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Right in the Middle of it all

“Because of the holiness of Shabbat, the Fast of the Ninth of Av (“Tish’ah B’Av”) is observed today, Av 10. The fast mourns the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel

For approximately 25 hours–from sundown on Saturday to nightfall Sunday evening–we abstain from eating and drinking, bathing, the wearing of leather footwear, and marital relations. It is customary to sit on the floor or a low seat until after mid-day. Torah study is restricted to laws of mourning, passages describing the destruction of the Temple, and the like. The tefillin are worn only during the afternoon Minchah prayers.” (Online Source)

After weeks of reflection and quite a stressful schedule, I’m finally able to describe to you one of the most intense, eye-opening, and wonderful nights I experienced in Jerusalem.
On the night of August 29th, I was caught between Ramadan and Tishah B’av, two religions, two peoples- two worlds.

We took the train to Damascus gate. The station was packed with Hasidic, Zionist, and modern Jews which I was able to differentiate by their clothing, kipah style, and with the help of my good friend and co-worker, recently turned non-religious yeshiva alum, Beny. He reiterated the importance of kipahs to Jewish identity adding that “the material that it is made is just as important as the color of the kipah. For example, the knitted kippot are worn by religious Zionist and modern orthodox Jews while velvet or cloth variations are typically worn by Charedim. When I was religious I wore a woven black kipah because I’m an academic.”

The usual black dress shoes were replaced with dark colored crocs, nike shoes with rubber flip flops, and some opted shoes for nothing at all. The absence of leather was just one of the many signs that the people surrounding me were headed to the Cotel. When we got off at Damascus gate only a small fraction of the train joined us. I soon realized why as we got closer to the Muslim quarter; There were buses full of Jews, streets full of Arabs, every inch of the the sidewalks were used for small businesses or street traffic. Ramadan had ended a few hours before and lights, people, music, food, and shopping transformed the area from my familiar quiet morning and early afternoon commute to work to a louder and more compact version of time square.

The small group of Jews that got off the train with us had gathered with many others at a bustop near the gate, but instead of using the sidewalk by the bus sign, they stayed further back, hidden under a tree’s shadow packed together for protection. As buses full of Jews passed as they made their way to the Cotel, jeering Arab children and teenagers sat on railings lining the road. I was immediately grateful for wearing my leather sandals, and took off my sweater to look more immodest and therefore more foreign. I felt conflicted seeing those who weren’t foreign and who couldn’t disguise themselves and whose identity was out in the open, only feeling protected in numbers under a tree. How it must feel to be in an open space where you outnumbered by people who wish you didn’t exist. How it must feel to cross a street and then suddenly be vulnerable.
We found that only a few Jews were willing to take the path to the Cotel through the Arab market and even then, were redirected out of the market by Israeli police and soldiers. When we got a couple minutes away from Al-aqsa entrance, the service had just let out and the roads became even more flooded with Muslims.

We passed through the normal security, and entered the Jewish quarter which was heavily crowded. The normal section separator was expanded outwards to make more room for that night’s visitors and protect purity through separation of the sexes. Guards were stationed to enforce the intention’s of the barrier where women with small families were resting on the ground with blankets and pillows. Everywhere were people with tissues and tears, mourning the destruction of the temple. It was like I passed through a veil, entering a parallel universe going through security. Whereas before I was surrounded with joy, and loud life after breaking a long day’s fast, this holiday was about quiet, respect, and mourning. The sudden switch of vibes definitely affected me.

We went around the Jewish quarter overlooking the Cotel hoping to find an interesting pathway through the rooftops and ran into an exhibition by “The Temple Institute” which showed plans for rebuilding the temple with a model where the Dome of the Rock and Al-aqsa were missing from it’s plans. The workers of the exhibit asked for donations that would fund the purchases of proper building materials, priest’s robes, and other necessary materials needed for producing the exact replica. The demonstration seemed to seduce many of the mourners and gave me a weird feelings towards this kind of nationalism since the “Temple Mount” is important to Islam as well.

When we finally made our way back to the train station, the buses had JUST stopped running (we probably shouldn’t have stopped for that 10nis Shwarma…) so we had a nice long walk back to Mount Scopus to reflect on the night that showed a very different picture of Jerusalem.

Rebekah Renfro

Last Lunch

To celebrate my last day at Keshev, my coworkers threw a little lunch party for me. Although most people work only a few days a week, everyone came in today to say good-bye. It was great to see everyone together in one space and enjoy a delicious meal and good company. Everyone brought a dish for the meal and we ordered some falafel and pita from a local restaurant.

Lunch was a whirlwind of multiple conversations in English and Hebrew. New conversations would begin in English and then shift to Hebrew as my coworkers became passionate about the subject. One of my coworkers joked that Israelis struggle to speak anything but Hebrew, even if they are fluent in another language. I wondered what he meant by this. From taking Yiddish I know that the history of the rise of Modern Hebrew is significant. The determination of Eliezer Ben Yehuda to revive Hebrew is an amazing story – Hebrew (along with Yiddish) united a diasporic people. I wonder if this history is still relevant today and explains the pride Israelis take in speaking Hebrew.

Also, just a fun fact. I learned that the table we had lunch on was the table one part of the Oslo Accords was signed on. I had never noticed it before, but there was even a small historic plaque explaining it on one of the corners. The table is old and falling apart, but my coworkers are very proud of it. I even heard the story of how the table was basically walked from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because it wouldn’t fit in a car! This was a perfect example of how small Israel is. Everyone has some claim to history.


Commuting to Work

One of the amazing things about living and working in Jerusalem is the amount of history you walk past everyday. As commutes go, my commute (from the kfar to the Givati Parking lot) was fairly fast and easy. My commute, taking the light rail to Damascus gate and then walking through the Muslim quarter to Dung gate and the dig, took on average only 30 minutes. In retrospect, this is most likely the easiest commute I will ever have, and certainly the most interesting.
My commute took me to Damascus Gate, through the Arab market and quarter which use to be apart of the spice trade or silk road, along part of the Via Dolorosa and some of the stops on the Via Dolorosa, across the plaza in front of the Kotel and the Haram al-Sharff (Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock), through Dung Gate and across the street to Givati. The amount of history I passed in 30 minutes was astouding. However, some mornings I stopped and noticed it taking my time through the commute, and other mornings (especially if I was rushing so I wouldn’t be late) I didn’t notice any of the history I was passing. I also didn’t stop to recognize any of what I was passing on my way back to the kfar after work, by that time I was tired, covered in dirt, and trying to walk through crowds of tourists and people shopping in the market.
How easily I was able to swtich between appreciating where I was and what I was seeing and blowing right past it made me wonder whether Jerusalemites ever stop to appreciate where they live and the history that surrounds them. Or, because they have always lived there, their surroundings are mundane or at least nothing new and my fasciantion came from the fact that I was a tourist. The town I grew up in in New Jersey has a fair amount of historical places that come out of the Revolutionary war. In elemetary school we would always take field trips to these places and I was never particularly interested in them. To this day I have no interest in visiting these places, but I’m sure that there are people who would be extremely fascinated by them. To me though, they are just apart of where I live and thats about it. They don’t affect my everyday life in any way. While it is plausible that this is the way some Jerusalemites may feel about the city I still have trouble believing that there could be anyway who is unaware or uninterested by the fact that live in such a historical rich city as Jerusalem.


The Chagall Windows

Eliana, Nick, and I went to see the Chagall Windows in the Synagogue at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Marc Chagall was born in the Russian Empire in 1887. He was 97 years old at his death in 1985. He is considered a “Jewish artist” because he incorporated Jewish images and stories into his art. Therefore, it is no stretch that he was the artist that created the stain glass windows in the synagogue.
Chagall created the stained glass windws for the synagogue in 1962. It took him two years to complete them. Before being permanently installed in the synagogue they travelled throughout the world, including being displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
There are twelve windows, a window for each tribe of Israel. Each window also tells a different story from the Old Testament focusing on the blessing Jacob bestowed on each of his twelve sons as well as the blessing Moses placed on the twelve tribes. Each window is also dominated by a single color used to tell the story being told by each window.
The first thing that I noticed about the windows was that they were not illuminated by natural light. When you are approaching the synagogue from the outside, the windows look dark. While they are still beautiful, I was disappointed that the windows were artifically lit. I had always thought that part of the beauty of stained glass was the glass being illuminated by natural light. On the other hand, the fact that these windows were artifically lit and still beautiful showed that natural light is not required when dealing with stained glass. After a little bit of googling, I found that when the windows were unveiled, the use of artificial light instead of natural lights was a point of contesion and Chagall as criticized by many for it.


Back in the US

It really is so strange to be back in the US after being in Israel so long. Coming out of JFK, I felt the same way that I did when I would visit the US from France: excitement and a little sadness. I am happy that now I can read everything on the signs and that it doesn’t matter what religion I am, but it’s less challenging to be in the US. I was talking to my boyfriend’s parents the other day, and they asked me to tell them about my trip. I found it difficult because I hadn’t fully synthesized my experience within my own mind yet. Do I tell them about the culture shock? About the school? About the conflict? There are so many different angles I could take that it’s hard to just start with one. I guess what I have to say is that I’m happy to be back, but I also miss the daily problems that Israel offers. Here, I rarely think about the conflict and how people interact with each other, I just kind of take it for granted. I guess that’s the first thing that pops to mind when I have to summarize my experience: you can’t just be in Israel. That’s exhausting, but also exhilarating.


English in Hebrew

Being a linguistics minor, language obviously holds a place in my heart. When I went to India, I found it very cool that everyone was speaking in a hybrid version of Hindi and English. Even when we went to the movies, I could somewhat understand what was happening because of the amount of English put in with the Hindi. Although it is not to the same extent here in Israel, there is still a usage of English in every day Hebrew. For example, when one of the little kids misbehaved, Haggit would always turn to them and say, “Lama? Why?” It was very funny for me to hear her say that, considering she is the one who speaks the less English. Even with my older girls, I would hear English words thrown into their language once in a while. It reminds me of my high school: we spoke a hybrid of French and English constantly, sometimes throwing in some Spanish for good measure. It’s fun to see how language develops (and how much English has become globalized) in different places.


A Red-Eyed Goodbye

For the past two and a half months, this is what I woke up to every day: the view from the second floor of building two in the kfar studentine of Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus. This is French Hill. People in cars, on mopeds, on foot going to work, coming home, going to school, to the supermarket, to synagogue, to meet up with friends in the center of town. Places far. Place near. This is Jerusalem.

In mere hours, I won’t get to see this anymore. I won’t be able to go into the Old City or the Center of Town or the German Colony or Rehavia whenever I wanted. I won’t be able to watch the sun set over the Dome of the Rock. I won’t be able to eat falafel at midnight every day of the week. I won’t be able to articulate the sheer feeling of having your breath taken away almost every second of every day. In just a few hours, I won’t be here anymore.

I never imagined that I could become so attached to one place to the point where thinking about leaving it makes my heart feel like it is being torn to shreds. Last week, when we took the bus back from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I looked out the window and my eyes brimmed with tears upon seeing the sun set over the rolling hills of Israel’s countryside. I thought to myself: how could I ever bring myself to leave this place when I’ve become so completely attached to it? I’m not religious but something inside me just pulls me to this city and this country that I’m about to leave. Every thing hurts right now. I don’t want to leave.



On Tuesday Eliana, Nick, Sarah, and I traveled to an ancient port city whose transliterated name has yet to be decided on. It was a spectacular sunny day with temperatures in the high nineties. First, we stopped by Jaffa/Yafo’s flea market where you can buy anything your heart desires or your mind dreams up. Literally, anything: bicycle horns, television remotes from the 90s, half-empty boxes of condoms. I bought several pieces of jewelry there at ridiculously low prices in addition to a stylish pair of sunglasses for only fifteen shekels.

Part of the flea market.

Next, we headed to Old Jaffa where we had lunch right by the water. It was decent, however, Nick had the blandest shakshuka I had ever tasted. We also tried looking for an ice cream place that was rumored to have hummus flavored ice cream, but we searched to no avail. I did have falafel before we headed home, in spite of its much inflated price (8 shekels more expensive than the ones in French Hill). No matter; falafel is always worth it.

Old Jaffa/Yafo.

After a few hours of wandering  around we decided to walk along the shore. That is when Nick and Sarah decided to rent bicycles. In Tel Aviv, one can rent a bicycle for 14 shekels a day using a debit card. The only problem was that because balance has never been one of my strong points, I never learned how to ride a bike. After half an hour of Sarah trying to teach me, me screaming “I don’t want to die and take everyone on the sidewalk with me!”, and Nick photographing the entire  fiasco, we decided to give up. Then, we found a giant jungle gym made out of rope to climb on. Did I mention I was wearing a form-fitting mini skirt the entire day? Basically, I’m the number one public enemy of the ultra-orthodox.

Sarah contemplating on all the valuable insights she has heard while in Israel this summer. As she looks West out into the Mediterranean, she wonders what newly acquired knowledge and skills she will able to bring back with her to New Jersey.

To top off the day, we ran through sprinklers at the park and then had gelato. Ah, what I wouldn’t give to be young again!


Raspberries and Politics

Recently, one of my coworkers invited me on a trip to pick raspberries with her family in the West Bank. Before the trip I had to receive approval from our host organization but this proved to be simple thanks to the quick action of a staff member. My coworker, first of all, is someone who has reported on Israel and the greater Middle East for more than two decades and has received many accolades. I actually grew listening to her on the radio, so to have the opportunity to hear her insights into the settlements, the wall, the tunnels, checkpoints etc. all while traveling through them was amazing. On the way to the raspberries, before leaving Jerusalem, we stopped at the store so that one of her kids could buy whip cream, we then ventured into the West Bank. In reality, it’s not much of a “venture” at all it’s really quite simple. The way the roads are set up it facilitates the easiest experience for the driver traveling from Jerusalem to the settlements.  We were close to places we had visited during the seminar on our tour of some of the settlements, including Gush Etzion and had we continued further on the road we would have gone to Hebron. Shortly after the second tunnel there was a large yellow sign that read something like “Handing over your car for repairs in the Palestinian Authority is illegal.” I learned that many Israelis had previously sent cars to be worked on the in the West Bank because it was a lot cheaper than repair places in Israel.

The landscape leading up to the farm is quintessentially biblical with green shrubs and empty hill tops save for lined stoned terraces. The raspberry patch itself is perched on a hillside with a great view looking west over hills.

View looking North-West from raspberry patch

The farmer had opened especially for us (it was the end of the season), so we were the only ones there. Despite it being the end of the season there were many wonderful berries to be picked. We focused mostly on the raspberries but there were also some blackberries but most were not ripe yet.

At one point I was off picking from a patch by myself and I could not hear or see anyone else, for what was the first time this summer. It was beautiful and peaceful and the irony of this moment existing in one of the most contested spaces was not lost on me. I felt conflicted about the location of the berries and still do but as a student I have the ability to say it was a learning experience which indeed it was. To make a slight tangent, being a student and an international one at that, gives you the ability to have experiences not many people can have without having nine billion strings attached or harsh repercussions. Particularly, in a politically charged environment I am very aware of the privileged status I have. The privilege includes more than just my “student” status but also my skin color, nationality, language, lack of religion (which this summer has allowed me to breeze through some things but in other ways actually been held against me).  There have been many moments of beauty this summer which I must admit have surprised me. Likewise, there have been many moments where I have witnessed some dreadful things. It seems that the political is rarely void in any situation including picking fruit but this view is also informed by my status as a student.

Organic raspberries

On the farm we picked and ate so many berries, chatted and even competed to find the tastiest ones. I had the lovely job of eating and rating the berries. The berries are organic and you payed a small entrance fee so you could eat as many as you liked. After finishing we made our way back to the top of the hill where one of my coworker’s children, who is an aspiring chef (and only 11), put together berry arrangements with mint leaves and whip cream. I was pretty impressed. On our way off the farm we stopped to pay for the containers we had filled. After weighing the farmer removed three percent of the berries and read a prayer and then threw the three percent on the ground. This tradition is preformed for fruit grown in Israel, as my coworker explained this to me she said in the “biblical definition of Israel, not modern day Israel.” It was nice to pause for a moment and listen to the prayer, which was in Hebrew.


The fruit here is absolutely amazing and I had been wanting to pick my own since we arrived and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity. Picking fruit is an immensely satisfying and fun experience. I would think this enjoyment and satisfaction I experience is related to my own background except that most people I know seem to enjoy it as much as I do, including my coworker and her family.



The other day I went to the mall with a couple of my girls, which was seriously the cutest thing ever. They told Elena and I to wait, and then picked out five outfits for us to try on, and told us we had to buy at least one item. It was so adorable.

All that aside, one thing I noticed at the Malha Mall was all of the mizuzahs in front of all the stores. Once again, this just reminded me that this is a Jewish state. And as great as that is, I definitely feel an element of exclusion from it. As much as I love Israel and the Jewish people, there is a huge element of exclusion present in the everyday non-Jew’s life. This certainly isn’t a phenomenon found only in Israel, but I felt like I should comment on it any way. It must be difficult for the Arabs (and other residents of Israel) to feel so left out from such a huge part of Israel. It must also be very hard to be reminded every day that you’re not a part of a huge section of the culture of Israel. I’m not surprised that there is such a huge divide between the two sides of the conflict, considering how much exclusion happens on both sides.