Sunday, December 27, 2009


I took two friends of mine to Jerusalem to the south Hebron Palestinian village of Twane.  It is not even shown on the road map we had.  I met people from there a few months ago on the Center for Emerging Futures weekend.  They were more amused than angry at the fact that I live in a settlement and that I showed up at an Israeli/Palestinian event.

Hubby was nervous at my galavanting around the West Bank, after all, it was just a day or so ago when a settler was shot and killed while driving through the northern part of the West Bank.  I told my husband "I'm doing a mitzvah (good deed).  When you go to do a mitzvah, then you don't have to worry."

I don't know how much of a mitzvah it was, because all I was doing was giving the villagers a few sweaters of mine that I hadn't worn in two years and nothing else.  But I felt that they needed to know that Israelis cared about them and so going there would make a difference and give them some sense of hope.

We drove on Route 60, past the Jewish settlements of Carmel and Maon and a bit after that was the small shanty of a place called Twane where our host met with us, as well as a few Italians from an organization called "Dove".  We sat in a small room and our host told us his or their story.  In the 80s the Israeli government drove them off the land and some few years later they were told that they could return.  However, since their land is in Area C, this means that they can't build anything - no homes, no schools, no medical clinics, nothing.  In fact, there is a small electric generator which gives them electricity for only three hours a day, which they use during evening hours.  As for water, they draw them from wells.  There is very little running water.  They managed to get their roads paved, but we hear there is a demolition order for the road, the first floor (!) of the clinic and the school, which were all built without permits - because they would never get permits to build. 

Medical clinic - there's a demolition order for the first floor only!

On top of all this, they are below the Jewish settlement of Havat Maon, whose residents terrorize them often, which is the reason for international presence in their village.

A handsome young man coming out of the tiny mosque saw me taking a photo of a local woman drawing water from her well. 

Local Mosque

Drawing water

He tells me in Arabic about how they don't have water because of "the Jews".  I look at him.  Do I  or don't I tell him who I am.  I tell him.  "I'm Jewish.  And I'm sorry."  He looks at me. 
"Not all Jews of course, only the Zionists."  I sigh.

The kids of the village are walking around barefoot and the one little girl I see is wearing shoes a few sizes too big.

Local kid and a friend

another kid - same friend

Our host is telling us that he is looking forward to a gathering of Israelis and Palestinians later on - perhaps to plan a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian children.  I told him I'd love to join the planning group.  He seems happy.

One woman invites me in to see some embroidered stuff she is selling.  I buy a woven straw plate for pita.  It was made in the village.  She is charging me 70 shekels for it and I know I'm being overcharged, but I wouldn't dare bargain about the price.  I pay it and tell my friends, she needs this money.  They understand and are glad that I bought something because they hadn't.

On the way back, they ask me "How do you still have hope?"

I tell them - "Look at the way these people live.  Their daily life is so difficult.  But yet, they still want to work and meet with Israelis in the hope that one day, the government will come to its senses and give them the bare minimum necessary - like water and electricity.  That's all they ask for. Instead of getting violent, they prefer to meet with Israelis and let them know of their hardships.  That's so commendable, since they get harrassed so frequently.  If I were in their place, I don't think I'd be as patient."

Afterwards at my friends' home, we were so contemplative.  I wondered to myself if the Israeli government would see that the villagers are a quiet lot, and if there is no trouble coming from that village, couldn't they just let them have electricity and water?  And then after a few more years of quiet, could they not let them build?  Wouldn't that be more constructive than constantly issuing demolition orders?

Ancient stone residences

 I wondered if I had made a mistake taking my friends there, as it was a heavy trip - very emotional to see and hear these things.  My friends avoid newspapers and hearing the news, because they prefer to just focus on positive things in life.  And this was like hearing the news.  But they assured me that they needed to hear and see what was going on and thanked me for taking them to places they would not see otherwise.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Jerusalem

YMCA lobby

I had been planning to celebrate Christmas one way or another, the way a lot of Israeli Jews do in Jerusalem - by going to church.  I began my evening at the YMCA.  They had an evening of scripture readings and Christmas carols in the auditorium, which was filled to capacity with Jewish Israelis.  I asked the woman next to me "you think there are any Christians here?"  I think I saw two, besides the pastor and the Arab director of the YMCA.


 It was sweet and nostalgic for me to listen to the familiar carols and it brought me back to a funny place - as a teenager I went to a religious Jewish high school.  Some of the girls in our class started to sing Christmas carols during recess in our classroom, which immediately brought the principal to our class to tell us to immediately stop.  He went out only to find us resuming our singing.


If you didn't know what date it was, you'd never tell it was Christmas.  There are no Santa Clauses on every street corner, there are no Christmas lights in the streets, or decorating homes and public buildings.  No Christmas carols in the malls that get on your nerves by the time Christmas arrives.  Nothing.  So this is why Israelis flock to celebrate that one day we can get to hear beautiful spiritual music.  With no kitsch.

After the YMCA I headed over to the old city because I wanted to make my way over the Church of the Redeemer which is a German Lutheran church.  They were having mass at 10:30.  A friend called.  She was my classmate in the ultra-orthodox Jewish school we went to in the Bronx, Beth Jacob.  And she wanted to join me.


"Sure!  Why not!  I was at the Y last year and I loved the carols"

"Great.  It'll be nice to have company" and I laughed out loud in the street thinking of us two wayward former ultra-orthodox school kids. 

I met her at Mamilla.  She had trouble finding parking.

"Looks like I'm not the only one who's thinking of going to church tonight."


We walked quickly to the church finding a crowd already there.  Again - full of Israeli Jews.  There was a guy with a santa cap on.


"I want to know.  Where are my gifts."

He laughed and his friend said - "here" and dished out chocolate to my friend and I.

"Wow!  This was easy.  We should have wished for a million dollars!" said my friend.

Someone said that once you're in the church, you can't leave until the service ends.

"You Vill Stay und you vill like it" I said to whoever was listening.  Nothing like German punctuality imposed on others.

The church opened its doors and it was difficult to find seating.  We finally found two seats in the back and the service began pretty much on time.  We were told not to take photos during the service.

Church of the Redeemer

The service began ---

"In the beginning God created the heavens in the earth..."

Genesis.  And the German pastor was saying this in the original Hebrew.  I looked at my friend.

"I think Hitler's turning over in his grave, isn't he?"

He continued by welcoming us Jews into their church.

Yup, the old bastard's really turning over in his grave - several times.

If I hadn't been looking at who was speaking, it could have been an old chassidic Jew quoting Genesis in Hebrew.  It was surreal listening to the Old Testament in church.

My friend felt bad for the pastor.

"Could you imagine.  We're invading this place on their holiest day. Could you just imagine synagogues opening up their doors to non-Jews during Yom Kippur with their cell phones and cameras?"

The church's "police" came over to admonish anyone they caught taking photos.  Luckily I took a few before and after the service.

Candles were lit by every aisle.  The place was just glowing.  It was beautiful.  The singing began  - in English and Hebrew.  We sang along to the familiar songs in English, while they were being sung in German.\

The whole mass took a little over an hour, but it was a very spiritual moment for the two of us.  I felt good being able to flow and feel comfortable enough with another religion - enough to join in during their holiest day.  And the bells that rang from the church after the service made the evening more magical than it already had been for us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Being that my boss is overseas, I, too, want US hours and days, which means Sundays off.  Of course, I will have to take them as vacation days, unlike the rest of the world, but that's the best I can have for now. 

So what does one do on a limited budget in Jerusalem?

I went shopping for a bunch of winter stuff at the second-hand store, Ke'Chadash in French Hill.  On the bus  I sat next to a woman who works at the local bank.  I mentioned the word "second-hand" and she repeated the word it as if I had introduced the plague.

"No Israelis shop at second-hand stores.  They like everything new."

"Great!  Less competition for me then."  And off I went buying designer-type sweaters and skirts for $7 each.  Let those silly Israeli women spend $50 and more on stuff that's less quality.  And that includes my kids who also turn up their Canadian-born noses at second hand things.

I then had a light lunch at one of those boutique coffee shops that have been popping up all over the place.  The restaurant is called Cafe Tomer on Rechov HaLamed Heh Street in one of Jerusalem's residential neighborhoods. I often envy those people who have the time to just sit in a cafe and enjoy the peaceful ambience of leisure.  It was just delightful to finally be able to have an inexpensive but delicious cup of onion soup with Pecorino cheese on the side with a roll, plus a great cup of coffee with a chocolate brioche which was a treat made in heaven.  These things I do not take for granted.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hanukah donuts

I woke up this morning with a start.

"The Hebrew Letters!"

"What?" Hubby was confused.  I never wake up this way.

"The Hebrew Letters!  I forgot to send the Hebrew letters."

Why was that on my mind first thing this morning?  I forgot to send Hebrew letters by Fedex yesterday to my boss for her laptop in the States, and that seemed to be bugging me.  I thought that amusing considering what other stuff went on this week.

Saturday night I went to the opening of the Jewish Film Festival.  Molly Picon's film, East and West, a silent flick from 1923 was the featured film.  Before the film, the hanukah menorah was lit inside the theater and we sang Maoz Tzur, which is what differentiates this film festival from probably all others anywhere else in the world.  The live band accompanied the film led us through some strange musical interludes during the course of the film - I had expected Klezmer music all the way - but the final song was Pump It by the Black Eyed Peas which, strangely enough, fit the finale.  Go figure.    At the party afterwards, an acquaintance came over to me and said she had to wake up tomorrow early to go on the Jesus Trail.   Sounds interesting, but this is a do-it-yourself thing with a guidebook on the trails. I told her I, too, have to wake up early.  She pressed me about what.

"My daughter is getting a boob job"

One of my daughters, not telling who, got breast implants this past Sunday at a private medical clinic in Tel Aviv.  She's a small girl and the doctor had enough sense not to give her those horrid looking balloon-type implants.  I remember Arsenio Hall saying "Men don't care if they fake" and I guess they don't care how stupid they can look too.  But if doc didn't let daughter overdo it, we might just be looking fine.  This whole thing, paid for by my daughter, cost 15,000 shekels - roughly $3800.  Don't know how that compares with boob jobs in the States. 

While she was in surgery, I staked out the mall and plopped myself down in one of the nicer restaurants in the trendy Ramat Aviv mall for breakfast, where tights were selling for $60 a pair and a bottle of water in the supermarket sold for twice the price as it did in Jerusalem.  My daughter's best friend also had the same surgery done that day, right afterwards, so when I came back to the room, her mother was busy reciting Psalms instead of gouging herself on food and putting expensive shit on her wishlist like I did.

Both kids came out of this fine, although mine was in excrutiating pain, while the daughter of the Psalm-reciting mother felt just a bit of pain.  Maybe there is a conicidence with prayer as a healing tool.  I should have tried that method, but didn't.

Meanwhile, she's walking around the house these past few days holding up her new boobs with her hands.  I'm wondering if she's doing that because she can finally hold something, or if she's just more comfortable with her walking around that way.  The sisters all wanted to have a look at the newbies and came over to check her out.  And like most who do it - she's happy that she did.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Rashaida Bedouins

No one I know knows anything about them or where they're located. I met Juma at Metzokei Dragot who gave my number to Mohammad who runs the Bedouin guest tent. Mohammad has called me since every 3 days or so to find out when I'd be coming to visit with them. They've just begun hosting Israelis and internationals at their place so they seem to be over-exuberant in trying to get guests to come.

Hubby was nervous at me going to the middle of nowhere so I gave him Mohammad's number "just in case". What is there to be nervous about if you don't believe the "other" is your enemy?

I went with a couple of my adventurous friends who have travelled extensively. They love new experiences. We travelled to the Jewish settlement of Efrat, then on winding roads east towards Tekoa. In front of us was a sign forbidding entrance to Israelis. To the left was a handwritten sign that said "Maaleh Amos" in Hebrew. That's the Jewish settlement that's closest to the Rashaida Bedouin village. We travelled past hilly olive groves in the valley between desert and mountain ridges. The roads were winding and beautiful. We obviously missed our destination and Mohammed directed us to where we had to go.

"The sign to Maaleh Amos is on a rock" he explained.

Oh, sorry. I was looking for a normal sign, not a Flintstone-type sign. Go figure. We retracked until we got to the sign, up past Bedouin ruins and got to Maaleh Amos. One of the Bedouins waiting there asked if we were going to Mohammed's place. Yes, we are. He jumped into our car as if it's just normal to jump into peoples' cars and directed us past his Bedouin village of Rashaida where the girls' school's windows and frames are colored pink and where camels roamed wild. We veered off the asphalt onto a non-paved road up hills and over who knows what for about 15 minutes until we got to a large tent up on top of a hill with views that were unbelievably stunning.

The Rashaida tribe lived in nearby Ein Gedi until 1948 when they moved uphill and since 1984 lived in the place where they are now living. Our host Mohammad has two wives and 11 children. The younger man who rode in the car with us, spoke perfect Hebrew and told us that the Arabic the Bedouin speak is closest to classical Arabic, which means he can understand all dialects. The families don't work out of their village and all work is done around the home, raising flocks of sheep, goats and camels and some vegetables. I wondered out loud what on earth do they ever get upset about? No mortgages, no taxes, no bills, no rushing to the office, no boss, no standing in line for hours at the supermarket, no traffic jams. Nothing. I asked Mohammad if his wives get along. He says they do. They're mostly secular, although there is a mosque in their village, no one feels pressured to go to prayers, although most fast during Ramadan. Inside the tent, the mattresses are made of sheeps' wool and the covering made out of goat hair, so that when it rains, the hair expands and covers any holes, making the tent waterproof. Amazing self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, we wondered how in this empty place did people suddenly show up at the tent to check us out? Kids, older men, men in turbans, teens, etc. They seem to have come out of nowhere. A musician began to play on the stringed instrument called "sumsimeyeh" or something like that.

The camels appeared and I was asked to milk it. Huh? Are you putting me to work already? I'm not even there an hour! I squeezed and milk poured out. That milk collected in a tin was our beverage soon after, and I never tasted anything as wonderful and sweet. And of course, so fresh. Not from a shelf in a supermarket.

We took a walk to where Mohammad's dad lives, in the valley below and met with everyone there.

Then climbed into one of their vehicles to ride to an old Jordanian military outpost that was in use pre-1967. I felt like a kid again riding in the open back on the bumpy roads. The young man riding with us told me I should listen to Arabic music. I told him that I do and we sang some familiar tunes. He tells me to listen to Fairuz in the morning.

"I always listen to Fairuz in the morning with my coffee."

"Why? What happens if you listen to Fairuz in the evening?"

"No. She's much better in the morning. I listen to Om Kolthum in the evening. There's nothing like Om Kolthum in the evening."

Hmmmm. Have to give it a try.

It was almost time for us to leave. We didn't want to travel the unmarked, unpaved roads in the dark. But it was hard to leave this serene place. These people, this tribe, is looking to get tourists to visit with them. We joked how we left the car unlocked and it was still there, as was my cell phone.  You and your valuables are safe as a guest of the Bedouin. They welcome people to sleep over in their comfortable tents and share breakfast, lunch and dinner with them, with a bonfire at night and camel riding and hiking during the day. It sounds ideal and we promised that we'd get more people to visit and would visit over the weekend ourselves sometime in the near future.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Talk the Israeli talk

Saturday night is one night where I no longer want to run into town and party. After all, I'm in my 50s and Sunday is a work day, so going anywhere on a Saturday night is no longer fun.

My eldest daughter wanted to go for pizza with me, my Complainer and her boyfriend. We looked quite the motley crew as we sauntered in there with our pajama fleece pants, and slippers with pink socks. The pizza place was busy. It does a brisk business on Saturday evening, when most people, like myself, prefer staying home. The pizza shop is our local version of a pub. Maaleh Adumim doesn't have a pub, so it's a great place for people wanting to dry out. Too bad we don't have rehabs here for alcoholics, because I'm thinking maybe the Brits should forget about their fancy shmancy Priory clinic and open one up here.

The male members of one family were at the Pizza shop taking up most of the floor space, watching the football game on the television on the wall. In fact, they were watching a few football games, cheering for Chelsea (against Manchester City), reiterating for me that they were not against Manchester United, God forbid, before switching the station to watch Jerusalem's Betar team with alternate cheers and loud OY's while holding their heads in misery at times.

The pizza was great, smothered in onions and mushrooms, flavored with sumac and other spices. The pizza makers asked us how it was. The Complainer shrugged "nothing special...." I glared at her. It was delicious! Why did she insult them?

"Oh be Israeli mom. This is how we talk."

"Yes, so I've heard" I muttered.

But the big Israeli bully of a daughter that I have, turned helpless this morning.

"Mom, Visa took 1,000 shekels from my bank on the 2nd, and I TOLD the bank that I wanted it out on the 10th. Now I have no money..." she was miserable.

"Looks like it's time to Talk Like An Israeli now and give it to that bank person, isn't it?"

It's a good thing she has a good many years of practice....

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Home Sweet Home

My family were putting pressure on me this week to stay home more and make them normal meals, meaning non-vegan, non-healthy, laden with meat or cheese (separately, of course) and vegetables only as a side dish. I thought I'd do that yesterday, so last night was spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner.

This morning I was rewarded accordingly. My unemployed daughter calls me up to rat on her brother at 9:30 am.

"Why didn't he go to school?" she demanded. Not that she cares about his education, mind you, but because she wants to take over the computer that's in his room. The family computer.

I call him and he's like --- "Ok, Ok, I'm on my way right now!"

"Why are you late by an hour?"

"Because my English teacher isn't in today, so what am I going to do - huh?" he asks me.

"How do you know your English teacher won't be coming in today??" Did he get a chain call from one of his classmates telling him of the good news? Of course not.

11:30 am I get a frantic call from my daughter, while I'm busy at work, and needing to get stuff done in a hurry.

"That stupid boy locked the computer. Call him NOW and get the code from him, otherwise I'll wreck this whole place. I'll wreck everything he has."

I tried to get her to have patience, tolerance, whatever....until he got home from school, but she and I both know that once that happens, he takes over the computer and hardly lets her on.

I called him in school, figuring he's not in class anyways. I was right.

"Nu, what?" he asked me impatiently, as if he's pretending that he's interested in joining class.

"Give me the code now. PLEASE!! I don't want your room in pieces."

"Why did she tell you I wasn't in school??? Because of that I locked the computer. She can go fuck herself."

Great. But I think he was worried about his stuff, so he gave me the code and I passed it on to my daughter.

One hour later, she calls me back.

"Why is he here?? He rushed back from school so I can't be on the computer? I swear I don't care if he calls the police, if I don't go on the computer at 1:00 I'll KILL HIM!!"

So now you know why I try to force feed healthy food to my kids, and also, why I'm out all the time, as much I can be.

Two hours passed. No phone calls. I'm wondering if I'll be coming home to kids with broken bones and shit thrown and broken into pieces all over our brand new house. How far will they go? And all this over a computer!!

At 3:00 my son calls. He's calm. So I assume he hasn't thrown her out of the 8th floor window. He's concerned because he's being called up for army service and doesn't want to take the urine test there. He wants to do it at our local medical clinic, so where did I put the forms. I give out a great big loud OY and my boss hears, and is taking it personally.

"I know" she says. "I drive you crazy, don't I."

Not at all. Not at all.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Nothing Comes Easy

"Is there anything that comes easy in this country? Anything?" asked Hubby on the phone to me today. This was one of the few conversations where I agreed with him entirely.

"Yes, weight gain" I answered, because that was the only thing I could think of that comes easily in this country besides aggravation, frustration, and everything similar.

Hubby's business owes back taxes. Like a good citizen, he's ready to pay it all. The money is sitting in the bank ready for income tax. But since April, they haven't taken it. They don't want it because they want to clear up some prehistoric thing that a former accountant never gave in to them.

"You don't have to worry, you won't have to pay a thing on the 1997 return" the accountant assured us.

But meanwhile, they put a lien on our bank account and threatened to take our stuff because we haven't paid them yet. Even though it's there for the taking. Look, if they don't want our money, I'm certainly fine with that. I could use it for a much-needed holiday, or an LCD or a stereo system.

And then last week, at a friend's wedding, my friend Abdullah came over to tell me that he thought he saw my security guard daughter on the bus the other day and when he asked her "Are you JG's daughter?" She told him "No." I called her immediately when Abdullah left to eat some grape leaves on the far side of the wedding hall.

"Did you see my friend Abdullah on the bus the other day and did you tell him that you weren't my daughter???"



"Because I don't like your friends." meaning, she was embarrassed by the way he looked (bandana, wild curly hair, same green jacket he's wearing for years, etc.) and by the way he talked - with a heavy Arabic accent. She didn't have to explain. I knew.

If she's going to be rude and racist, I warned her if she's going to disown me as her mother to my friends, then when I'm filthy fucking rich, I'll remember that, and she will be sorry. So very sorry.

This morning I see a letter from the municipality telling me I don't get a water discount because I only have three people in the household? Huh? Since when did my two daughters up and leave me? Hell, if that's the case, I'm taking over their bedrooms as an office and guest room/exercise/hippie lounge respectively. But when I checked this morning, all their things were still there. I called up the municipality to tell them how stupid they are, so they now want me to send them my daughters' ID cards so they can prove they live with me.

I checked with my kids and both have our old address on their ID. So the municipality believes I moved to a new place with Hubby and son and left my two daughters behind in the old house. That thought had crossed my mind once or twice, but I never acted on it. Really.