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.