Monday, November 21, 2011

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Peace in the Middle East - in 15 minutes

Traveling to Jerusalem from Ma'ale Adumim can be a test of patience as a 15 minute trip can turn into 45 minutes with traffic. However we do have an express lane for busses and for cars with 3 or more passengers. This morning, someone who wanted to travel the express lane, offered me a lift. I've taken rides with him before.

As we drove along the highway, we watched as several young Arab teenagers crossed the highway and made their way through the fence up to an Arab village.

My driver muttered - "future terrorists".

I looked at him. "They're young Bedouins. How can you say that? What if they're not."

"They're all future terrorists."

"Why do you think that?"

I thought let me try to listen to him, rather than me lecture him for being small-minded. And that's when the conversation took a turn for the unexpected.

"Because of how we treat them."

"Go on."

"If you were in their shoes, and every day you had to go through checkpoints and have 19 year old soldiers humiliate you and tell you to put your hands up against the wall, you'd want to strap explosives to your body as well."

"I haven't seen that in quite some time. Not since the Intifada."

"Go to checkpoint 300. Have you seen these checkpoints? This goes on every day."

"What would be your solution?"

Now this is not me talking, remember. I'm just asking the questions.

"I'd get rid of the checkpoints and fences and walls. All of them. Everyone should have Blue ID cards (Israeli IDs) and get rid of the inequality. Why give everyone a hard time with permits and checkpoints. It's common sense that people who want to work aren't going to commit terror acts. They should just let them go without hassling them.

Then if anyone, and I mean anyone, commits a terrorist act because of race, religion - whether that person is a Muslim, Jew, Christian or jackass - we should forcibly move the terrorist's relatives, all their relatives - to a special place in the Negev and let them all rot. Then you will see how there won't be one single terrorist attack. No one would be giving out sweets, that's for sure."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Empty Nest

"Anyone have a basketball?" asked Hubby by the bus stop where this really tall woman stood in front of him. He never ceases to embarrass me in public. I was praying she didn't understand English. I'll have to do an awful lot of praying because it seems to be just the two of us around the house lately.

With the older two married, the third working 6 days a week and around the clock, the 4th daughter working in Salt Lake City, Utah and my son in army jail, it sure is pretty quiet around here. We have nothing to argue about. We're like these quiet old couples who just watch the sunset and walk up and down the block.

My serenity was spoiled this afternoon when I put on some Beatles music and the remaining daughter at home yelled at me to "turn the music down." Huh? Since when are we switching roles?

I celebrated our first Sabbath in a quiet home with just the three of us by ordering take away Chinese - advertised as a Shabbat special for about $35 - happy that I didn't have to cook this weekend. I had so much time on my hands, no one bugging me to get them this and that and borrowing money from me and the general torture kids put their parents through. Nothing.

I worried a bit about my daughter who is deep in Mormon country who had never travelled before in her life. She landed in New York a few days ago en route to Salt Lake City and was enthralled with the Big Apple - even though it was just JFK airport.

"Who is JFK?" she asked me. They don't learn American History here and I gave her a crash course in 1960s American history right then and there on the way to the airport this past Monday.

She loved the friendly and helpful people she met during her 5 hour stopover at JFK which seemed to reflect the general excitement of the city. She messaged me on Facebook in perfectly spelled English. I knew she had managed to cajole someone into writing the message for her. Her English spelling is absolutely atrocious and goes something like - "Hai mami, hoo ar yoo?"

This daughter is the partying type, which is another reason why I'm antsy about the fact that she's in Salt Lake. Mormons don't even drink coffee, so how is she going to feed her restless soul? I googled Festivals in Utah and got the following info which frightened me even more.

"In the fall, get lost and find your way out of a giant corn maze, cheer on pig races, and then shoot corn cannons and pumpkin blasters at the Cornbelly's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Fest at Thanksgiving Point."

I'm wondering how will she survive?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jailhouse Rock

"We're going to jail" said Hubby to the kid sitting next to him on the bus, who smiled as one would when you're sitting next to someone you think is crazy. We were actually going on what I've been calling "an adventure" to visit my son in military jail. He turned himself in last week, good boy that he is, and he was utterly despondent at withdrawal from Facebook, Cola, sugar, Samsung Galaxy phones, and his computer. Plus he called me on Friday night, nearly in tears because his Sabbath food was absolute shit. What does he expect? He's in prison.

In order for us to visit him, there's this procedure where you have to pick up this permit slip, with your ID #, allowing you access to visit the jail. I applied two days before the visit to ensure that we will be able to get a permit. The young woman assured me it will be faxed to my office before 10 am the day of the visit so that I'll have ample time to get there.

"Can't you email it to me?"

"We don't have email"

How primitive.

Then the day before the visit, my son calls to tell me he's moving to a jail further north. Way north,near Haifa. Fantastic. Now I have to do this bureaucratic crap all over again and make a new request for a permit. Somehow at that moment, I felt very Palestinian, waiting for details on my permit to be able to enter some place in Israel and not knowing if it will come at all. Looking at the bus schedule, I calculate it will take us 5 hours and 3 buses to get there. We'd never make it by 1:00, our designated visiting time. I had to think fast and knew that the only way to do this was to rent a car. This was gonna be an expensive day out. I get to my work and there's no fax. No permit. I'm livid. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive and I have only 1/2 hour before I need to get on the road. The military office in Jerusalem is not answering the phones.

"They're probably just sitting there drinking coffee while the phone's ringing" said one of my co-workers.

I get to the office and storm upstairs to get my permit.

"You were supposed to have this permit faxed before 10 am to my office. I'm supposed to visit my son today!!!"

"There's no visiting hours today." said the girl.


"Only Mondays and Wednesdays"

It was Wednesday and this idiot hadn't a clue what day it was. After convincing her that it is indeed Wednesday she ran to get the thing stamped and off we went, while another person in another office called me on my cell to ask me where to fax the permit. "Sweetie, you're late with faxing and we're on our way."

"But you can't get in without the fax!"

"Exactly. Which is why I didn't wait for you. I went straight to the head office."

By this time, all this bureaucracy was making me dizzy and nauseous.

We drive in the pouring rain and when I say pouring it's like a monsoon, without the strong wind, for a good half an hour and the highway is flooded in a few places. We drive real slow. I'm thrilled that Hubby is a good driver and can get through this. We see a lightning bolt hit a power line and we both jump.

We get to the jail 1/2 hour before 1:00 but it's 1:20 before they let us in and only because some giant gorilla of a man, one inmate's dad, banged hard on the metal door and yelled "HEY!!!! THERE ARE PEOPLE WAITING HERE TO GET IN. WHAT'S GOING ON???" and you'd think with him banging and screaming like that, they'd purposely make us wait more. But I guess force works and in a minute the door opened for us. There was a Druze woman who was visiting her son who didn't want to serve in the IDF at all. She said her other sons did but he, the youngest, didn't want to. After 7 years of being AWOL, they finally picked him up and carted him off to jail. Seven years!!!

We hug our son, who is growing a beard because they took away his electric shaver. We hug him some more and feel sorry for him, but he seems happy. He likes his new jail.

"I know so many people here, my good friend is here and the food is much better than the other jail. I had 4 plates of pasta for lunch! My tent is heated too."

They wake him up at 4:30 in the morning for roll call and he goes to bed by 8:00 pm. Far cry from the all nighters on his computer.

We gave him two chocolate bars, the fancy ones he wanted with the rice and M&M's. That's all he asked us for. Other people came with bagfuls of junk food and home-cooked meals, and it's like a family picnic during a holiday when the parks are full. After 45 minutes an officer tells him visiting time is up. They are strict with time.

Everything we spoke about, he was like "no problem". "No problem this" and "no problem" that. We kind of like this new obedient child of ours.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Good and Bad of Praying

Well I can see that God doesn't want me to pray that much to him. I got ill on Rosh Hashana and wanted to pray for Gilad Shalit's release in synagogue. I even had a special prayer printed out on a large piece of paper and the person leading the service asked me to read the prayer. But I couldn't go after all that preparation and the piece of paper just hung out in my kitchen along with the other "to do" things, in a pile. And thankfully, despite my not having prayed for his release, he was released anyways.

Now there's Sukkot. I had gone to see Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land in Tel Aviv and we were one of the very few over 50s there. We waited in line with all these teens wearing black Metallica and Marilyn Manson t-shirts and they looked at us as if we were parental spies. Then we just talked to them and I think they were actually thrilled that someone of our age would listen to them at all, never mind sharing a love of the same music. Some of these kids flew in from Switzerland and Germany, where this band has a huge following and plays metal festivals in front of 100,000 fans. I especially love the band's ethos, which is to get Arabs (from many different countries) and Israelis/Jews together through their music with the way they combine religious texts/music into their songs. Who said heavy metal is all about war, blood and destruction? And to top it all off, their lead singer looks like a tattooed Jesus. In fact, one teenage fan from Europe said if Kobi was Jesus, he'd go to church.

I was surprised that standing in the front, people were friendly, that I wasn't crushed, that people wouldn't kill me (as I feared from going to a metal concert)and I even sensed a spiritual energy from the audience to the band and vice versa. Their music is metal, but has a Middle Eastern element in it, and as they explained in a video shown right before their show, they used to sit in synagogues filled with Iraqi and Libyan old men and listen to their liturgy which would the get incorporated into their music. I laughed as I pictured these long-haired tattooed men, sitting in shul with these elderly men, who probably didn't know what hit them. That's why I'm so intrigued. One fan said he had come from Germany and would never have stepped foot in Israel if it weren't for them, and was astounded at how warm, friendly and open Israelis are. "They even invited me to stay over their homes and they are total strangers!" But our age showed as after the show, I didn't stick around for the "meet and greet" the band had with their fans and as it was, we got home at 4:00 am, even after our own children trudged in with their partying.

The next morning my daughter and I were having our coffee together and she told me how much she loved her boyfriend.

She said, "He told me that he hadn't had dated seriously in years and that for a year and a half, all he did was pray that he'd find the right one."

And I looked at my daughter, the one who usually complains about everything, and laughed until I was hoarse and I thought, - oh dear. This poor guy prays to God for a year and a half and this is what he gets? Oy vey. But he does seem to believe that God has answered his prayers and that's all that matters.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Highs on the Holidays

Yom Kippur went better than expected. My kids were asking me all sorts of questions - like my still AWOL son asking me - 

"Mom, what will happen if I break the fast?"

"Nothing really. You just won't feel quite part of the community at large if you do, but you'll feel really good if you don't break your fast. Like you'll have this amazing 'yay! I did it' moment."

My growling Hubby was continously reminding me of one sin in particular that I do (going to Arab homes/restaurants to eat their "halal" meat), so I left him at home to seethe with my sins in mind, while I went to synagogue for Kol Nidre services. I hadn't gone seriously to synagogue for Yom Kippur in years because I can't follow the Kurdish, Yemenite, Moroccan, Iraqi, Syrian services that are all over the place in my neighborhood, plus the familiar Ashkenazi one is too dry with all those perfect "real housewives of Maaleh Adumim". I don't fit in. Period. But a Conservative congregation just sprung up over the past year and they were really trying to make a go of it in this mostly Orthodox-ruled enclave. Afraid that it was going to be just a ho-hum service, I was happily surprised. For one, they began with three people, each doing a different version of Kol Nidre. The energy was good, inclusive and happy. They mixed in a bit of Sephardic (middle-eastern) melodic liturgy which I was thrilled to sing along to and was able to easily follow. It felt like family. After all, isn't this exactly what my family has become with my daughters all marrying/dating into Sephardic families from Tunisia, Turkey, Spain and Morocco? So I really felt a kinship with the service and with the congregants who were also a mixture of Jews from all over the place, albeit without any Ethiopians. The next day I attended the "Neila" closing service, which was led beautifully by an Orthodox woman who was open-minded enough to do the service in front of a mixed-seated crowd (Conservative congregations have mixed gender seating, as opposed to Orthodox, which separate men and women during services). People brought cakes, fruit and soft drinks to break their fast and it was lovely to mingle afterwards with this very friendly new-found community.  I brought in the Muslim Ramadan custom of breaking the fast with a date and water and explained this custom to a few people.

Sukkot is probably my favorite holiday because I get off from work, and there are no restrictions on what you can eat, like there is on Passover. Having all meals in the sukkah with my kids and their friends smoking nargilahs in the sukkah make it very enjoyable.

On the first day, I trotted off to Tel Aviv rather early in mid-afternoon. I wanted to see the sunset over the port, which is always breathtaking and I knew that people would be in the holiday spirit ( would be crowded everywhere). We caught the last bit of sunset over the boardwalk
and wandered over to the indoor food market

where there were a few unique restaurants and sat ourselves down to the tapas bar and had a couple of dishes.
Grilled okra with zucchini and eggplant on the bottom

Even though I don't eat seafood, the grilled calamari that the man sitting next to me ordered looked so incredibly delicious, I felt like grabbing it off his plate, when he wasn't looking...just to taste...but I did control myself.  I did.

Walking around the port several times, we revelled in the hustle and bustle of the happy holiday spirit that was all over the place before heading over to Reading 3 for a concert (to be continued...).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Pre Yom Kippur Reflections

Tonight is Yom Kippur.  I should be reflecting on past wrongs, apologizing to people, my family, strangers I accidentally knock over on  buses, etc.  I'm astounded at people at work these past few days, with whom I only have a minor working relationship, who tell me at the end of their conversations "I'm sorry if I did anything wrong to you".  Honey, all I call you for is to ask you about various meetings.  It's nothing personal.  But these people are apologizing to me left and right.

I was in a foul mood yesterday, thinking I don't even want to fast, I don't want to pray, nothing.  Of course, I'll still fast and I might even pray a little bit, but I'm still a little ticked off at God who I blamed for my stomach flu on the second day of Rosh Hashana.  I had made arrangements to go into Jerusalem to go to services at my Jewish renewal congregation and had been looking forward to it for weeks.  But obviously He didn't want to hear any of my prayers, so there.  I'm also working 12 hour days to pay off government tax debt that our wonderful Israeli government heaped on Hubby for the time he was in business and I blamed God for putting this bureaucracy in place where they run after the regular guy with no mercy whatsoever and tax middle income earners to the high heavens.  Perhaps that's where those bureaucrats should actually go?

Hubby has been acting like a troll of late as well and it hasn't been easy.  Today, as I filled out the form for the special  kapparot ceremony of sending this money to charity instead of us all dying for our sins, I thought about leaving out my husband's name on the form, but I would have felt  so guilty if he would have indeed croaked this year.   We used to do this ceremony as it is originally done with live chickens swinging over our heads, while praying that they will go to their deaths and not us - but I didn't think it was too humane to do this anymore to these animals.  They are always so frightened during this ceremony, squawking like mad, as if they understand the Hebrew prayer sentencing them to death instead of the humans.

And I didn't feel so alone in my foul mood at the local mall, where the lines were huge at the newspaper/bookstore.  People were buying books as if they'll be locked indoors for months and the line was excruciatingly long.  Everyone was complaining - especially after someone was asked for her ID after buying hundreds of shekels of books and she was insulted - "the people who worked here previously never asked for my ID!".  "But we don't know who you are..." said the saleswomen, prompting everyone on line to yell at these people - both customer and saleswoman -  to get to know each other some other time in the week, not today, when the fast begins at 4:38.  

Another gripe of mine.  The religious authorities made Daylight Savings one hour earlier last week so the fast should begin early and end early.  But I don't want to fucking start a fast at 4:38.  By 9:00 at night I'll be starving!!!!  Why couldn't they just let things be?  I wouldn't have to eat the pre-fast dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon, but at a more normal time of 4:30 in the afternoon  if the fast would have begun at 5:30 pm. What is so wrong with that!!??

But I'll be happy when it's all over and we're all munching on bagels and cream cheese to break our fast.  If I feel energetic enough, I'll even make cauliflower soup.  But maybe I'm too hard on God.  Maybe I ought to do some apologizing.  After all, He's got a lot of fixing to do in this world.....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

AWOL and other stuff going on in my house

My son is AWOL.  He is supposed to be in the army, but wanted to be in a certain unit, which they didn't give him and he just walked out.  Just like that.  He will eventually go to jail for this, of course not the regular criminal jail, but rather an army jail, which also is a rite of passage for many a belligerent young person. It began on the day when he was recruited and they gave him dark black boots instead of the orange boots of the fighting units.

"What am I, a job-nik?" he yelled at the young guy distributing the uniforms.  He wants a macho job.  He doesn't want to fix tank tires or work with dangerous chemicals.

So three days later they tell him to go to the Army Police Unit - the unit that mans the checkpoints.  But he doesn't want to stand 8 hours a day at a checkpoint for the next three years.  They said to him one late afternoon  "go there now or else".  It took him three hours to get there by bus and continuous phone calls to me and my daughter and son-in-law every half hour, as to how to do this alone by train and bus.  He's not a traveler and adventurer like his mother.  Stubborn like his dad, yes.  When he got there at 9:00 in the evening, there was only a guard at the gate who said it was too late, there was no one in the office and he should come back the next morning.  By that time, he was like "fuck it" and then went back the next day to the main base to tell them what assholes they were, but no one would listen to him.  They told him his name is no longer in their computer. Nevertheless, he still showed up at the main base a couple of times after that, asking for a chance to speak with an officer.  If they were smart, they could have thrown him in jail right then and there.  It's like a tease - neh, neh, I'm heeere! - but they ignored him completely.
So now he's home waiting to be picked up and dragged off to jail.  They won't jail him for too long.  It'll be anywhere from 2 days to a month.  And then people have told him that after all that, he'll get what he wants.  It's like an endurance thing.  No one can figure it out, but that's what it seems to be.

The my eldest daughter is planning on leaving Israel this year, taking my grandkids with her to go to the Golden Country of the US of A, to live in New York State, where good deodorants cost a dollar.  We all tell her while that may be true of deodorants, if she wants to send her kids to Jewish schools, "that" will cost her tens of thousands of dollars a year, plus she won't have her mother around the corner babysitting every week.

Hubby was nonchalant about the whole thing - "Just let her go.  Don't make her feel bad about going.  Let her try it out and see for herself.  You won't have to babysit all the time and besides, we'll have more time to fuck."

Selfish old coot.  Like we need more time for that??!

But I have to hand it to him.  Last night we had 13 people over for Shabbat dinner, and he not only showed up at the table, but set it and dusted the entire apartment.  I had 3 non-Jewish guests for dinner who got my name off some mysterious PDF file as "Shabbat hospitality in the Holy Land".  The first time I got wind of this was when I got an email that 11 priests were coming to Israel and were interested in staying at my place and how much would this cost.  I don't have proper accommodations for sleepovers and can only fit in 4 extra people besides the family for Friday night meals, but my friend at work told me to "just put them in the room with your husband". 

So now my kids think that every non-Jewish guest that comes round is a priest of some sort.  But these guests were just regular evangelist Christian tourists and actually thought that the service I invited them to at Nava Tehilla was a kind of Pentecostal Jewish Service because of the emotion they saw while praying.  I took that as a big compliment. I kind of feel amused that I would be on any list because my family is so dysfunctional, but that maybe spending a Friday night with my family could be quite amusing for tourists.  But my good family acted completely normal yesterday.  I was so proud of them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

soldier boy

It's Saturday afternoon and I've had a much needed afternoon nap.  I've been off work for 3 days now on our two weeks forced  August vacation and am happy that I have so much  vacation time, but there is nowhere to go but go local in this heat and in this economy.  Vacationing in Israel is expensive and crowded during August and flying anywhere during the world's vacation month will be crowded, expensive and annoying.  I'm an off-season person anyway.  My first day off work I went semi-wild buying various boutique undergarments and the next evening went to Jaffa's flea market for their Thursday evening fair with stalls open, and artists and music in the streets. Hubby was too tired to join me and I was grateful a friend took me up on the offer. We ate a meal at Regina's at the Tachana - the old Ottoman train station buildings now revamped into restaurants and expensive boutiques -  for a delicious meal beforehand.

And this past week saw a major rite of passage for my boy.  At 19 he was finally inducted into the army.  He didn't want the particular unit the army wanted him in and he held his ground and stayed in this horrific-sounding place called "the vacuum" - where recruits gather and from there go into their various units.  He's on the phone constantly with my friends who know the system and my husband's workers who have just gotten out of the army and who also know the system.  They are telling him not to get into uniform because if he disobeys orders - like going to the unit where they want him to go and where he doesn't want to go - he'll go to army jail.  So he stayed in the "vacuum" not in uniform so they couldn't arrest him.  I was surprised at his stubbornness to get what he wants, but then I'm like that too, aren't I?  I just wish the world was such that we didn't need to have an army and had beforehand given him the speech that he is only in the army to defend our country against those elements trying to destroy it - like terrorists, Hezbollah, Al Qaida or any other retarded group.  He knows that regular Palestinians are human beings who just want to go on with their lives and earn a living  and are not our enemy and I hope he will continue to believe this.  I still dream that we will be a confederation with Palestinians and that they will join the army too to become the PIDF (Palestinian/Israeli Defense Forces).

The entire family jokes around the night before his induction.  He reads an hysterical blog from a soldier about the first few days in the army - especially the public showers with no privacy whatsoever. The blog says "don't be ashamed to show your small package to everyone - there'll be all sorts there, big ones, little ones, red hair, pimply, ones with beauty marks and don't stare at anyone or they'll think you're gay.."

"Don't drop the soap" his sisters warned.  I then showed him the proper way to bend down to pick up his soap by bending the knees only and covering your ass with your hand - which left everyone in hysterics.

He watches videos of the different units and chooses the ones he wants to be in.

"It looks just like in the movies, doesn't it?" he tells me.

Yeah, but unfortunately, this is real life and real war is not  fun to watch and to participate in.  I hope there are no future wars with our neighbors, and he can just have the special camaraderie with his unit buddies - something  everyone knows goes along with this army service - and it is something he craves badly.

He finally puts on his uniform to go back to his home for the weekend and I admire how handsome and how much older he looks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paul Simon in Israel

I had to get away from all this horrid male energy. It was like every male in my family thought they were right ranging from my 4 year old grandson who was screaming in the elevator and we're like "Why are you screaming?".  He tells us, "I'm not screening!!!" surprised at our accusation, to hubby who was sitting comfortably in his chair on Friday night, while we were all sweating profusely. The air conditioner was on at its lowest setting and blowing warm air out.  We're all telling him it's not working and he's sitting there looking like the man from the Mr. Clean bottle, with his hands across his chest, telling us that it's fine, it's working and there's nothing wrong with it.  It's just that we're on the top floor and that's why it's spewing warm air.  I didn't buy that ruse and told him I'll get a professional to look at it myself.  He is totally insulted at the audacity of thinking that he might be wrong and leaves the table.


No better place to flee to, than a concert from an American superstar in Tel Aviv.  I'm about to go to see Paul Simon concert in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park.  The hot sauna weather in Tel Aviv doesn't bother me anymore.  My friend from New York tells me she met him once in the 70s and he was rude.  I listened to his latest album and I felt that he was more spiritual these days.  I tell my friend that many were obnoxious when they were younger, especially in the 70s, but that he must have mellowed out with age.  Surely he can't be like the men in my family.

I get on the bus to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem and get to the train station in Tel Aviv - the quickest way to the stadium.  I'm wiping gum off my ass that someone left on the bus seat and I hadn't noticed when I first sat down, as I'm running to catch a train the ticket woman says is leaving in two minutes.    I sought refuge in the beautiful Ayalon Mall right next to the stadium.  I never knew this mall existed and I discovered  it was an air-conditioned haven for most of the concert goers who did not want to sit out in the heat an hour before the concert started.

My friend, with whom I bought the tickets, had just landed from a trip to the US, 2 1/2 hours before the concert began and had one of her kids drive her to the stadium straight from the airport.  Half hour before the show, we ventured bravely out into the Tel Aviv humidity and went to our spots.  We found that though we bought the cheapest seats, we weren't too far from the stage because the stage was situated in the middle of the stadium rather than the far end.  We splurged for expensive beers.   Though the heat is unbearable no one is allowed into the stadium with water.  Strange and horrible rule, but the cold beer did the trick.

"Do you want to hear the setlist?"  I asked my friend.

"You have the setlist?  No, I don't want to hear it.  It's like knowing what you're gonna have before you give birth."

Once Paul came on with his band - I think he won the audience over immediately.  The band was terrific and he was in tip top shape.  I was surprised that he doesn't sound any older than he did 40 years ago, the way other singers do.  Even Paul McCartney can't reach those high notes any longer.  Paul Simon launched into Slip Sliding Away in the middle of the set.

"This is sorta like Hatikva, isn't it?"  my friend noted.  I nodded.  Sort of.  An iconic song it was, but once he came back for his encore and began with a beautiful solo of Sounds of Silence, I said to my friend - "Now THAT's Hatikva!!"  If the crowd was polite and laid back until now, they were really getting into his renditions of that and Here Comes the Sun, which he sang as if it were his own song. When he sang You Can Call Me Al, it seemed as if everyone in the stadium got up to sing and dance.  The Boxer was the last song and he sang it as a prayer for peace in our region addressing us with a Shalom Aleichem and Salaam Aleikum.  He seemed grateful for the show of appreciation from the audience and I must say, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I've ever gone to.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In the Tent of Sarah and Hagar

I know where I'm most comfortable and that is being a nowhere woman.  I don't feel comfortable in anti-Arab right wing political groups and I don't feel comfortable in anti-occupation left wing groups.  I don't feel comfortable in anything that smacks of "anti".  I'm anti anti. So whenever an opportunity arises for an event that brings people together without the anger and the politics, I'm usually there.

Yesterday I travelled with the Jerusalem Peacemakers to Fareidis, an Arab village across from the picturesque Jewish town of Zichron Yaakov.  I saw on the Facebook event  that only 5 people responded and thought - well, won't this be an intimate gathering.  I left work 1/2 hour early and there were about 5 or 6 people on the bus.  I'm like - okay, let's go then.  But after 10 minutes the bus filled up with Orthodox and secular Jews, Arabs from Hebron and Beit Ummar - some who brought their families, and Christian sponsors with their families.  People I didn't think knew about this event, knew about this event and I was so happy to see them.  On the way, I spoke with Taleb, my "brother" from Idna, near Hebron.  He was so excited about the past weekend he spent with 25 Israeli and 25 Palestinian teachers, all wanting to take the "hate" and the non-recognition of the other, out of their curriculums.  That put me in a good mood, despite stopping at the "express" coffee shop at the rest stop where they robbed me of my hard earned money by charging me a fortune for a small bottle of water and a tiny square of nash.

We went up the mountain to Ibtisam's home where the view was spectacular and the air heavy with light humidity, us mountain people living in Jerusalem and Hebron are not used to any humidity.  There were dozens more people who met us there so our numbers swelled to about 80 people. The speeches made by Rabbis, Imams, Sheikhs and Pastors were uplifting and they blessed the newly coronated Tent of Sarah and Hagar, where I heard that since the Jewish temples were destroyed by baseless hatred, here we will have baseless love.  We will love just for the sake of loving.  And that the there is an illusion in our country that we are not one family, when in fact, the Children of Abraham - Arabs and Jews in particular - are indeed one family.  And laughing together, talking together, eating together, sweating together and making new friends -  I definitely felt it that night.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Film Festival

The summer heat is on and I am back at the annual Jerusalem Film Festival.  It's not Cannes, but for Israel it's the closest thing.  I'm sitting at the Cinemateque having a bulgarit cheese sandwich with pesto and basil at the kiosk inside and am watching cameramen and photographers chase people I don't recognize.  I don't care that I don't recognize local celebs.  I'm more interested in watching the elegantly dressed people.  It's a fashion show here and a joy for a people-watcher like myself. 

I didn't buy as many tickets as I did last year.  I'm on a tighter budget this year.  I took my son to the opening film Super 8, at the beautiful open-air Sultan's Pool, getting us free tickets by asking people at the gate if they had any extra tickets.  Usually many complimentary tickets are given out to groups, like the police force, and not everyone goes.  My son was highly embarrassed watching me grovel for tickets and moved several meters away from me as I did my thing.  He gave me a dirty look from where he was sitting and called me on my cell.

"I'm leaving soon.  You are embarrassing me!"

"Stick around son.  I've been doing this for years.  It takes me about 1/2 an hour, but I always get tickets."

He hung up on me and sure enough, a few minutes later, I got us two free tickets.

I phoned him back.

"Happy?  The guy doesn't even know us, so what is there to be embarrassed about?" I told my boy, as he didn't want to go in at the same time as our benefactor.

I appeased him by buying him stir fried noodles at the food stands inside.  There was free popcorn too.  As last year, they cut down on the pre-screening entertainment - no bands, no singers, no fireworks, just speeches for an hour.  I warned my son about this.  I had to, or he wouldn't wait for the movie to begin.   I enjoyed the Spielberg-produced movie about youngsters filming a train crash and the action/suspense resulting from it and I think my son did so too, although he would have preferred to watch Scream 10 on the giant screen.

Saturday I hitched into Jerusalem for my traditional day at the film festival and saw Sing Your Song about the life of Harry Belafonte.  The woman sitting next to me apologized to me in case she happens to sing along to his tunes off-key.

Now Harry B. has got to be the handsomest 84 year old man I have ever seen in my life!  Not only that, but I never knew what a wonderful civil rights activist he was until now and what a guy.  The early documentary  footage was excellent. How scandalous it was with him holding hands with white women in the 50s and 60s.

I remember when living in Toronto that we had invited his niece who was a "Belfont" who was an Orthodox Jew (I guess his brother converted to Judaism) to our home for Shabbat lunch or dinner which ended when she and her friend called my husband an "asshole" and walked out of our home. So I was curious to know more about Harry.  After the film an older woman remarked to a guy selling subscriptions to the financial paper, theMarker, what a wonderful movie it was.  As if he gave a fuck.  He just wants to sell his papers.  I did find the film inspiring and I told her so.  She looks at me, a stranger talking to her, as if I'm the crazy one..

Then I saw a film - If Not Us, Who? - an interesting German film about the early life of the German terrorists from the Baader-Meinhoff gang, focusing on Baader in the latter part of the film.

The third film Archipelago, was a tiring, boring British film.  One of my friends enjoyed it, the others, including me, thought it was torture to sit through.  "You don't understand the British" my friend who liked the film told me...."they're like this."  Not my British friends.  They're more the Monty Python or rocker types.

I saw Blagues a Part - a French filmmaker wanders throughout Palestine looking for Palestinian humor.  Also an enjoyable documentary.  

The last film I saw was The Way Back.  I thought it was excellent, beautifully filmed -  about escaped prisoners from Siberia making their way through Siberia, to Mongolia, through the Gobi desert, to China, to Tibet towards India.  A must-see for history/travel buffs. 

Saturday, June 04, 2011

crossing the lines

"Ooh la la!!!  What have you done?" said the young French guy behind the counter at the breakfast buffet.  I looked at him, not knowing what horrors he saw on my plate.  He explained.

"You put your croissant on the same plate as your salads and other food."

"But you only gave me one plate!"

He thought I'd come back for the croissant and muffins after my breakfast and was absolutely horrified that I mushed the desserts and food all together on my plate.  I felt so .....American, so un-European, so uncultured at that moment, that I actually thought about buying Ines de la Frassange's book, "La Parisienne" so I won't do any more faux pas.

I had obviously crossed the line without knowing it.  But this week was a week's worth of line-crossing.

The week began with a staff trip from my workplace to Jaffa's center for the blind and deaf called "Na Laga'at", which means - "Please Touch" (  We were served breakfast at this beautiful loft-like place off the port of Jaffa.  The waiters were all deaf and we managed to "sign" how we wanted our coffee as well as sign  "thank you".  The food was excellent. After breakfast, there was going to be a clay workshop led by blind staff in total darkness.  Most of us were terrified (including myself) to be in total darkness.  But as we were led into the darkness by one handsome young man who was totally blind (shame he couldn't see how handsome he was), he told us to put our hands on the person's shoulder in front of us and make a train towards our seats.  I heard one person panic and ask to be let out of the room, but the fact that I was with friends, and that Lou Reed's music was playing in the background, was calming enough.  There we made clay figures of the first thing we would like blind people to see if they could regain their sight.  I sighed with relief at the fact that they didn't allow spouses on this trip.  My husband would have surely made a large penis or large breasts out of clay.  But anyway, I was happy to have overcome my fear of the dark (well, that kind of darkness) and eventually will want to eat at their restaurant called "Blackout" where you eat in total darkness - there is an option of not ordering from the menu and the waiters will bring you tastings so you'd have to guess what you are eating.  Sounds like it would be a fun evening.

Two days later friends of mine came to visit Jerusalem from the States - she's Jewish, he's Italian-Catholic, or Roman Catholic or whatever it is.  I thought of taking them to Bethlehem.   On the last trip, he saw Catholic sites in Jerusalem, so why not show them some of Baby Jesus's sites. I had been to Bethlehem before legally, (, but this time, I just wanted to go without any of the hoopla,  signing forms, etc.  The Arab tour guide put us on a mini-bus - there were four of us - and off we went.  The ride was short and getting through the checkpoint was not a problem - the driver had simply told the Israeli soldier that we were all tourists.  My friends were surprised that I asked them to take passports, but yes, they are needed now.  It's not like it was years ago, when there were no checkpoints.  It's a border crossing.  For a country that's dilly-dallying about a two-state solution, it certainly felt like two states that day.  We met a local tour guide at the Church of Nativity, who also took us to the Milk Grotto and to do some "shopping" at one of the Christian-owned gift shops, which were totally bereft of tourists.  I was glad that my friends plunked down a nice amount - so much so that the owners shoved turquoise stone bracelets at us for gifts ("just take them, take them!!!").  In the middle of the tour, our guide asked me what religion we were.  I told him three Jews and a Catholic, which sounded like the beginning of a joke.  He told us he was Muslim and asked me who my favorite Biblical character was. I immediately answered Abraham, "because he opened his tent on four sides to everyone".

"Do you think we should be thrown out of the land?" he asked me.  "Of course not, and I'm not just saying this because I'm talking to you....but I do believe the Children of Abraham should all live together in the same land".  He seemed thrilled with my answer and hugged us, telling us that he loved us.  And I'm sure he was telling the truth, feeling an overwhelming sense of kinship with us Jews.  He bemoaned the fact that no Israelis come and that the Israeli  government tells tourists to stay away because "it's dangerous in Bethlehem."  It isn't dangerous in Bethlehem, which is in dire need of more tourists.  But it's not so simple for Israelis to come.  On the way back, the Israeli checkpoint soldiers checked one of our passports for the entry stamp into Israel.  I have no such stamp on my US passport of course, and luckily they only checked the guy in our group with the swarthy mustache for his entry stamp.

On Friday, on my day off work, I decided, for some unknown Godly reason, to wake up at 5:45 am to join the prayer services for the new Jewish month with the feminist group Women of the Wall ( at the Western Wall.  It's been two or three years since I've been there, and thought this would be quite an experience.  The Women of the Wall mostly irritate the intolerant that pray there.  These women are a group, including straight and lesbian, religious and secular, who want to have a voice, and a loud one at that, at the Western Wall.  They want to be able to sing, read from the Torah, as men do, but as women traditionally don't do, at the holy Wall.  There have been incidents where they were spat on by other women there, called all sorts of names and arrests made - but this day was quiet.  I noticed a guard hovering over the group for our protection.  There was a special beauty in praying with this group of about 50 women, who defied tradition and sang their hearts out at 7:00 in the morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise over the Wall.  Of course, there were those that tried to drown the female voices out - like the man playing his "one-man-band" and singing loudly into a microphone right in back of us on the Plaza.  But it didn't matter really.  We did what we had to do which was pray and sing to the Almighty with our hearts and souls.

Crossing lines can be wonderful, even if stressful at times.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Visit to Lublin, Poland

The flight attendant is speaking Polish to me.  I haven’t a clue what she is asking/telling me, but I smile.  I am on a flight to Warsaw, on route to an interfaith dialogue about Social Responsibility in our traditions.  I've never flown on a Polish airline.  It's small, 6 rows across.  Looking at the bored-looking flight attendants I wonder whether they like Jews or not.  I'm excited to see a new place, but nervous going to a place where my family on my mother's side came from but where she fled due to pogroms in the 1920s and later on the tragedy of WWII which wiped out my uncles and probably cousins.

I decided to go to Poland with an open mind and to experience the people and the place anew, and to try not to look back.

Flying unfamiliar airlines is stressful for me – but the stress was gone after 3 friends of mine joined me at the gate.  They had gone through an ordeal at security (1 Jewish, 1 Muslim, 1 Armenian), with the Jewish friend being interrogated about how she knew these "other" women.  When my friend said that they visit each other in their homes, the young security person insisted "it wasn't allowed", which horrified my friend.  Since when is visiting Muslim and Armenians in East Jerusalem "not allowed".  Why do they even let ignoramuses into these sensitive positions at the airport?  Why aren't they educated in a bit of tact and common sense and ….well, knowledge?

We landed in Warsaw after a smooth 3 1/2 hour flight.  I tried to get in touch with family on Facebook telling them I arrived, but there was no free internet at the airport and some instructions were only in Polish.  Oh well.  My family will have to feel a bit anxious until I get to the hotel in Lublin.  At the airport, we met the Palestinian contingent who had to make their way to Poland via Amman, Jordan instead of from Ben Gurion airport.  We took a mini-bus to Lublin, passing by pristine fields and homes; looking at the forests I wondered how many Polish partisans and Jews hid out there during WWII.  I kept on looking on the side roads for what could have been a shtetl (a small Jewish village pre-WWII).  I saw a couple of what could have been – but the mini-bus went by too fast for me to photograph.  We got to our hotel, which looked like a grand hotel.  Funny that it considers itself a 4 star hotel, because in Israel, this would be on par with landmark hotels like the American Colony or King David.  It was that beautiful, with high ceilings, marble floors, ceiling engravings, chandeliers, all very tastefully decorated.  The furniture in our room smelled of fresh polish.  Everything shined.  I felt like a queen for a weekend.  Even the bathwater felt like special moisturized water, where my skin felt like silk afterwards.

We had a few hours to wander around town before our conference began and I suggested looking for something to eat in what looked like the older part of town.    We see Palestinians eating at a kebab restaurant.  "You come all the way to Poland to eat kebab?" I asked them.  Some people don't like change. We opted for local fare - pierogies – finding a place which served vegetarian options.  Meanwhile, there are gypsy children wandering around – making a beeline for us.  We obviously don't look like natives.  There was one young girl playing very good accordion while her adorable little brother begged for cash.  Then right before me a young man strips quickly  - gets totally naked – and runs down the street, leaving everyone on the street in fits of laughter.  "I can't believe he streaked" I said to the waitress, who had absolutely no idea what I'm telling her.

The road to the old city and inside the old city is full of restaurants and pubs, but it seems like quiet night life.  I was surprised not to see any souvenir shops.  I guess they don't see that many tourists.  Walking together with a few Jewish men in our group who wore kippas on their head, I had this strong urge to just yell out "WE'RE BACK!!!!!" 

Friday night's kabbalat Shabbat was interesting for the non-Jewish participants - which included participants from the UK, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, Italy, and of course, Poland.  We warned everyone that some parts of the Jewish service will be musical with singing and some parts will be boring when we're just reading the text to ourselves (or, rather, to God).  After the service, the Jordanian contingent wanted to know all at once a million things about Judaism – the challah, the Talmud, the source of the prayers, and I had to give them a quick Judaism 101 class in about 5 minutes.  Upstairs at our dining room we began to sing Shalom Aleichem.  I don't know whether the hotel staff was pissed off at our singing or pissed off at Jews singing, but when we were about to make Kiddush, we noticed the volume of the music in the lobby was much louder and we had to compete to make the Kiddush heard.

After dinner, we had a cultural evening at the Theater of No Name – the gateway that stood between the old Christian quarter and the destroyed Jewish quarter.   We Israelis got together with the Palestinians to do three traditional dances together.  Afterwards one of the Jesuit priests invited us to go with him to an old renovated tavern.  We were around 25 people and most of us ordered the home-brewed beer.  "Who's paying" I asked, "the Catholic church?"   The priests laughed.  Who would have ever thought I'd be drinking home-brew with Polish priests.  These are things that would never have happened pre-WWII between Jews and Catholics.  We didn't mingle much, if at all.   Then a lovely Moroccan woman told me that Morocco misses its Jews.  Really?  I laughed to myself, thinking of the very boisterous, dysfunctional, large Moroccan family that has taken over the first floor of our building – do they really want them back?  Not to mention my first neighbor who made my life hell when I first moved to Israel. 

Saturday we took a walking tour to see the well preserved and renovated Yeshiva of Lublin.  Built in the 1920s, it was a hub of Jewish yeshiva life until WWII.  I felt a pit in my stomach as I saw the empty library, which at one time was filled with thousands of ancient books, and an empty renovated synagogue in use once a month when visited by the more visible Jews of Warsaw.  There were photos of what was.  I took photos of the photos, careful not to take photos of the Rebbes because I felt they wouldn't want me to take photos of them on the Sabbath.  Where there was once a vibrant Jewish life, all that is left is photos and caretakers who collect 6 zlotys to enter.  "Didn't we give them enough" asked a fellow Jew who didn't want to pay them the money.  I understood her point.  But in order to preserve the site, they do need the money and I gladly paid. I walked out of the yeshiva looking back at the ghost yeshiva, totally empty now, even of visitors and I felt a deep sadness.

But then people like Vitek Dombrovski who runs Theater of No Name in memory of the lost Jews of Lublin touched me deeply.  Vitek isn't Jewish.  But he entertained us last night singing Yiddish songs.  I can't even sing in Yiddish.  20 years ago he felt it was his mission to restore whatever memories are left of the Jews of Lublin, 1/3 of the population of the city before WWII.  I sat near him today, my eyes brimming with tears.  

"Why are you doing this?"

"Why do you do what you do so passionately.  What are we to you?  Jews no longer exist here.  Isn't it a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.  Most people don't really care that there aren't any more Jews here.  Why do you?"

He told me he was doing it out of a sense of responsibility. He felt the emptiness and he felt the lack of the city's once-vibrant Jewish community.

Saturday night, he gave us a tour of the museum, the museum looking very New York lofty, very artsy, on the walls there were boxed which contained various photographs of the destroyed Jewish quarter and testimonies from non-Jews who saved Jews, as well as information on every destroyed building in the Jewish quarter.  On a more amusing note, a Muslim woman wondered whether the woman in the old pre-WWII photo was Muslim because of her head covering.  No, that's how married Jews covered their hair back then with scarves tied in front.

At dinner, sitting with people that had something to do with this museum, I hear a lot of talk about Isaac Bashevis Singer.  He seems to be the Mark Twain of Poland.  His works have been translated into Polish and Vitek was going to be guiding a 10 day tour this summer based on the tales of Singer, visiting shtetls and the like.  This is something I would want to do with Hubby or one of my kids.

Sunday we took a bus to Majdanek camp. Seeing this camp was very surreal. One of my cousins was murdered here.  After going through the gates and about to enter the building which housed the gas chambers I burst out crying and saw my Armenian friend in front of me.  I grabbed her arm for support.  I figured, if anyone, she could understand my grief, being that her ancestors were exterminated by the Turks in the early 1900s. I walked past the horrors and wondered if I had seen or if there were ghosts in that building or in the surroundings.  We walked towards the crematoria and I wondered how human beings could act that way towards others, and I vowed never to hate or blame an entire race of people, even if one or two really tick me off.  We stood by the mound of human ash over which there was a memorial built.  I was still numb from what I had seen.   One of the Polish Buddhists printed out sheets of names of victims and gave us a few sheets each.  We stood over the mound reading the names out loud, and imagining their souls with us.  Then the rabbi recited the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Polish priest recited the Catholic prayer and a Muslim from the West Bank said the Muslim prayer for the dead.   At the end I suddenly felt a big sense of relief and peace, as if our prayers had reached the heavens and that the dead appreciated our interfaith presence…..

Monday, April 25, 2011


Passover was very laid back this year. I didn't have many people at the seder and no Catholic priests like I had last year.  Hubby actually graced us with his presence this year unlike the year before!   It took only one glass of wine for me to feel the effects and I began laughing hysterically at everything anyone said.
Wednesday, I took my grandson to the circus and thought that he enjoyed the gymboree trampolines, slides and ball pool better than the acrobats at the Medrano circus - the first politically correct  circus I had ever been at - not a single animal performed.  Just a bunch of heavily made up short Spanish acrobats.  Even my grandson was disappointed at not seeing any elephants.  But I spoiled him with expensive treats and chocolate milk and a toy gun that shoots out bubbles throughout the day.  What are grannies for after all?

I had invited a mixed married couple - she was Jewish, her husband an Arab Muslim - for dinner Friday night.  They were friends of one of my daughters.  But they never showed up.  Yesterday, during the final dinner of Passover, one of my other daughters said she knows why they didn't come.  Because the daughter who is friends with them was afraid they wouldn't like my food. 

My kids gasped at the thought.

"But you make great food"

You see,  the daughter who first invited them is absolutely embarrased by my European ashkenazi food like gefilta fish, which I only make during major holidays.  But I caught her eating quite a few of the sweet fish and I threatened to photograph her eating it and putting the photos on Facebook.  She was terrified at the thought.  Her reputation would be ruined. Kaput.

"They eat Moroccan food and they were afraid there wouldn't be any of that.  Not all of them are open to eating different foods."

"But mom makes regular food."

I glared at the one who said that.  Regular food?  Not on your life.  I comb through the internet and make rice flavored with saffron (not a favorite with the kids) and  an assortment of sweet and spicy dishes.  I made matza balls from scratch tonight from sweet potatoes.  How dare she say "regular"!

The main dish was about to be served.  A roast with dried apricots, red wine and yams, which everyone loved and  a cauliflower leek kugel.  I passed around the kugel and no one touched it. 

I get it.  I need to give it a more middle eastern identity. Something they would not be ashamed of eating.

"How about trying the cauliflower leek PASHTIDA (a Sephardic quiche)?" I asked.  The forks went flying into the dish until it was completely gone.

pre passover

My third daughter finally came home from the States on the Thursday before Passover.  She had been selling these hologram wrist bands, made in China, for $30 apiece in the malls in Long Island and people were buying them like mad.  Although the energy thing did work when she tried it on me.  I couldn't figure it out. 

That weekend I went with my grump husband to the Ein Gedi youth hostel for a weekend with my spiritual community  - Nava Tehilla.  It was wonderful being with spiritually like-minded people, praying with them, learning with them and eating all together.  I was on a rare spiritual high.  But unfortunately reality hit me before I knew it on the drive back home.  A phone call from my son was enough to ruin it all.

"Could you order two pizzas because I'm STARVING and I could eat a whole one."

"I'm sorry but I can only order one.  Why can't you share with your two sisters?" 

"Okay so I'll pay for one and you'll pay for the other" 

Fair enough.  I did leave them for the weekend with a house full of food but there's never enough pizza around. 

I come home and there is my son sitting at the table guarding his pizza pie with his two arms over the box like a homeless savage.  My daughters are complaining.

"He won't even give us a piece."

"Didn't you order one for yourselves?"

Yes, and it's on its way but he's now pissed that I'm paying for theirs and not for his and he demands 20 shekels.  I don't give it to him and he is now taking out all the stuff we store in his room and putting it out in the hallway.  He says for just 20 shekels he'll put it all back, but we are spiritually strong from the weekend.  We can withstand crap from our kids like this.   I don't give him the 20 shekels and we take our files and store it in our storage room downstairs. 

And I wondered whether King David, who hid out in Ein Gedi too a few thousand years ago, also reminisced about being out in the beautiful desert when things got rough back home.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

old friends

I've been going out lately to local events with women at least a decade older than me.  I always take pride in the fact that I can hang out with people from anywhere in their mid-twenties to senior citizens.  My thoughts are that if we're interested in the same cultural things (eating in fine restaurants counts as cultural to me), then we can enjoy each other's company.

I thought I'd have a fun time with a woman who travels with me on the bus to Jerusalem most mornings to the Jerusalem Old City Tastes Festival.  We decided that since she is kosher, we'll go to the Jewish quarter to eat, but at least go to see any entertainment in the Christian, Moslem and Armenian quarters.  The local rabbis had been furious about this event because non-kosher restaurants were featured  but I was thrilled because we were putting all the residents of the Old City on equal footing - no sector will be left out.  We first went to the Christian quarter and saw that it was unlit, with a juggler wearing a baker's hat and a few darbouka drummers.  That's it?  Other people wandered around also disappointed that there was no festive atmosphere and we saw only three people sitting outside at the local restaurants.  It could be the cool weather that kept people away, but it could also be that because of rabbinical pressure, the municipality toned down the entertainment in the quarters which didn't feature kosher food.  We walked to the Moslem quarter, passing my favorite bakery Jaffar, which was closing for the evening, and a few restaurants which had the festival's sign out in front (stating clearly that this was not a kosher establishment), but there was no sign of a festival anywhere (although I did read that outside the Damascus gate there was some entertainment).  We walked to the Jewish quarter and by that time my friend's foot began to hurt.  We slowed down. We finally got to the Jewish quarter passing by homes which belonged to Arabs who were watching the scene.  I stopped in front of one man standing outside his home, which I mistook for a mini-mosque because of the photo outside his home adorned by multi-colored paint.  "No, this is a home. We painted it like this because of the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)".  "You went to the Haj?" I asked.  He nodded.  "Mabruk!!!" He was happy that I knew what the Haj was.  I mentioned to my friend what a missed opportunity the old city of Jerusalem was for intercultural friendships. Everyone keeps to their own neighborhoods.  We ordered some food from the stands, watched Japanese tourists dancing to a Moroccan band dressed in caftans, and by that time, my friend could hardly walk any longer.  We managed to get a taxi at a reasonable price to drive us home.  A bus wouldn't do.

The next event I went to with a friend - also around 10 years or so older than me - was the Arabesque belly dance performance at the Jerusalem theater.  She is always reliable so when the time came for us to meet and she wasn't there I worried.  I called her and figured she's on her way and doesn't want to speak on the cellphone while she's driving.  A half an hour later, the place was filling up and still no sign of her.  I saved her a seat and by the time the performance began, people who were standing on the side took over her seat telling me they'll get up when she comes.  She never came. I ended up with another older friend whom I recognized from the time when I used to go Israeli dancing and she pulled me up to belly dance with her on the side.  I moved my hips and arms, trying to emulate the dancers in their beautiful outfits.

The next morning my friend called to apologize.  She went to take a nap an hour before and ended up sleeping for four hours instead of one.

One has to be patient with senior citizen friends.  They may get everything at half price but they suffer more from pains and tend to oversleep.  I figured I may need to lower the age of my friends for the next time I go out.

But that night I couldn't sleep because of severe shoulder pain.  I tell my friend who called that I'm on my way to the doctor because of this pain.  She understands, of course, and invites me to see a movie with her as compensation for the missed evening.

"Sure" I said. "providing I feel better by Friday..."  -which it hadn't.  I'm wondering whether my older friends wouldn't be better off going out with some younger people themselves.  And perhaps I should be getting stuff at half-price too, since I am suffering like any other senior citizen with their aches and pains....

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Has Everyone Gone Mad?

It seemed this over past weekend that I was the only half-normal person in a sea of crazy people.

Thursday night Hubby took me up on an offer to have dinner at a relatively new fish restaurant and in a matter of 1/2 hour made 50 new friends on the bus to Jerusalem where he was to meet me, handing out his business card to anyone who wanted one, gave MY number to the woman sitting next to him because he believed she and I have so much in common, and struck a conversation with an American tourist couple, who thought he was the greatest thing since Belgian Chocolate.

On the bus back from the restaurant I tell a woman to please move her shopping cart so I can sit down.  She glared at me.

"What do YOU want?"

"I want you to put your cart on the side of the seat so I'll have a place for my feet." 

She ranted to anyone who'd listen about how difficult her life is and how I'm making it more difficult for her.

Then while traveling on the main Jerusalem road dividing east and west Jerusalem, we hear a big bang.   We looked and saw 2 little kids running away from the bus uphill.  They seemed no older than 7 years old.  Tiny Arab troublemakers.  Luckily the bus's windows are plexiglass and the rock didn't make a single dent/scratch in the window.  And this caused the crazy woman with the shopping cart to focus away from me and launch into an anti-Arab tirade.

"Our stupid leftist government!  Why do we give the Arabs Azariya?  Why do I have to live next to an Arab village?  I'm gonna tell the Arab president of the United States to come to Jerusalem so he could see how many Arabs live here.  I hate them!!!"

I piped in "Look lady, if there aren't any Arabs living here, there'll be no knafe!! " which caused other bus passengers to laugh.

Again she glared at me and began an anti-Russian tirade, about how much she hates Russians, believing that I'm Russian, although Hubby and I were conversing in English.  It was so absurd, we couldn't hold ourselves back from laughing.

Friday morning, I went quietly into my son's room to shut off his internet because my router works only when I log onto the internet first.  He unfortunately woke up and began to spew out all manners of curses like only a teenager can.  I said to him - "You know, you sound like you have Tourette's Syndrome", and closed the door to let him continue his beauty sleep, hopefully for the rest of the morning and afternoon.

"Where the fuck does that come from?" asked Hubby "His face cream?" Of course that made no sense, but often times, Hubby comes up with nonsensical theories.

As my daughter was peeling potatoes for the Sabbath dinner, she was telling me how it wasn't right that I was working so hard and for such long hours.

"A husband should be the one bringing home the money.  A woman should just raise a family and cook and clean.  That's the kind of husband I'm going to have - one who doesn't want his wife to work."

I cringed - how did I get a daughter so 1950s?

I told her - "Honey, you sure can cook, but you're not so strong in the 'cleaning' department.  The guy's only going to get half the deal.  Please don't promise him that you'll clean the house."

She's the messiest kid I have.  Tons of jewellery, money, IDs and what nots go missing in her room, only to be found underneath piles of dirty and clean clothing, plastic bags, makeup, shoes - lots of shoes, purses and ticket stubs.  Nothing gets put away and I thanked God for the Passover holiday because only then does the Fear of God strike her and she will actually clean her room for the first and only time in a year.

Then Hubby got the madness in him as the Sabbath was about to start.   My daughter comes out of her room and finishes up her potato salad.

"Dad said your food's not so good this weekend."

"I don't care what he thinks." I said, looking at my masterpiece in the oven - which was meatball tangine and couscous.

Hubby hears this and thunders - "I said NO SUCH THING!!!  You know I never complain about your food.  SHE'S A LIAR!!! "  He turns to her - "WHY DO YOU SAY SUCH THINGS??"

She says quietly - "because it's true"

"IT'S NOT TRUE.  That's it!!! I'm not coming to the table tonight."

 I told him I agreed with him, that I knew she was lying (she probably wasn't).

But no amount of pleading worked.

And the Drama King retreated to his room for the rest of the evening.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


On Thursday, I was supposed to  have an interfaith meeting. Somehow or other the Muslim coordinator again bonked out on me.  If I hadn't called an hour before the meeting, he would have sms'd me 5 minutes before the meeting was to begin to tell me he wasn't coming and neither was anyone else from his area.  He said he wasn't feeling well; he had a cold.  I think I ought to find a female Muslim coordinator who would be able to multi-task and who would go on with her life, even through a cold.  My experience with men on this planet, is that having a cold is akin to the end of the world or, at the very least, feeling as if they're dying.

I called a participant bemoaning the fact that there will be all these new people attending, waiting to meet Muslims for the first time in their lives in this type of social setting.  She called me back saying they still want to come and we could just discuss our meetings in general - it could be like a prepatory meeting.
A young teenage boy was the first to arrive. He had just moved to Israel from the US and wanted to meet Muslims because he felt that everyone living here should be respected for their beliefs.  Another knock on the door.  Two beautiful teenage girls arrived.  They studied at the local high school in Maaleh Adumim and were part of Seeds of Peace.  Normally our group is comprised of mostly (married) Jewish women and Muslim men. Two more men who had never showed up before arrived for the meeting and then some of the regulars.  This was a good mixed crowd.  We all were curious about Seeds of Peace in Maaleh Adumim,which seemed to be a novelty.  How did they join up?

One of the girls said that her sister went to their summer camp in Maine and came back a changed person. She obviously liked the change in her sister - who was probably a lot nicer, more tolerant - even towards her own sibling - never mind others in this country.

Actually  what happened is that one of their high school teachers walked into their classroom and asked the class  - who would like to go to camp in the United States?  All 40 hands shot up.  "The catch is", continued the teacher, "that the camp will be with Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Americans and Israelis."  Most of the hands went down, together with some groaning from the class.  Five hands remained up.  Their classmates were shocked that there would be even one person wanting to talk to the "other side" and warned them to "be careful." 

So those five 10th graders went to Maine last summer to meet with people they ordinarily wouldn't have ever come in contact with.  It wasn't easy at first, especially when some West Bank participants found out they were from Maaleh Adumim, and each one blaming the other for a lot of the conflict - even some screaming and yelling ensued.  But by the end of the camp, the "fighting" partners began to enjoy each other's company and looked forward to continued dialogue.

Another Jewish Orthodox woman who had been participating in our religious dialogue for two years stated that she first came to the meetings, wanting to change the Muslims, or the way they think.  In the end, she related how she herself had changed; that her soul was completely different.

I told them about our first gathering - and hope that in March we will have a "real" interfaith meeting.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Happy Hitchhiker

Because we are generally car-less, if I need to get to Jerusalem on a Saturday when there is no public transportation, I hitchhike from Ma'aleh Adumim to town.  It takes anywhere from about 5 minutes to an hour to find someone kind enough to take me with them. 

Both Hubby and I had a Cinderella weekend. We went to the Ball (a friend's wedding in Jaffa); and what a joy it was being able to dress up and get into a car, instead of taking a bus from the central bus station in our evening attire.  On Friday, we bought our one-of-a-kind tiles in a city over an hour's drive from Jerusalem, and saw friends we hadn't seen in 3 years.  We crammed everything we could cram into that weekend, focusing on stuff we can't do by public transportation.  So grateful to God were we, that we wanted to give back.

Saturday morning on the way to Ramah's Kitchen, where we had our dream brunch at a place which is accessible only by car, we saw someone hitchhiking - a middle-aged man - at the French Hill junction that also borders on some Arab neighborhoods.  I told my old man to stop and take the hitchhiker.  After all, I know what it's like to need a ride on a Saturday.  We stopped a bit further down the road and the man couldn't see us.  We had to back up and honked until he turned around and saw us.  He made his way to our car.  I told Hubby -

"This guy's an Arab.  I hope he'll feel safe enough to drive with Jews". 

Knowing that we each have the same fears about the other, it was certainly a fact that the hitchhiker may not feel totally comfortable taking a ride with  Jews. 
But we were in a rental car and he must have thought we were tourists.  We spoke English to him.  He needed to get to Abu Ghosh where he works in one of the many restaurants.  He was so grateful to have gotten a ride, he immediately invited us for coffee at his place.

"We'll take you up on it another time." said my husband.

"!  Today!" insisted the rider.

Maybe...we told him.  We're going to Nataf to have brunch.

He was curious about us.  Where were we from?  How long have we lived here?  Do I have friends in the West Bank?  Are we Israeli?

I told him that I'm a coordinator of an interfaith group that meets in my home.  He looked confused.  Such groups really exist?

"What do you think about the peace?" he asked. 

He agreed with me that most people living here want peace, and want to live together in harmony - but that the governments on both sides fuck it up. Hubby gave the guy his business card to keep in touch.

We dropped the happy hitchhiker off at his restaurant and continued on to ours.

"He's probably telling everyone in the restaurant about his ride." said Hubby.

"Yeah, you're right.  But what if he tells his wife when he gets home that he was picked up by two Israeli Jews from Maaleh Adumim.  How do you think she'll react?  'Sufyan....are you CRAZY?  Taking a ride with Jewish settlers???  They could have killed you!!!'

It would have certainly been the same reaction I'd have gotten from some of my family/friends, had I hitched a ride with him.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the Evils and Joys of Capitalism

"What is he kissing?" I asked my daughter of her husband, as he was blowing kisses through the windshield of his car while driving me home from Friday night services last week.

"Just the Mercedes that passed us by" she told me, as if it were an everyday occurrence.

Feeling an overwhelming wave of generosity come over me because of 4 family birthdays in February, which is also in the joyous Hebrew month of Adar, I told him I'd buy him a Mercedes when I win the lottery.

He shot back immediately - "And when I win a lottery, I'll buy you a mosque."

How kind and considerate of him....:-)

This past weekend Hubby and I rented a car, which we hadn't done in over a year, just relying on public transportation, but we wanted to buy decorative Arabesque tiles  for our home which was over an hour's trip to Petach Tikva -

Thursday night we picked up the car and drove to a friend's daughter's wedding at the Caliph in the old city of Jaffa.  Jaffa's main street Yefet is quite run down and in need of immediate refurbishing/renovation.  It looks abandoned and deserted.  But just in back of that street is an entire neighborhood of cafe's, restaurants and bars, in beautifully restored old buildings.  I had no idea such a paradise existed from the main street that I walked on one Saturday afternoon in the summer.

Friday we went to pick up our tiles and got lost finding the place.  Our rental car doesn't have GPS.  Knowing it was near a cemetery, we went there and asked the men in the kiosk just outside for directions.  One man came over, gave us directions and then asked us for a dollar.

"What the fuck for?  For giving us directions?"  This was incredulous.  Are people in Petach Tikvah crazy?  We drove off. All  I know is I never want to be buried in that cemetery.

We drove up to the Galilee to visit our friends on a kibbutz whom we hadn't seen in three years, because neither of us own a car.  Hubby and I just had to take advantage of our Cinderella moment.  It was a gloriously beautiful day, with unusually warm weather for February and we both felt so spiritually connected with God, with the Holy Land as we drove past the sea on one side and the rolling green hills on the other.  It was also unusual for us to be both in such good moods at the same time. 

There was a woman on the road who beeped us and yelled that our back tire was running out of air.  Hubby was skeptical because he felt no difference in driving.  We noticed the Tire Checker was looking at every car's tires and telling a few other people that their tires needed air.  We figured it was the heavy load of 150 kgs of tiles in the back that weighed down the tires, because when we checked them, they were fine.

Our friends have lived on this kibbutz for 15 years and since we last saw them, the kibbutz was going through the sad but necessary process of privatization.  Kibbutzim were going bankrupt all over the country one by one and the government would have to bail them out.  The country was not the mostly agricultural country it once was and the socialist ideal was quickly fading, with most young people leaving the kibbutz for greener and more profitable pastures in the city - for high tech and other capitalist endeavors.  This kibbutz had no choice but to privatize. When it did, more members were added - mostly young families who are very active in the Conservative movement. It sold off its agricultural lands for outside people to come in to build magnificent villas on its property.  Driving up to the kibbutz we saw what looked like a small village, with beautiful homes on what was once farmland.  It was a gated community and we waited until the guard opened up the electronic gate to let us in.  We drove up to the older kibbutz homes where our friends lived and noticed that the old, dinky, tiny kibbutz homes were now being renovated - some have added second floors, some were totally refurbished on the outside, painted terracotta with blue window shutters.

We hugged and kissed our old friends whom we hadn't seen in so long.  We mentioned that the entire place looked different and how did it feel with this new life breathed into the tired place, which had only around 5 families as members when we were last there.  It looked so lively with all the kids' toys lying around in the various yards.  I mentioned the blue house.

"Oh the Flintstones..." she rolled her eyes.  Apparently, she wasn't enjoying the kibbutz's transformation as I thought she would.

She missed the communal meals in the dining room. 

"I worked 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, and I didn't care.  I had everything I needed.  Now my husband and I work less hours and I even have a day off, but it's not the same.  I used to finish work and not have to cook or do laundry (since it was all done communally).  I had education for my kids taken care of as well as health and dental care.  If we wanted to go somewhere, we took the kibbutz cars. Now everything is money.  If I work on my day off, you have to pay me.  If I want to use the kibbutz car, it's two shekels a kilometer plus a fee for daily rental.  We used to fight among ourselves all the time but now we're like sisters.  We all miss the way it was."

I walked passed the dark dining room, where our family spent many holidays in communal dinners with the kibbutzniks and their families.  The family from India would lead the Rosh Hashana seder with the various blessings made over an assortment of vegetables and then there was the dairy dessert contest they had on the Shavuot holiday, in which I was made one of the judges.  Though the members used to fight over petty things, they were no more than family fights.  And the family was now gone.

Services in the kibbutz synagogue were lively and various activities and parties and get togethers for the week were announced. There was life in this place.  If we had younger kids, I may have wanted to make my home here.

My friend's Shabbat table was filling up with people.  Who were all these people.  It was beginning to feel like kibbutz again.  Her brother and family have moved onto kibbutz and her husband's mother was now living there too.  Their sons and girlfriends came as well with their very friendly pit bulls who came over to give me wet licks while I asked them "aren't you guys supposed to be dangerous dogs?"  Everything on kibbutz seemed to be safe.  We told our hosts, they may have lost some things, the simpler way of life and now they have to struggle to make money like everyone else, but their Shabbat table is full every week with the large and lively family they now have and so they did gain in other ways. 

We drove back home to Jerusalem past signs posted on the highway, protesting the new extension of the Express Highway 6 which will be   built over farm fields, but which got us back to our home in two hours instead of the 3 1/2 hours it would have, had this highway not been in existence. 

Progress is not always such a bad thing....