Ruach

“The Sabbath alarm has just sounded across Jerusalem, and thousands of observant Jews are making their way to HaKotel or to Beit Knesset.”

As soon as I finished writing this sentence in my journal, a single bomb sounded that signaled the end of the daily Ramadan fast. There. Right there is Israel. There is no other place in the world where you hear the high pitched buzz ushering in the Sabbath quickly followed by a blast that signals all Muslims to end the day’s fast. How strange and beautiful this tug of war is between religions, cultures, and ways of life.

Every day, I feel how Jerusalem is pulled in different direction by the Haredim or the Muslims or the Catholics or the new immigrants or the kibbutznikim or the Zionists or the Anti-Zionists or the Secularists. There are groups who want a two-state solution, those who want to give more representation to the Palestinians, those who support the rebelling youth movements in music, graffiti, and other art forms. And then there are those who want to export all Arabs, Orthodox Jews who want the disillusion of a physical Jewish state, those who want to kill all Arabs and even professors who will purposefully give their Arab students lower grades. They all pull Jerusalem towards themselves. They pull so hard that it’s sometimes hard to breathe.

I ate dinner with Tarek (we call him Dudu) last night as he broke his fast for Ramadan. It was a feast of soup, fried chicken, salad, rice, toast with humus, and olives. He told me of the true feast of food and music his family would be experiencing in Nazareth, and how the whole extended family would be together. According to Tarek, Ramadan is supposed to make one remember the poor and starving of the world, to make one grateful for the blessings of Allah. He ended the meal with a tradition he learned from his father. With hands still dripping with chicken grease, he slid a cigarette from his pack and lit the first one he’d smoked since 4:30 that morning when the fast began. He relaxed on the couch and smiled. 

I find myself moving violently from emotions of depression to those of sheer elations on a daily basis. It’s written in the anthem, “HaTikva,” that for years the Jews have been yearning for a homeland, a place where they belong and now finally in Eretz Israel, the Jews have squeezed themselves in, creating a growing, international economy, making legislation that attempts to appease the subcultures and molding a national identity that can be categorized only by the word “Israeli.” To understand this identity, it takes courage. One can witness fierce loyalty and principles, but also merciless ferocity. One experiences hospitality and impulsive temperaments simultaneously. It’s a strange kind of honesty: “Here we are, love us or hate us; either way, we couldn’t care less.”

 A place where they can belong. That’s the strongest emotion that I feel. I do not belong here. I’m not Jewish, not Muslim, not secular, and not Catholic. I’m an individual who can’t quite fit into any of the identifiable groups, and I’m constantly reminded by this fact. 

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Exploring Northern Israel

Nazareth

Eloise and I sit in the second floor of the Church of the Annunciation, closing our eyes as we listen to the muezzin call the faithful to prayer from the nearby Mosque. It’s muggy and hot inside this art gallery of Mary mosaics. Catholics from around the world donated gigantic 10-15 foot mosaics, depicting the Annunciation to this church, the largest in the Middle East. From the pew where I am sitting, I see the altar in front of me, and behind it, a fresco of the life of Jesus spanning the entire wall of the alcove.

The center of the room is octagonal, with each arch leading to a different chapel. Unlike most Medieval churches, this one is bathed with sunlight, which enters in through the stained glass and regular windows on the dome, and from the open doors. It’s quite new though, just 40 years old.

 

Mahroum Sweets.

What a great break. We hear the clear, low voice of the sermon giver in the mosque outside of the pastry shop. What can be better than soda water, knaffe, and a Muslim sermon on a Friday afternoon?

The owner of the shop was delighted with our knowledge of Arabe (shway, shway Arabe). I love people like this owner, quick to smile.

The knaffe was delicious, and as we sat at the small table inside of the pastry shop, infected by the sweet aroma of freshly baked treats beside us, I read in my tour book the name “Mahroum Sweets.” Little did we know that we stumbled into a shop advertised in my Fodor’s Israel guide. Naturally, I scurried up to the counter, guidebook in hand, and pointed to the page, “Look! Mahroum Sweets!” The owner, chief cook, and bottle washer – Mahroum himself – looked at the book and then at me and smiled politely. I wonder how many guidebook-wielding tourists have done the same thing I did.

Akko

I love meeting new people. We continue our adventure to Akko and have picked up a third traveler.

Rotem picked us up outside the Plaza houtel in his father’s Subaru, which gets free gas because the company pays for it, of course. Eloise met Rotem on the flight from Switzerland to Israel with her sister Alice, and now here we are touring northern Israel, instant friends. We’ll stop in his village, Kfar Veredim (Village of Roses). We’ll also see the border of Lebanon near where Gilad Shalit and two otherh soldiers were kidnapped two years ago. We hope to see Israel’s most beautiful beach as well.

Rotem is so French, with his black and white striped shirt and his long, drawn out “Ouuui.”

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We zoomed through Akko, taking pictures every few meters all the way to the port. How humid Akko is! I still didn’t see the Mosque however, and we didn’t stay long enough to get lunch at Hummus Said. Next time, perhaps.

The highlight of this Akko experience, besides wandering around the crusader streets and smelling the myriad aromas from the markets, was a chance encounter with a lady at the port. Eloise was doing what she does best, taking random, tourist photos, only to find that she sparked the malicious anger of a homeless women just inches away. This woman turned violently toward Eloise, spouted a few choice curses in Hebrew about the fact that Eloise was taking photos, and then proceeded to swat at Eloise’s hand that was holding her camera! Eloise, the sweet and polite Swiss that she is, was just simply too overcome with shock to know how to react. I could only manage a stifled and bewildered laugh and Rotem quickly saw how ugly the situation could get and led us away from the crazy old lady, who had not yet finished with her derogatory remarks toward us.

Nahariya

What a beautiful beach town. It feels like Via Reggio, a small town just south of Cinque Terra in Italy. Nahariya is the place to party. All along the shore, one finds scores of clubs and bars sitting cozily beside the beach, with couches and lounge chairs as far as the eye can see.

Because it was only about 3 in the afternoon, we were just about the only people on the beach. In about 7 hours, it would be crawling with hundreds of locals ready to party until the early morning. It’s a great music venue for House and Trance music lovers.

Rosh HaNikra

Rosh HaNikra rests right on the border with Lebanon. As we walked up the small incline to the border crossing, I kept thinking to myself that this was near the place where three soldiers were kidnapped in 2006, which sparked the Second Lebanon War. Here at Rosh HaNikra, members of Hizbollah offered the coffins of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldvasser in exchange for five Lebanese prisoners on July 16, 2008, a decision that sparked a great deal of controversy in Israeli politics. For two years, Hizbollah had remained vague regarding the state of the Israeli soldiers, and it was only confirmed at Rosh HaNikra that the soldiers were dead. 

The view of Israel’s coastline cannot be beat from this point of view. This is Israel — a constant mixture of beauty and harsh realities. There is a tiny restaurant near the border, where you can enjoy a coffee and the ocean view. It’s amazing to see how flat Israel is on its coastline. I felt like I could see all the way to Tel Aviv.

Then we walked to the border crossing and glimpsed Lebanon from the slits in the large gate that separates both sides. Although the gate is plastered with signs warning against photography, tourists in a steady stream would come right up to the gate and take as many pictures as possible before inciting the rage of the guard who was on duty.

Kfar HaVeredim

Tucked into the hills between Haifa and Nazareth is the small moshav called Kfar HaVeredim. It’s hard to describe how beautiful this village is. It’s not quaint; it’s not even that small. Instead, it is filled with house after house of magnificent architectural designs. Rotem’s village could be one found in Switzerland or an elite neighborhood in the U.S. Apparently, the richest man in Israel lives here, and we passed by his gigantic house with its 3-car garage – entirely unheard of here.

We parked the car at a small fenced, photo-op spot and then hiked up a hill a few meters. There we found a breath-taking view of the valley below and the sea to the west. Standing there, I forgot I was in Israel.

Rotem treated us to a delicious steak dinner at the restaurant where he works near Carmi’el called HaDeraleyah. It’s a beautiful, charming restaurant overlooking a small lake where you can rent paddleboats. It only seats around 75 people and the cuisine is delightfully non-kosher. I ate carpaccio with Parmesan cheese, and was in heaven. We ate filets over buttered mashed potatoes and had a side dish of Portobello mushrooms swathed in sweet and sour sauce. Our dessert was a decadent chocolate mousse covered in a dark chocolate mold.

Haifa 

After dinner, Rotem, Eloise, and I scrambled back to Nazareth to meet up with Amir and Issa, easily two of my favorite people that I’ve met here. After exchanging Rotem’s father’s Suburu for Amir’s sister’s Land Rover, we were off again to the north, headed toward Haifa, trying to find a nice place to sit, drink and talk. We walked up and down Ben Gurion Street, looking at the dimly light Baha’i Gardens at night from its locked gates. We settled finally for a hole-in-the-wall place in downtown Haifa and drank caperenas, and talked over the loud music, ubiquitous to bars the world over.

Near Golan, Lebanon, and Syria

The following day, Eloise and I found ourselves back in the Suburu with Rotem and his friend Nevo, driving toward the northeast and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). We ended up simply driving past Tiberias and took another highway north through Tzfat and on up toward the direction of Mt. Hermon, where Israelis can find ski slopes in the winter, and Syria passed it. We found a quiet place near Sede Nehemya where we rested and enjoyed snacks by the Jordan River. It was beautiful, as we watched floats and kayaks bumble down the small rapids in Kfar Blum and Beit Hillel boats. People lounged by the river, sunbathing, laughing, playing soccer, playing with their dogs, smoking nargila, fishing – it was a lovely afternoon. We sat on blanket, translating French, Hebrew, and English so we could all follow the conversation. It’s so lush and green in this part of Israel. Hills to the north point to Lebanon, hills to the east lead straight to Syria. The Hula Valley is absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could see it in the Spring.

The Road to Nazareth

We’re on the toll road, Route 6, driving to Nazareth on a beautiful sunny day in Israel. I think I’ve just about forgotten what rain is like. 

We’re cruising along the western road, staring at the parking lot on the other side of the divide. Eastbound traffic is backed up for miles and people are actually standing outside of their cars in frustration. The line is not budging an inch.

Eloise and I have escaped from Jerusalem and have hitched a ride with Amir, a wonderfully spoiled, fun loving guy from Nazareth. He’s utterly delightful, and I giggle as Eloise shamelessly flirts with him. He drives his sister’s Land Rover, blasting House music from the speakers.

A word about the toll road. It’s very efficient. Get a standard Easy Pass device installed on the windshield and rather than wait in line at a toll plaza, just pass underneath cameras that signal the device to charge the drive for the mileage driven. Get the bill in the mail a few days later. It’s quite ingenious.

We’re planning a fun-filled weekend in northern Israel. Eloise and I will be staying with a family that has been friends with her family since 1912. It’s a friendship that started with Eloise’s great-grandparents. The family we’re staying with relocated to Israel from Switzerland a few years ago and settled in Nazareth.

I love Northern Israel. I can breathe here. Beautiful villas with bougainvillea spilling over balconies share the street with shacks built on concrete blocks. The Jezreel Valley is plush, with forests lining the highways, and field of sunflowers waiting to bloom next spring.

I had coffee and cookies with Edna Dashevsky last Monday at her office on the fifth floor of the Ministry of Education. I love Edna, with her soft voice and graceful presence. She showered me with kindness and told me all about the news in the family. Itai got his hand out of the cast, but he can’t make a fist yet. Yoel is on vacation for one month but is already itching to go back. Edna is swamped at work, but excited to have received a beautiful work of art from a local artist for free. She made me speak as much Hebrew as I could, encouraging me to try. I could get coffee with her every week if it were possible.

We just past my old friend, Tel Megiddo, and I already feel nostalgic about the place. Israel is a part of me, most especially because of my time spent in the dirt and dust of the Late Bronze/Iron Age Period there in Megiddo.

“Anything crazy and stupid, I like” – Amir

Freedom! We’ve broken out of the traffic jam and Amir is nearing 180 km/h with Nazareth in our sights. 

I love that I’m forced to be independent here in Israel and to be a friend to people around me. Just listen and watch different interactions. I have so much to learn still and only five weeks left. Another deadline.

I’ve also become personal assistant to Rabbi Emanuel Gentilcore, who is head of the VISA program (Visiting Israel Students Association). I basically publicize talks on Science, God, and Judaism, making prints of posters, posting them in the dorms an don bulletin boards all over campus. We even have Facebook event reminders. I rather love project coordination; it fits my obsessive personality.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy Northern Israel and study Hebrew – figure everything else out later. 

The One Bus

I rode on the Arab bus today to the Old City. It’s one of those experiences I’ve wanted to have since I got here. We see the green and white buses zoom down the street picking up people at various locations, whether at a bus stop or not. They can been any shape or size, whether a full sized bus or a 15-passenger mini-van. They’re always packed to the rafters and have been a source of mystery to me since I’ve arrived here.

The great thing about the Arab buses are that when normal bus lines stop running on the Sabbath, they will still keep zooming past bus stops, hardly stopping to pick up by-standers. It also costs only NIS 4.20.

Halim and Tarek, two of my roommate Alice’s friends who live in the next building, took me to Humus Abu Sukri in the Arab Quarter, and I was in heaven. Delicious ground chickpeas smothered in garlic and olive oil. Add to that a side of chips, salad of spicy pickles, onions, and tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a great lunch. It’s an invigorating, exciting experience stepping off the white and green bus, and straight into the bustle of Salahadin Street on the way to Damascus Gate. The street is living and breathing as the crowds move slowly through the bottleneck. Teenaged boys scream prices of figs, batteries, kippas, shoes in Arabic and Hebrew. It excites every sense. “Batteria, chamza shekel!” The smell of spices waft into your nostrils as you pass by shops stocked full with any spice imaginable.

Women with babies strapped to their chest bargain for house wares or clothing. I saw women wearing anything from a t-shirt and jeans to full burka with black gloves. It’s a marketplace where religious and secular literally bump into one another as the crowd squeezes through the clogged corridors en masse.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, something Halim does every time he goes to the Old City. Halim is an Arab Christian, a non-practicing Greek Orthodox, and Tarek is Muslim. They are two of five roommates from the next building over that have become my fast friends. Halim is from Rama, which is about 30 kilometers south of the Lebanese border. His grandfather was imprisoned in 1948 when his wife was pregnant with Halim’s father. According to Halim, he contracted a sickness from the poor conditions of the prison and died as a result from them several years later.

Tarek is from Neve Shalom, which is somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In the 1950’s, a group of Muslims and a group of Jews got together and formed a settlement where Jews and Muslims would live in peace. In order to live in this “Oasis of Peace,” one must sign a contract and agree to the terms of the settlement. It seems to have worked, the small moshav remains a place of peace and co-existence even today and is a place of hope for future reconciliation.

Everyone is affected in some way here in Israel. Hatred of government-funded Haredi, who are the ultra-orthodox Jews, constant immigration – now even from war-ravaged Georgia. Everyone here has an opinion about how Israel should be. For instance, walking through Mea Shearim, an ultra-orthodox neighborhood just north of the Old City, as a woman is always an interesting activity. There is a dress code posted on every street corner directed to any woman passing through the streets. It reads something like: Women: please do not walk through our neighborhood dressed immodestly. Cover your shoulders and your knees, etc etc. Some unlucky passersby have had to deal with a few rocks being thrown at them for dressing immodestly.

In actuality, the same goes for woman as they walk through the Arab shouk. Cover your shoulders and your knees or else face the consequence of constant stares and whistle blows. This is Jerusalem in many ways. It’s a city where you hold your breath as you turn a corner, because you never quite know what you can expect to find.

Home at the Kfar

I could not have asked for a better apartment. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine living in a place where English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian all have a place in everyday conversation. I moved into the Student Village (the Kfar Studentim) not even a week ago and took the fifth room of an apartment shared by a Swiss, an Israeli, a Venezuelan, and an Uzbek. I’m the odd one out it seems, and I love it.

Alice is the life of the party. She’s friends with everyone, goes to Tel Aviv every other day to soak in some rays, and speaks Hebrew like a native even though she’s been here only one year. Her Hebrew lilts with her French accent. She waiting right now for her boyfriend, Yosi, a soldier in the IDF, to pick her up in just a few minutes, and she’s racing around trying to prepare.

Leah sits on the couch right now talking to her boyfriend Lior. She’s the disciplined one, managing the goings-on of the apartment and any money transactions we have as a group. She’s been studying for her macroeconomics exam for the past week, and she treats it like ajob. She’s originally from Russia, but moved to Israel when she was 4 years old.

Gila made aliyah from Venezuela a little while ago and studies psychology. We speak in Spanish sometimes, but it’s hard for me to keep up with her speed and accent. I can always find her smiling. She’s a practicing Jew, so I’m learning which plates, silverware, and cups I should use if I’m making meat or if I’m making something with milk. It’s difficult to keep kosher, I’m finding.

Tanya is the Uzbek, and is a sweetheart, shy and unassuming. She is known as the mom of the house, fixing any broken appliances, cooking soup if someone is sick. She spends much of her time in Be’er Sheva where her boyfriend lives, and she works until 11 on most nights, so we don’t see each other very much. She’s planning to move to Be’er Sheva at the end of the month to be closer to him.

I met another free spirit on my first day of class. I was low key at that point, just getting lost in the crowd, when this tall guy in D & G sunglasses and piercings all over his face said “hey” to me. That was it. Instant friends. We talked as if we’d been friends for years and kept walking to HU until we discovered that we were in the same class, Aleph 6 – higher low Aleph. It’s the class where the students are supposed to know the alphabet, but basically nothing else. We are learning cursive and print simultaneously (Dfus ve’ktav). It’s weird writing from left to right, and it’s even stranger to write in the opposite direction after five hours of class.

I just which I knew more, that I could just force it into my brain like a sleeping bag into its sleeve, but instead it’s s low but sure process.

It’s hard to imagine I’m here for another two months. There are so many adjustments to make, so many connections to make and experiences to have.

Even Yehuda

I’m waiting on the 930 Egged bus (26 NIS) to Jerusalem about to make my way to Hebrew University. What nerves tremor over my body! Maybe that’s just the bus idling. At any rate, I have to switch my standard of living back to where it belongs – that of a poor college student – as I leave the warmth, delicious food, and friendship of the Dashevsky family. I felt like a part of someone’s family for an entire weekend, but now comes the hard part, getting ready for my big move to Jerusalem where I will be studying Hebrew for the next two months.

I was literally in heaven. Edna Dashevsky became like a mother to me, after bonding while shopping for plants and trinkets at various markets around Even Yehuda. Yoel Dashevsky and I bonded over food. Hot sauce to be precise. I even watched Dancing with the Stars (Israel style) with them, and felt right at home. I had free reign to sit in the front garden, writing, blogging, and eating quiche, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, and figs. I felt like I was at a 5-star hotel. It was just as well, though, the kind of hospitality I felt at my friend Itai Dashevsky’s house could rival that of any Plaza Hotel.

I met Itai two years ago while working as a second grade teacher in Guatemala. He and his friend Din had just finished their army service as Lieutenants in the IDF and were traveling through Central America for a few months. After service, the Israeli government gives soldiers a stipend of money with which they can travel all over the world. Itai was kind enough to offer his home to me until it was time for me to move to Jerusalem.

He was kind enough to show me around the Netanya area, taking me to a party in a beautiful garden in the middle of nowhere, which his friend Shahar organized. We also ventured to Herziliya’s marina area where pedestrians walk and eat ice cream or just sit outside and enjoy beer or wine. There is wonderful restaurant nearby where Hila, Din’s girlfriend works, where you can enjoy a great meal of sushi or other seafood while lounging on white couches on a patio overlooking the ocean. It’s a great feeling.

I can only hope one day to return the favor of hospitality to Itai and his family if ever they come to the States. I know I owe them that much.

I love how eclectic the culture is here. Kippas, no kippas, blondes, Africans, Russians, Americans. Israel’s identity is a bit schizophrenic, and I think I’m beginning to like it. At times, your average Israeli’s sense of humor can be a bit biting, painful to hear, cutting to your soul, but for the most part you learn to take nothing seriously. You may think that they find you stupid or incapable, but in reality, they probably really like you and respect you. Just learn to give them back what they give you.

I’d like to have lunch with Edna sometime when she’s working in Jerusalem to learn more about the different programs that she’s launched at the Ministry of Education. She was very proud of the program she’s involved with, teaching counselors how to deal with children with post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of these kids are from places like Sderot, which experience regular rocket fire from Gaza. The counselors give these children a stuffed animal and teach the children how to care for it. In a way it displaces their fear of their own safety and wellbeing, and helps them to have a feeling of control. Edna feels it has been very effective at reducing the tension children experience in such situations.

Is It June 2010 Yet?

Time is such a strange thing. Somehow it manages to move so slowly and so quickly all at the same time. How have four weeks passed by already? I can remember thinking after day number one that the amount of hard work, the early morning alarm buzzes, and all of the tiny unpleasantries about digging would surely drive me to illness or insanity. I didn’t think I could keep up the pace for an entire month.

Yet, here I sit in a beautiful garden in Even Yehuda, where I am staying for the weekend before moving to Jerusalem to attend Hebrew University, and I miss Megiddo.

The last day of excavation felt awfully strange. We spent the day articulating, defining balks, and sweeping everything in sight for the aerial photographs that would be taken on the last morning. It all sounds very normal considering that we had been doing that for the past several weeks, but this time I knew in the back of my mind that this was the last time I would be sweeping up dirt, articulating rock walls, and using our bulk tool “Kimmy” (basically, it’s just a pick-ax head). I find myself both tired and content, sad to leave and ready to go. I’ve finally learned how to identify rims, bases, bichrome, lamps, bowls, Cypriot (sometimes), cooking pots, and the like, but I feel like I’m just getting started.

As these things go, we stopped excavating right when Area H was about to get really interesting. Doron, a Tel Aviv student studying prehistoric archaeology, found a huge, intact storage pythos in the ground at E7 that must have been 30 centimeters tall. The mouth of the vessel was flush with the surface, which led Eran and Inbal to conclude that it must be standing on a floor surface, most likely of H-11. This means that just under our feet could be a milieu of fantastic pottery pieces and other beautiful items. This was the same square where Jane found the small Egyptian ankh. However, as it happens, we will have to wait until next season to harvest all of those amazing items that we know are right there, just below the surface.

Two years seems so far away to me. Will I be finishing my master’s program in time for Megiddo 2010? Will I have the funds to attend the dig? I will have to wait for those answers as I busy myself with other experiences and as I contemplate archaeology as a career. It truly only takes one dig to get a person hooked. I have so much more to learn about the Iron and Bronze Ages so that I can return to Megiddo ready and prepared to put that knowledge to use and to gain more.

I can’t wait to return.


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