Tuesday, May 23, 2017

אין לנו על מי להשען


When I was 18, I did a yearlong AmeriCorps program called City Year. Oren and my parents joined me on MLK Day for a service project in a high school. I told them that they would be painting, and my parents wound up painting murals of famous African Americans and prominent DC figures (Oren met George W. Bush. Different story).

At the conclusion of the service day, my dad commented to one if the City Year administrators that he had been expecting to do more “substantive” service, like painting walls of crumbling paint. Most people who work with volunteers in direct service probably recognize that response, and would criticize it for centering my dad, the volunteer’s need to feel like he’s doing something substantive, over the needs of the person or organization being served.

The point of our service in Susya was very much not the service project. It reflects the reality that the only thing keeping Susya from being demolished is international attention. In some ways, it’s really sad that the people in Susya have to turn their village into a tourist attraction just so that they can stay in their homes. They have to come up with “service projects” and offer activities like horseback riding, cheese making, goat milking and henna painting just so that internationals will have something to do while they’re in the village. Because every day that internationals show up is another day that the bulldozers don’t come.

Which isn’t to say that the people in Susya are wonderful, and kind, and so thrilled to have us—they are, they are all of those things. Fatima told one of our trip leaders that her only fear is that we’ll stop coming back.

Our three-day work project in Susya centered on one project, at least in theory. Susya has a lot of international visitors, because international visitors are the only reason that Susya hasn’t been demolished. Our project involved creating décor for the entrance to the restaurant for international visitors. When I say restaurant, what I really mean is a small, dark room with concrete walls and a tarp as a roof, 20 broken plastic chairs, two filing cabinets, and a teacher’s desk. The original plan had been to expand the room, but their lawyer warned them that could lead to demolition.
On Tuesday, we painted several tires, which were going to be used as planters for the large rock outside the restaurant. On Wednesday morning, before we arrived, a drone from Regavim, a rightwing NGO arrived to take pictures of what we had done. Regavim claims to operate in the name of “law and order” and “rule of law” but what they really do is collect photographic evidence of Palestinian villages, and send it to the army in the hopes that Israel will demolish the village.  Clearly, a settler from the settlement of Susya (confusing, I know) had noticed a big group doing something, called Regavim, which sent the drone.

The conclusion of the project on Wednesday involved arranging the tires, filling them with dirt, and planting flowers in them.  Susya isn’t allowed to plant anything new on their own land. By planting within the tires, above a rock surface, they are pushing the boundaries, but not breaking the law.
In addition to our service project, on Wednesday we did art therapy with the women and children in Susya. We asked them to draw their hopes and dreams for Susya and for peace. Most of the children drew Palestinian flags (general rule—whenever you give Palestinian children art supplies, they tend to draw Palestinian flags. Kinda like how I always used to draw the same outdoor landscaper involving a two-story home, a sun, grass and a tree. The longing of a city kid for the suburbs?). Many of the women drew the homes that they want to build, and the trees that they want to plant. My favorite was Danya, a seventeen year-old in a polka-dotted hijab. She drew the beauty salon that she wants to build, which immediately made me think of In the Heights (both the beauty salon, and the line “everybody’s got a job, everybody’s got a dream”).

After some dancing, lunch and flower planting we milked goats (!!!!!), got henna designs done, and did some yoga. And then we left.

About 60 members of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence arrived in Al-Tawaniyyeh on Thursday night, after a full day of nonviolence training, know your rights training, and making the all-important decision on whether to accept a high-degree of risk with our action, or stick to the lower risk pool. At Al-Tawaniyyeh, we met up with activists from some of our partner organizations (All That’s Left, Combatants for Peace, Popular Resistance of the South Hebron Hills, Holy Land Trust, Youth Against Settlements), and went to sleep on the roofs of a partner’s house (yes, he has two roofs on the two different sections of his house). Friday morning, after assembly-lining stacks of pita/humus/pickle/tomato sandwiches (the first of many assembly lines…) we hiked about half an hour to Sarura, the home of our Sumud Freedom Camp, where we waited for the remaining CJNVers, plus another 150 activists who would join our work camp on Friday. Our mission: to return Fadul ‘Arad to his home, a former resident of Sarura to his home, using thru model of Standing Rock camp, where activists from all over the world can stand in solidarity with Sarura.

A few words about Sarura: In 1997-1998, the residents of Sarura were evicted from their homes and their homes demolished as collective punishment for the murder of an Israeli settler. There is no evidence that the residents of Sarura, nor the other villages that were also demolished had anything to do with the murder. Sarura’s residents are allowed to return to their homes… but every time that they try, they face settler harassment. Under Israeli military law, of a settler and a Palestinian get into an altercation, the army may arrest the Palestinian but not the settler. Thus, if a settler shows up on Palestinian land, the Palestinian has no recourse—if the settler attacks her, and the Palestinian defends herself, the army will arrest the Palestinian. The civilian police rarely show up if called, and they’re unwilling to take action against a settler in a settler/Palestinian dispute. Even light settler harassment (like just showing up) is very dangerous for Palestinians.

About five years ago, firing zone 918 was established adjacent to Sarura’s lands, but no one seems to know the boundary of the firing zone. Chavat Maon is between half a kilometer and a kilometer away from Sakura, so it seems implausible that the village of Sarura is within the firing zone, but not the settlement, but no one actually seems to know.

As soon as we arrived at camp, we set up our banner, and got to work clearing rocks and thistle from what would be our sleeping location—the large foundation of a demolished home. I connected with Anna, my friend from Laos who sat down next to me at a storytelling performance, and met her husband. Later, while we were clearing rocks, assembly line style, from some of the caves where future families would live, a Regavim drone flew overhead, taking our pictures. This was not the only settler harassment that we faced that day—just before Shabbat three settlers drove up on two motorcycles and an ATV, and the ATV drove around some of our flags that we left on an adjacent hillside. Later, we passed concrete assembly line style from a truck to Fadul’s cave, where the non-shomer Shabbat contingent of the delegation laid the concrete on Saturday.

On Shabbat morning, Fadul sat with us during our discussion of Parashat Bihar, and of the mitzvah of Yovel, and the restrictions on oppressing someone who has a shared relationship to the land. I’ll be honest, usually Parashat Behar passes me by as being about mitzvot around land that bear no relationship to mitzvot that I actually observe. Not this year.

For the rest of Shabbat, I napped, schmoozed, ate, and sang Seudah Shlishit songs. Just before Havdalah, my friend Nina led us in some stretching, that all of us fruity American Jews were totally into. The Palestinians behind us… not so much. They were cracking up at a bunch of Westerners all blindly following a leader in strange motions.

Saturday night… still trying to find the right words. We had a barbecue dinner, danced debka, and were screening a documentary about Combatants for Peace. I had napped a lot over Shabbat, and signed up for a 4-6 AM watch shift. To watch for the soldiers and settlers that we feared would attack us. I head to bed early.  Before I could fall asleep, I heard “everybody up! They’re here!”  I woke up the former SNCC organizer lying next to me, and ran out of the tent. I could see the military amassing, their headlights blazing. I gathered with my pod. We had prepared for this scenario. But from that point on, everything is a blur. I remember linking arms with the people next to me and singing as the army stole our generator, at which point we had no light. As they ripped up the tents we had erected, and tore down the signs we had drawn. At one point a soldier shoved me to the side as he ran past. I forgot to scream. Later I learned that several of us ran into our giant community tent, and sat down in it, literally holding up the tent as the soldiers tore it down around us. Soldiers bent back fingers and elbows, and jabbed torsos and legs with blunt objects. I stood outside, singing and chanting, and asking the soldiers questions, while they destroyed our work of the previous two days.

The soldiers were there for about an hour. At no point did they produce an order to destroy our tents, or steal our generator. After they left, we slept outside, unprotected from the wind. I did my 4-6 AM watch shift. Then, we carried our supplies over to Fadul’s cave, and rebuilt our Sumud Freedom Camp outside. And now, for the first time in 20 years, Fadul and his family can sleep in his cave.

The camp is still under threat, with soldiers and settlers regularly scoping it out. Our fear is that the violence will be worse next time, if there are fewer internationals and Israelis.

On Monday night I went to a friend’s wedding. It was joyous, she looked beautiful, it was so good to see her family, and I danced all night. But every time that I looked at my forearms and saw the henna designs that Danya from Susya had drawn, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Susya was scheduled for demolition the following day.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

זה מאמר שנאמר במערבא

Yesterday, we heard from three Mizrahi women. I won’t give their names, as it is illegal for them to be in Bethlehem, as it’s in Area A. They spoke about how the Ashkenazi discourse dominates the Israeli narrative, and ignores or redefines the Mizrachi narrative. The Ashkenazi narrative is grounded in zero sum game—there is no way that coexistence with Palestinians can exist, because they all want to kill us. This is rooted in Ashkenazi trauma and experience with Christians. While there were moments of violence against Mizrahim, for the most part Mizrahi Jews found ways to live with their Muslim and Christian neighbors—they found models that work, and they have familial knowledge of how it used to work. When they came to Israel, one of their grandfather’s brought a Koran with him, because it was part of their culture. After he realized that trick that Ashkenazi Zionists trapped on them (poverty, crappy housing, kidnapped children and medical experimentation), and how poorly they were being treated in Israel, the pictures of Herzyl and Ben-Gurion came down from the walls, but the Koran stayed. Despite the fact that the women that we spoke with have right-wing relatives, some of whom are openly racist against Arabs, the “trump card” that they hold against anti-Arab racism is saying “that’s not what our grandfather taught us”. Their grandparents’ memories of Arab neighbors were positive.

A friend compared the effect of the West Bank settlement process to the Homestead Act. Just like poor whites were given really cheap land in exchange for being the first line of defense against Native Americans, so, too, economically disadvantaged Mizrachim, who are very much not ideological settlers, are given highly subsidized housing in settlements in exchange for putting their bodies into the settler project. They are also investing their savings in housing whose value may rapidly diminish if a settlement is uprooted.

The women spoke about racism within the Israeli left. Mizrahim are not offered policy jobs, salaried positions, or leadership roles. During left-wing protests, Ashkenazi Jews harass Mizrahi and Ethiopian soldiers. Ashkenazi left-wing activists act patronizingly towards Palestinians because it reinforces their dominance. During the 2011 tent protests, the main protests that got the most attention were started by Ashkenazi students. These were called “gift” protests. The police treated them quite well. On the other hand, other tent protests that were started by Mizrahi single moms and homeless families (“need protests”) were beaten up by the police and the protest camps destroyed.

They specifically addressed the way that the Mizrahi narrative (that there was violence against Mizrahi Jews, and that they were kicked out of their homes) is weaponized by hasbaraists (they actually compared it to pinkwashing, calling it Mizrahi washing). None of their families want to return Iraq or to Yemen. And while in some places there was violence from local Muslims and Christians against Jews, there were also Zionist recruiters who promised them the world, and gave them the short end of the stick. Also, when they wee asked about the stereotype that Mizrahim are more right wing than Ashkenazi, they call it “fake news”. Ashkenazi built the settlements, and Ashkenazi expanded the settlements.

Later, we returned to Susya. When I first arrived in Susya, I wasn’t prepared for how temporary all of the homes looked. There are no solid roofs on any structure—they’re all just tarps. We worked with the Rural Women’s Association, a coalition of 120 women, both rural and Bedouin, from about 24 different villages, who focus on the special needs of women under Occupation, including access to education, economic development and water needs, but also that because they are constantly fighting for survival, they don’t have opportunities to play with their own children. They are turning one of the structures into a restaurant to feed international visitors, and we were there to help with décor. Fatima, our host, is a “Punters Queen” and has lots of ideas about using tires as colorful planters. We painted a bunch of tires, and put up a fence around the kitchen so that the goats can’t get in (yes, we built a fence in the West Bank). The women had originally wanted to expand the restaurant, but their lawyer warned them that any form of expansion would risk the army using it as a pretense to demolish the whole restaurant.

 After, Fatima, our host, started playing some music, and the kids pulled us in to dance. I put Ahmed (about 11), on my shoulders, and realized that this is what dancing on Simchat Torah has been preparing me for all of my life. We also watched women turn labneh into pyramids of goat cheese, which they sell in Yatta, the closest city.


Both yesterday and today, we were served lunch in Susyah, which included homemade pita, and goat cheese/goat butter, which kind of tastes like mascarpone cheese. Yum.

*Title means "this is a statement that was made in the West," meaning Jerusalem. I'm sure it's from somewhere in the Gemara, but I just know it from the Avraham Fried song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4mlmL1enX0

Monday, May 15, 2017

והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר

I woke up on Sunday morning full of excited and nervous energy. After herding my three houseguests out the door, we just missed the #13 bus (which was three minutes early) and stuffed our bags into the back of a cab to the Inbal Hotel, where we met up with the rest of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation. During check-in, I learned that a stranger from the trip has been reading my blog (!!!), and she recommended it to her daughter.

Surprising thing about the Center for Jewish NonViolence delegation—out of 130 participants, at least 30-40 are over the age of 40. Yay for an intergenerational movement!

We were supposed to go through the Kalandiyah checkpoint, as an experience of solidarity with Palestinians. However, a week and a half ago, the Israeli government announced that they would start enforcing a rule prohibiting international visitors from entering the West Bank without prior written permission, so we used a settler road instead. This, combined with the closed military zone on Friday is starting to convince me that Israel is working hard to keep the Palestinian territories hidden from international observers.

Our tour guide in Bethlehem said that he hasn’t had tap water in 45 days. Before Oslo, Israel allotted 120 million cubic meters of water for Palestinians per year. Though the population has increased, water allocation for Palestinians has gone down to 90 million cubic meters. This includes water allocation for East Jerusalem. While, supposedly, our tour guide lives in Area A and the PA controls his water supply, when he goes to the water supply office, or when Palestinian refugees go to UNRWA, the response is “we can’t help you, Israel controls the water”. I know lots of Jews who are obsessed with Area A/B/C, but, in reality, Israel is calling the shots. Later, I learned that residents of Susya have to buy their water for 30 shekels per cubic meter. It costs Israelis (including settlers) five shekels per cubic meter.

Today (Monday) was both our first day in the field, and Nakba Day. We started off by hearing from Sami Awad, the founder of Holy Land Trust, a non-violence organization in Bethlehem. Surprisingly, he is way more Zionist than I am. He, like most Palestinians, deeply identifies with land-as-identity, and thinks that just like Palestinians want access to the whole land for the sake of their identity, so, too, Jews want access to the whole land for the sake of their identity. I asked him what Palestinian identity looks like when it isn’t defined by the trauma of 1948. Aside from generalities (culture, language, habits, food and family unit) he also mentioned two specific things: hospitality, and the memory of coexistence among Jews, Muslims and Christians.  Coming from an Ashkenazi Jewish culture that oftentimes defines itself by otherness, victimization and xenophobia, I was surprised at how central the coexistence narrative is to Palestinians (or at least to Sami Awad).

After, around 40 of us drove to the South Hebron hills, and got a tour from someone from Ta’ayush. The South Hebron hills are entirely in Area C. When the British, and later the Jordanians, started mapping the West Bank, and granting ownership papers to Palestinian residents, try started in the north, and worked their way to the south. By 1967, they had gotten to about Ramallah. Israel, of course, claimed that they were only there “temporarily” so they stopped registering land. That’s why it’s easier for Israel to claim land in the south.

The Israeli military uses multiple tactics to try and make life difficult enough in the South Hebron hills so that Palestinians pick and move to cities (Area A).

They establish “firing zones” near Palestinian villages (i.e., the base is near the village, but the firing zone is in the village). Villagers who live in firing zones can go in and out of their villages, but no one else (including doctors or repairmen) can visit.

In 2016, armored military vehicles did a training exercise on a Palestinian field. All crops for that season were lost.

The government builds highways through agricultural land so that Palestinians have to go out of their way to access their land.

Infrastructure needs are denied (there is running water in Bethlehem, but not Susya). However, even supposedly “illegal” outposts (all Israeli settlements, including Gush Etzyon, are illegal under international law), immediately get access to municipal services.

If Palestinians build water systems they get demolition orders.

Police harassment and military searches.

The Israeli military confiscates cars and tractors.

Israeli settlers join in by poisoning water supplies with dead chickens which can destroy all of the water that has been collected over the course of a year, damaging olive trees, which take five years to grow enough for production, and, in one particularly gruesome incident in 2006, spreading rat poison all over the land, which killed sheep, gazelles, mice, snakes, dogs and birds of prey.

Beit Avigayil is an illegal outpost which was built in October of 2001. According to the “Roadmap” it was a post-March 2001 settlement on the slate for demolition. It is currently in the process of legalization, which means that they are building constantly—once they get legalized, they’ll need building permits, so better to build first.

For “security reasons” all hilltops are declared state land, even when Palestinians can prove their ownership. Then, settlements are built on those hilltops, and Palestinians are denied access to that land. There is one guy who has to coordinate with the army when he can actually tend his land.
Stories from specific villages: In 2000, the settlers from Chavat Maon started attacking students from Tuba on their way to school in Tawiyyeh. In 2005, the courts ordered the military to escort the students to school. The military kept shortening the route that they would escort the students. Sometimes the military is late. Sometimes they just don’t show up. While the straight walk to school, past Chavat Maon is a half-hour walk, the indirect path to avoid the settlement takes 2.5 hours.

After our tour, my working group of about 20 women headed to Susya. We heard from Abu Jihad, who was born in 1946—as he says “I’ve been here two years longer than Israel, and Israel’s telling *me* that I can’t be here.” Abu Jihad was born in Tel Arad, and his family owned all of the land between Tel Arad and Susya. Pre-48, the Haganah killed 12 people in Tel Arad, and his family had to move to the city of Arad. In 1948, they had to move to Susya, on the other side of their land. Then in the 1980’s, Israel decided that it wanted to excavate an old synagogue in Susya, and build a settlement nearby, so Abu Jihad and his family had to move to New Susya, where they are now. In 1991, New Susya made a Master Plan so that it could build on its land. The Master Plan was rejected. Now, while he cannot be kicked off of his land, every building there is illegal, and under a demolition order. The room that we were in has been destroyed 4 times. Abu Jihad described this as “Nakbat,” multiples Nakbas that have taken place over 70 years. Within the American Jewish community, we tend to only talk about 1948 and 1967 as being moments of trauma for Palestinians. That’s just not true—Abu Jihad said that every day is a Nakba. Displacement, land grabs, and demolition happen frequently—much more frequently than just 1948 and 1967.

Something really challenging that Abu Jihad said: Jews learned tactics around rounding up Palestinians and exiling them in 1947/48 from Hitler. I don’t think that’s true, but I deeply understand why he said it (hurt people hurt people).

We asked one of his daughters (in-law?) about how they teach their children about Nakba. She doesn’t—at least not yet, because the stories are hard to hear. “The stories are from our ancestors, the suffering is our’s”.

The stay for Susya’s next demolition order for is May 23, 2017.

Today ended with an incredibly powerful mincha/ma’ariv minyan—the first time in a long time that I have prayed with people who share my values.

*Tile means “On that day, you shall tell your child.”


Saturday, May 13, 2017

הסתר אסתיר פני

Reading about the Occupation? Check.
Watched movies about the Occupation? Check.
Understanding the Occupation? Nope.

If a Palestinian thirteen year old and an Israeli thirteen year old are both caught throwing stones, the Israeli army can arrest the Palestinian. They have no legal authority to arrest the Israeli. At best they can call the police to “deal with” the Israeli. If the police come, they can’t arrest the Israeli, because he is a minor—adulthood starts at 16. By contrast, for Palestinians, adulthood starts at age 12.

I participated in a Breaking the Silence tour with a J Street U group on Friday. We were supposed to do a full tour of Hebron with Ido, a former soldier who served there between 2002-2005, talk to a leader with a Palestinian non-violence group, and then the J Street U group was going to meet with a settler leader (Leanne, DMH and I were not invited to that part).

Our tour started in Kirat Arba, specifically new Kiryat Arba, which is actually pretty far from old Kiryat Arba. There's a long highway between them, which divides Palestinians from their agricultural land. Ido pointed out that if old Kiryat Arba simply wanted to build more houses for their community, the sensible way to do it would be be building houses immediately adjacent to old Kiryat Arba. Instead, they stretched a highway between two different hilltops, so that Palestinians would be forced to hike around the new settlement before reaching their land. We saw both a memorial to Kahana, and the grave of Baruch Goldstein (I opted not to place a stone, but refrained from pushing off the stones that were already there. Restraint, right?).

We are pointed to a "settlement" that is a tent which serves as a shul between the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Giva'at Ha'Avot. Ido said that soldiers refer to this tent as a "Condoleeza Rice house". Whenever a U.S. Secretary of State visits Israel, the army destroys a few settlements to make it look like they're serious about peace. This particular "settlement" which is less stable than a kosher sukkah, has been destroyed over 40 times.

When we got to Ma'arat HaMachpelah we crossed to the other side of Shuhada Street to listen to Ido. Right away, a settler approaches us and first starts to play music, and then starts playing a video of a previous BtS speaker. He claims that because a tourist bus has to wait a few seconds for our group to move out of the road in order that it can pass, we are breaking the law. What struck me was how blatantly obvious this guy was being. Clearly, he didn't want us to listen to what Ido was saying, either because he was scared of what Ido was saying, or because he had something that he wanted to hide.

As we were proceeding with our tour, all of a sudden we get told that the main street, Shuhada Street, right past where we are standing has been declared a Close Military Zone. The street, which had been guarded by only two soldiers sitting in a military stand, now has six soldiers and a giant tank blocking the street. Apparently, this has happened 10-12 times in the past year. Not only do the soldiers recognize all of the Breaking the Silence tour guides, but every four months, when new soldiers come, the settlers show them pictures of the BtS guides to "warn them". Apparently, if you ask to see the order declaring the area a CMZ, the army is supposed to produce the order within a certain amount of time, or let you pass. This rule is rarely applied, and even after the time expires the military won't let you through. As we are waiting for the order to be produced, we see another tour group, led by a settler, go through. When Ido asks why they're allowed through, he is told that CMZs can be applied selectively.


After waiting for over an hour, the J Street U group, along with Ido, turn back to meet with a settler representative. DMH, Leanne and I are not invited, so after separating from the group in front of Ma'arat HaMachpelah, we turn back towards where the road was blocked. Now, there are only two soldiers there, and no tank. They ask us (in Hebrew) to see our ID cards. Leanne responds that we are American, so don't have ID cards. They respond "even better." When I show one of the soldiers my passport, he (like many Israelis) compliments me on my Hebrew. I initially go to my fallback response (my father talked to me in Hebrew until I was seven)  and then realized that really I should be emphasizing my religious day school education. They let us through.

We head up Shuhada street, where we saw the cages that the military put over Palestinian windows and porches to prevent them from climbing onto streets where Palestinians aren't allowed to enter. Those Palestinians have to climb onto their neighbors' roofs, and walk through their neighbors' homes in order to go outside. All along Shuhada street we see beautiful institutions (synagogues, community centers, batei midrash) made of Jerusalem stone, bearing the names of American Jews.

We crossed through the checkpoint into H1, the Palestinian side of Hebron, and walked through the Casbah, or marketplace, where most shops have closed up. Before the Goldstein massacre, 35,000 Palestinians lived in the Old City of Hebron. Now, only 20,000 live there. This is a result of a combination of factors: the military banning Palestinians from being on streets where there shops once were, the military banning Palestinians from driving on other streets, regular 24/7 curfews with only a few hours of freedom offered every few days, settler harassment, etc. It's of note that while theoretically, Israelis are banned from H1 (it's area A), on Fridays, shabbatot and chagim, settlers lead tours of the Casbah, flanked by Israeli soldiers.

Other thing: During the 1929 Hebron riots, 67 Jewish residents of Hebron were killed, but 350 Jewish residents of Hebron were saved by Palestinians in Hebron. Somehow we don't tell their stories, and there's no plaque for them in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

I could write about this experience for pages, and pages, but it's 2:30AM, and sleep beckons before the Center for Jewish Non-Violence trip starts tomorrow.

Other things: On Sunday I walked the 11km from Fira to Oia on Santorini, along the Caldera edge. At one point,  the wind was going to knock me over. On Monday I hiked on Neo Kameni, ghe largest volcano in the Meditarranean. Still active, dormant sincd 1950, you can still see steam, and smell pungent sulphur. This was followed by swimming hot springs, and exploring Thirassia, the only other inhabited island in the Santorini Caldera.

I arrived in Israel very early on Wednesday morning. On Thursday, I took several busses to Yaffo, where I met my cousin Tal for brunch, and got to meet her new baby, the adorable Itamar. This was at least the third long conversation with a relative on the Fishman side which descended into psychoanalyzing our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

On shabbat afternoon I lead shacharit at Sod Siach (no one sang with me--sad!), and then hosted 6 IfNowNowers for shabbat lunch--three of whom are staying with me tonight before CJNV starts tomorrow.

More soon!

*Title is from Deut. 31:18 meaning "I will hide my face". Check out the full context

Sunday, May 7, 2017

פשט, רמז, דרש, סוד

Samaria Gorge: 530 AM wakeup call to catch a 6AM bus. Mind you, this is the day after I hiked the Imaros gorge, and didn't go to sleep until after 11, when I had finished my last blog post. I stashed my 13.5 kilogram backpack underneath the bus, with the assurance that it will meet me in Sfakia, on the southern coast of Crete. We hit the trailhead at 8AM, and started descending. Nice thing—there are freshwater hoses every 1-2 kilometers, so I only carried a half liter water bottle. Seven kilometer descent before actually entering the gorge. At that point I’m already feeling blisters on my toes which have been hitting the fronts of my hiking boots. The gorge itself is 6 kilometers of rocky bottom followed by one more kilometer to the exit. Add in the two kilometers at the end to the village of Agia Romeli for a 16km day. I realize that my round-trip hikes to Segulah were longer, but this was certainly steeper, even though it was all downhill. Post-hike, walking upstairs was fine, but going downstairs made my knees feel like I was eighty years old. Also, I need better-fitting hiking boots.

From Agia Romeli, we caught a ferry to Sfakia, where our bus, including my backpack met us for the trip to Hania. After arriving in Hania at 845 pm, I caught the last bus of the night to Iraklio, where I don’t have a hotel reservation—this part of trip was a last minute change of plans. I get off the bus at 1230 AM. The first hotel that I find wants to charge me 150 euros/night. Um, no thank you. The next hotel is full. The third hotel doesn’t have 24 hour reception. I start to contemplate sleeping on the streets. Fortunately the fourth hotel has a receptionist, and availability for 50 euros per night, which is still twice what I would normally pay, but I realized is inline with on-season, prices in Iraklio. Plus desperation is setting in. I think I fell asleep at around 2AM.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit, I went to both the newly renovated Archaeological museum of Knossos and to the site of Knossos itself. At Knossos, I wanted to do a group guided tour, and waited over an hour for even one other English speaking tourist to join my group and make it financially viable for Maria, my late-50s tour guide. While waiting, I learned that pre-crisis Maria had been a teacher, but since she already has training as a guide she quit teaching to save the jobs of one of the younger teachers. Now she gets guide work with an agency roughly twice a week, and waits at the entrance to Knossos in the hopes of finding interested tourists the rest of the week. There are 90 guides at Knossos, and they have a schedule to attempt fairness for each guide, but oftentimes guides return home empty-handed. Maria was particularly angry at a guide who managed to cheat the system, and “steal” customers from her. During my hour of waiting, I even offer to translate for an Israeli couple, if they’ll join Maria’s tour. No luck.

Finally, Maria decides to give me an individual tour, as, clearly, no other tourists are coming. Knossos was the economic, political and religious center of the Mycenaean kingdom, until 1450 BCE when an earthquake struck. The earthquake both caused a tsunami which destroyed the Mycenaean navy, and also led to a fire at Knossos, where huge jugs of olive oil were stored. The myth of Theseus and the minotaur represents the outcome of this earthquake: The Minos kings (like the Pharaohs, Minos wasn’t the name of an individual king, but of a dynasty) wore a bull mask during religious ceremonies (hence, the half-man, half-bull Minotaur), and used a double-headed ax called a labyris to sacrifice bulls, hence the word labyrinth (also the palace at Knossos certainly has labyrinthine rooms). There are labyris drawings visible in the ruins. Mycenaeans taxed the Athenians (mythologically represented by sending Athenian boys and girls to feed the Minotaur), and Theseus, the patron of the city of Athens, killing the Minotaur symbolizes Athens breaking free from Mycenaean subservience.

Other fun things from Knossos: I saw the world’s first board game at the archaeological museum, and the Minos’ mikveh. The museum had a poster describing how Mycenaean myth affected contemporary culture, and while they mentioned The Shining, there was no Hamilton reference (“You have married an Icarus. He has flown too close to the sun”). Suggestions for the next renovation…
On Wednesday I took the ferry to Santorini, and then got on a shuttle bus to Kamari, the beachtown where I’m staying. On both Thursday and Friday mornings I caught the bus to Fira, so that I could go diving. Highlights include a really big octopus, several starfish, a family of barracuda, and lots of rocks from the volcano. George, one of the instructors I dove with, is a Cypriot, and was pushing diving in Cyprus pretty hard. We shall see!

I spent some time on Thursday wandering around Fira. It is very touristy, but the white limestone houses are beautiful. I’m planning on hiking from Fira to Oia (pronounced ee-yah) this afternoon, and watching the famous Oia sunset.


*Title refers to the four traditional means of explicating a Jewish text: Literal, Hints, Midrash, and Secrets

Sunday, April 30, 2017

והאבן להם חומה, מימינם ומשמאלם

Apologies for missing last week’s post—I will make it up in a few weeks with extra posting. I just returned from hiking the Imbroe Gorge in Crete, hence the title. Yes, hiking between two solid walls of rock makes me both feel very small, and overwhelmed with the power of tectonic plates. The plan is to hike the Samaria Gorge tomorrow—hopefully I’m not too sore!

Last week, I (finally!) got to go scuba diving in Greece. When scuba diving in Thailand, you get to see gorgeous marine life. When scuba diving in Greece you get to see complex geological formations, like caverns and stone chimney stacks, 2500 year-old pottery, and a 2000 year-old anchor. My dive master is part of the Antikethyria project, which returns to the wreck site where the Antikethyria mechanism, a 2nd century B.C.E computer-like device, was found. He and a team of other technical divers join with archaeologists to explore the wreck, and recover artifacts, including human remains from 2200 years ago. I was pretty impressed.  This was my first ever cold water dive, and I was pretty proud of myself for diving in 18 degree celsius water in only a 5mm wetsuit (everyone else had on a minimum of 7mm or a dry suit)

I also visited Etz Hayyim, the one remaining synagogue in Henia. There is, quite literally, one Jewish Cretan who survived the Holocaust, and he dedicated himself to preserving this synagogue. It’s quirky, with a chandelier loaded with tchotchkes in the middle of the sanctuary, and a mikveh out back with stagnant water in it. The backyard has the remains of a few communal rabbis. They have what they call a Havurah, composed of both Jewish and non-Jewish community members, which meets every Friday night. Apparently the local NATO base provides many of the Jewish congregants. I had been planning on going there Friday night, but was too exhausted after a day trip to Elafanisi beach.

 Elafanisi is gorgeous and huge. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. There is both a beach and an island, connected by a narrow strip of sand. The island is big enough that I got lost on it (then again, that may not be saying much). The trip also included a hike to the Agia Sofia cave (stalactites!) and sampling of locally made honey from thyme plants.

Backing up to Chios and Athens…

When I took the overnight boat from Ko Tao, I did not know what to expect, and walked into a room filled with rows of bunk beds, clothed in orange sheets. When I walked onto the overnight boat from Chios to Piraeus, I once again didn’t know what to expect. The experience could not have been more different. Above a large storage room for our luggage, there were luxury escalators to take us to the seating compartments upstairs. There, were room after room of  lounge chairs and couches surrounding coffee tables. In the middle of the boat was first a gift shop, which even had some English language reading material, followed by a café. Deck numbers two and three had theater-style seating around televisions. And there I was concerned that there wouldn’t be any heat on the boat. Ha! This is superior to an Amtrak train--it’s like a cruise.

I packed a lot into my one day in Athens, including getting to the Acropolis half an hour after it opened, and avoiding the crowds, spending several hours at the Acropolis museum, seeing Hadrian’s Arch (this side: the ancient city of Theseus. This side: the modern city of Hadrian) and Olympus’s temple, and visiting a museum dedicated to ancient Greek technology. Admiring Hadrian’s architecture truly seemed like the best way to intentionally avoid celebrating the Israeli government’s establishment of Yom HaShoah.

Unfortunately, my boat from Athens to Crete was not quite as luxurious. I wound up sharing a stretch of couch with some other twenty-something’s, and not sleeping particularly well. Ah, well.
Chios, which keeps getting autocorrected to chips or chaos, is about as adorable as isolated Greek island can get. First impressions: the air is clear, the Aegean Sea looks calm and inviting, there is greenery and wildflowers everywhere. Two houses down from my AirBnB was the Pinaleon Taverna that could have fallen off the pages of Eat, Pray, Love: stone and plaster wall around the edge, bamboo ceilings, woven wooden baskets hanging from the bamboo, potted plants and seashells decorating the outer windowsill, and iron pots and forks around the inner wall. A large old-school iron furnace in the center of the restaurant, which was only necessary at night, red wooden chairs with woven straw seats, and the owners schmoozing with some locals on the front steps. I got my first Greek salad and spanakopita, and immediately considered dropping out of life, and permanently moving to Chios. The only thing holding me back is irregular internet access, and the difficulty of getting around without a car.

As I wandered around the island, I noticed a few interesting things. The first was an abandoned military installation near Karfas, the beach where I was staying. I was tramping along through someone’s property, and noticed some barbed wire. I looked behind me, and there was a gunnery sticking out of a covered base. I walked around it from the other side and saw a bunker behind it. It looked like it was from sometime between the 40s-70s, but I’m not so good about dating military equipment. I also saw my first ever Syrian refugee camp from a distance, as I was not permitted to enter.


*Title comes from the Song of the Sea, Exodus 14:22. Except that my walls are rocks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

ואפילו כולנו חכמים, כולנו נבונים, כולנו זקנים, כולנו יודעים את התורה, מצוה עלינו לספר

A few vignettes from my ten days in Israel:

On Categorization: I went to Sod Siach on Shabbat Chol HaMoed, wearing my one short-sleeved dress. There I noticed a woman wearing a sleeveless top. Great, I thought, now I can avoid repeating outfits for the last day of chag. Shevi’i shel Peach, I wore my sleeveless dress. A taxi driver stopped to see if I wanted a ride, because, obviously, sleeveless dress = secular.

When I get to Sod Siach on the last day of chag, the doors were closed, so I start chatting first in English, then in Hebrew with the guy my age sitting next to the building, who winds up being ba’al shacharit.

“So,” he asks, “you’re a rabbi, or studying to be a rabbi?”

“Chas veShalom!” I respond. “You assume that all American women who come to daven at Sod Siach are rabbis?”

“Biderech klal, kein.”

Later, when the two of us get chastised for chatting outside of shul during Yizkor, and urged to come back in for the prayer for victims of the Holocaust who “belong to everyone” I remark to him “except for the Mizrahim.” He adds “and the Americans, and the Australians.”  I decide that we can be friends.

On Yichus: On Shabbat, I do Gelila. No one comes to talk to me after shul. On last day of chag, I do Shlishi. By Kriyat Yam Suf, someone has already come over to ask if I’m Eliana Fishman.

“Nu, how do you know my dad?”

“I also know your mom! We stayed with them in New York. How’s her health?”

That he asked about my mom’s health and not my dad’s health means that I can pinpoint when, approximately, they saw each other last. Needless to say, I’m quite social post-shul. Drishat shalom to Imma and Abba from Elchanan and Vered Noam.

On Bashert: On the last day of Chol HaMoed I see a Facebook post from a distant friend who lives in Jerusalem that she is having a plumbing emergency, and does anyone have a place that she and her nine- month old son can stay for chag. I message her to let her know that I have two spare bedrooms in Katamon that she is most welcome to. Sarah, her husband Yehuda, and baby Akiva spend chag with me, on the same day that Big Akiva announces his engagement. The apartment had been feeling large and lonely, and it was wonderful to fill it, and catch up with Sarah, and meet her husband and son. They also helped banish my grandfather’s aura, which still lingers in the apartment.

On Avoiding the Occupation: Ruth, who was partially in charge of Seder at the Pollards, is big on doing “activities” during the Seder (having everyone bring an object that represents freedom to them, and talking about it, having the table debate the pros and cons of leaving Egypt, etc.) At one point, towards the end of Magid, she starts talking about what it means when an enslaved people becomes an oppressor.

“No, no, no!” interrupts her son, Gabe. “I’m going to talk about that for my freedom object.” 

During the meal, Gabe explains to his mother that he had printed out the NIF 50 years of Occupation pamphlet, and brought it as his freedom object, only it turns out that he left it in Jerusalem. Then Gabe decides  that he doesn’t want to talk about it. They debate back-and-forth about whether they should talk about it, it’ll make people uncomfortable, oy politics. I am watching the absurdity of Israeli society playing out before my eyes (they don’t talk about Occupation, they just fight about whether or not they can talk about Occupation). Finally, it is decided that Ruth will say something, with no discussion after it. To paraphrase her words “We need to be conscious of what happens when, through no fault of our own, an oppressed people becomes an oppressor.” Apparently, that’s what “talking about the Occupation” looks like in Israel.

Tuesday night, after a lovely dinner with some family members, I arrive at the apartment in Jerusalem at about 1 AM. I have an email from my friend Jon from DC asking if instead of grabbing breakfast on Wednesday morning, I would like to join him and his sister on a tiyul to the Herodium. I have no idea what that is, but sure, sounds fun. Great! They’ll pick me up in their car at 9. After a quick stop at the Palmach Super, I meet them. We’re chatting, catching up, when all of a sudden I see signs for Gilo and Bethlehem.

 “You guys aren’t taking me to the West Bank, are you?”

“Uh, yeah, actually we are.”

“Jon! You know I wouldn’t do that!”

“But aren’t you going to Bethlehem in a month?
“As part of a Palestinian solidarity mission! Not to an Israeli tourist site in a car with Israeli plates!”

We turn around and go to the Castel, which we thought was a Crusader fortress, but winds up being an ode to Israeli nationalism and military pride, built atop the former home of a Mukhtar. We also go to Gan Hemed, a park next to a former olive press with clear signs of Islamic architecture. At neither site is there any mention of what happened to the Arabs that used to live there.

Takeaways: When in Israel, Google before going. Also, in Israel, avoiding *talking* about the Occupation is easy. Avoiding the Occupation itself is harder.

On Surprise: I don’t consider myself to be an expert on Occupation—far from it. Despite that, I was consistently surprised by how little the American Olim that I spoke to know about the Occupation. Mind you, I only talked about it if someone asked why I was coming back to Israel in May, and opted to go with the true answer (CJNV trip) instead of the pretty answer, which is also true (my friend’s wedding). But those people who I spoke with had no concept of what a shetach tzvaee sagur/closed military zone is, or how it’s used to seize Palestinian land. They had not heard of the law encouraging border security to ban entry to those who support BDS/settlement boycotts. Admittedly, these are largely people who did not serve in the Israeli military, so I would not generalize this to anyone beyond American Olim (or even just the American Olim that I happened to talk to, though one of them was a Shatil staffer, who I really would have thought would know). Once again: the failure of the American Jewish educational system, and the failure of American Jewish institutions who ignore Occupation. I’m officially no longer buying into the narrative of “American lefties are less educated on the ‘matzav’ than American righties/centrists”.

On American Identity: David, my good friend from DC who I haven’t seen in 8 years, is married to Margo, a Russian Olah, working for Hiddush, a religious pluralism org, and is raising his two-year-old daughter in English, Russian, and Hebrew. He and I hung out on Saturday night until 1:30 AM, and then I had lunch at his and Margo’s apartment on the last day of chag. He thinks that American olim are treated better than other olim (like Margo) because they are seen as “having giving something up” to make Aliyah, and having done it for the “right reasons” (Zionism instead of economic opportunity). This kind of put a spin on many of my interactions with Israelis who were so kind (cashiers calling me neshamah, free samples at the takeout place, a response of besimcha/bikeif whenever I thanked someone for anything).   As a Jew and as an Ashkenazi, I am aware of my tremendous privilege in Israel, but I hadn’t considered the ramifications of my Americanness. I have always been intentional about speaking Hebrew with an American accent, both because I’m proud of my American identity, and because I reject the notion that Israelis “own” Hebrew/the Israeli way of doing things is better than my way of doing things. Something to think about.

Currently in the Athens airport, waiting for my flight to Chios. More next week!



*Quotation from the Haggadah: Though we are all wise, all discerning, all elders, all know Torah, we are commanded to tell