25 – On the Road Again

 

first day of school

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Shalom from Northern Israel.  (Jerusalem is in the center, so there’s been a change.  Did you see it coming?  I didn’t.)

I have begun a new journey and it’s been grand in ways big and small.  For example, a recent stop at a hardware store in hopes of a simple solution for the visor in my rental car brought to me another “first”.  You see, the hardware store was in the Arab section of the city.  My request prompted conversation with 3 locals:

  • the 30-something Arab-Christian female employee +
  • the Arab Muslim hardware shop owner +
  • an Arab veterinarian.

The vet left a lively, loud discussion at a round table filled with men drinking coffee in order to join our project.  During the collaboration, he asked whether I had pets and gave me his card.  Anyone need a vet referral?!

Besides a great Hebrew conversation exercise for me, I appreciated that they brainstormed solutions for this obviously non-Arab stranger who was speaking primitive (AKA: trainwreck!) Hebrew, even though their efforts were clearly not destined to lead to a sale for the hardware store.  It was touching, their efforts, and hospitality of spirit.  No, no one asked for my phone number or indicated any other motives. And Yes, I know it’s not PC to identify people by their “groupings”, but it’s reality in Israel, and its significance is part of the story.  The visor wasn’t fixed completely, but is better than it was.

Green valleys, hills, and impressive mountains north and west of the Sea of Galilee and in the Golan host many groupings in separate villages & cities as well as mixes of groups in others, seeming living in peaceful collaboration, friendship, support.  I’ll list the groups from largest to smallest, and you’ll be hearing more about them going forward.

  1. Jews with every level of tradition, or none;
  2. Muslim-Arabs
  3. Bedouin
  4. Christians-Arabs and non-Arab Christians
  5. Druze

One friend said her Arab-Muslim friend told her that when some or other terror organization tried to influence their Mosque, they were told that the members want none of their terrorism or political activities.  I don’t know if I believe that at face value, since great bravery is warranted to “just say no” to the likes of Hezbollah or Hamas, but judging by their actions, the Arabs-Muslims here have not embraced the push-the-Jews-back-into-the-ocean” mentality of most of the Muslim world.  I’ll keep asking, when it seems appropriate, and let you know what I learn.

DANGER?  Regarding my own safety, I’ve asked men and women what to be on the alert for, what to avoid, what do I need to know to be as safe as possible.  They look at me as though not understanding my pronunciation, but it’s the concept that confuses them.  It’s “safe”, they explain.  Except for war, you have nothing to fear.  Well, that’s some consolation.

They tell me I can hike alone, visit the villages, eat in the cafes, and explore.  As I type these words, my city-girl mentality still wonders what I’ve missed.  Of course there’s the ongoing terrorism problem – in the midst of the deplorable Minnesota and NYC incidents, has your news source told you of the surge of incidents here in recent days?  Terrorism = vicious surprise in a completely Un-war-like situation, can happen anywhere.  http://www.timesofisrael.com/2-cops-seriously-hurt-in-old-city-stabbing-attack-assailant-shot/

How did I end up here, and what am I doing where temperaments contrast dramatically with the upside down bus-stop terrorism stabbings, car-rammings and other attacks in Jerusalem and in countless Israel “hotspots”?

It all began last Spring. I was pondering all I had yet to learn of this land and her people, and that prompted several exploration road trips and tours to visit new places.  That led to contemplating a move, and then realizing I didn’t know enough about the people and places to know what I might want to do.  It became clear that more than live in a village, kibbutz, or city, I wanted to live in all the areas.

But to do that I had to release the lifelong passion to have one homey-home forever, and instead let myself drift for a while to visit and learn and become acquainted.  I’m hoping to sample the entire nation by staying weeks or months anywhere/everywhere to “get a feel“  for her unique people and places in this complicated land mass the size of New Jersey.

DECISIONS!!  In hindsight, the decision evolved into a plan very unlike my initial reflections, but I’ve come to recognize that as a pattern.  Like a scavenger hunt, I follow the clues, formulating hypotheses and theories which get modified along the way.  Of course, everything is wrapped in prayer, research, and contemplation… and always takes longer than my friends who are subjected to the seemingly endless deliberations think is reasonable.  One labeled me “decision impaired”.

As decisions go, this was a big one, but it did become clear, so I terminated the lease on my apartment and started packing and planning.  Had I not ventured forward, I’m certain I’d have always wondered why not?  Already, I’ve had moments of what was I thinking?  but they are brief.  Mostly it’s been great for learning the area, speaking Hebrew, and meeting friendly, open people of all sorts.

THE PLAN:  For the coming 6 or many months, my rented car will be toting a large and a small suitcase of essential summer &/or winter clothing, plus me.  We will make our way from Zimmers to small hotels to rented rooms.  My household belongings are in a storage unit of 12 cubic meters (that’s not much “stuff”) while I’m staying in towns and cities and villages for weeks or months to make friends, speak a lot of Hebrew, and LEARN cultures – the countless differences that define communities.

At this point, I’ve left Zimmer #2 (think B&B, but in this case, without the breakfast) in a tiny town of 6,000 Jewish residents – Kfar Vradim, which translates to Village of Roses – to “move” to the next in a larger city of 20,000+ mixed Jewish/Arab municipality that in 1963 merged a Jewish city (Ma’alot) with an Arab city (Tarshika), now Ma’alot-Tarshika, about 15 km (7 ½ miles) from Lebanon’s border.  I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and let me know your thoughts along the way.

click on this link, and watch for it to download a video: img_0832


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Etching and other media – art gallery above etching studio at Kibbutz Kapri.  I watched them work and learned about etching.  I like Blue Poppies, below, best

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It’s hard to believe that November 21st I’ll be beginning my 3rd year living in Israel.  On the theme of immigration, with a story that’s HUGE, check out The Last Korsczak Boy:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq_WUJ5oWjo

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Kibbutz Elon makes amazing mosaics.  I watched the artists working on a massive mural for the heart of the Jerusalem’s Old City Jewish Quarter – I’d seen the first installment there several times and was fascinated to see the drawing they were “copying”.  Watching the attention to detail, tiny angles of clipping away each tiny stone to give it it’s role in the cluster of grapes.  I wanted to offer the woman working so diligently a coupon for a massage because my shoulder and neck tightened just to think of working like that all day.  But, oh the pleasure of the finished product.
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I mentioned the Druze – a people group with which you may not be familiar.  http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/187385  will probably answer your questions. My disclaimer is that as with any description of any people, there are different opinions, but this resonates with most of what I’ve heard about the Druze people.  Also I’ve been told some are more satisfied than others regarding their status in Israel – no surprise there –  but it seems universally accepted that all are loyal and devoted Israeli’s.


Things that are different:

Kids and food: each day in the classroom last year, I watched kids fight over large plates of raw veggies slices (tomatoes, red peppers, cucumber) and devour the accompanying bowls of hummus, cottage cheese, plain yogurt-like creamy cheese, sliced green olives and slices of bread.  These well fed, healthy kids – none obese that I’ve seen – build sandwiches or fill their plates repeatedly with assorted combinations of these items. At the age of 4 or 5, would you have thought to build a sandwich of humus with cottage cheese, sliced green olives and tomatoes?!   The standard fare are adorned with weekly treats of scrambled eggs, or canned tuna, or simple pizza (minimal cheese), or Shasushka – a casserole of tomatoes and onions, spiced with cumin, and topped with eggs poached in spicy sauce – a popular breakfast fare in restaurants as well.  I can’t tell you more because it’s not yet an acquired taste for me…  Teachers bring similar food items and eat with the children.  This 10:30 meal is sandwiched with prayers of thanksgiving, and seems to support socialization, sharing, and a family-like experience in the classroom. Since the children receive no sugar, there is no post meal blood sugar surges causing hard-to-manage activity or behavior changes.  Yes, on birthdays (mine included J) cake is provided by family or staff, and a few holidays include sweet treats, but otherwise, no sugar in these classrooms.

Restaurants: Meet a friend at a café for a meal OR coffee only for several hours without worrying about the time.  The server will not resent you for occupying the table too long and won’t expect an enormous tip.  However, if you’re in a hurry, it’s best to go for “fast food” rather than a restaurant, because it may be a while before you see a menu or get water, and you’ll likely have to ask for a check. It’s relaxed and I love it, now that I know what to expect.

Public bathrooms: Will I ever acclimate to finding a male janitor working in the ladies room, while ladies are using it?  Or shared facilities?  Exciting a stall as a man enters the one adjacent, or is washing his hands?  Note to self: be grateful he’s washing his hands.

Tips:  Don’t tip taxis.  It’s just not the custom.

Many more differences:

http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/68-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-israel-in-only-6-minutes/

and finally, same but very different:  Kirby Vacuum repair in a Druze Village

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On a more than usual personal note,

A friend died last year, and my sorrow was worsened because I didn’t hear until it was too late.  She’d received a diagnosis that put her quickly into hospice care.  I didn’t know her well, but appreciated her for her giving heart, dedication to and care of others. She was intensely direct.  

Several years ago, in our last conversation over tea at her home, she spoke painful words to me – crucial words that helped me understand a situation, rather than continue deluding myself.  I remember guarding my facial expression to not show my hurt, but in the days that followed, her words resonated as truth and confirmed my own perceptions about the situation, which I’d dismissed as silly and insecure. 

Embracing the reality of rejection, I was deeply hurt for a very long while, and yet so grateful for her candor and gift of honesty. 

She helped me along my journey – as a seeker of truth – to accept the reality of a situation.  It brought back all the times I’ve dismissed my perceptions to give others the benefit.  I still chose to think the best of others but tread more wisely.  I never told Beth what I’m telling you. It never occurred to me, and now it’s too late.

But I guess I would like to tell her daughter that her mother’s directness was an important moment for me and helped me grow.  Maybe that would be meaningful to her daughter.  I don’t know.  I would also tell her that her mother/my friend spoke about her with tender love and was very very proud of her.


 

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I’ve included this photo from Shlomit, on the south/west “corner” of Israel, only 6 km (about 3 miles) from Gaza and 3 km (1 ½ miles) from Egypt.  These beautiful naked babies are playing in the sand and nearby water-sprinkler zone.  As free and happy and loved as kids could ever be.

This community of pioneering young Jewish families has grown in 5 years from 15 to 50 families.  You may recall that they hosted me for a previous visit. They live in 2 or 3 bedroom small, functional-but-simple mobile homes.  Just as you’d expect, these families that grow to include at least 5 children, are dedicated to the journey from temporary housing to dream-home in their well-planned community.  While none of the homes have been built yet, some have invested in the lots and are working with their designs.  They seriously save money and endure home building bureaucratic/coding hurdles, like all ambitious young families; however, these courageous people do it amidst the ever constant threat and interruption from inevitable war and rockets.

This visit launched my journey of planned homelessness and Zimmer #1, built by one of the residents – obviously a very skilled carpenter.  The only problem with this was that it set a high bar for comparison of each Zimmer ahead.

One family hosted me for dinner as they had during my last visit, and the 9 children (they have a larger than typical unit, with 4 bedrooms!) are looking forward to another brother or sister in a few months. The cooperative nature of the home was breathtaking to me:  a sort of loving chaos pervaded the evening, and the mother exuded a relaxed, come-what-may hospitality that was peaceful amidst eager voices and active play.  There was no fussing about anything being near perfect, but rather that everyone enjoy and support each other.  Having been raised as an only child, that environment is an amazing experience.

Each home, whether temporary or otherwise, must have bomb shelters, as must also the school, preschool, and day-care facilities.  I had the heartwarming experience of seeing their new preschool building this visit, and couldn’t help but be touched by parents wanting the best for their children – safe and well equipped.  While the entire building meets bomb shelter requirements, whenever the next sirens sound, the children will still be bustled into the room designated as their Shelter, lest they learn to be lax about sirens.  Parents explained that this is part of their training, as 3-5 year olds, for their own safety.  Sigh

As with previous visits, I was invited into homes of families I’d never met to share a meal, with generous and loving hospitality.  My heart is humbled to be welcomed by these young families working so hard to build their lives in harsh conditions.  Each family’s story was different – some from generations of Israeli’s, others born of Americans who immigrated here as young marrieds, one young father’s grandparents immigrated years ago from Yemen, another’s parents immigrated from France when she was a child.  Living here, I feel as though I’m traveling the world.

Many but not all speak some English, and I was relieved to find I could navigate more successful Hebrew language interactions than during my last visit over a year ago.  I’ll confess that the last visit left me in tears of frustration, and while I have still so far to go, my progress is measurable.


a few final glimpses of Israel with video of my second Jerusalem Day lost in the sweet smelly crowd, video on the Syrian Border, and photo at the Lebanon Border:

click these links for videos – : img_0537    img_0564

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