Tuesday, June 30, 2009

These Last Few Days

I've been having a terrific time taking in my last few Jerusalem experiences before I leave. On Saturday night I spent the night with my friends Corinna and Debbie, playing games and chatting. In the morning I went home and went for a run around Gan Sacher where summer camps have begun to hang out - girls in long skirts and long sleeve button up tops racing down the hills under the blazing sun. After packing and cleaning for a while, I went with Debbie to the Old City to do some souvenir shopping. Debbie drives a hard bargain, so we went from store to store as shop owners flirted with us and offered us a "good price" - we each even came away with free cheap-o bracelets: "Lovely ladies, I give you for free. Come see my store I give you good price." We later met Corinna and the rest of the gang to go out for their final dinner at a nice place in East Jerusalem. I had what must have been the world's largest Fattoush. I walked back with everyone to the University and took a bus home from there, trying to put off the goodbyes until the last possible moment. I feel like I missed the opportunity to get to know these terrific people - by the time I was really spending a lot of time with them, the semester was already almost finished. I do hope I'll keep in touch with them though, and I really do expect that I'll run into them again.
Yesterday I spent the whole day cleaning. I dusted the apartment from head to toe, cleaned out the cabinets, swept and mopped the floor, and put all of my belongings into suitcases. I invited Amy, Karen, and Michael over for dinner, feeding them leftovers from Friday night's feast, and it was nice to have company for a little while after rather a lonesome day.
Today, for most of the day, I pretended to be a tourist. At 8am I walked to the shuk - nothing was open but the candy store, so I bought marzipan challahs to bring home as gifts (they are super funny!) I then stopped by the preschool to wish the kids goodbye one las time. The Gan Dror kids took turns giving me blessings: "May you go in peace and return in peace" "May you be healthy." "May you not be sick." "May you have fun." "May you not eat too much ice cream." Then they performed some of their end of the year songs for me - I think if they took the performance on tour it would be a pretty major hit.
I went for a walk to the Yemin Moshe area, then accross the street and up some stairs to the Old City. I decided to see some sites I'd never quite made it to: I began with the Tower of David Museum, which gives an overview of the history of Jerusalem from the first mention of the city in cunieform script to its reunification in '67. It was helpful to have this very basic overview, I feel like all my ducks are a bit more in a row than they were before, and it helped to clarify why and how there are so many layers of history and cultures in this one space. It was a little bit basic, but that's kind of what I was going for. Afterwards I bought myself a two liter bottle of water, as it was very hot and sunny, and I decided to walk the ramparts of the Old City. The man who sold me the ticket asked me to sit with him and drink coffee, took my hand and told me I was very nice... I suppose these are some of the side effects of playing tourist by oneself.
The ramparts walk was very nice - the views were terrific - both of inside and of outside the city, and I took about a million pictures. the walk ended at the Kotel, and since I was already there, I went in, prayed a bit of Mincha, and wrote a note to G-d saying thanks for a terrific year. I left via the Jewish Quarter, and bought myself a ticket to the Burnt House Museum. A few minutes later, I was inside the museum, in which screens and TV's hang over the ruins of a house from the 2nd Temple Period. The visitors sit in rows facing the screens and watch a somewhat hokey though at times actually quite emotional film about the destruction of the 2nd Temple and the seige of Jerusalem. From there I went to the Museum on the Seam to see their latest exhibit "Adam Adama" (Human Land) about the destructive way that humans interact with nature. The art was very interesting, though they ran out of guides in English and I had to read one in Hebrew, so my comprehension was somewhat limited. It was a combination of sculpture, video installments, photography, and painting. One photo showed the old city in the background with heaps of garbage in the foreground, one was a computer demo about how to create convincing artificial nature for movies because real nature is too unreliable, one was a beautiful hill with all of these roads and walls cutting accross it. Eventually I left the museum and walked up to Hebrew University because I had one more form to turn in in order to be able to receive a transcript later - it's a long walk and it was hot - by the time I reached the top my 2 liters of water were gone. I took the bus back to the Yemin Moshe area and walked home from there. As you can imagine, I am quite tired - though I am ready for another day of tourism tomorrow. I leave Jerusalem at 5:30 AM Thursday morning!

Click here to see some quite nice pictures of Jerusalem.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Final Shabbat

Well, I've completed all of my coursework for the semester, taken my last exam, and I only have a few days left to explore Jerusalem, gather my belongings, and fly to the other Promised Land - the "goldine medina."
In the meantime, it was with bittersweet feelings that I approached this Shabbat, wanting it to be perfect and memorable, but knowing that some of the most beautiful Shabbats of the year were already behind me. Sometimes I find self-reflexivity to be an emotionally painful task - being so aware of the last-ness of the Shabbat, I tried so hard to impress upon myself every detail of it, but knowing that the details fade quickly and that by the end of the day the sharpness of the image of its beginning will already have begun to wane in my mind's eye. It is with this in mind that I write of my final Jerusalem Shabbat, trying to preserve the important bits for just a while longer.
A friend of mine, Rebecca, had made plans with me for Friday to cook together and invite friends to my apartment. What started as a small gathering grew into the largest assembly of assorted individuals I've hosted in our apartment - the 15 bodies took up every seat that could possibly have been squished into the living room.
Knowing that we were expecting the large crowd, I began preparing for their visit as soon as I arrived home from my Hebrew exam. I started with a frenzy of cleaning - sweeping, scrubbing, putting-away, and interspersed these activities with putting sliced, spiced beets in the oven and braiding the challah. My friends Corrinna and Andrew arrived early to drop off a watermelon at the apartment and I enlisted their help in cleaning off plastic chairs, chopping vegetables, and even washing dishes. You know you have good friends when they'll do your dishes for you!
While we were cooking I received a phone call from my friend and neighbor Amy, telling me that at the corner between our apartment buildings, where an organization often leaves used books for passers-by to browse and take, there were stacks and stacks of Yiddish books. Corrinna and I left Andrew to watch after the challah in the oven and we ran down to the book drop-off area. Corinna picked up a copy of Ethan Frome in Hebrew, among other gems, and I found an astonishing wealth of Yiddish texts to choose from. I may not be able to carry all of the books that I took back to the US, but for now I have several Yiddish journals dating from 1943 to 1961, most of them issues of Yiddishe Kultur or Di Tzukunft (the Future) as well as a 1938 copy of David Pinsky's travelogue of a trip to Israel from the summer of 1932 to the sumer of 1936, published in Warsaw, a 1966 copy of Nachum Sutzkever's Personalities and Folk, published in Jerusalem, a 1996 copy of "Human Salad" by Joseph Hayblum, which was published in Israel with the assistance of the Mutlicultural Program of the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, and a 1986 printing of "Tear and Smile" a collection of poetry and songs by David Shav-Artza, published in Israel. I'm very excited about all of this, though it would take me forever to read even one of these books.
By the time Rebecca arrived at 3:30 pm, two veggie dishes were complete, the challah was in the oven, and the apartment was on the verge of cleanliness. Then the real work began. On a 98 degree afternoon, we kept the oven and stovetop going for hours, our hands never free from work and our feet aching from it. We made guacamole with sliced vegetables, mujedra, oven-roasted potatoes, lentil soup, chocolate cake, apple appricot tart, cole slaw, and more. We rearranged the furniture into a 15-person circle, put out the Shabbat candles and wine, and waited for the guests to arrive.
The dinner was definitely a success - there was plenty of food and a lot of conversation. The guests were an interesting mix between those traveling to Jerusalem for the summer, or just for a quick vacation, and those who are here for a year or more, some older and some younger, some Jewish and some not, and I was surprised how willing people were to get to know new people. I was very sorry, though, to say goodbye to Paola at the end of the night, as I don't think we'll see each other again before we leave. I am so grateful to have had her friendship this year, and I do hope that one day I'll go to Italy to visit her!
The last remaining guests helped me clean a bit, though there's still some cleaning work to do, and pretty late at night. I woke up and dressed for services at Har El. It was a small congregation - a bar mitzvah with a tremendous voice read from the Torah, and I was given an aliyah during which Rabbi Ada blessed me and wished me a safe journey and that I should consider Har El my home in Israel.
In the afternoon, Atar Katz (my neighbor) took me on a tiyyul around Jerusalem, to catch some sights I had not yet seen. He was born in Jerusalem and has lived here is whole life, and his mind is filled with stories of Jerusalem's history. As we drived around the city he told me story after story (this was my real Hebrew final exam!) of ancient history, the building of the state, of the people and events that happened in this city with its layers and layers of pasts and cultures. We drove up to Mt. Scopus, driving on the road where the 1948 Mt. Scopus bus attack occurred, and stopped at an overlook to see East Jerusalem and the desert beyond, reaching toward the Dead Sea. Mr. Katz gave me a geography lesson, using the knuckles of his hand to represent the grooves of the valleys and mountains of Jerusalem. According to Mr. Katz, Mt. Scopus gets its name because it was the mountain from which the priests used to watch the sky to determine if the stars were out and the holiday had begun, lighting a bonfire that would signal to other watchmen to light their bonfires on other mountains so the word could travel that it was time for the holdiay to begin. We then drove to the Mt. of Olives, where 150,000 Jewish bodies lie in graves, awaiting the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the Jews. Ancient and modern tombstones alike form the necropolis. Mr. Katz told me a story that when the Messiah comes, there will be two bridges from the Mt. of Olives to the Temple Mount - one made out of iron and the other out of paper. Those who lack faith will take the safer-looking iron bridge, and it will break and they will fall, returning to death. The faithful will take the paper bridge, which will lead them to the Temple Mount. Mr. Katz pointed out to me the Seven Arches Hotel (formerly the Intercontinental Hotel) which, he says, we can see from our balcony. The hotel was constructed during Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem along a road that he built in violation of the 1949 Armistice agreement accross the cemetary, destroying thousands of graves, some dating back to the First Temple period.
We drove down to the bottom of the Mt. of Olives (the Kidron Valley) to see Absolom's Pillar, traditionally believed to be the tomb of Absalom, son of King David. It's archetectural style shows Greek influence, and it is now believed that it may have been the tomb of Temple priest Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.
We drove past the Dung Gate and through the city to Talpiyot, a neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. Mr. Katz pointed out Machane Allenby, the former British army camp, and told me stories of the British conquest of Jerusalem. He also showed me the former home of the British High Commissioner to Jerusalem, now the headquarters of the UN in Jerusalem.
Mr. Katz and I walked through a park to see the remains of a Herodian aqueduct, where a hole showing the ancient ducts is situated on a mosaic map showing its ancient route.
It was a whirlwind tour of about two and a half hours, after which I took a long nap, and woke in time to write this post before going to play some board games with friends who leave Jerusalem tomorrow, heading home to the US.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance March

This afternoon I attended the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance March. I walked down King George Road alone, headed toward the park, and was surprised to find that accompanying me on the sidewalk were at least seven reporters, all heading toward the march. On the way we encountered a small Haredi counter-protest, which was in a visible location, but was pretty quiet.
At the front gates of Liberty Bell Park a variegated crowd of women holding babies, men in short skirts, students with matching t-shirts, older couples, and even a few tourists stood in slow-moving security lines. The police officers made separate lines for men and women, which caused no small amount of protest: "What is this, Mea Shearim?" "But I don't know which one I am!" "How could you do this here?"
At the other end of the security, which was the most strenuous security I've experienced here - thorough searches of bodies and bags - I entered a park that was full of people - something like 2000 people were reported to have attended the parade. Merchants selling pins, flags, and scarves with rainbows and stars of David were scattered throughout an excited crowd. I ran into several people I know - a preschool teacher, my language partner, a friend who goes to RRC, and some friends of friends that I know from assorted places. It was fun to bump into people - I didn't expect to see anyone I knew!
Before the parade began one of the organizers silenced the drums for a moment to say that he was very proud of the march and that we shouldn't be bothered or afraid by anyone who protests us, but should just walk from one park to the other peacefully and proudly.
And then the march began. It was short and strangely solemn. Though in the beginning groups were chanting slogans like "We won't go back in the closet. We won't live without equality" (It rhymes in Hebrew), or "Gays and Lesbians want to Live/Be/Exist in Jerusalem" or "We demand rights and equality. In the workplace - rights and equality! In our studies - rights and equality! In our families - rights and equality!" etc. but as the march proceeded, a quiet settled in. We encountered only one protester, with a preposterous sign saying "Homosexuals Spread AIDS" - I think the police had cleared out most of the people from the roads. The security was tight all along the route and in both parks.

At Independence Park there was a short conference and a drag show, in addition to vendors selling beer, clothes, movies, and memorabilia, but I think the highlight for me was listening to the speeches of the current and past presidents of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the head of the transgender organization, and others. They spoke of Jerusalem as the "city of freedom," talked candidly about the many challenges they face, and celebrated the vast strides that have been made in the past few years, as demostrated by the peacefulness of the parade itself.
There has been an annual gay pride prade in Tel Aviv since the 1998 (there was one yesterday) and it is a huge event with something like 100,000 people. The annual parade in Jerusalem began in 2002, and is often met with severe violence from the religious community - in 2005 a participator was stabbed to death at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, and in 2006 the parade was cancelled, ostensibly because of the second Lebonese war, but many claim it was also because of protests from the religious community. Tensions around the 2006 parade were particularly high, sparking riots in religious communities including burning dumpsters, throwing stones and dirty diapers, and a 'beast parade' in which Haredim marched goats and donkeys along the parade route a few days before the parade was scheduled. When the Jerusalem Open House announced that it planned to reschedule the march, they did so planning for worst-case scenarios of violence and murder, but the rescheduled march was conducted peacefully. Since then, the parade has met with little protest.

Preschool Goodbye (Part 2)

I said goodbye to the older class today - it was a little anticlimactic as the teachers didn't remember that it was my last day...

Anyway, some pics from Gan Dror: here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Preschool Goodbye (Part 1)

I said goodbye today to the kids of Gan Pashosh. The teachers made a presentation to the kids, telling them that I had come all the way from America and was going home for a few days. They asked the kids, "So tell us about Jessica. What did she do here?" "she played with us." "she was our friend." "she was even your friend (to the teacher)" and then all the kids said thank you, gave me hugs and kisses, and the teachers gave me a present: a t-shirt that says 'bazooka bubble gum' in Hebrew and a booklet with drawings that all the Gan Pashosh kids made for me.

As it was the last day, I finally brought the camera and took some pictures of me and the kids outside in the playground - enjoy!

a brief summary of activities

It's been a while since my last post so I decided to update you on some of my activities in my last few weeks in Jerusalem.

First of all, some of you may have been reading that tensions between secular and Orthodox Jerusalemites have been running high recently because of a debate over a parking lot. Early in the month, the Jerusalem municipality announced that they would keep a parking lot open on Shabbat to alleviate the parking shortage for tourists wanting to go to the Old City. The lot would be manned by non-Jews to avoid breaking halacha in keeping the lot open. On June 6 (a Saturday), thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews from the neighborhood of Mea Shearim held a violent demonstration against the opening of the parking lot, which they feel is a desecration of the holy day. They threw rocks and dirty diapers at policemen and set fire to dumpsters in order to protest the opening of a municipally-owned parking lot in Safra square, near the Old City, on Shabbat. Officers on mounted horses pushed the protestors from the parking lot back toward their neighborhood in a tussle that lasted the whole day. Police did not make any arrests on Shabbat itself, but after 8:30 pm they arrested several protestors. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, promised not to open the parking lot for two weeks, folliwng the recommendation of police, in order that some solution could be reached. Many secular Jerusalemites see Barkat as caving in to the ultra-Orthodox population by listening to the radical and extralegal voices of a belligerant minority. On June 13, hundreds of secular protestors gathered at the city hall in order to protest Barkat's decision to keep the parking lot closed while he negotiates with Orthodox leaders. I haven't read of any compromise being reached yet, so I imagine that this weekend might see a resurgence of protests. While I haven't seen or participated in the protests, they are certainly in the air here in J-lem!

Things are winding down for me - I have only a few more days of class and a few more assignments to complete, and then I'll be flying out of Tel Aviv in about a week!

Last Tuesday I had the Katzes (the neighbors) over for dinner. They gave me a parting gift - a necklace that their daughter (who makes silver jewlery) made - it's a small magen David with a purple gem at its center, and they wrote me a short poem wishing me well, which they read to me proudly. After they left I pulled out my Hebrew English dictionary to be sure I'd understood it completely. The Katzes are warm and patient people and I am continually surprised by their willingness to talk to me even though my Hebrew is far from fluent. We talked about religion, about education, and about History. They told me stories about their pet turtle and their family. It was very pleasant.

On Friday night I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services with my friend Amy in a little one-room prayer space near Betzalel Road. A sheet hanging in the center of the room served as a mechitza, and though the space was evenly divided between men and women, it was a small and crowded space nonetheless. The leader was modest, offering only a few words of reflection before diving headlong into prayer. His voice was smooth and soft but he prayed with intensity, banging his fists on the table and rocking back and forth, facing the ark. The prayer moved fluidly from one tune to another, slow and fast, sad and happy, and in the womens section, pressed against one another, we rocked back and forth, closed our eyes, tapped our feet, at one point we put down our prayerbooks and danced. Something about the closeness of the situation, the familiarity of the words, the evocative tunes, the modest leader, the noise level of the music such that you could stop hearing yourself sing and become one piece of a larger organ... it was all very moving. As we walked home to Amy's apartment for dinner, we asked ourselves how that energy could be brought to liberal congregations in the US - it isn't an easy question.

On Saturday morning I headed to the beach in Tel Aviv with a group of friends from the University. In Tel Aviv the stores are open, the beach is full of loungers, and everyone is scantily clad and darkly tanned. Though we were stung by jellyfish when bathing in the warm water, we had a terrific time basking in the 90 degree weather, with plenty of sunscreen of course.

Otherwise I've been working on papers, reading books (I just finished The Rise of David Levinsky, which was terrific) and winding down. Today is my last day in Gan Pashosh (the younger class) and Thursday will be my last day in Gan Dror (the older class). On Friday I'm having a lot of folks over for dinner, and on Saturday I have an aliyah at Har El. In the afternoon on Saturday the Katzes are taking me on a small tiyyul, about which I am very excited.

The other thing I am very much looking forward to is the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance march on Thursday - I can't wait to go and I'll be sure to take pictures! The assembly meets at 4pm at Liberty Bell park, the march starts at 5pm, and ends with a rally at the park at 6pm. In the past these parades have met with a lot of opposition, and I am so thrilled that one of my last experiences here will be to walk alongside the brave men and women who proudly maintain gay identities under what I can only assume are very difficult circumstances.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Recommendation

I think my favorite experience in the world (OK, one of my favorites) is reading an academic text that is so captivating that I can't put it down. With fiction this isn't so rare, I get caught up in the story and lose sense of time and place, but with an academic text, even a good one, I usually need a cup of coffee and a lot of breaks in order to get through the reading. I just read Call it English by Hannah Wirth-Nesher. I have wanted to read it for a long time and when I saw it on the New Acquisitions shelf of the Rothberg library, I couldn't resist. I knew it would be interesting, but I was surprised that I found myself staying up late and waking up early just to read one more page... I finished it this morning before school, with the kind of adrenaline rush of coming to a fitting and satisfying conclusion mixed with the disappointment that the book had ended - and that I would have to return it to the library. For anyone interested in Jewish American Literature, this is a must-read. It's a sweeping but detail-driven study in the multiple ways that Yiddish and Hebrew enter Jewish American fiction written in English, and how immigrant-spoken (accented) English is represented in this fiction - not only in terms of the mechanics of it but also the meanings behind it; the wordplay, the alienation, the opportunity, the limitations. It focuses on the complicated relationship that Jewish American literature has to English, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and the multilingual nature of the literature, even as fluency in Yiddish and Hebrew fade among American Jews, and it explores the translation of Jewish concepts and languages to a non-Jewish audience, as well as to a Jewish audience alienated from knowledge of older Jewish traditions and languages. It is beautifully written, deeply insightful, risk-taking, ground-breaking, broad-ranging... OK, it's just really, really good.