Friday, January 30, 2009

Museum on the Seam

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Today, my program took us to the 'Museum On the Seam'. It is in an old home that belonged/belongs to a Palestinian family. It was taken over by the Israeli army in the 1948 war, and because of its unique 'on the seam' location, it was used for years as a military lookout. From the windows on the top floor, you look right over the border that runs down the city of Jerusalem that used to divide West Jerusalem/Israel from East Jersalem/Jordan. Since 1967, East Jersalem has been annexed by Israel and is considered by the Israeli government to be a part of Israel. Next door, 'project' housing was put up by the Israeli government for immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe. It was controversial because (among other things) many of those immigrants felt that they were made into human sheilds by being placed in housing directly on the border between warring nations. Phew.

ANYWAY, the exhibit that was there today is called Heart Quake. You can click on the link to read more about it, but the general idea of most of the art is to get a dialogue happening about the effects of conflict on society and the individual. Many of the pieces were powerful.

Three that stood out to me the most:

It was me/Diary - this piece was a giant wall mural that looks like a diary. Each of the entries was written in the frist person:
"This work is a unique diary created by Daniela Comani. Curator Inke Arns notes that 365 journal entries, written in the first person, report important events that occurred in the twentieth century. The fictitious narrator signs the agreement for dismantlement of the Warsaw Pact on March 31, is killed on June 2 by police bullets during a demonstration in East Berlin, blocks the path of a tank on Tienamen Square in Beijing two days later, and assaults a Vietnamese trader on the streets of Hoyerswerda in Germany on September 17. Comani has written a diary of the twentieth century as though all the events depicted happened to her. From one day to the next, from one report to the next, she is first a passive witness, then a political activist, later - a victim, and then again goes on to commit crimes. Thus she seems to instigate these historic events."
Beach, 2006 -
This piece was by far the most powerful to me, mainly because before I came to Jerusalem, the conflict in Gaza was SO heavily on my heart and mind - and then when I moved here, I couldn't see signs of it ANYWHERE - life just seemed to be going on as normal.. This piece really spoke to me about that phenomenon and its lack of reality:

"Guli Silberstein’s work presents a personal report in the form of an unfocused television broadcast; a stream of images progressively speeding up, portraying a family on a Tel Aviv beach, near to a video work showing a little girl running frantically along a Gaza beach under bombardment, a mere 100 km. away. The work depicts a reality wherein tranquility is transformed momentarily into terror, and the possibilities of the real and the repressed pose questions simultaneously conceptual, existential and moral.

Paradoxically, the observer is drawn to the blurred images, and the more they blur, the greater the sense of confusion and dread over what goes on between Tel Aviv and Gaza, between the flickering narrative and his tempestuous imagination. Silberstein’s cinematic language, the deliberate disorder injected into the development of the action, fills us with a growing sense of danger and dread."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jerusalem Map Madness

So, I should just put it out there that I am the worst person with directions... EVER. I have been lost in more cities, in more countries on more continents than ANYONE should be allowed. I really don't know how I have survived this long, considering the amount of traveling I have done. I STILL have troubles once in a while in my home town (population 8000) - let alone major cities in countries where I don't speak the language OR read the script.

So my one saving grace so far has been that I am half decent at reading maps (I say 'half' generously). This has always been my tactic - find a map, orient myself, get lost, ask someone to point to me where I am on the map, get lost again, etc. Eventually I find what I am looking for.. usually.

Well, I have never run across a place QUITE like Jerusalem. Yes, I have a map... and sometimes I even remember the name of the place I am supposed to be going (the words don't really 'stick' since the sounds are still foreign to me)... but find it on a map?! It would seem so easy..

Fortunately, most road signs and maps have names in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, but oh, the horror of TRANSLITERATION - meaning that Hebrew words don't necessarily have a perfect English spelling equivalent, so people have just sounded them out. Take a word like 'Caesarea' for example - when looking on a map or a road sign, it may be 'Qisariyya, Kesarya, Qasarya... etc. (Thanks Lonely Planet for the example) Or maybe the Hebrew word will be used instead of the English one - Yerushalayim instead of Jerusalem.... you get the idea.

So I just got instructions from one of the Rabbis at Rabbis for Human Rights as to how to get to my internship (starting Sunday) - and spent about an hour and a half figuring out what those directions actually meant on the map - and now I have to figure out which buses to take to get there, and which stops to get off at - all while guessing from about 5 or 6 name choices for each of those variables.

Don't get me wrong, its do-able (mainly because I will ask people the whole way and probably call everyone I know once or twice) - but seriously, it is not the most intuitive situation. To make it worse, there is no bus map in English... so its all just word of mouth, the not-so-trusty--non-bus-map, and of course my sense of direction. Oh boy.

so that was fast...

Today is my last day of class for this quarter - whoa.
One course was on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - mainly from a narrative or historical perspecitve.
The other was an International Human Rights Law course, with specific focus on Israeli case law.
We've had class every day for the last two weeks, from 9:30am - 4pm (one class in the morning, the other in the afternoon).. so its been jam packed. I have learned SO much in such a short time, but I still have so many questions!

That went by in a blur...

My internship starts on Sunday, but there has been a change of plans...
First I supposed to be with Bat Shalom, a women's peace-building organization (which I was super exctied about), but due to financial problems and the fact that they just had to shut down their office and move to a new location... I was moved to the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center... but then, in an effort to work with an organization more specifically focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I was moved to.................

Rabbis for Human Rights.

I have absolutely no idea what to expect, what I will be doing, or who I will be working with (well, I can take a wild guess..) But just the same, I am incredibly excited for the experience and can't wait to get started.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A different kind of Farmer's Market

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Bernard Lewis and Company

Three nights ago, I went to a special symposium offered at Hebrew University.

On the panel was the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) Bernard Lewis - the guy who argued with Edward Said forever and ever... he's the one on the far right. I read a ton of his stuff in college in an Arab/Israeli history class I took (granted, I disagreed with most of it) - and so it was cool to get to see him in person. He's old!

It was interesting, but after almost 8 hours of intense class, my mind was a bit tired and I had a hard time focusing parts of it. One of the more interesting recommendations (I thought) that came out of the panel was directed toward to the Israeli government regarding relations with Iran - the recommendation was to stop with all of the huge international conferences, and just talk with the leaders on a more private, bilateral level.

Obama's Inaguration - Israel Style

I have had a truly international perspective regarding Obama's rise to the presidency... I watched the primaries, voted and watched the election in South Africa, saw the aftermath of the election in Kenya, and watched the inauguration in Israel.

After the EXTREME excitement radiating through Africa over Obama's election, it was a bit of a downer to see Israel's. They are not such fans, let me tell you. In fact, I would say that overall, they are somewhere between nervous and short of hostile. I think there is fear that there will be a massive change in foreign policy (please yes) and that Israel won't be quite as "in."

Regardless, I celebrated with other Americans on that historic day. We watched from the student center, where they fed us pizza and beer in true American style, and played the festivities on a big screen - ironically, we watched it all on Fox news ;)

This is my super excited terrible picture saying "I was here kids!" I think no matter what your politics are, it can be said that it was a huge day for American politics.
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Talia's Birthday!

Meet Talia, the amazing coordinator of our program. Whenever I am quoting facts, it is probably because I heard them from her. In the background is Danny, the Director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights. They are the ones who in conjunction with our home University, created this program, organized everything, and have taken care of us down to our very bedding.

Last week was Talia's birthday, so we took a quick break from class to celebrate. Happy Brithday!

Jerusalem Sunset

One evening, I stayed late in class because I was waiting for a symposium to start - and this is the view from our classroom, at sunset.

Jerusalem Holocaust Museum

Last Sunday, we visted the Jerusalem Holocaust museum and the International School for Holocaust Studies. I have been to a few Holocaust Museums, but this one had a different feel to it, mainly because almost every Jew in Jerusalem has some direct connection back to the Holocaust - either they or someone in their family survived it. Our guide told us that pre-Holocaust there were about 18 million Jews in the world, and afteward, after the systematic slaughter of 6 million, there were 12 million. Today, there are only just over 13 million Jews, meaning that the population STILL has not recovered its numbers. Just terrible.

However, there was a very intersting Zionist twist at the end of the museum - a view looking over Jerusalem. One of the main reasons that Israel became a state was that the United Nations wanted to create a place for the Jews after the Holocaust - they had been persecuted and murdered all over Europe, Western Asia, and the United States had closed its doors to massive immigration - they literally had no place to go.

So they were given a place in Palestine. But the Palestinians weren't exactly 'asked' if this was ok.... enter conflict that still rages today.
At the beginning of our tour, we were able to go into a room, put on head phones, and hear experts answer questions we could choose about the Holocaust. It was very interesting.
Here's a Holocaust surviver anwering my question about why the Allies didn't bomb the death camps:

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In Memory of Lauren

Every day before class, we light a candle in memory of Lauren, a member of our program who passed away the week before we came to Jerusalem. Her legacy and her family are in our minds and hearts every day.

The Wailing Wall

This is perhaps one of the most recognizable images in the world: the Dome of the Rock behind the Wailing Wall, and of course me cheesing it up in the foreground:
The gold dome is the Dome of the Rock, a memorial to where Muslims believe that Mohommad ascended into heaven to talk with God (Allah). That wall, right in front of the dome, is the Wailing wall, one of the last remaining walls of the Second Temple. If you look hard, you can see people right in front of the wall - those are Orthodox Jews praying. Many pray that the temple will be reestablished in this place. Of course, that isn't cool with the Muslims whose 3rd most holy place is right in the middle of what the Jews believe should be the 3rd temple. Eek. ALl of this conflict, all of this war over the Holy Lands - radiates from right in this spot.
A closer view of the Wailing Wall. Because it was Shabbat the day we visited, I couldn't take pictures any closer.
Our guide gave us each a piece of paper to write prayers on. The tradition is to write your prayers and then stick them in the crevices of the wall. Many of the Orthodox Jews believe that anything that touches the wall becomes holy, and that prayers are 'more heard' if they are pressed into the wall. (on a side note, there are actually organizations where you can email or fax a prayer in and they will print them out and put them in the wall, just in case you can't make it there in person!) Anyway, I squeezed as many prayers as I could on to my piece of paper, folded it and then placed it in a crack in the wall. I also put my hands on the wall, as I saw the other women around me doing, and prayed really hard for peace.
It was an amazing experience to be at a place that is considered the very most Holy by so many people - but it is also overwhelming to see how adamant people are about it - it is not a rational thing, it is not something that people will compromise about --- and it makes peace extremely complicated. My little piece of paper was one of millions and millions stuck into the wall, and I know some people were praying for probably the exact opposite thing that I was. Oh, Jerusalem.
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Old City: The Jewish Quarter

Orthodox Jews heading to the Wailing Wall:
Orthodox children playing among ancient Roman columns:
The Mount of Olives, where it is believed that people will be resurrected first after the coming of the Messiah. To get a head start, over 150,000 Jews have been buried here - there are no longer any olive trees, after which the mount was named... just graves.
Security cameras - everywhere. Security is super tight in Jerusalem, far more than anywhere I have ever been. However, interestingly, there is almost no petty or individual crime (robbing, murder, petty thief, etc...) just... some big attacks. I don't know if that makes me feel better or not. Regardless, TONS of security.
Right outside the Jewish Quarter are the ancient baths from which the tradition of baptism has been derived. In the times of the temples, Jews would come to these baths to be spiritually cleansed before they would take their 1/2 shekle and sacrifice (usually a goat, lamb, calf, dove or whatever their best animal was) to be burned at the temple. The would be fully immersed, and then change into white clothing. The Temple was just about a 4 or 5 minute walk from here.
Rght near the ruins of the baths, you can see the church of the Rooster, the place where is it believed that Peter denied Jesus 3 times before the crowing of the rooster:

A statue of David. However, no statue is supposed to stand on HOly Places....
So they broke off his nose to make it imperfect, and therefore not count as a statue:
The star of David, embedded into the wall next to the synagogue which is under the Last Supper and Pentocaust room.
This is room where it is believed that Jesus took his last supper, and (I don't get how this works exactly), where it is believed that the apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentacost . Like most holy places, it is super complicated - you can see the Arabic on the windows. When the Muslims took back control over this area after being kicked out by the Crusaders, they turned most Christian holy places into mosques - so of course, this building is also a mosque. Oh, and a synagoague, where Jews pray - on the bottom floor. You know, just to make things simple.

This is another picture of the room of the Last Supper/Pentacost. I wasn't quite sure whether I should take pictures or not. Different people react differently when entering this room - our guide said that often charismatic Christians will being yelling and jumping around, and that some even bang their heads on the walls so hard that they have to go to the hospital. I'm not really sure what to think about that either way - this picture is a group I think from Russia, who walked into the room and broke into song - I recognized the melodies of some of the hymns that they sang, but not the words.

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