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During my time at SPNI…

During my time as an intern at SPNI I have emerged with knowledge that I can carry throughout my environmental studies, particularly with topics associated with community participation and engagement. My experiences at SPNI also have ignited a new interest in community gardens because of the potential they have to bolster and change community in a neighborhood. My internship was a mix of gardening and a new garden project in the Abu Tor neighborhood.

Interning with the Community Gardens department allowed me to engage with Jerusalem differently than any office internship probably could. Daily I made trips to several gardens around Jerusalem; most were in the Talpiot region. Each garden has its own story, from HaDavidka, which was transformed from a trash hub to a beautiful green space that continues to grow with vegetables and decorative plants to the Arnona garden, forming after the success of composters at the garden site. Like Izzy Ross explored in her “Normalcy” blog post, living in this city for 3 months is an intimidating thought. The garden work component of my internship, however, allowed me to integrate myself into the city and create a routine for myself. Traveling around the city weekly, to work in various gardens was an opportunity to meld myself within it. Revisiting these gardens week after week created familiar faces for me, and I felt myself becoming acquainted with people and the different neighborhoods in the city. Working in gardens, and speaking with the Garin Dvash (national service garden workers) and SPNI contacts (like those with the municipality) was very helpful in observing how other established gardens function, how they engage and attract members of the community, and how the gardens differ from one another.

I learned about many aspects of community gardens, from gardening to the work it takes to support a garden. I learned about mulch and types of composting, working with different soils, building fertile soil in places where the natural soil differs, learning tools and being resourceful to change conditions for a specific place. During garden visits, I observed active engagement with nature and social connections forming. I gained some local knowledge, learned more about Jerusalem, and how SPNI works to protect and preserve the landscape and natural environment and how issues are addressed/acknowledged.

Although this internship was challenging (language barriers, trouble navigating the city, different frustrations, etc) it was a pleasant experience. It is something that’s definitely going on my list of “things I’ll miss about Jerusalem.” When I travel to Ketura next February to study at the Arava Institute, you can catch me visiting the ever-evolving community gardens that now hold a place in my heart.

Mary Ann

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So little time, so little art

After being on my to-do list for two months, I finally went to the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art on the last Tuesday of our stay. There are nine different galleries listed on our visitor’s map in chronological order, however, two of the rooms were temporarily closed. In addition to the different forms of Islamic art during the Muslim period, the museum houses a watch and clock collection, called The Sir David Solomon’s Collection of Clocks and Watches. Next to this collection is an new exhibit called “Between Sorrow and Beauty” by Fatima Abu Romi. I wandered around only two of the three floors of the museum because I was pressed for time.

The “Between Sorrow & Beauty” collection contained many portraits of both women and men. Almost every portrait and piece in this collection contained a veil. The exhibition makes parallels between the pain, barriers, and oppression placed on women, but also the feminity and lack of masculinity of veils and hijabs. There were several men that were depicted wearing a veil or with a veil drawn across the canvas. I spent the most time in this room.

A man's silhouette. Photo from the L.A. Mayer Museum website

A man’s silhouette.
Photo from the L.A. Mayer Museum website

The watch and clocks gallery is situated in a dark room. Clocks are housed behind glass cases and pocket watches suspended from above. The metals of the pocket watches illuminate in the room. This part of the museum is very out of place with the rest of the museum, as it features timekeepers with no connection or clear association with Islamic horology or even Islamic art. The room’s set up and environment is very different from the rest of the museum as well. As Justin informed the group previously, the museum’s Islamic art collection is meager, so I was not entirely surprised to find a small collection. But it is unfortunate, as Islam has a noticeable influence on and in Jerusalem.

Mary Ann

Reading “Jerusalem’s Unique Climate”

I was reading the article, “Jerusalem’s Unique Climate,” that Yvonne posted in her blog post. I wished the author had included the “Figure 1” to which he refers to show that the climate of Jerusalem is very close to ideal. But I agree with his point: I will miss the weather here. In 48+ hours, I will be in a a totally different climate.

— Asako

The concept of strangers

There were several occasions when strangers tried to have a conversation with me, recognizing that I was Japanese. And I was very uncomfortable and scared every time.

At first, I wondered if I was afraid of men in general, which I realized immediately is not true because I have no problem with male professors at Smith. In fact, most of my professors happen to be men. My favorite professors happen to be men.

So I though a little bit more.  I think it is the lack of context that scares me. If I’m being served by a male waiter in a cafe, I know the kinds of behavior expected of each other and we know how to behave. But when a male stranger comes over to me, there is no context to define our relationship between us other than strangers. And that scares me. Even if he says he likes to meet Japanese, I have a good reason to doubt that he might be saying this to rape Japanese girls. If I tell the man, “You’re a stranger, no better than somebody who hates Japanese,” and he laughs and says, “I don’t believe in strangers,” that’s even worse! A stranger not believing in the concept of strangers is the most dangerous stranger to me given that I have no means of verifying who he says he is. Besides, unless I’m in need of help, the most polite thing that a stranger can do to me is to stay out of my life.

That pretty much says why I had a bad experience at Tel-Aviv.


youll never get rich diggin a ditch

If I were creating a country nowadays I would probably have everyone serve mandatory military service. I mean, it’s a smart move, right? Think about it. If everyone above a certain age has served, the entire country has common ground, a shared traumatic experience. It builds a strong sense of trust, loyalty and nationalism. It makes it very difficult for anyone to get in an argument at a bar. Like, for example, if a paratrooper in the IDF says something like “I jump out of planes to arrest Arabs- all arabs rape white women,” and a young American girl should try to explain to said paratrooper how this could be a very problematic thing to say, IDF soldiers swoop in from all sides to defend their comrade. Perhaps they have never met, but they share an identity, a struggle, and partners in arms have to stick together.

On a related note, I have learned a lot about the process of getting out of the military. If you are depressed or have serious health issues you can get out, but it is a long and difficult process. There is also a massive stigma that goes along with it and it can have social implications for the rest of your life. As I said above, the shared experience of military service is a great way to make friends. “Where did you serve?” is often the first question asked and a quick conversation starter. Its also the first question asked at job interviews, and if your resume says you didn’t finish your military service, potential employers will want to know why. Not only does it reflect on your health and mental stability, you are looked at as a deserter, a pussycat that wimped out and left the rest of your peers to carry your weight.



Hell-Aviv: A city in puberty

Though our course was focused on Jerusalem, we were fortunate enough to be able to travel around Israel a bit in our free time. This mostly means taking the bus Tel Aviv. It is cheap (~30 shekels round trip, which is about $8) and the bus ride is an easy 50 minutes. We went a few times for parties and events like Pride, and I went a couple times for work as well (see my blog post soon to come about visiting tour operators).

Tel Aviv has a rep. If Israel were a high school, Tel Aviv would be that girl with the tattoos that parties a lot. When you tell someone you’re living in Jerusalem for the summer they want to know if you have been to TLV and what you think of it. It is supposed to be alternative and artsy and fun and young. I’ve come to a consensus with several people that what it actually is is dirty and hot and vulgar and immature. As we learned in our seminar, TLV was created as an “anti-Jerusalem,” which, after having lived here for 3 months I can see why this was needed. Jerusalem is intense, visceral, passionate, animalistic. It is difficult to be here nonstop without a little break, a little rest from everything being so important. But, like a preteen rebelling against her parents, the way Tel Aviv achieves this is by being shallow and bratty and not bathing. It is alternative for the sake of being alternative. Its artsy, laid-back atmosphere is contrived. Tel avivians want to be disconnected and above the intensity of Jerusalem and the region, yet the very nature of being in Israel means you are connected to the issues at hand. Tel Aviv wants to be a hip, international city, but it has no unique characteristics or culture or history to add.

Plus I just don’t like the beach. You try keeping this complexion from burning to a crisp under that unforgiving sun.



Old City Industry

The first impression of the Old City can seem like wandering around an “authentic market”, with thousands upon thousands of scarves and cloths, jewelry, and sweets stands.  But the more time I spend walking down the streets of the Christian and Muslim quarters, the more I have come to realize that what is being sold there seems to be part of an industry created for tourists.  Almost every shop sells items identical to the ones a few doors down.

These parts of the Old City have a contrasting mixture of old stone streets with a feeling of false authenticity.  In the Armenian quarter, on the other hand, there are far fewer shops and stands – most of the buildings are residential.  When I go into a church there, it doesn’t seem like a manufactured experience as it sometimes does in the other quarters.  Though it is one of the smallest areas, the Armenian quarter always seems as though there is more to discover.  Its also much less tiring, because there are much fewer vendors trying to get you to look at their shops.

Just as a side note, the prices vendors first say are extremely overpriced – many a time items that start at 250 shekels are reduced to 30 in minutes.

– Izzy

Wise words of wisdom

A memo for dear Asians who are traveling and/or staying in Jerusalem:

1. You will receive freebies from both Arabs and Israelis

2. You will receive compliments every day i.e. “Chinese Barbie”

3. You’re new name is Ni-hao

4. You will be touched wherever you go

5. You will feel like you are in a photo shoot every time you walk down the street or wait on the bench for the train

6. People will try to kiss you

7. You will hear many inappropriate comments i.e. sexual references to the family jewels

8. You will be sexually harassed

9. You will receive marriage proposals from ten different men in less than half an hour (really)

10. You will have stalkers who follow you into shops even after you say no.

So prepare yourself and learn how to be rude snob. No doesn’t mean no in Jerusalem, regarding this manner.

Sushi and Smoothies

Every lunch time, my coworker and I walk to the student center to enjoy the sun and enjoy our lunch. During our daily walks, we insert one shekel into a Mentos machine and get exactly three mentos (assorted and sometimes not). We then cut through the garden and enter the four story student center. We ride the escalator down to basement where the bus station is located and stop at our favorite sushi and smoothie stand. It’s to a point in which the workers and we greet each other by name. They have memorized our usual orders and always makes just a cup full more of the smoothies so that we both can share our drinks.

Our interactions are always filled with laughter and although my Hebrew is nonexistent, we seem to communicate through our ridiculous hand motions. My coworker is always amused with my enthusiasm to get my point across without the use of Hebrew, but she always encourages me to “just go for it.” She on the other hand is fluent in Hebrew, and she is my superhero translator.

Every day at 1PM, I am reminded of the challenges of having a language barrier. Whether it is in Jerusalem or in the States, the inability to communicate freely with others is limiting and most frustrating. I must constantly rely on others to express myself, and as a Smithie, not being able to speak my mind, is definitely the most unfavorable situation. Through this constant reminder, I have come to realize the importance as well as the virtue of patience, respect, and courage.

Crazy lazy

The other day me and Gloria were at the Shouk and this lazy from South Africa came and sat next to us as we were waiting for Lily to come out from her shopping spree with a puppy in her arms.  She started to tell us that the puppy, who had a collar on its neck, did not have anyone looking after it and how it was just running around in the middle of the streets. She also kept saying how she saved it from being almost ran over by the traffic, even though there were no incoming trains and I’m pretty sure dogs are not stupid enough to be running around the street if there really was an incoming train.  This lady also started telling us how Israelis are all cruel, cold hearted people who has no empathy or sympathy or love for animals.  She has this self-righteous attitude and told us how much she loved animals and that she has three dogs at home all of which she rescued herself.  Then this old lady, who cannot speak much English, came over and held the puppy for us while the crazy lady tried to get the police to do something about the dog.  This old lady seemed to really like the puppy and wouldn’t let it go.  After the crazy lady’s futile attempts in locating a shelter or to get the police to do anything, the old lady decides that she’ll take the puppy home and have it herself.  The crazy lady then vehemently refuses to let her do so on the grounds that the lady is too old to care for anything.  The crazy lady also kept saying that she doesn’t trust any Israeli to look after a dog because they have no empathy and are all cruel to animals.  She then started interrogating the old lady asking her whether she will really look after the puppy and if she will care for it over and over again even though it was pretty clear that the old lady was very much smitten with the puppy.  Incidentally, it turns out the crazy lady’s daughter applied for Hebrew University and didn’t get in and mother dearest is a bit bitter.  We figured all this hate towards the Israelis’ is probably because of that.