Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Interfaith Encounters - Youth style

I thought this news report I received from the youth group (college-age men and women) was very touching and want to print it here.

"In the previous meeting we studied about the ways Judaism and Islam recognize the possibility of giving charity to people of other faiths. After we saw that in both religions there is recognition of giving charity and acting with kindness with any human being, even if he or she does not share your faith, we went out in the beginning of April to implement the idea.

We printed announcements in which we wrote that this year there is a solution for those who wish to get rid of their leaven before Passover and at the same time do good with it. We publicized the phone numbers of the group's activists and their respective living areas in Jerusalem, in order to allow anyone who is interested to bring us leavened products. In addition, we appointed contact people in all three campuses of the Hebrew University. But we did more than that. In one of the evenings before Passover we met at the Nachlaot neighborhood in the city center, to collect leaven from neighborhood homes. We divided into pairs, each consisting of one Jew and one Muslim, a man and a woman, and started our way.

Visiting the neighborhood's homes was a very special experience. Many of us took part in many interfaith encounters and events. Usually these events have a very good atmosphere – due to the simple reason that those who come are either already convinced or at least are open enough to make the effort and come. In this visit to the neighborhood we could not predict who will receive us with warmth and who will slam the door. It was a real "gamble". We did not look for those who are already convinced but went from door to door, without skipping anyone, and willing to encounter any type of response. And indeed there were also unpleasant responses. There were people who refused to donate once they understood the food is designated for Arabs. Some protested: "would Arabs collect food in this way for poor Jews?" From our perspective it was a major step. It is important to remember in which environment we operate, how deep is the mutual mistrust between the two people, how long is the way ahead of us. Whoever wants to act and make an impact should not delude themselves and must understand the complexity of the reality. But it is important to stress that finally we were surprised for the better. The vast majority donated. Some even added sums of money, beyond the leaven products that were meant to be burned anyway. We left the neighborhood with large quantities of food and it was clear to us that if we had more time and more volunteers we would have collected a lot more.

We learned much from this round in the neighborhood that evening. We were filled with hope for reconciliation and understanding when we saw that contrary to what we expected, most people agreed to donate for people of the neighboring nation, despite the on-going state of war. We think that the residents of the neighborhood also gained something from this evening, beyond the opportunity to donate to the needy. It does not occur every day that you are visited by a Jewish young man and a Muslim young woman or a Jewish young woman and a Muslim young man. It is most likely that for most of the neighborhood's residents it was the first time to see young Muslims and Jews working together for a common idea. Perhaps this too was a small contribution to the reconciliation process between us.

The last phase of this operation was the distribution of the collected food. Unfortunately, most of the Jewish members could not come. Those who could were afraid to go into the Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem (Silwan) where the food was distributed. And here we have another example that we should not delude ourselves. The problematic security reality caused that our original plan, of Jews and Muslims who will go together in an Arab neighborhood and will distribute food to the needy, was fulfilled only partially. Indeed the way is long but as we all know, even a journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.

Dotan Arad & Salah Aladdien"

I had one of those getting more frequent senior moments where I tried to call up the phone company from my cellphone and wondered why the call wasn't going through, when after dialing a couple of times I realized I hadn't pushed "send". Sheesh. Wonder if finding a shitload of excess hair dye in my ear with my fingers contributed to this.

I just came upon a short film here about Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Wedding

I took the day off today because I needed to color my hair which had 3 inches of grey/brown growth on it and because I had to check out more wedding gowns with my daughter, and get gold borders put on the dress I wore to last night's wedding for my nephew. A very full day.

The wedding was held at a rather fancy hotel in Jerusalem, and it was American style which meant proper placed seating, it was color themed, had flower girls, etc. and it was going to be somewhere between modern and ultra-Orthodox style. This meant families and friends were able to sit together (Ultra Orthodox weddings have separate seating for men and women) but were not able to dance together and there was a "separation fence" put up to separate the men and women dancers.

I asked my girls to don appropriate clothing. My son, who doesn't attend synagogue and therefore doesn't have the proper clothes for a festive occasion, had to wear the pants he wore last year for his bar mitzvah and he did look a bit like Steve Erkel with the pants hovering just above his ankles. So I took note that I WILL have to buy him a new pair plus dress shoes for his sister's wedding. There was a mad rush as kids who thought they had the proper outfits, didn't and they all made a mad scramble of borrowing each other's clothing and yelling and screaming and tossing all the laundry around so that my place looked like the Salvation Army had a wild clothing sale going on.

My Ultra-Orthodox relatives were there from the US and Canada. My sister looked at my newly red hair and asked me if it was Halloween. I guess that means she doesn't like the color, which made me like it even more.

It was great to see most of my relatives, as I hadn't seen them in years.

My lovely niece is only 4 1/2 years younger than me, and we are as close as sisters when we meet, even though our lifestyles are totally different. She told me it's a custom to invite your dead relatives to the weddings. I told her I hope to invite my parents who "lie" close by but it'll freak me out to no end if I get a check from my dad.

But I think most were a bit shocked at seeing the Complainer (age 18) and Ex-Criminal (age 16) who, after the wedding ceremony, nonchalantly lit up cigarettes.

"YOU CAN'T SMOKE 'THAT' AROUND MY RELATIVES!!!" I whispered loudly to them taking them aside. All I saw were a bunch of men wearing black hats staring at those girls, tsk tsking the way people do when they see something terrible. What passes for barely acceptable behavior around my house, becomes absolutely No Fucking Way around my religious relatives.

Not to mention how I ran over to the Complainer while she was dancing in the women's circle with wild abandon, to pull down her shirt and pull up her skirt as her large tattoo on her back was terribly visible. I was afraid that would give some of my relatives a heart attack. I'm sure the videographer captured this all. They always do. The Ex-Criminal's skirt was also on the low-slung side, nearly baring the top of her rear end and I rushed to her side to remedy that situation as well. The kids must have thought I was over the top and laughed at me, as usual.

My niece looked at my two renegade kids walking past, with their midriffs peeking out between their shirts and skirts, and me too tired to run over to them for the 15th time to get them to pull their shirts down more, and said

"Boy, they must give you a run for your money!"

I replied - "Yeah. I think God gave those kids to me because they're the reason I need to pray to Him - alot

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Heat Waving

It's about the 4th day of the heat wave and tempers are real short in Jerusalem. Everyone is acting totally fucked.

I started my Friday out early - and routinely - peacefully sorting out the laundry, as if it were a contest to see which has the biggest pile. Darks or lights? The darks won.

I had about 1,000 errands to do and thought prophetically that if Hubby joined me in most of them, he'd get rude and awful doubly fast because of the weather.

"Do you want me to drive you?" he asked as I threw ready made salads, newspapers, hair gel and deodorant for men for my son into the back seat. I had just finished waiting 1/2 hour on line at the post office to mail out wedding invites.

"No" I lied. "It'll be quicker if I take the bus"

But it'll be easier and quieter and the bus driver won't complain to me about finances, his messy house, his rowdy kids and his fat wife.

I planned to meet my Ex-Criminal daughter who was looking for shoes for the wedding. In Zion Square I saw my Good Daughter and her boyfriend talking to some soldiers in a jeep. I walked over to them.

"HEY! Wanna check my ID?"

The soldiers weren't amused. I took advantage of the Persian (and Jewish) boyfriend as all the shoe stores on Jaffa Street are owned by Persian Jews. Notorious for not putting price tags on their items, they eye their customers and charge according to what they believe they can get. I figured one of "their own" can get the items much cheaper. We got one guy down from 180 shekels to 130 NIS ($30) for my daughter as the owner asked the boyfriend "Are you SURE you're Persian?" Unfortunately, the boyfriend can't speak the language other than 4 words even though his parents speak it at home.

"You'll have to use those 4 words at the next store we're going to" I warned. I needed wedding shoes for my daughter's wedding and saw lovely copper ones to match my dress. The shoestore owners did actually put prices on those shoes but ridiculously high prices so that when customers would ask how much, they'd give a price over 100 NIS lower than the price shown on the shoe so the customer would feel they are getting a really great deal.

"See?" he asked me, turning over the shoe to show me a 370 NIS ($85)price tag while offering them to me for 250 NIS.

I told him truthfully - "I saw the exact same ones down the block for 129 NIS. But with a higher heel and I can't wear higher heels."

The store owner was pissed at me and at the other store owner. The Persian boyfriend tried to intervene and the owner said he'd give it to us for 160 NIS but if we walked out of the store and came back, the price would go up to 200 NIS. If I weren't so desperate for those shoes, I would have told Boyfriend to teach me how to say "Go Fuck Yourself" in Persian but instead, I handed the boyfriend 150 NIS to give the guy and I got my shoes in the end.

Meanwhile, the heat was getting unbearable. I took a bus to the Talpiot shopping district. My Ex-Criminal decided to go to a clothing shop nearby. I just missed my bus to go back into town. I waited about 1/2 hour for another bus. One young girl was talking loudly into her cellphone for about 10 minutes, irritating the older Sephardic woman next to me who glared at the young girl and shouted at her.

"Shut up already!!! You're pissing me off. We hear your entire life story."

Then the woman looks at me, as if I have to agree with her, or else.

"She doesn't see herself in the mirror??? It's awful! Just awful!!"

The woman continued muttering about waiting one hour with her groceries and how awful Egged the bus company is for making us all wait like this. By the time the bus came, it was packed and the complaining woman and I couldn't get on in the front. But out the back door popped my daughter and her friend. They saw me and decided to get out. I saw them and decided waiting another 1/2 hour in the heat wasn't my thing and decided to get in. I quickly got into via the still-open back door, pulling my kid and her friend back in with me. The complaining woman wanted to do the same, but the doors already closed on her. This is what you get for complaining about everything, lady. It's karma, toots.

I met my soon-to-be married daughter in the shuk. It was crowded, but the shuk is always fun, because everything smells, so it doesn't really matter if you do. No one had patience there either.

An Ultra Orthodox man with long sidecurls played lovely saxaphone (busking for coins) outside the cafe we were sitting, being rudely moved from one vegetable stand to another until he found a spot where he was appreciated (by the Yemenite health drink shop). My daughter wanted to buy fresh mint and sifted through the pile looking for the best one. The man in back of her was getting irritated.

"They're only ONE SHEKEL and you're looking through it as if it costs a whole week's salary" he barked at her.

We laughed at him and then she, in turn, got curt with everyone else.

"You'd sell more vegetables if you put your shirt back on, Mister!!! Disgusting!!" she remarked to one over-heated vendor.

I don't think he even cared.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I love it here and I don't know why

I just got reminded of the torture the bureaucracy here inflicts on all of us this morning when a co-worker told me she got a letter from the National Insurance Institute telling her that they're gonna take all her stuff if she doesn't pay them thousands of shekels. For what? She found out the hard way, that when you are Israeli and you leave Israel - even for a few years - you still must pay into the health care system. If you don't, the minute they find out you're back for good - they hit you with an exorbitant sum. She made the mistake of walking into their offices to ask for help because she was unemployed and wanted to know what benefits she can get. Unemployment and health insurance are both in the same package deal so they checked her out and sent her an enormous bill instead of giving her unemployment benefits or welfare.

I laughed inappropriately when she told me the story. We already had all our stuff taken once so there's nothing more for them to take except an old shitty TV that needs a color tube, torn couches and ripped and dog-eaten dining room chairs and a 20 year old dining room table that has graffiti on it from all my kids. If they want to be really cruel, they can take an old computer and our washing machine so we can walk around in dusty, filthy clothes and blame the way we look and smell on the government.

I told her she'd better make some kind of arrangement with them - she could cut the bill down in half or better. She just has to go to the free citizen's service and have them help her do this.

And then you have the banks' decision to suddenly become "just like the US banks" which bounce your checks once you've hit your overdraft limit. Israeli banks used to let most of them through, even above your overdraft limit, which they encouraged you to have because they make oodles of money form us. However, after you've bounced 10 checks, you're punished for a year and your bank account is closed. But they've been kind to me and just bounced my standing orders this month (cable tv, cellphone, health fund) and only one check. They used to put all this through and are doing this so that I get used to living the way I did a decade ago in the US and Canada. And this, just after I got used to living in Israeli-style overdraft.

My kids went out last night for a free concert for Jerusalem Day celebrations. Surprisingly, I am very happy with our Ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski. People were nervous that all the cultural events would go on the brink with him at the helm, but they haven't. In fact, I think there are more of them now. We have free or cheap concerts here up the wazoo, including lots of fireworks displays.

And the heat wave is back for the 2nd day today. It'll be close to 100 degrees. I put on the coolest, breeziest thing I had and wondered if the aluminum-free natural deodorant was the way to go.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Botanical Gardens...

Hubby surprised us all last night by showing up at the door at 1:30 am. A day earlier than I expected. I was worried. What is he going to do for 5 days until he goes back to Haifa on Monday.

Will he be bored?

Will he be restless?

Will he be aggravating?

Will my family be tormented by Fox News on the television 24 hours a day?

I shouldn't be so hard on the guy. I made him coffee this morning because he offered to drive me to work, even though he really didn't need to go into town. My chauffeur extraordinaire.

Getting back to my life's work though....on Monday, our interfaith group went to the Botanical Gardens at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus. The whole planning of this outing was a bit of a pain since I had to gather everyone's ID's and fax them in to the security offices on campus. Security has been very tight since a terrorist attack at the campus cafeteria a few years ago. A day later they approved my list of 8 people and we were set.

The garden is a hidden gem in Jerusalem. It's so hidden that my seasoned cab driver said he had no idea there was a botanical gardens there. It was the first one built in the 1920s and it isn't vast but it is very charming. Our guide works there and told me beforehand that she probably wouldn't give us a guided tour because it was 1 1/2 hours after her day ends. But she surprised me and met us at the entrance.

All the plants and flowers are indigenous to the land. There are no imports here, she explained. We strolled through the paths and ate our way through the herbs and odd plants from the Negev.

"You WILL tell us if something's poisonous, won't you?" I asked.

She opened up a red fruit-like thing I've never seen before. It looked like a red egg. We ate the seeds inside, hoping we were not going to hallucinate from these strange things. But we let her lead the way, picking the stuff for us to munch on. A botanical gardens herbal feast.

She stood before certain trees and bushes and told us stories about them - one in particular, monks believed that a certain plant was the rod that Moses had turned into a snake. We stopped in front of Nicanor's tomb - another little-known treasure in the gardens. She told us the following story of this rich man buried here, where archeologists found his name on his crypt, which is now in the British Museum.

When Nicanor had gone to Alexandria, and was returning with the gates for the Temple in Jerusalem, the waves of the sea threatened to drown him; they took one of the gates from the ship it was on and cast it into the sea. The sea was not appeased. They desired to cast the second gate overboard also. He took it on his body, and said: "Fling me together with it." Thereupon the sea became quiet. He grieved for the other gate. When he came to the coast at Accho, the gate appeared at the shore. According to others, some beast of the sea had swallowed the gate, and afterward spit it out. Therefore all gates of the Temple were gilt, except Nicanor's, because miracles had happened to them, and they were therefore left as they were. R. Eliezer b. Jacob says: It was polished bronze, and glittered like gold.

We finished off our meeting with tea from herbs from the gardens and foccacia (I explained to the Arabs in our group that it's Italian pita), and stayed until nightfall, and the place seemed enchanted...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Weird shit goin' on

This is going to sound weird. It's like I'm in the Holy Land, in the holy city of Jerusalem with a direct line to God. So I complained to my girlfriends last week that Hubby just had a short 2 week stint in Haifa and he'll be coming back soon to torment me with his Caveman Ways over the weekend.

"Jeez, I wish God would send him another job in Haifa." I muttered.

The girls in my office laughed and said "Amen" in unison.

Today, Hubby called to tell me-

"I got another job in Haifa" - it's a small job, but another job.

"OH GREAT! That means you'll be up there next week too?"

Is there not a God in this world? Or is it just my personal genie?

And sometimes He plays rough with me. Like yesterday when I got the fax ready for my boss who is in the States containing 8 pages worth of messages. It was 10:30 am in Jerusalem and 3:30 am in the States. I stretched back in my chair and said out loud.

"OK. I'm done with your fax. I'm a ready for you now Mr. Boss". The girls in my office laughed.

"Don't say that too loud" warned one.

I kid you not. Less than 60 seconds later the phone rings and it's Mr. Boss. It's 3:30 am in the friggin' morning and he has nothing better to do than to call me and pick up his messages. Why? WHY????

You really have to watch what you say these days because freaky things like this are constantly happening.

So now my daughter's wedding is less than a month away. I'm far from my goal of $5000 for wedding expenses. So God. Or genie. If you can do these funky things for me when it comes to my boss and Hubby, try it for my daughter. Please. Just this once. Or twice. Bring those miracles on......

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hiking around Jerusalem

Taking advantage of the marvelous weather for hiking, I did just that with Jerusalem Mosaic. I've been on their e-mail list for years and even thought that their name - JR MOSAIC was Junior Mosaic (hiking on levels?), but I was corrected that day. I wasn't the oldest one in the group - there were others around my age, not only college-age kids.

We started off at Nes Harim, down hills and up hills, and seeing several hidden springs - like Ein Yona, and we ended up at a destroyed Arab village (destroyed in 1948 - population 540) called Beit Itab where the views were magnificent. We walked passed the sign that said "archeological site - danger - do not enter" and walked on the rooftops.

The Muktar's home was built on top of a crusader fortress. This entire area has layers of history on it, where the Jewish rebels fought the Romans around 130 AD and hid in various caves.

Of course I huffed and puffed up the hills, but I wasn't the last one holding up the group.

The only thing I saw which kind of ruined the views for me where these HOT Cable TV poles stuck in our path.

But I did survive the 5 hour hike, got a ride back to Jerusalem and managed to whip up a simple but festive meal in time for the Sabbath....

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Single Life

For the past week Hubby left me. Not for good, we're still married. But he found a short-term job in Haifa and no one was more thrilled than me - a) that he had work and b) that it was in Haifa. So for the past week, even though I had to bus it to Jerusalem and carry packages by myself, and there was no one to wake me up at 6:00 am (my kids set the alarm clock for me from my cellphone), I found the house chaotically peaceful, except for one night, when my son who missed his chess-partnering dad, was particularly awful to me and I just went into my room and fell asleep. But I did the laundry when "I" wanted to and cleaned up the dishes when I wanted to and didn't do stuff I didn't want to do. I often wonder when women who have travelling husbands, complain bitterly about this, and I think to myself - Are they totally fucked? At least they're getting their bills paid and have food to eat and even more! So what the guy doesn't come home for 2 months. Enjoy the bliss. I know I did.

One thing about being a "single mother" for a week was that I found myself home earlier than if Hubby would have been there. I didn't go to Tel Aviv to see the world's biggest fireworks display and I didn't go out for Lag B'omer (the bonfire holiday) festivities. We just hung around the house.

Hubby called me nightly at around 9:00 pm. He and Abed were hanging around the beach restaurants, taking in the scenery. "Are you hassling chicks?" I asked him. "Are we hustling chicks?" he responded. "Sure". I imagined how funny the two of them must have looked trying to pick up chicks - like two Wild and Crazy Guys. At home, he's usually asleep at 9:00 pm after work. It looks like the single life is doing him some good too.

I went to my daughter's wedding dress fitting during the week and I liked the dress but she didn't. She thought it was too plain, and I felt guilty that I didn't fight for her right then and there. She wanted it wider and the women told her she'll look like a cone. I thought about it afterwards and called her to tell her to tell them she wasn't happy and they should re-do it (so what if she looks like a cone) or she should just find another dress in another place. Luckily nothing was paid for yet.
The my 18 year old Complainer said she plans to move in with her boyfriend in 1 1/2 months which cheered up the rest of her sisters. "Yippee! Now we could move into a smaller place. Yay!" shouted my second oldest daughter. She was throwing virtual confetti all over the living room.

With a wedding happening in a month, I realize we haven't sent out any invites. What a pain in the ass to figure out everyone's snail mail address. And going to buy stamps and mailing them out!!! How primitive. How 'bout e-mail wedding invites, folks? But the couple wanted to do it the old fashioned way.

I'll have time to do up those snail mail invites this week because Hubby, who returned on Wednesday night, will be leaving again on Sunday for 4 days in Haifa, and my Boss is in the States. It can't get much better than this.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Human Rights Peace Yeshiva

I don't think there was ever such a thing before now and I am so happy and impressed.


Israel-Palestine Human Rights Peace Yeshiva - Summer 2006

Are you seeking to visit the Holy Land with a diverse group of socially, religiously, and spiritually engaged young people? Are you ready to meet face to face with peace-workers, policy-makers, and activists in the Middle East? Do you want to build the connection between Judaism, human rights, and activism? Are you ready to further dialogue, make peace, ask questions, and seek understanding?

Avodat Torah Peace Yeshiva, July 2-22, 2006

· Three weeks in both Jerusalem and the West Bank

· Torah study with progressive rabbis

· Volunteer placement with NGOs in the West Bank

· Homestays with Palestinian families during weekdays

· Weekends in Jerusalem

· Havurah-style worship and spiritual reflection

Registration closes June 1st. For more information and to apply today, visit:

Judaism Without Borders . These programs are offered by the nonprofit Bina Kehilla, Inc., 501(c)3 pending.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday at M'ghar

We had breakfast at our host's home this morning. The conference didn't begin until 10:30. They were concerned that what they had for breakfast wasn't quite enough but we didn't want them to futz around in the kitchen more than they usually would do for themselves just to make us eggs. We could do without them and the fresh rolls with labane topped off with home-made zaatar (hyssop mixed with sesame seeds) and home-made cracked olives with endless tea and coffee was certainly enough.

Their oldest daughter offered to do my makeup because she took a makeup course. I usually dread having others do my makeup because I like to have that natural look and much to my distate, many Arab girls overdo it in the makeup department and I knew I was going to end up looking like a Drag Queen if she did my makeup, but I let her anyway. Out came the blue eyeshadow (a sure sign) but I stopped her at the heavy black eyeliner. I thought that was so sweet of her to offer and felt pampered nevertheless.

She did the same to my "roomie".

After breakfast we asked to meet Azam Azam afterwards, who lived next door to where we were staying. I didn't know much about the man who was incarcerated in an Egyptian prison for 8 1/2 years but the other woman knew alot more. She was elated to meet with him.

"Don't you have to call him first? Don't you need to ask him if we could come over?" she asked.

"AZAAAAMMMM!!" yelled out our host as we walked around the corner. That's his way of calling.

His door had stickers in Hebrew saying "Free Azam".

He is in the midst of writing a book about his ordeal (he's on chapter 8). Of course, what do you ask a stranger that all you know about him was that he was in prison. I asked him what he ate in jail.

"Ful! How do you say 'ful' in English?"

"Fava Beans"

That was his staple diet there and I'm sure he didn't want to look at that stuff any more. I told him I hadn't ever been to Egypt other than a lovely visit to Sinai near Tarabin where it seemed like Paradise - but to him, Egypt is anything but paradise and I don't think he'll ever venture more south than Eilat in this lifetime.
His wife told me that his youngest was 1 1/2 when he was imprisoned and they're all getting to know their dad now. She never ventured out of the house all those 8 1/2 years. He was a funny, boisterous man and we had coffee yet again in their home. I was getting totally wired. He said he would try to make it down to our conference.

It was lovely being with him because the mood there was so upbeat and I always like a happy ending instead of a tragic one. Unfortunately, tragedy also hit this village on Friday when a young father (33 years old), a Druze man, drowned in the Kinneret while retrieving a soccer ball for one of his kids. We were told that it be respectable to visit with the wife and mother of the man around noon before the funeral. I didn't know what to expect and we went into this building where there were only Druze women, hundreds of them, all wearing black with white sheer head coverings. I feel very uncomfortable in my sky blue flowing Indian dress with sequins. Talk about really feeling embarrassed. We walked in a line to shake hands with the mourners and express our sorrow, and before I knew what was happening the dead body was lying in a casket right in front of me with the weeping women standing over it, while I shook their hands and cried with them. I had never seen a dead body before in my life. Jews cover their dead and I wondered how difficult it must be to see a lifeless loved one in front of you, although I know it is common practice to have a "wake" in the Christian world, I don't know how one stands it.

I tried to get back into my Sabbath mode - a bit difficult after this ordeal - to have lunch all together. Our ride to Jerusalem left early - 4 hours before the conference ended and because Hubby is leaving for Haifa early Sunday morning for a few days I wanted to be nice and spend some time with him before he left.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday night at an Arab village in the Galilee

The village is called M'ghar (pronounced M'rar - rolling the "r"s like the French do). It's a village of 20,000 people - 50% Druze and the rest Christians and Moslems. We were a group of about 80 people that were hosted from all over the country - Orthodox Jews, Christians, Moslems, Druze - from as far South as Eilat. The interfaith conference began and most of it was in Arabic so we tried to pick out the familiar words - and were only able to make out words like "but, possible, people, new, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, God, garden, love" - and not much more. It was as if they were telling us - you guys better learn this language, or you'll be left out of the loop.

We wanted to have an interfaith weekend here because about a year ago or so this city was hit with strife between Druze and Christians. It began when some Christian teens, for a joke - but a bad joke - put a photo of a Druze girl superimposed on some nude woman so it looked like she was in the raw and they circulated it among the school, among their friends, etc. This caused chaos among the two factions and homes and cars were vandalized and the once peaceful pastoral village was not a pleasant place to live in any longer. Christians pulled their children out of local schools because their children were harassed and police weren't intervening and arresting the perpetrators. Somehow the vandalism stopped but the tension is still there.

Getting back to the lectures, I started to get restless and went to the bathroom and saw that dreaded sign "do not throw paper into the toilet" which meant their plumbing was shit, as is the case in most Arab villages. I thanked the Good Lord for making me temporarily constipated for the entire weekend.

We were hosted by local families and went to put our stuff in their homes. Our host (for me and another older Jewish woman) was a Moslem man, with 6 children and a wife who only spoke Arabic but understood some Hebrew. Their university-going teen daughter translated our conversations for her.

Among our first conversations with them - they told us that their daughter could only major in certain areas at Haifa University because others subjects like Physics were only taught to those over age 21 - meaning that if you are Arab and because you do not go into the army for 3 years and you begin university at 18, you cannot major in certain areas like Physics. We had no idea such was the case. She is now taking statistics.
**(See comments relating to this post - there were a few stating that such is not the case - but I will tell you that in our experience for the past 10 years, you can go to certain bureaucratic agencies and be given 10 different answers to your queries - and it can be sometimes quite difficult and frustrating to get the correct answer - this may have been the case here - but thanks to those who commented and I will try to go to the trouble of having her speak to someone at the University).

Before leaving for dinner, I asked our hosts if they mind me lighting Sabbath candles which they promptly wanted to light for me. I told them I had to do it. I recited the blessing over the Shabbat candles and I think it was a first for them to experience this in their home.

We took a tour of the village where our Druze tour guide drove us through ancient olive groves. Their trunks were odd and it looked like they were hugging each other - some trunks were visibly hollow in the middle. He told us a Druze legend about King Solomon. That when he died all the trees became sad and lost their leaves. Except for the olive tree - and the others reprimanded that tree for being so heartless. But the olive tree was in fact so upset that its trunk finally burst resulting from holding in its agony.

Dinner began with the Jewish blessing over grape juice (instead of wine because of the Moslem prohibition of alcohol). There's a point in the blessing where we all sing "Because you have chosen us, and made us holy over all the nations..." I suddenly became aware that the Others standing around listening to this traditional blessing, understand Hebrew and, oy vey, I was totally embarrassed. I pointed it out over dinner and the other Jewish women at the table were thinking the exact same thing.

After dinner it was back to our host's home where we chatted until 1:00 am in the morning. And Saturday is not a day off for Moslems. Even so, we spoke about everything - my "roomie" and I both shared our vision of one peaceful land with two Prime Ministers - one Jewish and one Arab. If you guys want to call it Palestine, call it Palestine. For us it will always be Israel. All we want is to live peacefully with one another. Our host was curious about what is inside our "mezuzah" and I told him which prayer it was - which is basically also a Moslem prayer - that God is One. We wanted to know whether he was taught that Jesus was Jewish. Of course the answer was - no. Jesus was Christian, they insisted. I told them for about 100 years or so afterwards (correct me if I am wrong, folks) those following Jesus weren't yet called Christians. They were stunned to hear of Jesus' Jewish origins and the Last Supper being a Pesach Seder.

Wrapping up the evening in the early morning hours, we told our hosts how petrified our families were at us spending a night over at an Arab home. I get angry at my family at this point, when they talk shit like this. So I'm going to tell you of all the dangerous things that happened to me that night.

* I drank a zillion cups of fantastic coffee, "spiked" with crushed cardamom seeds
* We were invited to their daughter's upcoming wedding in August
* Our host invited himself to my home for one night when he has to be in Jerusalem one day next month
* We were being plied endlessly with munchies and soft drinks - non stop.

And I can only finish Part I of my trip with one thought.

To those of you who visit Israel or who live in Israel and are too scared to spend some time in an Arab village experiencing what I experienced for the first time, you are missing out on something very special. So despite what you fear because of what you hear in the media, etc. - just try it. Just once. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I can't believe it

What would you do if you get an e-mail like I got a couple of days ago. It was 5 pages long and the first paragraph starts out with "The brotherhood of light are coming with Melchizedek, no co-incidence that there is a comet approaching earth AND SMASHING between the 12th and 24th May. NASA SAYS EARTH IS NOT IN DANGER. LOL! Also discovered that it is the 89th anniversary of the Fatima prophecies"

I didn't understand much of this - but they are meeting (whoever "they" are) near Bethlehem in the Galilee (not the one near Jerusalem) and don't say exactly where they are meeting so I'm wondering if this is a human thing or are people from other planets e-mailing me or something. It continues;

"When this third eye portal opens; the Gold ray of Christ Consciousness will flow in, accompanies by the new intergalactic purple diamond ray of enlightenment, this beautiful diamond ray will sit within the third eye. It is the great awakening the closed and hidden eye is opening and as it does....."

I can't believe I read all 5 pages.

I can't believe that I read the newspaper this morning and nearly admired the Iranian President for feeling embarrassed at staying in a $3,500 Presidential Suite at one of the hotels in Indonesia and also noting that he drives to work himself in an old Peugot. No limos for this guy. Anyway, I do admire Heads of State that want to live normally and simply - like regular human beings do. But then I thought, you know what? The twat doesn't deserve to ride in a luxury limo. Nor does he deserve to sleep in a $3,500 suite. Plus, he should be eating porridge every day. Cold, nasty porridge.

after the storm

It's been so crazy at work. My 70-something year old Boss insisted I get to work at 7:30 am and stay until 6:00 pm. For two weeks. I would attend meetings where any interruption on my part (how dare a slave interrupt for even her knowlegeable two cents?) would get a "hard stare" from him which prompted someone else to whisper "I know he's not gonna kill you, but he sure looks like he will." But he's away now for a month and I can - well - breath. No more coming home at 7:30 pm and eating dinner at 9:00 pm and conking out soon afterwards.

A friend called me on the phone and I actually spoke to her for 5 minutes and didn't just hang up on her as I do when Mr. Boss is here and senses when I've just got a call. I actually am prepared to start wedding fundraising - though in Israel one should have a letter from a Rabbi saying you're down and out, because then it seems more legitimate. But what if one does not have a rabbi as I don't? I am trying local rabbis that my dad knew to see if they will help. One doesn't write letters and the other is difficult to reach. It seems that only the Ultra-Orthodox have a wonderful network of funds available for this type of thing. My friend told me to write a letter to God about it, which I have time to do today.

Now that the dust is settling - I am starting with a public grateful list to God.

1. I am grateful my Boss is away for a month and I can concentrate on important personal matters that need my attention like sending out invites and fundraising.

2. I am grateful that Hubby has a job in Haifa for 2 weeks because I will have a break from "get me a coke, go to the store and buy me cigarettes, bring me this and bring me that" and other assorted Caveman requests. But I will still miss him and will probably end up sleeping in my daughters' room.

3. I am grateful that the ritalin my son is taking is kicking in. The teachers have told me he still doesn't learn but at least he isn't disturbing the class anymore. (Should I dose Hubby with this?) I actually feel so evil, preparing my Son's drink in the morning. I melt down his pill which I put into this nasty, artificial rasberry flavored drink. This was our compromise. But I feel like I'm one of those soap opera characters spiking the drinks to either kill people or make them sleep.

4. I'm grateful for the upcoming Interfaith weekend in the mixed Druze/Moslem/Christian community of Magar in the Galilee this weekend. I had planned to go to the Jacob's Ladder Folk Festival originally, but that would have been unaffordable at this time. But this is far more rewarding. I won't have to hear my kids squabble like I did last weekend.

5. I am grateful for the organic greens (which is my weekly splurge) I am getting every week now for the past 2 weeks, previously unavailable in Israel - like Daikon and green tops, carrots with tops, kale, asian greens and mustard greens. I feel so much healthier cooking up a batch each day.

and what is everyone else out there grateful for?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Seeds of Peace Cafe

This is the 2nd time I attended their monthly function at their gorgeous premises in French Hill, but this time I went with some friends instead of going at it alone. I went with Eliyahu who, with his very obvious Jewish Orthodox look, got quite a few stares at first from the Palestinians who were not familiar with him and who were probably wondering what's HE doing here. But he stayed quite a few hours, and I'm sure made some nice connections. As did the Attunement Man, Jeff, who distributed flyers for his Spiritual Interfaith Weekend in the Forest - the beginning of June.

Turns out this guy whom I met briefly at one interfaith meeting a couple of years ago, Azriel Cohen, had an exhibition of his artwork there. And not just any artwork. He arrived in Israel in the middle of the Intifada and sat in cafes - when it was quite dangerous to sit in many of them as they were targeted alot by terrorists. He sat in cafes in both East and West Jerusalem, got to know the patrons and the owners, and painted scenes from these cafes, which he had on display tonight. Much to my happiness, most of the cafe owners brought in generous samples of their menus much to my happiness. Forget about losing weight. I raised my hand when they asked "who loves chocolates on a scale of 10 - 15", and chose me among 4 others to sample amazing chocolate from Belgium, Lebanon and Syria. The Lebanese chocolate was "to die for". The Syrian chocolate - well I gave it an 8. The Belgian chocolate was interesting and unique, but not melt-in-your-mouth, plus I am more partial to the Lebanese than I am to the Syrians, so that got a 9.

The cafe owners spoke about the history of their cafes - one of the Palestinians had that cafe in his family since 1922 or so and showed vintage photos of his grandfather outside the shop.

I grabbed a handful of chocolate which I miraculously gave to my kids instead of stashing it away for myself, and gave myself more "chores" to do - like giving the Seeds of Peace coordinators some interesting options for the next few meetings and introducing them to the people who can organize it for them. Wow! Wish I could get paid some bucks for doing what I love, but this is all free work because it just needs to be done.

"Your're a peace junkie" said my buddy Eliyahu.

Yep. And a chocolate junkie too.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Saturday at the Homestead

Thank you Irina for that nice review of this blog on yours.

Had my usual dysfunctional weekend which had me wondering what would life be like if I were in an old-age home, for example, or in a giant mansion with 26 rooms so I can escape to one of them and not listen to everyone's fighting and have maids serve me my food so that I don't need to come out of my room until I have to leave for work. Instead, I had to suffer on my Sabbath. A suffering Sabbath indeed.

The ex-Criminal was in for the weekend and because we don't have a router but have 2 computers, if one is hooked up to the internet, the other isn't - which renders the 2nd computer totally useless if you have 2 computer addicts in the house. That was fight number 1.

Fight number 2 was because the ex-Criminal stole my Good Daughter's undies and Good Daughter saw said undies peeking through the other Daughter's low-slung jeans and the catfight began.

"Take them off NOW!" ordered the Good Daughter.

"If you would only ASK for the undies instead of taking them" I interjected "then we wouldn't be having these arguments"

"She still wouldn't give them to me" retorted the ex-Criminal.

"But then that would make HER wrong, not you."

"leave me alone. I HATE YOU!" was her reply.

She then ran into the bathroom, threw out the undies into the diningroom where we were all sitting, which she had ripped to shreds, and caused Good Daughter to burst into tears and chase her upstairs while more shouting ensued.

Meanwhile, through all this, Hubby gets up from the couch (finally), insults my mothering skills and retreats into his Cave.

I hear a thump onto metal and someone had thrown the Ex-Criminal's cellphone onto my printer which left a nice dent into the shiny, new machine.

Was I not praying hard enough on Friday night - getting into the Voice of God - and all that? SOMEONE wasn't listening.

Then my Son got into the act by poking the ex-Criminal in her thigh which caused her to get into a wrestling match which was for real and not like the World Wrestling Foundation you see on TV where it's just all a big tostesterone act. They were both up against the wall by the door, all beet red and I thought they were really going to pull each other's faces off their faces.

"Can't you act like a decent human being?" I asked my son after this 20 second earthquake came to an end.

"You want me to be a human bean?"

"Yes, a human bean. Can't you act like a Good Human Bean for a change?" I didn't bother correcting his English because at least it made me laugh for the first time that day.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Food tasting and an interesting Friday night service

My daughter had a "tasting" evening at the place where she's getting married along with many other engaged couples. I sat down to eat promptly - after all, it is a tasting evening - and daughter snapped at me - "You're supposed to be writing stuff down and checking out the designs of the tables."

"Sorry kid. I can't do nothing on an empty stomach." and continued filling up my plate with all the delicacies. I did my good mother bit and jotted down the selections of food which I thought were amazing - like the tabouli salad, the roast beef, the makhlouba, sweet potato and walnut salads, veal, - and I think nearly everything on display. I'm not a very good food picker - not when you like everything you see.

When we drove back, Hubby got on the phone with the designer he works with and farted into his seat several times. He had the phone on loudspeaker and we all burst out laughing because we thought Mr. Designer had probably heard Hubby's farts. Hubby is trying to keep his cool, but kept on farting into the seat, which made us laugh even harder.

He spoke to us as if he were speaking to a bunch of kindergarten kids "If you don't stop this, you'll have to get out of the car" - the loudspeaker still on.

My stomach hurt from giggling and stifling it - so I did get out of the car eventually, which made my daughters inside the car laugh even harder.

"I'm going to have to explain this to him" said my embarrassed Hubby.

"Yes you certainly will have to" we chimed in.

And tonight was m favorite interfaith Friday night monthly prayer service was and despite all the bitchings of my family complaining that I'm always running to this thing and that thing, I went anyways. I need my monthly spiritual injection desperately.

The place was packed to the brim - there was no room at all for anyone and they were spilling onto the garden area. I had never seen this so crowded. It is a good sign. Every time I go, the service is different. This time they had a cantor(ess) of Moroccan heritage who sounded like the Israeli singer, Rita leading the service beginning with the Song of Songs. She told us that the sound "Oh" (long o) is the most difficult of sounds. The sound "ah" is much easier, like the sound of relief - aaahhhhh. And she made us chant aaaaahhhs and oooohssss ending with mmmmmmmm. So we did our Hindu (or is it Buddhist) Oms as well in this service. But she did explain that God's voice is called "Kol" in Hebrew which is very difficult to pronounce (or to hear - don't remember exactly which) and which has that long "o" sound "ooohhhhhh" which we chanted again.

Halfway through the service the Green Sheikh and Sheikh Bukhari, the sufi sheikhs came walking in and we were once again led in a Sufi ziker. It was fun to watch all the Orthodox Jews there - some of whom looked like biblical settler types - chanting "Allah Noor" "Allah Noor" and "La Il'allah" 500 times in a circle, then we did a Moslem prayer for forgiveness. The Green Sheikh said a prayer in Arabic for peace and it was also amusing to see the nuns from the Mount of Beatitudes singing all the prayers in Hebrew. I guess that's why I love going there - because I love merging together. I think God is so pleased when he sees different types of people praying together in their own way and sharing their prayers with others instead of being so segregated, generally. By the end of the service I was hoarse from singing and chanting so long and so loud.

I managed afterwards to cop a ride home with my daughter's boyfriend. It's very difficult getting home Friday night when the buses don't run and taxis take advantage of that and charge 20% more for the ride.

I get home 11:30 pm and the table is not covered with our special Shabbat tablecloth. The kids explained when I'm not there, no one likes to eat together.

"But what about dad? Didn't he want to set the table and have a proper Sabbath meal?"

"Nah, you know he likes to eat straight from the pot. When you're not there we don't have a proper meal."

That will still not make me guilty enough to not have my monthly spiritual injection. Shows you how much moms get it all together and without them, the traditions/rituals just fall apart.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Independence Day Week

We began this past week with a dinner at my daughter's fiancee's mother's home. She insisted that we bring everyone and thus began a special series of prayers to the One Above that my kids wouldn't bring shame upon our family while over at their home. They are Orthodox and proper and I had no idea what to bring them for a gift. The Sephardic culture happens to be more extravagant in gift-giving than us North Americans are - so just cheap wine and chocolates won't do. I ordered an extravagant house plant I couldn't afford and my daughter bought expensive wine. There were 28 of them and 7 of us all seated on their terrace which overlooked the entrance to Jerusalem and the busy highway. Of course there were about 50 courses and I was stuffed. Hubby complained afterwards - "They looked at us like WE'RE the foreigners." Yeah honey. We ARE the foreigners here. But I think the evening was successful and my prayers about my kids were answered. The wedding is still on.

And then there was the slave job with my slave job boss telling me he wants me to work until 6:00 pm on Independence Day eve when most Israelis get out at 1:00 pm. I was horrified that everyone but me would get off 5 hours before me.

He inquired of me every 1/2 hour - "that's ok with you, isn't it?" to which I finally burst out and did my Oliver Twist bit - "No. I'm not thrilled about staying hours after everyone has left."

Needless to say, his wife or some other person probably reamed him out for wanting to work me like the slave I am and the next morning his secretary joyfully asked if I had prayed hard because he was unchaining me at 1:00 pm with the rest of the regular folk.

That evening I decided not to go into town that night for Independence Eve celebrations. There were some alternative "happenings" I could have gone to - such as lighting candles together with Palestinians for their "Nakba" which means our Independence Day is their "Disaster" for many of them lost their homes throughout the country (as did we in the Old City) but I guess it wasn't all rosy for all of us then. I just went with friends to our local park together with 18,000 others that night to hear Chaim Moshe, a famous old-time Israeli singer and watch fireworks up close. I brought my own popcorn and beer - I am pretty broke these pre-wedding days.

Today on National Barbecue Day a/k/a Independence Day, I could have gone strawberry picking in fields near Tel Aviv. I could have gone hiking in Tekoa in the West Bank - or to the same barbecue as we did last year, but I opted for something new and hung out with our "messianic" friends who went to a friend's barbecue in beautiful Tzur Hadassah. Hubby thought it might be "dangerous" for us to be associated with so many "believers", but I just shrugged. Either you believe or you don't believe and what is so dangerous about that. I like the way they are close knit and it's something I miss from the Orthodox Jewish community I left in Toronto. Of course they were all English-speakers which made Hubby more comfortable and brought him out of his festive doldrums (he gets doldrums usually during festivals - don't know why). We were the new faces at this gathering and everyone asked us what "fellowship" we belong to. I don't know why they refer to a "fellowship" - Jews usually say - what "shul" or synagogue do you go to. Or - "where do you daven (pray)?" so this struck me as so foreign. They were ok when I told them I was just a "wandering Jew" - with no house of prayer base but feeling close to God nevertheless. They were happy to hear from me (as I heard it straight from the Sufi Sheikh last week) that Moslems believe that Jesus is the Messiah and even though they don't believe in his divinity, they do believe he will come back as Messiah" . Most didn't know that. Anyhow, as for me - yeah, I'd love to live in a perfect world. And I'd love to have someone like a messiah doing the job for me as well. But it's tough for me to believe anyone in particular being a messiah and saving this world. I think we have to do it ourselves.