Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Definitions of Peace

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.
-- UNESCO Constitution

The other day my friend Ambreen called me and asked if I wanted to join her shopping in the Old City. We walked to one of her favorite shops in the Jewish Quarter.

The man who owns the shop is a Jewish Canadian (how would you say that? Canadian Jew?), a former family therapist, and dedicated to opening dialogues about the 'situation' here. He successfully opened a dialogue with us as we were checking out. A highlight (paraphrased):

"When I think of peace", he said, "I think of the end of suicide bombs and rock-throwing, of people getting killed." "But when I talk to an Arab, he believes peace is being able to move freely from one place to another, to not have to go through checkpoints, and to be able to make money for his family." "This is why," he continued, "you should always ask what a man's definition of peace is.. otherwise, you may be using the same word but meaning completely different things."

Speaking of which...

This interview with Queen Rania of Jordan (yay, Jordan!) is very relevant to what I will be talking about with the Bedouin teachers next week!

Check out her comments on women in Islam, and why Hamas has suddenly been able to garner support among the Palestinians. Super interesting and articulate.

The Bedouin School

Yesterday was an especially wonderful day with the Bedouin Teachers. Each Tuesday, I take an Arab bus across the border into the West bank city of al-Azarya. I get off where I see the slab rocks piled, I walk past the vegetable shop, up the hill, and toward a multi-level building that has tires piled out front.

This is the school.

I walk inside, and I can hear children yelling, doors slamming, teachers teaching. I wait in the office area, which doubles as the nursery for the teachers' infants and toddlers. I usually arrive around noon, but it is only about 1 by the time that the teachers have ushered out their student, fed their babies, and are ready to start any sort of a lesson.

These women are Bedouins, born as refugees. Their fathers and grandfathers were herders, and their families were nomadic until the 1948 war, when everything changed for them.

They call this war Al Nakba - the Disaster.

Israelis call it the war of Independence.

Either way, since this war their families have no longer been nomads, they have been refugees.
Most of the teachers cannot enter Jerusalem - they have a Green Pass. Some of them have family there they will never meet.

The teachers all wear a hijab, a head covering, and some of them wear a face covering as well, where only their eyes are visible. They keep this on as long as the older children and men are in and out of the building, but when my 'class' starts, they pull up their face coverings.

The first time this happened, my eyes teared up, and I was honored.

These women's lives amaze me.

Every time we start class, they sit attentively, pen and paper on their desk, looking to me to teach them English, to offer teaching advice, to tell them what it is like in America.

I am becoming a better teacher. The first day I stumbled and bumbled. The second day, I realized they thought I knew what I was doing. The third day, I became a teacher.

Each time, they open up a bit more, ask more questions - though they have never been afraid to ask 'racy' ones. The first day of class, when I asked if they had any questions (thinking they would ask me something about the grammar lesson I had just given), the first one was:
"Was there really a pregnant man in America?"

The second one: "Where did his parts come from?"

And the third: "Why are there gays in America?"

Do you see why I was stumbling and bumbling?

The second day of class they wanted to know about my engagement ring, (I just wear a silver band here), how I could travel alone as a woman, and if I really had a laptop computer and a driving license.

Tuesday, they wanted to know why I was wearing so little clothing (I had on jeans, a t-shirt and a sweater), if I wore a bikini when I went swimming and did the men stare, and why Americans thought they were all terrorists.

They wanted to tell me more about being a woman in Palestine, so they asked that their writing assignment for that week be about that - and we will discuss it more next week.

They made sure, though, before even starting, that I knew that they covered their hair and faces by choice, and that it was a good thing. I smiled and asked them to teach me how to wrap my hair in a scarf next week, and this was a very exciting prospect that led to a lot of laughter.

Working with these teachers is becoming my very favorite part of the week.


in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country.
Peace can only last where
human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.
--Dalai Lama

Monday, February 23, 2009


Today I finally tried Shakshuka, one of the most traditional of Israeli dishes. It has seemed that
whenever the topic of food has come up, my Israeli friends have asked me if I have tried Shakshuka, and when I said no, there were lots of exclamations and upsetted-ness. So today, I finally went for it. (Disclaimer - I ate it in a baguette, and my friend said that doesn't count, so I will have to eat the more traditional version later).

It is a very simple meal - a sauce made of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peppers, onions etc. all topped with eggs that are poached in the sauce. It reminds me a bit of huevos rancheros.

It is super good and filling, and is a nice protein kick because of the eggs. It is usually served with warmed pita or bread.

Here is a recipe from Recipezaar if you want to try it at home!

[Image taken from New York Times.]

Everything old is new again..

Or so it seems this is the idea in Israeli politics this year.

Finally, there is a 'winner' to the elections that took place on February 10th.

It was announced in the last couple of days that Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked by the President to form a coalition government and is therefore Prime Minister-designate (somewhat same idea as president-elect in the USA) of Israel.

Netanyahu was also PM from 1996-1999.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I. Love. Jordan.

What did you do this weekend? Me? Oh, you know... I ran over to Jordan for a day or so. Yes, this is my life. How? I have no idea. But, I certainly did go to Jordan and I certainly did love every second of it and can't wait to go back someday.Here is a picture that is everywhere, of all of the Kings of Jordan since independence. Right now King Abdullah is in power (he's the one on the far left). His step-mom, Queen Noir, and wife, Queen Rania, do a lot of speaking in the United States. I took a group of students to hear Queen Noir when I was a teacher.
On the road - this is the view from our mini-van as we were driven towards Petra. Pretty barren. On the way we saw many Bedouins traveling by camel.
And donkey. Check out the reflection of his sheep in the rear view mirror.
We stopped for a view over the desert mountains.
And anywhere we stopped, we of course were welcomed in to souvenier shops, in which invariably the owners would wrap our heads 'like the Bedouins' in an attempt to sell us their scarves.
So mysterious.
On the way back from Petra, we stopped again at an overlook to watch the sunset.
Annnnnd... then we were back, just like that. Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

AIC and Border confusion in Bethlehem

The reason I went to Bethlehem last week (other than to see the Church of the Nativity) was to attend a "Cafe" put on by the Alternative Information Center (AIC). Two of the people in my program have their internships with the AIC, so they invited us all along for the event. Last week's topic was:

2009 Israeli Elections: Results, Meanings and Consequences

Michael (Mikado) Warschawski, Alternative Information Center

What are the results of the last week's national elections in Israel and what do they say about Israeli society in 2009?
What type of government is likely to be formed from the current coalition negotiations and what are its probable socio-economic policies?
And of course, what will this new government mean for possible peace negotiations with the Palestinians, an end to the Israeli occupation and regional stability?
The speaker, Mikado, is one of the co-founders of the AIC, which is a far left-wing (and often controversial) media organization. Mikado, an Israeli whose father was a rabbi, is a life-long radical activist for Palestinian rights and has gone to all sorts of extremes to pursue what he believes in, including being a political prisoner for 20 months in the 1980s. He is an extremely good speaker and his thoughts were fascinating. The results of the election were extraordinarily upsetting to him; he described it as the 'death of the left.' His feelings on the matter were summed up at the end when he told us that for the first time in his entire life, he realized that Israel is not a place where he wants his grandchildren to live, and that he had talked to his son that day about moving overseas. As for himself, however, he said he would never leave.

After the talk, we were all exhausted and very cold. We caught a cab back to the border with no problems and were directed to the terminal for security checks. When we walked into the terminal, however, we were met with ... nothing. Just a huge, vacuous space with locked down doors on all side, blaring flourescent lights - and... nothing. Not one other person was there, no guard, no people crossing, nothing (apparently the border closes to Palestinians at some point, though it is supposed to be open 24 hours - tourists are supposed to be able to cross at any time). To make matters worse, all of the doors were locked, so there was no way for us to get through. After about 5 minutes of confusion, I started yelling at the top of my lungs ... "SHALOOOOOOOM! HELLLLLO!" and a couple of minutes later, a voice came over the intercom and directed us to one of the gates. We were then able to show our passports and pass through...
However, on the other side of the terminal, it was no more alive. There were NO cabs, no taxis, no cars, no buses... nothing. Just an empty road leading back to Jerusalem. So we walked, in the dark, back up the road for a couple of kilometers until we finally got to an intersection where two cabs were able to pick us up.... and took us back to our apartments.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - Church of the Nativity

Last Tuesday, five of my friends from my program and I crossed the border into Bethlehem.

(Another 'duh' moment I had right before I came to Israel was that even though Bethlehem is less than half an hour away from Jerusalem, it is not in Israel, it is in the West Bank - it is an 'A' area meaning that it is under Palestinian control and Israeli citizens are not allowed in (unless they have another passport or special pass)

Needless to say, it takes a little bit of effort to get there. We caught an 'Arab' bus, which took us to the border, and then we had to cross by foot through the terminal and checkpoint. Going in was no problem. We then caught a cab to the Church of the Nativity. On the way, our cab driver told us how economically hard it had been in Bethlehem since the creation of the Wall - now Israelis cannot enter, and even tourists only enter to see the church and then leave, rather than staying for the night or spending money there. He said this had been especially true since the Gaza War, which caused tourism in the West Bank to all but disappear. He was very happy to drive us to the church and offered to wait for us and drive us wherever else we wanted to go.

To get to the place where the manger and Star of Bethlehem is, you have to descend stairs. We were right behind a huge tourist group, so it took quite a long time to get down there. The area is all covered in red and gold velvet cloth and is lit with candles - it has a very 'royal' feel to it. Groups at the bottom were singing hymns in Russian, which made the atmosphere all the more religious feeling.
This is the area that marks the manger. Many people reach candles in and light their flames from the candles inside. There were several people meditating nearby, but everyone else was taking tons of pictures, so I took one as well, even though I felt weird about it.

This star marks the place where it is traditionally believed that Jesus was born. It is covered by a sort of altar, and to touch it, you have to get down on your hands and knees. Many people crawl and kiss the star, or reach their hand in the center part, which is hollow.

The church is large and cavernous, and the stone makes it have an almost cold feeling inside. Of course, it is also extremely intricately decorated, with ornate crosses and all sorts of lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
Here is the entrance and outside of the church of the Nativity.


After spending the morning in the Galilee area, we took a cab to Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. Before going, I somehow pictured that Nazareth would be a dusty, Africa-styel bustling town. Not so much. It is large, with modern buildings, lots of cars with pumping music, all sorts of stores and terrible traffic. None of this, of course, is depicted in my picture walking down one of the side streets:
While we were walking around, we saw this sign in front of a restaurant. Nothing inspires me to order a rack of lamb like seeing a cute little wooly lamb on a sign. eek.

In Nazareth, I found my new favorite church building in the world. The Church of the Annunciation, where the Catholics believe that Gabriel told Mary the reason she was pregnant (keep in mind that the Orthodox, Coptics, and many other denominations believe that this took place in different parts of the city and they all have their own cathedral or church commemorating it.) Here is a view of the church from above (everyone says it looks like a light house).

Here is a closer view of the outside:

And the inside. It has much more modern architecture than most of the churches I have seen in Israel.
However, the thing that makes this church my new favorite in the entire world is that it is a multi-cultural church. The creaters of the church petitioned countries all over the world to send in mosaic representations of Mary and Jesus. These mosaics are all over the inside of the church and all around the compound of the outside. This one is from Japan:

And of course, South Africa
Another view of the inside.
Looking up.

There is also amazing stained glass everywhere. In my next life (or maybe just after I finish grad school), I am going to be a mosaic-maker and stained glass maker. Mark my words.
Here is the place (on the bottom floor) where it is believed that the angel Gabriel talked to Mary.
Here is the outside of the church.

After walking around the compoud for quite a while, we wandered around the city for a bit and ran into the synagogue that stands in the place where it is believed that Jesus taught:

Before heading back to Tiberias, we hiked up the side of a mountain to view another church. (I forget which one). We were enjoying the view of the city and the outside of the church, when suddenly, we saw that the gates were closing (they are electronic). We went sprinting to them, and squeezed through JUST before they locked. It was all very Indiana Jones. However, three boys were not as lucky and they were locked in for a while until the guard came and let them out.

The Galilee: my mini-pilgrimage

Two weekends ago two of my girlfriends and I took off for the 'Sea of Galilee' - or Lake Kinneret, as it is known to Israelis. There we got to walk in the footsteps of Jesus along the routes that are believed to be the beginning of his ministry. We bussed to Tiberias on Thursday night, found a hostel, and the next morning, got up and caught a cab (we hired a cab by the hour, he charged about 100 NIS an hour) to take us to the sites.

Our first stop was the Church of the Multiplication in Taghba. This rock (under the alter) is where it is believed that Jesus multiplied the bread and fish.
The inside of the church of the multiplication.
Each of the churches we go to are full of candles that have been lit by worshipers. I thought this 'sea' of tea light candles was captivating.
Our second stop was Capharnaum, the home of Peter, where Jesus stayed during a good part of the beginning of his ministry.

Of course, to honor Peter, there was a statue with the engraving of the verse that refers to the rock upon which Jesus would build his church:

These are the ruins of Capernum, like every ancient site in Israel, era after era has built upon the same spot, and ruins reflect this: Many of the ruins are from the Roman era.

These tiles are from the floor of the room in Peter's home in which it is believed that Jesus stayed.
In Capernum, we took a while to enjoy the view of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus (and Peter) walked on water.

The day that we went up the coast of the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, was closed, so we had to go back the next morning. This is the view from the mount: just unbelievably gorgeous. It was an incredibly peaceful and beautiful place, it is not hard to imagine it being chosen as the place where Jesus would have taught.

The church commemorating the Sermon on the Mount.

These are my faithful companions, K.C. and Katie. These girls are amazing and have added endlessly to my experience here. It has been such fun to travel with them. Katie's head is half cut off in this picture, which is ok because unfortunately she got incredibly ill an hour or so before this photo and actually had to end up staying in Tiberias an extra night. I am happy to report, however, that she survived. :)

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