A Punctuated Peace

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(View of Nablus, Palestine from above)

Today, we got bad news that one of our participants has been detained at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and Israel and will not be allowed to enter Israel without first acquiring some kind of Palestinian ID (since her mother registered her when she was young on the Gaza population registry, though she is a Canadian citizen). If that goes through, and she’s allowed to enter the West Bank, she’ll then have to apply for a special permit to enter Israel… which could take weeks, or even months—rendering the effort completely useless since she’d miss our whole trip.

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A frustrating start to the day, especially since I woke up so sweetly, as the men next door were chanting and singing in beautiful, rich, deep voices the prayers for Shabbat morning. I felt so lucky to be in Jerusalem, and in typical Middle East fashion, the beauty was punctuated by strife & conflict. We’re working on pressuring the Canadian Embassy to help get her in. Fingers crossed.

The rest of the day was busy, despite it being Shabbat for everyone else in our neighborhood: Matt and I spent a bunch of time finalizing our itinerary, decorating the apartments, drawing up Hebrew and Arabic lesson plans, and hanging out with our first participant to arrive successfully. We all napped in the afternoon, then headed into the Old City for a stroll.

It had finally cooled off, and people were milling about in the streets in that special end- of-Shabbat fashion… not rushing, but pulsing with excitement as the week draws nearer and nearer. Kids were running everywhere, lovers were canoodling along the ramparts of the old city watching the moon rise, and our footsteps echoed softly on the slick white stones of the city floor.

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We visited the Kotel, arriving just in time to hear the men chanting Havdalah prayers, as we women stood on the other side of the mechitza to listen and pray along silently. For the first time ever, I wondered how bad it really is to just listen to the men sing. Though I softly chanted along in my own voice, I—for just a flickering moment—thought it was rather nice to be serenaded from across the divide. Someone passed me a sprig of mint to awaken the senses, and I awoke from my romantic reverie.

I prayed at the wall, draping my scarf around my head like a tallit, asking for a peaceful and healthy trip for all of us. We then wandered back through the Arab quarter, stopping for baklawa and dodging the street sweepers and teenage boys hauling empty boxes away from the shuk.

When we emerged from Damascus Gate, we heard cheering, and ascended the steep stairway to find the finals of “Arab Idol” being broadcast from a projector and perhaps a hundred excited Palestinians gathered around, standing on cars and leaning on gates cheering on Mohammad Assaf (a Gaza-born Palestinian refugee and aspiring pop idol) croon out traditional Palestinian love songs. People waved flags of black, green, and red, and twirled checkered black and white kaffiyeh in the air as their roar rose and fall with the honking of cars and the appearance of Nancy Ajram on screen.

I spoke with a middle-aged woman, a teacher, who knew Mohammad when he was young… “He always had a beautiful voice,” she told me. “We are so proud… and he will win!” Her excitement was contagious, and we ended the night by clapping along to the highlights reel as people whooped and cheered, hoping this one Palestinian boy would bring pride to their people… and a symbol of victory to all peoples who find a way to rise above the prison of their oppression.

Shavua Tov, and Goodnight. 

Jerusalem, if I forget you…

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If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill…

-Psalm 137:5

I had a conversation this evening with an Israeli war hero  about Israel and its importance, in contrast to the diaspora, for global Jewry. I argued that the connection Jews have to this land is real, but he minimized the difference in Jewish value & history between Israel and the Diaspora. His claim seemed to be that while Israel is beautiful and important and sacred, the history and places of Diaspora Jewish communities are equally as central to Jewish peoplehood. I disagreed, though I could see his point.

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(me on the roof of our apartment in Nahlaot)

One thought I didn’t have while we were talking, but that just now occurred to me in the shower, is that perhaps I and other Diaspora Jews still place strong significance on Israel and the holy land because we have yet to live in it. Sure, we visit, and develop stronger connections to our identity, and stronger aversion to the social and political ills of the place, but we don’t ever really get to claim it as our own. Our opinions and hopes are, at best, received as suggestions rather than normative claims. Our critiques are cast off as ignorance. Our knowledge only skims the surface of the tanakh because we, unlike Israelis, don’t get to set foot the dirt our ancestors walked on each and every day, nor can we point at a tree in our backyard and explain its significance. We don’t know how to navigate the desert, nor fly planes into Lebanon on heroic missions with a bravery that only comes from mandatory civil service and a mandate to protect your country at all costs.

We only know how to clutch on to the past, and reimagine the future, to adapt, filter, and modify the traditions of our ancestors. We rarely touch anything directly. We empathize with Palestinians but support Israelis out of loyalty, and never really feel the conflict in a way that impacts our immediate safety or well-being. We try nobly to keep the Shabbat, but our country does not provide us with the moral support, that deliciously quiet hour where the siren rings and everyone slips out into the silent streets to walk to shul, or sing, and feel the peace of the Sabbath. Maybe we need our chance to make the desert bloom, and give our Sabra friends a break from carrying the weight of Israel on their shoulders. Country swap, anyone?

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Golden Gate Hostel in Jerusalem’s Old City

Sunday, June 16 11:50pm

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I have an entire six-bed room to myself here in the Old City, in a nice hostel tucked just behind the Damascus Gate. I’m playing Grateful Dead, catching up on emails, and frolicking around. There are no windows, but a large photograph of a Greek Orthodox church is plastered to the far wall. The ceiling is stone, the beds look like those of adorable Christian orphans. It’s warm, but not hot.  I feel a bit displaced, but also content.

I spent today drinking coffee and schlepping around Jerusalem with Matt running errands, finalizing itineraries, and checking out our new digs. We met the people who are subletting to us: really nice Israeli students who are headed to the US to do some adventuring of their own. Our apartment is cute, airy, and tucked away in a flowering alley of Nahlaot: a religious neighborhood that’s become newly trendy in recent years for students and young professionals. Very excited to live there, and get to know a different part of Israel.

Later this week, Matt and I will visit Nablus, and possibly Ramallah. Today, we met with a man named Yehuda HaKohen who believes strongly that Jews and Arabs should have no beef with each other, but rather with capitalist westernizing influences. He’ll be speaking with our students about the one state solution and why he supports it. The students arrive a week from today. I can’t wait to meet them.

Jerusalem definitely feels different from Tel Aviv: more religious, less sexy, and more stone than sand. But I’m keeping my mind open for this new experience, and hoping it brings some beautiful and challenging experiences. Shavua tov l’kulam!

Amsterdam

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Sitting here in the comfortable grey city of Amsterdam, sipping a cappuccino at a café in an alley, with a pretty red flowerpot in front of me and a sweet couple celebrating what must be an anniversary beside me. I sit on a wooden bench with a small wooden table on the side patio. Across the way is one of Amsterdam’s many canals. A bright graffiti decorating the brick wall in front of me, and of course several cute bikes leaned up against it. A gaggle of hooligan boys walked by just a moment ago, before stopping to pause outside of “Club 21- Thai Massage” with a heart saying “love” above the sign. They stop, and one of them hesitantly enters. The rest wait outside, with their arms crossed like guards.

Though I’m tired, I’m glad I took the train into the city here. I love the feeling of traveling. Sitting outside with the breeze on my face, watching the Dutch pass by on their bicycles. The city is beautiful, with a classic European feel of wide streets, canals, alleys, and beautiful architecture adorned in gold. It feels old, and quaint, but young. Backpackers spot the streets, and cute older people ride by in their bicycles decked out to look like gardens, or strange creatures. Tanned, blonde 20-somethings speed by on motorbikes, weaving in and out of the foot traffic.

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There are weed cafes and headshops, but they’re not as prevalent as I would’ve expected. Apparently, the city has cracked down a bit on weed—foreigners are supposedly no longer allowed to purchase? Not sure. Speaking of addicting things, I did wander into the Old Amsterdam Cheese shop, where every type of their 20+ cheeses was on sample. It’s funny how you can see the same cheese in a Trader Joes at home, but then again the forces of globalization should no longer surprise me at this point. I also took note of a Starbucks in the Amsterdam central train station, and a Maoz falafel joint packed with Europeans. The accents here are adorable: clicking, dipping, and sing-songing. The Dutch seem very friendly, and nurturing on my first impression.

I’ve now gulped down my cappuccino, sweet with sugar at the bottom, and stopped to ponder how I’ve gotten to where I am. After a 7.5 hour plane ride from John F Kennedy, I’m in Europe. It’s amazing how quickly one can be in a totally different setting. Just this morning, I was rushing around the house, despairing over the job decision, and hugging Melissa goodbye. Benji, Ellie, and Melissa saw me off this afternoon—Benji clapping and cheering as I hoisted my backpack on my back and walked out the door on Baltic Street. So easy! Just put on a backpack, head to the train station, and go! I guess I’m a veteran traveler now.

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I had a nice nap in the Amsterdam airport—they, like most foreign hubs, realize that weary travelers will have long layovers that are much more pleasantly spent napping on reclining chairs with a soundtrack of “rain sounds” and a screen of peaceful scenes from the city. I kicked off my shoes & socks, swaddled myself in the stolen airport blanket, wrapped a spare long sleeve shirt around my eyes and passed out in my pink neck pillow. Ahhh.

In an hour, I’ll meet my friend Yardena for a beer on the main tourist drag. On my way over, I wandered by accident into the red light district, which straddles another canal. I had no idea, but turning my head left I suddenly was startled by the sight of a scantily clad woman in a window. I thought she was a mannequin, but then she moved! Her eyes falsely wide, painted red lips, cliché lingerie getup. How strange! I awkwardly stumbled along, and then noticed that on every side of me were these girls in the windows. Some of them beckoning to men in suits passing by, but many of them looking bored and texting on their cell phones. Some sat in pouf chairs, and some stood in tall stilettos. I looked to my right, and two dirty swans floated, cleaning themselves in the canal. I hurried along, not knowing what to make of things, but feeling uncomfortable. Every man I passed in the street was a suspect… some looked old and decrepit, some dignified, but most looked young, straggly, & and excited.

As I walked along past erotic and exotic sex shops, peep shows, and “room for rent” signs, I wondered whether I should turn down an alley and escape. But I was also transfixed. Advertised on every woman-less dark window was a list of three or four women’s names, with phone numbers. I saw some large women, some young and sorority-like, but the strangest sight was a woman who turned to face me as I passed. She looked about seventy, with large sagging breasts and dyed brown hair. Hanging from her weathered mouth was a cigarette, her legs encased in fishnet and her eyes lined in thick black kohl. Startled, I scurried onward… needing to meet Yardena.

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A short, but interesting visit in Amsterdam. Next up, Jerusalem! 

10 Tips for Surviving NYC: A Newbie’s Guide

Despite the stress and hustle of New York, I am writing more than I ever have and it feels luxurious and fun… so at least I can keep that in mind when I doubt the worth of moving here! I wanted to be a writer… now I am! Broke, but not starving 😉

Everywhere you turn here are people. Turn your head one way, hundreds of people in the crowd. Turn your head the other, hundreds more. Walk a block, hundreds of new people you’ve never seen. Immigrants, tourists, locals, punks, goths, glamour girls, businessmen, hobos, musicians, artists, kids, old people… You could spend a year here and never run into anyone you’ve seen before.

After a very stressful week, I’ve compiled a list of things I learned in my first month in New York.

1. Anytime you have an opportunity to use a clean private restroom, DO IT. Even if you don’t have to go. Even if you went 10 minutes ago. New York has millions of people, and almost zero viable options for relieving yourself when out and about in public. Continue reading

Wed Oct 31 11:13pm New York

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The last two and a half weeks have been surreal. I can’t believe I “live” in New York now, because… well, I don’t. I float around New York as if in a daze, lighting upon food and trinkets and trees in wonder and delight and confusion. Today, I eat lunch at a Vietnamese hole in the wall called Lotus, with my new friend Lucas—someone who interns at 826NYC and StoryCorps. We exchange stories from the upscale food industry and discuss oral history. He advises me to visit the “Cloisters” and tells me about the scandals behind Prospect Park and its architect Frederick Olmsted. We scarf down our banh mi sandwiches (mine mild on white baguette, his eye-watering spicy on whole wheat) and go off for a brisk walk in the park amongst the leaves and fallen trees until a municipal official, clearing debris, orders us out. Continue reading

Jaffa Part III: The Children

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Amira was a tomboy of classic proportions. Her brother Amir was bright eyed and rambunctious, but Amira had spirit like a wild stallion. If you, or any of the children at the Arab-Jewish community center wronged her, her eyes would flash like fire and she’d yell with the strength of a woman wrongfully imprisoned. She wasn’t afraid of getting dirty by bellying along on the classroom floor with the other boys, playing the high-stakes card- slapping game, when the kids would lie face-down like frogs in the middle of the classroom and cup their hands together to slap pictures of D-list European soccer players, making the cards jump ever so slightly in the air. I could never understand the thrill of the game’s outcome, but this was success, in Jaffa… Continue reading

Jaffa: An Essay

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One month after returning to America, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jaffa. I was living in Los Angeles and working amongst media and tech fanatics. At first, the speed with which I had dropped back into the fast-paced life of starting up again excited me, but eventually it wore off and I began to feel lonely and fucked up. I yearned for Jaffa. Continue reading

Missing Israel

I’m signing up for so many volunteer things I may as well be back in Israel. The truth is I moved to LA in a bit of an unnecessary rush, such that I don’t think I fully wrapped my mind around what I’d be getting into (nor did I know) when I made the decision to “pursue my career” by leaving Israel. Now, what on Earth?

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I don’t know if I’m romanticizing my time in Jaffa (probably), or if I took my freedom of schedule and worries for granted (definitely), but somehow I’m here in LA and I keep shaking my head trying to get a grip like, Sam, what were you thinkin girl? Continue reading

How much more could we be joyful?

There’s so much good in this world. And so many people to love. It’s something to meditate on. Writing feels fluid and good. I’ve forgotten about this outlet, and let the technology and the pressure estrange me from my voice for a time. But miraculously enough, I’m finally coming to terms with this high-tech world. First came denial, then resistance, then depression, then apathy… and finally, awakening and acceptance. Tech doesn’t have to rule our lives, we own it and it doesn’t own us so long as we use it consciously and in ways that bring us joy and connection. And make a living. Continue reading