Thursday, June 3, 2010

To Jordansalem and Back

I just spent 13 hours in Jordan. 13 hours of non-stop action. 13 hours in which I used many modes of transportation, spoke a great deal of Arabic, and allowed myself to be awed by ancient things. I will proceed, I think, in an orderly fashion. This blog post will flow chronologically based on the mode of transportation required at each time period. Let us begin now:

9: 30pm -- Intra-city bus
I had to get from South Jerusalem to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. Not a big deal. Fine. Done.

10:30pm -- Inter-city buses
480 to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.

11:15pm -- Taxi
I got off at the wrong station. Well actually I took the wrong bus. Should have taken the 405 and not the 480. My own fault. Stupid me. As usual. And my bus was at 11:59. In a quarter of an hour. So I sucked it up and took a taxi. My driver thought I was crazy for going to Jordan after the whole Turkey business, but whatever. I am sort of crazy.

Inter-City Bus

So my last long, all-night bus ride was from Cairo to Taba. This bus ride wasn't as bad. But it was pretty bad. In terms of the terrain, it similar; also a windy desert/dead-sea roads. In terms of the noise, it was different; there was a Chabad couple and their very unhappy baby on board (right in front of us). And in terms of drama, well, it was intense. There was a guy who didn't make it back on the bus before we left the second rest stop (he was in the bathroom or something) and had to catch up with us because his bag was on the bus and then when he finally got back on the bus it turned out that some 6,000 shekels had been stolen from his bag, and he had no money on his phone to call anyone. So he used my phone. And talked really loudly. While sipping Red Bull. And now I have no money on my phone. So at 5 in the morning we pulled over for a little stopover at the police barrier at the entrance to Eilat to "sort things out". Siyyut (nightmare).

Feet - 5:30am
The bus driver kindly let my friend - alias Glinda - and I off at a turn off to a kibbutz/bird sanctuary/desalinization plant - basically, in the middle of no where. We hiked to the gas station up the hill to ask how to get to the border. The explained(ish) how to get there, and off we went. We went the wrong way. But there was a man from the kibbutz who drove down with his truck to pick up Jordanian workers (sketch?) to take to - presumably - pluck fruit and the like, and he told us how to go. As in, right not left. And the next time he came back for the following round of workers, of he brought us a large bunch of grapes. Gorgeous, delicious, crunchy, green grapes. Breakfast on the border. Yum.

The border (Yitzchak Rabin Crossing/Wadi Araba) opened at 6:30 - and we crossed at 6:30. We went through three windows in Israel, had our luggage and passports checked, paid our exit tax, went through customs, used the lovely border bathroom to change, freshen up, etc. and then we walked to Jordan. We also went through three windows in Jordan. But it was early in the morning, the border officials were happy to be slow, taking time to peel back their eyelids, drink coffee (which, of course, was offered to us), and generally wake up...none of them expecting an energetic pair of girls coming from Israel so early in the morning, especially with one who spoke Arabic. Soooooo, after some playful words, Glinda and I just sort of skipped the part where one is meant to pay the entrance fee to Jordan. just glided on through. Not a penny did we surrender. Ha.

7:40am - Inter-city taxi - Border to Aqaba
We got lucky. I refused the first taxi offer (60 dinar!) to Petra. But the second one I did take. And it was a good thing, too. Our taxi driver brought us to another taxi driver -- one that can go between cities. And this driver spoke English. {I actually started speaking to him in Arabic ...Fadicha! this context, Fashla!} He and I had some exceptionally interesting conversations ranging from the driving culture (or lack thereof?) to the percentages of Palestinians to Jordanians, the percentages of "normal" to religious to "fanatic" people in Jordan, to the glories of America where he intends to return after a 5 year stint in Jordan -- all of his kids were born in the US, he lived there for 7 years managing two franchise restaurants (a pizza hut and something else...I forget). But beyond the conversation: We got to drive his daughters to school! He told us that the cab company had woken him up (it was, after all, 7:30am) and that he hadn't gotten a chance to take his daughters to school, so if we didn't mind, he could drop us off at a coffee shop (he said he'd pay...) for 15 minutes or so while he took the girls (12 and 16) to school. "No, no no! It's quite alright," said we. "We'd love to meet your daughters -- assuming that's alright with you..." "OK...but I want to warn you, the older one wears a headscarf, you know? Hijab. Her friends wear it, and you know, peer pressure..." "O, of course, sure -- we have friends at home who wear the hijab..." "Oh, yes -- but I would never let her wear the naqab (full face veil) -- that's too much, too extreme." "Mmmhmmm..." They were very sweet girls, the 12 year old didn't really speak English and the 16-year-old with the Hijab was very shy. But it was nice to meet them.

8:00am - Intra-city taxi - Aquaba to Petra
Once we got to Petra (Glinda and I slept most of the way, we were exhausted, and I suppose felt a decently secure in our English-speaking cab) we went straight to the Visitors Center (with huge portraits of the King and his son [I believe...] on the wall as you walk up) where we did exactly what our friendly cabbie had recommended: We lied. We told them that we were staying the night (if you stay the night the price is reduced by approximately half) and gave him the name of the guy - along with a description! - who owned the hotel. Now, Petra is a small town, and they bought our story because they know the guy we were talking about (Mahmood -- big guy, bald, chubby....)...until they picked up the Telephone. And I knew we were done for. He didn't know us from yesterday's rotten eggs. It took us an hour to get in. But get in we did - and yes - at the full price. The story I gave in the end was that I must have picked up the card at a different hotel (where our stuff must be! ...It was in the trunk of our helpful taxi driver) and it must be a differnet Mahmood. Must be. Veysmeir.

We walked a little bit. I bought a hat. The price was 15 dinar. I bought it for 2. Haven't lost my Moroccan touch it seems.

Part of the deal when you buy the exorbitant ticket to get into Petra is that the ticket includes a horse ride. But you can tip...if you want. Oh -- I don't think I mentioned how much it actually is. Its 60 dinar. Before this March it was half that and its going to go up by a third to 90 dinar (@#*&%!) pretty soon. That's the equivalent of approximately $130. Something smells here. And its not burning garbage. In any case - I had a fantastic horse ride. The guy understood that I knew how to ride more or less, so he gave me the reins. Bad idea. My horse wanted to run -- and so did I. So off ran Silver and I. Glorious fun. I gave the guy a tip -- but only because the tourism police saw me galloping down the sandstrip and yelled at my "driver" that I couldn't do that. Certainly one of the highlights of the day, those few minutes on horseback, since the rest of the day would be spent - more or less - on donkeyback.

We walked down through the chasm (siq) of Petra and marveled. The whole thing used to be made of one solid piece of sandstone, but has since split, probably over millions and millions of years so that by the time the Nabateans got there (it became their capital in the 6th century) they established themselves in the valley carved out of it. I could talk about the waterways that the Nabateans built, or the Treasury and its facade carved out of one piece of sandstone but it would be useless -- someday I'll post pictures and you'll understand. For now lets just suffice it to say we got to the end of the walking section and were picked up by a Bedouin kid who led us over to his brother's donkeys. He wanted 10 dinar for the ride. I said 5. We got it for 5. And man was it worth it. On donkeyback we saw The Monastery, Jebel Aaron, the Wadi (flowering and flowing, pink and bubbly), climbing up ancient stone steps on donkeyback, sometimes going double, sometimes walking, all the time clutching the donkey with my knees, leaning forward and back as the trail required for the close to two hour trek up.

Our guides were Bedouins. Our taxi driver called them gypsies (and distinguished them from the honest FalaHin {farmers} as the other population living in Petra. And the truth is, he was pretty on target. The men wear eyeliner, they wear their kafiyyas pirate-style, and they try and and rip you something fierce. Our guides were of this ilk. Sweet talking, tea-drinking {tasted like Berber Whiskey!}, loosely Muslim gypsies. I say loosely Muslim because when my guide wanted to give me a new Arabic name (Shireen wasn't good enough for him) and dubbed me "Aisha" I said "Oh! How nice, the wife of the Prophet!" He said: "No....the daughter of the prophet...." "No....the youngest wife of the prophet, don't you remember?" "Oh, maybe" said he. "Oh, I'm not very good at Islam." Yup. Seemed that way. Oh and his donkey reeked...

Donkeys naturally happen to have a glorious, earthy smell - and it seeps from their hair in a - well, in an intense way - when they sweat. And it didn't help that I had swapped my 2-dinar hat for my donkey-driver's sweaty kafiyya. I won't attempt here to describe the combination of smells that assailed (and followed us) as we descended the mount, but I will give it a name and recommend you close your eyes and try to imagine what a whiff might be like: Sweatdonkerfume.

Intra-city taxi - 5pm
We exited Petra the same way we came in (backwards...obviously). About three quarters of an hour into the trip back the driver began to speak with me in FusHa. Judaism and Israel were the subjects of the conversation - my own personal Judaism was his specific interest, which is not something terribly easy to describe in literary Arabic while driving down a desert highway trying to avoid swerving trucks.

Short Tremp - 7:30pm
Our friend from the Kibbutz who brought us grapes was back at the end of the day. He saw us, asked "back so soon!?" and the next time he came back with an empty truck he took us up the hill to the bus station in the middle of no where where we had been dropped off some 13 hours ago. It kind of felt like home.

Long Tremp
- 8:15 - 11
It was HOT - even at a quarter to 8 in the evening - and no one was stopping. The next bus that would help us from Eilat wasn't going to be until 1am. Bummer. So there we were - stuck. A quarter of an hour, a half an hour, three quarters of an was going to be dark soon and we were going to be stuck waiting until 1am. Uggghhhh. And then someone stopped. "Where are you going?" "To the north!" -- DONE. Glinda and I were inside, without a glance at the license plates. But really there was no need -- one of the nicest, most interesting tremps I've ever gotten in all of Israel. I once wrote in this blog that every tremp is like a dream -- this one truly was.

Tremp Tremp
Nice guy - couldn't wrap his mind around where we'd been. 15 minutes - he dropped us off at the entrance to Kfar Adumim.

Bus Tremp
- 11:30pm
Midnight, the road to Kfar Adumim - a tiyyul from the middle school is coming back. And it picks us up. Even the most surrealist of movies can't bring you to the strange disconnected feeling that Glinda and I experienced on this bus. 50-or-so high-energy kids who had just come back from a day in the sun, sucking on their camelpacks, yelling to each other about homework and boys and girls, jumping over to the front of the bus to ask their supervisors a question about where the bus was going to stop. Bright lights, jerky movements, no sleep. Wow. Bizarre.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Encounter Testimonial --

The Encounter facilitator's evaluation is long. It took me something close to two hours to fill out. The last question (section V) asked each facilitator (pet name: Fac) to write a testimonial about their experience on the trip. So I told them that I'd write a blog post and send it to them instead.

Here it is, my...

Encounter Testimonial:

If Encounter changed me the first time I participated then it created me the second time. The first time - three years ago, as a student in Migdal Oz- I entered Bethlehem from my refernece point: Northern Efrat. There I stayed alone in a cold, dark hotel room leaving Al-Jazeera on the television just for the comfort of the background noise. There I met Palestinians for the first time. There my curiosity was sparked. And then I went to Hebron where I walked from Area C to B to A and back again, walked from fear to anger to entitlement, walked from entombed silence, utopias and curfews to a stifling bustle, crowds and foreignness -- all of this was my first Encounter experience. I returned to America after a gap year in Israel changed. I studied Arabic. I got involved in Middle East politics on campus. I went to Egypt and Morocco to live the culture first hand. And then I came back to Israel.

And I was asked to become a facilitator for Encounter. I was asked not to only be changed, but to change. To experience and guide experience. To built and be built (livnot u'lhibanot). So I came to the facilitation training. And I met new people there who are wise, open, and caring. And then I came on the program. And I met new participants who wanted to see, to hear, to listen. And I lead small groups. And I met new people who were grappling with concepts like compassion, fairness, and honesty who reminded me of my own values. And I heard from speakers who brought hope, anger, and passion. And I met Palestinians again -- and I was able to talk with them. In their own language.

And all of this created me. This time Encounter wasn't scary. It was safe. This time Encounter wasn't lonely. It was a community. This time there was no need for Al-Jazeera. I slept well.

Song of the moment: Aisha by Kheb Chaled

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We worked like dogs. We worked all day to turn our campus into some sort of combination of a Bedouin Tent, MacDonald's Farm, and a Fancy Outdoor Restaurant. Room for 250+ people to sit (and at one point there were something like 400 people there). We built two covered-tent areas, brought in hay, hoisted a bicycle between two trees so that it hung suspended, took some flowers from a wedding that was held here yesterday and spray painted some of them gold, built a cage and brought in a duck, a goat, and a donkey....and a million and one other crazy things I can't mention for lack of space right now. It was nuts. In any case, I was enlisted to be a "meltzarit" - a waitress - at the "reception" that took place when the guests and bogrim (alumni) first arrived. I and a few others work black and white, smiled a lot, and took around platter after platter of cheese, banana shakes, and wine that we had prepared earlier in the day, pampering our visitors with hors d'oeuvres which both they and I took part of heartily.

We had a MASSIVE "Kabbalat haChag" on the Mitzpe (lookout) with all of the guests, everyone bright and shiny in pure, festive white. It was beautiful on many, many levels.

Play: We had an incredible dinner (though, I will admit, I had eaten a lot of cheese...wasn't so hungry by the time all the delicious food came around) which I helped to serve, running around with plates of labane, hummus, two types of pasta (yuuumm!), lasagna, and bread.

Precious: The lectures after dinner were great. But the highlight of the night, for those in my machzor (loosely: semester) was a play that a bunch of the guys put on imitating some of the teachers. They really loved it. Erez Eshel said he watched it twice.

Pontificate: At 2:30am everyone broke into group "chavrutot", or discussion groups that some of us had prepared. My group was - yes - on one of Levinas' 9 Talmudic Readings. I lead it with my friend Tea, a wonderful, thoughtful secular from Haifa. One I first learned in Migdal Oz, and have never forgotten. It's about the meaning of the phrase "Na'ase V'Nishma" ("we will do and we will listen") and its flipped logic. There is a story that Levinas brings from the Talmud about God holding Mt. Sinai over the Children of Israel and essentially leaving them with the choice of "Torah or Death". The group that sat with us was very serious, very studious, and very interested in the subject matter. The discussion was flowed, breathed, lived, and we talked until 4am (!) when I took my leave (before everyone else!) to go listen to the Book of Ruth be read in the Yishuv's synagogue. I sang along.

Pass out:
Then I went to bed. Ahhhhhh. The next day was...chill. No one was up before 1pm. Including me.

Chag Sheni (or, My Personal Shavuot):

When Havdalah came around

Surprise Tiyyul:
We're going on a tiyyul - the whole Midrasha - next week. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. No one knows where we're going, but we're all gung-ho. Should be fun. They told us last Thursday. They told us to bring our passports. I think that was a joke. It must have been a joke.

Slip Down to Qelt: Went down to the mayaan this morning. The most "chagigi" thing I could think of doing. And it was lovely. I read Sefer Ezra there with a friend. Glory.

Shiur Ezra:
Micah Goodman gave a talk on Sefer Ezra. That's all I need write here.

"Shimru Al HaEsh!":
I made myself a lunch of what food there was. I managed to save a yortzeit candle that had been lit before the holiday so I could use it's flame to light a fire to cook with, and I made a stir-fry dish of red pepper, tomato, and whole lemon seasoned with chili pepper, turmeric, salt. Spicy. Strong. Tasty...?

An abbreviation for "Sheina B'Tozhorayim" or "afternoon nap". Something I did today.

So I leave you with this, a lovely ballad called Jaykub. The band is called Sparklehorse (here they perform with another band called Danger Mouse. I like the animal themes ///|||\\\\), and I like them for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that their first album is called Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. One word.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I want to write a book about tremps. I think I have tremps like other people have dreams. I have bizarre, surreal, unreal tremps. (A tremp, by the by, is a lift. It's a ride from a total stranger. A hitchhike -- the only way to get around in some places, including Alon.)
-I had a tremp with an Ole (a guy who moved to Israel) from Mexico and was a hard-core surfer. He was coming with his boards and equipment from the beach, an hour or two away. Turns out he's the gardener of the Yishuv and is helping us to put together a compost. We had a long conversation about water-sports and the smallness of Israel where people think that to drive an hour to the beach is like driving to the end of the world.
-I had a tremp with a man and his son to Jerusalem where I kept silent until we were in East Jerusalem and his son, who must have been about 10, asked if the women in their long black garments and heavy hijabs were hot all of the time. And his father answered "no". So I said, "I'm not so sure" and from there we ended up having a conversation about where I had been in the last six months and Arabic. Turns out, his mother is from Tunis, and he knows some Moroccan Arabic, so we spoke Arabic for the remainder of the ride. I see him around the Yishuv from time to time, and we always exchange some Magrebi. Fun.
-I had a tremp with a handicapped woman who drove - not with the wheel - but instead with small, sensitive device that, when turned, turns the wheel. Her baby in the backseat slept the whole way, making cute slumber noises from time to time.
-I had a tremp with a Chareidi who wouldn't stop talking to me. He was curious about things. He started off on a rant about Diasporic Jews, to which I (obbbviously) need to respond. So we talked about living as a Jew on an American university campus. Slowly the conversation turned to shidduchim (matchmaking) and how it worked on my side of the fence. He was interested to learn how men and women met when there was no third party to set them up, what age was a "normal" age for marriage, and what it must be like to "pick" your own match.
-I had a tremp with an American form Teaneck who had come to hear Micah Goodman's talk on History and Philosophy. He made Aliya a few years ago. I actually had a tremp to his tremp...i.e. the guy who picked me up told me that the guy in front of him (this American guy) was going closer to where I needed to get we chased him up and down the windy Alon Road, caught him at the turn onto the highway and had a crazy Chinese fire drill.

Each one is a dream. Not all are good dreams, but very few are nightmares.

This upcoming week is the "shavua emtza" - the "middle week" indicating that our program is halfway over. Or a little more. Which I don't want to think about, I want to be present, live in the moment, and carpe diem (I learned the Greek poem where that phrase comes from the other day!) while I can. My song for you, as you may have guessed, is Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge" because, well, I'm feelin' groovy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

One Fantastic Week

Someone told me yesterday that I have a creative soul. I hope that's true. Because I was thinking about writing a book. A book from the perspective of the soldier who I saw on my way back from the Gush the other day. I saw him -- I couldn't tell the color of his skin, he was standing in the dark, all I saw was his outline. He was a skinny guy, and he was turning, spinning, with his gun. He was playing -- he was a kid playing, only in a uniform, and with a gun. And suddenly I wanted to write his autobiography. I wanted to understand his life. But the car I was in kept right on driving, and he passed me by. Maybe someday I''ll find him as a character in a novel, or I'll write him into mine. For now, I'll have to make do with this blog.

Its been a long time since I last blogged. There's a good reason: The huge bonfire that the kids of the Yishuv built on LA"G B'Omer (they've been gathering sticks and furniture and brush since Pesach...) burned through internet cable of Alon. I mean, really!? Alon didn't have internet for 3 days. Painful. In any case, I've (obviously?) been through a lot since I last posted. Done a lot, thought a lot, just...a lot. Right now I am sitting on Derech Aza sipping tea (delicious! ginger, lemon, nana) and thinking about what I want to do with my life. I've recently been considering a career in journalism as opposed to academia. I guess what it comes down to is that I just want to write (as can be surmised from my prologue to this blog). Maybe I'll just do this for a living. Sit, drink tea, and write a blog. Who needs money anyway?

All kidding aside: What have I been up to, you ask? I shall describe in brief -- It's been sort of political, so get ready...

Two Shabbatot ago...
I went to Talmon.
Talmon is a settlement.
A real settlement.
Not a Gush Etzion going-to-be-included-in-any-future-borders-of-the-state-of-Israel settlement, not an Alon mixed-religious-non-religious-progressive settlement.
A real settlement.
It sits on what used to be Arab land.
It restricts the Arab access to its 200 year old olive trees.
And its in the middle of nowhere.
Mode'in, a half an hour away, up and down a windy road, is the "big city".
Mode'in, for those who have never been there, is really just an small, ugly version of Miami without the beach.
There's a mall in Mode'in, and a park, and...well, that's it.
So Talmon was an interesting place to visit.
And my friend's (code name: Madeline) family is hilarious. So I had fun nonetheless.

I fear that this style of writing might make this blog post look longer than, well, than it should. So I'm going revert to my previous paragraphing style.

So - that was Talmon. This shabbat I was in Jerusalem. But there was everything in between that -- everything before that we're just going to ignore for now...there was a lot of mayan swimming, my birthday, LA"G B'Omer, friends coming to visit me in midrasha, fox sightings (Abba: I've now seen a fox twice on my runs - once at night and once in the day. I think of you and Rabbi Akiva every time) and learning, of course, lots of learning. And, on top of it all, it's getting hot. Too hot. Running is not fun when its hot. And it's even hot at night. Today I ran during the day (10:30 am, since I didn't wake up for my pre-"daf yomi" run at 6:15 and I was annoyed with myself) and I could only do one go-round -- and even so, at the end, I was gasping. The tyrannical cloudheat creeps into ones flesh and burns one from the inside...slowly. Roasting.

MUSIC in my life
But last week - last week was packed: I went to a marathon of concerts in Gan Saker for Yom HaStudent which took place on the eve of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day which commemorates the 1967 reunification East and West Jerusalem by the Israelis). I got a student-priced ticket, and hung out with some of my "peeps" enjoying Monica Sex, The Ramirez Brothers, Geva Alon, and I missed (to my great pain) HaDag HaNachash and Ehud Banai at the end. There were a number of American bands (like Cool and the Gang -- I kid you not) that were, as they say, "bli kesher l'klum" - totally disconnected from anything and everything Israeli and probably had come that night to Gan Saker because they had run out of venues in America.

Yom Yerushalyim
On Jerusalem Day itself, I had a tour of the old city of Jerusalem on the day itself, was disturbed (as usual) by the storm that rages in its ancient, narrow passages, and reminded of its painful, divided history. And the next day...I went to Bethlehem (....yes) as a facilitator for Encounter ....HOLD UP. WHAT!? What did you do, Elisheva!? WHAT!? Yes. Ok here I must pause and insert some explanation -- actually, no. I'll leave the explanation for another day. And on that other day maybe I'll tell you about all the weird creepy-crawlers that I've discovered in the desert and elsewhere. They really are bizarre, and sometimes beautiful. Someone should remind me. In the meantime I'll give you this song by Geva Alon called Modern Love, his most well known work, I believe.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meirutz Kan Beiteinu (Race of Here Are Our Houses)
I ran 10 kilometers on Friday. I know that I said that I was going to run 5km in my previous blog post. But then I plucked up my courage and did the whole thing. Up, down, up, down, up, up up. My knee hurts. And almost died from shortness of breath on the last kilometer. But it was incredibly fun. And I had a huge entourage on the last uphill as I staggered to the finish line. But it was awesome. Mishmar was the night before. The boys hadn't slept. Really hadn't slept. But they trekked up the soon-to-be Hill of Death and Lack of Breath to the starting line, stretching and rubbing their reddened eyes with me at nine in the morning. I had gone to bed at 2:30 or so, and the other girl (lets find her a name, how about Yo Yo Ma? Yonsters? Yeshu? hmmm. I vote for Yo Yo Ma), Yo Yo Ma had slept some as well -- and had had coffee. So we ran. We ran all of K'far Adumim, Nofei Prat, down to Alon and back up. Lots of encouragement, lots of water, and a free t-shirt. "Kef Chaim" as they say. I came in second for my age and gender (which - I must admit - says very little since there were somewhere between 4 and 5 girls who ran in my age group) and managed to acquire a medallion. Ha! Yes. A medallion. Hilarious. Yes, Mom. I'll do my physical therapy, I will, but I'm blogging now, OK? My time: 1:02:15. Respectable? For the number of Judean hills we had to climb, I'd venture to say the affirmative.

Socialist Puppies
We have puppies on campus. Names are not clear. I heard someone call them Shifra and Puah, and I'm sticking with that. They're girls, and they're twins and they eat from people's forks. They also look like sheep - they're close to white in color and have just the right amount of shag. They're one of our number's "responsibility", but they're really everyone's Responsibility. Which is why I call them socialist puppies. People feed them, play with them, make sure they're secure when we leave for the weekend. Ahhh the residuals of kibbutz culture. Beautiful.

I got to see people from Seattle this weekend, always a treat. I think one family in particular - lets call them the Shmazoses - deserve a great big shout out in this blog. I was able to hang out with them (dairy Shabbat lunch!), go out to a restaurant with them (best chili mushrooms ever!), borrow their spare bed (bed!). Exceptional fun.

Bugs in the Beit Midrash Bathroom
There are so many. I almost prefer Turkish toilets. Why, you ask? Well, I'd rather sit on nothing (read: squat) than sit on dead dragonflies, daddy long-legs and flies. No, that's not really true. And someone's finally brought soap to the sink there, so things are looking up.

I suppose I've gotten to the stage in life where - had I lived in Israel - I would have gotten out of the army. And now my friends (and, kamuvan, educators) are in Miluim (yearly reserve army service). Micah Goodman had to go to Miluim (he got back today), one of our number left to Miluim yesterday -- I saw him off on Saturday night. Miluim sucks. I suppose that's all I wanted to say here. [Editor's note: when Micah Goodman came back from Miluim he immediately gave a class. He talked about the polemics in Israel politics, left, right, Hertzl, Rav Kook, and all that. And he talked about Miluim -- and I he convinced me (I just wrote "I decided" and erased it...) that its not such a sucky thing. It's very necessary. Very. That's all.]

Its been a wonderful day. I've gotten to read a lot, I've gotten to work out a lot, and I've gotten to listen to music a lot. A lot of a lot of good things (I even got a nap in the middle of the day). And Shabbat is going to fun. So I'm in a good mood. So here's a good mood song for you -- By Jarabe de Palo. Don't ask me what the rest of the song is saying, but I'm pretty sure the title has something to do with "connection" (...and since I'm in the mood to do something for mah sista, we have Killer Queen as well).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Hazy Shade of Spring

The weather. It's been sort of awkward. It's that in-betweeny kind of cloudy that's not sure when it wants to burn itself out. It's a coffee-colored, sweaty background to my first week back at Ein Prat. So I've been running at night, generally, taking the road less traveled, if you will. And that has made all the difference.

K'AN Beiteinu
If we're already talking about running, I'll just mention that I'm planning on running in the "mirutz" or race that takes place hereabouts every year. They call it the Race of "Here are our Houses" which sounds politically charged in English, but when translated to the Hebrew it comes out to כאן ביתינו (ka'an beiteinu) and the acronym for "KAN" turns out to stand for K'far Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat which are the names of the settlements of the area. So I suppose it sounds politically charged in Hebrew, too. Hmm. In any case, they have three "races" - 2km, 5km, and 10km. I'm doing the 5km. You're all welcome to sponsor me, the money will be going to a charity....JUST KIDDING. Its just for fun. Prep for the Danskin (rock!).

Sofa"sh (Sof Shavua -- Weekend)

The time between Yom HaShoah (Monday) and Mishmar (Thursday night) is all a blur. Nothing happened, everything happened. We had special talks, activities, chavrutot, ceremonies, songs, and then it was the weekend. I went Tuesday night to Migdal Oz, to see it again - to see my friends, to see what had changed and what hadn't. And going back reminded me. It reminded me of all of the great changes, the crises, the emotions that I experienced there. And I decided I was going to go for Shabbat as well. So on Friday I got myself back to Migdal Oz for a Shabbat for the first time in three years. It was lovely to be back. Same food, different toranim. Same Tefillah (prayers), bigger building (they built a whole new space for Mechon Herzog). Same feeling, different experience. I split my time between the first year Americans and my friends in second and fourth year. All in all, it remains a place full of song and pilpul (thanks, Adi Zalis!!!). Saturday night was a double birthday party. And on Sunday it was off to Midrasha -- full-speed ahead.

Cemetery/Ceremony (I'm not the only one who gets confused in foreign languages...thanks Adi Zalis!!!)
Pardes was coming to the Midrasha. And they asked me to help out. So, of course, I agreed. But what they hadn't told me was that my task was to put together a program for Yom HaZikaron. And when it came to light that this was, in fact, what was at hand, I felt a bit out of place. Who was I to put on an emotional show for the day upon which Israelis commemorate their fallen heroes, their victims of terror, their fallen loved ones? And how were the Americans to connect? How was I (it wasn't just me, don't worry I had lots of help) to strike a balance between languages? Between cultures? Between Jews? The program went like this in the end:
-Siren (all of Israel stands silent for one minute to commemorate the dead)
-Israeli Song
-"Introduction" (this is where I explained what would Hebrew and then in English)
-Reading of Names (of fallen soldiers or people who died in terrorist attacks -- names provided by Ein Prat's members)
-Yizkor (prayer for the dead)
-Reading of Names
-A personal story from a friend from Ein Prat
-Reading of Names
-A poem read in Hebrew and simultaneously in English
-Reading of Names
-HaTikva (Israeli national anthem)

And people liked it. It was meaningful, somehow. They came up to me and thanked me. Thus, your song today is a song I love, a sad song, one that, when played on the radio during the second intifada would let Israelis know that there had been a terrorist attack. It's called Darkeinu and this version is from the TV show Burganim (which I've never seen, and can therefore not be held responsible for its content).

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I got back to Israel in the middle of the night four days ago. A lot has happened. I will relate snippets:

I met a girl in the airport. She was dressed in a floppy hat, leggings, a sweater with holes that hung loosely from her slight figure, and boots -- all in black. She was in front of me in the security line. As we put on our shoes together we became friends. Her boots were lace-ups. All the way to the knee. I hope I see her again some day.

I met an Israeli woman currently living in Los Angeles on the flight from Paris to Tel Aviv. A talker. But I didn't mind. She talked in Hebrew. She talked about her children - she has five daughters - and how proud she is of them. She talked about her Moroccan friends (once it came to light that I had been in Morocco not long ago) and their delicious foods. She talked about her divorce some years ago. She talked about her new love interest in Paris. She talked about love and genius. She talked about life after death and about reincarnation. She talked about how she was raised with little religion and now, in her fifties, has begun to find it a fulfilling exercise. She talked about her desire to keep Shabbat. She talked about finally feeling "grown-up". It was an odd sort of conversation...or listening experience, lefachot (at least).

I met a guy in the sheirut (collective taxi) to Jerusalem. Turns out he's almost finished with medical school and doing his residency in Philly next year. "Oh, really!" said I. And then we chatted. What a small, small Jewish world this is.

Today we had "Sport Class". "Sport Class" consists of an hour and a half of hemshechistim (that's what they call us 'round here) running around like out-of-shape chickens with their heads still on. I enjoy this time. Really I do.

Also, I had my first Ein-Prat chug (educationally enriching activity -- yes, that's the translation my Ulpan [read: my chavruta] found on Babylon). Earlier this week we chose from a list of six or so options. I chose "Listening to Classical Music" as my chug. The chug-master is also our ancient Greek literature teacher and is - if I do say so - both classy and a classicist. It was a glorious chug.

When I got back to Ein Prat the first thing I wanted to do was go for a run. There is a path that circles Alon, said to be between 2.6 and 3 kilometers. It overlooks the hills that roll down to the Dead Sea to the southeast and dip and crest towards Jericho to the northeast. The songs of these runs are the soundtrack of my pesek zman at Ein Prat. Today I share with you one of those songs -- this one's a surprise...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Backtrack, Foretrack, and Presentrack

I am currently in Palm Springs. Sitting by the pool. My belly full from the kosher l'pesach lunch buffet we were treated to an hour or so ago. How I got here is the story of this blog post.

Yerida (Going Down) for the Regel (Holiday): A List
Our Kabbalat Shababt was done on the Mitzpe in the freezing wing, communal air, and confused veiw of the sunset.
I was on "Oneg Staff".
I gave a d'var torah about the word root "Kara" (it was Parashat Vayikra [the portion of the week]) at the Oneg.
I taught a song at the Oneg.
We sang the song in a round.
People really liked the song.
It was a really good song.
I was really happy that people really liked the song.
We spent Tuesday night "Doing Mishmar", which we usually do on Thursday night.
I say "Doing Mishmar" in quotation marks because we didn't "Learn" Mishmar. But it was a good (musical) time nevertheless.
Caught a ride to Tel Aviv the next day to meet with Zochrot, an organization that creates and sustains awareness around Palestinian villiages-that-were.
Zochrot was dissapointingly single-minded.
Hung out with friends.
Went to bookstores, drugstores, apartments, dorms, cafes, restaurants, bars.
Watched the Israeli superbowl. Rooted for Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv won.
The Israeli Army Chief of Staff was at the game. His son was the losing quarterback. Yikes.
Flew AirFrance through Paris to Boston.
Decided that AirFrance is a respectable airline with respectable food and respectable flight attendence and respectable movies. I fell asleep during the respectable French movie.
There were French-Moroccan Jews on my flight.
I learned my lesson and didn't bust out the Arabic. Successfully avoided a Shidduch.
I gave the last of my chametz (a Cliff Bar) to a woman in Boston. She was grateful.

Pesach: B List
Boston, family, scardydog, pouring rain.
"Ma Nishtana" in Yiddish.
Got to be the Water in "Chad Gad Ya".
Woke up at 4:30am.
Cancelled flight to LAX at 7:10am
Back into Boston and headed for the Jewish place of refuge: Hillel.
BU Hillel provided food, shelter, sleep, family, and made possible the observance of religoius ritual. Truly a refuge.
Flight out to Denver at 2pm. Turbulence was terrible.
Change planes in Denver.
As I booked it to Brookstone (new headphones!) apprecaited the West Coast chill: Bears, backpacks, hemp sweaters and ski-goggle tans.
Take off from Denver: Clouds like cotton, mountains like chocolate, snow like icing, sunset like straweberry-mango sorbet. For everything else, there's MasterCard.
Arrival in Palm Springs: The airport's outside. Every house has a pool. Our hotel is a mix of Chareidi (and some not-so-Chareidi) families from Brooklyn, Switzerland and Spain who spend their evenings listening to Sam Glaser and the Palm Springs regulars: women in bikinis and men in speedos. Torah U'Mada?

Musically - or, perhaps just emotionally - I'm confused. Which is why I leave you with this: Patrick Park's "Life is a Song".

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Ma'ayan I (natural spring); Back to the Source
So I'm living next to what they call Nachal Prat in Hebrew, and Wadi Qelt in Arabic. It's a beautiful place of flowing water that soon, methinks, will not be so flowing. But on Friday I was able to trekk down for the first time. Or so I thought. Turns out I'd been there before with Migdal Oz 2+ years ago. But, as they say in Hebrew, lo norah. I enjoyed myself. My friend, lets call her Sharazzaldazzle, doesn't swim in mixed company, so she and I went deeper into the wild and found a little spot where it was deep where we dipped and dove. The dog of the yishuv had followed us and napped as we swam. His name is, of all things, Adoni (which, hilariously, means "my master" and is a polite way of addressing someone who you don't know. Sort of like "sir" in America. Yet some people accidentally mispronounce the name and it ends up sounding like, well, you know...ineffable). In any case, Adoni was our guard, and he stayed with us the whole time, cavorting and swimming and barking at other dogs. Great fun.

The Ma'ayan II; Song of Songs
I went down to the ma'ayan again yesterday during our mid-day break and spent two hours reading Shir HaShirim. Mostly with people who had never read it before. It was an amazing experience for three. First, everyone understod the Hebrew (more or less). Second, because the poetry is beautiful and everyone was just amazing by the power of the words of a man who wrote when the Temple was still in their backdoor. Third, because they knew chunks of it by heart. There are all sorts of songs that would just burst out when we would come upon a pasuk (verse) that they recognized from here or there. I suppose I still have a lot to learn. Aside: On the way back up in the car (this time we had a car) we were driving so slowly that a cop car honked and passed us. Oh Israel.

After classes on anarchy in shoftim, post-modernism in chassidut, Greek customs in the pesach seder, Shabbat came as a welcome day of rest. And it was lovely, for the most part. A bit strange at times, but then again, what shabbat of mine in the recent past hasn't been strange?! I went to synagogue in Alon on Shabbat morning when there just happened to be - of all things - a Moroccan Bar Mitzvah with screaming aunts and crying cousins and hard candy thrown at random across the mechitza. So I plucked up my courage towards the end of Mussaf and I turned to the row of (very) old Moroccan women chattering behind me in Darija and I asked where they were from in Morocco. In Arabic. Turns out the one I asked was actually living in Canada, but not to worry, the first question she asked me was certainly not "what's your name?" or "where are you from?" but - of course - "are you married?" To which I responded (stupidly) "not yet..." Sooooo she proceeded to tell me that she had someone for a shidduch and blah blah blah.....I thanked her and turned back around, chuckling to myself that I'd learned nothing in my two months in Masr and four and a half months in the Magreb. I still hadn't learned to tell people that I'm married. Or at least engaged.

The adjective "adkani" means "current" or "up to date". It's a fusion of the words "ad" "kan" and the letter "yud" to indicate adjectival use. I've learned the Hebrew words for "linguistic turn," "surplus value", "Freudian slip", "castration", and "jock itch" and "halo" which, if you put different vowels on the Hebrew letters, might well be the word itself. Oh, and I learned that when Israelis throw English words into their sentences (something they permit me to do, but only because I'm not really Israeli) they are said to have their "Capslock stuck", a turn of phrase I found quite amusing.

Oh and I just discovered a chameleon (for real: bright green with yellow stripes, funny toes and a head like a dinosaur) outside climbing on my friend's shoes. It excited everyone greatly. Which is often what I feel like. A chameleon. (No, Es, not that kind of chamleon) I change not how I look each time I go to a new place - Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, America, Israel - but how I look at the world. Recently my perspective has been one of K'naan: "Any who knows a thing knows he knows not a thing at all"...."When I get older, I will be stronger, they'll call me freedom just like a waving flag" So here you are....K'naan's NPR tiny desk concert for you today.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wrong Parsha For Dreams

Usually the way I blog is not entirely spontaneous. Usually I write down things I think are funny, or interesting, or both (usually both) and then I turn them into my story. Like the fact that the lats time I drove up to Kfar Adumim I saw camels...and baby camels (!) just sort of wandering around in the direction of the Bedouins. Or how I broke into the Mechina up the way yesteday in order to get at their grand piano in the mess hall. (No one was there, and there was a little hole in the fence...nuuu) Or how we had an episode of Midrasha-wide Rikudei Am (National Dance) yesterday that was, simply put, hilarious. But this blog entry is - if you will - a camel of a different color.

We had Mishmar last night (that's when you stay up all night reviewing what you learned last week, preparing for sabbath and having a good time in the mess hall as well as in the Beit Midrash. And I had a great time. But then it was 2:30am. And I remembered how absolutely dead I was after staying up all night for Mishmar last week, and I went to bed. Smart girl, Elisheva. Or so I thought.

I went to bed around three, a reasonable hour. I awoke to the light streaming into my room at 9:45. I got up. Closed the shutters. And went back to bed. But then I dreamed.

I dreamed that I had to decided to go to Chevron again. To talk to people and to visit the Ma'arat HaMachpelah (the cave where the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah are all buried. Some say Adam and Eve. Some say Esau. And some even say Joseph). To see, again, what there was to see. It would be my - I decided in my dream - fifth and final trip to Chevron. So I got on the bullet proof 160 bus headed down south. When I got off the bus I walked towards the Cave, but Chevron had changed. There were Chassidim everywhere. All with their respective hats, and all smiling, singing, drinking. It was like one big Tisch. I didn't know why, but I didn't care -- people were happy! As I walked towards the steps that lead up to the Herodian structure surrounding the Cave of the Patriarchs I saw some older women ducking down, laying flat like there had been a bomb blast or a shooting. I did the same, but thought nothing of it since I'd done it before in this area. Shootings, or at least the threat of shootings, are a constant threat in Chevron and its environs. But then as I stepped upon the last step leading up to the Cave, an man dressed as a Chassid threw a rock -- but not just an ordinary rock. It was a bomb that looked like a rock. And it exploded in midair. I saw everything happening in slow motion, like they do it in the movies, but I wasn't in slow motion. I ran. I ran like one of those urban runners who jump over cars and garbage bins and scale drainpipes. I found myself on the other side of the street, safe and feeling cowardly. I ducked into a restaurant where some Chassidim were having - still - a party. There was challah, sweet wine, crumbs in people's beards, the works. But then in walked that same fake Chassid with his explosive rock. And as I ran out I yelled at the maitre d' "stop that man!" But it was too late - he had already planted his rock of death. When I ran to the next restaurant I found only legs and arms in the bathroom (no blood though...?) and so I ran and hid underneath a car. And when the costumed terrorist came to wreak his destruction in the last restaurant he found me with his eyes and gave me a look that couldn't have said anything but "I'm coming for you".

That, more or less, was my dream.

It feels like a very personal thing to put on a blog - more so than clever stories about playing basketball barefoot, or washing floors barefoot, or running barefoot (thank you Mordechai). But I think it says a lot about my unconscious experience here (thank you Freud). So if there's a Yosef out there (not a Freud, please) who has a knack for dream interpretation, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

As for a song -- I give you a Shabbat treat. My Shabbat this week is going to be full of Israeli songs I don't know but will learn. But my Shabbat will also be full of Shabbatot past - which includes the music of Shabbatot. So I give you Lecha Dodi. Not the one I originally wanted to post, but since the version of that one of youtube is - simply put - horrid, I decided to go with the one which is worth your listen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Caravan #11

And I find myself back in the world of petel and chocolate spread. A world where everyone wears army watches, sits cross-legged, and plays music on nylon-string guitars and cellphones. A world where you clean the floor with massive buckets of water and squeegees. And a world where, I once again find myself speaking in a tongue to which I am not native.

Caravan #11
So I'm not in Caravan #17. Praise be to Allah. I'm in Caravan #11. And its beautiful. But there's still nothing in it. Which just sort of means I'm still living out of my suitcase. Which is fine. For now. I have one suitcase of clothes and one of books. I'm not sure what to do with the one full of books exactly, especially because there's no way I'm going to get through them with all they're trying to get me to read in Hebrew. Plus, there are no bookshelves in Caravan #11. But we'll see.

OK where to begin? I feel like I've been here for ages, when really its only been what? 2 1/2 days? I spent the weekend next door, in Kfar Adumim with a friend, lets call her Raisin, who I know from when I was in Migdal Oz, which I think probably has something to do with the fact that I feel like I've been here forever. Plus I slept here Saturday night. Alone. Oh, and I stayed up all night Thursday night. They take their mishmar here seriously.

OK, a word about the people. Ages range from twenty to thirty -- my chavruta (study buddy) is twenty-eight ... as of yesterday... and they're really wonderful. The vast majority came with no Jewish background, and consider themselves "Chiloni" or "secular". There have been some questions that people have asked that have sort of blown my mind. "What is the Talmud", for example. Or "Who was the Rambam?" Stuff like that. But no one laughs, no one even smiles, they just explain. Its really wonderful - the lack of cynicism is one of the things that really struck me. The best example of the sheer lack of frustration, disgust, anger, sickness of heart and pain came during our "group time" - a wonderful decompression and reflective practice that amounts to a sort of group therapy that I experienced both in Migdal Oz and on Bronfman - people said lots of things. But one girl said two things - right after the other - that really hit me as just beautiful and pure. She said that the two things that she took with her from the week were that first, Aramaic is a very "cute" language and that she enjoyed trying to puzzle together a sugya of gemara, and second, that Wittgenstein was right and that language does not express what we want it to express, ever. And I as I sat there, I felt the need to say how much I appreciated what she had to say. So I raised my hand and I did. I began, "its amazing how much siniut there is in college." A few people looked at me funny and someone said "what?" So I repeated -- realizing -- "its amazing how much tziniut there is in college." And they I started laughing. And so did everyone else. The word "sini" in Hebrew means "Chinese person". But the word "Tzini" means "Cynical person". And I had confused the two. I think I'm going to start זמן קבוצתי (group time) at Penn. Its hard for me to understand why no one has until now. Its beautiful.

A Word on Shoes
People don't wear them. Not no the grass, not on the porch, not in the mess hall.
We went up to the Mitzpeh (lookout) which overlooks the Wadi (which Israelis call the "Vadi" since there's no "w" sound in Hebrew) twice on Thursday night. Once a bit before 3am and once at 5 to watch the sunrise (even though the mitzpeh faces West). Both times I watched people climb the small mountain that Alon sits under without shoes. Both times I imagined the gravel of our path digging into the tender underbelly of my feet. Both times I sort of cocked my head and thought "wow, people really don't wear shoes here". Oh and I almost forgot, on Thursday, before the whole crazy mishmar thing, one of our teachers, a man who is well-respected, teaches TOSHB"A (Oral Law) at Hartman high school, and was giving us a class in literature which was, in turned out, very interesting, took his shoes off as soon as he walked in to the Beit Midrash. And it was not because "the place upon which he stood was holy ground". No. It was because people really don't wear shoes here. And then - the kicker. On Shabbat was in synagogue in Kfar Adumim (which has, essentially, the same atmosphere as Alon. In fact, Alon is built in Kfar Adumim land. In any case, they're pretty much the same) I happened to glance down to the men's section below. And lo and behold, one of the guys who I had met the day before was standing, praying, and had no shoes on. Let me repeat. He was praying and he had no shoes on. It is Halacha, al pi the heilicke Shulchan Aruch that commands that when one prays one must have on footwear. But I decided that I think that once one's become so callused and coarse that you feel no need to wear shoes ever, one's feet literally become one's shoes, and so - presumably - there was no Halachik problem with it. But still. People really don't wear shoes here.

Ok that's enough for now - more later. Its windy right now so I thought about putting on a song about Ruach which would have a nice dual-meaning. But instead, I've decided to put on something a bit different, something I was listening to last night. Its by a band called The Miracles of Modern Science, a very talented group of guys playing strings. The song: Luminol.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Acute (חריפה) Tonsilitis

Ein Prat started on Monday. Today is Wednesday. And I'm still in Baqa. I went with a friend, lets call her Librevox, who helped me get settled into the system...or really factory...that is - gasp - socialized medicine. Yes, I did feel like I was being processed, but I did get results in the end. They took a strep culture that Thursday. It was negative, I found out the next Sunday. So on Monday I went with Librevox's father to a walk-in clinic at Wolfson which, despite being in Israel, is actually American. As in, everyone there speaks English with no hint of a Hebrew accent. I was a bit astounded. But only a bit. Mostly because the Anglification of Jerusalem doesn't surprise me any more, but also because...I was still feverish.

The doctor that I got at Wolfson was an adorable 70-something Australian man who took one peek my throat, and diagnosed me with what I had diagnosed myself with the night before: Acute Tonsilitis. Great. "Wow, your lymph nodes are swollen!" he said. "I'll give you antibiotics from The States," he said. "It'll be better in 24 hours," he said. Twenty-four hours later, I was still abed with fever.

One full season of House M.D. and twenty-four MORE hours later, I do, in fact, feel better. This has been a lesson in patience for me. A virtue for which I fear I will forever be in need of schooling. These past two days I have been frustratingly inactive, but then, in my mother's wise word: "You don't realize how fragile the human body is until we get sick". And then, well, it hits you, don't it?

So if you were expecting a blog post to catch you up on how awesome Seattle was, telling you about getting coffee with my Grandma (shout out!), seeing Avatar in 3D IMAX, buying her a laptop, etc. Oh, I mention that she has a cult following at BU? She does. Or if you were expecting a blog post about how fascinating Ein Prat has been in the first few days, what with Erez Eshel and Micha Goodman being my teachers and all, living in a shnasty caravan, eating Israeli style (breakfast: salad, lunch:meat, dinner: salad <-- not going to work for me)...Sorry to disappoint. I've learned, so you can learn: Sometimes life is disappointing. But not everything must needs be disappointing. This song, for example, is amazing. Consider HaNachash's new "Od Ach Echad".

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Caravan #17

Sleep Struggles
I'm sitting in my friend's lovely kitchen in Baqa on a cloudy Jersualem morning at 6:52am inhaling Wellness Tea because its too hot to sip since I left the cup of water in the microwave long enough to kasher the thing. I've been up since 3:30. My lymph nodes feel like watermelons, or better yet, since I am, after all, living in the settlements, they feel like really big (stun) grenades. My throat feels like its been jackhammered and is now mere jagged cement. My vision is hazy and I think one eye is stuck so that one appears larger the other. I don't think I look pretty. But then, what's a blog for if not to avoid the most physical part of a relationship? Ahh yes, now I remember why I do this.

Appearances aside, let me tell you about Israel. Which is where I am.

Yom Chilutz Atazamot
I got in three days ago -- give or take a day or a night -- and have been on the run ever since. Ein Prat (the institute I am about to begin attending) scheduled a "yom chilutz" which literally translates to "Pioneer Day" on - I thought - Wednesday, the day after I got in. So I went to the central bus station, got on the 125 out to the boonies, arrived at Kfar Adumim (the closest spot to Ein Prat to which buses run) and walked/hitchhiked down to Alon, the settlement to Ein Prat is adjoined. But something was very wrong. It was a ghost town. I was on time, but no one else was there. I figured it was just Israelis being their lovely unscheduled selves, and walked on. But when I got to the Midrasha itself, I knew without a doubt that it wasn't that everyone else was late -- it was that I was early. By 24 hours.

The madrichim (organizers, counselors, administrators) were very kind, offering me drinks and strawberries, and telling me that, well, at least I got to figure out how to get there on my own! (Yeah, yeah. Ugh). So I turned around and went back. I hitched a ride to French Hill and from there I took two buses to get back to Baqa. Sigh.

But I was not deterred! No no! My pioneering spirit prevailed! And I went back yesterday (Thursday) -- meeting people as I went. Turns out there are going to be not two, but FOUR Chutznikim ("out of towners") in our group of sixty! I met one of them my first day in Israel and one more yesterday. Only thirty or so showed up for our Pioneer Day, so I have yet to meet about half the clan. Or commune. Or kibbutz. Or yeshiva. Or whatever we are. Anyway, its all very exciting, and I do love meeting people.

Sipping Pause
My tea is a goodly temperature now, and I do feel a bit better for drinking it, but I still can't help glancing at the clock and wondering when the Terem (clinic) at Tzomet HaBankim opens. Do we think it might open at 7? Is that possible?

Right! Back to the Yom Chilutz! So basically all we did was try and pretend like we were going learn each other's names, and then clean. The first two hours I spent mostly organizing the Moadon Studentim or "student office" which had been ransacked by the bogrim (alumni) that had come to Ein Prat for their Purim Party this past weekend. I also helped move chairs, which was fun. We assembly-lined it. And there was music blasting, which helped matters. Then we ate falafel. Scrumptious and clearly homemade, it came in a big pickle-jar like canister and the techina was poured from recycled plastic water bottles. And then we were put into teams of three to scour the caravanim, or trailers, where we will all be living for the next 4 months.

Caravan #17
Now, I visited this place before I signed my name in blood and agreed to come. I checked out the caravanim. Indeed, I slept in one! And I had though it a pleasant enough place, pretty, sedate, with a nice view of Jericho on one side and the Dead Sea on the other. But I hadn't seen ALL of the caravanim. Oh no. I hadn't seen the ones situated within the houses (can I even call them that?) of Alon. But I was assigned to clean one. Caravan #17.

It was NASTY. It had likewise been flipped upside down (pardon the Purim pun) by the party that had gone down last weekend -- but the chain-smoked cigarette butts in the coffee mugs and the sticky double deck of playing cards were not the real the problem. The real problem was that walking inside of it was like walking into a cabin at Camp Long. It was walking into a dirtier, nastier version of outside. Living there would be like camping all the time. I won't get into details, but I swept, scrubbed, and then waited as the two Israeli girls I was with did their thing with the squeegees and water that I'll never understand, and then we went back to join the others. I really hope I'm not forced to live in Caravan #17.

In a pathetic attempt at good cheer this morning, my ipod touch (which I have, in the interim, named Sweet Jimmy) has brought to my shuffle's attention the Belle and Sebastian gem, "Women's Realm". I hope it warms your the cuticles of your heart the way it has mine and brings serenity to the aches of your throat. Merry Sabbath.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Adventures at Home, Part II

I had - for a moment - forgotten about one other adventure that consumed my time while I was at home. That was my adventure into my previous adventures. For example, when my sister began reading from a children book that I brought home from Egypt called "Wild Animals". It described various types of animals from Hippopotamus to Snake. In Arabic. And in English translation. I render you here a copy of one said translation:

Fox family from dogs families it is about 27 kind famous kind red fox which live about 2-10 years. the size of the fox near domesticated cats nearly, the fox characterized by his small mouse and soft fur and thick tail, it is predator take the opportunity to get the hunted, it is consider harm upon the human, the foxes sometimes nourish on the insects an fruits the sound of the fox called lamentation, it is sharp voices the foxes warm the other foxes when they feel by nearing the danger.

I hope you, too, now have a taste of my adventures. This is not a joke. No wonder kids in Egypt can't speak English. Song: Dazed and Confused by Led Zepplin

Friday, February 26, 2010

Adventures at Home

So I've been home for almost a month now. And it's been great. I've eaten PCC food, drunk Vita coffee, played our beautiful in-tune piano, obtained an iTouch (!) from indulgent parents to whom I have very grateful, enjoyed siblings who make me laugh just by saying things like "Congrats! You've won a fish card!" and...had some pretty crazy adventures. I will tell you about two of them.

Adventure #1:
Substitute Teaching Judaic Studies at SHA (Seattle Hebrew Academy)
I was looking for employment when I came back to Seattle, and I'd taken a few (minimal) steps to secure some...but then this fell into my lap. My 6th grade Rebbe's wife had just had their fifth child early (on the bathroom floor, I might add) and he was due for his two-week paternity leave. And there I was. In Seattle. So he called me up, sat me down, and explained me me how weird his classes were. He now teaches the 4th and 5th grade (morning and afternoon, respectively) and he did things in class like name each of the Chumash worksheets for the fourth grade and make up a story with a moral for each one. I didn't realize exactly what he meant by "story" -- and got a little carried away with my shiny new mem-bet page. I told the story of "Meanie" the Chumash worksheet who had been asleep on a train from Rabat to Marrakesh when her life's work had been stolen from under her nose. To make it interesting I asked them for suggestions - just words to throw into the story, like on "Who's Line is it Anyway". SO Jay-Z ended up being the thief, and in the end he returned everything because he felt so bad at having stolen it. It was a crazy, involved story, and the moral ended up being something like "honesty is the best policy". I think they liked it.

Other things that I learned in school:
If you're a teacher, you have a lot of power, and if you have a sibling in school, she also might think that she has some power by virtue of your power.
That whole first existence/second existence thing -- very true.
It doesn't take a lot to get a kid suspended from elementary school.
I accidentally gave them 40 minutes of free recess.
I purposefully gave them 40 minutes of free recess.
I learned that you become an adult when you're 18, but a grown-up only once you turn 41.
I learned that I do not, never have, and will never have ADD. But some kids do. Some kids in my class.

Adventure #2:
Road Trippin' w/ mah sista down to Yakima to watch the Northwest Yeshiva High School's 613 Girls compete in the State Championship
Epic road trip down, deadly road trip back. Well not deadly - just frightening. I picked my sister up from school at 2:15, we got pizza for dinner and hit the road around 3. The game was at 5:30, and it takes about 2 1/2 hours to get through the pass and into the Yakima Valley. It was pouring - like God-was-angry-and-turned-the-shower -on-max-pressure-to-relieve-His-stress pouring - through the pass, and the balding tires of our Prius were hydroplaning something nasty. But once we got through the pass (with its beautiful vistas so lovingly captured by my sis) we hit I-82, and that's where things started to get weird. Here's a list of things we saw:

-A city called Thorp
-A truck full of Buffalo Meat "...just for the health of it" (yes, that was really their slogan)
-Antique Fruit (yes, that's how they advertised)
-A city called Selah (while listening to the Ben Folds album "Forever and Ever, Amen", strangely)
-A sign that told us "Chain Up Parking Area Ahead" (which we could only assume meant that if we parked there we'd have to chain ourselves to our car, or our car to the parking lot, or something like that)
-A road called Thrall
-Shrubs (that, if Mars really had water, would grow on Mars.)
-Anti-social houses (As in, they had no neighbors. At all. For miles.)
-A sign that said "Leaving Apple Maggot Quarantine Area" (we hadn't seen one that informed us we were entering said "Apple Maggot Quarantine Area".)
-A place that looked like a NASA space station that my sister, appropriately I believe, dubbed "Apollo Ono 13"

And then we'd made it to Yakima. The game was sad. We lost 25-62. Painful. But we had been in the 4th seat and we were playing the 1st placed team. So there was that. And they had Baskin Robins (Kosher ice cream!) as consolation for the Jewz. So then we got back in the car. But it was dark, and I was feeling ill, and picky about the music. So it wasn't a, well, pleasant ride back. But we made it alive back along I-82 without being trampled by any maggots or horses or buffalo health meat.

At the end of one month in Seattle I have picked up the pieces of my shattered cyber-life and am leaving America with the following important items: A computer (!), an ipod (yay parents!), a journal (thanks Estee!) AND...a passport valid for the next decade (!!!). And what I have now is Time. I have approximately four months to not be a University student. I will spend my Time reading, talking, researching, making music, and learning a bit of this and a bit of that. I hope you stay with me for the next round of this robin. I leave you with an old favorite that will mean more to some and less to others, but isn't it always that way? Here's "Time" by Ben Folds. (The last few minutes are nothing, and the song has nothing to do with Weird Al, I don't know why he's in the byline) Oh, and, just for kicks, some Billy Joel.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I saw Dorothy's slippers in the American History Museum - they're considered a "national treasure" - so I figured I could justfiy the title of this blog. I was there because I was searching for Stephen Colbert's portrait. It has however, been taken down from both the American History Museum (he, too, is considered a national treasure) and the American Portrait Gallery, though I did see a great many hilarious portraits of this great country's presidents while I was there. My favorite was the room of recent presidents, and the only one grinning was, you guessed it: George W.

Washington D.C., emphasis on the D.C.
So my travels since Paris have been, well, varied. But American. I flew into DC and was reintroduced to American in the most blunt way. America's America is what I kept calling it. I got to see the Capitol Building, the White House, the State Department that only a few months earlier had sent me to begin my adventures in Egypt. It was, of course, surreal, but my friends were kind to me, and let me freak out in my own time, gently reminding me that yes, Starbucks ARE on every corner, and yes, cars DO follow traffic laws, and no, no you don't have to assume that every man is going to try and hit on you. Ahhh America.

The City Where I Can Love All My Penn Brothers (and Sisters)
And then I went to Philly. And had a blast. I would like to thank all my friends who paid for my hillel meals, those who hosted friends of mine, who hosted the meal that I orchestrated, and who let me cook and live in their houses. And everyone who I had coffee with. And to Lovers and Madmen, the greatest coffeeshop on (near?) campus. Tasty.
By the end of my week there I'd had a lot of coffee, but never enough of your wonderful, passionate, excited conversation. It's going to carry me through my next month of, well...sitting at home, reading, gchatting, and trying to make money. I feel like an unemployed person. Is this a taste of what will come when I graduate? I sorta like it.

And then I took a BoltBus to New York. What a joy, the BoltBus. Interent (if I had had a computer perhaps this would have been more of a joy...), comfortable seats, people who speak quietly, and let you try and sleep without offering to pay for your tea or trying to get you to teach them English. I slept. Sweet sweet sleep. Ahhhhh.

The Moments that Make Up Seattle
Most delicious moment: Making peanut-butter cookies, though 'making' might be an exaggeration for what I did with the cookies...
Most glorious moment: Running, this morning, around the loop and ogling the shining, placid lake that I love.
Most important realization: We travel wherever we are. Its all mental. I travel in books these days, but when I was in New York I traveled to my family and friends and happiness, in Philly I traveled through the minds of my friends, and when I was in DC I traveled through the (ever so breif) history of this country. Its all in your mind.
Most awkward moment: When my sister grabbed my weenus unexpectedly.
There have been many more, but for now, I leave you. This time with a song, once again: The way I've often felt over the last few the Kooks...Naive.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Paris in the Rain

This is my third time in Paris. Four months ago I had never seen the Arc d'Triumph or the Eiffel Tower or the Musee D'Orsay. I had never smelled the flowers on every corner, the coffee in every cafe, or the bread in every boulangerie. But enough nostaligia -- I still have one more day in Pari!

I've been here since Thursday night. I took Malev (Hungarian) Airlines over, and it was quite interesting. I enjoyed their kosher snack-meal, and the Israelis sitting in front of me enjoyed their ham snack-sandwich more, I believe. Especially because one of them got up after and went to the back to ask if they couldn't sample the other option: a cheese snack-sandwich. I don't know why this bothered me, or even if it did bother me, but I supposed I'd put it up in the blog in either case.

When I got to Paris I knew what to do - I knew which RER line to take, I knew where to transfer to the metro 2 and I knew the codes to the inner and outer doors of my exceptionally gracious hosts' apartment. I felt like a pro. I slipped in around 11:30 pm and crashed into the same Japanese floor bed that I'd slept in a few months ago. Bliss.

On Friday I managed to do some awesome stuff despite myself. For some reason I couldn't figure out the internet in the apartment, so I went on a search for an internet cafe. I also needed a SIM card. So I went down to Les Halles area and just roamed around. I came upon the SIM card first, the internet cafe second, and when I had done all that and had two hours to kill I stumbled, quite without thinking, upon the Museum of Modern Art, which also happens to be a sort of hub for all things interesting. I didn't go in - as in I didn't pay - but I wandered around the free exhibit, peeked in the cafe, and chuckled my way through the "boutique" which had things for sale such as swim caps with brain designs, Rorschach test coasters (I almost bought those), Romeo and Julienne (Juliet in French!) cutting boards in the shape of a book which had carved in the wood "For Star Crossed Lovers of Chopped Food". Anyway, I was entertained. I met up with my friend Amelie around 4:30 at the place we would stay together for Shabbat and got to see her for the first time in what feels like a very very long time.

We met some interesting characters on Shabbat - a man who knew Amelie's grandfather from before the war, his wife who's mother is from Morocco (she at least understood my Arabic if she didn't speak it herself), a conservative thinktank historian from Switzerland who now lives half in Israel half in Paris, and - of course, since the Jewish world is tiny - I ran into one of my hostbrothers! I saw Abraham, the second or third (I can't remember) of Baria and Jakob's seven kids who live in France. He was in synagogue! I saw him from the balcony and waved. Hilarious.

Saturday night Adina and I went back to my hosts' house and couldn't figure out the TV so we just hung out, read, swapped ideas until we were tired, went to bed, and got up Sunday morning to an absolutely gorgeous (warm!) Parisian Sunday. By noon we were on a train to Versailles (somehow we never stamped our tickets, but got there anyhow) and by one we were at a beautiful outdoor market that sells everything from fresh produce to hummus (both of which we bought and consumed with scrumptious quantities of fresh artisanal bread. Tres tres bein.

And then we saw Versailles. In a way very similar to the way I wrote about the Harem of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. I can't describe it - you must go see it. Highlights, of course, were the Hall of Mirrors, the Gardens, and - because its just fun to see great artists and poets and philosophers as busts or heads - the sculpture hall. Back on the train to Paris, Amelie and I were almost fined 45 Euro for putting our feet on the benches in front of us. These guys were serious. Forty-five Euro. That's like seventy bucks! Don't worry parents, I played the ignorant foreigner and am forever chastened but did not incur the fee.

So it rained most of the time I've been here, but so what? It's been beautiful in my mind. I've been catching myself thinking things like this lately. Maybe its because I've been reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan ever since I left my Updike novel on the plane, but nigh-on-absurd hippie questions like "why can't we all just SEE each other?" and "what does achievement MEAN anyway?" have been floating through my mind in the past few days. The French way of life is really a counter-culture to the American in so many ways. But I'm still stoked that to return to America tomorrow. DC, Philly, NYC, Seattle. Rock.

I have a song for you today. I take no credit for it. Amelie who I am visiting here in Paris can have it all -- she deserves it. Here's presenting K'naan, ladies and gentlemen, "Waving Flag".


I do not believe that anything other than the title is needed to explain why this post is one sentence long.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thank you too much!

In Which We See the Black Sea
There are two types of Bosphorus Tours between the Asian and European sides of Turkey. One that is lame and lasts 1 and 1/2 hours. And one that is awesome and lasts 6. Which one do you think we took? That's right.
It was a very very weather-happy sunny-crispy lightly-cloudy day, unlike today...which is yucky-rainy. We took tons of pictures, marvelled from all three decks (indoor, indoor-outdoor, and outdoor) at the beauty of the buildings on both sides which included the king's summer house (I believe its called the Dolmabache Palace and its enormous), the villas of the weathy...and extremely wealthy, and sort of old world European style splendor. We stopped at a number of places, but didn't disembark until we reached the last stop at the mouth of the Black Sea. The town is called Andolu Kavagi (silent g, as in - Marduk - Hagia) and ran up a hill steep enough to remind me of Seattle to reach the glorious ruins of the Yoros Castle, originally a Byzantine-turned-Genoese fortress overlooking the strategic point at one of the Bosphorus' narrowest stretches. We met a family of rowdy puppies, took some fantastic pictures (I climbed the ruins, and actually took a phone call from the Chief Rabbi's office while I was up there...!), but mostly just stared into the blue heart of the Black Sea and then climbed a ways down the mountian for lunch. Kathryn had quite the lunch from the set menu: She had clams, mussels, calimari, and sea bream along with her salad. I had salad. And then we had free apple tea. I've gotten a lot of free apple tea in this country. I quite like it. Mixed together in a cup. Stupendous. Back in the villiage we wandered around amusing the Turks, amusing ourselves and eating nutella and banana. When we got back on the boat we collapsed into our books - it felt like we'd just spent the day skiing.

In Which I Am Mistaken for Being Syrian
When we stepped off the boat it was getting to be around 4:30 - time for the sun to begin setting. So we wandered over to the bridge that connects our Sultanhamet district of Istanbul to the chic Istiqlal (Tunel-Taksim) area to watch the sunset. It was as magnificent as a winter sunset could be. We walked by the Yani Jami (spelled Yanı Camı) and entered the Egyptian Market, also known as the Spice Market. I think it was called the Egyptian Market because the imports from Cairo used to be sold there. In any case, we were wandering around, smelling this, being offered a sample of that, and we walk into a shop - a nicer one, a touristy one - and are asked where we are from. We say we are from America, but have been living in Morocco for the last four months and do you speak Arabic? The shopkeeper, like most shopkeepers here in Turkey, did not speak Arabic, but he brought us over to someone who did-- a grandmotherly, hijabed, crinkly-smiling woman from, of all places, Saudi Arabia. She also speaks English. So I start the conversation in Arabic, and the three of us chat until she pauses for a moment and points to me and accuses: "Where are you from?"
and I say "I told you - I'm from America."
She asks me again, "No, where are you from, where are your parents from?"
Now. This is not the first time this has happened to me, many people thing that I am of Syrian or Lebanese descent when I start jabbering in Arabic.
So I say back, "My parents are American. They speak no Arabic. My family has been in America for a long time." She doesn't believe me. She keeps pointing to me and saying in English to the storekeeper --
"This one, I know, I know. She's Syrian. I'm sure." This continued for a while - she kept probing, trying to figure out if I was with the American or Syrian intelligence. I motioned to Kathryn that I wanted out. We slowly extracted oursevles from her gentle grip and left. I think it must have been that I was speaking more Fusha than she was used to - and Syrian is closer to Fusha than her Hijazi dialect. So perhaps that was it. Either way, I was totally unerreved.

In Which I Hear The Best Jazz I've Ever Heard
I made us reservations at one of the more highly recommended Jazz Clubs in Istanbul for that night. The place was called Nardi's and the guest musician was a trumpet-player named Amir El-Saffar, who I believe was Syrian-American (strangly ironic...) and understood about as much Turkish as we did. Backing him up were the jazz band: An upright base played by a man with a grey poneytail and eyes more closed than open, an adorable bald percussionist who lost his eyes when he smiled and played with such grace and watched all of the instruments with such light-hearted focus that of all of them, he was the one I most wished spoke English. There was a talented oud and electric jazz violin player who played like a teenager -- jumping around in his seat, living inside the music, and man with a mustache on the grand piano who MCed and would, from time to time, translate. They played stuff written by Amir (he would whip out the Turkish xylophone or Qanun from time to time as a sort of treat) as well as by the piano player *the two played together in New York - and sometimes stuff by Rogers and Hart, or Coltrane (the last song was Giant Steps and it made my night). On our way back the late-night calls of "Oh look! Its the Spice Girls" daunted us not - and I even reciprocated with my own spur-of-the-moment jibe: "Oh look! Its the Backstreet Boys!"

In Which I Construct My Very Own Jewish Conspiracy
Since we'd had a late night, we also had a late morning. It was slow, peaceful. Full of email and John Updike. But also full of phone calls from the Cheif Rabbi's office. If the nice Turkish guys who run the Agora Guesthouse (my hostel) didn't think I was a part of a Jewish conspiracy before, they're pretty positive about it now.
The Chief Rabbi's Office has called me a total of seven times in the last 4 days. Four of those calls were actually to the hostel's landline paging me. The reasons for the calls have varied - the reason they were calling this time was to get me a book that they want me to take home to Seattle to give to a Sephradi Chazan there and they wanted to hand deliver it at a time when I could personally receive it. Oy. So if me moving out on Shabbat without explanation wasn't enough, or me having to fax my passport with their number and address wasn't enough, or if the phone call to give me directions to the synagogue wasn't enough, here I was, getting a package delivered in silence (I don't speak Turkish!) that no one else could touch. It must look very weird.

In Which I Discover the Shopping Experience of Turkey
How can I take your money? Where is your money? Come into my shop!
These are the Turkish lines, so differnet than those in Morocco. Its commercial harrassmenet, not sexual harassment. We walked around the area of Gulhane, poking this, buying that, and then took the tram to the Grand Bazaar. And it is Grand. And it is a Bazaar. And as we know, I am highly distractable. This was a place of distraction. Shiny things all over the place. And it was wide, and clean, and NICE. But Kathryn and I only really hit our element once we left the covered bazaar for the less-shiney more-grimy area where people really do their shopping. And it was there that we found more Arabic speakers. We met a guy who spoke very good Arabic - he was Turkish, he said, but he spoke almost 15 languages. [And I as impressed when Moroccans spoke 5!] In any case, I threw my one Russian line at him ("I don't speak a word of Russian") and my one Farsi line ("How are you?") and got some good laughs. I also got a good deal - two scarves for 15 lira! In the covered area, those scarves would have gone for 35 lira each. I kept thinking about how glad I was to have lived in a country where you must bargain before you buy and not feel bad not buying until you find the deal you want. If I were a normal tourist here I would have spent double.
We went back into the covered part and perused the antiques, the beautiful silk-and-bead jewlery, the velveteen embroidered footwear and belts, the wallets made of felt, and the bright handmade copper-gold earrings that if Anthropologie could get their capitalist paws on, they would sell for triple what they're asking here. And I made one final purchase. A pair of hilarious Turkish pants that just scream Aladin. I bought them for three reasons: One, I will wear them even if they are one-size-fits-all and I'm one-size-fits-small. Two, because the retail price was 75 Turkish Lira and I got them down to 25. Three, because the guy who was running the store was astonished at our Arabic, but even more astonished -- and this astonishment was reciprocated -- by my Hebrew. He spoke Hebrew. The man in the Turkish Bazaar spoke Hebrew. Better Hebrew than ARABIC. I couldn't believe it. I bought the pants.

In Which We Drink More Apple Tea, This Time With A Man Named Gengis
We walked back to Sultanhamet (our hostel area) and were discracted. Again. We ended up having more apple tea with twin brothers in their shop. Of course they were fascinated by two blond girls who spoke Arabic, and wanted to know all about us, wanted us to teach them Arabic, and made us promise as we left never to forget them. I don't think I will - but not because their shop was so remakable, or the conversation we held so scintillating, but mostly because the brother with whom we spent most of our time is named Gengis. Yes. Gengis. As in Gengis Khan. Incredible.

And then we finally made it back to the hostel where I discovered that they discovered that I rated them on Somehow the numbers I punched in rated them as a 76%. I also would be pissed if someone gave me a C and I didn't know why. But now things, well, things have been awkward. Wish me luck in my last 48 hours.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Turks, Tea, and Tickle-Me-Blue (mosque...)

So, those of you who follow my status compulsively on facebook will already know that my hostel (and the hostel that my friend and I are moving to tomorrow) is approximately a three-minute walk from the gloroius Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque (I suggest you wikipedia the thing) is beautiful. And entry is free. Which might be the most beautiful thing about it. Well -- maybe not. But across the street is something I like to call The Red Mosque. It's the Aya *Hagia* Sophia and its OLD. It was originally built as a Church and was turned into a mosque only later. Which makes the mix of Byzantian gold-leaf-tile-Jesus-and-John-the-Baptist art and the huge scrawlings of Allah in calligraphy a bizarre but beautiful combination. Its beautiful, don't get me wrong, but it feels like a cathedral that has - literally - "Gone Turk".

So we moved from these huge mosques down the hill (Istanbul arranges its tourist attractions very convineintly) to the Topkapi Palace. This was the sultan's (Abdlhamid, I believe) stomping grounds and comes complete with - yes - a harem, which is the main attraction, yet took us about an hour and a half to find (a tip to other travelers, its not actually INSIDE the palace...). So we saw some interesting stuff - like a new exhibit on Iran where the claim was that they were displaying Iran and Turkey's common heritage, when, in fact, it seemed to us to be more of a show of Turkish superiority (like, for example, items from the period when the Seljuk Turks conquored much of then-Persia). We saw the treasury, with lots of gifts from the (pardon the anacronims) Kremlin - mostly gaudy brooches in some permutation of snowflakeshape. And some other very pretty things from differnet areas and ages. But the most interesting (aside from the harem, which I will get to in a moment) was the religious artifacts exhibit.

Turns out that the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is home to:
the "Saucepan of Abraham"
the "Turban of Joseph"
the "Rod of Moses" (that was my fav)
the "Sword of David" (and Mohammad and Ali and Abu Bakr and Uthman)
the "Arm and Skull of John the Baptist" (John the Baptist's arm is TINY! My friend says that it makes sense since he spent years being malnourished in the desert eating just wild locusts and honey. I believe her. She's Christian.)
the "tooth, hair, and beard of Mohammad"
the "door of the Kaba'a"
and other items which are too numerous to name here. The description of Biblical history - for those of you interested - was taken from the Quran. It had Joseph buried in Syria, Ishmael sacrificed instead of Isaac, and Hajar (!) as Abraham's wife instead of Sarah.

The Harem was awesome. You have to pay a second time to get in, but - like everyone told us - its worth it. First, its huge. Second, its detailed more like an English country garden than anything you might find in, say, Morocco. Turkish style tends to be more flowery, and their tiles more vegtetable than geometrical. And harem took all of that and just did it -- well. I am aware that any description I give will be essentially useless and fail so I will stop now. It was beautiful. Done.

My friend and I spent the evening listening to Turkish Sephardi music at a concert that we were graciously invited to by my fantastic freind Mandy. The music was great (I recorded the Ein Kelokeinu which was - yesssss - in Ladino! I hope my singing along didn't make it into the tape.....) And then afterwards we went to the "coffee/cocktail hour" (which was spelled - get this - on the program as "Kokteyl"...kind of looks like a Yiddish transliteration, eh?) and I ate dinner. A dinner of free wine and fingerfood. DElish.

I then took Kathryn (previously referred to as "my friend") to dinner at a hipster-French-Jazz-chillout cafe. I had tea. Five cups. Two bags. Really really good tea. The waiter was, to quote Kathyn, "enchanted" by me. He slipped me a note as we left that said "I like you : )" and had his phone number. He looked to be about 15 and 1/2. Cute.

Did I mention that it was pouring rain? Well it was pouring rain. But we made it home nonetheless. Even managing to meet perhaps the dozeneth person I've now met in Istanbul from Seattle. There are SO MANY of them. I met 3 students from Bainbridge Island, a bunch from Tacoma and then this woman from Whidby. I think its something about our extroverted natures.

Well this has been a lovely post. Its the morning now. I'm off to get on a boat and TOUR THE BOSPHORUS STRAIT, a place I found out about in 8th grade when I studied geography but never thought I'd actually get to see. It may be drizzling, but Halleluja its a beautiful day.