I’ve always wanted to go to Israel, and I never quite knew why.
Earlier this year, I made it. I flew over to Vienna first for SQLSaturday Vienna and had an absolutely wonderful time. I’d heard Austria was charmingly beautiful, and it surpassed expectations. The museums are great, quality of life is clearly quite high, and the people are lovely.
Oh, and Klaus Aschenbrenner‘s flight simulator is amazingly realistic.
— Klaus Aschenbrenner (@Aschenbrenner) March 30, 2016
Then, I flew to Israel. (No, not in the flight simulator.)
Visiting Israel on a Saturday
I arrived on Saturday, aka Shabbat, and this is where I have to start by explaining a few things to many readers. Jews take Shabbat seriously – depending on their degree of faith, very seriously. In the grand scheme of things, they’re not allowed to do work from Friday sunset on, but the Orthodox list of work tasks gets pretty specific. For example:
- No driving
- No handling money
- No phones or email
- No cooking, and no lighting a fire, either
- No flipping a switch or pushing a button that causes electricity to do work for you
This leads to a lot of interesting behaviors. For example, at my hotel, there was a Shabbat elevator that just opened on every floor and went up and down all day. Orthodox Jews could then get aboard the elevator at any stop, ride it until their chosen floor, and then get off – without violating any religious rules.
You can eat pre-prepared food, but if you put it in the fridge, you need to slightly unscrew the light bulb on Friday to make sure you’re not turning a light on and off by opening the door on Shabbat. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
I was actually really excited by this because I wanted to see how the hotels would handle it. After all, there’s a lot of tourists in town, and we have to be able to eat, right? Upon arrival, I found that my hotel had a sushi restaurant in the lobby. Of course! No cooking needed – well, for most kinds of sushi, and the menu listed which cooked items weren’t available on Shabbat due to heat requirements.
On Sunday, I ran a pre-con training day, and then I gave the keynote at SQLSaturday Israel – on a Monday. So in one trip, I did a SQLSaturday on a Monday, and on a Friday. (Vienna doesn’t hold theirs on Saturday either!)
While I was in town, Guy Glantser and Matan Yungman were kind enough to invite me to the SQLServerRadio podcast. We recorded an episode on our biggest mistakes, and one on how to prepare for and get a good DBA job.
I was just as delighted by the people of Tel Aviv as I was by Vienna, but such a different culture. Vienna was very formal and reserved, beautifully detailed but polished up for the visitors. Tel Aviv was a fun, loud, boisterous city in the midst of living its very active life.
This part here is where I get reverent, the part I was looking forward to, the Epic Life Quest achievement.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic schools up to fourth grade, and I have vivid memories of Catholic school uniforms – no, not the girls’ skirts, but my own navy blue pants splitting apart at the butt seams when I bent over. (Three. Freaking. Times.) My parents made me attend church until I was 16, at which point I could make my own choice. I chose not to go, and I think I’ve only been a handful of times since.
In 2001, I visited Rome and saw Pope John Paul speaking from a balcony, and that was a really touching experience. Erika and I went back to Vatican City several times on that trip, and St. Peter’s Basilica just had a wonderfully holy vibe. It felt sacred. I don’t know what it feels like for non-Christians, but even to my woefully underequipped soul, it felt touching.
So I was pretty sure I’d be blown away by Jerusalem, too.
Maria Zakourdaev, one of the main organizers of SQLSaturday Israel, planned a tour of Jerusalem for the speakers. A handful of us went traipsing – well, more like reverently walking – through the Old City.
Some markets are tourist traps. Other markets feel like living, breathing organisms where locals pick up stuff they need for daily life. This was the latter.
This market, and these streets, are so steeped in history that I can’t possibly do it all justice, so I won’t even try. The Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross casually intermingle with stalls and stores.
The Christian tourist probably envisions grand signage pointing out every interesting thing, but keep in mind the wide variety of religions and languages that make their living here. This ain’t a museum, and even if it was, even the buildings would be sign-worthy.