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.