Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It’s been more than a week since I learned the devastating news of the Navy Yard shootings- in the weird way of our news saturated, over-violent world it’s now old news for everyone but those directly affected. As a friend said “life goes on”, and I’ve been trying to make the best of the time I’m here in Israel, and counting the days until I’m home and can make plans to go to DC and visit Melanie.

Looking in the calendar book I’ve been recording plans and logistics in,  I remembered that a week ago Monday was the day I attended my second cousin Shira’s henna event in Petak Tikvah (near Tel Aviv).  Sam and Shira’s wedding will be Oct. 3- Sam Sadka, comes from a Yemenite Jewish family, and henna events are an important part of the hectic lead up to the wedding- a custom borrowed long ago from Muslim neighbors. This one was held in a large room above a synagogue- the room had been decorated with wall hangings, baskets and tall-necked bronze vessels. There were salads, breads, sweets and soft drinks offered, Yemenite music played throughout, there was mingling and folk dancing (and some modern line dancing), but the main features were the lavish costumes- while the men wore mainly fezzes and robes, the bridal couple changed several times- both Yemenite and Moroccan “moderne” styles- the moderne featured gorgeous strapless dresses for the bride while the Yemenite style was highly covered up with a tall headdress. We were given baskets of flowers to wave about as the bridal couple rode aloft on…what? Seats that were carried by several men each. The party staff offered costumes to all interested guests, as well. Photo ops galore!! J the good news is I now have a camera and I know how to work it…the bad news is that at the henna it hadn’t been charged up yet to use! I’ve seen one photo of Shira and her brother Amit in costume on FB, and I’ll try to post it along with this.

I especially enjoyed meeting cousins and their friends.  One young cousin is a make-up artist and she came prepared with paints to offer designs on hands to augment the official henna splotch applied with a blessing by the hardworking mistress of ceremonies at the end of the night- near midnight. I went home with Shira’s Har Adar family that night, and then took the bus back to Tivon early Tuesday and slept most of the rest of the day. My elaborate mandala that Harmony painted on my right palm is almost faded and the splotch on my left palm is totally gone now.

Wednesday night began the festival of Sukkot- full moon, harvests are in, pomegranates on the trees are getting ripe, the hot winds are cooling down and Jews are encouraged to build and spend time in temporary open structures outside their homes- eating, even sleeping out there in the sukkah. It’s a lovely, lovely time to be here in Israel. Aviva and I went to a holiday service with Aviva’s daughter Einat and her family at Nigun HaLev at a nearby moshav (traditionally, an agricultural collective- this one has cows, I can tell you for sure J) The services here are offered by a female rabbi and a man who plays guitar, sings, sermonizes and officiates at weddings. I’ve been there several times for Shabbat services (last visit) and I still am not sure of his role. Everything is in Hebrew, and it’s all relaxed, casual, pleasant. There’s a table right behind the chairs set up for the congregation where kids are making paper decorations for their sukkahs. There’s tea, coffee, snacks throughout.

After the service, we went to Einat’s home for supper in their sukkah- their kids, Tamar (10) and the twins Noa and Mattan (8) took turns charming, entertaining and annoying us J. The girls attend a Waldorf school, while Mattan has started at a school near Nigun HaLev- he’s a math whizz and the Waldorf system wasn’t agreeing with him. The full, full, Sukkot moon shone down and lit up the view of the valley from their deck.

The next day we had a visit from Einat’s brother Asaf and his wife Tal and their 3 week old baby daughter Yaelah, who live in Tel Aviv. This was the baby’s first excursion out of her home city to visit both of her savtas (grandmothers) in Tivon, and she was very well behaved (mostly sleeping!). Asaf works at the Ben Gurion airport as an AIS officer, and has just returned to work- he was able to take 2 weeks leave to be home.

Each day in Tivon, especially now that it’s the 2 week Sukkot holiday from school, Aviva walks early in the morning through the cool and quiet neighborhood, through fields and wadi and Bet Shearim (a limestone cave burial excavation that’s a National Park). I’ve managed to get up early a couple of times to join her. We go to the swimming pool for laps around 9. We’ve gone out shopping for stuff I needed- a new SIM card for a phone to use, a computer cable, a camera, some shoes for the wedding 10/3- all in town or within a ten minute drive. There was a small dress shop having a sale- an Israeli designer whose clothes feature colorful prints on knitted dresses and separate pieces- it was fun trying on things with young and youngish Israeli women, seeing how they combined various pieces. The layered look seems to be the thing…especially loose pants under a tunic, with or without a head-wrap- a look that Aviva assures me is very “Anthroposofic”- the Waldorf school community. I bought a couple things, and wore one of the outfits to the henna last week, feeling very smart J.

The day after the baby’s visit was an unforgettable outing- we went to the sea early in the morning with Aviva’s 70-ish friend Michal who is said to “go everywhere”-  and I got to see some of what’s meant by that. Although she’s waiting for knee replacement surgery and walks with a limp, she drove us confidently in her mini-van an hour or so southwest, through the valley between the Arab town of Fureidis and the Jewish town of Zichron Yaakov, to a kibbutz next to the Mediterranean. We drove around agricultural bldgs. and fields over packed sand and dirt roads in really rough shape- a couple of holes in the road could have fit an elephant or two. Michal just said “my car she drives like a jeep” and plowed ahead- down into the holes and back out again. We parked in a jumble of cars beside the road and walked over a bluff of dunes and lacy, lethal looking rocks to behold the Dor beach spread out below- 2  beaches, actually, separated by a rock outcropping, and each protected by rock formations out in the water that kept the surf gentle. And what surf! Deep, deep turquoise alternating with patches of dark blue- it’s not always this color, I was told…it was beautiful just for my visit! White white sand, with tents and hippie camps dotting the beach. People sometimes camp out all summer- it’s unsupervised, could use a good cleaning- it’s a mess really, but what a beautiful resource. 

The water is clear and clean…salty, of course. We made our way out over the lacy looking rocks to a spot where a channel of water runs between 2 rock outcroppings, about 20 feet across. Someone had installed a thick rope over the channel, and we went into the water, hanging onto the rope, and floated for a long time. The tide wasn’t rushing in…they said it could be much more forceful, but it was still flowing hard enough to keep us afloat, or to offer resistance when I would momentarily let go and start doing an overhand crawl to keep in the same spot- like one of those infinity lap pools!

When we got out of the water and sat on the rocks overlooking the rope, we could see tiny creatures in the tide pools at our feet. Aviva had brought her favorite grapes, and Michal had brought pomegranates from her tree, offering hunks of them around…delicious! The best “fruit of the dead” I’ve ever had. Felt like heaven to be there munching as we dried off.

Next to Dor beach are excavations of Phoenician ruins…some you can just climb up on and sit! overlooking the Mediterranean, watching a sailboat, a couple of kayaks going out into the surf, and if you looked to the left you’d see Caesarea’s much more tame public (and not free) beach, and the tourist attraction of Herod’s compound there…his amphitheater which is in use for big concerts, restaurants, museums, ruins to visit and learn about…(we visited them later on in the week with Einat and her kids, but for now they were just a distant curiosity). Way beyond THAT to the left you can see the smokestacks of Hadera’s power plant, and the off-shore rigs for importing oil. If you were to turn with your back to the sea, you could see a ring of horizon stretching out beyond the shore- low hills and green slopes. It’s such a beautiful shoreline, and you can feel hugged in history and nature’s embrace - the advantages were seen and seized upon by countless civilizations, but not the Jews, really. They (we) historically moved inland to the grazing areas, I understand.

The sun was high in the sky and burning hot, so I chose not to go swimming again before we left the shore. Hope I get to go back before heading home!

What else have I been doing? I met up with Sofie Leyko- one of the two student teachers Joe and I hosted last April. Sofie’s teaching 5th grade in Jerusalem now, and we met in Tel Aviv- partway between us- for dinner. It was really great to see her, and she put me in touch with 2 other young women who will be coming in March to student teach at Doane Stuart. That brings me to yesterday, when I got to actually meet those 2 young women! They came to the Israel Museum in Jslm, at my request, and we sat and talked for a while. Both of them are terrific and I know it’s going to be another great experience. I was at the Museum especially to see the brilliant Herod exhibit  but it’s a great museum and there’s so much to look at- saw the incredible interiors of 4 or 5 synagogues- from the Netherlands, Germany, Surinam, India, a gorgeous collection of Jewish costumes, ritual items, Torah covers, etc…Botticelli’s exquisite Annunciation mural was there…other paintings, sculpture, could not see it all …Didn’t even get over to the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. The museum was staying open to 9 each night of the Sukkot holiday, so although I arrived at 4, there were hours to roam.

I had arranged a tour of the Old City for yesterday with a young history teacher who’s a friend of Aviva’s daughter. Noah had carefully asked about my interests several day before the tour. She was fantastic- we began at Montefiore’s Windmill, which provides an overlook just outside the Old City at the southwest corner. You can see East Jerusalem beyond and to the south, the line just before the Old City that marked the 1948 border, Mt. Zion to the south of the Old City walls, the zip line that carried supplies and sometimes soldiers between Israel territory and Mt. Zion (which was held by Israel in 1948). The story of Moses Montefiore is amazing and a good place to begin a study of present day Jerusalem. He advocated industry and healthy living, and set out to build a community to support those things just outside the walls of the Old City.

I had told Noah that I was mostly interested in seeing the Jewish sights, but that I was also very interested in aspects of interfaith coexistence and cooperation. And, I had heard that 3 PM vespers at St. James Armenian church were not to be missed, so I decided we would end our tour there. It was a treat to leave the crowed, bright and hot small streets and go inside the cool, dark, calm church…a vaulted space lined with blue and white tiles low on the walls and priceless, darkened oil paintings on the upper walls. Chandeliers large and small…crystal lamps suspended. The black robed priests filed in and began singing and chanting prayers.

Noah had worked for Ir David, the excavation of the City of David, until she realized the right wing politics they actively support. Think “Settler Activity”- that kind of thing. When we parted, I told her that meeting her and learning what a good, thoughtful and principled teacher she is gave me hope for the future of Israel.

On our walks, Aviva and I often pass the entrance to the Zaid family compound, founded in pre-state days. The statue of Alexander Zaid presides on a hill side overlooking the Jezreel Valley- I’ll post a photo of that I took the other evening. I spoke with Alexander Zaid’s granddaughter, Tal, today, and arranged a tour of the property for next week.

Tonight begins the final holiday of the season- Simchat Torah. We’re going to go back to Nigun HaLev for a service, and then to a special Klezmer event and a singing event. I can write about that in tomorrow’s post, and then I’ll be on the road for a couple of days and unable to write in. I’ll be going back to Jslm for an Ir Amim tour ( and then on to visit cousins in Ashkelon- one of whom is a pediatrican and runs a clinic. Back to Jslm for another, archeological tour suggested by Noah, "Emek Hashave” then I should be back in Tivon Sunday night. You know, schlepping around on the Egged buses.

Thanks for reading- hope some of it is interesting…! Hope you’re all fine & enjoying FALL at home- Stav has begun here but there’s no fall color. They all seem crazy about these spiky looking flower/weeds that are called “Candle Flowers”- don’t remember the Hebrew for that. These flowers bloom a bit at a time, like a candle burning- white blossom, not much to talk abt but they indicate Fall- Stav- and so are special to Israelis:

One of the views on our walks -  this is on the road above Bet She'arim

At Cesarea- at the hippodrome, I think:

Juice break at Caesarea- Aviva and granddaughter Noa;

At Caesarea, moi & Tamar, another of Aviva's granddaughters:

The amphitheater at Caesarea...built by Herod...still in use!!

 Shira and her brother Amit at the Henna!


St. James Armenian Church, Old City J'slm

Nigun HaLev Sukkot service- Tamar holding palm frond
Aviva and Yaelah
 Crowd in Old City, J'slm

Hope to find my other photos soon :-) more to come~

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seems like years since the last time I posted.
I barely know how to write this- last Monday, among the 12 people senselessly killed in the Navy Yard in Washington DC was Marty Bodrog, the beloved husband of my old and dear friend Melanie.  A memorial service will be held this Saturday...and here I am in Israel. My heart is in Annandale VA with Melanie and her three daughters.
Sorry, that's all I can manage for now.
I'll post again tomorrow.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kiryat Tivon

Hi again-

It's been a few days since my first post. Thankfully, I seem to be over jet-lag and the temporary stomach distress I originally attributed to travel...(but was that actually caused by USING that cute teeny tiny toothpaste supplied by Turkish Air? I remembered much later that while brushing my teeth on the plane, I had noticed that there was a teeny tiny sign about not drinking the water. OK, I didn't DRINK it, but I did rinse out my mouth. Just a teeny bit. Is that TMI? sorry. All better now :-)

Getting to Tivon from Ben Gurion Airport proved easy, even after no sleep and too many hours in the air & airports. Aviva (Sela) had given me instructions about which train to catch from the airport, and on the train platform I met Tzvi and Sharon, strangers who were returning from South America, with back packs. They were curious about my travel plans and set me in the right direction for the next leg of the journey, a shared cab to Tivon near a Tel Aviv train stop. I had run past the money changing window at the airport b/c there was a line and I had heard the train was leaving in 10 minutes. I told them I thought I was a few shekels short of cab fare- but before I could ask if the driver would accept a couple of dollars with the fare, they handed me 15 shekels (about $3.50) and refused to take anything in return. Also offered to let me make a call to Aviva on their phone. wow! a great welcome to Israel.

Another welcome awaited in Tivon, after a sleepy, mostly uneventful hour and a quarter in the shared cab (a minivan that follows the same route as the bus, will make custom stops, and costs LESS than the bus- go figure!).  My dear friend Aviva was waiting at the stop, and we walked over to a new restaurant close by- a health food café with some whacky vegetable, herb and seed concoctions to drink and great looking salads. I'll try them next time we go, and take a menu back so I can give you an idea of some of the combinations- that day all I wanted was some ginger tea. Real chunks of ginger in the tea!

Kiryat Tivon is a pleasant, hilly town with small streets lined with homes, radiating from a little town center circle and plaza, with the bus stop, café, falafel stand, bank, grocery store, post office, gas station, home-made chocolate shop and more, right there. It takes about 5 minutes to walk from the town center to Aviva's house, and about 12 minutes to walk from her house to the community swimming pool. The houses in this part of town are all built as duplexes- 2 separately designed private homes stuck together with a shared wall, surrounded by narrow gardens, often in the form of outdoor potted plants. Makes for some interesting neighborly confrontations...!

It's hot and hazy this time of year, but there is often a breeze, especially in the evenings. Outside Aviva's front window is a heavily laden pomegranate tree, an orange tree, a palm tree and others I don't recognize, including one tree that has a vine with huge purple flowers- like morning glories- growing on it. Lots of houses have vibrant red, orange or yellow bougainvillea spilling over the garden walls! I was surprised- I thought that was something you'd find in the Caribbean, not here.

This is getting long...I don't know how interesting to read this kind of description is, but it's my attempt to set the scene for you. Being here feels familiar (I spent a month here in 2010, but even then I felt easily at home) and it's also exotic in ways that I'll try to describe as I go on.

Today was Yom Kippur. Before the holiday started yesterday, we had gone to visit Rena, a retired drama teacher and self-styled artist. Her home is full of amazing items she had found on the streets and refurbished, beautified and repurposed, but the effect is comfortable and uncluttered. We went for a pre-holiday meal to a restaurant at the town center- a popular Arab restaurant that has been there for years. To start the meal, the waiter brought out ten (10!) little dishes of a variety of salads and pickles. All great- the smoked eggplant was my fave. Rena and I had excellent grilled fish, and we all drank pomegranate juice…decided this was a fitting meal to celebrate the new year (fish and pomegranates referring to luck in the new year).

Rena and the owners of the restaurant like to banter asked if she was going to fast (for Yom Kippur), and she said with a laugh that no, she was such a great woman so she didn’t need to fast. No sins. He shook his head and said that he wasn’t a religious Muslim. He doesn’t go to the mosque often, he even sometimes drinks alcohol, but when it’s Ramadan, he always fasts with his family, and joins in the iftar feasts (translated for me by Aviva). 

Later, when it was time for the evening service to start the holiday, Aviva and I walked from her house in the other direction, down the hill towards the small tunnel underpass below the main road, a walk lined with overgrown bushes of rosemary and sage, and past the traffic circle, partway down another hill to the pair of small stone synagogues- Ashkenazi and Sephardic- sitting next to each other. We climbed up the outside stone staircase to the second floor women’s balcony of the Ashkenazi shul. As in Orthodox synagogues everywhere, women prayed, visited, moved in and out according to needs of their children or their tolerance for the heat. The landing at the top of the stairs was a popular gathering spot, to catch the breeze that was picking up.

After the service, we took a long circular walk through the dark neighborhood. No cars at all were on the roads- instead, the streets were filled with happy bands of kids on bikes, and parents with strollers. When we arrived back at the little traffic circle, it was a circus of small wheeled vehicles of all kinds- toddlers on tricycles included. One determined little two-year old propelled her push bike with her feet. 

We went back for afternoon services today, and heard the shofar blown in each of the synagogues…but at the conclusion of the services, and the end of Yom Kippur, no bikes in sight…the car traffic had begun. I missed the bikes! When we again took a walk, we stayed on the sidewalks.

Now it’s almost midnight, and it’s still sticky outside. My first shower since the holiday began is going to feel really nice right now- I’m not even planning to turn on the switch to make hot water!

All for now~

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Great Flight on Turkish Air!

As you may or may not know, although I had tickets booked for a flight to Israel Sept. 9th, I'd been deliberating about it since August...with the horrific news about Syria, and the looming debate in Congress about what the US response should be, I didn't know whether I wanted to be in that part of the world. My hesitation was partly out of a sense I'd be putting myself in danger and worrying my family, but it also felt heavy to be going toward a vacation, and celebrating a wedding, so close to the scene of great suffering. Would it even be right? Then, I thought of how our globe is shrinking, and how, unfortunately, suffering goes on all over the world, all the time. We're all living on this small planet together, wherever we are on it at any given time. Should we all hold off on vacations, or on celebrations, until there's peace and harmony everywhere? We're all in this together, and until we begin to be part of the solution, in whatever part of the globe we are, we're all part of the problem.

Still, Joe and I looked at a map and saw how very close Tivon, where I'd mostly be staying, is to the Syrian border.  I was asking friends (many of YOU! thanks for listening & your feedback), talking it over with Joe, reading up on the news, ignoring the news and listening to my heart etc., etc., until I was really tired of the question. It was at that point that a friend emailed me to ask "why ever would you NOT go?".  For some reason, it felt like the question that tipped me toward saying "right!" and I went (Thanks, Robin!!!).

Joe dropped me at the Rennselaer train station at 6:45 AM on Monday, and by 11:30 AM Tel Aviv time on Tuesday (4:30 AM Tuesday back home), I was in Israel. (Thank you, sweet Joe, for allowing me the freedom to make the decision myself and for supporting it, too. Love you!!)

My cousin Amit had booked the tickets for me, saying "you'll love Turkish Air!" and he was right. It was a smooth ride, right on time, with excellent cabin staff, and all the movies you could want  (Thanks, Amit!) Some details: along with crew members, the chef greeted us as we filed onto the plane, in his crisp apron and chef's toque (good sign that they are proud of the food they serve- and it turns out they have a right to be!). There were gifts for us on each seat- along with the standard blanket & pillow were slippers and a handy zipper pouch with socks, ear phones, ear plugs, eyeshades, toothbrush and a very teeny tiny tube of toothpaste. (The zipper pouch turned out to be a great place to stash my glasses later on when I wanted to sleep.)
One of my favorite touches: as we got underway with the flight, we were each brought a folded, HOT wet washcloth to clean up from our previous travel and refresh. (I could have used one at the end of the flight as well, but hey...).

The airport in Istanbul was another, not so pleasant, story; but luckily I was only there for a few hours, until the under-2- hour- flight to Ben Gurion Airport.

Thanks for reading- more next time!