Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Tuesday I went to Bethlehem to visit a friend who works at the International Center which is connected to the ELCA. Now, overall it probably wasn’t the best day to visit considering it was the day of the Annapolis conference but the invitation was there so I went. I took the blue Palestinian bus from East Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Shortly after we began the journey we were stopped. Two men were taken off of the bus and searched. When it began to take too long the driver said something to the soldier. She motioned us on, he closed the door and left.

It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue and it was warm. I got off and walked a few blocks to meet my friend. We had a falafel walked some more, and visited the Center. The streets were crowded with people doing their shopping and bargaining. Visitors were crowding the Church of the Nativity, I didn’t even get near the grotto this time. Here are some pics.


It took me forever to get home on Monday night from bellydance class. What normally would be a 20 minute bus ride from Talpiot to Ramban took close to two hours. First, I got on the bus and just a few minutes later a police car pulled the bus over. The nag, driver, was driving without headlights. Everyone had to get off of the bus and wait for another. About 10 minutes later we boarded another bus. But instead of going the normal route we were rerouted up through Yaffo Road about 10 blocks away from where I normally would get off. The reason? A very peaceful but large rally at the end of my street.

Yesterday’s Jerusalem Post reported that on the eve of the start of the Annapolis conference, Monday night, “thousands rally in Jerusalem against Israeli-Palestinian talks”. I believe the Post. I had to plow my way through the crowd, mostly teens and young adults, to get home. There were large banners, music, speakers, and cheering from the crowd. The prominent issue that they were demonstrating against is the dividing of Jerusalem.

And let me say also that people aren’t too crazy about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The paper quoted several speakers saying that, all of his promises will “explode in our faces”, or that he is “toasting the enemy” in Annapolis. The Western Wall (Kotel or wailing wall) also had a demonstration in which 15,000 prayed for Annapolis to fail on any territorial withdrawal.

The West Bank was not without its share of protests and demonstrations either. Today’s Haaretz, the more liberal newspaper in Israel, reported that one man was killed in Hebron at an anti-Annapolis rally, and that dozens of people were wounded when the police opened fire. There was a picture of police officers deployed on the streets of Ramallah. All demonstrations were banned in the West Bank to maintain “stability, security and the rule of the law.” It also reported of Hamas led demonstrations in Gaza.

So this is what we call the Holy Land. The land might be holy but in it’s so called holiness it is the source of hatred and violence. Emotion runs deep, connection and privledge to the land flows even deeper. It is hard to believe that a “joint understanding” will produce a relative peace here when heels keep digging deeper and deeper into this holy ground. In fact, the efforts at Annapolis are not a sign of hope but are provoking for both Israeli and Palestinians. And yet it is peace that everyone wants, well most everyone. It’s peace without compromise though which, as we know, will produce nothing.

What ever happened to the words of Isaiah, they shall beat their swords into plowshares…and nation shall not lift up sword against nation?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tiyul Time

The word tiyul in Hebrew means excusion or tour. Last week I saw a tiyul advertised as a Tanakh Tiyul. Humph! Right up my alley. Tanakh meaning the Hebrew Bible (it's a little more complicated than that but for now, Hebrew Bible or Old Testament). The title of the tiyul was "Philistines or Sophisicates?" and was a tour of the ancient port cities of Ashkelon and Asdod and Tel Azeika to understand the Philistines....arch enemies of the Israelite people. The day was sunny and very cloudy so my pics reflect that. On site the guide read in Hebrew from the Tanakh the stories of Samson at various times and places and the story of David and Goliath. Great tiyul. Go read your Bibles in the book of Judges, and Samuel. (Note of apology, I downloaded the photos backwards so you get the end of the tiyul first.)

On top of Tel Azeika looking into the valley where David slew Goliath.

Entrace to the tel.

An upcoming exhibit at the Ashdod Museum about Hannukah. This was one artists exhibit with olive leaves. Each leaf has Hebrew written on it.
Gods and goddesses of the Philistines - not see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

The Philistines as rendered in iron at the museem.

The Meditaranium looking out from Ashkelon National Park.

Yes, that's right, it's me. Just so you don't think that I'm writing this blog at home from CT!!! Here I am standing in front of the oldest arched gate in the WORLD! It was a Cannaite gate that maybe Samson came through as he entered Ashkelon.

Every Day, and then the Rest

I think that I have taken the meaning of Sabbath rest to the extreme. It's not that I've had a wild and crazy week here in Jerusalem. I haven't stuffed myself full of turkey and dressing, cranberries and pumpkin pie so that I need to sleep it off. Nor did I get up yesterday at 5:00 am in order to get to the stores for morning madness Christmas shopping. No, none of that, I just slept until 11:45 am on my own. I did not have to get up in time for anything. There was nothing on my mind that prevented me from sleep. And so, I did. And I feel good.

I do think that this is what God means for us to rest. Maybe not stay in bed half of the day, but to take one day and entirely rest from worry, work, and running around like crazed people. To stop everything that we are doing and to relax, rest our bodies and our minds. Perhaps we don't realize what we do to ourselves, how we drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion and then do just a little more. Or maybe we do but fail to listen to our bodies and minds and creation around us. Who are we giving honor to then?

Shabbat, the Sabbath is a time to stop what we are doing and to give honor to God and to all that God has unselfishly given us. Today the sun is out and I can feel the warm rays on my hands as I type this reflection. I can hear birds chirping and a dog barking in a distance. I see roses and bougainvilleas refusing to give up their glorious colored blooms to the ever changing season around me. There are leaves that have dropped and are brown on the edges and other leaves that have turned golden yellow but continue to cling to the branches. I can hear a father and his children singing about Shabbat and then laughing together and a little boy runs past me in the street kicking a ball because he could. What do you notice today?

Our hearts can open so much more fully to what's around us when we are rested and when we take the time to do so. God can speak to us, move us in ways that we might miss otherwise when we are busy "doing" life. And, conversely and more importantly, we can give honor to God, fully and without complication when we stop what it is we are doing, and rest. Honor and love to the God who, for us has given the Sabbath, who for us has modeled a way to live in this world.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey and the Middle East: A Contempory Overview

Now, what would you think? I received a batch email from the dean of graduate students at Rothberg International School entitled, "Turkey and the Middle East: A Contemporary Overview". Immediately I thought it was a talk on, you guessed it, turkey, thanksgiving day in the Middle East. I thought it was a little odd and I was right, of course. The dean meant the country of Turkey and the Middle East. That made me a little depressed since I'm missing Thanksgiving and all of the activities that accompany it. How could I have let my mind wander so far off of the beaten path??

Sure there are small dinners around here in Israel - Ex pats, American students who are attempting to recreate a wonderful meal. And then for 200 shekels I could go to the Inbal Hotel (fancy schmancy) and have a thanksgiving meal. But, somehow, it's not working for me. So an American friend and I will have dinner this evening, Israeli style after we do our weekly marketing at the shuk.

The meal is only a small part of Thanksgiving. Of course we all know that, but it takes being away from the familiar to help you realize what you have and what you are thankful, really thankful for. As I imagine the aroma of turkey cooking. And practically taste the ham that we pick at until the turkey is done, I'm counting my blessings in life.

I thank God for my children and family, for all of my friends, for Milo (my dog back in the states), for home and hearth and for love. I thank God for the familiar that gives stability in my life and for the unfamiliar that allows me to see creation through different eyes. I thank God for each day of my life.

Happy Hodu* Day to everyone.

*Turkey, the bird, not the country

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Belly Dance Sistah's...where are ya??

“Kadima. Ekhad, shat’im, shalosh, arba, khamesh, shesh, sheva, shmone. Yamin, shat’im, shalosh, arba, Smol, shat’im, shalosh, arba. Tweest, tweest, tweest, shimmy. Metsuyan!, Excellent!” Sagit loves to see her students jingling our hip scarves in unison. Belly dancing in the Middle East, what a concept. I’m having fun even if the class is in Hebrew and, in between the actual dancing, Sagit instructs her little heart out and I don’t have a clue what she is saying. Thankfully she is very methodical so I know exactly what we are doing and when. I listen carefully but I have to admit, sometimes I look out the window of her studio to the wild marketplace right below us. Vendors are yelling loudly to get rid of their merchandise. Then, I hear the music and her voice, “Kadima, forward”. It’s back to dancing.

“She’elote? Questions?” I have none. None at least that I know of. I have no clue what she is saying but I can tell from her facial expressions that she loves the art of the dance and wants all of us to dance like real belly dancers. Every now and then she’ll talk to me in English just to make sure that I’m keeping up with the class. I am. It’s a beginner class so I know most of the steps. (CT belly dancers, we really ARE advanced beginners)

Probably this is a little known fact to most of you, but for the last year and a half I’ve studied belly dancing with Tava in Westport. Our little troupe has even performed (oh geezzz, don’t tell anyone, I’ll need to get a job when I get back home) at the Blue Sky Café in Norwalk. A classy joint. I miss Tava and my fellow belly dancers, it’s just not the same without you. Have fun at your upcoming party. We're having a dance party during Hannakah so I’ll let you know all about it.

Every Day and Then the Rest

Thursday night a friend and I were walking back from the shuk at Makane Yehuda. We both looked up at the same time to see if the man on the third floor of an apartment building was out on his balcony. He was. Each of us, during our own strolls in our neighborhood, discovered a man who always, no matter what time of the day or night, is sitting at a small table with a book, presumably the Torah. He faces towards the Old City of Jerusalem.

The apartment building adjacent to mine is adding an outside elevator and refurbishing the front entrance with walkways and a patio out of golden Jerusalem stone. The men who are constructing the elevator start very early in the morning, often it’s a noisy wake up call. You also find in the same vicinity of the worksite, foam rubber pads that they use to stop and pray throughout the day as Muslims are called to do. The noise stops when the men pray.

A Christian congregation, who worship in the bottom of a building on Yaffo Road, also have offices on the 14th floor of that same building. Right next to the offices is a chapel with windows that overlook Jerusalem. They have a prayer watch wherein an individual or group takes a one hour watch and prays. There are twenty-four watches, seven days a week. Each one of the watches are filled.

Jews come to the Kotel, the wailing wall, to offer prayers of the heart and written prayers in the holiest of holy places. Muslims prostrate themselves in prayer in unlikely places; outside of their cabs, in a small corner of a plaza. Nuns pray the rosary inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I am confident that at any time of the day or night in Jerusalem, prayers of the people are being offered to the Holy One, God, the Beloved. How can this not be a thin place?

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonian people to do three things. To rejoice always, to pray unceasingly, and in every circumstance give thanks. Jerusalem is a city that prays unceasingly. I am reminded of Paul’s words each time I walk out my door because prayer is such an essential part of people’s lives here. To dedicate one’s life to prayer, and in prayer is an our expression of God’s great love for us. To live your life as a prayer is the ultimate gift that we can offer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

From the 'Hood

There's been some excitement on Rehov Ramban this week...thought I'd share the latest from the street. On Wednesday I was saying goodbye to someone in front of my apartment. All of a sudden there were sirens and police cars whizzing by. Then two very long limo's, all black with darkly tinted windows sped by. Each of the limo's had the Israeli flag and the Ukrainian flag displayed on the front. Where's the camera when you need it most???

Yup, the Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko visited the 'hood. I tried to stop the motorcade to see if they wanted to drop by for coffee, but no..they flew by too fast. The prez was in town to try and build better relations with Israel and to assure them that the future held promise for Jews in the Ukraine. The Jerusalem Post reported that the purpose of his visit was to "accelerate political and economic relations with Israel".

The Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government is not far from Ramban so perhaps I'll site more VIP's whizzing by. I heard that Condi once went by. For what it's worth.

At the other end of Ramban, at the corner of Keren Hayesod, Ramban, and Gershon Agron you'll find teachers. Lots of teachers. Secondary and Middle school teachers who have been on strike for almost a month now. They are demanding more money and smaller classes. The average teacher now makes $12,000 a year...approximately 5 classes a day with 40 students. Starting net salary for new teachers, with advanced degrees is NIS 2,800 a month which is $8,400. Teachers are union.

Somebody here, the Finance Ministry, needs to get their heads out of the clouds. Israel prides itself on technology and medical advancements - can they not see that it all begins somewhere. Thanks to teachers who work long hours well beyond just educating a child and have been willing so far to work for substandard pay, Israel has been lucky. Let's hope that their striking will improve conditions drastically for them. The professors at Universities have also been on strike since the beginning of October. It hasn't effected Rothberg International School yet. I heard a rumor that it might, will keep you posted.

Annapolis, the word on the street has not been so hopeful. I've seen several posters of a man (not sure who he is) and underneath it says, Annapolis: won't save you. Security I've noticed has been tightened on the bus system.

That's about all for this week from the 'hood. Other than that, it's been a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

FYI: Ramban was Rabbi Nachmanides who lived from 1195 to 1270. Check him out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pink Fruit Contest

This is a pink piece of fruit. It's about the size of a baby football. It's easy to peel into and is sweet. Do you know what this is? If so, send in your entries and the winner will win a special prize from the Holy Land.

Ain't it puuuurty?

In the Neighborhood

I've moved into Jerusalem to the neighborhood Rehavia. Ramban is my street.

Y'sheva Israel down the block.
Down the steps to my apartment on the left. Yes, it has bars on the windows!! All first floor apartments do. Love the Jerusalem stone.

Living Room.
On the street.
Rehavia windmill down the street a few blocks from me.

Near my corner.

Looking down the street.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Giving birth two three children, each over 8 pounds was easier than setting up internet in Israel.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Every Day and Then the Rest

The music of G.F. Handel filled Augusta Victoria Church this noonday in Jerusalem. In all of the church there was not one inch of space that was not filled with brilliant sound. The sound of voices, the sound of a magnificent pipe organ, the sound of symphonic strings and oboe. Laudate pueri Dominum declared God's grandeur as its eight movements curled their way up to the mosaic rafters of the vaulted ceiling. Perfect pitch, perfect harmony, each note synchronized with the other along side of it. Even the icons looking down upon us were filled with song and came alive with radiance.

Music has that way about it. It expresses the ineffable in ways that transcend out human understanding. We are left simply to feel the divine through sound; to absorb the miracle of life and breath before us. Handel's work gives voice to Psalm 112, the blessings of the righteous. Happy are those who delight in God's commandments...the upright will be blessed...they will be remembered forever.

After the concert I climbed the tower of Augustus Victoria which looms over the holy landscape. In one direction I saw Jerusalem and in another, the Judean desert dotted with Arab towns. Faintly I could see Jordan. This is a place of unrest and turmoil but also of peace and calm. However you want to name it, no matter what you think of it or whatever side of the political spectrum that you decide to spend your time, it is here that God has chosen to expose humanity for our delightful and dreadful ways. It is here also that God calls so many faithful to.

It is good that there are people among us who are honest enough to admit that things aren't perfect but, in spite of it all and determinedly so, will continue to work towards justice for everyone. The Psalmist calls them righteous and Handel gave musical expression to their intent today.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I've Come to Take Your Gas Mask

The sun had set and it was dark. I had just come back from a long walk on a blustery, as far as Jerusalem goes, afternoon. My lights were on and I heard a knock on my door. I thought it was unusual since I know all of three people, maybe now four if you count Moshe. So I carefully opened the door; just a crack. A young man dressed in a tee shirt and jeans with a very official clip board looked at me and said, "Shalom".

"fdifaomfealdofea,jkfoaprerjaefd,dm" he said to me in Hebrew. "Ahhh, English??" I asked. "Ahhh, OK." he said. We looked at one another. Then he said, "I've come to take your gas mask." Now I heard him as plain as could be but quickly transcribed it in my mind to, I've come to read your gas meter. Then I realized, rega (wait a minute), my apartment is all electric, not gas and there was no meter for him to read. I thought he was mistaken and asked him again what he said.

"Your gas mask," he repeated, "from the war". I just looked at him. Then I explained that I had only been living in the apartment for a week. I'm not sure what that had to do with the situation but, honestly, that was all I could think of at the moment. He then asked me how long I had been in Israel to which I replied, "only a month". We surmised together that I didn't have a gas mask to return to him. I shut the door and the realized, this is ISRAEL.

I was alarmed to realized that the government needed to give out gas masks to its residents in case of attack from a war. Then, I was comforted that, if in fact there was a war, I'd have a gas mask to use if I needed it. Then, I was panicked that the gas mask I didn't have had to be given back. What if I needed it, what if another war breaks out tomorrow or while I'm here? Will they bring me a mask in time? How do those things work anyway? Do they have English?

The reality is, living in Israel is, at times, tenuous. Israeli's live with this truth each day and now I do too. But there is strength and conviction not cowardice or fear in the people. You see confidence in life and passion for living abundantly and peacefully. Israeli's tenuous nature does not come about from intolerance and fanaticism by it's people. In fact, it's just the opposite. Because of it's people Israel is a delicately balanced place where there is acceptance and co-existence. Not easy stuff. Not an easy place to be at times. But like the Psalmist says, it's a place that is firmly bound and knit together. Psalm 122:3

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Serendipity Rules!

Now that I am settled into my apartment in Jerusalem, you are probably wondering what it is that I do with my time. Believe me, I wonder that too at times but I quickly put that thought out of my head. I put on my Nancy Sinatra white vinyl walking boots that were made for walkin’ and I head down Ramban. Some days are planned such as Monday and Tuesday when I go to class at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Then, of course there’s Monday night when I go to Talpiot, a neighborhood on the opposite end of Jerusalem from Mount Scopus, for my belly dance class. The Egged Buses, remember them, have been successful getting me from Mount Scopus to Talpiot on time.

As for the rest of my days, well I’m afraid to say, serendipity rules. Actually, I’m not afraid to say it. SERENDIPITY RULES! I know this is the only time in my life that I’ll be able to say it with such conviction. So, boots, here we go, start walkin’.

Take Friday for example. I saw an ad for a violin ensemble concert at the Anna Ticho House. The series is called Concerticho, cute huh? Friends from the States told me about the Anna Ticho House. It’s a delightful museum and café with lovely gardens. Anna was an artist and her work is displayed throughout the house. Her husband, a doctor, had an extensive collection of Menorah lamps which are also displayed in his preserved study.

The concert began at 11:00 am so after I stopped at my favorite sleazy internet café on Yaffo Street; I made the short walk over. The ticket taker said, “44 shekels unless you’re a senior citizen, I’ll let you decide”. He saw my blossoming grey hair, but youthful face and demeanor….I guess he must have been confused. Believe me, often I am too when I see grey hair. I shook my head no, I wasn’t a senior. Then I remembered my Hebrew University student i.d. card!!! Cha-ching! I said, “ani student”, I am a student. “Show me i.d.” he said. I got out my HU i.d. card with photo and handed it over to him. He examined it as if he were reading the Torah. Then he looked at me still somewhat unsure, shook his head and said, 25 shekels. What, he’s never seen an older student?

I entered a room with arched windows and vaulted ceilings. The windows were open without screens; it was a sunny day with a slight breeze. I could see outside roses and geraniums still in bloom. The concert began. Two violinists, one who is Russian, accompanied by a pianist played three pieces of Bach’s Concerto in D Minor, three pieces from John William’s Schindler’s List, waltzes by Kreisler and Chopin, Romance by Sviridov and a Circus Fantasy by Drezdin. What a wonderful two hours, very peaceful and a lovely way to ready myself for Shabbat.

The day became a little looser after the concert. I went in to the Museum of Psalms, adjacent to Beit Ticho. The museum featured the work of Moshe Tzvi HaLevi Berger who painted all 150 Psalms in a very unique style. Moshe, artist, curator of the museum, Holocaust survivor and a serious student of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) was very happy to sit and talk to me for an hour before he closed for Shabbat. Moshe was born in Transylvania in 1924.

When Moshe found out that I wasn’t Jewish but a Christian AND that I was a “priest” he was really interested in what I thought about things. Particularly, Jesus. He recounted the history of Jews and Christians with a few variations on a theme. And why am I paying to attend Hebrew University to learn about Jews and Christians in Dialogue and Conflict in Late Antiquity with one of the best professors on the topic?

“Avraham, you know Avraham?” Moshe asked me. “Ken”, I said which means yes. He stroked his long grey beard, adjusted his kippah; I could tell that he was impressed with my Biblical scholarship. Then told me the story of Avraham and Sarah. Then he said, “Moshe, Moses”, you know, Moshe?” Again, I said “Ken”. “Noach, Noah, you know…”. “Ken, betakh, of course”, I said, “I know Noah, he’s the guy that built the ark right”. “Right” Moshe exclaimed as he pointed upwards. It was as if I finally understood the entire history of the Jews. Damn, that seminary education REALLY paid off.

“Just be a good Noahide” said Moshe, “keep the commands from the Almighty, you have 7 maybe 10. We, we Jews have 613 but some of them we don’t keep because ahhh, sadly there’s no temple. So, maybe 70 we keep.” “Ken,” I said, “but 70 is still a lot of commands to keep.” If only I had my camera with me. He shook his head yes and looked at me with a look of satisfaction and pride.

We were interrupted by the grounds keeper who in Hebrew said it was time to close, Shabbat was coming quickly. I bought a poster from Moshe but only had half of the shekels I needed. I said that I would come back on Sunday and give him the rest. And although he thought it would be best if I converted and become a Jew, I’m looking forward to my second visit with Moshe.
I walked out of the Museum of Psalms, put on my sunglasses and said, “boots, let’s go home”.


Every Day, and then the Rest

By foot, Jerusalem is not the easiest city to negotiate. The streets wind around; they descend and then ascend the hills of Yerushala’im. They change names. Keren Hayesod becomes King George Street, Sderot Hayim Hazaz becomes Sderot Hanasi Ben Zvi. Add to all of that, the Hebrew, Arabic, and English transliteration spellings on the street signs and you find yourself out on a half a day trek rather than a quick trip to the local shuk for a bunch of bananas. Memory, therefore, becomes a prime indicator of your whereabouts. I rely on mine often - turn left at the pharmacy, go past the café with the red and black sign, look at the street sign that says Ussishkin and know that it really means Ibn Ezra Ussishkin and Ibn Ezra will run directly into Rehov Ramban. I’m home!

Christians observed All Souls Day this past week. We remember our friends and loved ones who have died very recently or perhaps forty years ago. The bells toll, we strike a pleasant chord and we light the eternal flame within our heart so that we can clearly see and hear our beloved once again. Our lives are blessed by their presence and their memory is a source of continual blessing for us. On this day memory becomes a balm in which we can hurt and heal, forgive and ask to be forgiven, laugh and cry.

Should we not recall our loved ones and set aside a day for remembrance? Why just a day? It honors our past, and more importantly it establishes a new foundation from which we can create, with God’s guidance, a new day. I believe that we could greatly benefit from a daily dose of remembrance. Knowing our past, finding the markers which guide us home, is indeed what God asks us to do. Remember the Sabbath day; keep it holy. Remember that I, the Lord God, brought you out of slavery into the land of freedom. Ahhh, yes, that’s where I’ve been, now I can move ahead.

And Jesus, during his final meal with the disciples, said to take bread and wine and to be in thanksgiving and love and to do it in remembrance of him. Every time Christians partake in the meal of remembrance and thanksgiving we do so because it redirects us back onto the path of God’s love.

This week I have lit the candle of remembrance for Loretta and Richard, my mother and father. Their souls are a continued blessing to me.