Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Every picture tells a story

"There was lots of music around town." a friend told me yesterday about the holiday's entertainment in Jerusalem.


"You usually know what's going on." She seemed surprised at my ignorance. "What happened?"

I don't know what happened this year. Maybe my entertainment radar had gone on the blink. Maybe it was a combination of not having a succah built. Maybe it was having to grovel for money owing my husband from his clients so that I can buy a bus ticket into town. Maybe it was my kids getting angry at me for borrowing food money from them. Maybe it was the frustrated tone in my daughter's voice when I asked her to borrow the car for a local trip in the neighborhood, which would have taken me 1 1/2 hours round trip, had I taken two buses or had I walked.

I went to the parade, I went to a friend's home for coffee, I went to a debtors anonymous meeting that was long overdue for me. But nothing else. I cooked and shopped and cooked and shopped. It was getting tedious.

I had 100 things listed on my To Do list, because I'd have the time on my 8 days off for the holiday. Only one item got done.

I managed to organize all the loose photographs lying unorganizedly around and put them into those tiny photo albums that the photo shops give away to customers who bother printing out photos these days. Almost all are neatly stored away in albums now. Labeled albums. It took me one full day to do it. And these photographs prompted so many memories of a seemingly easier life in Canada. It's all in my head, this easier life, of course. I have pictures of lakes, streams, rivers and beaches and beautiful grassy backyards of Toronto suburbs. I remind myself that we couldn't afford a house or summer away in cottage country or even to buy ourselves a home of our own in Thornhill. Hubby tells me average mortgages are $4,000 these days. It makes my own mortgage of $1,250 much easier to fathom. But life in Canada did seem easier and less anxiety ridden. We seemed to have everything we needed back then.

I sift through the photos and linger on the memory of a particular one.

I looked at photos of me pregnant with my first child, some hideous "frummy" (ultra-orthodox) 'uniforms' of wide skirts and baggy tops that I can't believe I allowed myself to wear, and of a recent photo of me dozing off while holding my sleeping grandson. I grimace at another photo of me and a newly formed double chin. And I was thankful that not all photographs of me show me with this ridiculous looking turkey chin.

I have photos of my daughters' ex-boyfriends. My soldier daughter tells me to throw out the now-embarrassing-to-her photos of her ex-boyfriend. I just throw out the ones of him alone. I keep the ones with him and her together. I made the mistake of throwing out photos of ex-boyfriends when I got engaged and never forgave myself for the missed memories. I told her I'll keep them just for her, if she ever wants a glance 20 years down the road of her life's history and on days like this, with more time on your hands than is necessary, this would be a good memory jolter for her - and she could daydream the day away of the easier life she once had.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Big Fright

I had planned to go to Abed's wedding for a few months, and the time kept getting closer and closer. On Tuesday he called to officially invite me. On Friday, I found out that a close female friend of mine was invited too. I was thrilled because Abed had told me that this was going to be a very traditional Arab wedding. The men and women would be separate. I would not know anyone in the women's section and was happy to have a friend with me.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the look on my husband's face got drabber and drabber. We discussed this over dinner last night. He was adamant that I should not go. The wedding was going to be in Abu Dis, a Palestinian neighborhood east of Jerusalem, behind the big wall. He told me again over coffee with friends this morning. Our friends told me they'd be frightened to go too.

The fear is so great here of the other that everyone is afraid for their lives. It's unfair. But I can't go by the "talk" of others. Is it true that Arab neighborhoods are dangerous for Jews? Hubby was telling me horrific things that could happen to me over there...I was starting to feel nervous myself.

This is supposed to be a wedding celebration of a close peace associate of mine. I told my husband and children and friends that if it were so dangerous, he'd warn me to stay away because of tensions in the area. This is what had been done in the past when we were supposed to go to Bethlehem one year and there were tensions between our peoples. There are always tensions between our peoples - look at the tension in Acco. But this tension between peoples who more and more I feel are the same is, to me, artificial. It can be zapped away. It's not easy, but I know it can be done.

I was starting to get flutters in my stomach as the time got closer to the wedding because of my family's concerns. It was starting in a couple of hours.

Logistics. How do we get there? Is it safe for Israelis to take their car to Abu Dis? I wrote a few emails to Palestinian friends who live in the area, and my friend wrote some of her friends.

Yes, it's safe to take a car with Israeli license plates. It's Area B in our sectioned-off land which has A,B,C as its sections.

The Israeli man who came with us decided to leave his car in my neighborhood and we took a Palestinian car service recommended by a friend. He said he'll pick us up in 10 minutes. That's 20 minutes in Palestinian time.

We drove up and down a couple of hills until we got to Abu Dis, a large Palestinian university town. We were immediately greeted with smiles, and separated from our male colleague, shown to the women's section. Again. More smiles. We were greeted by Abed's relatives who had never met us before. We were led up to the dancing area by his mother to dance with her. My friend and I seemed to be the only Jewish women there. We noticed Abed's mother could pass for one of our aunts. She looked more Jewish than Arab, we thought, and imagined her cooking up a vat of kreplach soup.

Sitting with all these women, I wondered where does all this fear of the other come from? As different parts of the wedding ceremony were happening, the woman sitting next to me, who treated us like VIPs as soon as we walked in, gave me a running commentary in Arabic, which I understood only a few words. I picked up a couple of new Arabic words from her which I believed were - aris (bride) and aroos (groom). I was quite pleased with myself to have guessed what those words meant.

When the men came in, the women who weren't covered up to begin with, covered up their bare arms and hair. The men lined up to greet the groom and many gave him money. There were necklaces of dollar bills put around the groom and bride. Then the bride and groom cut the many tiered wedding cake with what looked like an antique ceremonial dagger.

My friend commented that this wasn't an Arabic cake. Yeah, it's more Jewish than Arabic, I told her. It was sponge cake with coconut frosting. Kiddush cake. Two wine glasses were filled with Coca Cola for the bride and groom to give a toast to each other.

It could have very well been a Jewish wedding in an ultra-orthodox wedding hall. They also have separate rooms for men and women for dancing.

And I wondered again, where the fear of the other comes from. Are our respective societies feeding each other lies about one another so that we can't become close?

And I thanked God for taking fear out of my heart and so being able to have an opportunity to see a traditional Arab wedding in a Palestinian village and to mingle and dance together with the women guests.


OK - it's time to feel grateful. Of course I may feel differently tomorrow, but I downloaded some photos from September and October's stuff I did/saw, and it wasn't all that terrible. So I look at these pics and feel grateful to see what I did.

Over 7,000 Christian pilgrims came to Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles - Sukkot holiday. They gave candy to the little kids. My son and daughter came with me, hoping to get a loot bag full of sweets, but the marchers seemed to only give to the little ones. My son felt first-hand how painful it is to grow up. I mean, he's growing a beard for frig's sake!! He's no longer at the "cutie" stage. People will no longer pinch his cheeks and give him sweets. Except for his mother.

But luckily we saw an abandoned pile of candies left by an Ultra Orthodox kid who probably left it because the candies weren't kosher. Wouldn't you know it. We piled the stuff into my purse quicker than ice melting in 1,000 degree heat.

Babysitting the grandkid.

Interfaith Iftar celebration in Jerusalem

Jaffa beachfront

Work trip to the Galilee and at the end of the day we had a kosher Druze meal at Usifiya. Unusual and wonderful food.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome to My Pity Party

It's a new year. I know I'm supposed to be grateful and all that shit. But it's hard. Tonight is the first night of Sukkot. No Sukkah. Well, no money, no sukkah. We tried to sell our old one - the one that doesn't fit - a bit too late. Like yesterday. Of course, there were no takers. Well, there was one potential one, but he couldn't get a car in to take the thing, so now the money we thought we'd get from the sale is gone.

I try to see the good in my life, and there are lots of gifts I am privileged to see. I did get to see Paul McCartney in concert because Hubby was working that month and tickets were affordable then. And I knew I would have regretted not going if I had a chance and didn't take it. But that now seems like so long ago.

One such gift came on Saturday when my daughter and future son-in-law decided to take me for an impromptu ride to Tel Aviv and Jaffa and I swished my feet in the warm water up to my knees, marveling at the still peaceful mixed Arab/Jewish city of Jaffa. Later that evening friends of mine from England, a couple, one Jewish, one not, took Hubby and I out for dinner. Two treats in a row. I laughed as we passed by the edge of Meah Shearim and the non-Jewish guy took triple takes at the striped coats and fur hats of the Hassidim. My husband shouted at them.

"He likes what you're wearing."

I was like - "Are you crazy??? Want them to throw rocks at you??"

I thought being taken out twice that day was a sign of good things to come. I really did. Earlier that morning a white dove landed on our porch. It didn't want to fly away. I thought it was injured. I fed it and gave it water. I was told they bring good luck. It did fly away a few hours later. I thought it was more than a coincidence when the calls came in for restless me to go to Tel Aviv and meet up with good friends later that evening. Just when I needed it.

But Hubby is in renovations and Jews don't renovate or paint during the month-long holiday season. Just when you need cash the most. Every three days or so there's another festive meal, and I'm weary of writing post-dated checks to the supermarket, not knowing if my bank will honor them. It's totally frightening.

I wonder how on earth do people "make it" here?? How is it that people have what they need? And some don't. Is it soup kitchen time for us, I thought as I looked at my 1,000 NIS ($300) electric bill that just came in?

My co-workers were joking with me telling me I must be thrilled that I have no savings or investments because I didn't lose any money in the financial crisis that seems to be happening all over the place. My boss told me it's the poor's turn to laugh at the rich. But I'd love to have had $10 million and if I'd lost half, I'd still have $5 million or so. It's not worth hanging yourself over that, is it?

Sunday I got a call from the dentist. Hubby had work done over a year ago and the 2,000 NIS bill is still outstanding. This wasn't the first call made to us either. And the calls from that office began to increase to every other day since the beginning of the new year. I put a stop to it by going into their office and writing 4 more post-dated checks.

"Can't I write 12 checks?" I asked.

"No more than 4, please. It's been outstanding for over a year" she reminded me, though she didn't have to.

"How will I cover them?" I asked her. She was a young ultra-orthdox receptionist.

"With God's help" she smiled at me.

Yup. With God's help. I mused that mantra over and over again as I rode home on the bus with an acquaintance, telling her a bit of how stressed I am, but not telling her the entire story. I told her how I saw in the newspaper that studio apartments in Manhattan are renting for $3,500 a month. I once had a one-bedroom apartment in a brownstone in Manhattan's upper west side, just off Central Park West.

"Had I just had some foresight, I would have just sublet the place forever." I thought of the $6,000 monthly easy money I could have gotten, easing our financial burden. But I had given up the place in 1983 when I decided, foolishly, to move to Toronto because Toronto seemed a less scary place to raise children. Had I looked into my crystal ball, I would have seen Giuliani making a safe place in New York to raise children, plus making people who already owned apartments there, quite happy.

My friend pointed out the window of the bus "But look. Now you're HERE and look what you got instead!" I looked out the window at Bar Ilan Street. It was pre-holiday madness, with crowds of Ultra-Orthodox Jews all wearing the same thing and boxes and paper littering the streets.

"Yeah, blue plaid skirts" I commented, looking at the "uniform" the women seemed to all be wearing.

The friend laughed.

I went shopping again for the holiday and wrote another post-dated check. My heart is in my stomach by now. I'll cover it with God's help. Right? I'll need to go again on Friday. Never mind all the stuff going on during the holiday. It depresses me to read the paper and see all the sukkot events. I can't do any of it. I can get into town twice. I have a bus card with a few more "clicks" left. But that's about it. Maybe I'll go to the Jerusalem parade with my son so the Christian Zionists can ply us with the candies they bring to give to the Jewish children that line the parade route. Maybe I'll go to the interfaith Sukkah party on Tuesday night. Maybe I'll go with my messianic friends to their picnic next week - they said they'll drive us. These things are all free.

And then I saw that dove again today. I shook my head at it sadly and told it "You're supposed to bring good luck. Where is it?" and I closed the porch door because I didn't want to see the bird of false promises and hopes.

Monday, October 06, 2008

a funny

someone just sent me this joke about the weather---

In deference to The Archbishop of Canterbury and The Royal Commission for Political Correctness, it was announced today that the local climate in the UK should no longer be referred to as ''English Weather.' Rather than offend a sizeable portion of the population, it will now be referred to as 'Muslim Weather.' In other words - partly Sunni, but mostly Shi'ite.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Jews to Blame

fucking hilarious

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Look who's moving into the neighborhood

On the eve of Rosh Hashana I walked around the neighborhood, doing last minute things like hand-picking flowers from the florist for my daughter's fiancee's family. On the way I met someone who was sympathetic to all the negative emails I had received about my interfaith encounters.

"I got some real nasty emails" she told me. This was because she told the list that the person who started the whole tirade against my meetings was inciteful. I told her that it's not like I'm inviting car thieves to the meeting.

She then told me her personal story:

"I used to live in Silwan (City of David) years ago. I rented a place from an Arab landlord and everyone was real friendly and warm towards me. I just gave birth prematurely and I walked into my apartment to see bloody handprints all over my door. Of course I freaked out totally thinking 'they're GOING TO KILL ME!'. My landlord explained that it's tradition that when a baby might be in danger, they slaughter a sheep and put the blood of the sheep around the doorpost of the house to save/heal the baby. But I didn't know at first until they spoke to me about it."

I agreed with her that I would have freaked out too at the sight of bloody handprints all over my door. WTF? But I tried to look it up on the internet and the closest thing I can find about this custom was

Meanwhile, hubby wanted to irritate our community a bit more.

"Let's announce that we're having a nudist party" he told me this morning joyfully. Now THIS is a person that should be going to shul today, no? But I'm stuck with him in the house. This is my atonement. I found it quite funny actually and added

"OK - next time I announce an interfaith meeting, I'll tell them it'll be a nudist interfaith encounter, and then we can have fun with all the responses."

But I was thinking, there are scarier things than me inviting 5 Palestinians to my home to talk about religion.

For example, on Sunday I walked around Givat Shaul after I had my yearly boob smooshing examination at Machon Halla. There are a lot of wonderful stores in that neighborhood that borders on the ultra-orthodox Har Nof neighborhood. The customers are mostly ultra-orthodox, meaning lots of toy stores, electronics, clothing, food with reasonable prices. I wandered into one toy store to see this:

Shocking. Especially since I saw that the store owners weren't especially religious. They had kowtowed to the ultra-orthodox customers and had colored over the photo of the immodest mother and even her young female child in every swimming pool box. Except for one.

I called the owner over.

"You forgot to cover up this woman with black marker!" I showed him, pointing to the bare arms and worse of the photo of a woman in the swimming pool with her child.

He just looked at me.

And in the Maale Adumim local paper, the headline screamed how tens (or is it hundreds)of ultra-orthodox Jews are all registering locally at this one particular address so they can have a Maaleh Adumim address to be able to vote in an ultra-orthodox municipality or mayor or something in the forthcoming November 11th local elections. It's being looked into now because it's impossible for hundreds of people to be living in one apartment in the older section of the city. In fact, one of my friends said that "they" knocked on her door asking if she would like to sell her apartment. If they knock on mine, should I tell them apartments are half price in Abu Dis? Or should I just warn the local toy store that they'd better start coloring with black marker the immodest mothers that adorn the boxes of toys in their store?

Happy Holidays

Happy Rosh Hashana and Eid Mubarak. It's great to have the two holidays together. I'm so not a synagogue-goer. Reading from a prayer book just does not do it for me. I did my duty somewhat by hearing the call of the "shofar" from the synagogue across the street. Even on the 8th floor, the sound carried.

My more joyful moments, as usual, center around food.

We were invited to my daughter's fiancee's family on the first night of the holiday. I was happy to be invited out, avoiding the rush-to-get-things-done on the first night, the way most people are stressed out.

Their family insists that the mother of the groom is of Polish/ashkenazi descent. Looking at her and listening to her, there are no physical nor other traces of this ashkenazi lineage. It just can't be. My daughter and I were wondering if she was in fact a kidnapped Yemenite child from the late 1940s. Her personality is too warm and she served way too much food. Her sister looks like Israeli actress Gila Almagor. I ate a tablespoon of everything being served and still I was stuffed by the end of the meal.

Later that evening we laughed as we took a look at their older brother, a huge hulk of a handsome man, who resembled Christopher Reeve. My son said he was waiting for him to open up his shirt to reveal the big "S" sign.

And because of the amount of guests there, the groom's mother told me she hired her "Filipino" to wash the dishes during and after the meal. I expected to, in fact, see a person from the Philippines. Instead, some friendly short guy from Sri Lanka walked in.

"Is this your Filipino" I asked the groom's mother.

She nodded proudly. She loves her Filipino.

"But he's from Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka is nowhere close to the Philippines." I tried to explain to her.

I don't think she understood.