During my December Encounter trip to Bethlehem we had a short tour of the Wall as it looks facing the city. I heard from previous trip participants that the graffiti on the Wall is constantly changing, with pictures large and small, and messages written in various languages. One of the newer additions to the wall is posters with personal stories written by Palestinian men and women, collectively called the “Wall Museum”.
Cross-Posted from my blog:
Right next door is Uzi Eli. The man who owns this store believes that the fruit juice that he sells has healing properties. Even if it does not actually have “the power”, the juice is fresh and delicious!
|I just has to take this, I love Jerusalem Street Art!|
Photos originally posted on my blog:
(In no order)
*People here really look out for you. I know I’ve written about this at least twice before, but I really can’t get over it: Last week, when I went to pay utility bills at the post office, when I finally got to see the teller after at least a half-hour in line, she told me she couldn’t process my payment without another part of the bill I didn’t bring with me. I sighed as I told her I would run home and get them, anticipating wasting at least another half-hour in line when I got back, when she told me when I had them, i could just go up and see her without waiting in line. So I did: I ran back, got the stuff, cut to the front, she processed the bill payment, and I was on my way without further hassle. The amount of excuses people come up with here for cutting in line used to really annoy me, but now seeing it from the other side, I see its advantages. Having said that, if someone jumps in front of me when I’m next in line at the bank one more time because he missed it when his number came up, he’s getting punched in the face.
Later that same morning, as I was walking home carrying mail, I heard someone shouting, “Hello? Hello!” I ignored it and kept walking until it became clear she was yelling at me. When I turned around, she pointed to the mail I dropped.
*I get to hear South Africans say “muffins” on a fairly consistent basis.
*Even after being here for four months already, almost no matter what it’s saying, Hebrew graffiti always makes me smile.
*Everyone I’ve met here who has been there loves Pittsburgh. I met an Israeli guy at a party once who just kept raving about how clean it was, how friendly people are, and on and on and on, but he wasn’t the only one. Pittsburgh seems to consistently surprise Jews with its cleanliness and friendliness, and Squirrel Hill (where, for the record, I am not “from”, much as I feel at home there) in particular gets rave reviews. People especially appreciate its Jewish diversity and tolerance–when I tell people from other communities about how well the different sects of Jews get along here, or how well all the day schools cooperate, or about the community Tikkun Liel Shavuot at the JCC, or anything about Young People’s Synagogue, they are legitimately impressed, as well they should be. Learning about other communities has made me realize how special ours is. And while it might be blasphemous for Jews from all over the world to gather in Jerusalem to sing the praises of Pittsburgh, I nonetheless think it’s pretty cool. Yet there are other important similarities between the two cities besides love of Pittsburgh: Jerusalem and Pittsburgh are similar in population and both share a topography and street plan beamed down from Mars; I was taking a walk this morning, and was truly astounded at how much it felt like walking through Pittsburgh sans the patient drivers. Language barrier aside, it is not hard for a Yiddishe Yinzer to feel at home in Yerushalayim.
*Very much unlike in Pittsburgh, I love how the street numbers here actually make sense: The first house on the left side of the street is always 1, the first on the right 2, then 3 is next on the left, then 4 on the right, etc. Now if only these numbers were actually displayed on more than half of the buildings…
*The power bill has Muppets on it:
*You can learn about Jewish history from the street signs. I smile and feel like an insider when I see or hear of a street named for events or people I’ve heard of. More importantly, however, and this is of course the point of naming streets this way, I am motivated by curiosity to look into street namesakes whose names I don’t recognize. Last week’s 29 November party was nothing if not a celebration of the pedagogical power of street signs.
*Jewish holidays are the holidays.
*People eat vegetables here (“vegetable” defined here as something you could not get away with putting in a fruit salad). Yes, Americans eat vegetables, too, but what I mean is that we here in Israel eat them without their being drowned in mayonnaise or used as a decoration for meat. Slices of pepper, cucumber, tomato, and carrots, usually with hummus, white cheese, and/or eggplant as a dip are common features of Israeli breakfasts and snacks. Even better, people eat red peppers and cucumbers here the way we eat apples.
My current ‘stache ranks somewhere between my friend Erik’s newborn baby daughter Arianna and James Carville (with apologies to the Loeffert family):
Things I love about the end of Movember (In order):
1. I am proud to say the Pardes team, Safam so Good, raised $4,277 for men’s health!!!
2. I’ve never had so many girls tell me how good I look since I shaved my mustache.
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO DONATED!!
Quote of the Week: “You can still wear pants and love God” – L.S.
Hebrew Word of the Week: אהבה (“ahava”) – Love
Yet again, it’s been way too long since my last post. I seem to start every post that way… maybe I’ll get better at this eventually.
Instead of giving the normal Christmas break that American schools give, Pardes, and Israel in general, has a winter break for the eight days of Chanukkah. Chanukkah this year ran from last Wednesday night through today (Thursday), which means we go back to school on Sunday. Though many people take this time to travel outside of Israel – to Egypt or Jordan, usually – I ended up staying here. I did, however, get plenty of travel in.
It is especially fun to spend Chanukkah in Israel, because here, the holiday is really about Chanukkah. In the US, given the pervasiveness of Christmas, Chanukkah gets subsumed under the “Holiday Season” as a kind of Jewish equivalent to Christmas. Here, there is no Christmas to speak of, and so the anticipation of the season is all focused on Chanukkah, and the special foods, the public displays and the types of discussions we have are all geared towards the Maccabean victory/miracle of the oil (take your pick), rather than the amalgamation of the US at this time. Every night I could see all my neighbors lighting their candles in the windows, and hear others in my building singing the traditional songs. Just like with Shabbat or the other holidays, there really is something to living in an observant Jewish city.
Stations of the Cross, Jerusalem
Since we’ve been spending so much time on Jewish topics, a friend and I decided to see a few of the Christian sites here over break. For our first outing, we stayed here in Jerusalem, and walked the Via Dolorosa – the street which Jesus is said to have walked bearing the Cross. All along the street, from where he was condemned by Pontius Pilate, to the site where he is traditionally believed to have been crucified and buried, there are numbers (often with associated churches or chapels) marking the stages of the procession. It was fascinating to walk along that path, and learn some of the stories that I had never heard. All along, we passed pilgrims, some of them singing or carrying full sized crosses themselves, reenacting the Passion. Once we got into the Holy Sepulchre, we followed a Catholic processional around the building. This wasn’t a mass, but some other sort of ritual rites being performed. While I was watching the procession, I thought a lot about the similarities between this and the service of the Kohanim in the Temple. The priests do all of the rituals and singing, while the faithful are allowed to stand behind them and watch. It seemed so unfulfilling. It gave me a new perspective on what happened in the Temple – the Priests do all of the work in the Temple, and the common men are allowed to watch from outside. And as for the women- they might as well stay at home. Though we pray for the restoration of the Temple everyday, I’m not quite sure this is something I really want…
On Monday, we decided to go a little further afield, and check out life on the other side of the wall. We took one of the Arab buses from the Damascus Gate to the border crossing, where we crossed over to the West Bank. In some ways, it changed noticeably – all Hebrew vanished, replaced entirely by Arabic. In other ways, it was the same – a mob of pushy taxi drivers still tried to take advantage of us as soon as we crossed over. We made our way to the Church of the Nativity, an ancient Roman/Byzantine Basilica in the center of town. After that, we wandered the town, got some lunch, and walked along the security wall, looking at all the Pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish graffiti. On our way back, we stopped off at the Tomb of Rachel, a building entirely surrounded by the wall, in order to keep it protected from attacks.
On Wednesday, I went with a friend to Nablus to teach English to Palestinian women. This post is already too long, and this deserves a full post, so more on that later.
Ein Kerem and the Jerusalem Forest
On our final day of break, we had planned to go to Nazareth, but we were too slow in the morning, and by the time we finished breakfast, it was too late to spend any time there. So instead, we stayed in Jerusalem, and took a short hike through the Jerusalem forest to Ein Karem, a gorgeous and quaint town on a nearby hill. We sat and had lunch, and then ambled around until we found a convent with a garden and view of the forest and hills. Later, we stumbled upon the birthplace of John the Baptist, housed in an ancient and ornate church in the center of town. So while we didn’t get to see Jesus’s hometown, we did get to see his precursor’s. We then walked back through the forest with a fantastic view of a fiery Jerusalem sunset the whole way. All in all, a very relaxing and pleasant day.
So that was my Chanukkah!
Jerusalem graffiti often consists of elaborate images created using stencils and spray paint. Israelis take it for granted. “Why do tourists always take a picture of that?”
Here are two of my favorites. The first is on a side street near Emek Refaim. It says, “Idolatry, I won’t save you, but you drink me.” The second is on Rehov Yaffo, next to an interesting looking pub. (And for good measure, here’s a picture of the pub, too.)
Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. He had been ill for a long time, and it was not a sudden death, but it has been nonetheless a difficult experience. At his funeral, my uncle shared a story about my grandfather that has become something of a mantra for me in the last few weeks:
“My last conversation with him was two weeks ago. I went to him and he gave me a kiss and hug and a brilliant smile. And then he said to me, “Bob, I have to talk to you about the garbage.” I said, “Dad, the garbage??” And he said, “Yes, the garbage!” Then he raised his hands, and got a rueful expression on his face, with a little smile. “It is not our garbage, but it has fallen upon us to take care of it…” and he pointed to himself, “so I am going to send your mother out for the supplies, and later, we will take care of it.”
This was my father, Max Singer. He knew there was garbage in the world. It did not matter to him that it was someone else’s garbage. He felt a responsibility anyway, and willingly took on the obligation to heal the world without complaint, without objection, with equanimity and grace. He wanted to help without fanfare, and he did the right thing because it needed to be done.”
I want to share two stories about powerful experiences that I have had in the last week. Both stories are moving, in very different ways. Both stories involve experiences I shared with multiple other Pardes students, who I know have their own opinions and reactions about what happened. Both stories touch on difficult political and religious issues. And, most importantly, both of these stories involve walls.
By now, hopefully all of you have heard about what happened with the Women of the Wall at the Kotel last Wednesday (in case you haven’t, I wrote a blog post about it here). The short version of the story is that a woman named Nofrat Frenkel was arrested for wearing a tallit and holding a sefer Torah, and is now under investigation, with criminal charges pending. If convicted, she faces up to six months in prison and a 10,000 NIS fine, as well as serious repercussions to her future medical career.
The (slightly) longer version is this. On Wednesday morning, I woke up early and got into a cab with several other Pardes students. We arrived at the Kotel bright and early to join the Women of the Wall in their Rosh Chodesh prayers. After twenty years of fighting for equality at the Kotel, the Women of the Wall have been granted the right to gather for one hour each month to pray in a group, as long as they adhere to the “customs” of the wall. I arrived at the Wall with my friends expecting verbal abuse and potential physical abuse, however, we prayed our morning service completely under the radar of the people around us.
Because of this success, we decided to attempt to read Torah at the Wall, rather than to relocate to Robinson’s Arch, as is the usual Women of the Wall practice. What seemed like a beautiful, successful morning quickly soured and was desecrated by shouting and threats from assorted officers, culminating in the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel, our shaliach tzibur (prayer leader), who also happened to be visibly wrapped in a tallit and holding a Torah when we were joined by a police officer.
There are several articles discussing these events, my own blog included, and each one of them talks about a different thing. Some of them focus on the history, others focus on whether Nofrat was practicing her religion or making a political statement. There are articles that talk about Robinson’s Arch as a perfect substitute for the Kotel, and articles that quote the Chief Rabbi of the Kotel as saying that “They behaved like [biblical] Korach and his assembly.”
What I struggle with is what comes next. With December will come another Rosh Chodesh, and another meeting of the Women of the Wall. What will we find, when we arrive at the Kotel on December 18th? Will I be brave enough this time to wrap my tallit outside of my jacket, as opposed to under it, as I was instructed to do last Wednesday? Will I, too, be brave enough to stand up in the face of angry, powerful men and respond to questions about my tallit by saying “I wear it because it’s a mitzvah. Where is yours?”
My second story starts in a similar fashion – I woke up (considerably later, this time around), and met two of my friends on the corner of Derech Hevron and Ein Gedi, where we got on the 21 bus to Bethlehem. We had been invited to spend Shabbat with another friend of mine, and I for one had leapt at the chance to visit. It was my first trip to the West Bank, and therefore my first trip through a checkpoint, and my first chance to examine Israel’s second famous wall.
In my head and when I speak, the security barrier is always referred to as The Wall – capitalized and bolded for emphasis. I remember learning about the fence as a teenager in a Young Judaea program, when construction had first begun in earnest, and spending two hours arguing about why it was being constructed and what we should call it. The terminology seemed incredibly important to me at the time, and it still does – you’ll notice I’ve called it three different things in two sentences, and each title carries a different weight and connotation.
You can read and talk about life in the West Bank until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never understand what it’s actually like until you travel there yourself, and even then you will only understand a fraction of what there is to understand. The same goes for seeing the wall – it’s easy to sit in my comfortable Jerusalem apartment and argue about the benefits of a security barrier vs. the flaws of a security system that creates and maintains human rights violations every day, and an entirely different one to see the benefit of a physical wall that separates families from their land, cities from civilization, and human beings from control over their own lives.
The first thing I noticed about the wall was the graffiti – it’s difficult to notice anything else, because it’s so bountiful and beautiful and powerful. Some of it is professional, some of it is casual, but all of it means something. I took picture after picture; if I could capture the entire thing I would, and I hope that someone in the world is taking on the project of documenting the artwork. This is the first picture I took, of a tic-tac-toe board and the words “this is not a game.” The image brings to mind a lot of things – the futility of the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, the recognition that the wall has a serious impact on the people on either side, and in one of the more petty parts of my brain, the movie War Games.
I saw another section of wall graffitied with the following words – “here is a wall at which to weep” – and it was at this point that the connection I had been making in my head between the wall in Bethlehem and the Kotel that I visited last week snapped in to focus.
These are walls with multiple meanings. On the one hand, they are about safety and protection – safeguarding a people, protecting a religion. But on the other hand, they are about power – they are about showing the world who is in charge, and who holds the upper hand. And it is that part – the usage of these walls as methods of control – that I simply cannot stand for. How can I live in a country that does not support my right to pray the way that I choose, in what many consider the holiest part of the holiest city in the world? And how can I love a country where the government is allowed to illegally seize land by building an impenetrable barrier between itself and some of its citizens?
I live here because this is where Jews are meant to live. For all of my doubts about whether or not the Kotel is a place I want to pray, and for all of my frustrations with the actions of the Israeli government, I live here in this place because it is the land of my family and my people and my ancestors. But I refuse to simply live here and accept the status quo. This Israel, that protects men who verbally and physically abuse women who simply wish to pray in the holiest fashion they know, can never be my Israel. This Israel, which builds walls to protect itself and in the process commits human rights violations, is not a country I am proud of.
It would be easy to simply leave. To make a phone call and change my plane ticket and go back to a part of the world where things make relative amounts of sense, and the problems that need to be dealt with are problems that I feel I have at least a chance of solving. But Israel means too much to me to do that. And so, next Friday, I will travel to Hebron on a Breaking the Silence trip, to learn about the culture of silence surrounding military corruption in Israel. And on December 18th, Rosh Chodesh Tevet, I will go back to the Kotel with the Women of the Wall, and I will pray wrapped in a tallit as I believe I am commanded to do. It’s time. I am cleaning up the garbage.