Ok, another one. Just for fun.
“Modest clothing – success in life”
A sticker I’ve seen a few places in Jerusalem. This one’s in my neighborhood on my way to work.
“Modest girls prevent tragedies”
NO. Respect for humankind prevents tragedies. All humankind. Even if they’re weaker than you or different from you or don’t look like you or don’t believe what you believe. THAT prevents tragedies, and that’s something every part of this culture (and yes, every culture) needs to understand. Tragedies do happen here – affronts to the basic humanity of so many people. I think it’s a tragedy every time I don’t go somewhere at night just because I’m a woman and every time I step out of my house, grit my teeth, and simply will myself to get to my destination as quickly as possible, interacting with as few people as possible along the way. But those tragedies are not the result of the way I dress or the way any other woman dresses. Stop chastising me in the streets because you can see my collarbone; start raising a generation of boys who see women as people that deserve respect.
It took my entire 45 minute walk to work to lower my blood pressure after seeing this sticker.
One evening a few weeks ago, as I was cooking dinner, one of my roommates invited me to come along to some event she was attending that evening. It was some kind of hippy/Rainbow gathering outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, she said, and would mostly just be a lot of happy people singing and smiling and hugging each other and stuff. The group had some kind of similarly hippy name – The Circle of Infinite Love and Holiness or something like that. I accepted my roommate’s invitation – partly because it sounded interesting, partly because I’d been at the beach that day and was guessing that this was one event for which I really didn’t need to brush out the long rattails that the wind, sand, and saltwater had formed in my hair.
So we wandered down to the Jaffa Gate and found a large circle of people, many layers deep, seated in the open square. Those in the center played a variety of instruments, and everyone else sang and swayed along to the familiar, folky tunes of Jewish history. Many were clothed in long skirts and woven ponchos; many were not. As my roommate and I seated ourselves on the outskirts of the circle, people around us turned to smile warmly and scooted over to make room for us. Periodically, one of the giant sticks of incense that was being passed around the circle would make it to our section; many, upon receiving the incense, would wave it around themselves and around their friends’ heads like some sort of patchouli-scented magic wand. I passed on the incense.
When one of the slow, rhythmic songs the instrumentalists were playing would pick up and become more lively, most of the circle would stand up and begin dancing; as the beats of the drums became faster and faster and faster, the dancing and flailing became more and more wild and frenetic. At one point, while everyone was dancing, I looked over to the other side of the circle. There, I saw a stooped, older Arab man in a long white robe. As he rapturously danced to the music and absorbed the atmosphere of carefree joy surrounding him, he grabbed the hand of the Orthodox Jew standing next to him; the two began dancing together, a whirl of kefiyya and long side curls. Someone near them observed the moment and pushed them gently into the middle of the circle, where they continued dancing together for a few minutes. All the dancing attendees were moved and overwhelmed with excitement at the sight, and the musicians quickly changed their song to one of the most classic in Jewish culture: “Oad yavo shalom aleinu v’al kulam (Peace will still come to us and to everyone)”. And this massive group of hippies, tourists, Israelis, and Arabs dancing outside the Jaffa Gate sang the song at the tops of their lungs, heads tilted back to the starry night sky, many of them simultaneously grinning and crying.
It was, perhaps, a somewhat cliche moment; but it was also memorable and even beautiful.
A link to a short blog I wrote for the Abraham Path:
Just to give you a taste of my new life here in Jerusalem, I want to briefly describe each of my new roommates for you all. We live in this adorable, cozy, quirky, kind of old-timey house in the middle of Nachlaot, a Jerusalem neighborhood labeled “bohemian,” “eclectic,” and “bizarre” by those who know the personalities of each of the many neighborhoods here. Nachlaot, located right behind the giant open-air Mahane Yehuda market, is a beautifully disorienting tangle of teeny alleyways and is populated by an unlikely combination of orthodox Jews, African immigrants, and secular young hippies just back from their post-army journey of finding themselves and doing lots of drugs in India or Thailand or Nepal. I spend a lot of my free time sitting in my room’s little window seat and people watching.
So. Anyway. On the floor above me lives Na’ama. She is a student of plastic art (I don’t really know what that means). She only eats raw fruits and vegetables. And occasionally a handful of nuts/seeds. Nothing cooked. She spends a lot of her time sitting in her room playing ukulele and accompanying herself on kazoo. Which is actually a surprisingly delightful combination.
Next to me lives Efi, short for Efraim. Efi is a freelance hiking guide and, in his free time, a student of various martial arts – Capoeira, Ju Jitsu, Kung Fu…and probably many others. Everything else I know about him I kind of know accidentally – the walls in our house are very thin.
Across from us is Yotam, the companion of my previously detailed Dead Sea adventure. Yotam is a circus performer/gardener/moving company employee. Not kidding. He also excels at scavenging – in the evenings, after the market has closed, he wanders around, foraging for fruits and vegetables that have been left behind; he also significantly augments his wardrobe with his dumpster findings.
Below us are the living room and vegetarian kitchen, and in the basement lives Talia. Talia is a student of archaeology and sociology/anthropology and spends a lot of her days on lengthy class trips, poking around through pieces of Roman and Byzantine pottery out in a field somewhere. For my birthday, she made me vegan chocolate chip cookies with fortunes from Indian tea bags baked into each one.
I’m still working on getting to know them all, but I don’t doubt that it will be an adventure!
A brief(ish. maybe not really) tale of my first 48 hours “living in Jerusalem.” (After writing it and recounting it to a few friends, I realize that it is perhaps a rather scandalous tale. By my usual standards, at least. My apologies if you find yourself shocked by any of the content – it seems too ridiculous not to share, though 🙂 )
On Friday the fourth, I took the 9:00am bus from Nazareth to Jerusalem, belongings in tow. A few hours later, after arriving and unpacking my things – including the many superfluous sweaters lent me by my host of adopted Arab grandmothers in Nazareth because “It’s cold in Jerusalem, habibti” – and doing a bit of grocery shopping in the nearby shuk right before it would close for Shabbat, one of my new housemates called. Since moving in, I hadn’t actually spotted any of my four housemates – they were all out, apparently. This one, however, was on his way home from Tel Aviv and wanted to know if I would mind putting some lentils to soak for him in the meantime. Of course. No problem. Happy to help. Except that I had moved into a house of vegetarians/vegans; and upon examining the contents of the unfamiliar kitchen, I realized that deciding which lentils were his lentils was a surprisingly daunting task.
About half an hour later, after I had somewhat arbitrarily decided on a bag of lentils that may or may not have been his, he called again. Change in plans. In hitchhiking back to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, his ride had told him that she was continuing on from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. He had decided that he would join her, make his way down to some hot springs next to the Sea, and then either hitch back or sleep there. It was about 7:30 at night. They’d be in Jerusalem in 25 minutes. Did I want to come?
I did not. The day before, I’d been on a grueling and lengthy hike, and that afternoon I’d toted everything I currently own through Nazareth to the bus stop and then through Jerusalem to the house. And I was exhausted. BUT, I was also overeager to win roommate points at this early stage. So I mentally shook off my exhaustion and threw a very few things in a bag; and, just as I was putting on my sneakers, he showed up, ready to go. “Oh, also, I don’t know if I mentioned it,” he said casually as he grabbed his backpack and walked out the door, “but the place is semi-nudist.”
HA. He had not mentioned it. Well, it’s too late to turn back now, I thought, roomie points at the front of my mind. (I did, however, nonchalantly check to confirm that nudism was not mandatory. And that it was a dark night with almost no moon). So we rode down through the desert south of Jerusalem, chatting with the reggae flutist who was giving us a ride. At the checkpoint back into Israel from the West Bank, she dropped us off; she was turning there to a different part of the Sea. Not having reached our destination, we waited for another ride, hanging out with the young soldiers manning the checkpoint in the meantime. A few cars drove past with no room for us before one tiny beater slowed to pick us up. Three raucous Arab guys scooted over to make space for us, and we hopped in. As soon as we had passed through the checkpoint, the car whizzed off into the night, taking the sharp curves of the winding desert road between the sea and the mountains way faster than my quick physics calculations considered reasonable (by the way, mom and dad, you may not want to read this part?). I then saw the driver take a gulp from a plastic cup he was holding and realized that he was drinking beer while he drove. And at a rapid rate, judging by the number of empty bottles I began to notice littered throughout the car. Every part of my brain started playing back to me the words of every crazy health teacher I’d ever had about not getting in the car with someone who’s been drinking. And then our new friends started to pass something around, asking us if we smoked. Not cigarettes, but “something else.” I declined; and, at this point, I think I began to accept the fact that I might actually die on this road down which we were currently, recklessly flying. With this acceptance came an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of the situation in which I found myself, and I started to giggle hopelessly. My housemate looked over at me every few minutes as I chuckled into the backpack sitting on my lap, his obvious confusion making it evident that he found nothing that extraordinary about our current circumstances.
Fortunately, our drop-off point was just a few minutes away, and we got out of the vehicle – in one whole, unmangled piece each – as our temporary traveling companions riotously wished us a good evening. Through the desert darkness, we climbed down a stony mountainside to the Dead Sea waterfront and the sulfurous hot springs, where little campfires dotted the coast and people sat around in the warm, pungent pools, chatting and smoking hookah (all of them, to my puritanical relief, clothed to some degree). We spent the next few hours floating on the surface of the warm, salty pools, wandering from place to place by the light of the thousands of desert stars, our feet periodically breaking through the crust of dried salt that coated most of the sand, seeking out the perfectly-warm-but-not-boiling spring, occasionally opting to float in the Sea itself when we found the places where the hot and cold water eddied together in this lowest place on earth. After sitting in the water until about 3 in the morning and, in all likelihood, severely dehydrating ourselves from the extreme salt concentration, we encountered a trio of young people from Nataf, a small town in the hills northwest of Jerusalem. Struck by inspiration, my housemate decided that we should grab a ride with them to Nataf and go for a hike in the forested wadi there. My body could feel that it was running on way too much exercise and way too little sleep, but I’d already accepted that I was going to follow this burst of spontaneity through to completion. I agreed.
We crammed into the little car and rode to Nataf, arriving right as the sun began to rise. We spent the better part of the morning exhaustedly searching for a trail that would lead us down into the deep wadi in front of us, walking back and forth along its rim as we did so. Upon locating the green-marked trail that raced steeply to the bottom, we descended and began to wander around in the valley, hunting out a spring that was supposed to be somewhere in the area. After a few hours of somewhat aimless rambling, we found the spring hidden between a cliff face and an enormous fig tree. We perched on the pool’s rocky edge for quite a while, chatting with a group of friendly old men who were picnicking there, laughing nervously as they bet us we wouldn’t gather up the courage to plunge into the frigid water. Frigid it was, my toes told me – but I was more worried about the suspiciously leech-like creatures I’d seen lurking around the water’s edges. After a prolonged period of trepidation, however, the force of my own smell drove me in; I cannonballed myself down under the surface of the water, getting to work as quickly as possible and washing away the Dead Sea salt and mud and sulfur and the sweat from a day and a half’s hiking. Upon emerging from the spring, all of my skin stinging from the shock of the cold, we bid the old picnicking men a shabbat shalom and continued on. It was only after turning away from their sunshiny lunchtime that I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the previous morning.
We set off for the other end of the wadi, scrambling over the rocky, dry stream bed and occasionally stopping to eat a handful of almonds from the trees we found scattered around us. At some point, we decided the time had come to climb up out of the wadi – a task roughly equivalent to climbing up a nearly vertical cliff face covered in underbrush – and to start making our way home. On reaching the top, we briefly encountered a hermit artist who lived between the trees on the very edge of the deep chasm and spent her time sitting on her porch and sculpting, far from society. She gave us bottles of cold water and chatted with us for a few minutes, kind and shy, always gazing out over the wadi and forest that stretched from the edge of her house to the horizon. After a few minutes’ rest, we thanked her for the water and continued to a small road in the nearby village. From there, we caught a series of rides back to Jerusalem.
And so we came “home” to the house in which I’d spent about 3 hours over the course of my first two days as a resident of Jerusalem.
So, in the category of general life updates, I no longer live in Nazareth. (which, as a side note, does render the blog url irrelevant and possibly even humorously ironic – but I can’t do much about that now. sorry!) As a brief explanation – having finished my internship with the Jesus Trail in early April, I have now moved to Jerusalem and backward in religious history to work with the Abraham Path for the summer. The Abraham Path is a hiking trail – still very much in development – that runs across the entire Middle East, connecting places associated with the cultural memory of the figure of Abraham across Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Recently named the world’s number one new hiking trail by National Geographic, the current route runs through Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan; it will soon be expanding into Iraq, and there are plans for several other countries on the horizon. Obviously, connecting the entire thing into one continuous trail will require some regional stability that just doesn’t exist at the moment (what country lies between Turkey and Israel/Jordan?), but the parts that are hikeable today are pretty incredible and are rapidly spreading into an impressive set of largely interconnected trails.
Anyway. My actual work with the path is varied – a lot of researching and writing about sites for the online guidebook; some interviewing of individuals from the communities along the trail in order to profile them for the website; assorted other research/clerical tasks; and a good bit of beautiful hiking. 🙂
So. New work, new city, very different life so far. I never really wanted to live in Jerusalem – it’s such an…emotionally dense city – but here I am until August!