Thursday, August 23, 2007

clang, clatter, clash....koubeh....

at precisely 7am of my first day in my new apartment on Graetz St., a residential street in a rather upscale Jerusalem neighborhood, i was awakened by an unusally loud sledgehammer drilling directly above my head. after rubbing my eyes and trying to figure out how it was possible that whoever was drilling had not yet drilled a hole through my ceiling, i wearily rolled out of bed.

in the hallway, i met my roomate, yael, who looked as bewildered and groggy as i felt. i asked her why she hadn't informed me upfront that there would be blaring 7am wake-up calls in our apartment. yael told me that this was the first time she had experienced the dreadful noise since she'd been living here, for over a year. unable to become productive members of society at 7am(since we had both gone to sleep well past 1am), we plopped down on the couches in a daze.

after continuous drilling for more than a half hour, i decided to head upstairs and meet our neighbors and kindly request that they begin their drilling after 8am, at the very least. i dragged myself up the stairwell and mustered whatever strength i had to knock on the door. after a brief wait, the door opened and i discovered a 6"2, perfectly tanned, chiseled, muscular israeli guy.

i stood, mouth agape, horrified that i hadn't yet bothered to brush my teeth... or my hair! after staring at the handsome guy in front of me for what seemed like an eternity, i managed to stutter something about the noise. he explained that he was the "kablan," the contractor, and promised that the "massive" noise, as he described it, would last only three days. not one to miss making a new (-and very good-looking-) israeli friend, i introduced myself and offered daniel, the cause of my quickly disappearing anger, a cold drink.

later that day daniel came down to our apartment looking for keys to the roof, which he needed access to in order to fix something in the apartment above. we gave him the number of the woman in charge of the building and he left. the next day he returned to fix a pipe in our apartment that was connected to the work he was doing above us.

over the course of his visits to our apartment we learned that daniel is a yerushalmi (native jerusalemite) who runs his father's construction business and lives in the adjacent neighborhood. despite his rugged good looks, daniel is an extremely sweet, thoughtful, giving person. as i have been working on papers for school from home, and yael works from our apartment, we both welcomed daniel's afternoon visits to fix our pipes. from fixing the pipes, daniel has graciously become our own personal fix-it guy. we have also gotten to know daniel's friendly crew of ahmed, muhammad, and rizik.

it has now been three weeks, well beyond the promised three days, of "massive" noise every morning at 7am. each morning when yael and i meet in the hallway we bemoan our upstairs friends. but by afternoon, we are all smiles when our "fix-it" guy stops by to fix something or just say hello. despite myself, i have even begun to appreciate the amplified beckoning call of the drill awakening me from my slumber during this month of elul...

last night after dropping his crew off near beit lechem, daniel stopped at his parents home to bring us dinner. daniel surprised us with his mother's homemade koubeh, an authentic middle eastern dish. after raving about his mother's skill in the kitchen, i tasted the koubeh, and to my pleasant surprise, really enjoyed the new delicacy. sitting in our dining room, discussing israeli culture, travel, and family with daniel, the contractor from the upstairs apartment, while eating his mother's homemade koubeh made me smile to myself... despite the fact that i had been up since 7am.

(Daniel, our "fix-it" guy)

Monday, May 07, 2007

You say you want a revolution....

The people of Israel came out in throngs this past Thursday night demanding a change of government. I joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Israelis in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv to call on prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz to resign. In the wake of the damning Winograd Report, it appears that the Israeli people have lost their patience with the current government. (A comparable protest in America would have drawn between 11 and 12 million people to the Capitol!)

The rally drew people from all segments of Israeli society. While I am saddened that it takes a situation like this to bring together opposing political parties, I must say that it was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by and united with people from groups as diverse as Meretz and National Union party. There were young and old, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, left and right. The organizers insured that the rally would be apolitical by refraining from inviting politicians to speak. The speakers included authors, bereaved parents and leaders from the miluim (reserve officers). I found most of the speeches to be passionate and moving, although somewhat repetitive ("Olmert: Resign!")

The state of affairs in this country has reached a moral low. Our suspended president has been summoned to a hearing with the attorney-general on two counts of rape. The finance minister has suspended himself on suspicions of bribery. The prime and defense ministers are clinging to power despite the complete loss of the public's confidence, as demonstrated by the rally.

Furthermore, university students across Israel have been on strike for the past three weeks. There are domestic problems, and terrorist threats abound. Not to mention threats against this country's very existence. In some ways, it seems this country is falling apart at the seams! And yet, as I wrote a friend who lives in America the other day, somehow, miraculously, this country continues to function, flourish and thrive. People continue to learn, go to work, party and the pulse of democracy beats wildly. At the end of the day, there's no place I'd rather be.

(Becky almost getting arrested at another protest outside of the Prime Minister's residence. Sign reads: "The right and the left call on Olmert to stop!")

Thursday, April 19, 2007

the road less traveled

Without a definite game plan in mind, on the first day of Chol Hamoed (intermediary days of Passover) Pesach, my parents and I got into our rental car and headed out for a day of adventure. As we hit the road, we were still unsure whether we would go to Sderot, to participate in a solidarity march and rally with the local population or to Hebron, where it had been advertised that there would be all sorts of festivities in honor of the holiday.

My father always seems to have a good hunch with these things, and steered us in the direction of Hebron. While many of my friends, and my secular cousins from Haifa, are amazed (and sometimes horrified) that we so nonchalantly hop in the car and drive to Hebron, these sorts of adventures do not faze me. I have visited Hebron on several occasions, as well as other significant religious and historical cities to the Jewish people, such as Shechem, Elon Moreh and Beit El, with my parents.

When friends and schoolmates question my desire to visit such a "hotbed" of controversy and terrorism and "dangerous" spot such as Hebron, I bristle. A tour guide once told my parents that when asked why the Jewish people don't simply give up Hebron to the Arabs since they are the majority there, she responded to the questioner by saying: "by the same logic, we ought to leave the State of Israel, as we are similarly surrounded by 22 Arab countries (4 on our immediate borders)." If we are willing to give up one of our holiest cities because it is surrounded by Arabs, then perhaps, by the same logic, we ought to eventually give up the small state that is Israel, located amidst 22 Arab countries, many of which call for its demise.

The importance of Hebron was not lost on our first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. In a speech he gave on January 25, 1970, the prime minister outlined the biblical and historical significance of Hebron. In concluding his remarks, Ben Gurion exhorted: "we will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding, very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors."

Half a year ago, my parents and I joined a group on an enlightening and meaningful tour of Hebron. We were taken to places in Hebron we had never visited. We saw the ancient Jewish cemetary in Hebron, where the 1929 terror victims, as well as Torah giants are buried, and the Sephardic synagogue in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, among other sites. Consequently, when we arrived in Hebron this Chol HaMoed Pesach, we expected to enjoy ourselves, but not to see new sites in Hebron.

While enjoying cotton candy and french fries with the Ma'Arat HaMachpeila in the backdrop, we heard an announcement offering a free tour of Hebron. Never ones to miss an opportunity to learn and see more, my parents and I joined the group of about forty Israelis gathering at the entrance to the festival. The group consisted of all stripes of Israeli society-- young and old, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious, Charedi and secular.

We were led to a large, locked, steel gate where we had to wait for an Israeli army escort. A platoon of chayalim (Israeli soldiers) promptly arrived and escorted us through the Hebron "kasbah." Once inside the alleyways of an area that is currently off-limits to Jews, we were shown many houses and doorways that once belonged to Jews. Our guide shared many stories about the history of the buildings, the Jews who lived in them, etc. The souk used to bustle with Israeli customers and Israelis whose front doors opened right into the kasbah.

Following our tour of the kasbah and surrounding areas, the guide offered us the opporunity to go to an important Jewish site which is in Palestinian territory. He explained that Jews rarely have the opportunity to go to this site, the tomb of Otniel ben Kenaz. Otniel ben Kenaz was the first shofet (judge) in biblical Israel, as well as Calev ben Yefuneh's brother(one of the "good" spies). In the Talmud, Temurah 16a, we are told that upon Moshe's death, 300 laws were forgotten. These laws were restored only due to the erudition of Otniel ben Kenaz. We jumped at the chance to visit his tomb.

In order to reach his tomb, we had to cross through an Israeli army checkpoint. While our group, now down to about 20 people, reached the checkpoint, we stood in one line and noticed three Arabs in the line next to us. One was an older man, one was a pregnant woman, accompanied by her friend. While we were waiting to cross the checkpoint, we noticed that two Israeli guys in their early twenties began filming us and the events that were unfolding. The Israeli army was poised to let us enter the checkpoint first, and to the cameramen this was reprehensible. A third Israeli guy spontaneously appeared and challenged the young Israeli army officer: "Why should these Arabs have to wait while those Israelis get to go in?" Without missing a beat, the Israeli soldier whipped back: "Why should these Israelis be barred from entering and visiting this site every day of the year when these Arabs can enter at any time?" My Mother, realizing that the entire episode was a set-up, turned to the camera men and said: "Where are you and your cameras when Arabs kill innocent Israelis?" After seeing my mother's courage, our fellow Israelis, who were part of our group, exchanged words with the cameramen and their friends who work for various NGO's.

Shortly thereafter, we crossed the checkpoint. Once on the Palestinian-controlled side of Hebron, we were followed by a flurry of cameramen and European NGO representatives. I felt like Lindsay Lohan walking down Rodeo Drive. The tomb was a three minute walk from the checkpoint. The chayalim closed down the road for us to visit the tomb for about ten minutes. And yet, our visit seemed to engender a reaction apropos an international crisis.

We visisted the tomb, led by a local Hebron resident, who told us that the tomb had not been open to Jews in several years. We felt very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the site. Upon emerging from the tomb, we were surrounded by a swarm of Arab and international cameramen, reporters and NGO representatives. My father aptly referred to this group as the "useful idiots," borrowing the term from the sixties, when it was used to describe Soviet sympathizers in the West.

We crossed the checkpoint and returned to the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron. My parents and I returned to the site of the festival and went to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Passover is one of the few times when all of the halls in the Cave are open to Jews.

Driving back to Jerusalem, we reflected on our extraordinary day in Hebron. We saw parts of Hebron once populated by, and now off-limits to, Jews. We learned about the Jewish community that was. We visited the tomb of one of the great shoftim. We saw first-hand the way the media manipulates and exaggerates seemingly innocuous episodes into explosive affairs.

As I closed my eyes and drifted into sleep, I felt grateful that my Dad had steered us to Hebron...

(Becky and Mom eating cotton candy in front of the Cave)

(Jewish star above a home formerly owned by Jews in the Hebron kasbah)

(Dad, Becky, Mom in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, with the Cave of the Patriarchs in the background)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Purim, Parades, Parties, and Pesach...

Purim is a particularly fun Jewish holiday, wherever one may be. However, as with all Jewish holidays, I find something extra special about celebrating in Israel. In Israel Jewish holidays become national holidays and are therefore celebrated in a more public, large-scale manner. Religious and secular Jews alike celebrate- albeit to varying degrees- the Jewish holidays in this country. In my experience, there is a sense of unity that pervades while preparing for and celebrating Jewish holidays here. Radio stations play music that relates to the particular holiday, news channels on tv cover holiday festivities in different cities throughout Israel, local stores are filled with special decorations and foods, and there's an overall buzz in the air as the day approaches.

This year Israel celebrated Purim on Sunday throughout the country, except in Jerusalem, where we celebrated it on Monday. On the Friday morning leading up to the holiday, I was pleasantly aroused from my sleep by festive, loud music outside my window. I raised my trisim (blinds) and discovered a Purim parade comprised of hundreds of children in costume, accompanied by their parents and followed by a car with loud speakers. The parade was escorted by policemen who closed off the streets to traffic as the children marched through the neighborhood. Below is a glimpse of the parade. The picture was taken from my bed as I rubbed the sleep from eyes!
The Friday morning parade kicked off several days of celebration and festivities. I celebrated Tel Aviv Purim on Saturday night and then Jerusalem Purim on Sunday night and Monday. One of the highlights was celebrating the holiday with my sister. We were both dressed up as characters from the 70's. She, a 70's film producer (with all the attendant attitude) and I, well, I'm not sure what or who I was meant to be. We took Jerusalem by storm, hearing megilla together, dancing at a Chaim Dovid concert, creating a spectacle with our costumes at a friend's party, and celebrating with over 10,000 fellow Jerusalemites in the shuk (open-air market), Mahcane Yehuda from 12-2am!!

My Mother shared some reflections with me on the megilla and Ester's pivotal role in saving the Jewish people. She noted the importance of strong women who take action to affect change. Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish people have repeatedly found themselves in desperate, threatening situations, similar to that faced by the Jews of Persia during the time of the Megilla. While at first she was reluctant, Ester came into her own and realized her responsibility to the Jewish people when Mordechai reminded her: "Who knows if it was for this sole purpose that you became queen?" Ester was inspired and transformed by Mordechai's words and felt compelled to act, saving the Jewish people. On that inspiring note, my Mother reminded me (and the women who sat at her Purim seuda in Los Angeles) of the role we play and the potential we have as strong women to continue to affect change for the Jewish people today. I can think of no better role model to impart this very lesson than my own Mother, who is a sterling and singular example of a strong woman, dedicated to her convictions, who exudes integrity and grace in all she does.

Although we have barely recuperated from Purim, we are already beginning preparations for Pesach (Passover). We anxiously await our parents' arrival and the celebration of the Jews' redemption from Egypt...

Thursday, March 01, 2007


mandarin for: "picturesque"

perhaps this word best describes my recent travels through southern china. my friend and i were repeatedly amazed by the sheer beauty of the towns we visited in china. in the south: yungshuo, longxi, xingping, guilin, and shenzhen. in the north, we visited beijing. while beijing is more interesting than beautiful, there are striking mountains and spectacularly breathtaking views just outside of beijing in places like mutiyanu, where we visited the great wall.

we were amazed at the graciousness and kindness of all of the chinese people we met and befriended. china is almost entirely devoid of english- spoken or written. it is at times almost daunting to get around on one's own, let alone to find out about local concerts, obtain tickets, arrange rides, figure out bus schedules, etc. we felt as though every time we were on the verge of despair, God sent a messenger to help guide us, in the form of incredibly wonderful chinese people. we left china with true friends, living in such fascinating and diverse places as nanning, tiajin, beijing, and even korea! we were likewise lucky to have such hospitable hosts in hong kong (an expat family living in hong kong for 13 years!)

while there are so many stories and moments to share, i will simply share a few photos that capture a glimpse of our adventures (of which there were so so many!)....

above: becky and elderly chinese women selling flower wreaths on the bank of the river in yungshuo, china. in the background are limestone green karsts surrouding the region. yungshuo is known as the "backpacker's paradise." it truly is a slice of paradise- a charming village tucked away in the mountains and limestone karsts of southern china, surrounded by rivers, populated by welcoming and kind natives.

above: yael and becky with fenguangjien, fengenjie, and mochaoyan, our incredible friends from nanning. this picture was taken on the main bridge in yungshuo after fengenjie, 11, set off a gigantic case of fireworks in front of us! apparently, it's a chinese custom for children of all ages to set off fireworks during the week of the chinese new year! this warm and quirky family took us under their care, hiking with us, arranging rides for us, making phone calls to get us tickets to a sold-out chinese conert which was attended by 10,000 people, treating us to beer and tea, and translating for us with the minimal english they knew. we are forever grateful!

above: our bamboo boat captain, his daughter and becky with fresh fish from the li jiang river. our captain, who gracefully took us down the li jiang river took us to his village, a small, primitive town called longxi, on the banks of the li jiang river. we asked if we could see his village, whereupon he brought us to his house, invited us in, went to the river to catch fish and crab to cook us lunch! thankfully we were with our friends from above who didn't really understand us, but grasped enough to explain to our hosts that we had some dietary restrictions and therefore could not partake in the veritable feast they cooked, also presenting their guests with pig's meat. on our walk around their village, we walked through their backyard where we discovered tomorrow's pig in the pigpen! we did enjoy some chinese beer and delicious home-grown sugar cane.

above: famous artist and becky in his shop in xingping. thanks to our chinese friends we discovered that this artist is one of the most well-known artists in the guanxi province (a region in southern china). i bought the painting i'm holding from him for $2.00!

above: becky on the great wall in mutianyu, china. this was a real highlight of the trip. we arrived at the great wall before 8am. there was not a person in sight for miles in either direction. perhaps i had had low expectations, but i was overwhelmed by the experience. the wall and its surrounding panaroma were awe-inspiring. the stunning mountains rolled on for as far as the eye can see in every direction. the air was crisp and fresh. and it was silent. perfect serenity.

above: a snippet from the forbidden city in beijing, china. the forbidden city, like beijing is incredibly vast. instead of trying to capture the vastness, i chose to focus on the exquisite colors and unique chinese architecture which are emblematic of the forbidden city. the forbidden city housed the qing and ming emperors and stretches over one million square meters-- in the middle of the city of beijing! it is truly a sight to behold. beijing itself can only be described as vast. one block on a map can stretch on for close to a mile and the streets are comprised of between 10 and 12 lanes!

these pictures only begin to scratch the surface of the incredible sights and experiences we enjoyed during our two weeks in asia. there is much too much to write here about the culture we saw, the experience of being in a communist country, the impressions of the people about their own country and ours, the diversity of such a large country, the land itself, and onward. overall, i had an extremely positive impression of the country and its people. i look forward to returning one day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Raise Your Voice

It has been over six months since Gilad Shalit was taken captive by Hamas and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were taken captive by Hizbullah. All three young men have celebrated their birthdays in captivity. We have not yet received a sign of life.

I find it disquieting that life goes on as normal in this country. You almost never hear about the missing boys and you see few, if any, posters or bumper stickers calling for their return. It is cold and rainy in this region and I cannot begin to fathom what the conditions are like where each of the boys are being held captive. It is easy to become depressed and even complacent about the seemingly hopeless situation. In those moments, I return to a powerful message I heard this past summer.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, spoke at my synagogue in Los Angeles this past year on Tisha B'av (a day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples, as well as many other Jewish calamities). Rabbi Sacks, on what is known as 'the saddest day in Jewish history,' spoke about the indomitable spirit of hope which is embedded in the Jewish people. He traced this quality as far back as the biblical figures of Yaakov and Rachel, respectively. When Yaakov is (falsely) informed of Yosef's death, his children come to comfort him, but Yaakov refused to comfort himself, "va'yema'ein l'hitnachem."

Similarly, in the book of Jeremiah, it says that Rachel, weeping over the exile of her 'children,' refused to be consoled, "mei'anah l'hinachem." Both Yaakov and Rachel simply refused to capitulate, to be comforted, and would not give up hope, despite the desperate and dire circumstances. Rabbi Sacks developed this point and weaved it through Jewish history, explaining that this quality of hope -even in the worst circumstances- is a uniquely Jewish characteristic. (So much so, that our national anthem is entitled "HaTikva," "The Hope")

I recently overheard two friends discussing the fate of the captive soldiers. They were debating whether or not the boys are still alive. I believe it is not the time or place to debate such questions. We must continue to hope and pray that as G-d responded to Rachel, He will respond similarly now "... they will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future... and your children will return to their border."
Aside from hope and prayer, we must raise our voices in an effort to return the captives. Below is a website that is devoted to bringing the soldiers back. There is a petition, there are form letters to send to congressmen and there is a moving video of Karnit Goldwasser (Ehud's wife) pleading with us to make a difference....

(Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

leprachauns on the loose

leprachaun: (irish mythology) a type of elf said to inhabit the island of ireland

these leprachauns, clad in native colors green and orange, escaped to make a brief foray down their friend's aisle in closters, ny. [mazal tov shira and h!]
shortly thereafter, they returned to their true home... jerusalem, israel