Greetings from Maalot-Tarshika, in Israel’s north, midway between the Sea of Galilee and Lebanon. My studio apartment for longer than usual (7 weeks), overlooks beautiful Lake Montfort
First and foremost, as Father’s Day approaches in the U.S., check out what Elie Wiesel’s son, Elisha, has to say about his famous father’s parenting. http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/lessons-from-my-father/
Like many, this particular day began with a wisp of a plan: to buy tickets for 2 performances. Uncertain about best seating from the information on the websites, I opted to check out the venues and purchase tickets on site. A simple 10 minute drive to one and a 30 minute drive to the other. What else would the day bring?
The first, Kibbutz Ga’aton, is known for its well-respected dance company that performs worldwide, each coveted position earned through tough competition.
Contemporary Dance, to be precise. Here’s an example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_GwuNoQ7cM
Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised that I love its intensity. “Modern Dance” was the only gym class I liked in high school and I would loved to have had the skill to pursue it.
If the genre is unfamiliar to you, here’s a good explanation. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-modern-dance-1007279
More dance to watch from Israel:
back to Day One
Searching for the office to purchase a ticket, I happened upon a group of 30 dancers sitting on the floor in a circle of a rehearsal room. After one young man told me how to find the ticket sales office, I did one of my favorite things to do in life: I told them how amazing they are.
Although I have no way of knowing whether these are the same dancers, dancing in this Company means they are the caliber of those I had previously watched, when by chance I first visited Ga’aton. The word “Dance” on the community’s sign had caught my eye, and curiosity led the way.
I explained to the group, “Last September I happened into the back of the large performing hall for what seemed to be a final rehearsal for a performance. What you do is amazing. Your skill. Strength. Focus. Your dancing gives me joy.”
I love making deposits of affirmation like that. Love Love Love it!
I Wish, and watch always for opportunities. Words like that must, of course, be genuine. 110%
Jaws dropped. Eyes opened wide. Who is this strange woman? A few glanced at each other and smiled. Then I asked if they all spoke English, thinking too late about the language issue. They all nodded, and I thought, “Of course, it’s the common language for all international programs.”
Leaving grins and the love of gratitude, I strolled through the shaded park-garden in the center of the community, and purchased my tickets. Paying cash, I asked about a receipt but was instead assured my name would be on the list for admission. Ok, then. Her name was Simon. The concert is Saturday, June 10.
Ga’aton’s Dance Company does so much international touring, it’s rare to catch a local performance and I’m thrilled the timing coincides with my stay in the region.
On I drove to the second, Kibbutz Eilon, renowned for world caliber violinist training. http://www.keshetei.org.il/abouts_EN.asp After purchasing the ticket, navigating the exchange in Hebrew, my hunger reminded me to think about lunch.
In the northern hills of Israel, make-do options for food can be found, but always I want the adventure of eating, not just make-do. I took a chance and followed Waze’s navigation (is it used in the U.S.?) to the nearest “food” place. It turned out to be a pizza and beer joint with mini-market groceries. Ugh.
Opting to hold out for great, I chanced throwing the dice a second time and followed GPS to the next closest. Fifteen minutes of winding through hills found me in a teeny-tiny village called Shtula, on the Lebanon border. The best way to describe it is to tell you that the most recent data I could find (from 2014) indicated 265 residents. It doesn’t look like it’s grown.
There was no signage, but Waze said I’d arrived, so I parked and peered into the windows of what appeared to be a community hall. Round tables with white tablecloths were beautifully set in a large dining room that could have seated 200, but no living being.
I tested, then pushed the door open, thinking, “Perhaps preparing for a wedding reception or BarMitzpha party” just as a woman entered the dining room. In jeans, 30-ish, pony-tailed hair, she was busy setting tables, but welcomed me into a small room off of the kitchen in response to my question, “Are you open?” When she paused from scurrying, I explained that I was looking for a vegetarian lunch.
A man about the same age entered, impressive camera in his hand. That’s when I noticed the white light-reflective boards used by photographers on a table. They weren’t really open for business.
The woman suggested something I didn’t understand (there are just so darn many food words to learn!) and then brought out a delicious looking, artfully designed dish of grapeleaves (dolma) and onion-wrapped rice. Delighted with the adventure of the unknown, I asked for a smaller portion and sat where she motioned, feeling like family, sitting just outside the large kitchen rather than in the formal, prepped for photos, dining room.
The photography session continued and my hostess/chief/waitress brought dish after dish from the kitchen. Some photos were of a round table, filled with platters of wonderful looking food, family style, and each dish was also photographed alone. The photographer’s “eye” was good for balance and color. Even the meat dishes looked appealing!
Meanwhile, food began to materialize on my table: a wonderful humus plate, dolmas as promised, raw and pickled veggies, Kurdish pita (a potatochip-crispy, paper-thin bread). My feast ended with generous slices of perfectly sweet cantaloupe and Kurdish tea (cinnamon-y wonderful).
Offering imperfect Hebrew, smiling a lot, and sharing my food, I managed to charm my hostess’s 4 1/2 year old into sitting with me. The tea party atmosphere and novelty of me made my food more appealing than the yogurt cup with which she had been toying.
After the adventure with lunch, I drove through town and found a huge chicken coop. Check out the utube I found for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfINrR_BdFU I’m confident there are more chickens in Shtula than people!
All in all, Day One was a success story, and I returned to my current home happy to have taken a chance. It doesn’t always work out this well, but it would never happen if I weren’t willing to chance.
Can you relate to someone whose dreams and experience are impossibly far from yours?
I don’t currently have a “home” anywhere. Nor am I searching for a place to live or trying to decide between favorites, but intentionally being untied. Staying in cities or villages a month or more, as though I were living there, gives me a sense of local flavors.
I’m currently beginning re-visits, with lists of “to do” from people who asked whether I visited Pki’in(?), learned the story of the statues, or folk danced where I’d found none. During this stay in Maalot, among many things, I’ll be checking out the nearby villages that are restricted to Christian Arab residents (legally). In one, the owner of a Belgium chocolate + coffee shop explained that his family had lived there forever and that he has 400+ neighbors who are relatives. Imagine!
I’m visiting friends I made in September, and bought a month membership at the gym again, things I particularly enjoyed. What began as a potentially 6 month maximum project is now looking like a 2 year plan, twice around this tiny nation.
Meanwhile, I am taking advantage of not paying rent, and traveling overseas as well. This past year to Ireland, China, Italy (search by country name for previous posts with reflections from those trips) and in the coming year: Switzerland, Poland, Japan, and Vietnam.
I’m learning that this structured “homelessness” is disturbing to many, and it is certainly odd for me. All my life, I’ve wanted every move to be the last, learning a new community, building new friendships, establishing new routines one last time. However, each of my lifetime’s 31 addresses were followed by another.
Moving to Jerusalem in November 2014 was the biggest, and still I searched for a neighborhood, even an apartment, to stay forever. It was not meant to be, and after 1 1/2 years, I cancelled my lease and packed into storage my tiny household, viciously weeding out unessential’s yet again.
Only this time, for the first time, the dream was not to move to the next place forever. Instead, I had a different vision: to become acquainted with the Holy Land’s regions, the people who give each area personality, her culture, music, great coffee, amazing food, historical and archeological sites, and whatever else presented itself. I wanted to know the land well enough that when someone said where they were born, I’d have a sense of that area, their roots, possibly even the specific city.
This quest has entailed a minimalistic lifestyle. For practicality, my wardrobe consists of the same “uniform” most days with variance only when clothes are drying or weather warrants a change. Shoes are cumbersome: running shoes, sandals, and another pair of sneakers for pilates/Zumba at the gym and Israeli folk dancing.
I stay in short-term rentals found through friends of friends or Airbnb or Booking.com, most with minimal kitchen space and equipment, but enough to assemble serious vegetable salads and morning tea, and sometimes even stir-fry veggies with gluten free pasta – a feast.
Days are varied combinations of studying Hebrew and extracting conversations whenever possible, volunteering, taking classes, going almost anywhere I’m invited, and of course adventures like Day One. However, I’ve learned to schedule carefully because all things being new + communicating in a new language is exhausting beyond words. I resist falling into routines or allowing too many favorites, lest I leave something undiscovered or explored by too often defaulting into a comfort zone.
Exhausting, but I love it! Forever? Probably not. But for now it’s my Journey and I’m learning and growing and happy.
The all too familiar ache of loneliness would visit if I were still dancing and singing and hiking and who knows what else in Denver, or anywhere else. I find or am found by new friends, and enjoy at least one encounter every day for which I’m grateful.
That I’m not intentionally not anchored bothers some, while others say “I’m impressed / Wonderful / You’ll know the country better than most Israelis.” I agree it’s not normal, but even missing conveniences of a home, this lifestyle is working for me. I’m thriving. I hope these reflections encourage you towards your challenges-for-the-good.
P.S. Another dream is finishing the novel I’ve begun, and that it will, well, Happen.
A Catholic Family’s Courage
SPOILER Alert: this is not a concentration camp story.
Lovely, articulate, and full of gratitude, Rachel Malmed spoke to a small group of American tourists at Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, on Jerusalem’s 50th anniversary of liberation. I would have loved to take her to lunch to hear more specifics of her story, but happily can share with you her story.
The Spielberg Foundation’s documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL9pqOwcHMY
And (translated)pages from Rachel’s diary beginning age 9 Holocaust Diary pdf.
Finally, Leon, Rachel’s brother wrote the story https://www.amazon.com/We-Survived-At-Last-Speak/dp/1609620267/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496923285&sr=8-1&keywords=we+survived+at+last+i+speak
It seems that “Kindness” struck a chord in Post 38. One friend told how she and 2 roommates made lists decades ago of character traits they hoped to find in their future husbands, Kindness being agreed upon by all and at the top of one’s list. One roommate seems to have found kindness in her husband of 10+ years, while the other two continue the quest, living full lives in singleness.
This blog, written by my friend Yehuda Lave, has food for thought or a smile for everyone: http://yehudalave.bmetrack.com/c/v?e=B35680&c=8DE03&t=0&l=192A1079&email=%2FAyznM3%2BFTs%2Bn6mNCtRgZxaIw4W6c2hcNyIeD9VsXLU%3DÂ
Day Two was unplanned except for a few things to research and to hit the gym. I googled art classes in the neighbor city, Kfar Vradim, just to double check the areas options before signing up for a Japanese Art class that would begin the following week in Maalot.
What surfaced? A well reviewed cafe/restaurant + sheltered workshop of various arts and craft items for sale. Having stayed in that city before and not learned of the facility, it seemed timely to go for a visit and meal, still hoping there might also be an art studio with classes.
New experiences are upper floors of a building constructed of preceding lessons. Surprised, I find myself more than comfortable –equipped – for some new moments at hand, as though the Present stands on the Past. Is it a function of age that makes this phenomenon more frequent these days?
The building complex was beautifully designed, welcoming, but I checked out the food first. I like to think I’ve mastered the art of strolling past diners without being terribly obnoxious about peering at their food. The cafe seemed worthy of the day’s lunch, and I proceeded to explore the rest of the facility.
Entering an open door, I was greeted by an attractive young man in a bright green T-shirt. His speech and demeanor suggested he was one of the clients, working there, and very capable socially. After my first few sentences in Hebrew, he switched to English, so I asked, “Why?”
Delightfully, he giggled and explained that I had an accent. Really? You think? He had my heart with his charm and verbal skills. Work stopped as several of the 8 other workers sanding wood for what I later learned would be lovely patio chairs, watched the conversation, tennis-match style.
In another room I found 3 seemstresses making skillfully designed and stitched dolls and zippered purse/pouches, and in another young men and women wove strips of fabric into plastic tote-bags, another painting ceramics from molds. There were several rooms with computers with sophisticated nonverbal systems used by physically disabled, non-verbal workers.
Products are sold online, clients receive paychecks based on their days at work, and that the funding is primarily government resources. https://visit.org/israel/maarag/israel-art-workshop-art-in-the-special-needs-community
The lunch, a vegetarian Israel-style Moussaka, was perfect, and I was able to bring half home for the next day. It’s a special treat to revisit a great meal twice and I’ll be looking forward to several other items on the menu for future visits. I spoke at length with the Manager of the program and now volunteer for a few hours twice a week.
Hopefully, living wisely today prepares us for tomorrows. Like flash-backs, my interraction with the clients at Maarag reminded me of experiences dating back decades. The visit was a penthouse on the tall structure of life, beginning while still in undergraduate studies at Cal State University Long Beach, and followed by assorted projects with sheltered work environments during my career. Consequently, it’s a natural and easy environment, although it certainly wasn’t in the beginning.
Today’s challenges call forth lessons, successes, and failures of the past. Given the uphill climb of learning this language, plus culture, plus each new region, moments of competence are a refreshing aroma that I’m intent upon savoring.
Besides interaction and love, volunteering will be great language practice for me because their language skills are mostly simpler than the “man on the street” and their speech often a bit slower as well. We’ll all do our very best and learn together.
One day everyone gathered for a special musical treat. I hope this brings a smile.