Unlike most of you, I am still in Israel, though not Jerusalem. Though it is difficult to describe, the non-Jerusalem Israel is quite different from Jerusalem. People call Tel Aviv a bubble, but I am inclined to argue that Jerusalem is a bubble itself as well. I am currently staying in a town near Petakh Tikvah. There are some obvious differences between here and Jerusalem, those that always exist between cities and towns. For instance, many more parks and fields (in fact, recently, on a night-time walking excursion, my friend and I ventured into a field, at the beginning of which some people said something to us in Hebrew and my friend waved them off. I asked what they had said, to which she replied, without even glancing back at me, “Oh, they just said that it’s dark now and there are a lot of snakes in this field.” And so, not a care in the world, at least on her end, we kept right on with our little trek).
It is quiet here, seemingly tension-free (or at least concerning tension in relation to the conflict), and lacks the great diversity of Jerusalem. Most English-speakers speak only broken English, and aside from that, Hebrew, and Arabic, I have heard no other language. It is also much less religious. In fact, I have only encountered a few orthodox Jews in the oldest part of town. Other than that, all secular. And I don’t mind it. Though I loved Jerusalem and my experience there (despite the bumps along the way), it is refreshing and soothing to be here, where I can feel a bit more like I am on vacation.
Julia and Natalie have posted great wrap-up blog entries, so I figured I might give mine a go as well. In a way, I have immersed myself back in my typical, vacation-style life: I’m busy making meals out of my CSA share veggies, catching up with friends, and watching a ton of Rachel Maddow. It’s great.
Things remain changed, obviously, and I would have it no other way. I have no desire to shed what I’ve experienced during my time in Jerusalem; rather, I find myself crafting, along with other Smithies, ways in which I can continue the work I did this summer. I’m just starting to crack my research on US-based organizations that carry the similar missions of ICAHD, the organization with which I interned–my calender is already riddled with various events I hope to attend, both those in Western Massachusetts and those a little less feasible, both for geographic and financial reasons. I’ve been reading a lot of Ghassan Kanafani and trying, to no avail, to replicate Zalabieh (sticky fried dough balls dipped in syrup) in my kitchen. What surprise.
I have to keep myself muzzled when friends ask “How was it?”, as it’s usually safe to assume that they don’t want a two hour lecture concerning everything I’ve learned, seen, and done and what I hope to continue to do for the foreseeable future. I had, naively, forgotten that many (otherwise very intelligent) Americans think that Yemen is next to the West Bank and that Iran is not an Arab country, thus, at times, I am tempted to brush their inquiries off with a simple “it was great”. My time in the region, though, deserves more explanation. I am learning, slowly, that I’d rather scare my audience and tailor my storytelling slightly than keep my mouth shut.
I miss Jerusalem a ton. I miss tripping over the uneven cobblestone of the Old City; the unstructured, wonderful world of my workplace which involved lots of talking to Palestinians, guests in their homes, and translating their stories for English audiences; my second home, the Jerusalem Hotel, where my friends and I shared huge pitchers of mint lemonade and argileh in the shade of the garden restaurant; the dry heat; always having incredibly dense, never ending conversation. I’ve simplified a lot of my time in Jerusalem for the sake of this blog, but I really hope to return in the near future. In one of my conversations (this one concerning the legitimacy of a one-state solution), a friend told me that he didn’t want anyone to have to leave Jerusalem. “Jews and Palestinians shouldn’t have to pay the price of their parents,” he said “and everyone loves their homes in Jerusalem just as much as I do.” So, yeah. I love Jerusalem. My experiences, politics, and view of the city certainly differ from others who have posted on this blog, but my admiration for this city, in all of its unholy behavior and holy incorporeal nature.
In my glory of being reunited with America, I’ve promptly forgotten about the perils of this sometimes drama-ridden blog and thus have almost forgotten to do my last post (sorry Professors!) Alas, I keep remembering and am finally sitting down to write it. Part of my hesitation is truly because I have forgotten about the journey that this blog has taken with us and am so immersed in life here I haven’t had time but the other part of me has hesitated to write my last entry because I truly don’t know what to say.
It seems like lifetimes ago that we were packing up our apartment on our final day on French Hill. That Sunday we finished our last cleaning, expectantly waited for the silent man to inspect our rooms and grunt an OK or order to clean under our beds just a little better before we leave, went into town for a bit and then began the final wait for Monday morning at 3:30 for our sherut to take us back to, for most of us, our homeland and away from this religious one. Natalie and I watched as first Jiajing fluttered off to another side of the world in the morning, Katy left in the afternoon for her yearlong stay in another part of Israel that sometimes seemed like another part of the world, and at night when Carole left to go back to her native land. As we waved Carole out the door, Natalie smiled and shrugged her shoulders at me: “and then there were 2!” and plopped down on the couch. We had a light dinner, attempting to figure out a way to eat without silverware, plates, or glasses, and cuddled into our beds for an internet-less night of expectation. Whenever I would pause my reruns of Friends on my computer (the only entertainment I could think of to try to lull myself to sleep despite my excitement), I would hear the murmurs of her Friends episodes through our wall and laugh to myself at how pathetic we were without our beloved internet. We somehow managed to make it through the night getting bits of sleep here and there and were off the next day.
I know we are not supposed to have a nicely wrapped-up two sentences about how we feel about Jerusalem, the conflict, our internships, the GES in general, our experiences, etc but I do feel like that is what people are looking for when they ask “so…how WAS it?!” I am almost learning more about my friendships in terms of how I answer that question. To those who I don’t feel like explaining things to or I don’t think would understand, I just mutter off what I know they want to hear: “it was really fabulous and I miss it a lot though I’m glad to be home.” But to those who I am closer with, I hesitate, as I’m sure all of us are doing and try to explain: “It was really good. It was great, actually. I loved it. But…it was so hard. You can’t really describe it – there was so much tension everywhere you go – what you buy, what terminology you use, it was all political and you can’t escape that in your everyday life. It was difficult to have such religious extremes – on both sides – and to know there is so much anger and frustration and just extremism present in such a small, hot, crowded place. You had to be on guard everywhere you went. Yes, I felt safe. But in some ways I wasn’t. It’s complicated.”
Not to be elitist about it, but no one gets it – except for the other 9 in the group. When I tried explaining to a family friend that “it was a really hard place to be in” she responded “you mean, like customs? it was hard to go through customs?” I tried not to laugh when I answered that wasn’t exactly what I meant.
I loved it and I hated it, I miss it horribly and can’t imagine going back anytime in the near future. As Natalie just posted, I find myself thinking about the familiar streets and foods and shops but I can’t quite grasp them – it all feels like a dream. Perhaps it will feel more real when I see people back at school and we can reminisce. I still find myself half awak on Friday mornings looking for Carole to go get challah or disappointed on Saturday afternoon that I really want to get something from the store but, alas, it’s shabbat and everything’s closed. Then I laugh at myself as I grab the keys.
I thought I would have more nostalgia for this country – we would joke that when we first went into Target or Stop and Stop and realized that most anything we wanted was in one single store that we would kiss the ground and run around so happy to be back when there was an aisle with bandaids right next to an aisle with bikes right next to one with towels. But I’ve realized that I’ve been in tons of stores and places I thought I would die with happiness to be back at and I didn’t really notice – it goes to show how Americanized we’ve become – how ingrained it is that we should expect to have everything in every place we go. While I’ve missed the people horribly, I’ve gotten used to my American life a little too easily and wonder what that says about me. I’m trying to remember the values I learned in Jerusalem, however clique they may be – a meal where you literally can’t stop eating the homemade challah and fresh figs from the market around a table with your closest friends laughing so hard they fall on the ground as you can feel the hustle and bustle of the week slow down into a night and day of rest can be the most important part of your week.
I hope as time goes on I can figure out how to more eloquently explain what I “got out” of the summer and how it changed me. For now, I’m still stuttering over my words…at least there are 9 others who know exactly what I’m trying to say.
I’m finally sitting in my room at Smith, which I’ve so missed for the past three months. And, I’ll admit, it feels good. I love Northampton– the cafes, the theater (though, alas, we’ve lost our beloved video store), the summer lull with few students around.
But it’s a bit strange, too. In some ways, I feel as if I never left. Or as if the changes here, including the renovations on my beloved Gillett House, happened over the course of a day when I happened to be away. And yet, very often I find my mind wandering down familiar paths– of Jerusalem.
I find myself walking from my office on Paratroopers Lane (yes, technically that’s its name…) up Yaffo to Ben Yehuda. Or down the souk in the Old City from Jaffa Gate to Al-Attarin, then to the Via Dolorosa and St. Anne’s. It’s as if by, even imaginarily, going down these same streets– hot and unbearable as they seemed just last week, I won’t lose them. And I hope I won’t.
People keep asking me, “How was Jerusalem??” and it’s almost impossible to tell them. Much of the time it was really hard. Sometimes I didn’t want to be there at all. And yet it was also so rewarding. I got to know people and have experiences I otherwise would never have had. Which doesn’t sound like much, I know– but then again– the experience was, for me, somehow incommunicable.)
I didn’t go on the seminar to have a vacation, and it certainly didn’t turn out to be one. But, more importantly, it changed me. And in the end, contrary to what I found myself thinking after our seminar, I do actually want to go back.
I spent time last night with my friend who is fasting for Ramadan and we talked about what it’s like to fast surrounded by wholly secular, non-fasting people. Here, religion, like many other aspects of identity, is wholly individualized. My friend is half Egyptian and half Iranian (and has lived in the States for most of his life, where he was born), but spent his high school years in Kuwait. Though his family, who still reside in Kuwait, came to Massachusetts to spend Ramadan with him, he longs for the collective “we’re doing this together” feeling that he remembers fasting in the Middle East.
I’ve discussed notions of collective identity a lot over the summer. One thing that my friend said that really surprised me is that he thinks a lot more about what fasting really means to him when it’s not something that everyone around him is doing. While the sense of community can definitely complete the experience for many–and I’m sure this carries over for various religious practices and their attached identities of Jerusalemites–the personal aspect of what it means to him is amplified by the fact that he is upholding Ramadan in the face of a society that hardly takes notice to the millions of Muslims fasting worldwide. Because he does not have the support network that he does in Kuwait or Egypt, he struggles with much more temptation and, on a good day, his sense of his relationship to the fast, God, and Islam is strengthened by nightfall.
During our last week in Jerusalem, Hunter and I visited the Museum on the Seam, located, not surprisingly, directly on the Green Line; it’s that building we all probably pass on the bus whose exterior flashes “The Olive Trees Will Be Our Borders” in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. The museum is dedicated to showing international works with socio-political themes and, during our visit, a work was displayed that addressed an urban legend apparently found in the Arab and Muslim world: if you flip the Coca Cola sign backwards, it reads, in Arabic, la Muhammed la Mecca (no Muhammed no Mecca). With a bit of creativity, you actually can decipher that message. The piece itself was basically a giant neon Coca Cola sign displayed in a mirror image, making it easy for Arabic speakers to see the message. Whether or not the conspiracy was intentional (and I’m going with no), Coca Cola is obviously still widely popular in the Middle East, and conspiracy theories, just as they do elsewhere, run rampant and generally unaddressed. I’ve heard some pretty wild things during my time abroad, but I’ve also had the chance to dissect misconstrued ideas, in their multitude of formations, with Palestinian, Israeli, and international friends this summer.
When I was in Jerusalem, I took notice to the graffiti around the city. As I rode the bus or walked around town, looking out for new artwork or recognizable stencils became one of my favorite activities. Art on the Wall aside, the particularities of graffiti in my home base was of particular interest: one day, while strolling through City Center with Natalie, we came upon a picture, glued some time ago to the concrete of a building’s exterior, with “Where is East Jerusalem?” scrawled over its image. Of course, there’s also the ever-famous Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (which I still can’t stay without stuttering, how wholly appropriate) displayed on every single corner of seemingly every single street in the city. I seriously can’t get away from it; if I want to find one, all I really ever had to do was look around. There was also this cartoon rabbit that popped up all over Jerusalem. I have no idea if it held any particular symbolism or meaning, but it was almost as prolific as the Na Nach graffiti, occasionally taking sister forms in frogs and cats with the same bubbly appearance.
It’s surreal to be back in the States, partly because I’m going on four hours of sleep on top of traveling on very little rest. I’m back in my parent’s house, though, with non-mangy cats, local produce galore, and the ocean breeze. I’ve changed my home page back from Ha’aretz to Al Jazeera, though I haven’t yet peeled the ominous looking ‘5’ from my passport (thanks, border patrol, luv you, too). The evening before leaving, my friends and I met for drinks and one last argileh session at the Jerusalem Hotel (Where else? I think I might just take up residency here.); on our way over, we passed Damascus Gate, lit up for Ramadan in the Holy Land. I spent last Ramadan in Egypt and, while amazed by the liveliness of nighttime–amazing sweets, festive atmosphere–I couldn’t wait for my friends to stop sleeping all afternoon, to buy a sandwich before sunset. I’m really disappointed that I just missed Ramadan in Jerusalem, though. I watched shop keepers advertise Ramadan deals and sales, string multicolored, flashing neon calligraphy Muhammed signs from their shops, honey-dipped sweets stick to one another in the mid-day heat. I found something in Jerusalem that I didn’t have in Egypt, especially not during my first days in the country: a community. I wanted to experience Ramadan nights with my friends, watch re-runs of Bab al-Hara, hear joyous noises on the streets until five in the morning, when everyone eats their last bits of food and plans for the long day ahead.
Recently, I found out that there was a place near the Hebrew University dorms where you could use FREE computers, printers, and laundry facilities. Sounds too good to be true right? Well, almost. All you have to do is give them your name, email address, and college that you attend. OH and be Jewish. (Or at least interested in being Jewish, I’m not entirely sure) Sounds like Chabad right? Close. Nope, the organization that I am talking about is none other than Jeff Seidel Jewish Student Center. A very interesting organzation run by a very interesting man. Yep, you guessed it, his name is none other than Jeff Seidel. If you go on to the website GotShabbat.com you can find Shabbat hospitality anywhere in the WORLD. Talk about Jewish Geography. Next time I’m in India I’m definitely hitting up that website.
One of the places I went to while in Tel Aviv was the separate beach. I’m sure all of you are wondering what the separate beach is. Before we get some crazy ideas, I’ll put them all down by saying that the beach is a separate gender beach, open to men on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and women on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Swimming is an activity that many religious Jews often do not partake in, due to the rather “immodest” clothing options and therefore the separate beach is a perfect solution. The only problem was that Bess and I went to Tel Aviv on a Wednesday. What were we supposed to do then? It seems like there should be two areas, one for men and one for women, even if they are far apart (NO PEEKING!!!). What if your whole family wanted to go to at once? Some things just don’t make sense.