Monthly Archives: March 2007

My mom is here! My mom is here!

yyyyaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy! and it’s her birthday today! Happy Birthday Ima!!!

 I went to pick her up at the airport yesterday, with one of those signs you hold when tours and car services and stuff pick you up that said, “אמא לאה” which means “Mommy Lea,” which is how all my friends call her. I call her just Mom, or Mommy, or Ima, but I thought there would probably be a lot of mothers coming out from the airport so I didn’t want to confuse them.

Off to explore Jerusalem!

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Inspired

Spring seems to be testing us out here in Jerusalem, seeing if she wants to stay a while or come back later.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night – it was warm and I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was riding my bike, and how long it has been since I used it for anything besides a clothes hanger.

I finally fell back asleep, and was relieved when I opened my eyes and there was sunlight at last. It was pretty early for a weekend; usually I would have closed my eyes and tried for another hour or two of sleep. This morning, I climbed out of my (still Princess and the Pea-style) bed and into shorts and a shirt. I checked the tires and was out of the house, into the world of Friday-morning Jerusalem.

As I hopped on my bike, I waved to the owner of the laundrymat down the block. I slowed down as I came to the curve that was the site of my spectacular meeting with the pavement, since I think once was enough. Riding past the shuk was a sensory explosion: the blood was pumping through my legs as I crested over the hill, and I was greeted with the cinammon-sweet smells of the bakery and then felafel and shawarma, fresh foods and trash. I weaved around people getting an early start on their shopping for the day and felt alive.

From the shuk I rode to Gan Sacher, the big park of Jerusalem. I rode around through, and to the botanical gardens right next to it.

The botanical gardens are amazing – wild and unkempt, not like other botanical gardens at all. There’s some kind of abandoned Finnish (I think) church or embassy or something in the middle of it, crumbling and proud. The gardens are hilly and rough; the path is ill-taken care of, at times just a potholed, gravelly dirt path. I felt like a kid, I was enjoying the ride so much.

And the people – this is one of the main reasons I love Jerusalem so much. There were runners, people walking their dogs, religious people out for a morning stroll. I passed some tourists, and what looked like a field trip of a class of small children learning about their local flora and fauna. Later I had to play don’t-hit-the-kiddies as they were relocating right when I was going for a second loop (riding and navigating the paths was too much fun the first time around – I had to go again in the other direction, just to see if it was as good).

I came home through the shuk again, just for kicks. I got to my building… and the wheels kept turning. I rode on, through the monastary and into the neighborhood on the other side – quieter, but green and with beautiful old Jerusalem homes. I explored small streets for a little bit before finally returning home, thoroughly satisfied.

My ride was so happy and life-affirming – kind of like spring itself. The weather is warmer, at least for today, and I was barefoot writing this, and that is enough, for now. Now it’s raining, a soft gentle caress that cleanses the city and eases the transition away from winter. I’m going to sleep with the door to my balcony open so I can hear it, and smile in my sleep.

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Our Patron Saint of Drinking, or Snakes, or something

You may be aware that yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. Now, for most Israelis this isn’t a special day, really. I found myself the only Irie in a sea of Israelis last night, and decided that I should know more about the man, the myth, and the legend that has made this national holiday for my people.

Succat (he wasn’t a saint yet when he was born – he had this pagan name before being baptised Patricius, which means noble) was actually born in Britain, and kidnapped to work as a slave in Ireland when he was young. He got back to Britain, but returned to Ireland later in life as a missionary.

There aren’t very many verifiable facts available about him and his life, leaving him as a figure open to much interpretation – in true Irish spirit, taking an idea and making what you want of it. Some call it blarney, others call it historical interpretation. Semantics, really.

Catholics claim him as the father of Catholocism in Ireland, responsible for converting all the pagans. Any one else think that’s a load of hooey? The Irish are some of the most pagan people I know of, to this day. My grandfather saw spirits and faeries and leprechauns and all that, for goodness sakes (of course, it could have also been the other spirits laying around).

Protestants say Paddy was an anti-Catholic, and credit him with creating the Celtic church – making him an Irish hero, not just a Catholic one.

Of course, Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and New Age Christians also all consider him one of their own. How, considering they didn’t even exist in Ireland at the time, I don’t know. But I’m not going to seek them out to argue with them about it.

Paddy is credited with banishing all the snakes from Ireland. Which is just like the Irish, to make a hero out of a man for banishing something that never existed there in the first place. But some people say that “snakes” really means “Pagans” – and we know my thoughts on that. Pagans were about as banished as whiskey and potatoes.

The intended meaning of St. Patrick’s Day is as a traditional day of spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide. March 17 is the date they think he died; it’s a religious holiday in Ireland where people go to mass and most businesses are closed. Then they go home and drink as usual – it’s just that in the rest of the world they skip the mass and go straight to the drinking. And since they’re trying to drink like the Irish, they end up sloppy drunk.

So here’s to you, Paddy m’boy. I tried to go to an Irish pub but it was too crowded and I realized all that really mattered was that I had a beer, any beer. So I found myself at a quintissentially Jerusalem pub, drinking Murphy’s and Bushmills and getting into a fight with a British Israeli (I believe the term “double oppressor” was thrown around. What can I say, I fight dirty), while listening to Indian music and hearing conversations in Hebrew floating around me. I had you in my heart.

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What makes a place home

Behind my building there is a parking lot (my balcony looks out onto it – luckily there is a tree right there, so it’s not as bad as it sounds). If you walk across it, there is a little alleyway that goes through the buildings on the other side that face one of the main roads in the center of Jerusalem. And just across from where you come out of the alley, tucked between a belt-maker and an appliances shop, is my coffee place.

It’s the kind of place where everyone’s a regular – Ovad, the owner, manages to engage everyone from his place in front of the espresso machine and coffees behind the bar. My first time in here I asked for his best coffee – and I’ve  not been allowed to have anything else since. On my second time in he introduced himself and asked all kinds of questions about me, in a genuinely interested way that wasn’t creepy or anything like that. Now when I come in, he knows my order of “my coffee” (french press) and a glass of water.

The place is warm and homey, with aged white walls lined with old back & white pictures and wood furniture. Foreign operas or classical music play softly in the background.

On the average Friday morning the place is filled with regulars, from regular Israelis to English and other foreign-language speaking long-time residents to well-known Jerusalem-based authors and everything in between. Ovad knows us all and the people all know each other, at least by sight. It makes Israel, and this city, seem warm and cozy, safe and friendly.

I sit outside or at the bar facing the wondow, watching Jerusalem from my little cocoon. The tourists, religious people, soldiers, crazies – they all seem softer, less threatening, somehow.

A couple of weeks ago I walked in and saw my roommate’s mom – so we sat together and had a lovely little heart-to-heart chat. Last week and old man fell in the middle of the road right in front of the cafe while crossing the street – a woman passing by came in to ask for water for him, a young man sitting with someone went out to take care of him, an older man with a beard and a pipe sitting at the bar called an ambulance. Everyone got involved to make sure the man, who was dazed and bleeding on his head a bit, was ok. Even a taxi driver stopped in the middle of the road to make sure the man was all right and to help him off the street. People who say Israelis are impersonal and heartless don’t really know; they haven’t experienced this Israel.

I think my little coffee shop is Jerusalem. And on a Friday, sitting here amongst tables of old friends and brilliant coffee, I am truly content.

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Global Warming my a**

It snowed in Jerusalem for a large part of the day today (ok the morning). I woke up to fuzzy flakes floating around outside, although they melted as soon as they hit the ground. I couldn’t stop staring – I kept going to the window every 5 minutes to check that it was real. I had no idea what to do – it’s the second time in my life that I’ve seen it snow! I decided to do the obvious: take pictures and text all my friends at 7:30 am.

Questions I had: So you use an umbrella, I guess? What should I wear? Are schools/offices going to be closed? (again, the snow wasn’t even staying frozen. and I live about 2 blocks from work – no excuse not to show up) How cold is it outside now? Are stores and stuff still going to be open? and so on.

By the time I made it out of the house, I was bundled up in a tank top, long sleeved shirt, sweater, jacket, down vest, 2 pairs of gloves, a hat and boots. The superhero boots, in case you were wondering. And I took my umbrella.

It was neat for an hour or two – at one time I ran into another office, jumping up and down and pointing at the window like a kid because it was coming down something fierce. But then I realized that it is just really, really cold rain. Give me sunshine and a heatwave any day.

SPRING, WHERE ARE YOU? I THOUGHT THE EARTH WAS GETTING WARMER… I didn’t realize I signed up to live in a place that snowed! I don’t know if I would have made that decision if I had realized it! Although I might have thought, in my infinite sillyness, that it would be fun. Cold does not equal fun.

Anyhow, that’s the news from Jerusalem. Oh, and Hamas and Fatah seem to have taken a step closer to a unified government. But who cares about that when there’s snow? (if you can’t feel the sarcasm, go away.)

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SO MUCH FUN

Purim. The holiday God gave the Jews to get dressed up in rediculous costumes, drink it up, and generally have a grand old time.

 dance

purim

comin'

it’s all fun and games, until a policeman gets stabbed. At that point, eat felafel and go home to bed and stop trying to pull a mission impossible, crawling through windows and sneaking overhead and dropping in on the party from above. but that’s just my 2 cents.

by the way, 1-liter bottles of beer for 12 shekels: GREAT idea. dried octopus and fish: GROSS. I didn’t partake in the latter, I’m just saying. Those people (they know who they are) may never get allowed close to a female again, and they can’t say they haven’t received a warning. ew.

To sum it all up – party in the shuk: RAD. and that is all.

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One year later:

I arrived in Israel one year ago today. I have had:

  • 3 jobs (+ countless freelance projects)
  • 2 gym memberships
  • 7 trips to the National Health Insurance building to get coverage – speaking of, I think I owe them money. I should pay that, or else I’ll have to go back. That. Must. Not. Happen.
  • 2 articles published in 3 places
  • a bike crash, attended a protest, not seen a single camel and grown alien-strength nana (mint) and basil.

A year ago, something was missing in my life. I had this ache, an empty place indside me only filled with the knowledge that I had to go out and explore the world and myself. I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I know this sounds airy-fairy-new-agey, but it’s true.

So I moved.

A year ago today, I landed at the airport, met by my cousin and whisked away to the kibbutz. I managed to clamber out of that potential quicksand pit (lovely beautiful small community with lots of family and pretty easy life – and utterly terrible for “exploring the world and myself.” But I digress) and stumble into Jerusalem, find a job & an apartment & the life to fill that void. I’ve gotten lost everywhere from the Old City to the most hardcore Jewish neighborhood in the world (ok it was right next to it, but still.) and successfully argued with assholes – excuse me, merchants and taxi drivers – who tried to take advantage of my white-girl-ness.

A year is so much time, but really it isn’t. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year. And yet everything I’ve learned via the experience, about myself and the world and this country and my roots, can’t possibly fit into 365 days. Last night I dreamt in Hebrew, after going to this new jazz pub (with great beer) owned by an old Russian lesbian couple, getting into loud and overheated and inappropriate arguments about racism and the white man’s dominance, and sex and sexuality – all in Hebrew.

Someone recently said to me, in explanation of why he’ll move back to the US soon, “I’m tired of being a foreigner.” My response was, “I think you’ll find that once you’ve lived overseas, you’re always going to be a bit of a foreigner – home is never really the same.” And it’s true. I grew up as a foreigner, Israeli in the US and American in Israel. At least now I know what it truly means to be both. This is the fulfillment of who I am – Israeli in practice, not just blood and culture.

All this, after only one year. What will the next year bring? Where will I be a year from now? I didn’t know I would still be here, a year ago. Wouldn’t necessarily have guessed it. Certainly not in Jerusalem! This country has an inexplicable pull. Have I put the word ‘year’ in here enough?

This experience has been amazing. First I was scared, then I was uncomfortable, now I am home.

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