Tuesday, December 24, 2002

On an even LIGHTER note...

As promised, here's me, on the Dead Sea.


On a lighter note

This is where we ended up having dinner. Mmmm! Five different kinds of salads, cold Carlsberg beer, hot, freshly baked pita right out of a stone oven, steaming chick peas nestled in virgin olive oil on hummus, and then skewers of roasted beef and lamb. Hot tea with fresh sprigs of mint floating in it, and two tiny sweets, and great company. This is where the locals eat, assured our friend Tuvia.

Karen writes about Yad Vashem

We did go to Yad Vashem. It's not easy to describe. Approaching it from another perspective first: the museums we've visited in Israel are designed very differently than those in the U.S. The "one large building" with or without a garden with sculpture or benches is not really the standard look here. Certainly, the museums are large buildings. But they are more often, connected buildings that have open passageways connecting them, which continually keep the visitor experiencing the outside. The Israel Museum, for instance, brings you through a large visitor center/coat room/gift shop/cafeteria space, and then you leave that building in order to go "to the museum." By doing this, you cross through an open landscaped space filled with both modern and contemporary sculpture, and pieces of ancient mosaics. After about 100 yards of walking, you come upon another building, which is actually three interconnected buildings that have entrances on three different levels (Jerusalem being mountainous, it depends where along the open space you choose to enter the building). The Dead Sea Scrolls and their space was described earlier.

The Bible-Lands Museum (which is much, much better than this hokey name implies) is similar -- a large space, built in a vaguely ziggurat style, but still, there are places where you find yourself walking through an open door into a separate building, with the sky above you.

(a brief digression: the Bible-Lands Museum is well worth the visit for anyone interested in the development of civilization in this part of the world. The exhibits are beautifully laid out, and the overlay of pieces of scripture unexpectedly enhance the presentation: "Rebekah went to the well" is inscribed over a series of ancient pitchers and you suddenly realize -- it's THESE pitchers Rebekah would have carried. Ah.)

The archeological museums we visited in Zippori, Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Ceasarea are even more intriguing. For instance, in Jaffa and Jerusalem, we weren't really in a museum. We were in a cleaned-up archealogical dig that exposed a series of ancient Roman houses and streets, with a roof covering the entire area. The exhibited artifacts had never been moved from their original site -- the museum is literally built around them, the foundation stones bursting out of the floor path that has been put in for us to follow.

And then, Yad Vashem.

Similar in construction to these other Israel museums in that there are several buildings, each surrounded by greenery, trees, pathways. This is more than architecturally beautiful -- it is necessary to the visitor. We first visit a large one-story building. It is dark inside, except for a perpetual flame flickering. As our eyes get used to the darkness, we see that we are standing before a floor in which is inscribed the names of the camps where Jews were murdered. We learn that under the floor is the recovered ashes from the ovens, so that these victims can be buried here in Israel. I say kaddish, my throat already constricting with the difficulty of the experience.

And that is the first place. We leave, returning to sunlight, and a wide expanse, a stunning view of the hills of Jerusalem. The trees planted all around us each have a plaque - they are planted in memory of the Righteous Gentiles, those who helped in any way they could to save the Jews. There are hundreds of trees.

We move into the second building. This is the historical building, two or three stories that begin with the history of anti-semitism, and then the rise of Nazi-ism and modern anti-semitism. It is a static exhibit, in one way (my American eyes are used to the US Holocaust Museum, with its video screens embedded next to posters and photographs), but that's more than enough for me. It is still a brutal exhibit of a brutal history.

We are with a small number of English speakers being led through by a guide. I feel briefly sorry for the Americans with us who are shocked to learn that Roosevelt chose not to increase the Jewish immigration numbers during the war. Our guide is describing bomb raids on factories adjacent to the camps, and prisoners desperately screaming, pleading, writing to the American forces begging to have the camp bombed. We see the letters that inform Roosevelt exactly what the purpose of the camps are, and we see the official American response to refrain from bombing them. One woman in our group quaveringly asks "why didn't Roosevelt stop them?" And the guide turning unblinking sabra eyes to her to say "because they were Jews. And no one wanted the Jews." The documents next to the photographs clearly state this. It is terrible to see, but I am at least better informed about this part of American history than the woman beside me, who is nearly unable to continue to the tour because of her shock.

The Hall of Names. I don't know what I expected to see when we followed that sign. Perhaps an artistic rendering, similar to that in the US Holocaust Museum, of inscribed names on cut glass, names of the Righteous. But no, at Yad Vashem, the Hall of Names is a hall of card catalogues. It's the size of the main card catalogue room in the Israel National Library. The card catalogues cannot be approached, but there are copies of some of the documents that are kept in them, and we look at those. They are 5x7 index cards with photographs. Names. Last known residence. Camp, if known. And a verification signature of someone still living, a relative who traveled to Yad Vashem to find their sister, uncle, grandparent's name, and confirm that yes, they were part of the Jewish people, and should be remembered here. I see signatures from 1987, from residents in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, London, Moscow, who visited this place in order to make sure their relative is recorded at Yad Vashem.

This museum also has art, sculptures and paintings that comprise the largest collection of Holocaust art in the world. It also houses a collection of art previously owned by Jews -- art that was stolen by the Nazis, and later recovered. Of course, many of the owners were murdered. At a recent auction at Christie's, a well known Jewish philanthropist, Ron Lauder, purchased a huge collection of this recovered art, and donated it to Yad Vashem. Some of the art is Jewish, some not -- but its presence in the museum is very appropriate. This is what Jews had in their houses. These are paintings that someone used to own who should have been able to pass it on to their children. So now it's here.

We leave that building, and burst into another large open space. Now I truly understand the need for these spaces. The buildings are beautifully constructed, but what they contain can crush you. We need to breathe. We see a large landscaped construction and head toward it, to find out that it is a monument to those Jewish soldiers who fought and died on the Allied side. We head back through the trees, via the Avenue of the Righteous, and past some of the stunning and famous Holocaust sculptures that are stark against the grey skies.

On our return toward the beginning of this vast campus, we visit the Children's Museum. I cannot describe it adequately. The space is dark, with yarhzeit candles burning through walls and mirrors, until we find ourselves in a dark space punctuated by flickering flames. In one area are faces of children projected onto an invisible wall, but mostly it's candles. And voices. Naming children. Their ages. Three. Seven. Nine. Where they are from. It is a profoundly moving place.

Before I finish this message, I must ask you to think about these spaces now, filled with soldiers. Because it turns out that the Israel Defense Forces are required to visit Yad Vashem as part of their training. The officers are required to lead their units through, acting as tour guides. Everywhere we go, olive uniforms and M-16's surround us. Young faces, but hundreds of them, moving in groups of 20 or so. We are first afraid to push ourselves past these guns (wouldn't you be?), but after watching our tour guide do so, we realize that it's not a problem. The soldiers move aside as we travel through the closed spaces, the open spaces. We pass groups of them on the lawns, standing in large circles, listening to their officers. We are nearly crushed by them as they move into new exhibit spaces, staring at the posters that read "Death to Jews" in all of the modern European languages. Together, we look at the photographs of the leader of the Mosque in Jerusalem meeting with Hitler, shaking hands and agreeing that they have a common enemy. That strikes close to home for these soldiers.

When I first visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, it was during the 1993 March on Washington. The Museum had opened just that month, and thousands of gay men and lesbians were standing in line to visit the space. Together, we traveled through that incredible space, Jews and queers, sometimes together, sometimes even comforting each other. Outside, on the mall, was the AIDS quilt. Our communities know far too much about devastating death and lack of government response. The collective pain was palpable that day.

At Yad Vashem, the pain is not just palpable, it is still alive. I felt that even more, surrounded by soldiers. This place is here so that these young people can see one of the most important reasons why they are in uniform, why they must be called to fight. It is a terrible thing, and yet... what monuments do we have in the US that are REQUIRED as part of our military's education?

Because it is, after all, Christmas Eve

Santa Claus - with an Armenian twist - has come into the internet cafe and is distributing candy to all the kids here. The Little Drummer Boy is playing in Arabic. The kids are cramming chocolate in their mouths and ringing little bells and cheerfully wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in at least three different languages. It's a sort of glorious chaos, and I am glad we came one last time. The sun is setting and soon the stores will close down. If Christians are coming to the Old City, they should be coming in now.

I understand that the people in Bethlehem, in protest of the Israeli security measures taking place around that city, are not decorating their city this year, but celebrating in purely religious ways. More power to them, I say. Take the decorations out of Christmas and keep it religious, a festival of faith and personal joy. When I woke up this morning, I said, in wonder, to Karen, "For the first time in my life, this isn't Christmas Eve. It's Tuesday." Part of that is my growing comfort with the Jewish calendar. But a bigger part, I think, is the fact that here, Christmas *is* a religious holiday. (Except to some Russians, LOL) There are no garish displays in store windows, at least none that I've seen. No "Xmas Sales!!" No countdown of shopping days.

So, to those celebrating in Bethlehem tonight, may the loss of lights and glass balls and garlands be completely unnoticeable. May they be warmer than we are right now in Jerusalem, and may the wind not blow their candles out. And may they be grateful to be able to celebrate Christmas in a land where Christians are the minority. Plenty of Christians in other lands tonight, from China to, oh, our allied countries like Saudi Arabia, will be celebrating quietly at home, and hoping for the day when they can gather in public and not be afraid.

Where we were in Jerusalem

Here are three shots taken in the neighborhood we stayed in. The first is looking down the pedestrian mall of Ben Yehuda street, Can you spot the rainbow flag? That's where the Jerusalem Open House is, the local gay organization where we found great hospitality. The second picture is of one of the famous Irish stores you can find here in Israel. Yes - get your tallis on sale at Danny Boy's place. Half off on all Hanukkah items. The third picture is of a huge open air market a few blocks away from our hotel which would make any chef cry for the quality of the produce.




The sounds of Jerusalem

Sting, moaning about "How Fragile We Are."
Besame Mucho, played on an instrumental tape in a cab
The rapid ticking at the corner of Ben Yehuda and King George when the light turns green and it's safe to cross
"Jingle Bells" in Arabic
The Israeli pop music mixed with American stuff coming out of the trendy clothing shops on Jaffa Road
The crunch of walking through another street under construction
"I have here wonderful guide, wonderful shop, no need to buy, just look..."
Jerusalem, City of Gold, played on a balalaika by a street musician
Store and car alarms that go off making everyone stop for a second, look for the source and continue as usual
"Are you Jewish? Have you ever done this? Come, let us show you how!"
The buzz of radios clipped to shoulders of police and soldiers
"We we gathering stars while a million guitars played our love song..." in a cab
Celine Dion and Julio Iglascias
The call to prayer; the many calls to many prayers, voices and bells and men looking for a tenth man to bless the new month
"America? New York? I have a cousin in New York!"
Horns, and the shaky sound of 4 cylinder engines that need tune ups.
"Come back again...and bring your friends!"

Karen talks shopping

Remember the earlier entry Laurie did about visiting a shop that was owned by the brother of another shopkeeper and was business partners with the son of another shopkeeper we also visited?

Well, what she didn't mention was the nearly two hours we spent in the shop bargaining. This was AFTER the hour or so we spent actually deciding on the things we were going to buy. It was pretty amazing to see this side of her -- and moreover, how naturally she fell into it!

I'm sure most of you know that bargaining is a time-honored (as in thousands of years) tradition in the Middle East. It is an expected part of the marketplace experience. And most of you also know that Americans are notoriously bad at bargaining in these environments. We tend to do one of two things: first, we feel guilty that we're so wealthy compared to these guys and only cover one round or so of bargaining before agreeing to a price, knowing that we would still be paying more in our own country for the same merchandise. Or, we bargain badly, by whining, complaining, denouncing the quality of the stock, or insulting the shopkeeper. By the end of the transaction, we still end up paying more, and worse, we've confirmed the Ugly American stereotype.

Laurie does neither of these. We start to gather items together. The shopkeeper follows her, giving a running commentary on quality, quantity, and history of every item she looks at. Laurie listens patiently, and then announces "no, I'm not going to pay that price." He argues, she smiles, and replaces the item. He picks it up, offering a lower price. Laurie shakes her head, attention turned elsewhere. This leaves the shopkeeper in a dilemma - does he continue to offer a lower price on the original item, or follow her to the new location and begin discussing the merits of that item?

Periodically, he turns his attention to me. I'm obviously the easier target -- me with my midwestern face and carrying a purse. I smile, and tell him that I don't buy anything without Laurie. He grimaces and says "your friend -- she's tough. Nice, but tough."

And you know, Laurie IS nice. She is firm in her refusals, and equally firm in her determination about what she is not willing to pay. She never denounces the quality, but if she questions quality, she does so by asking the shopkeeper if he has something "similar, but nicer." She is praised for her keen eye.

Finally, Laurie has compiled a pile of items, and we are only actively looking at one or two other things. At this point, we are offered beverages -- tea, coffee, coca-cola. We accept. Because now, the serious bargaining begins. This is where Laurie shines. Me, I would have assumed we already did the bargaining part -- where each item has been identified as being of interest, and a price put to it. But not Laurie.

"What price are you offering for all of this?" she says, pointing her hand to our pile of jewelry, blankets, purses, Roman coins, and the like. The shopkeeper offers a price, plus reduced shipping to the U.S. Laurie shakes her head and says "too much." She moves one item out of the pile. The shopkeeper immediately returns the item to the pile, and suggests another price. "No, still too much. I think I can do without this," she says, pushing the item out of the pile again. The shopkeeper argues with her. How can she leave his shop without such a beautiful piece? One of a kind! Unique! Hand-crafted! Found only in remote locations of the Negev, brought in on camels. "It's not to my taste," she says. Now, the price is reduced on that item, by about 30%.

But still, Laurie persists. "How much NOW for all of this?" she asks. The shopkeeper goes through the list again, reminding her where he has offered earlier discounts, suggesting that he has been terribly kind in the new 30% discount, and then offering perhaps, free shipping of all items to the U.S.

We are now about 1/2 the way through our beverages, and I am intrigued by the body language around me. There are four of us in the shop, Laurie and me, the shopkeeper, and an assistant. The assistant is quietly putting things back in order, periodically catching my eye to hold something he thinks may be of interest. Mostly jewelry, "for beautiful lady." I smile and say I rarely wear jewelry, and have already chosen pieces for my friends and family. He shrugs, smiling, and returns to his task. The shopkeeper bargaining with Laurie is communicating his agony, how we are dragging his blood out by the fingernails. But I also see how relaxed he is, how happy. I know of course that some of this is because he knows we will buy something, and businesses in the Old City are hurting badly from the lack of tourists. He knows this, of course, because our body language is also relaxed. Neither of us look like we're about to bolt out of the shop, give up on this difficult bargaining challenge, and leave in an angry huff. So the shopkeeper can relax. We will buy.

But I suspect he also is relaxed because he has found a worthy shopper in Laurie. She is focused, committed to leaving with the best possible deal. He understands this, and he is giving us the full benefit of his travails. We are an appreciative audience.

By this time, the coca-colas have been empty for 30 minutes. Evening shoppers are ducking their heads in. They see us, hear American accents, and feel safe -- if WE shop here, it must be a place that is safe. But I feel sorry for them. If they buy, they will not have Laurie with them. They will miss out on a significant part of the shopping experience here.

We leave with what would have been another full suitcase of items, but we're getting them shipped, free of charge, instead. And I think we also leave a shopkeeper who must struggle with a dearth of business, punctuated with bouts of poor bargainers. I hope that his evening with us gives him a smile through these dark and economically difficult times in the Old City, just inside Jaffa Gate, at the Petra Shop.

Doing our bit to save the Israeli economy

No diamonds this trip. But we did spend a small fortune on things to bring home, including a piece of Druze fabric big enough for a bedspread, about a dozen pillow covers in Bedouin and Druze styles, pastel wine glasses, silver and stone mezuzot, knitted kippot with American and Israeli flags on them, a large supply of Dead Sea products, and assorted ritual objects requested by friends who gave us THEIR money to spend here. We've also given tzedaka (charity, very loosely defined) and we've done our best to be good ambassadors of American tourism in general.

Yesterday, I went to a store on Rivlin Street, which is known for being in an area with a lot of great craft shops. This one, Gans, is spectacular. That was where I found a Druze kippah. I brought Karen back over there today, just to see if there was "one last thing" we could cram into our luggage. Well, many sheqlim later, we are figuring that a laundry bag makes dandy luggage, so we'll just cram some clothes in it and slap a label on it to make room for more stuff. Unlike a lot of Israeli stores, Gans is larger than it looks, and artistically arranged with hundreds of hand-made objects so pretty that you go from one display to another making crazy shopping sounds like "Ohhh!" and "Look at this!" and "Oooooh." Well, I can tell you, or I can show you a bit.


By the way, the reason I am putting links instead of just posting the picture visibly on the page is because people with slower computers take longer to load the page with pictures on it.

Gans was probably our next to last shopping visit for the trip. We will, after all, be going through the Duty-Free shop at the airport tonight. But it'll be so late, I am hoping we'll just breeze through security, get our VAT tax refund and fall asleep on the plane as soon as possible. My one other hope is that the number of people flying on Christmas Eve will be smaller than those who flew in with us, perhaps allowing us a little more space to stretch out. El Al has not followed the American Airlines direction of creating just a little more room in steerage - er, coach class.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Anyplace that has goose is OK by me

But there are definitely comforting things on the many menus we've perused which have helped us overcome the sometimes (OK, often) shoddy service. One of them, at least for me, is that geese are not rare creatures to be discovered in "game" shops, but just another yummy option for what's cooking. At Focaccia, a trendy restaurant/cafe right next to Spaghettim, Karen had what was lightly called an "Avocado salad." Hah! Avocado salad in the States usually means a green salad with some slices of avocado in it. At Focaccia, it's a Babel Tower of goodies, starting with crisp, fresh greens, lovely, ripe chunks of avocado, red onions, walnuts, pecans, and goose breast, sliced lengthwise and sauteed to resemble hickory smoked bacon.

Glenda - it's even better than your turkey bacon.

And then they topped it off with an herbal dressing that tastes of freshly squeezed lemon juice, dill, and parsley. I liked it without the dressing, actually; lightly tossed with just a little olive oil. We considered left overs, but, well, there weren't any.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Karen talks about work

Meeting The Elderly

Okay, so I'm here to study, remember? And as part of that purpose, I am visiting a series of programs for seniors, including a "Warm Home" program which is exactly what it sounds like -- small gatherings for otherwise isolated elderly within walking distance of their own homes, where they can congregate. It's a little more complicated, but if you really want to know, wait for my paper (currently in draft form back at the hotel).

Most of the warm home programs I've seen are for Russian olim, seniors who either moved here by themselves or with their families. Either way, they are often alone and not working, and have trouble learning their new homeland's language. So getting together with folks from the old country can be comforting. These warm home programs are very mixed -- always a few more women, but the one I visited here in Pizgat Zev was nearly 50% men as well. They choose their own program, and this group was very much like the others I've visited -- they relied on their own members to provide lectures and topics of interest. Very easy to do in a group of retired scientists, historians, engineers, etc. etc. They were filled with advice for me, as well -- sharing their insights and assumptions about their counterparts in New York, and what would and wouldn't work for them.

Tben, we visit Afula, north of Nazareth (and tantilizingly close to Tiberius, by American standards, but not enough time on this trip). This warm home has been described to me as "Argentinian." Actually, it's Argentines, Brazilians, Venezualans, with a sprinkling of seniors from Paraguay, Urugay, and Columbia. Thankfully, my very poor Spanish feels hundreds of times better than my useless Hebrew, and I can communicate basic social courtesies much to their delight. This is also good because otherwise, it's a complicated translation process -- Ladino to Spanish to Hebrew to English. Nearly everyone in the room arrived within the last 10 years. They are spending one night a week together learning Hebrew, and a second learning Israel's history. When I ask them whether they have lectures conducted by other members of their group, they laugh. At first, they think I am asking if they bring in professionals for lectures, but when they understand, they are incredulous. Lectures? Too much like work. They are retired, in the land of their ancestors, and learning to be here. It's a group that's been together for only about four months, but is clearly bonding well. I am sorry I have to leave them -- but we have a three hour drive back to Jerusalem to make that evening.

(Laurie adds- What Karen didn't mention was that she tried a little Ladino on these folks as well! Ladino is the language of the Sephardic Jews, a combination of Spanish, Hebrew and other words and sounds. At our synagogue, we sing a couple of Ladino songs from time to time. Of course, the one she remembered was a children's Hanukkah song, sort of like a tango, about lighting the candles. It's a counting song, with a stirring (grin) chorus of "Un candelika! Dos candelikas! Tres candelikas!" etc. I am sure the elderly Jews were charmed.)

More from Karen

Our Taxi Driver

Hooray for Mayer, our taxi driver! We are keeping his card, and insist that everyone we know who wants a friendly driver to use Mayer's services when visiting. Mayer is a "type" we're becoming familiar with here in Israel -- a burly man, vaguely Eastern European in heritage, but born here in Israel, married and 8 children ranging in age from 9 to 24. He is warm, affectionate, curious, and so proud of his country. Our language barriers are nothing when we are with Mayer. His hand sweeps across the Negev, proclaiming its vastness. He discovers new routes (Israel's first toll road is being built between Jerusalem and Haifa), and we experiment with them, feeling completely safe. He points out cities, his voice letting us know whether they are Palestinian or Arab Israelis, Jews, and religious Jews. He joins us on our tour of Zippori National Park, equally curious about the mosaics and the countryside, staying to read the Hebrew inscriptions below the clay pots in the museum. I find out that at one point on our journey, while I am inside visiting another elderly home, Laurie has carefully explained to him that we live together, without husbands. His response is curious, with no disgust. "This is okay in New York?" he asks. When she says for some it is okay, he nods and says "very different. Like in Tel Aviv." He seems far more fascinated by the fact that we have a woman rabbi, though.

(Laurie adds; He was actually thrilled that we had a woman rabbi. "I think is good," he announced firmly. "Woman is ima (mom) - woman is doctor, soldier, (prime) minister. Why not rabbi?" I told him that even in NY, there were Jews who thought it wasn't OK, and he nodded in sympathy. "But you do it anyway," he said, almost like a command.)

A word from Karen

Karen has some stuff to add to the blog! Yay!


Old and New History

We drive to Lev HaSharon, the heart of the Sharon, rolling meadows and farmland. This is the place of the kibbutz and moshav. I'm here to visit an emergency supportive community for the elderly -- if you really want to know, ask me later or if you know me and my work pretty well, think of it as an enormous, horizontal NORC program. Anyway, we are in an area lived in for thousands of years, a great grainbelt for those upstarts, the Romans, as well as others. And I get the chance to meet a sprightly 73 year old woman I'll call Ofra. Ofra moved to Israel in 1948 from France (by way of Tunisia, I think, considering the food she served us for lunch) and immediately joined a kibbutz. She and her compatriots were looking for a place on the border -- to live, farm and protect their new country. After a few years, the kibbutz she was on had some internal political differences and Ofra and her faction left to join a moshav -- still on the border. And in fact, she lives about 200 meters from a fence differentiating Israeli and Palestinian territory. Ofra has lived here for 50 years now. Always using herself, her land and her ideology for the benefit of her country, and in defense. It is a romantic story for Americans to hear about -- but for me, it's different to look at this calm grandmother of 16, sipping tea in her kitchen, with a border fence visible across her back yard. This is also history. Ofra is an essential member of contemporary history, of country-building, and I am sitting in her kitchen eating almond-stuffed dates hearing about it first hand.

Back from the desert

Yeah, I know, it must have looked like we vanished off the face of the earth. And in a way, we did the exact opposite; we vanished into the navel of the earth. More on that in a bit.

We're back in Jerusalem, and the Armenian boys have their Internet cafe by the Jaffa gate full of hostel-dwelling backpackers and little kids playing games. The music when we came in was a pop Christmas song whose title escapes me. There is a Christmas tree here; one of the few we've seen. In the Tel Aviv bus station were about a dozen Russian venders selling Christmas items - reindeer, red santa hats, lots of beautiful tree decorations - and nothing at all religious. That's not too odd; former residents of the Soviet Union are known for celebrating a religious holiday in a secular (ie, government tolerated) way. Even the Jews.

Here in Jerusalem, we have to seek out the Christians to find anything that remotely resembles the decorations we find at home. And still, it's very understated. Possibly because of the lack of tourists, but I suspect this is just their way. (The song playing now is a hip hop piece titled "Doesn't Feel Like Christmas." Nope - the owner didn't like it, and now he's flipping through his CDs.)

It sure feels like Christmas tome, though, as I sit here in a t-shirt and my fingers are freezing. Indoor heat can be tricky, and it is also expensive. And, it's freezing out. Yesterday, Jerusalem suffered a deluge of - what else? - Biblical proportions. (She's been waiting to say that, I hear some of you saying. You're right.)

It didn't just RAIN - it poured. All day, and most of the night. Our driver, who was told to pick us up at the Dead Sea at one o'clock, 90 minutes from downtown Jerusalem, left at ten, worried that the roads might close.

You have to connect this all together, OK? The desert, the Negev, that place, as Cecil B. DeMille would put it, "where heroes and prophets are forged" is pretty much 20 minutes away from our sidewalk cafes and shopping malls. You leave green hills with leafy trees and flowers and turn into a terrain of rough sand and rocks, a desert of rubble. And then, an hour later, you are looking at mountains whose peaks are *below sea level* - the lowest spot on earth.

How do we know how hard the rain is in Jerusalem?

Because several miles away, water is trickling into the ancient riverbeds I would have sworn hadn't seen water in a thousand years.

This place is very, very tricky. But an amazing place, too. Where else can you spend the morning floating in the Dead Sea, unable to do more than that in the strangest body of water on earth, and then rush through a monsoon to go to a shabbat dinner overlooking the Old City? Ya gotta be here.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Why we wear comfortable shoes

Walking even one quarter of the Old City is exhausting. Not so much for the length of the trip, but its height. Up to the roof of this building; down three flights to the Roman foundations; across this alley and up and through these rooms...it's like some crazy Escher drawing come to life. Betsy proved to be an amazing guide again, her enthusiasm moving us up and in and around a city that's been inhabited for thousands of years. I didn't even take many photographs; it's too big for a photo to do justice.

Part of what makes Jerusalem such a focal point of history is that so many of the people who moved in here just razed what came before, or used the foundations of years past to build upon. They'd just heave fallen (or pushed) stones out of a pile and reorganize them into a new building. But what a feeling, to stand in places which were not only covered 100 years ago, but covered by 40 feet of earth! We examined some drawings done of a dig around the Western Wall at the turn of the last century, and realized that we were looking up from four stories below where the workers in the drawing were sitting and eating lunch.

The oldest streets are so slick with thousands of years of traffic that walking in anything but soft shoes, leather sandals or boots is a risky thing to do. Of course, that makes it easier for the very friendly and (like I said) desperate store owners to catch up to you and show you the latest wonder from their shop. But today, we have a good excuse to move on; it's after one already, and things are closing down for the Sabbath.

And I mean closing down! Entire streets which were bustling with traffic and business when we arrived this morning are empty and shuttered. All over, people are waving for cabs with bags of shopping in their arms. We're exhausted; physically, mentally. We were going to get to Tel Aviv tonight, but we decided that one quiet night at "home" would do us both some good. We'll get a bottle of wine, maybe, if there's an open store on the way back, and just relax for a while and digest it all.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Next update? Who knows?

Now that I've found this place, we've decided to try to make it into Tel Aviv for the weekend. Tomorrow morning, we're taking a tour of the Jewish quarter of the Old City in the morning. After that, we'll grab a cab before sundown and see what "the big city" is like, and spend the sabbath there. (OK, the cafe owner saw that I was singing along with Patsy Cline, so he loaded more "American" music for me. First, it was Julio Iglasias - not it's Frank Sinatra singing "The Summer Wind.")

It's likely that any modern hotel in Tel Aviv has internet access, but I'll be choosing our place by the view. More posts will be coming, including my thoughts on other things I've seen today, but for now, the sun is going down and it's getting cold. Time to head back to Ben Yehuda, pick up the film I dropped off this morning, grab a snack and wait for Karen to get back.

The Mother of all Churches

With all apologies to Rome, of course. But the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is something to see. Not for its magnificence - it's, well, a little short on the "magnificent" scale. Heck, my old church, St. Nicholas, on Northern Blvd., is better looking than this. But for the scale of sheer history; a colossal game of push-me-pull-you among almost every pre-modern form of Christianity, this place it IT.

Finding it was a challenge, of course. I can read a map wrong if it has flashing lights and arrows on it. I spent a few amusing minutes going through the Arab market, amazed that anyone would still want to buy raw meat from a stall, and avoiding the amazing temptation to buy one of those outer robes with the gold braid and pretend I'm Lawrence of Arabia, striding along on top of a dune with the wind billowing around me. (If you didn't know, I'm a tad theatrical from time to time.)

Anyway; I found the Church at the end of a short street where all the venders sold Christian objects. (A clue, Watson? No shit, Sherlock.)

The Church courtyard was empty, save for one Armenian priest carrying, of all things, a hand saw. (Maybe he was doing some minor repairs somewhere.) I took a few shots outside, a little unsure of the proper thing to do. (I figure pictures INSIDE would be rude.) But before I could slide my camera into my pocket, out bustles a tour guide.

"Hello! Where are you from? Speak English? Tourist? Would you like a guide?"

He's very nice, but I decline - how hard could walking around a church be? I think to myself.

Fifteen minutes later, as he proudly shows me the secret icon which swings open to reveal the actual rock which covered the tomb of Jesus, I admit I'm outclassed. This is unlike any other church I have ever been in. Part of this is because there are actually several churches in there - Armenian, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic - oh, and the Ethiopian Christians outside, too. Everyone but the Protestants, really.

You'd think this place was gorgeous, right? The best of every faith put together to raise a church of such splendor and majesty, etc. But to tell the truth, it's a tad run down. In fact, it's VERY run down. Cracks in the marble columns are held closed by ugly steel bands. The inner shrine of the tomb has heavy scaffolding around it to secure it together - it was damaged by an earthquake at the beginning of the last century.

The first thing that hit me when I walked in, by the way, was how familiar the place smelled. It was the good old Greek Orthodox incense at play - great stuff! Makes me hungry for dolmades, though. But wandering around was not nearly a good way to find out exactly what was in the building. There were no signs, nothing roped off in pathways. And it's all active, too, with priests, worshippers and pilgrims all doing their things.

The tomb building, inside the main building and directly opposite the most ornate chapel/church (Greek Orthodox) is quite a thing of beauty. Gold surfaces everywhere, and beautiful lamps hanging outside. They covered up the rock because pilgrims used to come see it, kiss it, and then carve off a piece to take home. After Mr. Guide showed that to me, he figured he'd better stay by my side to make sure I missed nothing else.

On the second floor, the spot the church calls Golgotha, is an actual hole drilled into the rock which is supposed to be the place where the Romans lodged the cross of the crucifixion. You can kneel under the altar and stick your arm in there, but I declined. Instead, I studied a strange, yet compelling icon of Mary. Done in 3 dimensions, this sad portrait shows her heart pierced with a long, slender silver dagger. The guide starts to talk, and I say, "That's when she saw the crucifixion."

I can tell he's disappointed. He nods, and quickly recovers, telling me that most people wonder what it means. I spend the next few minutes examining the ceilings, which are covered with lovely and understated tilework. I'd love a picture of the altar above the hole in the rock, but there's a woman praying there, so I started to leave. Mr. Guide, who doesn't miss a thing, assures me that it's Ok to take a picture, but I just can't. Sorry to those who wanted one; it's worth seeing. But I can't just take a picture when someone's in there praying. It's just rude, even if they are used to it. I'm sure there are pictures on the web somewhere; feel free to look 'em up.

The music of Jerusalem

Over the past few days, we've heard:
For all The Girls I've Loved Before
Shalom Alecheim (played on an accordian, a clarinet and a mandolin)
Amor, Amor
Walk This Way
If I Were a Rich Man
I Don't Know How to Love Him
Various Arab melodies we don't know
Spanish pop songs

The music of Jerusalem

Over the past few days, we've heard:
For all The Girls I've Loved Before
Shalom Alecheim (played on an accordian, a clarinet and a mandolin)
Amor, Amor
Walk This Way
If I Were a Rich Man
I Don't Know How to Love Him
Various Arab melodies we don't know
Spanish pop songs

Tiles at Caesaria


Caesaria long view


Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Not dead yet...

The scrolls themselves are amazing. That anyone could get *anything* out of these fragile, transluscent documents, their edges frayed and eaten away, is astonishing. But when you look at the fragments and how they are arranged between layers of fine silk, you have to admire the tenacity of the reseachers who painstakingly pulled each of the pages apart and found the bits which flaked off.

When we actually got to the building, it was technically closed, so we waited ten minutes inside, and then, when the security guard turned the lights on, we started reading all the informative text in the lobby. Good thing, too, because right behind us came a very British sounding lady who told us that she was the English speaking tour guide, would we like a tour?

Of course we would, and so she spent over an hour with us, explaining things and adding her own perspective in a voice which would have been at home at the Victoria and Albert. As we were parting, I asked her, "How did you end up here?" She replied, |Do you mean at the museum, or in Israel?" "Israel."

"Oh, well, dear," she said. "I came over in 1953. We had our own country, didn't we? Seemed to be the right thing to do."

Funny; I hadn't suspected she was Jewish. She told us that she has a son living in New York, and another in London. "But I've got two more here," she added cheerfully.

It seemed the right thing to do. I loved that.
Sometime during this long, long flight, I woke up in the silence of the plane, and started to stretch. But I hadn't even gotten my arms over my head when I was struck with a strange and eerie sight.

All along the aisles of the craft, spaced about every 3-5 rows, were men, wearing their prayer shawls and t'fillen, davening the morning prayers. The windowshades were down, but I could see just a crack of sunlight at the bottom of some. As my eys cleared, I saw some women, too, bodies rocking gently as they mouthed the words from old books.

It was completely silent, and I almost felt guilty for watching. But soon, some of the men finished, and started putting their ritual objects away, and other people began to stir.

I was in a world of Jews; a world of religious people; a world where prayer happens regardless of what time it is at home and what time it is in Jerusalem. It's light outside the windows; the sun has, for all intents and purposes, risen.

We weren't anywhere near Israel yet, but at that moment, I thought we were already there.

But not just ANY clowns

Sometimes after "Goldmember" (a waste of time) and complete unconsiousness, I heard one of the clowns explaining to another passenger his theory of global politics. It was very familiar - filled with the sort of loose "anti-world-bank, 30,000 children die every day so we can drive our SUVs" sort of far left stuff. If anything, it should have put me even deeper to sleep. But something kept nagging me about this clown. Part of it was that he resembled, in some small way, a friend of ours named Conrad, a rangy, Oregonian hippe blacksmith of great wisdom and humor. But there was something else familiar about him as well.

Later on, while reading the Jerusalem Post, I realized why. This was no ordinary hippie clown; this was Patch Adams himself - the original, not the Robin Williams version. He was on this plane with fellow clowns from his Geshunteidt Institute (great name, huh?) on thir way to offer cheer to kids hospitalized because of terrorist attacks.

I don't agree with Dr. Adams' politics. But I honor his menchlecheit, his humanity. It's a grand mitzvah, to visit the sick, as any Jew knows. But to bring cheer is even better, and I wish these clowns luck. But it'll take a lot more than balloons and honking noses and old fashioned leftist reactionary cant to solve this particular series of wounds.

And about those clowns...

Sorry it's taken me so long. My carefully worded (links and all) description of our plane ride here is on my iBook, which can't, at this time, hook up. But here's the story in a nutshell.

The El Al flight out of NY was PACKED. If they offered seats on the wings, I think people would have taken them. And not just business travellers, but entire families, too. Kids flying unescorted - old abbas and imas in wheelchairs, young students and old rabbis, the two of us and half a dozen clowns.

Floppy shoes, red noses that honked, big hats with chickens on 'em - yep, clowns. No facial make-up, though, and all wacky light-up glasses, fake buck teeth and day-glo moustashes had to be removed for the "no, I can't take a joke" El Al security. But the garish cowboy shirts, loose pants with rainbow suspenders and squirting flowers stayed on.

Of course, they sat in front of us. This will providw me with a lifetime of jokes about how I always end up sitting next to some clown on the plane, right?

Monday, December 09, 2002

Not to brag, but...

Yes, those are the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and this view has been provided from the private balcony of our garden suite at the (ta-dah!) Wow! I'd put in a link, but frankly, the web pages for the hotel are very sparse. But this place is swank. I asked for an upgrade from our regular (already overpriced) New City View room, and they were only too happy to put us on the Old City side. Worth every penny. But thank goodness we're not staying here for the duration of the trip. I'd never want to leave, now that I've had their amazing breakfast buffet. There must have been a hundred items, ranging from the huge array of fruits (fresh dates! persimmons! 3 kinds of raisens!) and nuts and yogurt to the smoked fish, the extraordinary bagels and fresh breads, pastries, the hot dish items like fresh cheese souffle...

Luckily, Karen has left me on my own to move us out of here and into our regular digs. And, the fact that the King David doesn't have high speed internet access in the rooms yet means I am eager to find another place to log on, so I can actually cover the things we've experienced on the way here. Huge families, crazy drivers, helpful tourists and clowns, all coming the next time I log on.

Does this help?