Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Disgusted by My Disgust

Recently, I visited the Rokach House and the Guttman Museum in the neighborhoods of Neve Tzedek in Tel-Aviv. Neve Tzedek is my favorite neighborhood, besides my own leafy green one, with the oldest, most European houses in Tel-Aviv and an aristocratic air. Nothing is ancient in this city, not even the lust that pervades the city streets or the rhythm that Tel-Aviv seems to sway with, but Neve Tzedek is the closest thing that you will get in Tel-Aviv. 
The Rokach House is home to some inspiring information about Tel-Aviv's early life, and is one of the oldest houses in the city. It's filled with artifacts from this time, including a clothes and a table, and over the table in the dining room is a picture of another table set and ready for the people and food, which called to mind "The Last Supper." My favorite part of the museum were the sculptures and pictures, by Lea Majaro Mintz, the granddaughter of Rokach. Her work is inspiring, but at first I was disgusted by it. Her work is about women with REAL women, why didn't Dove use this in their ads? These women are overweight, sagging, and delightful. At first my mind went to a dark place, "Why would she sculpt something so ugly??" But then, I realized, I was one of these women too, we all are, with curves and sags and smiles. She was sculpting nature, whereas sculpting Barbie would really have been to sculpt something truly heinous. Looking at her creations, and her colorful pictures of busty naked women made me light up--I wanted to strip of my clothes and join their colorful circle of commraderie. This, I thought, is really what women should be doing--dancing, not naked-but without the inhibition that dancing this way entails--we shouldn't stop dancing because society tells us that our bodies are too old, too flabby, too saggy, too ugly. We are not too anything, because we are all individuals created to reflect a certain, specific aspect of humanity. 

Here's the Artists Statement: 

"I studied painting and drawing at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem and afterwards taught at Bezalel, Bar Ilan University, and other colleges for training art teachers. I taught the subject "Form and Color" which is based on the special language of the visual arts that grew from the understanding of the abstract. 

From the start it was clear to me that the visual arts (until the most recent years) were the work of male artists only and they were those who expounded its theories. Women, except for a few women artists mentioned in art history as minor artists, took no part in the creation except as models or bystanders-always loyal to any show of art or culture. 

Male artists liked to relate to women in their creations and found in them a source of beauty, harmony, sex. Their point of view was mainly that of one watching his object,seeing it from the outside. I tried to express her from the point of view of someone who feels her from the inside. 

The woman, as I feel her, is a tired creature, tired from the burden of being a modern woman, involved in society and its demands, trying to enter all the professions which in the past were for men only. In addition she remains the birth-giver, she nurtures and educates the children and also makes sure that the household chores are done. It seems that she's been liberated, but in reality she's taken upon herself a burden twice as heavy. 

I was the first in Israel (one of the first in the world) to think "feminine." In my sculptures I wanted to express the mature woman-relaxed, rumpled, flowing, with a large bosom and wide hips, a tired woman searching for a moment of relaxation. In my art I try to express the inner codes of women, codes that may not be accepted by male artists. These are codes such as feeling and empathy, logic aided by a supersensory comprehension, sensuality combined with the need to bond with others and the environment. 

From the beginning I thoght that art should reflect the geographical surroundings, both physical and culture, in which we live. I strove to express the individuality that exists in my country-the meeting of ancient and modern, a world with a long history connected to the land and its archeological treasures on the one hand and on the other, a modern lifestyle which includes democratic morals, socialism, and achievements in the field of hi-tech. From here, the I make of clay. The look of the clay gives a feeling of antiquity, it is a substance that early man already used for artist purposes. At the same time it is flexible enough to express any modern shape." 

(Rokach's father was a good Jewish doctor from the Tzfat area, who became so close to the rulers that when Tzfat saw riots against Jews he was saved because of his special relationship with the authorities.) The garden was also beautiful, and there were little sculptures in every nook of the house. My favorite was of two sleeping bodies next to each other on a bed, reminding me of my sister and I snuggled up on a bed as babies. 

Chag Shalom

"Well, then, that is just blatant Hanukkah propaganda," My father fumed into the phone. 
"Sorry, Dad, but they had to find a different way to market Hanukkah in the US--I mean, a nationalist holiday about another country can be a bit of an awkward sell.. right?" 
"I'm very disappointed in this Hanukkah business," My father said. 

This came from a heated conversation that my father and I were having about a small argument that my sister and I were having. "Can't you just get along--it's Hanukkah, after all, and it's all about peace and love." I was determined to keep the argument--but in this case, my father was wrong. It's like saying Easter is about bloody death--that's really missing the point, it's a side note. Hanukkah is about victory and the ability of the Jews in Israel to keep their spiritual identity, if anything, it's about keeping the other out (which may, in the long run, create peace and stability... but maybe not.) Hanukkah is also about the miracle of light that occurred AFTER the miraculous victory--so G-d provided light. In the physical and spiritual sense, for the Jews to keep their inner spiritual light strong and for the continuation of Jewish identity. Hanukkah--unlike Yom Kippur or Passover--can be given universal flavors, but it is a Jewish-particular holiday. 

Then I started thinking, "What is the Jewish Holiday Where Peace Is Celebrated?" 
The month of Elul is the month of "love" but that's the romantic love, not the type between peoples. If anyone who's reading this (all 3 of you) know of the Jewish holiday for peace, let me know. And maybe, in these times, we need to create a Jewish holiday where we celebrate internal and external peace and pray for peace. It's hard, these days in Israel with rockets being lobbed into Israel every five minutes, to really "celebrate" peace. It's hard when there is the significant amount of economic and racial inequality floating around every land, and especially the Holy Land. But is it still worth creating a ritual to celebrate peace? Absolutely. 
What about creating a Christian Day for Peace and Muslim Day for Peace or a Hindu or Buddhist one? We already have a universal, UN Day for Peace. But, it's important that each religious community promote peace and have a peace day in order to emphasize their community's commitment to peace. A day for justice would be entirely different, because there is a difference. Justice helps to lead towards peace, but justice is not created by peace. 

The last six days of Passover, according to an essay I read recently, are forbidden for enjoyment--because these are the days that the Egyptians were plagued and eventually died, their animals died and probably their spirits died--and the Egyptians, despite all the problems that they created for the Jews, WERE G-d's creation, and when any creation is destroyed, it is a terrible thing. 

So now, I'm wondering, should I make a Seder for Peace day with my family and close friends, like on Tu B'Shvat (the day for trees) and Passover? What would I put on that plate? 


"If you really want to know something, look at it again." -Carl Hammerschlag 

It's been pouring for the last couple days here intermittently, and I hate dodging puddles and feeling the wintery chills and having to curl up closer to my sister at night. (She's finally come--arrived with all of her baggage.) We've been going out a lot, feeling cold and wishing that the sky would stop opening up. The usually clear sky which blazes with sun is pregnant with clouds, which release themselves all too frequently. My twin and I were grumbling about this, when I was like, "Wait--no!! Remember, it's a good thing, Israel doesn't have any water or any rain, this is a mild miracle!" Humph, my sister said. It's just like Carl says, I can complain about the weather, the fact that the beach is offlimits and wearing flip-flops will increase my risk of falling on my bum dramatically. Or I can be praiseful that the heavens have finally opened up and are willing to save Israel from being entirely parched this upcoming year. Recently, I learned that the word for sky "shamayim," means "there-water." The simple term in Hebrew expresses not the desire for loads of glorious sunlight or blueness or clarity, it expresses the desire for survival in this semi-desert land. Looking at it from this perspective, I can't be any more happy that my life is being inconvenienced and made so much colder and wetter :) 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Cool Things I've seen and Done Recently: 

-The Nachum Guttman Museum
-The Rokach Museum
-Ne'ot Kedumim (I hearded sheep there), it's a biblical park. 

I really want to go to the Ilana Goor museum too! Also, my sister arrived 2 days ago. Tonight, hopefully we'll be going to a Hanukkah party in Jerusalem with my friend Jess, this super-friendly, big-smiled Greek-New York-Jew. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Some Days You Appear Smart.. Other Days You Don't

Last week, I was in Kiryat Ono (after spending 40 minutes getting there, I began to think of it as Kiryat Oh-no!). It was Friday morning, the traditional Shabbat "rush" (more like rush to the front of the line..) and I was standing in line, solidly, looking... or, maybe observing, the people around me. In Israel, "standing in line" doesn't exist. People try to rush, push, and "cut." In the U.S., this "cutting" would be unthinkable, and people would ask you to stop "cutting" and then you would become a social pariah because you "cut," something which we learned in 1st grade is one of the ultimate social crimes. Perhaps the cashier, or even the store manager, would come to chastise you. One of the things that annoys me, more than cockroaches or Israelis inability to stand in line, is what I'm going to term "line weaving." Israelis will set down a couple of items, and then leave. This, in the U.S., is almost unthinkable.. it's unimagined. Maybe if you have 200 groceries and forgot the pasta sauce, then you would go back--tell everyone in line what you were doing, and apologize profusely both before and after. When I have to go back and get something, I fully remove myself from the line--almost surgically so. If someone "line weaves" in the U.S., they inevitably come back with one or two items. In Israel, they come back with a small truck load of items, plop them down, then rush off into the din of the story. This raises my blood pressure, naturally, what if their turn comes and they're not in line--then what? Do you cut ahead of them? And really, what kind of person line weaves? Unspeakable!

Being a full-American--passport, grandparents as veterans, countless fourth-of-Julys with hot-dogs, fireworks, and potato salad, and all--I stood in line until my time. I noticed a man behind me saying, "Amerikiit, Amerikiit," and then putting it into a sentence--no biggie. When I left the store with my friend, she said, "Can you believe he was saying that you're stupid?" "What?" I asked her. "He was going on about how you were such a stupid American, standing in line and all." "How is that stupid?!? Since when is not cutting in line stupid in any country?!" I protested, with injured pride and all. 

My other "favorite thing" that they do here is come up behind you and say, "I'm after you," nod, and leave. The thing is, not just one person does this, but ten people. And how do you explain in Hebrew, "There are already ten invisible people behind me, can we really add an eleventh?!" I usually just furrow my brow and nod--as if I understand, and I'll consider it. What I'd really love to say is, "If you're after me, then actually be AFTER me." Alas. I recently found out that Chaim Herzog's wife wrote the first etiquette book in Hebrew, and I'm only hoping to learn it by heart, the way I once learned Emily Dickinson poems, so that I can spout off lines to them.. until then I'll keep grimacing. 

But, despite the fact that some crotchety old men who fought in the War of Independence actually think--and say--that I'm stupid, there are some people who you can fool more easily than others--my father being one of those people. A few days ago, I was in a fruit market, and I asked someone about tomatoes and cucumbers and where all the good oranges were, and my father was amazed--I sounded so good, so smart. It's such a relief that he's never studied, maybe even never heard, Hebrew! I could have been asking for an AK-47 and he would have had no idea--it's beautiful. He thought I sounded so smart and so good.... I only hope that I can keep on fooling him when he comes to visit. I speak Hebrew pronouncing all the syllables--one doesn't really do that--and slowly, "kind of like a bimbo," one of my friends told me. 

Later, I called it the "Arab fruit market," and my Dad asked me how I knew it was Arab. 
"Because," I told him a little condescendingly, "they were yelling at each other earlier and calling each other 'Ahmed' and 'Mahmoud,' and Jews just don't give their kids those names, Daddy." 

FUGEE Friday!

Friday might just have been the most interesting day of my hectic week! On Friday, eventually found my way to the rear (more like the butt) of Shuk HaCarmel. Even though I had to walk about 10 blocks to get there from the Sherut, it took me more time to get through the relatively short shuk than the 10 blocks. I found myself rushing, knocking into Chinese foreign workers, Orthodox women strewn with baby carriages and peppers, and vendors screaming at me that I "needed" sufganiyot. (*Sufganiyot, like doughnuts in general, becomes a LOT more popular in Israel around Hanukkah season. They have about 3,000 calories per bite, and somehow manage to be almost crunchy even though they're soft.) 

I also stopped to oogle a multi-colored bin of peppers and kicked myself for not bringing my camera, as well as strawberries, cheap underwear, and some peaches--but didn't stop, rushing along, towards the end. 

The shuk is one of the worst-smelling places I've ever been (this doesn't say a whole lot), especially when it clears or you walk too slowly past the fish market. Particularly as the day winds down, there are perfectly good fruits and vegetables getting squashed, vendors and buyers drop their things, and the smell just rises.. almost intoxicating you with its squalor. I know, I'm painting a really nice image here, but I go genuinely LOVE the shuk, it's beat, it's rhythm, the way that people are actually sort of nice to each other there because it's all based on buying and selling and not on politics or identity. You see Orthodox ladies buying flatbread from Arab women, pleasantly and almost politely (there's no such thing as truly polite for Israelis.) 

When I got to the end of the shuk I met a group called "Fugee Friday." It's organized by two Americans--K. and M.-- who have found their way back to Israel. An expat with her beautiful, blonde son was there, along with a crush of Israelis and other Americans.
 I found out about Fugee Friday from an Anglo-listserv, and decided to go and check it out. Similar to what we did at Shechen Tov (except it's later in the day, so vendors are really trying to get rid of their produce and have almost no need to hang onto it) we went through the shuk with boxes and bags, asking vendors to give their leftovers to us for charity. The food goes to a Darfur Shelter, a shelter for pregnant women, and another shelter for African refugees. Shechen Tov was beautifully organized and had a Judaic focus, we had flyers to explain our cause and a guide who talked to us about Jewish values and how to ask for food, Fugee Friday was a mash of people who just came to help
We went through the shuk, and I was surprised to see vendors giving away tons, one bakery gave us three boxes full of bread. After collecting boxes upon boxes of food-again, I wished I'd had a camera, we began to sort through it all. Groups of people--I couldn't tell if they were refugees or just impoverished Israelis, kept coming up and taking food. This caused a bit of an ideological question between K. and M., one wanted them to wait to take food while M. seemed to see little difference between giving it away. Did we want to help the poor or just the specific poor? Did it matter that a person was taking "too much" or did it matter more that she was going to quench her hunger?

After loading the food into various cars and onto bicycles (I rode with a Brazilian olah, her army-aged daughter, and their friend who had just finished the army) to a refugee shelter in south Tel-Aviv. The friend told me that she cried the first time she had gone, I've worked with the homeless before and consider myself somewhat able to cut off my emotions in these situations, so I was surprised by the sense of relief that I felt. "It'll be okay if I cry, she did," I told myself. 

Once we left Shuk HaCarmel, I slowly became geographically more and more disoriented--I knew that we were in Tel-Aviv, but as we sped through the dimly-lit streets, I lost my sense of direction. When we pulled up to a squat neighborhood I had absolutely no idea where we were--geographically or in any other way. The Brazilian Olah ordered us out of the car because "the children swarm it." Damn, did they ever! Their little faces seemed to be from places I couldn't pinpoint on a map, were they Indian? Darfuri? Eritrean? Chinese? They ran around the dark craggy streets, most without shoes and supervision, and we thrust markers and coloring pages at them to keep them busy and away from the car. Each of the kids had a different reaction us-some grabbed onto our hands and hugged us-while others were immediately like, "What are you doing here with these uncool coloring pages?" One wouldn't move even as a car came along the street, another slapped at a smaller one beside her. They all seemed to fight over markers and ask for our opinions on their drawings, and they reminded me of the way my sister and I used to swat at each other for markers and such--the only difference was that we probably accumulated truck fulls of markers during our childhoods, while I'm pretty certain that these kids didn't. I smiled and made faces for them--delighting some and causing others to roll their eyes. I thought of the last time I played with kids, when I was in Amirim with my friend Sean and we played and made faces at this little kid named Zohar with long, curly hair and a slightly oversized kippah--while his mother stood closely watching him. These children could be so easily run over or spirited away, it seemed to be a minor miracle that one of them wasn't splattered on the ground like the fruits at Shuk HaCarmel. 

Unloading the food was the most difficult part, K. thrust a box at me and asked:
 "Are you afriad of the dark?" 
"Um.. no," I responded. I'm afraid of pitch-black, but so is any sane person. 
"Are you afraid of old homeless men?" 
"Uh.. haha.. no, as long as they don't rape me," I replied. 
Then he asked me to go bring the box over to a man living in a hovel, a shack maybe (but that would be dressing it up) near a semi-distant apartment building. 
"Sure," I said, thinking of how certain I was that my mother would have KILLED me, but I didn't know if "Oh, Damn! I wish I could, but my mother just hates it when I go into dark places with old homeless men," would fly with this group, and it was all within K.'s eye-sight, so I took the box over to the old man, eventually realizing that I had nothing to fear besides the prickers are on the gross growing up along the field. A small dog, who had a startling resemblance to a rat, followed me. He wore a tweed hat, the kind that has no become overly trendy, and was squat. His face was a mash of lines. "Shalom, gever, yesh li mashahu l'Shabbat," (Hello sir, I have something for Shabbat") I said, and put the box in his weak arms. "Shabbat Shalom," I smiled at him, and he smiled back, saying, "Shabbat Shalom," sweetly. That seemed like a piece of cake after K. gave me another box-heavier than a couple of the kids combined-and asked me to bring it over to the shelter. The box had vegetables, the kind that I ignored when I was ages 3-9 (the ages of most of the kids), and in fact still try to ignore but only eat when I feel guilty about eating chocolate. The box was heavy, but the children clinging onto the sides and grabbing at it's contents, persimmons and cucumbers and bell-peppers, weighing me and the box down. If I'd had a couple more arms, or better Hebrew, I might have gently swatted at them verbally or physically--but I had no option but to carry the box around the corner towards the shelter, looking around for someone to guide me. "Where should I put it down," I wondered. "Put it down in front of my door," they cried. Shit. Now was I going to be forced into making a real decision--which family would get the choiciest of the fruits and vegetables? I quickly came to the conclusion that it would just be easier to drop it somewhere in the middle, and rushed by the kids trying to get the best fruits and vegetables. The box stood almost abandoned in a minute, with some of the vegetables left ignored on the sidewalk. "Shouldn't you take these inside?" I asked them. They shook their heads. Eventually, one of the kids led me inside the shelter, the floor was covered in sand (like mine on bad days), and when I asked to use the bathroom I was guided to a little room with no door handle. When I entered, and saw their toilet, I thought of something one of my professors mentioned earlier this week, that there are tens of saying in Hebrew that mean, "We're equal," such as, "All of our shit comes from the same place," and "your head is getting to large for their shoulders. Damn, I thought, my toilet is EXACTLY the same as theirs, we really aren't so different in equality terms or dignity, we're exactly the same type of humans, but I've been given everything in my life while I know that these kids are going to have to struggle, especially in a society like Israel where they're neither "Jewish" or "Arab." 

The neighborhood, despite it's dismal location and the dismal financial situation of its residents, was bursting with delicious smells--better than any of the uber-exclusive, hyper-expensive restaurants that I walk by on a daily basis. 

One of the coolest things that I saw was an Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli woman (too many hyphens, I know!) who had lived in Iraq until she was 10. She spoke with this kids from Darfur in Arabic, even though hers was the Arabic equivalent of Yiddish and theirs was far different than say, Moroccan or Egyptian Arabic. Other kids spoke Eritrean, and others spoke who-knows-what. In the end, I was walked to the Central Bus Station (somewhere I swore I'd never go at night) by two French-Jewish students, and put safely onto a sherut uptown to my neighbor, where refugees don't reside and the immigrants are from the US and England. 

Before this voyage, I had always thought of Tel-Aviv, a flat city that is physically cohesive, as a single unit, it's only world, and Jerusalem as a totally separate world-perhaps a separate planet. Now, I got to see there are multiple Tel-Avivs, and my Tel-Aviv is nowhere near the impoverished Tel-Aviv. 

Ephraim Lilien

For anyone who's in Tel-Aviv or will be in a few months, I made my first art pilgrimage to the Ephraim Lilien Exhibit at Tel-Aviv University. The exhibit was great and featured some of his most famous works--etchings, photographs, and drawings. Some of my favorite pieces were his drawings in German bibles particularly, especially his drawings of Esther and Ruth. 
Lilien was both a Germanic artist, and only lived for a year in Israel, but in his photography his fascination with the people already living in Israel is evident. The exhibit is mostly in Hebrew, with some German and some English titles.
At the end of the exhibit, I got to talk to Ehud--the museum tender and MA Art History Student--about the future of Israeli art, and if in the future it will look west or east. He predicts that it will always look west, especially far west towards the United States. He gave me a wealth of information about Lilien that I wouldn't have gotten, either! Just more proof that talking to strangers can be terribly useful and informative. 
The only thing I was somewhat disappointed about was the exhibit's virtual emptiness. As much as I like being able to lumber about an exhibit uninhibited, it's kind of sad that at Tel-Aviv University, with 30,000+ students and how many faculty and staff, that I was all alone. The exhibit is LITERALLY at the entrance to campus, so I encourage everyone to go who can! :) 

Yad Vashem Visit

On Thursday I visited Yad Vashem with the Overseas Program. We arrived late Thursday evening, with stars over our heads and a sharp chill in the air. Yad Vashem has a confusing entrance, there are several elements to the museum--including one about the homosexuals who were killed in the Holocaust. Having been to the Washington D.C. Holocaust museum several times, this museum was not shattering the way the first two visits to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. were. Every time you visit a Holocaust museum, something new "gets" you, before I was driven to tears by the children's shoe exhibit (in DC), this time, as I entered Yad Vashem feeling a little hungry, I was struck by the guide pressing the fact that even in the ghettos, and especially in the camps, people were living on a few hundred calories today. Imagine trying to survive that horror while starving, I can barely think on an empty stomach, but picture losing everything and being completely disoriented--all while starving. Seeing pictures of starving people was what "caught" me this time, I couldn't handle looking at those stick-like bodies that looked as though they could be snapped like twigs. 

Yad Vashem ends in a room with pictures of biographical information on the ceiling in a cone-shape, with a well also in a cone-shape at the bottom. When you gaze into the well, you see your face reflected as well as the faces and the biographies behind you. It takes a village to raise a child, and historical memory to fill the head of each individual perhaps. 
Then, after walking past this half-filled room (Yad Vashem still does not know the identities of 3 million Jews who died in the Holocaust), you walk out into the Jerusalem air--which almost always has a special zing and chill to it--on account of Jerusalem's height. We went at night, so in the distance lights shimmered--this is the future, the guide said to us simplistically. 

Smelling my own freshly laundered clothes has been difficult this weekend when I think about the story of a little boy--a "snatcher"--who snatched a bag away from a woman as she came out of a supermarket. The boy was so hungry, and knew that he'd probably be caught, that almost immediately he began shoveling the bag's contents into his mouth. "But, he didn't notice that the woman wasn't running after him, just shouting at him to stop eating. And he didn't notice the strange taste of what he was eating--which wasn't food, it was laundry detergent. He poisoned himself." I'm always washing things here, always pouring out detergent, and the thought that I could accidentally put it in my mouth is horrifying. How could someone be hungry enough that they wouldn't notice these things?

Most people, upon first arriving to Israel with Birthright or another group, immediately go and see Yad Vashem, but when I came the first time George Bush wanted to see Yad Vashem, and as a result the museum was closed off to the public. When I came with CAMERA, we didn't see Yad Vashem either. I've been here for several months, and hadn't yet been to the "founding spot" upon which many trips start. Has this affected my view of Israel? I know about the Holocaust, read about it too much probably, it's been jiving in my mind for the past few weeks thanks to a history course I took, and yet I've been able to ignore, to some degree, this museum. The Holocaust signs are all around us in Israel, my best friend's grandfather survived the Holocaust, without his survival my best friend wouldn't be here and I'd probably be bored to tears in Israel, as well as lacking his insights and beautiful friendship. The park where I walked Marco, where the dogs all bark and the children scream (regularly destroying my sleep) but with an incredible fountain and thick pine trees is the "Dora Gimpel Park," given to Tel-Aviv in honor of Dora, who perished in the Holocaust. The Holocaust is ignorable in America, but in Israel, even as the survivors die out, the signs will remain everywhere. 

Later that night, I sat with a few friends in a trendy cafe on King George Street, sipping Limonana. One of these friends works on the Netanyahu campaign, and she and another friend engaged in a lively discussion about Jerusalem and it's boundaries, asking questions like, "Is Jerusalem already divided?" (The Netanyahu-ist cited her freedom of movement, while the other friend cited the demographic split in Jerusalem.) The conversation evolved until one of them asked what I saw at the museum--the usual, I replied, exhibits and photos. They pressed for more, and we began talking about the simplistic "answer": the hills of Jerusalem, that Yad Vashem leaves you with. What kills me, pardon the expression, about most Holocaust museums is their minimization of, "what about the other six million?" 12 million died in the Holocaust, why do we only hear a piece of the stories of 6 million? The head of the Romas, in Romania, is a Holocaust survivor--but how many of us know about him? Why is their pain ignored, their stories, the lessons from the deaths and lives? It's a disservice to all of us. I want to know, how do Queer Jewish Communist Holocaust survivors think? What about Jewish Handicapped survivors? The point is that Hitler was "all-encompassing," he put almost everyone in the ovens of the death camps, so shouldn't Holocaust education across the globe be so all-encompassing? 
The end of Yad Vashem bothered me, as well. Yad Vashem is, of course, a Jewish space--but it's also a space which can be very significant for non-Jews, and should be. Plenty of non-Jews died in the Holocaust, so how is a beautiful view of Jerusalem their future? It's not. It's also not the future for most Israelis and Jews, because to be a Jerusalemite takes a certain kind of brain, stamina, and coping abilities. Most of us will never be Jerusalemites, Zion will never be our home, so where is our future? 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We WON'T Stop Dancing

Anarchist, feminist, equal rights activist Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, then I won't be part of your revolution." 
Lately, the dancing has stopped all across the world as we are forced to mourn--but the loud, angry, anti-Western anti-American anti-Israel anti-tolerance revolution marches on, smashing down buildings and lives. Killing a person is like cutting down a tree, it takes so much water, nurture, and simple luck for a human to survive in this world for so long--but to cut down a human can be momentary, a life that took years to build is extinguished. I want to be part of the revolution that stops fearing terrorism and confronts it, that doesn't make excuses for terrorists (look at the London Bombers, they weren't poor or impoverished--they had choices, they chose violence and degredation of human life), I want to dance in the streets when the mood strikes me and NOT feel fear of reprocussions from any religious group. 
It's been so hard for me to think about what's happened in Mumbai, I just feel fear and want to sit in my apartment, curled up, not being offensive to anyone, not being an infidel to anyone. Today, I found out that the Rebbetzin (the rabbi's wife and fellow teacher) who died after 16 excruciating hours in her home was five months pregnant. It's like, suddenly, I can't deal with it anymore and a big flood of emotion has come bursting out, sadness and confusion and anger. I feel such confusion for how this could happen--how could someone shoot a pregnant woman, a fetus, the ultimate sign of innocence-a fetus has made no choices but holds the hope of the future--how could someone extinguish that hope with a bullet? 

Israel's in a state of national morning, as both the Rabbi and Rebbetzin (and six other victims) are being mourned. This country functions so well when there's not a cloud, but in the United States the death of six people would barely register on our radar, here it's "the topic," it's the black cloud hanging over this tiny nation. 

But, under each cloud, we can't stop dancing and moving, we can't stop hoping and dreaming. This weekend I walked to Jaffa with two friends, and their friends studying abroad in Egypt, and we walked past a Russian night club that was blown up a few years ago. There is a monument in front of the night club, that has two blue figures, and under them it says, "We Won't Stop Dancing." Even in the wake of this tragedy, even though this black cloud has invaded the newspapers, the radios, and our thoughts, I know that we can't stop dancing. We can't stop loving freedom, and we can't stop learning, we can't turn into people who sink their heads into the sand and stop dancing and just praying for safety and not liberty--we can't stop dancing, because after that, there's only stillness. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Then I walked into my building after Polish Movie Night. I saw an unknown lumbering man walking into my building dressed in a business suit, he was waiting in the foyer next to the building prostitute's apartment... but he was looking sort of lost. 

"Can I help you?" I asked him in Hebrew.
"I am waiting..... " He said, looking around nervously, his eyes not quite looking into mine. "For Tatiyana. She knows I am coming." Then he banged on her door. 
"Have a nice night," I said casually, and scurried up the stairs. I could hear his fists banging eagerly against her door. As a I scurried up by the four flights, my gut kept asking me, "Don't you want to go back down stairs and throw something at that man's head? Or slap him back to reality?" It did, but getting physically assault, or physically assaulting someone else, had not been in my plans that night. 

This woman is my neighbor, sometimes she washes the stairs just to be nice, she's got a lined face that's still beautiful, and immigrated from the former USSR. And she sells herself, to men who are religious, men who are dogs, men who know what they're doing is beyond despicable but still show their face in our building and pound on her door, asking when their "appointment" is. 
It makes me sick and horrified to know that this is happening two flights belonged. But more than the nausea it causes in my throat or the bile it forms in my mouth,  what I really want to do is hurl something sharp and hard at her "clients," not an object, but a question: "Do you know the difference between an object and a human," I want to ask them. 

Why Is Tel-Aviv So Weird?

The other day, my friend Nira and I were walking along HaYarkon  when we heard yelling. (Really, this is so common place that I barely respond to it most of the time--in fact, if there wasn't yelling, I would feel a little strange.) 
We look up, and see a desperate looking woman, with dyed-blonde hair and a diamond belly-button ring wearing a white tube-top, screaming down at us. It's the Russian Embassy, and this woman is sort of sitting on a ledge SCREAMING bloody murder and--she doesn't speak Hebrew or English. She had cleaning products in her hand, so we had to assume that she was cleaning the window and got locked out. Her face was terrified, and I just stood there for a few seconds until Nira snapped to, and I whipped out my cell to call the police. Nira, being a little sharper in an emergency than me, rang the embassy bell and got someone to come out--who promptly noticed the screaming woman and went inside to open the window that she was locked out of ... with a grin on his face.

The night before, I charmed the security guard at my local bank (we now have chats) by giving him some Challah, made fresh at the bakery down the street by a lovely Spanish-Jewish-Israeli religious couple. Now that we're pals, he lets me into the bank without searching my bag or checking my ID.. and he thinks I'm Australian, I tried to say "American" but it didn't quite pass over. 

A short while later, we got on the bus--and lo and behold, a fight broke out between a gentleman who looked like he had survived not only the second but possibly the first world war, and an "arse" the generic term for "guido" in Hebrew, someone who wears too much fake bling, tight shirts and tight jeans, who was in his 20's. A SCREAMING match ensued (one can see why I'm desensitized), the whole bus sat riveted as hands were flying, angry words, yada yada yada. So finally, I tap the violinist behind me, and am like, "What's going on?" And he says, "Oh, the young man has his feet on the seat..." That's it? I asked. Yup. Another five minutes of fighting ensued, until the older man huffily got off the bus, cursing the ass as he walked out the door. 

I love the smells of the trees here, the fresh fruit that's ripening, the way that when you smile at someone they look so pleasantly surprised. But these 'incidents' seem to happen every day, these bizarre, funny things that are so inexplicable that I almost can't go through my day without expecting them.

Today, I was late for "Polish Movie Night" and hopped in a cab. The driver began chatting with me, asking where I was from and what I was studying, then he told me that he had three kids ("how nice") and that he has a wife--and a girlfriend. I thought my Hebrew was bad... but no, I was right:
"Wife AND girlfriend I have... but wife doesn't know about girlfriend," he said proudly, waving two fingers around..
 "And three children?" I said as though this were a normal conversation. 
"It's wonderful." He sighed.
"Does your wife have a boyfriend too?" I asked casually.
 "Maybe she does.. I don't know if she has a boyfriend. You know," He began to tell me, "I only have a girlfriend one week a year."
 I paused, "Is that so?" (Why do I need to know his adultery patterns? I really wasn't sure.) "Yes--not ALL the time," (Why, I wanted to know, if you're already cheating on your wife would it be so ridiculous-seeming for you to do it for more than a week a year? ) 
"You know," He says in his thick voice, "It's really all about sex--" (At this point, I couldn't take it anymore. I just had to stop him from finishing that sentence, and I really didn't want him to start telling me about his tantric sex life with his mistress.)
"I'm religious," I said firmly.
"How religious?" He asked me, looking back (NOT watching the road, ahem!!) and looking at my pants. "You keep all the mitzvot?" He looked dubious.
"Yup--all of 'em," I said without enthusiasm.

Then, he turned the radio up... blissful silence! 

Monday, November 17, 2008


"When you are a foreigner, you function about as well as a retarded person." -Adir
A friend of mine said this to me as we were walking home along the streets of Tel-Aviv last night, me taking him home from his art class in exchange for some free corn schnitzel and laughs. 

Am I A City Person? Or a Country Person? 
I love the lay-out of streets, endless shops to pause into, when trees seem special because they're surrounded by forests of sidewalk, and being able to glance at thousands of people a day. I love the energy of this city, I don't like the pushing and the shoving and the fact that some clerks assume that they're stuck in the 15th century and thus can't be 21st century efficient. But, I love this little town by the sea--where you can see the strangest person doing the strangest things alongside overly casual businessmen on telephones yelling at this secretaries. Today I was sitting in the Mediterranean, not exactly swimming, and I looked up at a line of hotels along the Tel-Aviv shore. I was reminded of a picture that I saw in my art history class today, in 1909 Tel-Aviv was nothing more than a big sand-dune. It was crowded with hopes and dreams of a new Jewish, Hebrew city, camels and donkeys and the occassional sheep (they used to run down the roads here until the 1960s from Jaffa). Today, Tel-Aviv is built on concrete, but is still a youthful, playful, livable city. I read a quote by Israeli artist, Reuven Rubins, who fled to Tel-Aviv after a bad experience in Jerusalem. (Can anyone really experience Jerusalem without having a bad trip down this or that lane?) Anyways, Rubins said: 
"I felt that I too should stay in Tel-Aviv, for I fell in love with the youthful character of the city, and the sea had always held an attraction for me." 

Or do I like the country better? 
This weekend, I was in the North with the Overseas program. We stayed in the Galilee, the middle, but hiked on Mount Meron, in the Golan, and in the lower Galilee. The hikes were gorgeous, and I actually enjoyed them--they weren't too intense, had some beautiful views, and we got to see some adorable horses, majestic oak trees, and fields the color of my friend Sarah's icy blonde hair. It reminded me how much I love being in nature, I haven't been in it since Amirim, and how tiny and big it makes me feel at the same time. I keep forgetting how greenery opens up my soul, it makes me feel free and wild and playful and joyful again. There's nothing I love more than walking in a city at night--except making walking under the stars in the country. I saw my first shooting star in the countryside of Israel, in Amirim, and will never forget it or what I wished for. 
In the north visited a sulfur-smelling hot-spring (that made me feel a tad itchy), a winery where it seemed all the girls lapped up this white wine called "Muscat" that was sweet and yummy. 

I roomed with four girls, Sarrah (she's basically my Sarah-Billian replacement in Israel, from Queens), and a girl from Georgia and a girl from China. Both incredibly sweet, but for four girls one bathroom is NOT enough by far. Sarrah played a prank on me with Jacques, the resident snob from England/South Africa, and I got to know another South African a bit. 

I also noticed that I'm happier than I used to be, I'm singing LOUDLY in the shower now, humming as I walk down the street, and kind of skipping along after I go for work-outs at the gym. (I almost fell over and sprained my ankle today as a result.. but that's another story.) 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

University Life

What's up in Tel-Aviv--
Municipal Elections: Tel-Aviv is going through its municipal elections, some of the bigger parts are the Parties City for Everyone (run by Communists), To Give Life (an animal rights group), Meretz (they have an American branch) and the Green Party. City for Everyone has the most volunteers (according to one of their volunteers) and their volunteers seem to flooded the streets, the bulletin boards, and beyond. I've tried asking for an explanation between the parties, but all I get are "oh, this one is slightly more left wing than that one." I asked the City for Everyone party volunteer to explain to me why he was volunteering for them, his reply was: "It's the best." (thanks for the insight!) City for Everyone has the platform that they'll make the city more affordable, especially around the Jaffa area where many Arab families cannot pay their taxes. Tel-Aviv is slowly becoming a city where only the wealthy and single can live (thoughts of New York harken back), it's vibrancy so attractive that prices are rising and slowly choking off the city to families and anyone without a large amount of money for rent. 
All of these parties were out rallying at Yitzhak Rabin's memorial, a formerly less-political event. Now, its almost an orgy of martyrdom for Yitzhak Rabin, with politics as its purpose and slogan and the memory of Rabin slowly fading. It's not a time for Israelis to come together, rather it's a time for them to see banners. 
One of the most surprising things about the memorial, which seemed to take over Kikar Rabin and the surrounding streets, was that many youth groups were out and about. Between Habonim Dror, and plenty of others--all with similarly styled blue shirts--the youth (age 8 onwards) seemed to dominate the scene. 
Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni, and others spoke about the need to create a better Israel, with more stable internal relations and better relations with Palestinian neighbors. 
At the end of the night, I felt almost hollow. Politics has taken over memory, and something as straightforward as commemorating the death of a fellow human being, who was murdered, has been made partisan. This country is so fractured,and all the time opportunities for unity--between the holidays and memorials--are becoming fraught with tension and division. 
I'm constantly thinking, "Israel could learn from this or that in Diaspora communities" or "Diaspora Jews should do this like Israelis..." In truth, Diaspora Jewish communities are highly fractured as well--although (thank G-d) political differences are often a little smaller, and don't pit Jew against Jew the way they do in Israel. 

In other news, people were pushing and shoving all over the place at this event--even a memorial for Rabin couldn't spark manners. Someone, an opinionated American from the midwest, recently said to me: "Israelis act like animals, walking around with cellphones." 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Israeli Charm and Inefficiency

This weekend I got on a bus to Jerusalem, for the Building-Future-Leadership seminar run by MASA. program is for college and post-college students (although there were some rabbinical students, and several students from the Israel Government Fellows Program--which sounds pretty neat.) 
The program was great for several reasons:
1) The staff was friendly and knowledgeable. While my group leader, a lively Jerusalemite half-American-half-Canadian, stood out as "staff" she also had a strong "friend" vibe and didn't set herself apart in our group discussions. 
2) Our speakers included Moshe Kainas (from Avarim), Yehuda Bar-Shalom (who happens to be one my teachers and the head of the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem), and Dani Gliksberg, who along with 5 friends helped to found Ayalim Student Village. 
3) The other participants came from all over the world, but all are doing programs in Israel. Some are on Otzma, at the University of Haifa, Tel-Aviv University, and Because We Care (along with several other programs.) My sub-group for discussion and ideas has 13 people--and only four were Americans. 

On Thursday, we were welcomed, and then heard from Yehuda Bar-Shalom, who gave a speech based on "citizenship principles" based on, what is an active citizen, what is a passive citizen, who is a participatory citizen? Yehuda also talked about the influence of those around children, using himself as an example and his "Youth Aliyah" to a strict Kibbutz, and how a few good and bad teachers turned around his ideas of himself. We also had an session on identity, and were given quotes about identifying ourselves, and our origins, as crucial before we can identity our leadership styles. 

The next day we went to Har Herzl (Mount Herzl) where several Israeli leaders are buried at the top of the mountain (Herzl at the top), followed by luminaries like Levi Eshkol, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Golda Meir. While walking by their graves we discussed their leadership styles, from Golda's "charming" Kissinger to Rabin's legacy. On the second level of graves on Har Herzl are victims of terror. 
Batya, our group leader, asked us to think about why the mountain was set up with leaders on top, victims in the middle, and soldiers on bottom? Are soldiers, perhaps, the basis of Israeli society (and considering their reserve duty until they are in their 40's, Israelis remain soldiers throughout their lives) and that is on the bottom? Or is it because everyone can be a soldier, but only a few can be leaders? 
We also visited the Herzl Museum, and learned about his life. It's amazing to realize that Herzl only lived 8.5 years spreading the Zionism as a viable idea, and even bought a charter for 1 million Turkish lira for the State of Israel. At first, he was reviled by the establishment (working with the establishment was another theme throughout the seminar, do you work with it or create a new one?) Today, so many people whose lives are safe, and more secure, due to Zionism consider themselves post-Zionists, or have forgotten the meaning of Zionism. Herzl never lived to see people grow tired of Zionism, because he was never even able to see his ideas fully flushed out. He died not realizing that his dream would be a reality--despite his (mistranslated) quote: "If you will it, it is not a dream." 

Motti Kainas, a former Shaliach to San Fransisco and partial founder of Avarim, an organization meant to promote civil society in Israel, and the ideals of Zionism. I particularly enjoyed Motti's aims to make Israel a "nicer" society: like bringing lines and more consideration into Israel. It's a daily challenge for me to handle the disorder here, the randomness, the pushing--it's another bit about Israeli life that stresses me and makes me feel like dust. And it's especially off-putting because you know that it's not intentional, that the Israeli system is not in any way meant to be rude or demeaning, it's just appears to me, as an Anglo, impolite and degrading. And of course, there are so many exceptions, so many Israelis who try to inject a bit of thoughtfulness, and the ability to stand in a line, into society. 

Dani Glicksberg's project was maybe the most inspiring. After the death of two of his friends in a terrorist attack, Glicksberg and 5 friends set up Ayalim Student Villages, using their army dispensation money (something Israeli soldiers are given after they finish the army for marriage, education, or buying a house) and loans ("we didn't even think about paying them back, we just did it."-this was another aspect that we argued about, should you believe in your idea so hard that you don't plan on failure? I said no.) They set up student villages in devleopment towns in the Negev and the Galil, students do 500 hours of community work a year, and live in these depressed development towns bringing new life to them and new young people. In return, they get a full-scholarship for school. 
After graduation, 85% of the students choose to stay where they are, giving further live and money to these towns. Dani Glicksberg also offered this silver lining: student moved into abandoned, run-down buildings in the Old City of Acco, which was 100% Muslim. They students were both Arab and Jewish. Eventually, some Arab students began getting threats that from the neighbors that they were being "disloyal" because they were living with Jews. Fortunately, time and a lot of work smoothed over this divide, and during the recent riots in Acco, students were told by their Arab neighbors "Don't worry, you're safe." Particularly the story in Acco put coexistence in a new light, coexistence is one thing, but when it's your direct neighbor (as opposed to many self-segregated neighborhoods in Israel) and you live and work directly with them and their children. Glicksberg also mentioned that "we try to inject a little Judaism, not dati, but Jewish lessons into our work." :) Student villages are 50-50 dati (religious) and secular, with friendships flourishing, and said: "Many of the secular students have their kitchens koshered so that their religious friends can visit." 

I was also able to see a friend who goes to Hebrew U for the semester, and attend her Halloween party (my costume: a slightly sloppy American.) It was nice to have a little Halloween spirit :) 
I also found out about "The Merkaz" an anglo center in Jerusalem, with games, activities, and programming that people (*Shaina*) in Jerusalem might be interested in. They also have a virtual center in T.A. for anglos! 

In other news, the NYTimes had a GREAT article about Tel-Aviv art scene, this makes me even happier that I'm taking an Israeli art course-I can't wait to understand it all! 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oh Boy...

Right now I'm in Bulgaria. I left Israel on the 7th and headed to Istanbul, where I stayed for three nights. I'm in Bulgaria until the 18th, right now in the medieval town of Veliko Travono but soon heading to Sofia to be with a friend from Ulpan (hebrew language program.) On the 18th I'm leaving and going to Macedonia to stay with a Seeds of Peace friend for a few days, then heading to Salonika, Greece for a day and half.. then boarding a 12 hour train back to Istanbul, then on to Israel!

Turkey was scrumscious! The food and the people, although the language barrier is continually frustrating--in Hebrew at least I have some words to communicate and to make my general point, but here I have almost NO words at my disposal.
Turkey was easier language wise, because they use the Roman Alphabet (thank you Attaturk!) but in Bulgaria and Macedonia they use the Cyrillic alphabet, and then in Greece they use the Greek alphabet... Whew! Also, they accept Euros in all of these countries (2/4 are EU members and Turkey is on its way to membership) but Euros are only the main currency in Greece. I have shekels, dollars, Levas, Lira, and Euros in my wallet right now! (It's kind of harrying!)

Istanbul took my breath away from the time I was flying over it, I had expected to like it but had also been very anxious about being in Istanbul relatively alone. I was in a touristy section, admittedly, but the city which straddles Europe and Asia had a very European feel to it in terms of the layout of buildings and streets which set me at ease quickly. Looking at the Bosphorus, the Marmara sea, and the black sea all hovering to make Istanbul a three-spliced city, and then seeing the slanted red roofs Istanbul came like a dream.
One of the first things I noticed when getting off the airplane and getting my visa was that there was no baggage claim for Tel-Aviv, so I promptly went to the Turkish Air desk and asked them where the Tel-Aviv luggage was--"No 6," the clerk replied helpfully. I paced back to No. 6 only to see women in burqas--NOT my people, or even my adopted people--and noticed that it was for the flight from Medina, Saudi Arabia. I guess someone at Turkish Airlines was a bit drunk when they did this, not realizing how painfully awkward it would be.. Just what the world needs: a grumpy encounter between Israelis and Saudis at the Istanbul airport. Oy! So I marched back to the desk and (eventually) got my baggage.

When I got on the subway after my first Starbucks in months (praise G-d!) I noticed that the people had a very different vibe from Israelis. Maybe it's that in Israel everything is on buses and not lightrail which is much more comfortable, or but I really felt a totally new vibe in Istanbul. It was friendlier and less expectant, I think, and maybe a little less on edge.

In Istanbul I saw Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Great Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the Museum of Modern Art, the "New Mosque," and another Mosque by Yildiz Park. I understand why the Emporer Justinian said, "Solomon I have outdone you," when Aya Sofya was completed. It's a bit of mess right now after significant decay, but the Cathedral turned Mosque turned Museum is definitely a sight to behold! The Blue Mosque was also amazing, I love mosque architecture, but I especially loved the "New Mosque." I saw it on my way back across the Galata Bridge and stopped in just to check it out, it looked a little bit like Disney World (I know this sounds sooo uncultured) all lit up at night against a dark blue backdrop. I went in--with one of my new pashminas and a skirt, and sat in the back during evening prayers and meditated. I also played with some Turkish children, and impressed one of their grandmothers by saying "Masrallah" when I saw how cute this one little baby girl was. The mosque was so peaceful, and unlike at Yom Kippur services, I wasn't trying to semi-concentrate. (I met someone who lives in my neighbor at Yom Kippur services and we chit-chatted through parts of it because it was quite long.) Instead, I just let my mind meditate and cleared my head. At another Mosque, one by Yildiz, the Imam complemented me on my manners (I wore a long scarf and skirt into the mosque and was modest and quite--there was another woman there who, despite the signs, was wearing a belly-shirt and no headcovering.) The Imam was a little shocked when I told him I was American and said, "They should make more young ladies like yourself." :)
The Turkish people, aside maybe from the ones running my hostel, were incredibly kind and sort of goofy in their dealings with me. They were smiley and charming! Aside from the constant carpet-selling young men who chase you around but also give good directions and are VERY cute. One young rug-merchant had a hallucination when he saw me, apparently, because I wore my scarf the same way and had the same hair as his old American girlfriend-who is from Vermont. (I found the ONLY way to really get the rug-dealers away from me was to say "Actually, I only like Persian carpets..." That sours the mood instantly, although they'll try to convince you, I sense that they're dismayed and this makes walking/running away only easier.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pomegranates and Race

In Israel, I've noticed that I've been feeling "not quite like myself." I've been wondering, for a few months (it's my three month anniversary here soon!) what has been going on. 

Today, it dawned on me that my body, my mind, and everything I know is in an upheaval. I've discovered fruits I never knew existed, and could never have imagined existed. Today, I opened up my first pomegranate and thousands of beautiful, pearl-shaped pink seed-sacks spilled out. I only tried one because I was at a shop with my friend who was amazed to discover that I'd never had pomegranate, and promptly bought me one and explained how to eat it. I've never needed an explanation when it comes to fruit before, now I have to call people for instructions... "Which part is edible again?" I have to ask them. 

When my neighbor and I were having a discussion about a friend of mine who stopped by, he referred to her as "black." I got confused, "No, she's Iraq, not black," I said in confusion. "No, in Israel the term 'black' can apply to any non-European," he said. His parents are from Morocco, but in the United States he would be considered "white." It took us a few minutes to get what he was staying, but at the end of the day, when I see someone of Mizrahi descent I won't see, or think, "black" while Israelis will. I will see "Mizrahi" or "Jewish" or "I-have-no-idea-because-you-can't-tell-people's-ethnicity-by-looking-at-them." In Israel, I cannot tell who is a Jew or an Arab just by looking at someone's face, and I cannot tell who is Mizrahi or Ashkenazi any more than I can tell who is left wing or who is right wing. While outward signs help me to distinguish the different costumes that Israelis wear to signal their identities to this greater community, they aren't enough to make me even close to being an insider. 

I've gone from understanding to misunderstandings. I've said things that, when translated, are perverse, blatantly incorrect, and sometimes funny. In the United States, when I attend a meeting language is not even a question. In the United States, I "get it," I get the lingo, the body language, the implications. Here, I've started off fresh--yes, I'm 21, but in Israeli society, exactly how old am I? I know about the army, but I don't know the different terms about the army that are printed into the Israeli mind. I know about university, but not exactly how Israelis apply to universities. I'm a child and an adult. Friends have to lead me around and take care of me, and I have to let myself be taken care of in ways that I never have been before. I am clueless, but clued in. No amount of reading could ever have prepared me for living in a foreign country, in a society filled with the most intense kindness but also such intense anger and bitterness. 

Language has taken over my life. After 5 hours a day in ulpan, for 2.5 months, my head is ready to explode. As much as I want my Hebrew to improve, I also need to communicate with people--and am blessed that the world's lingua franca is my mother tongue. When I went to a Seeds of Peace reunion meeting recently, it was all in Hebrew. I picked up a word here and there, but it was difficult--even though I had a translator. I feel unengaged when this language barrier presents itself--hard as I try, it reminds me of my "outsider" status. 
When I went to Ahoti, thanks to activist Shlomit Lir, I discovered a whole new world of Mizrahi feminist activism, that involves anger, passion, the desire to move forward and the desire to reconsider the past in new ways. These women were so exuberant, in both their frustration and their happiness. I knew what they were saying was crucially important, but at the same time, I had no idea EXACTLY what they were saying. What the nuances they wanted to communicate were. All I knew what, I was visibly different from these women--very American, and almost too white. They asked me if I was Russian (no), if I'm a new immigrant (no), if Mount Holyoke really is as advanced in gender issues as they hear (what does that mean?), and how I like Israel (my feelings change more than the weather in New England.) Their website is amazing, but so are they: 

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Land of Israel

What is "Eretz Yisrael"--or the land of Israel?
Is it the dirt? (Is that too obvious an answer?)
The footprints that the people of Israel have left in land, in a spiritual or physical sense?
Is it the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people about the fate and status of this land?

When I was in Latrun at the Latrun monastery, I went wandering into their vineyard and at one point reached down and touched the soil and held it in my hand. I let it slide through my fingers and then looked up towards the sky.

Standing on the land of the monastery, in that beautiful valley, with framed hills in the background and views of Neve Shalom (or "Oasis of Peace") I truly felt my feet planted in the Land of Israel. This feeling doesn't make me think that Israel is my absolute, current home-- and this is not to say that I think I will make Aliyah. It was just the first time in my heart that I feel a connection to the soil--not to buildings or to people--but to the physicality of this place. When I spent six weeks in Ireland one summer, a place where people from both sides of my family come from and where I have family, I felt blessed and stimulated the moment I set foot on Irish soil. The physicality of the land and everything about it sat well with me, and I found that Irish people simply rubbed in a certain way that was very, very positive. This is not to say that if I went back I wouldn't see things that bothered me, or things that I questioned, I just found being there was very easy. Israel has given me more challenges, and consequently a lot to think about, mull over, grapple with, and occassionally cry about. Israel is also a constant batch of surprises, everyday something shocks me... it's kind of like a constant series of intellectual earthquakes being here. So, yes, Israel is difficult for me--but if I can connect to the land, then I'm hoping that my connection to this place will only deep and become more beautiful and more eclectic over time.
Feeling those little bits of soil, I realize that Israel is the center of the destiny of the Jewish people, so it is permanently and forever etched onto my destiny. At the same time, I realize believe in the Diaspora as being a positive thing. The Jewish people have brought so much to my own country, let alone the whole world, in terms of work for social justice, science, literature--even understandings of sexuality. I cannot imagine the United States without the Jewish community, or the Jewish community without the United States (which has been so wonderfully nurturing.)
This place is a part of my destiny, not the whole thing, and slowly it's feeling less and less foreign and scary. Being at Latrun also reminded me, so much, of waking up from a dream. It was a little like Deja vu. My heart is slowly, but surely, waking up to Eretz Yisrael.


Kehilla--Mount Holyoke Vs. Israel: As school is starting up at Mount Holyoke, and I'm seeing all the new excited photos on facebook from convocation, I'm getting a little jealous! Living off campus is amazing, and I think one of the most crucial things this study abroad has taught me is what I'm capable of and how to seek help effectively for the things that I'm not capable of. As much as I have friends here, and love them, what I really lack is the "community" feeling of Mount Holyoke. (Community is "kehilla" in Hebrew.)
I miss having intelligent, varied, beautiful women who inspire me at my fingertips--so instead I've replaced them with a country. Israel has inspired me, and challenged me in new ways that MoHo never could. Why? Because at Mount Holyoke, people are ALWAYS there to help you, it's a wonderfully nurturing place. I always have someone (usually someones) to turn to, who can offer me advice and solutions. Here, I find I reach out to random strangers and friends alike with the craziest questions. Being involved with Seeds of Peace has provided me with amazing friends, people who I knew when I was 14 who have now grown into amazing, vibrant adults who are changing their worlds and shaking things up. So, no, I'm not on my own--but I'm more on my own than I have ever been before. People in Israel LOVE to ask about your living situation--where do you live EXACTLY, whom do you live with (if someone's creepy I make up a boyfriend who is in Russia on business.) When people find out that I have no family here, and that I don't live with roomates, their reaction is that I'm "lavad"--alone. I don't feel alone, though, because I have some great inner resources that my parents endowed me with, and some great resources from Mount Holyoke-St. Mark's-Seeds of Peace, as well as some amazing friends.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Today I told someone, "Half the reason I take the bus is to meet people." Well.. that's not exactly true, there aren't so many other transportation options here because I left my helicopter in America and since I have the agility of someone in a body cast a motorcycle is out of the question. I can, and have, walked the length of Tel-Aviv, but it is just too sweaty in this climate to do so regularly. The public transportation here is excellent (with the exception of Shabbat), but I also come from a place with almost no public transportation. (I'm talking about my hometown here, the Valley has good public transportation.) 
The craziest things happen to me while I wait for and am on the bus. I usually have to ask people questions about where it's going, where something is, and we end up in a conversation about where I'm from, if I'm Jewish, if I'm religious, if my parents are religious, what country my grandparents are from, and it just takes off from there. It happens about 3/5 times I ride the bus, and sometimes I even make a friend. (I was hugged by a beautiful music student from Herziliya the other day when I was riding the bus to meet a friend in the 7-Stars mall.) 

It's so common to take the bus in Israel that it doesn't seem to have socioeconomic stimga the way it does in the United States, because it really is the easiest way to get around and there are fewer cars (one source told me that cars are 150% more expensive than in the United States). You don't have to think about directions, and get to glide through most of Israel for what amounts to less than $7 (from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, about the same price from T.A.-Haifa.) 

I had my first experience on a semi-kosher bus when coming back from Sulha. I got on and discovered that no women were sitting next to men (even husband-wife teams weren't.) Fortunately, I wasn't Rosa-Parked (on real kosher buses women have to sit in the back, men sit in the front), and the aisles were mixed. I'm fairly certain my oversized backpack (which is gender-free) accidentally whacked a few people (it usually does--it's pretty hostile..) A part of me wonders what all this would be like in the United States, if mainstream society actually thought anything about sitting next to someone of the opposite gender. These are the little phenomena that keep reminding me, Toto, we're not in western Massachusetts anymore! 

I'm slowly starting to learn which bus goes where in Tel-Aviv, and love Arlozorov station (which the train station part in the bottom calls "Savidor.") The new central bus (or the n.c.b.s.) in sketchy south Tel-Aviv, has an interesting design to say the least. In the words of someone I met there the other day, it  "is a fucking labryinth which only makes sense of you've been dropping acid since you were 12 years old." As much as I love the idea of understanding the n.c.b.s' layout better, dropping acid remains unattractive. 

Monday, September 1, 2008


-Wow, this year's Sulha festival was incredible! It was at the Latrun Trappiste monastery in Latrun, I'm glad I went--but would have gone even for the views. It gave me some great time to reflect on everything that's happening between Arabs and Israelis here. 

At the three day event, there were workshops on multi-cultural and multi-faith issues, listening circles, arts and crafts, music, space for kids (I got to hang out with an awesome 10 year old at Sulha--he told me that in Israel, snow men are called 'snow dolls.') 

Some great thinkers were at Sulha, but what I enjoyed was just connecting to the different people there, especially the volunteers around my age (many of whom were from Nazareth.) Sure, a bunch of them were the typical kooky-crunchy peaceniks, but they were great! I also was amazed by the monastery, and took a long walk in the vineyard and through an olive orchard. It strikes me, again and again, how dissimilar the topography is here and the topography back home. The olive orchard was almost sandy, very hard to climb through (especially when you're wearing birkenstocks.) 

There was just this amazing feeling of commraderie and creativity that ran through Sulha that I can't describe--because you'll have to go see it for yourself. Even now, I wear my Sulha bracelet. The conflict is overwhelming to think about--and living here, I do find myself thinking about it everyday. Sometimes, I find myself honed into thinking about the government aspects of the conflict, when I know it's just as important to remember the people who are LIVING this conflict. The people of Sderot, the people of Gaza who are being objected to virtual slavery and imprisonment from Hamas. Being at Sulha reminded me to put a human face on everything. 

I want to be here next year for Sulha.. but I have a little feeling that I'll be back home in America! 
-More info at

Blessings of Israel

It seems that everyday I get asked if I like living in Israel. There are so many things that I love about living here--being in a very ancient place and experiencing a very modern culture like Tel-Aviv, the myriad of cultural opportunities, and just watching Israel emerge as underdog into international power. I wish people would ask me, though, "What are the blessings of living in Israel?"
What I love about Israel is that I GET to dislike it or like it or criticize it--if I want. I'm free to express myself (as long as I'm not giving up military secrets.. but hey, I don't know any of those!) In America, I also enjoy this freedom, but when I think of my friends who are studying in other places, I realize just how careful they have to be with their speech. In Israel, where you can see someone wearing ultra-religious garb walking next to someone flaunting almost every inch of their secular/bad-ass body, the freedom of expression is taken for granted. As much as anti-Israel advocates spend their days thrashing everything about Israel, it has never seemed to me that they actually address that the society/place which they are fighting for offers them few rights in the way of speech (unless that speech is anti-Israel.) Israel is a tiny haven of expression and freedom in a whirlpool of countries (Iran.. Iraq...Libya..) where people can really talk about the social and political issues happening in their society, and thus work to make real changes. 

In Israel, gay couples live with government protection--tell me which Arab country boasts the same protections for its citizens who are homosexuals or engage in homosexual practices? In Israel, women can rise high in government and in the private sector (no--not as high as I'd like, but they're making strides that are equal to or greater than in the United States0> Unfortunately, in Israel some (non-Jewish) groups do commit (dis)honor-killings against their wives/daughters/mothers who have been brutalized and raped. In Israel, though, women receive government protection. 

This weekend, I was able to sit in a Jerusalem cafe loudly debating about 9/11 with my friend, who is an Arab Muslim. This is the ultimate freedom that Israel provides--and this is why Israelis and Americans (politicians and civilians alike) to truly connect to one another. We both come from expression societies, where are freedom of speech is guaranteed. I only wish everyone else in the world could enjoy this enormous blessing! 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Photos of Nazareth

Nazareth is one of my all-time favorite places. Our tour guide (a German who made aliyah a few years ago) told us that there is a dispute over whether or not a place called "Nazareth" really existed, or how important it was, since the historian Josephus never mentioned it in his works on the Galilee. 
Well, it certainly exists today! Nazareth was considered to be a Jewish city at the time Jesus lived here, our tour guide told us, but today Jewish people live in Upper Nazareth (Nazareth Illit) while Arabs (Christian and Muslim) live in the city itself. Riding by bus to Nazareth from Haifa takes about 45 minutes, and it's an absolutely journey which goes past fields of olive trees. 
Nazareth today is being changed by its location--inside the green line of Israel (future-centered, high-tech) and the past (clothes still hang on lines, women need to dress modestly, and guest houses like the incredible Fauzi Azar Inn still beckon to the past.) 

The places that are a a see are Mary's Well (inside the Greek-Orthodox Church of the Visitation), here I accidentally drank holy water. The church with Mary's Well is very different, structurally, from the Basilica. While both are still Churches, the Basilica has a colder, more isolated feeling, but boasts stained glass windows that make a person of any religion feel as though they're swimming through color. The Basilica of the Annunciation is an easy 15 minute walk from the Well, and also has pictures of Mary that have been donated from country's all around the world. These pictures have the common theme of veneration of Mary, but also reflect the places that they come from. The Mary of Egypt, complete with Arabic writing, sits pleasantly next to a much brighter Mary of Ireland, with Gaelic inscriptions. 
The White Mosque and the various shuks were also a delight! 
Nazareth has for over 100 years drawn Christian pilgrims, so the city caters to tourists, but it's far from a tourist trap. Winding around the back alleys of Nazareth to find the real city and you'll be rewarded. This city has so many sites, smells, and sounds that it's really a treasure for the eyes, nose, and ears:) 
There are so many little stories in Nazareth, that I would strongly recommend getting on a tour so as not to miss anything! 
I posted pictures from Nazareth on Flickr: 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Packing Ect.

-Documentation: A visa to Israel (because even Jewish people can't stay here for 3+ months without a visa--and it's less expensive/easier to get it in the United States!) Some people in my Ulpan haven't gotten them and almost have to go home.

-Medicine: ALL of your perscriptions, while it's possible to get them here, it's a pain.
-Dictionary: An electronic Hebrew dictionary--so much lighter than lugging one to the grocery store/bus station.
-Water: A Water Bottle (like Sigg), but be SURE to buy a Brita here--unless you want kidney stones!
-A pack to squeeze clothes/ect into.
-Maps of Israel.
-Phone numbers of the US Embassy/Consulate.
-The other thing I really wish I had was a pair of light, easy, loose pants. Jeans get sweltering here in the summer/fall, light and airy clothes can just make life 10X better :)
-A short-wave radio! (You can hear Lebanese radio in Haifa!)


Packing-Wow, it really helps to have an ultra-organized mother/father for this task! 

Things You Should DEFINITELY Bring: 
-Modest clothing! (for all seasons) (And shorts to wear under your skirt--once you leave Meah She'arim, you can just whip that skirt off and be cool again!) 
-Comfortable shoes are a must, especially for Jerusalem. I recommend padded sneakers. 
-Bring enough toiletries, especially make-up--make-up is about 3X more expensive here in Israel! 
-Bug spray and sunscreen! 
-A Lonely Planet. 
-A driver's license for renting a car, and extra passport copies. 

Things You can buy without too much expense: 
-Buy towels and sheets here, because they take up so much room. 
-"Hippie"-ish clothes. 
-Flip-flops (I love the Haviannas with Israeli flags--thanks Sarah!) 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

First Week at TAU

Tel-Aviv University is a beautiful, palm-lined campus in Ramat-Aviv. I've spending the year here, living in "Little Tel-Aviv." I choose Tel-Aviv for a few reasons: 
1) Things are open all the time--24/7, there are loads of art museums and artists, it's a "newer" city less history than Jerusalem, but I find it every bit as interesting. 
2) Tel-Aviv is host to far less tension than Jerusalem! 
3) TAU is world-class, as are Haifa, BGU, and the Hebrew U. 
4) Tel-Aviv is  more relaxed, with beaches, beach bums, and people sitting in cafes for hours gabbing. 

Why I Chose Haifa's Ulpan: 
1) I'd heard that Haifa's a difficult city to visit as a tourist because there are few affordable (for college students) places to live. Having a place to live, and a month to get used to Haifa, was great! 
2) Haifa is an amazing city--lined with flowers, trees, and next to the sea. Mount Carmel, with the Baha'i gardens at its base, provided an incredible view! 

A few things about Ulpans: 
-Ulpans are Hebrew-language courses. 
 The TAU Ulpan has been going well so far, but I've found myself missing the organized, more rigid atmosphere of the University of Haifa where there were so many activities that were structured. Haifa took their students on amazing--free-"tiyuls" to places like Nazareth (which can also be a bit daunting to visit on your own), around Haifa, Caesaria, Acco, and Jerusalem.  

Haifa's dorms (Talia) were amazing! I lived in a condo-esque apartment, with a private bathroom, and five wonderful roommates. Except for another American, all were Jewish Israelis, one from Jerusalem, three from the North. Now, I'm living in the middle of the city, with dogs barking, babies crying, and next to HaYarkon Park (one of the most beautiful places in T.A.)