Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Blog

Since I love eating (out) I just thought I'd share with y'all some of my takes on restaurants in Jerusalem and surrounding areas....

Check it out here:

Shake, Rattle and Roll

We had our second earthquake of the week last night, which woke me up around 12:15 am. My bed was shaking and there was no one but me in it - so it couldn't have been anything but an earthquake Then I heard the windows rattling.

My daughter and her boyfriend were in the next room, each blaming the other for shaking the bed - that was funny. So when I told them my bed was shaking too, then they realized what it was. And my son was sound asleep. Fortunately, it was a small one, around 4.1 on the Richter scale.

But when I slept in today, waking up at 8:00 am instead of 5:45 am, it was so warm and sunny that my long-sleeved top felt too hot. I just spent 45 luxurious minutes lounging on the porch. What a day to be strolling outside, though, like perhaps Ein Karem, the Old City or Abu Ghosh eating lunch outdoors. But I'll just relish the beautiful view and the warm weather right here from the 8th floor in my apartment.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shabbat in Beit Jala

The Center for Emerging Futures/Global Village sent me an email about an enticing weekend in Beit Jala. 35 Palestinians and 35 Israelis. How could I resist that? I've never heard of this organization before but now was a good time to check it out. With Hubby in Canada, it was a tad more difficult organizing the kids to band together without me but they did it - eventually.

How does one get to Beit Jala, a Palestinian village, without a car? It is just outside of Bethlehem, about a 5 minute drive south of Jerusalem but there are no buses there, at least none that I know of. So I took the bus to Malcha Mall, tried to look for an Arab taxi driver (funny - most Jews look for Jewish drivers) and asked him to take me there. After we haggled over the price, he drove me to the Everest Hotel. He wondered what was a nice Jewish woman running off in the sunset to Beit Jala? I told him about the weekend and he was happy to hear that there were such things as weekends with Israelis/Palestinians together.

The Everest Hotel is a family-run hotel, run by Christian Arabs, on the highest hill in Beit Jala, overlooking Jerusalem, Herodian and Bethlehem. It looked like a run-down hotel from the outside - it certainly wouldn't get many visitors if it were on the Israeli side - the tables in the diningroom were simple and chipped; the rooms inside small but pleasant with well-worn but clean bedding. I was just glad we had hot water and flushing toilets. I was put in a room with an Israeli woman from Haifa.

Some familiar faces were already there - people I met through interfaith or in Camp Tawonga in the US - from Jenin,Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. I thought it amusing that I knew more Arabs than Jews. There was only one Israeli that I recognized - Laughing Alex from Laughter Yoga.

The weekend was very structured and highly organized. We shared in groups of three, of two, in the big group of 70, around tables in the dining room, switching tables and groups so often that you pretty much got to know and speak to all of the people there, which was great. I enjoy that better than being stuck with just one group for the entire weekend.

I remember hearing from one pretty woman from Bethlehem who told me that her son, who is nine years old, had never been to the sea before. She got them a permit to go into Israel and for the first time, she and her son went to Tel Aviv and he was just amazed at the beauty of it. She was frustrated that she lived so close to the sea but couldn't get to it. I also live close to the sea and don't get to it more than once or twice a year but it is my choice, isn't it? Another share I heard was that in pre-1948 this man's family were rich landowners. When the Israelis took over, his family was removed from their Jezreel valley area land to a refugee camp in Jenin. They became poor and, subsequently, when this man fell in love with his cousin, her father didn't allow her to marry him because he was now poor. So he blames the Israelis for his lost love.

It was getting close to Shabbat and I wanted to light Shabbat candles. I figured I'd be the only one doing this and asked the organizers if I can do this in front of the crowd. They looked at me like I was a bit crazy for asking but made the announcement that there was going to be candle lighting for the Jewish Sabbath when everyone was seated. I explained that Jewish women light Sabbath candles in order to bring light into the world and said the blessing and translated it into English.

One of the Bethlehem women came over to me to tell me that this touched her heart and I was so pleased to hear that.

But there were others whose heart it didn't touch.

That evening some of the Palestinians were angry with me for living over the Green Line.

"HOW CAN SHE BE FOR PEACE WHEN SHE LIVES IN A SETTLEMENT?!" exclaimed one of the men to the others, as someoneone translated his outbursts for me. I guess not too many people from my neighborhood don't rush out to meet Arabs in droves, but there are quite a few of us who do.

It was difficult to explain my point of view to a people who believe that the only thing blocking their way to a better, less-strangling life and a Palestinian state is any land over the 1967 borders - which also includes neighborhoods in Jerusalem annexed to Israel like Ramot and French Hill and Gilo in the south of the city. I tried to explain that the 1967 borders were politician-made, not people-made. Weren't they also living beyond 1967 borders pre-1948?

"At least I'm not living in Ramat Aviv Gimmel in Tel Aviv where the Israelis destroyed an Arab village in order to build the posh Tel Aviv neighborhood and I am not living in West Jerusalem in an abandoned Arab home, as they do in Baka or Talbieh! I feel ok where I am because pre-1967-pre-1948; there was nothing there!!"

He shrugged his head, waved his hands up in the air and walked away.

A man from the West Bank town of Marda near the Jewish settlement of Ariel came over to talk to me.

"As long as you live over the green line, people here will not get close to you. They will not trust you completely. I respect you, I really do, but when you can move over the green line, we can then talk better. People are angry with you - like that man over there. Look at the other Israelis making better connections with the people here, because where they live is no problem for us. Where you live, it's a problem."

"But Peace Now even said that 95% of this city where I live (Maaleh Adumim) was not Palestinian owned before 1967 so it was totally barren. And I live in the section furthest away from Azariah where there was bound to be some Palestinian-owned land in Maaleh Adumim."

He didn't buy it. "Everything in Palestine was owned by Palestinian families. Everything.!"

He went on to explain that the settlement of Ariel took 40 dunams of land away from his family when they built their city and he was quite angry about it.

"they didn't buy it from your family?"

"No they didn't. They just took. And if my wife finds out I'm sitting here tonight talking to a settler, she'll kick my ass!"

Hard for me to comprehend that if everyone just packs up and leaves to beyond the borders of 1967 there will be peace. I think it is just an illusion. I tried to explain that I don't believe in borders - period. There shouldn't be 1948, 1967, 1973 borders anywhere. We all should be free to live wherever we want. I told him I envied the Europeans who had fought so bitterly with one another throughout the centuries but have very porous borders and can just freely travel through this area of the world. Many Israelis would love to travel to Damascus and Beirut and I'm sure many in the Arab world would love to travel to Tel Aviv or Haifa (but most mention Tel Aviv in their dreams).

Later on that evening, the mood got lighter. There was a hafla. I brought my belly dance belts but not for me - I put them on the men and they danced with them. There were too many men and I didn't want to dance like a "harlot" so I waited until some of the Palestinian women got up to dance and I danced with them, moving mostly my hands instead of my body, even though I wanted to "shake it" because the music was just so good, so I didn't.

But that didn't stop some of the older Palestinian men, who pulled me over to tell me something.

"Without love there is no peace (pronuncing the word 'peace' as 'beace')" he beamed at me. "Your husband is very lucky. We love your shape, especially your back." which was a polite way of saying "I had a nice ass." But they didn't come off sounding skeevy, rather I felt admired - and for a woman like myself, being over 50 years old, I didn't mind the compliment at all.

During the closing circle, I told everyone that I'm a peace addict. And the effects of the drug of peace is so strong that it last longer than any pharmaceutical drug. And I can't get enough of it. And it's a healthy drug - one that everyone should take....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

marital bliss

I found the secret to marital bliss. I've always loved my guy, seriously, even when he would request dinner at 11:30 pm, if the previous one was finished by 5:00 pm and other assorted atrocities he would heap on me and the kids, like needing a spotless house at all hours of the day!

But he's in Canada now, with the Canadian Mounties and where people say "aboot" instead of "about" and pepper the end of their sentences with "eh?" He's now one of the commuting dads/husbands who commute overseas for work because there's not too much of it here in the Holy Land. I mean, if he wanted to study Holy books all day long in the Holy Land, hey! no problem. But if he wants his family to eat real food and not just dream about it, he has to bring in the dineros any which way he can.

It's been a week already. I do miss the man. The broom and the dustpan also miss him and the windows miss being stroked shiny clean. They won't see that much of me, those apparati.

Ah, my porn-again hubby. I go on to the internet and don't see any of his rather "interesting" surfing history. The titles of those websites made me laugh every Saturday morning, even though they're not fit for print.

My chauffer extraordinaire is gone. The car is not fit for the road and only he can maneuver the dying vehicle. So I bus it into work everyday and, when desperate, take a taxi from the local mall.

But I do the dishes and wash the floor whenever I want to. Supper is there whenever I feel up to it and we save a shitload of money on not buying Colas for dinner. We don't argue about a messy house anymore nor about money. It's quite wonderful, actually, not to argue or get angry at one another. Is this what marital bliss is? If only it wouldn't feel so lonely at times....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shamanic Rabbi

I didn't know who I was really listening to at first, my sides were hurting from laughing so much. Was this George Carlin's brother, separated at birth? Who knows? But the humor was a pleasant surprise for me.

I had initially decided to see Rabbi Gershon Winkler because, like me, he was once an ultra-orthodox Jew who found that way of conformative lifestyle rather stifling and so he upped and left his familiar surroundings in search of something that spoke to him. And what seemed to have done the trick was learning from native Americans . He seemed to find a Jewish parallel with them much as I did with the Sikh community. Ah, yes, we are all One.

And our hostess, Maya, made me feel welcome when all this healthy looking great food was put on the table for the taking. She told me "don't wait - just eat. Here you don't need manners." Great. I can joyfully pig out.

The rather large crowd that had come to hear him at Maya's house on beautiful Caspi Street (her balcony has a panoramic view of Jerusalem's Old City and beyond) was eclectic as well, ranging from hippies, to ultra-orthodox, new-age orthodox, a good mix in ages, you name it, they were there.

Winkler began by singing/chanting a Hebrew prayer, all the while banging on an native-American drum and we sang/chanted along with him. He began from the beginning - the story of Judaism. I'll try to remember as best I can his dialogue and reproduce it here.

"Abraham was the first Jew. And people (whose religion was based on a goddess) were curious about this new religion because Abraham was like - 'well we have ONE law, and it's especially for men!

People: "Oh really? Because all we have are like goddesses."

Abraham: "Quick Ishamael, get me the knife!"

So people liked the Jewish religion but from afar. That's why there aren't so many Jews around.

God told Abraham that he will give him land just for him and his descendents.

Abraham: "Really?"

And Abraham flipped through photos of Montana with its beautiful rivers, and the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps and exotic places and got very excited as he and his family trekked through the middle east. And then he saw a sign "Abraham's Land."

A land - full of - rocks.

"Oh God, well, thanks. I just LOVE rocks (giving his wife a look). I love rocks so much I will give you a new name - The Rock, and by the way, me and my wife are just gonna head down to Egypt for something to eat, OK?"

which brought tons of laughter from the audience...

"And during the days of King Solomon there wasn't any war. Know why? Because he had 1,000 wives!!!

King Solomon: "Honey, I'm going off to war now."
Wife 835: "Oh no you're not" pulling him back in. "You were with Her yesterday, today's MY turn."

"and Moses was the greatest prophet because when he saw the burning bush, he knew he didn't know! He was a Buddhist!" (more laughter)

"When someone dies and he finally goes up to heaven and knows the truth, he's kvetching 'oh I shouldn't have done this, I should have done that, why did this happen, now I know, oh no, why didn't I do this," etc. etc. and God doesn't want all these people kvetching so he sends them back down to earth again to be reincarnated. Why? God wants peace and quiet up there!"

"So heaven is actually hell! And earth is hell, isn't it? Why do people get sick? Because PEOPLE make you sick. But life on earth could be heaven too. If you're sitting in a garden you could smell the fragrant flowers and think this is heaven or you could be swatting flies and think this place is terrible."

I enjoyed nearly two hours of his non-stop talk and left with a smile still glued to my face from laughing so much. And I didn't care if the bus driver thought I was nuts for smiling to myself.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meeting the Deputy Head of PLO mission to the US

There was an interesting and rare occasion this past week to meet with Dr. Nabil Abu Znaid, Deputy Head of the PLO Mission to the U.S who was speaking at Elana Rozenman's home (Elana is head of the EMUN-TRUST organization). On the way there, on the same street at Elana's, I saw Taayush activist Ezra Nawi, trying to park his elongated van. He saw me smile warmly at him as I approached and smiled back, with a bit of uncertainty, as he gets harrassed frequently for his untiring assistance to Palestinians with the group Taayush, but when I asked him where he was going, it turned out he and I were going to different places.

Getting back to the meeting, Dr. Nabil had invited Elana to his home in Washington in April and stated that this was the first time he had Israelis in his home, and seemed to want to continue that contact. Elana was impressed by his revelation and his supra-efforts to cook them a festive meal (his brothers flew in from Florida to help him with the feast) Now it was Elana's turn to host him as he flew back home for family-related reasons and invited a bunch of us, as an activity of her organization - EMUN-TRUST - to hear him speak.

We went around the room introducing ourselves and I was surprised to learn that quite a few women had never met any Palestinian before, albeit a real live Palestinian official, and some were even residents of settlements. Elana stressed that this was not to be a political meeting, just a "getting to know you" sort of thing, but there were gentle arguments back and forth of "why are the people in Gaza shelling Sederot?" (Dr. Nabil is totally against this - it does nothing for the Palestinian cause)and the occupation, and avoided the "dividing Jerusalem" issue hanging over everyone's heads.

Dr. Nabil told us how we have to listen to the Palestinian's hardship because Israelis generally don't hear them. He gave us a most recent example of his being stopped at a checkpoint that day. The Israeli soldiers saw his credentials and that he had a permit to travel to West Jerusalem, but wanted to make sure his permit wasn't fake. So they locked him in a small room while they checked his permit. He was banging on the door as he was frightened. What are these soldiers going to do to him now? He went on to say how humiliating it was for him to be locked up. What did he do to deserve this treatment? If they thought the permit was fake and wanted to check, they could have told him "Wait a minute, sir, while we check it" and have him stand off to the side but they didn't have to lock him up. He was obviously very shaken up about this ordeal.

I shared that many older Palestinians fondly recall pre-1948 close friendships with Jews. And they often recall those stories to their children and grandchildren. And this gives the younger generations hope that this actually can still happen. While I was sharing this, I saw the Palestinians at the meeting shake their heads up and down because their fathers/grandfathers had told them the very same thing of course.

And I thought Dr. Nabil's plea to be treated like a regular human being and not a terrorist was well taken - and was glad that the first-timers who had never spoken with Palestinians before had heard his story. Because it shows we are not always right.

Elana shared about her current Noam/Peace X Peace project in which Palestinian and Israeli women learn and practice martial arts together - not so much for what strength it can bring to you physically, but also for the strength it can bring to you emotionally - "so that when you hear people around the table talking racist talk about Arabs, you will have the strength to confront them and say 'hey, wait a minute, I know differently'"

There were other Palestinians there; one was an actress with a bubbly personality. I just wanted to jump into a cab with her and go dancing. She told me of all the people she knew including Shimon Peres because she's active in the Peres Center for Peace and told me about the time she was talking to him. I forgot the content of that particular story as I was probably having one too many senior moments, but she told him "and I don't mean to drop a bomb on you..." So I laughed, telling her, "don't ever tell Israelis, especially an important one, about dropping bombs on them." We both laughed loudly at this, and I'm sure by the end of our conversation together she also wanted to jump into a cab with me to go dancing, but her time was up, her permit about to expire, and like a Palestinian Cinderella, had to get back to her home before the permit does expire and who knows what could happen.