On the road

Our late summer trip began with several days in Rochester, New York, where Mattan is doing his PhD in political science.
His career choice is the best indication that I have not been a complete failure.
Before our trip, we heard from several people that Rochester is less than vibrant. A few days there did not provide any evidence to counter that warning. However, it did provide indications of a life style that in some respects is ideal.
Compared to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Rochester displays the well-tended and spacious facilities that reflect what the centrally placed statue of George Eastman represents: lots of money from well-healed benefactors. The Hebrew University does not lack for donors. Virtually every wall has a plaque with someone''s name. Yet it is not in Rochester''s league for the quality of facilities and their upkeep. The climate of Rochester also allows for great expanses of green grass, kept clipped by a small army of ever-busy groundskeepers.
Rochester cannot match the view from Mount Scopus overlooking the Old City, but Jerusalem has nothing to compare with the several miles of well groomed parkland, with many trees and several choices of walking trails alongside the Genesee River and the Eire Canal.
Mattan was wise to go abroad for his graduate work. Parochialism is a swamp for an academic discipline, and a substantial taste of a different national culture contributes to any conception of maturity. Political science at Rochester is distinctive in several respects, and I am profiting from our conversations and an occasional infusion of items from his reading lists.
Both Rochester and the Hebrew University are among the best universities in the world. Academics have gotten used to checking on themselves via the Shanghai index. Its most recent rankings of institutions (not individual disciplines) shows the Hebrew University a number of notches higher than Rochester. The rankings reflect several measures of faculty renown, and suggest that an expanse of trimmed lawns and clean restrooms are not all there is to say about higher education. http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2011.html
Our visit corresponded with the arrival on campus of parents and students in the Class of 2015. The scenes of unloading cars, and parents walking, talking, and pointing to this and that brought back memories of my arrival as a freshman at Wesleyan in 1956. I also thought about bringing Mattan, then a recent high school graduate, to the pickup point for the IDF bus in 2002.
The most recent Intifada was at it''s height, and the army''s basic training in the best of times is harsher than freshman orientation. With all that can be said about the tensions associated with an undergraduate education at a demanding university away from home, it lacks the edge of sending a child to an active army. Instead of learning the location of the library and student union, the nice Jewish boys introduced to the IDF spend some weeks learning to do the ugly things they may have to practice over the course of three years.
One telephone call a year into Mattan''s service told us not to worry about the news we would hear on the radio. His unit had been in a fire fight on the West Bank, but it ended well. Not so lucky were his comrades a year later, killed by a suicide bomber when waiting at the bus stop outside his base.
This trip also coincided with the Libyan rebels'' success in the city of Tripoli. CNN''s commentaries emphasized the positive, even while conceding likely problems. I would have emphasized the problems, while noting the remote possibility of something positive. My confidence in CNN weakened when I saw the network pairing it''s coverage with a map showing the city of Tripoli in Lebanon.
Cleveland was our next stop. Clinical psychologist daughter Erica, who had contributed to my career by teaching me about coping, had made a career move from Boston. She lives with her family in a decent neighborhood, but with Middle Western traits unattractive to someone used to Middle Eastern or European cities. Almost all the streets are perfectly straight and either exactly east-west or north-south. The houses vary somewhat from one to another, but all are the same distance from sidewalk and road. A walk through the neighborhood passes by some attractive gardens, but the sight ahead on the flat as a table topography is sidewalk to the horizon. We spotted some of the deer we heard about. There is something to write home about.
Their town is one of many, each with it''s own schools, police, and population. Things change, Cleveland''s inner city is not far away, and the purchase of a house is something of a crap shoot. The are lots of For Sale signs in the area where the newcomers are renting.
A weekend drive to a central city botanical garden-university-hospital area showed us some of the bounties that the wealth of an earlier Cleveland produced. A state park on the shore of Lake Eire had the grungiest rest rooms with the most ill-functioning plumbing of anything I''ve seen at many pit-stops in dozens of countries.
Seattle was as delightful as we expected. Nothing is more post-industrial than our daily walk around Green Lake, a paradise of nature in an urban neighborhood. On a clear day the towers of the central city are on one horizon, and snow covered mountains on another. There are several kinds of wild fowl in the water or on the grass. The only problem is the need to pace oneself to the speed of the many walkers, carriage-pushers, bike riders, and roller-bladers using the path at the same time.
Turkey was in the headlines through it all. It''s government continued to harshen its posture toward Israel. If it was staking out a position as the Muslim leader against the Zionist villain, it was choosing a moment when Muslim governments were barely holding on against a wave of domestic unrest having nothing to do with Israel.
Another possibility is the age-old incentive to gain support by beating up a convenient target. And who is more fitting than the Jews? It is absurd to focus on the killing of 9 violent demonstrators who violated a well-publicized blockade, in the context of what has been happening in Libya and Syria, or one of those Turkish raid against Kurds, but those who know Jewish history need no further explanation.
News in the Israeli media is that Turkish Jews were uncomfortable with Israel''s resistance to their government''s demands. http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/13/1856443 Hopefully, these disputes will not develop into another unwanted flight from what had once been a haven.
Social policy protesters may have attracted 400,000 total participants to the several Saturday evening rallies billed as their million person marches in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and elsewhere. Still to be tested is their weight against a govenment that seems intent on only a limited response to the long list of demands.