It's been difficult to get internet this week--we had snow! Not much, but in a place where you don't have central heat, yikes. It rained and sleeted and was pretty much like that ugly April coldwet Boston mess. Anyway it was a 'snow day' which means nothing, just that the schools are out and the buses are on a restricted schedule. We visited friends and had a beautiful big lunch in a charming dairycafe. (Jerusalem is absolutely crammed with good veg food. It's unmanageable.)
Tomorrow I'm in Hebron again, this time with the bigger group. Our planning and orientation meetings went well. I even facilitated a small group at the orientation, and will continue to facilitate for them tomorrow. Meanwhile tonight I was at a session in an Uzbeki Sufi center in the Old City, hosted by the sheikh and his American Jewish peace activist counterpart, learning about their rather wide-ranging skills in bringing together the religious leaders of "the children of Abraham."
In my hopeful mind I am so pleased to see a Muslim and Jew loving each other so much and working together so hard. In my cynical mind I am frustrated by the "we are all brothers" theme of peacemaking. I suppose this has to do with my interest in justicemaking. In a way, actually, if we use a narrow definition of "peace" where it means 'loving each other and singing joyous songs to god' I'm basically doubtful that any group of people outside of a spiritual retreat are going to live in peace. But it is worth it to me that someone else is working on that vision.
Thinking back to Hebron last week, I'm not that depressed and angry about this trip tomorrow. I can turn off the shock-and-pain circuit in order to hold space for the group participants. I worry about numbness, I worry about effectiveness, and now I am worried about being too tired. Am drinking a nice Scotch, though, so what can be so wrong?
The bike, with the good story, was stolen. I had it for about 72 hours. Merde. The story is that I bought it from an ultraorthodox guy, and he was really nice, then some men on the street where I was test-riding yelled "whore!" at me and spat. As Laurel notes, it's clear that when a woman wears pants she must also sell sex for money.
Was in Hebron yesterday and it was maddening but also just numbing. Looking at maps of settlements it's hard to imagine that Israel will be able to get half a million Jews out of the WB. Crazy.
Meanwhile in Philly our landlord is taking us to court! Good times! And it's going to snow on Sunday. All in all, though, I'm doing well--in a rush to get out of this cafe in time for them to close for Shabbat.
Okay, this photo is from back in Philly. I've been emailing in this cafe for six hours now and I think they're tired of me. Enjoy this wearable rocketship, created chez moi for the Pig Iron benefit Jan 25th. My favorite part is the stove-burner-cover windows.
As for news: I got a bike. Promptly began wearing out my knees on the long steep hills. Also I had to take a day off from riding because the narrow seat has been unkind to my butt. It's a nice mountain bike, lighter and zippier than the coaster tank I ride at home. No one here is ever going to get into riding fixies! (Fixed-gear bikes, popular with the bike hipsters of the world.) I also saw a R.E.Load bag strolling around the mercaz. (Hipster bag company I used to work for.) There's a funny story associated with the buying of the bike, but I haven't figured out how best to tell it. Stay tuned.
I've had a couple formal and informal meetings with potential dialogue hosts and I'm in the process of preparing invitations/enticements for them. People are tentatively interested; I'm finding that the issue of audience is a bigger one than I had imagined. JDG is envisioned as a project for Americans, and though we've had Israeli participants in the US in the past, there are major trust issues here. First I have to prove that I'm really nonpartisan, then I have to prove that I'm not going to ruin any institution's carefully crafted "apolitical" stances just by bringing students into dialogue. Mitch, JDG guru, has excellent ideas as usual.
Unfortunately the best opportunity I have--the closest contact in the most accessible institution--has been sidelined. The dean of Pardes lost his mother this week, and is therefore sitting shiva* so I assume it'll take some time to put this together. We did go to the funeral, which provoked me into a lot of thinking about the play I worked on last summer--set in a morgue, all characters dead. I learned a lot about death rituals and the treatment of bodies and so forth. Future post.
Also met with Ilana from Encounter, my major work project while here. She's wonderful. We had a very interweaving kind of conversation, talking about the challenges of nonpartisan work (beyond hiding one's own beliefs) and tactics and values. This over a lunch where I unfortunately ordered "couscous with people soup," as the word "lentils" is quite close to the word "people." They forgave me, and the soup was good. We're going to Hebron on Thursday to scout out some final arrangements for the trip there next week--which I'll probably be helping facilitate! I'm excited.
I'm thinking a lot about how to present myself here. It's a small city in a small world, of course, and Jewish geography-playing (where are you from? who do we know in common?) is endless. I can be "Nachshon's girlfriend" or "learning Hebrew for two months" or "journalist/writer" or "political work" or "dialogue facilitator" or "new progressive religious feminist Anglo" ad infinitum. The trick is to remind myself to be in the right mode for the right setting.
This is particularly important when it comes to work: in meeting with these yeshiva faculty folks, I need it to be clear to them--cutting through ageism and habit of course--that I am not in "student" role. I may be the age of their students, but I am in fact a professional offering a valuable program, and my job is to offer such that they see it as a vital learning tool and not some kind of fun social add-on.
Meanwhile in ulpan-land... hard to believe, but, I am slowly catching up. It helps to have a private Hebrew tutor--chaver sheli (my boyfriend)--in the evenings. It also helps that I talk to myself all the time. Am considering taking a less full-time class in March, because 4 hours a day is exhausting.
Now to go home and cook something in our little non-kitchen. I am trying to refrain from my ceaseless food-blogging, but wow, people, the food here is consistently great. Paradise for yerakot (vegetable) lovers like me. Everything is fresh, local, and in season.
*traditional Jewish mourning ritual where you don't work or even leave your house for a week
Ulpan got more manageable! I studied--the class is on page 156 and I'm on page 41. Just wait. By the scientific method of "how many people address me in public in Hebrew?" I am doing pretty well. It helps that I have long messy hair.
The weather sweetened considerably. No coat necessary, just hat and scarf.
Exchanging many planning emails and finding lots of political contacts.
Plus, hallelujah, Romney's out! Tally-ho. Shabbat shalom, y'all.
I seem to recall it not being so darn cold when I was here two years ago in January… therefore, dear readers, a guide to the past (almost) week, organized around my freezingness.
Often it’s cold on planes. Not on British Airways. They’ve solved the problems of rude service, bad food, and even cramped spaces—my PHL-LHR flight was less than half full and I had a full row to sleep in. then, on the LHR-TLV flight, I got a fantastic greasy VEGAN British-style breakfast—potatoes, beans, ‘sausage,’ grilled mushrooms, etc. flying should always be like this! However, I arrived with a small sniffle. Nearly full marks.
Prime offender: we live in a wee basement, with a window box and a door to the “garden” (grassy slope/alley next to our building); tiny “kitchen” with sink, toaster, water-boiler, and electric frying pan; closet-size bathroom; convertible bed-couch, and a big table. We’re working on the furniture situation. All heat not sourced by the body itself comes from the 18” heater box. You close the kitchen and bathroom doors in order to heat approximately 20 square feet less—and it actually helps. Needless to say, it’s effing cold. On the plus side, we don’t have or need a fridge—keeping stuff outside the window works great!
On Monday we took a bus to the Dead Sea to hang out with ND’s parents who are there for a couple days on some fabulously cheap package deal—nice hotel, several meals, passes for the fancy natural-sulphur baths, etc. We took a short hike, through desert canyon alongside a stream running with the recent snows (in the mountains—there it was hot and parched as a desert should be) and to a beautiful waterfall.
Tried after that to go swimming in the Yam itself and it was too cold. Instead we went to the hotel’s indoor heated Dead-Sea-water pool: awesome! The day dried up my sniffle, too. I could write about the bus ride through the West Bank, but I’ll save it for when I have something of more substance.
I don’t notice the heat situation at all, because my brain is running as fast as possible to keep up. I got placed in the second month of Kita Aleph (Class 1), which you’d think would work for a not-quite-beginner like me. Not so. These people have been in class four hours a day for a month, and whoa baby, am I behind.
My ulpan, Beit ha-Am, is known to be liberal and inclusive, which basically means that it’s mostly Arabs. (Palestinians? the people in my class don’t say so, but this may be self-censorship around the mixed crowd.) So 80% of the class has been reading Hebrew with at least phonetic fluency for 5-10 years, unlike yours truly. I hope I can get better fast, because the head of the ulpan told me that the beginner class is totally full. My teacher is constantly yelling at us to be quiet even when we’re asking each other questions in Hebrew about Hebrew. But she’s sharp and funny.
The conversation in the class—flowing to and from the teacher, not among the students—is hilariously random. Topics so far have included “what’s in Caesarea” (ancient ruins and modern city north of Tel Aviv), “do you know/like the Beatles,” and “Israel calls the Separation Wall a ‘fence’ because it sounds less permanent.” The textbook is includes an odd mix of quasi-Jewish themes: going to the beit knesset (synagogue) on Shabbat, and what’s in the Torah, and judgmental mini-essays about Herod.
Point being, though, that’s it’s a fascinating cultural space, but I can barely put on my sociologist hat because I’m frantically trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I do feel really smart when I can understand the teacher, and there’s a machine in the (freezing!) hallway where you can get a miniature cup of coffee/cappuccino/choco for 2 shekels! Warm enough.
It is very sweet and close, and also of course ultra-dramatic, to be back in the arms of my honey. Us two being who we are, we had to have some spectacular conflicts within the first several days. I think things are settling in. It’s lovely to walk the beautiful neighborhoods (keeping warm through exertion) and talk about his studies and my work and our many observations and analyses of this crazy city.
I’m starting to set up dialogues—so far, the dean at Pardes (ND’s yeshiva) was tentatively interested but skittish about allowing any explicit political content to be part of their offerings. Ha, says I, your students are living in a bubble—and inside that bubble there isn’t a political vacuum, there’s a political message about silence and the status quo. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. My boss at Encounter is away for the week, so we haven’t started planning my work there.
It’s very hard to pray here—feels like getting lost in a shouting match, not just actually in a shul but in the whole atmosphere of intense religiosity. I promised myself I wouldn’t constantly worry about how I was dressed or who’s judging me, and so far, it’s only kind of working. The West Bank is a close and shadowy presence hanging over my prayers—it’s nearly impossible for me to ask god to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem given what I know about the actual ‘rebuilding’ that has happened and is happening. I do enjoy the opportunity to put on a tallis; it’s warmer.
Enough for now! I’m relatively unfreezing at the moment, being in a public library. Now to put on some layers and seek out some (hot) lunch.
*In Hebrew the Dead Sea is actually the Salt Sea. Melakh is salt. Melekh is king, as in the opening lines of most brachot (blessings): melekh ha-olam = king of the world. Following progressive Jewish practice I typically say ruach ha-olam, the spirit of the world, or chei ha-olamim, life of the worlds. However I am now inclined to say, melakh ha-olam, the salt of the world, for what is god besides that which gives flavor to everything? I am waiting for the Talmud reference on this.