Monday, August 20, 2007


The yearly Sulha was underway last week and here are some photos from it. It's an amazing feeling to be there. I would sit in my chair for hours telling hubby who accompanied me, that THIS is how I want to live. This is how I want to see my country. Full of people of different faiths getting along so beautifully. It was like a messianic vision. I attended one workshop when I just wasn't taking in the atmoshere. It was the relationship between Sufis and Kabbalah, although it tended to be more on the relationship between Sufis and Rabbis through the centuries.

Simply fascinating to hear that Maimonides studied with Sufis and his son was considered a Sufi Jew. Other stories - the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv related that his grandfather was the chief rabbi of Libya, when Libya had Jews living there. So well-versed in the Koran was he, that he was called the Sheikh Rabbi.

Another story related was that in Chechnya, someone called Alex Fagin researched the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidim. He found the source of one of their very popular songs called the "Rebbe's Nigun" or "Shmil's Nugun". Who is Shmil? Most people think of Shmil as a Russian peasant. But that isn't so. Apparently, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Lubavitch in the late 18th century, was jailed as his Chassidic teachings were considered going against the Czar. In jail, he met up with a Sufi Sheikh who ended up being executed, while the Alter Rebbe's life was spared. The sufi sang his melody to the Rabbi, saying his one wish was to preserve this melody. The Rebbe came out of jail and with it the melody, known to so many Lubavitch Chassidim today. I would love to have this story confirmed by another I couldn't find this when I "googled".

Safed in Israel was once a center of both Sufism and Kabbalah.

And it just seemed that for a while, it was okay for Jews to study Islam (and vice-versa) and many rabbis living in Arab countries did study the Koran. Now there seems to be a revival where some rabbis are looking for that special spiritual relationship with their Moslem brothers - the children of Abraham....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Art Festival in Jerusalem

I asked various friends and relatives if they wanted to come with me to the annual arts and crafts fair in Jerusalem this past week. Eveyone had their excuses - courses, children, not interested, too crowded and Hubby wouldn't go because he'd miss several enchanting hours of Fox News that evening if he did.

I went alone and was comfortable with this decision because I didn't have to depend on someone else's schedule. If I wanted to browse for 1/2 hour at the guy who did exquisite stainless steel jewelery, no one would get impatient with me or had I brought my son, he would have had the patience of a gnat and we both would have been miserable. I scooted over to my favorite "gypsy cafe" and sat there for a long while.

There were glass blowers from Hebron, where most Israelis don't dare venture..who brought their crafts to the festival. I was pleased to see Palestinian vendors from the Old City in Jerusalem come over on our side to show us their wares. And once inside the elaborate tent, I felt I was actually in the old city.

"Please - I'll sell this to you at a very good 'brice'. You are my first customer..."

Then afterwards I went off to the arena where one of Israel's rock band's were performing. I didn't have the patience to listen for the entire concert so I sat in for about 20 minutes of the band's set. Besides....I don't know the words to any of their songs, so I couldn't sing along with the audience.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

All Nations Cafe - hike to Walaja

On Tuesday, I joined up with the All Nations Café (run by Dhyan and Daphna) who were having a hike from the beautiful Ein Lavan spring near the biblical zoo to the Palestinian village of Walaja. .

We were a small group of about 10 people at first, some of whom had accidentally discovered Haj Ibrahim's guest house and were staying there. The spring was packed with people, mostly young, orthodox Jewish people who glanced curiously at our mixed Jewish/Palestinian group. Daphna taught us a simple song with a circle dance to it - like a chant – which we sang over and over again, switching partners as we went around the circle – singing it in Arabic, English, Hebrew and Esperanto. "One people, one planet, one spirit, one people, one planet, one spirit, one people, one planet, one spirit – all we need is love!!" We sang this loud and often and some young Jewish teens asked us what our group was about.

We asked them to join but they didn't, preferring instead to watch us. One of the girls was wearing a Camp Kobi Mandel t-shirt. Kobi Mandel was a young Jewish boy of 13 who was murdered by terrorists while he was playing with a friend in a cave near to his home. His mother has since set up a camp for Jewish relatives of terror victims. I thought about the connection of our group and the camp – thinking if we had a much bigger circle of people singing this together, thousands instead of just two-digit numbers, there would have been no need to set up this camp and this poor mother's young son might have been alive today.

We began our hike down the mountain, by the side of the railway tracks, to a dried up riverbed. I spoke with a young girl from the Shuafat refugee camp. I don't often meet people from Palestinian refugee camps and I was happy that she was a regular member of this group. I, and other Israelis, often think of those living in refugee camps, as the most militant of Palestinians. Who would have thought that some would join a group such as this? Later in the evening there would be others from the Dehaishe refugee camp in Bethlehem who joined up with us.

Halfway through our hike, we ended up in Ein Haniyeh spring, off the old road to Gush Etzion. One of the Palestinian men took away my water bottle to fill it up at the spring. What do I know. To me, you fill up your water bottles from tap water or from the spring water you buy at the store. I would never have thought to have filled it up here - such a city chick I am. We made our way up the mountainside to Abu-Abdullah's home which was a ramshackle of a home which he stays in by himself, leaving his family up the hill at the village of Walaja.

On the way there, the Palestinians took a few pinches of something off a tree – which was the sumac spice. I tasted it – it was extremely pungent – like eating Mike and Ike's Zour candies – only presumably much healthier.

The reason for Abed Abu-Abdullah living in this place are the 200 fruit trees he has on the lands surrounding the old home – olive, grape vines, and who knows what else.

The army had tried to remove him and his groves but he steadfastly refused, showing them ownership papers he had from his grandfather. He was supposed to have taken us to see a holy 4,000 year old olive tree somewhere nearby, which people say, has miraculous healed anyone who eats olives from this tree. But he was in a bad mood, someone explained, and he has to be focused in order to take us there. Bad mood and all, which I didn't feel by the way, he allowed us to pick the ripe grapes off his vines.

He made us all coffee and some of us had brought snacks to share. My new friend from the Shuafat refugee camp remarked sadly how there are no trees at all in her refugee camp, as we munched on the same bunch of grapes together.

The groves on the hill made the entire place seem so enchanting. There was something very magical about it that no wonder there's a healing ancient olive tree nearby.

At dusk we went down the hill for the main gathering near an abandoned house by the roadside, which also belongs to Abu-Abdullah's family. There more Palestinians awaited us – many of whom were from the Bethlehem area. A bonfire was lit and we were now a group of nearly 30 people.

I felt a lot of empathy these past two days because being in their "hood" I experienced the discomfort of going through a checkpoint from Dr. Dejani's home with a miserable soldier, who shouted at us to move our car back. We wondered why the anger and someone suggested that perhaps to smile and show niceness wasn't allowed. It can be mistaken for a sign of weakness, something the Israeli army wouldn't dare want to show to outsiders. And now, as it became dark, and we were merely shadows from the road, an army jeep stopped in front of us, only the top of the jeep was visible through the trees.


Let me tell you. To be shouted at like that by Israeli soldiers is quite frightening. Even for an Israeli like myself. And it happens to Palestinians all the time. It just happens to me when I'm hanging out with them. We answered them back in Hebrew, but they weren't satisfied. Daphne, one of the organizers of the group, and a native Israeli, went down the hill to speak to them. After about 5 very long minutes she returned.

"They change soldiers here like they change underpants. The soldiers at the checkpoints know we meet here every week, but when they change the soldiers at the checkpoints, we have to explain about our group over and over again to them. Everything is ok now."

Back at the bonfire, going around the circle, we shared a little about ourselves and we drank more coffee (and I couldn't fall asleep that evening until 2:00 a.m.) and a debka teacher taught us some debka steps, which we practiced over and over again to the music of darbukas and then from Arabic music from someone's cellphone.

The glow of the fire shone on the face of everyone there. I hate to sound so hokey, but it did put warmth in everyone's hearts. There's nothing like sitting around a fire. It's soothing. People bond around a bonfire, don't they? Well, it seemed that even though there was a language barrier as many of the 17 Palestinians there didn't speak either English or Hebrew, they said they were touched by the fact that we (Jews) were there. It gives them hope in a world that seems hopeless.

Israelis flood into Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina

OK - now that I got your attention - we're not flooding in, but it would be great if we do visit there in droves.

A group of us met on Monday and carpooled our way to Dr. Mohammad Dajani's home in Beit Hanina. We were a quite large group of Jews who met some neighborhood Palestinians at his home, some of whom were active in Dajani's political party called Wasatia . For many Jews, this was the first time they ventured into an Arab neighborhood, and some voiced that they were quite nervous at first – but laughed it off seeing how silly it was to have felt this way, as we were sitting in Dajani's large closed off porch.

Funny that even well-to-do Arabs do not have these clonish homes as Israelis do, built by Israeli construction companies. They have their own individual look and feel. We were on the third floor and I saw a living room, a game room and a dining area – no kitchen visible - and a closed off porch and an open porch with a taboon oven. Upstairs was a rooftop patio where you could throw a big party. Downstairs was probably where his family resided and the first floor was his office, which we knew by the way the books poured out into the hallway. His walls were covered with vintage posters and magazine covers – cool stuff like Elvis and James Dean and classics like Gone with the Wind and sentimental Love Story. Moving towards the top of the house were family photos and embroidered Palestinian clothing hanging over the railings.

We were given an explanation of the area from the rooftop, viewing the Nusseibeh housing project, a project that housed all the refugees from the Old City in 1967 after their homes were raised to make room for the Western Wall Plaza. The Wall was a block away from his home,– it made life for those who held Israeli residency cards who lived beyond that wall, difficult, as they are now unable to pass easily through the checkpoints. The businesses on the main street suffered as a result of the checkpoint as it is no longer the main road to Ramallah and many have gone out of business or are no longer the expensive shops catering to the well-to-do as they once were.

After stuffing myself on fruit and cakes (I still do not have a kitchen, so any stray food around is considered 'dinner'), we went to hear Dr. Dajani speak briefly about his new party. Even though I had heard him speak beforehand, this was his turf now and there's always a different slant to it.

Basically what he said is that in order to create a moderate Palestinian culture, rather than have the masses be attracted to extremist parties like Hamas, speaking about democracy will not do it. Democracy is a Western concept and the religious Moslem man/woman on the street will not want to hear about it. Instead, he bases his party on the language of the Koran. The Koran states to walk the middle road ("We have made you a moderate nation"). He explains "It's God who wants this."

Elana Rozenman of Trust spoke a bit about her group. "What is lacking among our people is trust. We want normal interaction between our people." She gave us an exercise to do in which we took a partner and, while the other listened (without interrupting), one of us spoke about a person in our life whom we trusted and why we trusted that person, how we felt about having someone we are able to trust in, etc. Then we switched roles.

During the sharing one of the women visiting from Toronto said one has to feel empathy. "Put yourselves in the other's place and stop defending yourselves." A Palestinian young man said that others may look at moderates as infidels. But he's looking forward to "the opportunity for infidels to move ahead."

At the end of the meeting some of the Jewish participants, including myself, took a few Wasatia pamphlets, all in Arabic, to give out to people we knew who may not know about this movement, hoping they'll see this as the way towards peace.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

summer that's half gone and summer to be

It's midsummer already and time is moving ever so quickly. We've lived in our home for over a month already – still no doors to any rooms, no kitchen, gashes in the walls where the new electric cords or points or whatever you call them are supposed to be. I've read about how a very large construction company is about to go bankrupt (if they didn't already do so) and feel lucky and grateful that we moved in to our place with no such contractor problems. Money isn't easy to come by and to see your deposit to a bankrupt contractor slip away must be nightmarish for those people. And many of them broke into their homes illegally, put on mezuzot and are squatting. Hubby had a rare conversation with me this morning.

"Remember when our house had just sand on the floors?"


"Well, we would've moved in, even with the sand, wouldn't we, if that had been us."

"Oh, for sure."

Being recent first-time home-owners had made us feel a lot more sympathy for those who had put money into that bankrupt or nearly bankrupt company and whose future is uncertain.

And my secretive second-oldest daughter finally brought her secret boyfriend home. We had wondered who the guy in the two-seater BMW convertible was. We only saw the car from our window and not the man. My daughter would snap at me, at any question of who her new man is. "If it's serious, I'll let you know." I don't know if it's serious or not, but his biceps certainly are. But he's not a body-builder. He's a lawyer, I found out.

"Sheesh. Hate to be the judge in front of THAT lawyer. His big and he, well, does actually look like a wrestler from the World Wide Wrestling Association or whatever it's called (too lazy to 'google' today – my day of rest). I'd also hate to be the lawyer against him. Anyway, we do need a lawyer in the family."

So DO get on with it, I thought to myself.

My married daughter bitches when I come over to cook meals at her home because of our lack of kitchen.

"You make my pots dirty and you make my floors dirty."

I don't. But the hot weather is making her have illusions of dirt on her floor every second. When the baby sleeps, she's cleaning her floors. I'm thinking of getting her to seriously think about going on some medication – but then again – all her neighbors are pretty much clean freaks and that is what "keeping up with the Joneses" is like in her neighborhood.

Oh- and here is the photo from the brit ceremony, I promised to post. The little boy's name is Itai Aharon.

But who cares what my kids are doing to me when the rest of the summer is so happening in Jerusalem. I really don't care to fly anywhere out of the country, or, for that matter, out of Jerusalem because there's too much to look forward to. Like the arts and craft fair with its terrific vendors and much cheaper than in the store jewelry, the entertainment, the hippie/gypsy café with its belly dancers, acrobats, wine and cheese menu and coffee. I found myself sitting there for hours, transfixed by the various performances and great ethnic and vintage music. There's the international crafts show – with crafts from many different countries. Last year was the first time Jordan joined us. There's the Palestinian crafts fair, which the festival organizers call the "Eastern Market". Of course calling it the "Palestinian market" would put some people off. It's like they ship the stuff from the old city market to here. Plus they're featuring glass blowers from Ramallah and Hebron. Included too is the international food fair.

There's free entertainment in the new Mamilla outdoor mall. Various museums have free admission. If you have the bucks, you can go for an all-you-can-eat rooftop barbecue at a couple of Jerusalem's posh hotels.

There's free folk dancing at the Liberty Bell Garden on Sunday evenings.

And one of my closest childhood friends is moving to Jerusalem in August.

So I have what to look forward to (besides getting doors for my apartment and a kitchen, etc. etc.)

There are some interesting peace activities going on as well in people's homes and in various neighborhoods.

I don't have many people this summer to share these events with. Many have left town. Some have gone to India and most to the States. Why? I can never understand it. Even if I had the money to travel outta here, I don't think I'd go longer than a week or 10 days. I'd never leave for a whole summer. It's just too magical over here on this side of the pond….