Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hodge Podge of Dysfunction

I was standing outside the oldest department store in Jerusalem, which nearly closed this year. I'm looking for gym clothing on sale because after camping in the forest last weekend and finding it difficult to pick myself up from the ground, I felt it necessary to enroll in a fitness program. But I didn't own any shoes, or track pants - nada. My daughter in the reformatory called me and caught me just as I was walking into the store. I stayed outside talking to her, pacing back and forth like a caged lion, explaining to her why she's in her situation. She is still blaming me and not taking the responsibility for herself. The store security guard was watching me the entire time. I'm sure I was making him terribly nervous with my wild hand gesturing and pacing. After about 10 minutes of pacing I hung up the phone and walked inside. Couldn't find a damn thing to wear. I tried to sleep that night somewhat, but my 17 year old woke me up at some ungodly hour, before the sun was up, crying into the phone. Hubby was unsympathetic at that hour and told her to shut the fuck up in no uncertain terms. I even thought that was too cruel and wondered why women cry and are so devastated when their men leave them for other women. Take MINE, puleeze.

Last night my son graduated elementary school. I informed Hubby that he MUST show up and not fall asleep in front of Fox News. This time, looking at the bright side, he said

"Great, now I'll never have to look at that big fat fucking principal ever again."

But just one last time, please!!

Perhaps knowing how Hubby felt about the principal, they tortured us at the graduation for 3 1/2 hours with speeches and more speeches. First from the mayor, then the chief rabbi, then the principal, and the teachers, and 2 first graders, and the head of the education department - the list was terribly long and the speeches were terribly boring. Hubby left after they gave out 80 yearbooks and gifts. I stayed for the year end play which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the Klezmer music and wished they would have had just that for the evening. My shy son opted out of any speaking part and just had background parts. I didn't need 2 hours of speeches - especially speeches in Hebrew which I didn't full understand nor care to.

Over at work I got an e-mail about a Harley Davidson party I was invited to on Saturday evening. "there'll be kosher food" the ad went on to state. Kosher bikers? Hmmmmmm. I was intrigued and called the number.

"Hi. I've never rode a Harley - not even any motorcycle ever in my life. Could I still come?"

"Sure. Last year there were 900 people there. You'll have a great time. There'll be free food and booze and there's a pool."

"Night swimming?"

"Be prepared" he warned. "You're bound to find yourself thrown into the pool, with all that free alcohol being tossed back."

"Great. Do you think I'll look more attractive to these guys after they've had a few?"

He laughed and we hung up. Sounded interesting but it's too far away from Jerusalem.

I was perusing through the New York Times online and read a review of War of the Worlds, which will be premiering here at a large outdoor screening next week at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, which I plan on going to. Underneath the rating of PG-13 there was a note: "There are so few people left on earth, there is little time for sex and foul language." Even that wouldn't stop me.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Wandering Rabbi

I was really fatigued yesterday - so fatigued that I fought to stay in town to hear Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shlomi speak at the Reform synagogue, Kol Haneshama.

"Do you really have to go?" asked Hubby, who'd much rather have me back home so I could conjure up a homemade meal.

"Yes, because he never comes to Israel and this saves me a trip out to Boulder, Colorado to see him."

I think he was satisfied with this and didn't press me any further. Although I have never been a rebbe groupie before, I have admired the Lubavitcher Rebbe and even joined his movement while he was still alive, from 1984 - 1995 (the year we came to Israel). Then I felt spiritually aimless for a while and got myself involved in these non-political, spiritual peace movements, where little by little, I found out there is this small enclave of peace and light workers, thinking very much the same as I do. A nice group of Wandering Jews. And when I spoke to them, they all told me they had studied under this Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shlomi - the head of the Jewish Renewal movement.

This Rabbi was not afraid to explore Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, etc. and incorporated some of their stuff into one form of practice or another of Judaism - perhaps because those parts didn't contrast with our religion. I never heard of renewal, but it sounded good, and it sounded much of what I had been thinking about lately.

I remember speaking to someone at an interfaith gathering about how I felt bad and hurt that Orthodox Jews look at Jesus like an evil being, and don't even like to speak his name. "But he was Jewish!! Don't you think that Ahavat Chinam (Baseless Love) extends to him too? Aren't you just slightly amused at all these millions and millions of Christians worshipping this ancient Israeli Jew? Wasn't the Temple destroyed because of hatred towards each other. And didn't the Old Boys Club running the temple in Jerusalem hate Jesus because they felt threatened because he looked at things differently and pushed their buttons?"

The recipient of my tirade looked at me and said - "You have a point there. Reb Zalmen even calls him Reb Jesus."

Reb Jesus. Ha. I believe I found a new spiritual mentor.

I wanted to meet Reb Zalman and learn from him directly, but he is getting on in years and I was told he doesn't travel to Israel any longer. However, his son got married last week and he was coming for that and made one speaking engagement. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

I got to the synagogue 1/2 hour early only to find the place starting to fill up. The audience was colorful - the funkiest crowd in Jerusalem - wearing colourful clothing and robes and headgear. Where do they buy this stuff? I felt I dressed appropriately too in my turquise bell bottoms and flowered top with a Yemenite embroidered shawl wraped over my shoulders. I was busy hugging all the people that I knew because this crowd is a very huggy-kissy crowd. Everyone smiled at everyone -even if you didn't know them. So while I was hugging Michele, who was leaving back to New York, I saw a pretty woman who looked familiar. She looked at me too. Then we both screamed so loudly that the hundreds of people who were there became silent. She was one of my closest friends during my teenage years in NYC and we had lost each other's numbers. Not even Google could help in our search for each other. She was a Professor at Brooklyn College and was on sabbatical and in Israel for a month. She was also fatigued having had 3 hours of sleep and forced herself to be here and look what fighting fatique to come to hear Reb Zalman did for the both of us. It's nothing but a miracle.

I sat in the first row, directly opposite Reb Zalman. I wanted our souls and energy to touch, feeling if you sit directly opposite, it was more bound to happen. He said he wasn't prepared for any particular speech and we should spend a minute meditating on what we would like to hear. I closed my eyes and thought "I'm empty and ready to receive anything from you." So he opened up by talking about creation -the Hebrew word for creation is "borah" - and how the word "pit" which is "bor" is derived from "borah". Something has to be empty in order for creation to take place. Looks like our souls did connect and continued to connect throughout the evening. He was humorous and deep - sometimes too deep for me - but not most of the time. He told stories of the Dalai Lamah and Camp Ramah. I was sad when it all ended a bit over an hour later and I hate lectures usually. He blessed us to be able to bless each other and made us do it right then and there. I blessed Michele and Hannalisa and got their blessings in return.

That evening was a double bonus - being reunited with an old, close friend, and a Rabbi whom I never met, but whom I felt I knew all my life.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Late Late Guests

We hardly have guests over for Shabbat, and I insanely volunteered to host non-Jewish peace workers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment for Peace in Palestine and Israel at my home. Even though I've been running overtime and getting few hours sleep and my house would be considered a disaster zone by US health department officials. To combat the disaster part of the house, I hired my Gypsy friend's sister who has no work and doesn't mind cleaning homes. She's a real true blue Gypsy and even speaks the Domari language. Amoun even tells me she reads coffee beans (but not palms as she doesn't believe in palm reading).

"Does she read marijuana seeds" asked Hubby, always looking for new knowledge.

I ain't even gonna touch that one, sweet pea.

Luckily, the Gypsy cleaner took my home out of the health hazard it most certainly was within a few hours and we were ready to have guests.
I called up Rabbis for Human Rights who asked for volunteers for hosting.

"Hi, I'm the person who lives in the settlement near to Jerusalem (I have this new personal movement - Settlers for Human Rights), and was wondering what time to expect these guests."

The voice at the other end of the line answered nonchalantly. -

"Well, they'll be going to Friday night synagogue services starting at 7:00 and will be done around 8;30."

I did a mental calculation and figured these people won't get to me before 9:00 pm. Which means I am gonna be eating late. A food-obsessed person's personal catastrophe. Having to wait to eat until the wee hours of late evening. Ugh. I spread the news to my family. They were royally pissed, of course.

"You can eat the holy Sabbath food at 6:00 pm" I told them, thinking if all my obnoxious kids don't show up when the guests come, it might actually be a quiet blessing. Good planning, said I to myself and if I could have patted myself on the back, I would have.

The guest arrived, as I thought at 9:00 and promptly wanted to use the toilet. Am I glad I had the Gypsy coffee bean reader wipe up all the yellow schmutz from around the toilet - the men in our family have an obvious aiming deficiency.

The guests from Denmark and the UK sat politely through Shalom Aleichem and Kiddush -the prayers before Friday night meals and were genuinely intrigued that we were into genuine peace with our neighbors (and not the organized Peace Movements). They thought the first course was "it" and were stunned to have a few more courses like chicken soup and roast chicken with side dishes. They looked at the dumplings in their soup and I tried to explain what matza balls were, showing them a packet of matzah and matza meal. It would have been easier had I just made a pot full of mushroom and barley soup, but I wanted them to have a full taste of culinary Judaica. A discussion of conversion ensued and they said it was really easy to convert to Islam. I told them that a Moslem young man asked me to repeat something after him, during the Boombamela Festival. In Arabic. I did, because it sounded fine. From what I understood, it sounded like - There is no God but One God. I can certainly deal with that. Then right afterwards, he told me - Now you are a Moslem. I hadn't told Hubby that his previously Jewish wife, had unsuspectedly converted to Islam, and our guests nodded that converting to Islam is as simple as eating humous in Jerusalem.

"You're a Moslem?"

I smiled at Hubby. "You can call me Fatmeh now if you'd like" - serves him right, I thought - for all the times he draws attention to how much weight I've put on since I married him 20 years ago.

"What will I tell the Rabbi?" he asked

I reminded him that we have no Rabbi.

But then the guests said that I would have had to go to a mosque 5 times a day to pray and that would complete the conversion. Ah, so I'm only half-way there -

Thinking of ways I could console the distraught Hubby, I told him not to worry about it too much. I can't even get my ass to a synagogue once every 6 months, do you really think I can pray 5 times a day in a mosque? And what about Ramadan??? Think about that! Do you really believe this food-obsessed person wants to fast 30 days straight? I think not.

So I think he slept well that night...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Gems in Katamon

My boss came back from an overseas trip and things were kind of back to routine. The mad pandemonium in the office returned and everyone would scatter back to their offices when they'd hear him thump downstairs towards the reception area. And there I was, sitting in the boardroom, getting hoarse from reading his biography back to him 50,000 times, each sentence being constantly re-arranged until it stunk of perfection. By the end of the day, I wanted to wring his neck, but then I'd be out of work. Not a bright idea. Maybe I'll just take voice lessons to cope and speak correctly from the diaphragm, not from my larynx. Perhaps they ought to pay for my friggin' lessons.

All was forgiven, however, when I was invited by him to join the group I take minutes for at the luxurious King David Hotel for breakfast. It is supposed to be absolutely divine over there, and a person can certainly be forgiven upon giving me a substantial food perk.

My long-lost British friend, whom I'd last seen in 1980, invited me to dinner tonight at this home/restaurant that is only open on Thursday evenings and costs 30 NIS for dinner (around $7). The price is certainly right. Plus the food is vegetarian Indian and how cool is that. I had just read somewhere that people who have close friends live longer than people without a social network. I feel blessed.

This place was in the middle of what used to be the worst of Jerusalem slums in the Katamonim section - the newly renovated homes stand together with the older, slummy looking housing - and, as with many neighborhoods nowadays, it is quickly becoming gentrified. The place? An Israeli woman, married to a man from India, opens up her home once a week as a restaurant. Inside looks like an Ashram, but we ate in the beautifully lit garden filled with fruit trees. (For those that want to have this lovely experience - call the restaurant for reservations at 02-678-4172). There were 8 of us around the table and I didn't know anyone there except for my friend. What felt strange was that we all had these mystical connections to each other. It seemed like a movie of us sitting around the table not knowing why we were all together but by the end of the film you know why. Rabbi Levi Kelman of the Kol Haneshama Reform synagogue was there with his wife, and we had a lively, animated conversation. I was impressed that they had met the Dalai Lama and laughed when the Rabbi said he was meeting him in New York and wanted to take him out for a pizza. I guess not too many people invite His Holiness out for Dominoes or Pizza Hut very often and it just may be a special treat for him. I wished I lived closer to this congregation so I could join them more often for services and community stuff. Everything seems to be a far trek when the weekend comes and all you want to do is sit in front of a television to unwind after a nutty week. And I get the prize for the nuttiest weeks - every week. There too was the guy who is the moderator of the Anglo e-mail community - Janglo (Jerusalem Anglos). This is where we found all our furniture from people who were moving or upgrading and needed to sell - cheap - and where Hubby finds all his work - people post there about everything they want, know about, want to share, want to sell, buy, etc.

We toasted each other over steaming cups of Chai Masala tea - for health, happiness, peace and to meet each other again soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jail or Reform School

When I told the delivery guy at my work where I was going to in Tel Aviv, he seemed concerned -

"Don't go there at night. All the male prostitutes work there."

This guy knows all the bad areas where the drug addicts and prostitutes hang out in Jerusalem too. He also warned me about Mesillah, the girls reformatory, that holds the toughest girls in Israel until they are 18.

"Don't let your daughter go there - the girls are the worst. They beat up the staff. They come from terrible homes"

Since my daughter was 13, she has been giving me chronic heart palpatations. From hitchiking all over Israel, to shoplifting, to getting caught with a knife trying to enter Teddy Stadium and putting graffiti inside one of Jerusalem's malls, I had hoped to get her some help. There are girls who avoid going to these reformatories – and mainly some parents – due to stigma, won't have "their" kids in "those" places. But who knows where they end up in life afterwards?

"Those places are for zonot(whores). Your daughter isn't one of those." said her boyfriend to me, trying to make me feel guilty for trying to get her into one of these institutions that have an abundance of therapy and social workers and psychologists. I was quietly glad she seemed a goody-goody in his eyes.

"Why can't she stay home with you?" asked his Morrocan mother

That mother obviously has no idea what it has been like for me to get phone calls nearly every week from the police station in Talpiot in Jerusalem to "come and pick up your daughter".

I walked into Mesillah today – situated in Moshav Ora at the edge of Jerusalem – the place where those "awful" girls are. My daughter had just finished her three months court-ordered stint at Tzofia, a temporary holding place for teenage girls-at-risk until they can assess them well enough to see which place is most suitable for them. The staff unanimously decided she still needed a strong place which would protect her against the outside world.

My daughter, who is now nearly 16, cried when we met yesterday, put all the blame on me for her going to where she was going.

"It's your fault that I'm going to this jail!" Her clear blue eyes overflowed with tears. I cried with her.

She could not see that it was her actions that got her there in the first place. Of course I equally felt bad that she can't go to a more normal place, and felt distressed that her future resume won't show one of the nicer schools in Jerusalem like the Gymnasia, Academia or even Rene Cassin – anything but that place.

Mesillah is situated in a beautiful, ancient building – it looks like a Turkish Khan from the 19th century. The view is phenomenal. The rooms are clean and spacious. Only two girls to a room. Each time we peeked into a classroom the teachers seemed warm and loving and I saw a young student teacher I recognized from Israeli dancing, hugging one of the girls and looking at another telling her "I have hugs for you too" which the girl gladly took her up on. In the summer there is swimming every Thursday, and there's a three-day camping trip on the beach in Tiberias. There are classes in cooking, baking, cosmetics and hairdressing, aside from readin', writing', rithmatic. But there are rules. Lots of rules. Which makes it difficult for girls who don't abide by any rules – like my own daughter. She's miserable because she will only get to see her boyfriend once in three weeks. And she is in their system for two years – until she turns 18. She could "graduate" to a hostel, which means she could get out every day to an outside school. But that depends solely on her behavior. I do hope, when she goes there next week to begin the next two years of her life, that she understands this and will try her best to work on herself. She'll be better off than the rest of the girls she hung out with that aren't getting any help – in the long run.

Jerusalem Post

I done did it. The Jerusalem Post is featuring me on their on-line site here . Thank you Anonymous for pointing it out to me. I would probably never have seen it otherwise unless I had some free time to peruse the paper online.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Blast from the Past

Having the day off work yesterday I started off the day waiting for the re-upholsterer to come and he never showed. Looks like God just wants me to cover my icky couches with cheap couch covers instead. But while I was waiting, a call came in from a long-lost British friend, now a journalist and documentary filmmaker, that she was in town and could we meet. I had wanted to spend the day browsing around Tel Aviv but decided to cut Tel Aviv short to spend more time with her.

Finding myself in Tel Aviv, navigating through those busy main streets with traffic whizzing by and those big buildings, I felt so provincial and so uncomfortable with all that busy-ness. It's probably what people felt when coming to visit a place like NYC from rural Oklahoma. It was weird for a former New Yawker like me to feel this way. I took the new train back to Jerusalem and enjoyed the ride in freezing air conditioned luxury.

I met my friend whom I hadn't seen in 25 years inside Jaffa Gate and we promptly walked to the neighborhood of Silwan, just outside the old city walls. It took us awhile to find the place, and thankfully the trek was all downhill, as it was a hot day. We wandered into a local grocers, who I think gave us water and ice cream at ridiculously low prices - I wonder if he did this on purpose because they knew we were coming to support the "Silwanis" against their homes being demolished. We spoke to some people there at their protest tent. The children of the village were just done with their theater performance. I hope to post photos of the area where the homes are to be demolished later this evening - as it's quite an extensive area. I feel terrible for these people. Some opinions that I remember were -

"If they had told us 30 years ago that they wanted to turn this area into a park, we wouldn't have build here. But they just decided to make it an archeological park now!"

"If they demolish these homes, there'll be a third Intifada."

That last comment was disturbing. I hope it was just talk because I kind of like the idea of Jerusalem teeming with people these days, and of restaurants and clubs re-opening, after the ghost-like appearance the city had for the past 5 years. Why would the government want to "fuck it all up?" Isn't everyone just sick of the violence and the frustration?

I met Angela of the International Committee Against House Demolitions there and we took a taxi back into West Jerusalem where we e sat down to have coffee and a bit of food at the cinemateque. Later on we saw a film by Avi Mugrabi - called something like "revenge for two eyes" - where he vascillated between showing Masada and what teachers tell different school groups about the Jews of Masada - which sounded eerily familiar - "they were surrounded by troops, they were sieged, no one could go out, and no one could come in and they committed suicide." The same story told in different ways. Then the scene would show the Wall, the soldiers not opening up electronic gates to let very young Palestinian school children go back to their homes, etc. etc.

Not a happy movie but a thought-provoking one at that....

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Gathering of light festival in Jerusalem

I knew Hubby would not join me on this - not for the entire time anyways - but he so generously bought me a tent which requires no effort to put up and an air matress, because I'm like the Princess and the Pea, and would probably feel an ant crawling underneath a sleeping bag. So with those two new things in tow, I arrived at the campsite at the top of the Jerusalem Forest. We pitched our tent near the main bonfire (big mistake). Most of the people there were hippies in their twenties and thirties. There were a handful of them our age. The bringing in of the Sabbath was the most beautiful part of the evening with everyone getting out their musical instruments, and my friend Eliyahu leading the prayers. The sun was setting and the scene seemed like a fairy tale in the forest. Everyone was singing so loudly and beautifully it seemed so magical.

Even though I brought stuff to eat, dinner was communal and the organizers were very careful about hygiene. No paper/plastic plates were allowed, and if you didn't bring your own, they provided it for you. Everyone pitched in and I was asked to be one of the "servers". I took an area, asked people what they wanted to eat - the people dishing out the food were careful that no plate hovered over the food, because dirt might get onto the food, so each plate was placed on the side of the pots not over it.

An announcement was made that Eliyahu brought in Palestinians from Jenin, Ramallah and Jericho and I recognized Sulieman and some of the women. This was after some young man engaged me in a debate about whether the extremist late Rabbi Kahane was right about transferring Arabs out of the country. He looked up to see me hug and kiss the new arrivals. Soon after some young kids, who looked like the "hilltop settlers" who harass Arabs, spoke between themselves.

"Why are these people here?" they asked each other.

I intervened - "They were invited. Would you like me to introduce them to you?"

The young man walked away quickly - "No No, they killed 4 of my friends"

"THOSE PEOPLE killed 4 of your friends? I don't think you have the right people, because killers won't come to a peace and light gathering (and I was wondering what people like these who aren't for peace were doing here). We are both affected by this conflict."

He nodded his head annoyingly at me - like yeah right and walked away. I alerted Eliyahu and told him to get these people together. He promptly ran to look for them. He came back 1/2 hour later - "The guy said he loves Arabs, but just not in this country."

"OK - that's a start" I laughed. We both knew there was alot of work to be done.

I went up to the top of the hill to do midnight meditation. Hubby looked at our circle and told them - I don't like circles, I like squares - and left back to the tent. The crowd kept me up until 3 am - Hubby had gone home to fetch a few things, and brought a young neighbor who wanted to visit us and instead ended up here at the campsite. She was thrilled. At 2 am I hear strains of the song Give Peace a Chance. Hubby wakes me up -

"You'll never believe who is singing this"


"Dov Shurin"

"WHO???" Was this the same anti-Arab singer who came out with an album called "Nekama" (Revenge)? Yes it was.

Hubby continued - "and the Palestinian women are singing behind him - like his backup singers."

Unfortunately I was glued to the air mattress at that hour, because I would have loved to have taken a photo of THAT. Yes, the new reformed Shurin, with his new peace album, featuring backup vocalists from Ramallah and Jenin. I laughed so hard the tent began to shake.

Next morning I searched the campsite for coffee. After about 1/2 hour, some guy wrapped in a sarong, offered to make a cup for me, but I cut the visit short to do laughter yoga with Alex. I had been meaning to do it for a while, it sounded so hilarious, but he is 2 buses away early on Friday mornings. Seems God sends these people to me when I can't get to them. Alex was so cute, with long blonde hair, looking a bit like Axel Rose in his younger years, without the tatooes. He started by having us shake each other's hand and laughing hysterically, we then did these stretching exercises which ended up by us laughing and then went on to regress like kids, pretending to put stuff down each other's back and speaking gibberish to each other. Then we pretended some calamity was about to happen, like missing a plane and running with our luggage laughing through the airport. We coupled off, bending down to look at each other upside down and laughing at each other. He explained all of the exercises went a bit deeper than it seemed and he pretended to get a call saying he was fired from his job, and he jumped up and down, whooping with laughter. "Now I'll have more free time!" Always look on the bright side of life.

Ibrahim came later that morning, during Laughter Yoga with several moustached men carrying cases of danishes and vegetables and fruit. I'm sure he paid for it all. The moustached men disappeared, they were only the deliverers of the food.

By end of the afternoon the Palestinians spoke to the crowd about themselves a bit and the young Jewish settler-like kids hovered behind them back and forth. I was getting a bit nervous. After the presentation, and a question and answer session, Eliyahu told the Palestinians to talk to those "extremist" kids, which they did. The kids didn't back away and ended up talking to them. I was thrilled. I tried to eavesdrop. What are those beginning awkward conversations like? I heard smatterings of the conversations. They asked the Palestinians if they were Sufis. I guess they must have thought that only spiritual sufis would want peace with the other, not regular Palestinians. What an eye opener this would be for them.

I was high watching all this. Their conversations lasted 5 minutes, but it was civil and it was a start. Nothing could top what I had just witnessed and I felt it was time, before the sun set, to leave the campgrounds back for a much-needed, long hot shower.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Karmic Tornadoes

Hubby looked at me horrified as we waited for Abed today at the Qalandiya checkpoint, outside Jerusalem.

"Get that THING off your head NOW!"

He seemed worried and alarmed. Because of today's heatwave and the fact that I was at the cemetery because it was my dad's 1 year anniversary since his death - which we call a "yarzheit", I had put on a hippie-style scarf over my head to prevent my scalp from being able to boil an egg on it. But at the Qalandiya checkpoint Hubby felt I looked too "settler-ish" and was worried. I took it off thinking what a shame you can't look too "Jewish" in an Arab neighborhood because it may not be safe.

The day, despite the heat, was beautiful. I put on an Indian wrap-around skirt when visiting the cemetery. Dad was always against me wearing pants because he was very Orthodox and that was considered men's clothing. So I didn't want his soul too distressed and dressed accordingly. Afterwards I sauntered over to the yard sale which the Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel had which is twice yearly and huge. You feel like you're back in the US of A, with everyone speaking English and all the English-language books and folk music and Simon and Garfunkel blaring on the loudspeakers. Our culture in Israel. Then afterwards I had breakfast at the funky coffee shop in the shuk. It was crowded and the couple sitting across from me - wished me a good appetite.

He went on to explain - "Only Americans have breakfast. Sephardim (Jews from Arab and Mediterranean countries) never have breakfast. We have coffee in the morning and that's it!"

"How do you explain those extravagant breakfast buffets in all Israeli hotels, then?"

Must be that darn American influence then.

The week hadn't been as blissful as today though. On Tuesday, Hubby was picking up Abed when the police pulled him over. They were pulling everyone over - not only him - to check to see if any income tax was owing. Yes, he owed some income tax. Not a terribly large amount but owing nevertheless. They repossessed his car until he pays $2,500. The same day, ex-Criminal daughter decided not to go back to her reformatory and stay with her boyfriend, and she has a permit to leave only until that day. They were threatening calling the police and taking her by force. Being that I knew where she was they decided to wait 24 hours to see if she would go home on her own.

The next morning Hubby and the accountant who looks like Clark Kent went to all the government tax offices to see what they can do to get his car back. Mr. Kent wheeled and dealed and after 5 hours, Hubby said "He DID IT!" and freed up his car.

I spoke to the accountant - "Do you think you can be our lawyer too?" I think he really is Superman in disguise under that nerdy exterior.

Hubby got his car out of the pound where they charged him 2 arms and 2 legs. Hubby insisted on getting an explanation for the exhorbitant fees.

400 NIS for the towing -

"400 NIS for towing? (about $100). It costs me 150 to get it towed twice the distance.

200 for the daily rate.

"What is this a hotel? What else?"

"400 for the cops who took it. plus tax"

Oh, cops on the take. At least they were honest about it. Now I know why Jerry Rubin called them Pigs back in the Sixties. Only these are Israeli Pigs.

Another government agency sent us a notice saying they could repossess our stuff or put a lien on our bank accounts - but we sent our accountant to them because we happen to be paying them off monthly. Why then the threats?? Anybody contemplating moving here? This is what you get, especially when you're in your own business. The Israeli government doesn't only harass Palestinians, they are equal opportunity harassers.

We had this awful 24 hour bad-karma virus from Tuesday to Wednesday. But by Wednesday afternoon at the same time Hubby freed up his car, ex-Criminal daughter was on the bus back to her reformatory. And the winds began to settle down.

I'm looking forward to a weekend of Light in the Jerusalem Forest with several hundred I-don't-know-whats. We'll be camping out, sharing food, doing Yoga, chanting, and I don't know what else. But it'll be another nice change of scenery for me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gourmet or not Gourmet

"WHY did you throw out 2 half-filled boxes of perfectly good quiche???" I demanded to know of the receptionist when she admitted she was the tosser of the gourmet fare.

The President of the company brought in her leftovers from the Jewish holiday of Shavuot that began on Sunday night and was over by Monday night. They were quality leftovers and I was only too happy to not waste food. The Israeli-born and bred girls in the office were horrified at eating the leftovers.

"It's two days old!" they told me.

I eat leftovers for 5 days if left in the fridge. They all looked at me like that "cheap American". So what. I still wanted to know why the receptionist threw this fancy quiche in the garbage.

"I saw green stuff on it."

"Honey, that was broccoli"

"No it was on the side"

"Then it was the spinach onion quiche. That's my LUNCH!"

And with that me and another girl (who had lived in Baltimore for many years and who knows good food too) fished the (closed) quiche boxes out of the garbage and had another fantastic lunch today.

"Ask me about food before you throw anything out" I warned her. See what happens when you are raised on felafel and schwarma? Fancy cheeses and spinach look like mold to the untrained eye and palate.

My reputation in fine cuisine is known far and wide. We spent the holiday of Shavuot at our friend's kibbutz in the Galilee. The smells of the flowers in the evening was absolutely intoxicating, and I would take very deep breaths to take all the delicious aromas in. However, the food was absolute shit and even my ex-criminal daughter remarked that the food is better at her reformatory than it is on kibbutz. But I didn't care because you get what you pay for.... On the eve of the holiday, I was a bit disappointed that they were not going to have a festive dinner on the kibbutz. I was planning to go with Hubby to this beautiful, newly discovered by me village called Beit Lechem Haglilit, which was built by German Templars at the turn of the century, and is now a wealthy community with post garden restaurants serving fine French and Italian food. Our friend told me, though, that after holiday services they were having a contest - all the kibbutz members and their kids were bringing in their dairy desserts and main dishes and judges would have to choose who would win 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize.

"And you get to taste it all if you're a judge" he informed me, and then got me to stay rather than dine elsewhere by appointing me one of three judges.

I took bits of everything and filled up two plates. I felt like I could do this professionally, maybe a great job would be restaurant reviews! Together the three of us chose the first two dishes and haggled a bit over what would be the third dish, which prompted us for 2nd taste testing. I tried to get my friend's daughter's cake into the running, but the other two men were more into the fruit. heheh. That does sound funny, doesn't it?

When I came back home and weighed myself I lost 4 kilos. Go figure, because I never will.

Friday, June 10, 2005

It's A Catastrophe!

I asked the cab driver to take me to the shuk from work for my optometrist appointment nearby. This was at 5:30 pm today.

"It's a CatasTROpha!! The traffic is so bad at this hour."

I never thought traffic was a caTAStrophe (that's the way I pronounce it), although I had a near catastrophe at work this morning, when one of the girls at work, looked through an email my cousin sent me of a Penisaurus - walking towards a woman's perfect butt (the thing had a lizard's body with a penis for a head). quite funny in the photo and she printed it out, forgetting to take it from the printer. This morning, the Human Resources person finds it and puts it on my desk.

"This is yours" she said, and walked off. Good thing she is my friend, otherwise that would have been a catastrophe.

Hubby thought getting a notice from the city about the garden sheds on our patio having to be removed within 30 days was a catastrophe.

But the real catastrophe, unfortunately, is nothing like the above stuff. Apparently, 1500 people living in Silwan also known as the City of David, are about to lose their homes. Why? Because the city decided to create an archeological park where they live. It was part of ancient Jerusalem and King David had made his home there. There are a handful of Jewish families that live there, but they weren't asked to move. And most of the Arabs living there have been there since perhaps the 1920s when most of the neighborhood was built. That's 80 years. Some homes were built during the late 1800s. And the families have grown. We're talking 88 buildings here with many children. Usually the Israeli government demolishes a home if it was built without a permit or when a terrorist lives there, but these people hadn't been guilty of either. And from what I've heard, they're angry, resentful and feel helpless. I would be too. They even pay taxes to the municipality and this is what they get. I am not happy about this. There are open spaces nearby, why do they have to have homes demolished? Why can't they excavate beneath the homes so people can still live there and there'll be an underground archeological garden. Would King David be happy with making these people so miserable? I can feel the people's pain. And I feel helpless as they do, even though there are Jewish organizations coming on solidarity visits. The "machine" is too big. This is a real catastrophe.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Best Restaurant in Jerusalem

I ran out of the office at 4:00 to meet people from this e-mail group (Isra-foods list) I'd never met before, where English speakers talk about my favorite subject - food. This group had arranged a tour of the shuk and I was curious to see who these other food-obsessed people were. Even though I know the shuk well, there may be some "secrets" of the shuk I do not yet know. Also, it's fun to see faces behind the e-mails.

They made us wear name tags, which I hate. Especially so because I got teased by the shopkeepers, who'd call out my name as I walked passed. I played the tourist and shot photos of the place, something I've always wanted to do, but was always too bogged down with packages to be able to do it properly.

The tour took me through familiar territory. I pretty much knew all the "secret" places and fun stops, but I wasn't familiar with the fish shop that gives out recipes and the Asian shop nearby that sells black bean sauce and rice things that look like pancakes so I did learn something knew.

We all gathered after two hours for dinner at a very special place - one which I've heard alot about but never got around to seeing it. It's a soup kitchen disguised as a restaurant called Carmei Ha'ir - translated as vineyards of the city. It looks like a regular restaurant, done up nicely, and as confused patrons ask for the bill, they are told "pay what you want." 500 people a day are fed here for free between the hours of 12:00 and 3:00 pm and then it's open for dinner (pay as you wish). During lunch paying customers mingle with the non-paying customers, so you don't know who is getting a meal for free, so as not to embarrass anyone. It had the nicest vibe to it. Plus the fact that our family could have used a place like that a few years back when I lost my job in high tech and hubby was unemployed as well - those awful months when we were down and out. You can't take your family to something with a sign that says "SOUP KITCHEN FOR THE NEEDY" because how can you look your children in the face? This place was bright, airy and cheerful.

The Orthodox Jewish woman, Batya, who runs the joint, says the vendors at the shuk give them donations of fruits and vegetables, and an anonymous baker leaves them many loaves of expensive whole grain bread each morning. She said this place is open to everyone - Jew, Arab, Christian. I was, of course, pleased as pie to hear that one. She told stories of how she believed the place was even visited by Elijah the Prophet - an anonymous donor who left the equivalent of $1,000 and wanted no receipt and the kind monthly donations from the Christian group Bridges for Peace. And she told us of the woman who always prepared food for her husband and didn't want ready made food, so they gave her all the food she needed to prepare the meals herself. Plus school lunches for needy children. The list goes on. Their next project will be feeding lunch to the street kids who are strung out on drugs at Kikar Zion.

The funny thing was the chef brought out this dish. He explained it was an Arabic dish called Makhloubeh. Of course, knowing much of Arabic culture, I was the only one showing much excitement. No one else knew what it was. 50% of the people there were from Jewish settlements deep in Judea and Samaria in the West Bank.

I told them "If you go to the next village over, you could have Makloubeh every Friday!"


I explained to everyone at the table that I do dialogues with Palestinians and Israelis and we share each other's culture, so I know alot about Arabic food and customs.

Still no comment, but at least they smiled. At least they now know someone who does dialogue with the Other and maybe some of it will sink in one day and they'll be curious to join in dialogue too.

By the end of our dinner, I was happy and thankful that I was able to give more than the meal was worth towards supporting this wonderful place. And if you are ever in Jerusalem and want to volunteer, they are always in need of people to pitch in.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jerusalem Day

On the eve of Jerusalem Day, I thought I'd hang with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. We sat outselves down on the edge of the sidewalk, being nudged occasionally by two small kids sitting besides us, repeatingly asking for our names and this goddamn bee that kept hovering over our heads for 20 minutes. I thought this was THE big parade but it was the "fruits and vegetables" parade - kitschy floats and your usual police/army marchers and some dancers. No bagpipes. I felt like I was somewhere off in dinktown, Wisconsin (minus all the blonde hair) watching it all. The funniest part was at the beginning of the parade - when Natan Sharansky (the Member of Parliament (I don't know if he still is one - I can't keep up) and the former Soviet Prisoner of Conscience), was the first person we saw riding a vintage tractor with his green cap. Following him were all sorts of vintage plowing things. You had your orange-ribboned Gush Katif sympathizers in this parade as well. With alot of smiling Jerusalem residents wearing bright orange streamers hanging from everywhere these days, it seems more like a Color War of summer camps than a desperate plea to hang on to the beautiful strip of land inside the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, though, I received a serious e-mail. It got me thinking that serious people are reading this crap I write. Well some of it is crap with my personal rants and raves and I guess some of it isn't. Some of my rantings are a plea to be listened to because this place needs to be a haven of peace, nothing else. But it looks like someone out there wants Uncle Sam to help. Do you think he can?

Dear jerusalemgypsy,

I wanted to bring to your attention an initiative in which I thought you might have a particular interest. The Campaign for American Leadership in the Middle East (CALME) is a nonpartisan effort which seeks to attract public support for sustained American leadership to bring about a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The initiative was launched at the National Press Club on April 14, and has attracted the support of more than 130 political, former governmental, military, business, academic, religious and community leaders from throughout the United States. Thousands of Americans from all walks of life have signed on to our Web site -- -- since then.
CALME itself brings together individuals from many organizations, each of us lending our efforts in our individual capacities to help publicize this effort and maintain the Web site. During this critical time , I believe our petition can play an important role in helping build American public support for a two-state solution.

I'm attaching a press release (originally sent to you last week), and hope we might have an opportunity to talk. Josh Marshall has already written about us and posted a link to our site on "Talking Points Memo". Your blog readership is significant in size and reach, and we'd be grateful if you were willing to let your readers know about us and about our initiative.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Native-American wisdom

There was a Native-American weekend this past weekend, which I missed, on some kibbutz I've never heard of. It sounded beautiful, and even featured a Kabbalat Shabbat service - Native American style (scalped chicken soup?). I only found out about it on Friday morning and it's too difficult to be impulsive with a large family. And anyways Hubby was sick - both physically and not physically - and he's my driver. But a friend of mine sent me this -

Sally was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride. With a word or two of thanks, she got in the car. After resuming the journey and a bit of small talk, the Navajo woman noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally. What's in the bag?" asked the old woman. Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, "It's a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband."
The Navajo woman was silent for a moment, and then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder said, "Good trade"

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Hello Dalai

A very interesting article in today's Haa'retz magazine. First of all, I've been meaning to contact Rabbi Gafni about our peace work because he is not your conventional rabbi and because I feel a closeness to non-conventional spiritual beings - be they rabbis and/or llamas or popes and sheikhs.

Plus the fact that there seems to be a spiritual connection between India/Tibet/Tibetans/Buddhists to Israel/Judaism/Israelis - and India, particularly Dharmsala, is high on my hit list of places to see before I get too old to travel.

But what raised my eyebrows (way up) was the fact that this Rabbi actually talked sex with His Holiness. I was like - what if they guy doesn't know what you're talking about?? Maybe he's never had it. Slow down Rabbi."

But maybe if you are on a holy level, you don't think of it as I do and certainly not as Hubby does - as in wham-bam-thank-you-maam. Maybe Holy people think of sex on a different level. Who knows. I'll never be on that level anyways. And I certainly would never have had the guts to talk about sex with the Dalai Lama if I had a chance for an encounter. No, no, I would truly shudder at the thought.

But the part I absolutely thought was the greatest was this one - and I quote

"The rabbi takes out the fabric he bought in the market the day before, orange silk cloth such as the Tibetan monks use. He asked an Israeli woman named Idit to sew tzitzit (ritual fringes) in each corner and then he had a totally kosher tallit (prayer shawl). With much grace and decorum, he presents it to the Dalai Lama.

"Ho!" the Dalai Lama calls out, moved. "This is wonderful Jewish-Tibetan merger. How wonderful." After the rabbi explains its kabbalistic meaning to a very attentive Dalai Lama, he wraps himself in it, chortling delightedly. Then he gives us white silk scarves, as is the custom when parting - and gets a skullcap. He and the rabbi embrace and their love for each other is felt by everyone. Everyone bows to the Dalai Lama; he bows in return and leaves.

I was caught in the garden. Suddenly the Dalai Lama emerged from behind me, wearing the skullcap and prayer shawl, on the way to his next meeting. "I am a Tibetan Jew! A Tibetan Jew!" Pleased as punch he was."

I would have given anything to see a photo of this.

To see the full article click here

Friday, June 03, 2005

I need a coping with men pill

"Come into the board room as quickly as you can" - barked the Professor I work with. The tone in his voice meant I didn't have the time to say " could you wait a minute while I click on "save" so we don't lose the fucking document?

And then I ended up reading a 7 page biography 30 times for him over a period of 3 hours. Tedious, mindless work.

I was relieved when he went to a meeting for the rest of the afternoon, so I could rush back to my office to "save" my document - fortunately there were no electrical mishaps and my document was still there.

And then grumpy Hubby who'd rather go for the false teeth than take care of his own teeth. He's been moaning in pain for 2 days now but you won't see him sitting in any dentist's chair.

"And where do you think you'll find your false teeth, sweetheart" I asked him gently this afternoon.

"At Shopper's Drug Mart?"

He is an awful excuse for a human specimen when in pain. I'd like to kick his hynie way over the Atlantic back to Canada where he could freeze his goddamn molars.

He came to the table tonight sweat pouring off his head.

"What's the matter dad - YOU goin' through menopause" asked my 21 year old daughter.

And then my teenage son wanted to watch the movie "Scream" for the 514th time and not let my overworked 21 year old near the TV. We managed to wrestle the television controller from him though so we could watch "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "America's Next Top Model" -

I need to write a report for my interfaith group on our meeting last Monday. I might be able to get it done - if the men in this world let me....