Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Religious debate

Christianity versus Islam - hilarious stuff

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A place I could call home

I couldn't get to the party Alex was having for himself after his Laughter Yoga session in the Rose Garden, as much as I would have liked to. I had unpleasant things to do that day.

I woke up at 6:00 to clean my home. Not a fun task. The builders that own our apartment decided a few months ago that the place they promised me they would "never sell" was going to be put on the market. Someone was going to see it that morning and I didn't want him to think we were "dirty Americans". I know how clean these Israelis can be. Most of them keep spotless houses. Palestinians keep their houses spotless as well. I've only seen a few messy homes - lived in by American ex-pats mostly. I think I've only seen one messy Israeli home. What is it in our culture that half of us leave stuff lying all over the place and can't pick up a broom? Not that I want to leave this place at all - but I don't want to have that kind of "dirty" reputation. So I cleaned the cobwebs and shit off the corners of the baseboards and wiped handprints and cleaned the bathrooms until they sparkled. They still stunk though so I hid the stench through some patchouli incense. Thank God for incense.

We have been living in our apartment for five years and now we have to move. We have been looking for a place since August. And it has been difficult. Just the thought of packing boxes yet again... is so unsettling.

We're moving with one less kid this time, but moving is horrible. And the worst thing about it is that we have no place to move to - and we have to be out by December 1st.

There is a shortage of apartments for rent in our area - perhaps one or two a month come up. The one we saw without an agent was a total disaster. It wasn't in the old part of town, but the apartment was on the top floor (Hubby hates climbing stairs) and the doors all had holes in them. There was one closed room with steps in the middle of the room going up to the second floor.

"What kind of design is that?" shrieked Hubby to me as we walked through the dump.

The woman who drove all the way from Jerusalem to show us her place had to listen to Hubby's tirade.

"The place is a wreck!" he said to her in English.

"What's a wreck?" she asked.

I was hoping he'd be more gentler with her and not have to always be up front and honest as is his trade mark, but he didn't give a flying fajita.

He told her she'd be better off selling the place instead of renting it. Sure enough, I'd seen this place advertised over a month with no takers.

We've seen apartments for sale as well, thinking we had better get into the buying market before we get too old to get a mortgage here. They don't give mortgages to you past 75 years of age and I don't blame them. We can't qualify anymore for a 25 year mortgage or 30 year mortgage. It's down to 20 years now. Which means the downpayment has to be alot more than it would have been for a longer length of time. But never mind.

The agents have been as frustrated with us not liking anything as we have been with the apartments. Hubby doesn't want pre-fab and those are the cheapest ones - ones we can afford. I liked the one with the garden and brand new kitchen, in the old neighborhood. The kids don't want old neighborhoods because they'll be embarrassed to bring friends over. They want new. But new is $180,000 and that is too much for us. It's a bargain compared to Jerusalem where a run-down flat under 100 meters will cost nearly $300,000 and a lovely one double that. But we'd have to finance most of the cost - and the monthly payments would be high, too high for us - we like to enjoy having an occasional coffee out and a breakfast out and perhaps even a dinner out once every couple of months. We see too many people strapped for cash when the mortgage is too high.

There was a French real estate agent who took me and my two girls on a whirlwind tour of 4 apartments. He whizzed through the roundabouts making us all dizzy and talked loudly on the phone the entire time making us even dizzier. We liked a couple of the places, but again - the price wasn't right.

So if there is a good God in this world - we need a place that is affordable, lovely, and which my family will enjoy living in...

Spielberg Film archives

From an article in this weekend's Haaretz magazine, I came across this wonderful site . I especially liked the First Film of Palestine, dated 1911. It showed how Jews and Arabs got along really well then, celebrated together (during the Yarzheit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness in Tiberias there were Arabs together with the Jews during the procession) and built together during the Ottoman rule of Palestine. Maybe we ought to bring the Turks back in here. This film and more can be seen on the right hand side of the screen at Virtual Cinema.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's Love and Peace and Rock'n' roll for this kid - Jerusalem

peace gathering - Jerusalem

Peace Gathering

I was invited to Eliyahu's home for his pretty regular monthly peace gatherings. This guy gets a cool bunch of eclectic folk into his home - and they come from all over - Bedouin, a visitor from Jordan, settlers from Tekoa and Elazar, visitors from Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, not to mention his guest speaker/chanter. He was Siri Om Singh, an African American Sikh who did kirtan, sacred chanting. What was interesting about this guy was that he wore the whole sikh get-up and is from Trenton, New Jersey. I expected him to say somewhere in the Punjab, but Trenton? Even more interesting was that his wife is Israeli and was the only one at the gathering, besides the tourists there, who left Israel for the US. Most others left the US for Israel.

"We have to have SOME kind of balance!" she laughed, as we all introduced ourselves.

My good friend or, rather, everyone's good friend, Ibrahim from the Mt. of Olives was there telling us that everyone is invited to stay at his home. He has a rabbi living with him and this Friday 30 rabbis will be coming over to visit him. That's alot of rabbis wandering around the predominantly Moslem area. But his neighbors are used to him and he's well respected so hopefully no Moslem extremists will give him a hard time for befriending so many Jews. I guess another reason is that most of the people living on the Mt. of Olives are his relatives in one form or another. His family numbers 12,000 souls.

He went on - "We should stop saying this is Jewish land, this is Palestinian land. It is God's land."

He spoke about the significance of Ramadan - how this time of year is to reflect on the people who do not have enough money to buy the wonderful food seen in the markets, and to give charity to those less fortunate.

During the break I spoke with a gentleman from Edmonton of Arabic heritage (Lebanese, Saudi). He had been on the Haj and told me his take on things, particularly with regard to the Temple Mount. He said the Israelites never referred to it as a temple - rather - it was called a Beit Hamikdash (House of the holiest). He went on to tell me Al Quds, the Arabic term for Jerusalem is from the Hebrew word Kadosh, meaning Holy. Mecca is from the Hebrew word Mikdash. He said the Israelites walked around the temple 7 times during the holiday of Succot, much like Moslems do in Mecca around the Kabaa.

"You see, Abraham taught his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, the same things." he told me, and indeed, as he voiced the similarities between us, I felt an even stronger kinship with my Moslem brothers.

We heard stories about biblical Noah from a Chassidic perspective from Emunah Witt, a familiar figure in Jerusalem, and a follower of the singing Rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach.

"We're told that if you love just one person, you bring love to the world. If you love just yourself, this can make it happen too."

Another Carlebach follower spoke about incense - that the incense used in the ancient Temple had several ingredients, with one in particular that smelled awful, but when put together with the others, was the one that had that heavenly scent. And that when the 3rd temple is rebuilt, we won't have any animal sacrifices, as the Israelites sacrificed birds, goats, and sheep in biblical times. Because it will be a time of peace and there will be no killing. Not even of animals.

It was difficult for me to pull myself away from this oasis of peace to go back home. It always is. But there are others. Many others coming this way.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


About three Jewish women, myself included, drove past the invisible borders of East and West Jerusalem and ventured into the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina to share Iftar with our Moslem sisters. This is a very large neighborhood of several kilometers. West Jerusalem buses don’t go there so we had to drive there. Traffic was heavy and drivers were impatient trying to get home before the fast ended.

Fadwa’s home was beautifully set and although some of us brought food to share, most of the stuff, I’m sure, was made by her and her mother. I joked to some of the women there.

“Like you - today, I didn’t either eat anything ……. healthy”. And I dug into the food as joyfully as my Moslem sisters did.

I wondered if the fast always ends with most families sitting down to an enormous amount of food - lentil soup, chicken baked with veggies, rice, mejjedrah, salads, and for dessert - the first time I tasted kadaif.

One of the women read from the Koran with an English translation. It looked so much like our Old Testament with an English translation. She read about the fast before we sat down to our meal.

The director of the women’s group, an Orthodox Jewish woman (who only feasted on vegetarian stuff) told us about her discussion with her Arab pharmacist.

“Ramadan Kareem” she told him.

“How do you know about Ramadan?”

“Do you know I’m going to an Iftar tonight?”

“Why are you going to an Iftar? With whom? What kind of group are you with?”

“A group of women, Jewish, Moslem and Christian get together and we celebrate holidays together.”

He still couldn’t get it. “Why? Are you against anything?”

“No we’re not against anything. We’re simply pro-peace.”

“Oh peace” he shrugged. “It’s no use talking about it.”

“That’s exactly my point” she continued. “We don’t talk about it. When we get together, we live peace.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

City of David

Last time I went down to see the excavations being done on the biblical City of David was perhaps 10 years ago. We walked through the streets of Silwan and saw ancient stones and steps built into the hillside. It is believed that the palace of King David was built here, as well as the pre-Israelite Jebusite kingdom.

ancient City of David

Then there was the Intifida and it was no longer safe for Israelis to venture into this area.

This year, during the holiday of Succot, I ventured there again. It looked completely different.

Entrance to the City of David

This time, I entered a gated “village” built up for tourists and viewing promenades amidst lovely olive trees, etc. The paths takes you through Hezekiah’s water tunnel where Jerusalem received its main source of water from the Gihon spring. A tour inside the tunnel means you walk waist high in water with flashlights. I steered clear of the tunnel and walked along newly cobblestoned paths to the Gihon Spring - past Arab homes and Jewish homes standing side-by-side. My ideal dream of living in a mixed neighborhood seemed to be here (Alas that is not true, if you read the linked articles below - but it still remains my dream)

The history isn’t so simple and the present situation of the City of David/Silwan has its conflicts. In the late 1882 a large group of Yemenite Jews trekked across the desert and made their home in Silwan. There they lived peacefully with their Arab neighbors until the 1929 Arab riots. Some Jews are now reclaiming the site because of the biblical history attached to it and saying they are reclaiming the homes the Yemenite Jews left behind. The Arabs naturally are feeling like they are being pushed out. Last year, the municipality wanted to raze 88 Arab homes to expand the City of David national park amidst a lot of protest, myself being included in these protests. There’s a lot more to uncover, it is claimed. I’m sure there is. But not at the expense of people living there now. I suggested to no one in particular that they should build underground viewing sites so as not to disturb the residents living overhead. In fact one particular story here is quite heartbreaking.

There seems to be quite a few Jewish settler families who have bought-out homes from the Arabs in the City of David area.

Jewish home - City of David

I saw some Jewish kids on a gated street. I asked the kids if everyone inside the gate is Jewish. No, half are Arabs. Do they get along with their Arab neighbors? Yes - was their answer. I seemed satisfied with that, thinking this is certainly not Hebron where the tensions are awful between Arab and Jewish residents of that city. I’m not too sure they visit each other’s homes here, but they don’t seem to harass each other as much as they do in Hebron. I’m wondering how much the media revs up the situation as well. But I am wondering if I had spoken to Palestinians that day, what reaction would they have given me. I gazed below at a Palestinian woman drying her laundry on her rooftop.

A view of Silwan - Jerusalem

I walked down the steep hill past archeologists who were excavating a home adjacent to the Gihon Spring.

Sifting through City of David excavations

Arab legend has it that the water flows here from Mecca. My Jewish New Age friends tell me there are more crystals in the Gihon water than any other water source they know of. I felt the holiness of that place immediately. There was something special about it, though I can’t express it in words. It’s just something you feel.

As I walked back up towards the modern city of Jerusalem, past the Jewish and Arab homes, I felt a deep sense of tranquility in that area. Perhaps it was an illusion, perhaps not. The grape vines and beautiful gardens that peeked out from behind the walls and gates certainly contributed to it. But perhaps it was my wishful thinking.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


I went with my married daughter to breakfast yesterday morning. She had a bit of a run-in with her sister-in-law followed by her mother-in-law and ended up sleeping at my house for 3 days, not wanting to look at any of them (she's living at the mother-in-law's house until their apartment is ready for them to move into). Since that episode, mum-in-law took the phone out of her room so there'll be no more eavesdropping. I mean, shit, that sort of thing can bring governments down.

I gave her the pep talk about how she can run the world, or at least be a stand-up comedienne (I'm seriously thinking about videotaping her and putting her on YouTube), because we all end up in fits of uncontrollable laughter when she's around. Can't she make up material and imitate her in-laws?

Then she shows me her nightie she just bought and I hit the ceiling. The kid's been married since June and she buys a two piece red cotton thing with a Mrs. Simpson cartoon on the front.

"Honey, are you sure Hubby will want to stare at that thing every evening?"

"I'm not dressing like a slut" she protested.

"But you're married. You HAVE TO!"

I'm sure Shmuely Boteach would agree with me on this one.

Friday, October 13, 2006

crafts for sale - Liberty Bell Park - Jerusalem

Making pottery - Liberty Bell Park

Witches - Liberty Bell Park - Succot Festivities

Israeli band - Irish music - Succot Festivities - Liberty Bell Park

Jerusalem Street Theatre - Irish dancers - Liberty Bell Park

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Carmel Mountain Fall foilage

Hiking in the Carmel Mountains

Hiking in the Carmel Mountains

There were many things going on in Jerusalem yesterday such as the Jerusalem March, which my son likes to attend because the marching Evangelical Christians who love Israel and the Jews dish out candies and souvenirs from their countries to the children, who line the sidewalks, more to get the goodies than for the reciprocal joy of seeing the marchers in their kitchy biblical or interesting native costumes.

But I decided to go hiking instead and get out of the soon-to-be-crowded city. It was organized by an English speaking group called ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association). The hike was classified as being "moderate" but I'm always nervous about heights and those extremely narrow and seemingly dangerous hiking paths that one slip off can land you down a cliff. And there are no railings to hang onto. What is moderate for some people can be awfully difficult for others. As the bus picked up more passengers from Raanana, Hadera, Netanya, I noticed most were older than me - in their 50's and 60's - and some even in their early 70s. I no longer felt frightened of the "moderacy" of the hike and figured it HAS to be on the easy side for these people.

I was quite wrong. These people outpaced me for most of the hike, as I lagged behind among the 1/3 lagging behind. We continuously climbed over rocks to get up the mountain in Wadi Bustan, dodging branches overhead and thorns on our sides. I felt the Fall season as I tread on brown leaves beneath my feet. The Fall season was something I always missed (however briefly) from Canada. I missed walking on these giant fallen multicolored maple leaves. These leaves weren't maple leaves - I think they were mostly acorn leaves, as there were an abundance of acorn and carob trees on our paths. At the end the path was steep and narrow I quipped that only an anti-semite could have drawn up these JNF (Jerusalem National Forest) trails. Three hours later we were on top of the mountain, having our lunch, me looking longingly at the luxurious Carmel Forest Spa across from us. Man - what would I give for a nice dip in a jacuzzi. It was hot and we were all sweaty. The view of the sea was magnificent from the summit and I felt my feet giving way, but fortunately for me others did too. The guide wanted to go another two hours. We had already hiked five. We asked him for a shorter route. That would take an hour. The way down the mountain was more pleasant and I was jealous at these sixty-something men whizzing by me effortlessly. The guide told us a story of Beit Oren kibbutz which loomed high in the hills above us. In 1947 they assisted in getting Jewish detainees out of the British Atlit prison camp on the coast. Hundreds of them escaped, some hiding within Beit Oren.

Later that evening I finally showed up at my door and my eyes were terribly bloodshot. My teen kids danced around me excitedly hugging and kissing me and laughing - "Mommy's smoked a joint! Mommy's smoked a joint! YAYYYY!!!" that I thought if I had taken out an ounce of weed out of my backpack, nothing would elate them more. But I had no such goodies for them or for myself for that matter.

Whatever happened to getting excited over going out to eat at Burger King?


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back on the year that was - well, we've come a long ways. A year ago, I had no idea that my eldest daughter would have found her soul mate and get married. And my ex-criminal, whom I'll have to rename - perhaps the Reformed One - is now home, instead of at her reformatory for teens at risk, thanks to a private lawyer we hired. The Complainer found a job waitressing at one of Jerusalem's swankier hotels - Condoleeza Rice stayed there. So she's hardly at home to complain about anything, having to work even on the Jewish holidays. My Son, who is not yet 15, has hairs growing on his chin, and it's really amusing. He asked me not to blog about it, but he never reads my blog because it's in English. None of his friends will read it either, so there. But the hairs growing on his chin are funny because he strikes me as still being a kid. He likes his cartoons, and computer games and screams at his sister when she sings loudly. He's physically turning into a man, but it's hard for me to let that sink in. So he actually shaved 2 weeks ago, but he needs another shave for his 6 hairs growing on his chin.

And thankfully, I have off work this week for the Succot holiday. There's so much going on that it's mind boggling. It is so hard for me to pick and choose. Money is a bit scarce which depresses me during holidays, but I'm going to try not to let it bother me too much. This is, after all, a holiday of joy. And I'm going to make the best of it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why should have the chicken crossed the road..

I was having a very unholy argument inside the Holy Bagels store in Jerusalem this morning. I see a sparse selection of bagels, and it's only 9:00 am. The Yom Kippur fast begins at 5:00 pm this afternoon and American ex-pats like their bagels right after the fast.

"I'm sorry" explained the salesgirl behind the counter. "You can't order 12. There's none left. But we do have more at our other store at the central bus station."

"I'm sorry, but I'm not going there. I travelled all the way from Maaleh Adumim for these bagels."

Another sales guy intercepted.

"People placed orders for bagels already last week, and we have to take care of those."

"Aren't you making any more? It's only 9:00 am"

Most places will close around 1:00 pm. Even the local television and radio stations only broadcast until 1:30 pm. Then the nation closes for a pre-fast festive dinner and a 25 hour fast. You can't miss Yom Kippur here - not like I did years ago, as a secular, jet-setting New Yorker, sitting in a Chinese restaurant with a friend from England.

"Do you know what day it is today?" she asked.

"No. What?"

"It's Yom Kippur Eve" she told me with a slightly guilty look. I gave her a slightly guilty look back and then we continued to dig into our delicous moo shoo pork dish.

But getting back to bagels, I wasn't gonna budge from my spot. Another American guy budded in, almost getting 6 bagels, while they were still trying to decide how many to give me.

Finally, an announcement was made - more bagels coming in 1/2 hour. I took my dozen plus 2 freebies and left.

Going back to my car, looking at the sidewalk, I saw a pair of familiar feet, which when I looked up, I saw they belonged to my married daughter who just bumped into Hubby. We all decided to go and do Kaporos (Atonement)together in the shuk, using real chickens. We hadn't done it this way in 11 years, since coming to Israel, using money instead, but the chickens seem to be the real deal.

I remember 2 years ago, seeing some animal rights protesters yelling at people going to do Kaporos, prompting a slew of policemen at the site from then on.

I thought - I really like this tradition, but if I would think about it from an animal rights perspective, it's quite horrifying actually.

Going into the market, the stench was quite strong. A guy carrying a crate of already slaughtered chickens moved passed us, their blood covering their white feathers. I guess no one here is frightened of bird flu.

Hubby went first. He said a paragraph three times calling on angels and that this chicken will go to its death instead of him. Then he gave it to some guy who slit its throat and put it into a funnel for the blood to drain. I saw some teens with good cameras photographing the gory stuff.

"Are you gonna blog this?" I asked. I couldn't even bring myself to photograph it. which is why I'd make an awful photojournalist.

"It's art." he told me.

Pretty gory art. Van Gogh might have liked it.

It was my turn to hold the chicken and wave it over my head three times. The chicken squawked like mad. It really didn't want to go in my place. Probably because it sensed my sins are so many and thought it's gonna go to chicken hell as a result. As I finished, I looked up and saw a television camera staring me in the face.

"Oh shit!" I muttered.

Back home, I prepared the festive pre-fast meal which consisted of, well, chicken. I don't know how I did it but I totally disconnected the live chickens I saw that morning from the de-feathered thing that sat in my fridge.

I really should become a vegetarian.

Have an easy fast - to those who are fasting.