2011
05.24

DAY 114 – CROSSING BORDERS

SYNOPSIS:

From life in Israel to life in Palestine.

David left in the morning to fly back home.

I moved to Bethlehem to spend time at the Palestinian side and to experience life in the region from a different perspective.

I have one week left in this four months journey and now I am beginning to panic.  There is just not enough time and not enough opportunity to take it all in.  Where did all this time go?!

Before moving on — I caught up with the last few missing blog entries and with hundreds of images which lay neglected.  Since I have little to say about the journey – same old bus 24 to the check point, same crowded spot of taxi drivers who descend on you like birds of pray — and I have no new pictures, I will dig out some odd images for the visuals today.

Here are just a couple of small things:

The taxi driver who took me to my tourism office at 3 PM in the afternoon claimed that I was his first job for the day.  I paid him the going rate for the ride – thank goodness, I did not have to ask how much that would be, I remembered from my last visit – and he started to complain.  He wanted double.  In other words, he wanted me to make up for the lack of tourists and his lack of work.  This was a dilemma.  I feel for him, but I can not be used or abused or held responsible for his economic situation.  I felt very much cornered and uncomfortable.  I offered him $2 extra but even that was not enough.  I finally just walked away.

I will live with a Christian family for the next few days.  I have my own room and share a bathroom.  For now, there are two more roommates.  20 year old Heather from Ohio and 40 year old Tom from California.  Breakfast and dinner are part of the deal and I am looking forward to many discussions and insights, hopefully.  My room overlooks a huge settlement.

Just as I had pulled out a chair onto the balcony, across the valley left of the settlement a shooting incident occurred.  Our host pulled out binoculars and we watched the load of three Palestinian Army jeeps storm a deserted house.  Some civilians ran out, others were crowded in on the roof top.  The details were hard to make out.  Was this a case of a Hamas or otherwise extremists hideout?  Was it the arrest of a criminal?  There had been no shootings in years, I was assured.  But in 2002, shortly after the settlement sprung up across the valley the houses on this street had been under Israeli shelling for three full months following the shooting of the settlement by some Palestinian teenagers.  If I believe the reports it was a very heavy-handed, disproportionate response which drove my host family into one back room protected by a wall every night.  Eleven people were crowding on the floor in that room like the sardines to escape the nightly shells.  One of his daughters has defect from that time.  I have to find out more.

I think I will have my hands full here.

Good night.

2011
05.24

SYNOPSIS:

Why we got an invitation to the “day after the wedding celebration” and how it went.

Occasionally it helps to look like Einstein.  That’s what David found out about two weeks ago when he ate ice cream with Maria and Jack at the Mamilla Shopping Promenade just outside the Old City of Jerusalem.  A man sitting not far from them, jumped up, slapped him on the back and said “Einstein is alive! You look like Einstein.”  If you know David, you will agree.  He also looks a bit like Mark Twain and perhaps even like David Crosby.

One thing led to another and it turns out that Shimon was heading towards the wedding of his youngest daughter.  He extended an invitation to all of us, but Jack and Maria were leaving too soon and David and I did not feel comfortable crashing a wedding party.  But we accepted an invitation to the first of seven-day celebrations following an Orthodox wedding.  On each of those nights people gather at different hosts for food and talk and for the blessing of the couple.

For a while we were not even sure we would make it.  We had sketchy directions and it took us over two hours to get to the house of the event via the central bus station and an overland bus taking us to the suburb of Yearim, known for a predominantly Orthodox community.

The Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is an experience in its own right.  Aside from being the site of the first major bomb attack in March 2011 since 2004, the station is the hub for city buses, a shopping mall, food court and departure point for minibuses and full sized coaches taking you anywhere in the country.  You have to go through tight security, similar to entering any airport.  The bomb in March however had been planted outside at one of the crowded bus stops and had just been detected as a suspicious object by a shopkeeper before exploding, killing a woman and wounding over 30 people.

But don’t get the wrong idea.  Jerusalem is as safe as New York.  When you walk the streets and go about your business you don’t think about bombs, ifs and eventualities; at least I don’t.  But the increased security checks, soldiers stationed throughout town, and plain-clothed observers are definitely a change from 17 years ago, a time before the second Intifada (Uprising).  But they in conjunction with the security border (fence and wall) have been effective.  There are hugely reduced numbers of incidents now compared to earlier days.  People feel safe again.  Even from Palestinians inside and outside the security borders have I heard this!

Shimon’s house and that of his daughter – where the actual dinner took place – were a loving chaos of clothes, things, food, and stuff flying all over the place.  Obviously, there was life in these quarters.  It is hard to imagine an more gregarious man than Shimon.  His life is not without sorrow.  With a son Jonathan who was struck by a deadly virus at age five, but miraculously survived, he has his hands full.  The son recovered from a coma without speech and with epilepsy.  He now requires 24 hour care.  After the reported healing by a famous Rabbi he started to talk again.  But even after much speech therapy he only could revert to the language of his childhood:  Swedish.  Without speaking Hebrew or English, he remains socially isolated.

16 years ago Shimon and his wife packed up in Sweden and left for Israel.  Only four of the six children followed them, tearing his family apart.  His wife requires extensive medical care and as a handyman he does not have enough and steady work to support his family and all of their needs.  For the wedding he threw himself into even more debt – this is what we heard between the lines.  Life is not easy.  But looking at the way he radiates and the way he celebrates the wedding of his youngest daughter and looking at how he adores his “angel son” as he called Jonathan – you would never know it!

We spent an enlightened evening among his family and friends eating lots of food.  We learned a few things:

1.       Before you eat bread you pray and can’t talk until you have eaten at least one bite of the bread.  I asked a woman next to me at the table about her name and was surprised when she did not answer but gestured as if she were a mute.  I finally got it!

2.       Men and women are seated separately in this community.  David was the lucky one sitting among the men enjoying deep conversations.  I had to make do with a lot of busy mothers having to take care of their crying and fussing infants.  I am glad I was able to spend some quality time with both Shimon’s wife and his wonderful oldest daughter.  She is a real gem!

3.       A minimum of ten male Jews is needed to say the prayers for the bride and groom.  Among the Reform or Conservative Jews I am sure David could have counted.  Here, the quorum had to be met without him.  A lapsed, non-practicing, Jew by heritage just won’t do.

It was after midnight when a happy Shimon took us back home in his car.  But in the car his worries came through again.  He was on the phone several times with his son to make sure he got home alright.  A seizure can strike at any moment and needs immediate attention.  Where would the money come from to pay for it all?  But the bottom line around here seems to be the same over and over:  Trust in God.  It is incredible to see how the faith in God uplifts these people and gives them strength to move on into the dark trusting that there will be light at the end.

For me as an agnostic, this is a difficult path to follow.

Thanks, Shimon for giving us such a rich insight into your life and for taking us into your family for a day.

Good night.

P. S.  The pictures are very blurry due to the light conditions at the party. Our apologies.