Shai and Guy Daniel
Shai and Guy Daniel. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Tomer Appelbaum
Annette Reed, Benjamin Fleming and Alexander Fleming. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Anette Reed, 39, Benjamin Fleming, 45, and Alexander 'Kon Kon' Fleming, 2 and a half. Returning to Philadelphia.

What did you do in Israel?

Reed: I am a professor of Christianity and early Judaism at the University of Pennsylvania and I was invited to a conference here about ancient Jewish texts, which were preserved in ancient translations found in Russia and scattered all over the world. The conference was at Kibbutz Nahsholim and experts on these texts came from a variety of places.

What was the subject of your talk?

Are you familiar with the apocryphal Book of Enoch?

Sure. It’s the book about the fall of the angels. It’s the most science fiction-like thing there is.

Well, another Book of Enoch is hidden in those texts, which we call 2 Enoch, in which Enoch visits seven different levels of heaven. It is one of the few, and one of the oldest, stories that deal with this kind of division of heaven. You can find a little of it in the Babylonian Talmud, and there are also the Dead Sea Scrolls − but these texts are absolutely the missing link in our chain of knowledge.

Is that your specialty?

I deal with the Second Temple period, angels and demons in Judaism, comparative research of ancient Jewish and Christian texts, and the emergence of the canon and changes in biblical narratives. I have written a book, titled “Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity,” in which I deal primarily with the story about the angels − how they corrupt mankind − as it appears in Genesis and Enoch.

How did you get into this field? Are you Jewish?

No. I have no blood ties to Judaism. I started with the history of art. I went to Harvard. At some point I wanted to learn about the background to early art and I took a course on the Bible, and that’s where I got into it. I visited Israel when I was 19 or 20. I was in Jerusalem and I liked the place very much, the history of this land.

This is your first visit here?

Fleming: It’s my first time in Israel.

Reed: I’ve been here a few times since college, and the truth is that I had hoped Benjamin would like it here, so we could consider spending a year in Israel. I would like to live here for an extended period. He could work on his book − he is part of a research laboratory at the university and is working on ancient texts in Sanskrit − and I have a lot of colleagues here and research that interests me at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It would also be nice for both of us to learn a little Hebrew.

Do you know Hebrew?

Reed: I know how to read and write Hebrew and Aramaic, but mainly from ancient texts.

What were the conclusions?

Fleming: Israel is a lot more expensive than I expected.

Reed: I remember that I also thought in the past that it’s expensive here.

Fleming: And there is no consistency in the price of things. In one place something costs a certain amount and in another place a lot more. But everyone was very nice. I didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed my time here.

Did you have a chance to do some sightseeing?

Reed: We were at a small hotel in Hof Dor, and there was a nice beach next to it. We visited archaeological sites at Caesarea and in Beit She’an. Everything there looked really good and Alexander had room for running around, so he was pleased.

We also spent a little time in Jerusalem, in the Old City, and bought a darbuka [hand drum] for Alexander.

Did you put a note in the Western Wall?

Fleming: No. We were there on Saturday, and they don’t allow notes to be written on the Sabbath. That’s what we understood. But we did touch the wall. The truth is that we had a bit of a problem with the Sabbath. It turns out it’s not so easy to find a place in restaurants on Saturday night.

 

Shai and Guy Daniel, 24, from Bat Yam. Shai is arriving from Madrid

Shai: I’m not really here yet. I’ve just spent 34 hours traveling.

Where are you coming from?

Shai: Six months in South and Central America.

Guy: I freaked out because of him.

Shai: It was my first big trek, and for sure not my last.

Guy: You’ll stay here if I have to put you on a leash.

Why didn’t you go together?

Shai: Money and work: I had money and time, he has work.

What made you decide to go where you did?

Shai: Brazil. The music, the language, the people, the culture. I have a strong attachment to Brazilian culture. It started with capoeira. Now I can write and speak Portuguese. No one believes I am Israeli.

Guy: We pull people’s legs by telling them we are adopted kids from Brazil.

What was the best place on the trip?

The best was Ita Care. It’s a fishing village in Brazil with incredible beaches and filled with music. At 6 in the morning you go surfing until noon, then go back to the hotel, rest and go out dancing in the evening. There are a lot of beaches. But the last one, the hidden beach, is the best.

Are the waves high?

Not necessarily. But imagine yourself in the middle of the sea, with just water around; you don’t see buildings or people, just vegetation, sun and waves. It’s every surfer’s dream. To surf quietly, alone, in nature. It’s not necessarily the waves, it’s the vibes. I had a wave of half a meter and it was still perfect.

What’s that box you’re sitting on?

Shai: It’s a Peruvian-Cuban acoustic drum. Do you see the hole in the middle?

Yes.

It’s not a hole for a hamster to enter! There are two strings inside, which sit on each other, and you play it like a darbuka. The first time I saw anything like it was during the trip. I met someone who had one, only bigger, and I didn’t understand what it was. As soon as he saw me, he started to play it. I fell in love and bought a mobile version. [Boom, boom, boom − Shai demonstrates briefly.] The whole scene with the samba and the music made the trip for me.

Guy: He also sang in a rap group. I do capoeira. We are most closely connected to what we’re not meant to be connected to: music and rhythm.

You’re not meant to be connected to music?

Guy: Look closely at my ear.

Sorry, I thought it was some kind of tribal earring. Now I see.

Guy: Both of us have hearing defects. We are deaf in both ears and can hear only with hearing aids.

Were you born deaf?

Guy: No. It happened at the age of three. A recurring ear inflammation. We have a cochlear implant. I had it done 10 years ago and his was done three years later. It’s an implant that bypasses the regular functioning of the ear. Electrodes are inserted under the skin in an operation; there is an external receiver and a transmitter, an internal implant and an external device. The transmitter and the receiver are held next to each other by a magnet, on and below the skin, and they stimulate the auditory nerve. Our hearing is almost 95 percent.

Wasn’t it complicated to travel with the hearing device?

Shai: In principle it was not complicated, because I didn’t make it complicated. The device has batteries; they’re like my tampons. I went with extras and didn’t really know if they were good or not. In Israel I change the battery every two days, but on the trip it was different in each locale. In Bolivia I made the change every four days, in Panama every day and a half. Maybe the humidity screws up the device. There were days when it didn’t want to work. In Panama it stopped working for a whole day. I tried and tried, and gave up. I put it aside for a day. I rested and it rested, and then it started to work again. I got up and it was working. Lucky thing, too, because in Israel I have the option to fix it, but there it’s like being on a desert island.

There’s no spare device?

A spare is expensive: $32,000. The insurance for the device costs as much as it does. You have to hope it will be all right. But there were advantages, too.
Guy: It’s good to disconnect every once in a while. It’s total silence for us.
Shai: It’s great for traveling. Think about it. In a bus in Bolivia there is no way you’re going to sleep: It’s packed, three kids are screaming, my friends are going nuts. I tell them good night, turn off the device and go to sleep. There is a video my friends made, showing them sitting around with red eyes − and me sleeping soundly.