling the passing tourist to see it all in a couple of hours: the old and new city halls, the churches, the tall university building (that is no longer the university) and other famous buildings such as the opera house and a couple of ancient restaurants and coffe shops.

But the memory I will carry with me from Leipzig is from none of the above. In the middle of an innocuous square, not far from St. Thomas church, stand a few dozen wooden chairs. They mark the site of the former synagogue of the Jewish community of Leipzig, destroyed in the events following Kristallnacht in November 1938. More powerful than any monument, these simple chairs serve as a reminder of a community of 11,000 Jews that is no more.