Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Saddest thing about leaving... Furry Friends

Ever since we arrived and saw all the feral cats, I made it my business to adopt or try to care for a dozen or so in my own neighborhood (I still carry kibble for those I bump into on my walks). The cats in Jerusalem are everywhere. My first walk fully armed with food in plastic baggies was a disaster, I couldn't find a cat to feed... disheartened, I tried again in the early evening and there they were, all rising from the afternoon slumber.

An apartment a block away from where we live, with a grassy courtyard provided me a group of cats I could visit regularly. At first they were shy and would run or hide when I meowed or made the clicking sounds that Mr Gryff (our cat in Portland) come running. Slowly one cat fell for me! And wouldn't you know if... it was the cat who looked most like Mr Gryff, except for the funky bent ear. He could hear me calling him from 100 yards away and come to see me. I left food on the top of a low rock wall, and soon he was eating from my hand, purring and talking to me. A dozen other cats in the yard would come a watch their friend purr and get treats, soon they realized they could benefit from this "cat lady" from America. I would ask Noa and Paul to come and see this spectacle of my playing the role of the "Pied Piper Feeder", they rolled their eyes and thought I was nutty. Finally Noa came with me, only a few came out, and my black cat ran away:-(

One of our favorite restaurants Restobar, serves an incredible Israeli breakfast. For 48 Shekels ($14) you get a large cappucino, large fresh squeezed juice, and kind of eggs or omelet, fresh bread,large salad of tomatoes and cucumber and 8 small ramekins of things like olives, 4 kinds of cheese, tuna, and spreads..OY. I've taken to having all the ramekins except the olives and asking for them to go. The cats love Restobar!

Which all leads me to last night, and the serendipitous ending to my cat relationships. I took my last evening stroll around the neighborhood and of course stopped by to say hello to my furry friends. A young man came from the yard after hearing my calling and meowing. He asked if I was the American who fed the cats,( I met his mom from her 2nd floor balcony weeks ago). He thanked me for feeding the cats, and invited me behind the gate to see the home he set up for the cats, and their food bowls! There are 11 cats and three new kittens. I met the momma cat and two of the kittens in front of our apartment weeks ago, hiding behind our rental car. When we approached the momma cat hissed and was in serious protection mode. She had been howling for days as if she was in pain. Turns out she lost the 3rd kitten and was looking for it. After leaving food for them under our car, they suddenly disappeared, and I had been wondering if they survived as we had not seen them for over a week. Here they were, momma was more pleasant and the thrid kitten had come home.

My new neighbor Gal told me about all the cats, and their names! My black cat is Mambo, and it urns out my second favorite cat (black and white with a funky bent ear)who purrs and follows me, is called Nuva and is Mambos brother! Momma is called Zorro, and the gorgeous mini tiger is Ralph. Gal is going to send me photos of all the cats and let me know the kittens names once he names them. I am truly sad to say goodbye to such good friends.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities, or Rather a City and a Settlement...

For months Paul had been asking me and Noa about going to visit and stay with a fellow Fulbrighter from Israel. We found many ways to avoid accepting this invitation... we were afraid to travel to and stay in an Arab Village. Paul told us of how wonderful this family was as Paul spent time with them in Washington DC last August for an orientation, and the wife wore a head scarf! We were then invited to an Arab wedding which was taking place on the same day as Passover. We learned the wedding was canceled as a relative of the bride was shot by another Arab male. No wedding, no visit, not so quick.

So after we received our 7th invitation to yet another Passover Seder (the first night is the big one), we decided that since we've been to, and hosted lots of Seders... (and we doubted Israelis did the 7 minute seder that we do, and serve ONLY matzo ball soup, charoset, and chocolate covered macaroons at our Seder), Israeli Seders would be four hours plus with brisket and 16 additional courses)! Why not go to visit Ahmad and the family in Kafr Qasim. The way Paul got us to go along was to tell us that Ahmad and Manal wanted to move to the US as they had a fabulous Fulbright experience in Nashville at Vanderbilt.

To play nice Paul got the rental car early so we could go to Tel Aviv walk and wander the board walk, and hang out in the sun. By 3pm we were on our way to our first Arab city. Throughout Israel we have always been on treed streets with traffic controls and street lamps, once we turned into Kafr Qasim, there were no more lights, paved sidewalks, actually there were no side walks at all, there was a lack of garbage/ debris removal too. I turned around in the car, Noa and I looked at each other and thought RUN!

Ahmad met us at a gas station just at the entry to the city of 20,000 people. We followed him over unpaved potholed streets for about 5 minutes and drove up to a huge 3 story home at the very end of the city. We could not have been greeted more warmly by Ahmad and Manal. We went upstairs to meet their 2 children son Sayyed, age 10 and daughter Fatima age 5. This was the cleanest and least cluttered home (that has people living in it)! I have ever seen. Both the ladies were very shy, especially with Paul,( the male thing). We were offered beverages on the balcony with a lovely view of the West Bank.old

At 9pm we went to dinner at a fabulous restaurant with no English menu. For those of you who know us well, yes; I said 9pm to eat, our normal time to go to bed. The restaurant had amazing food, nice waiters who spoke English, but the most amazing thing were the eight young women at another table that were celebrating something. Ahmad told me these were old university students of his. He invited me over to say hello. All wore head scarves, but in bold colors. I asked whose birthday it was and they chuckled... one of the women had just become the first female medical doctor, from Kfar Qasim.

Ahmad explained the problems facing the youth in this Arab Israeli city, and to other Arab Israeli villages and cities. There is high unemployment and the male youth have turned to violence against each other. After our dinner Manal took me and Noa to her parents home, a large building with a newly added apartment for her brother that was soon to get married. The parents 1st floor apartment was basic, but the house above was magnificent. It was on three floors with a marble winding staircase, with a kitchen as nice as any I've seen in the west hills. We were introduced to several of her other family members, and one very handsome 17 year old brother. Manal later told us he had been shot six times and had been in very serious condition just six months ago. The women in the city study harder and are becoming professionals, and the men in the city aren't looking quite so attractive to these women... divorce is also setting in.

Manal is a 5th grade history teacher, and an awesome cook. Is was she who began the discussion of coming to the USA. They are very disappointed with the life of being Israeli Arabs... and I can't say I blame them. They told us they pay the same rate of property tax as Israeli Jews, and yet they get no services. This is a town of fairly well to do Arab Israelis, and they are supposed to be equal citizens. They live in Forest Heights style homes (without roads and sidewalks etc (see photo of contemporary home). Their schools are abysmal, and their own children are very bright. Their son Sayyed just won a math award and is just about fluent in English. Ahmad told us his father had 220 acres of land in this city, and without good reason 200 we confiscated by the Israeli government. There is a home 200 yards away from theirs that is about to be torn down because there was no permit (see photo of unfinished house). It is more complex however. Before building began, the owner went to the housing ministry, requesting a permit to build on his own land. The Ministry told him not to worry, they could begin building and the permit would follow. The house was all framed, bricked etc. Then came the letter from the Ministry, "as there was no permit to build they must tear it down, or pay the Israeli government to tear it down for them. Sadly, this is not an uncommon situation.

We openly discussed Gaza, and the incidents against Israeli Jews, from rock throwing to bombing. He is against all the violence. This is one VERY complex country. I have empathy for the Israeli Arabs who just want to be a part of the country of which they are supposed to be equal citizens. I have empathy for the Jewish Israelis who want to live in peace and not be terrified to put their kids, spouses or friends on a bus.
The next morning we toured the city and then traveled a dirt road to Oranit, a Jewish Settlement in the West Bank. Paul, Ahmad and Noa were in our new Toyota rental car, I was following in an older and rather banged up car with Manal wearing a head scarf, and Sayyed and Fatima in the back seat. Paul and his group sailed through the check point, and when Manal drove up our vehicle was searched. we were asked where we were going, why we were going, did I have identification too. It took several attempts explaining I was American, (dressed head to toe in Nike), with my husband and daughter NOA in the car ahead. I finally charmed my way through. Manal said it happens to her every time she goes to Oranit as the kids have swim lessons at an beautiful athletic facility there. Did I mention that there is no public athletic facility in Kafr Qasim with a population 20,000 or that Oranit with a population of 6,000 has a state of the art sports facility? I can understand why Israeli Arabs are rather frustrated, I would be too.

It was like leaving one planet and entering another. Gone were the rubble piles, and unpaved roads, and I felt like I was in any number of planned communities in a wealthy US suburb.

The saddest past of this visit was when we learned that there had been a massacre in this town in 1956, please read more if you are interested:

I feel like a ping pong ball, just as I think I understand something I see another side and realize how little I understand. For another perspective please read Noa's blog on the same subject: http://catlinnoaisrael.blogspot.com/2010/03/arab-villiage.html

As we were driving on a dirt road near the mansions being built we saw a mare with her baby, just hanging out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A different blog than I started early this morning

I had started writing about our wonderful trip to Eilat (Red Sea), and the Dead Sea, I will be able to complete that blog tomorrow as I will have plenty of time on my hands (and on my back). When Paul and Noa awoke, we finalized our plans to get to the bus stop and go to Tel Aviv to see those few remaining museums and neighborhoods we wanted to see before we come home in 13 days. I saw the # 18 bus coming and shouted "Run", three steps later I had what appears to be a lateral tear of my left meniscus. After playing Peter Cotton Tail hopping back home, I spent a few hours online researching orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine docs and the like. I emailed every friend I made in Jerusalem and all responded within minutes, each with several doctors to contact. Paul and Noa took great great care of me... Nice people:-)

I saw the top sports medicine physiotherapist today @ 3pm I had also an appointment with the head of Hadassah Hospitals department of Orthopedic Surgery for tomorrow afternoon. The physiotherapist thinks I have a tear in the meniscus and can deal with it when we return to Portland, he advised me not to see the surgeon tomorrow as he would want to operate. I will get to work out at a fabulous facility for rehab and and got a gool new knee brace. Paul, Noa and the doctor were cracking jokes, so all had a good time. We finally got to see Mount Scopus in a taxi (not a total loss).

Next we were off to Yad Sarah to pick up my free crutches. This is an amazing organization Yad Sarah, is the largest voluntary organization in Israel, provides a spectrum of free or nominal cost services designed to make life easier for sick, disabled and elderly people and their families. My doctor sent us here with a prescription for the crutches, in less than 5 minutes I had crutches and all is took was a 60ILS or about $16 in a deposit to be refunded when I return them. Can you imagine having this service in the US?

Well, the bad news is if I needed surgery in Israel Noa would kill me as we would be late coming home, the good news is I can survive with crutches for the next few weeks and experience physical therapy in Israel:-) Hopefully this will simmer down and I can be walking again soon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tel Aviv, always something new and different...

Noa and I went to Tel Aviv and Jaffa (Yafo) and stayed with our friend Katherine, a Fulbright Scholar we met on our trip north last month. Her apartment in Jaffa is amazing, in a new building but decorated in Arabic style. We quickly left for the beach and saw an amazing sight...no not Noa all grown up in a bikini..., as I was laying on my belly I looked up to see what was shading the sun, umm that would be a horse walking by and stepping on our blankets' corner. Huh, a horse going for a swim? After getting too hot in the sun, we opted to walk back to Katherine's for a shower we left for our usual 15 mile walk.

I love this city because people are secular for the most part, and don't have all the hang ups or issues about showing shoulders or knees, heaven forbid cleavage. I promised Noa we would go back to her favorite restaurant... again. Benedict is a 24-7 breakfast restaurant, and is always packed. Our waitress's name was Noa and she told me there were 2 other Noa's at a table of young women celebrating a birthday. Being the sly dog I am, I arranged for the other three Noa's to stop by our table when my Noa came out of the rest room. After the MOM**** (why do you do thing that embarrass me all the time), they all posed for a photo:-) Nice ladies.

Jaffa is a fascinating place as Israelis and Arabs get along. The area called the "flea market" that has shops full of fleas:-) and even then the fleas give it a 2nd thought, next door you can have a hip new restaurant with people at tables eating and drinking past 2am. Lots of small boutique shops are moving in too. Photo is from our balcony, it is typical to toss (or hoist) their garbage onto the roof, I suspect this is less expensive than paying to have it removed.

Enjoy the phot0s of Yafo, our favorite Bridal dress (yes it does say I'm in love and cost $15,000), and Katherine's apartment.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Worst Fears?

I really wanted for this to be the most amazing adventure for me, and for Paul and Noa. My earliest apprehensions about going to Israel (and bringing Noa) were pure fear and if were we nutty to go to a place where people blow up buses and pizza parlors. I asked Paul if there wasn't a way to see if Paris, Oslo or South Africa could be negotiated for... NO. We wanted for Noa to have an overseas experience with us and this would be the last chance before HS when she might do an overseas trip without us:-( Not to mention this was a big honor for Paul so I worked on my backbone and refused to show any fear to Noa (like I did with spiders). At first I wasn't going to go into markets or restaurants, or any scary places... then we arrived and as if someone placed a spell over me all fear was gone. Tel Aviv was a cinch, it was a modern, hip and very fun city. Our first day we were in the Dizengoff Mall (if you've heard of this place it's been attacked several times), buying sim cards for our phones, the Carmel Market (remember those first photos of olives and halvah and huge produce)? When we arrived in Jerusalem 5 days later those pangs reared up a bit, but Paul talked me throughit and once we picked a meeting place should anything "happen I was fine". We were going up on Temple Mount and walking deep into East Jerusalem without incidence on a regular basis and made friends at Abu Ali the very local restaurant and a coffee shop. A few nasty things have happened since we've been here, Arab boys aged 10-20 have been the culprits every time. It is my opinion that these are the same aged kids that throw stones at tourists and the Israeli soldiers. They often walk by us and spit (at us) or make the gutteral sounds as if they are going to. I do not hesitate to yell and scare the heck out of them (the instinct to protect Noa is very strong) and it catches them off guard. Mostly this happens in the old city and the edge of Abu Tor the Arab neighborhood that abuts the Peace Park Forest (previous blog with Molotov cocktails to burn the gorgeous greenery).

Since the Hamas leader was killed in Dubai there has been much tighter security. I noticed this on buses/bus station, shopping centers and the Purim festival. I do not want to feel this way, I hate feeling this way but when I read the following artice in today's Haaretz newspaper (comes with the International Hearld Tribune), My heart sank. Read it below if you like, basically the author a prominent left wing journalist that suggests the next intifada is underway. So what do you do? As my friend Serge in Tel Aviv says "Oy Vavoy".

@@@ added after many emails of concern:
Ever since I subscribed to Haaretz/ International Tribune a few weeks ago, my hackles went up... me and the stupid news print. Reading these things online didn't affect me so much. We will stay till April 6th unless the US State Dept. changes the status on travel here. They have not even made a note on the website.

I am not so concerned that I am canceling my bus trip with Noa to Tel Aviv in an hour:-) I thought it would be of interest to share some of my thoughts and feelings of the darker variety. @@@

How will the next Palestinian uprising look?
By Amira Hass

By judging from articles written by both Israelis and Palestinians, the next intifada is already in the air. They are predicting it is on the way and the most punctilious know it will be "popular." Bil'in and Na'alin are perceived as its models.

Some Palestinians are guessing it will first erupt in Jerusalem. There, the constant clash between a dispossessing first world and a misery-stricken world is palpable, and the presence of the discriminatory regime is particularly violent because of the daily mingling of the two worlds. In Jerusalem, as opposed to the Ramallah enclave, it is impossible to fake normalcy.

Jerusalem or Bil'in, the supreme challenge facing the initiators of the next uprising - if it indeed erupts - is to prevent its descent into a so-called armed struggle, which inevitably will expropriate the street and the struggle from the public. The militarization of the second intifada led to grave disasters - personal, collective and geo-political. Off the record, many admit this but a number of factors are still preventing frank, public debate.

For years the theory of armed struggle, until liberation and independence are achieved, has been held sacred. Many people feel ill at ease to criticize the militarization publicly, as though they would thereby dishonor the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and their families.

The Hamas movement has not only claimed the word "resistance" - muqawama - it has also succeeded in imposing a narrative claiming its armed resistance has borne fruit. According to this narrative, this resistance prevented the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization from surrendering to Israeli dictates in the 1990s, forced the Israeli occupation out of the Gaza Strip (and soon Jerusalem's and Ashkelon's turn will come), and prevented the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2009.

The truth is that the suicide attacks on civilians gave Israel a golden opportunity to implement plans, which had always existed, to confiscate more and more Palestinian lands, using the excuse of "security." The use of weapons did not stop the colonialist expansion of the Jewish settlements. On the contrary. And the use of weapons only accelerated a process Israel began in 1991: disconnecting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

At an academic conference on Hamas's political agenda, which took place in Ramallah two weeks ago, a senior member of the movement took pride at what he termed the resistance's success in upsetting the normal course of life in Israel. Along similar veins of propaganda, Hamas succeeded in the past in "selling" to its public the "efficacy" of suicide attacks and the firing of Qassam rockets.

But Israel has proved it knows very well how to exploit the Palestinians' primitive weapons in order to develop and upgrade its sophisticated security industry, an important export expertise and an asset in world politics. This connection is absent from the permitted public discourse on "the armed struggle."

Free discussion will open a Pandora's box in the Fatah movement, because it will be asked why its leaders encouraged the use of weapons ("Shooting at the sky," as one opponent with a military background in Fatah described it). One explanation - but not the only one - is that in the first popular demonstrations in September and October of 2000, Yasser Arafat and his people heard the clear criticism directed at the PA government and Fatah. To silence this criticism and divert it they let the young men play before them - like King David and his people in the Second Book of Samuel (2:14). And many of the young men played with weapons in order to obtain social and economic status in the movement and the PA. When Fatah people dare today to renounce the sanctity of the armed struggle, their collective reputation as corrupt automatically detracts from peoples' faith in their arguments, even if those arguments are logical.

Another challenge facing the initiators of the popular uprising, if it indeed erupts in the near future, is actually a challenge that Israeli society must face. Will it once again adopt the deceptive narrative of the IDF and the politicians ("the Palestinians attacked us," "terror") and allow them, as in the two previous intifadas, to suppress the uprising using disproportionate and deadly means? These are the deadly means that, in the Palestinians' eyes, make Israeli rule look like a series of bloody acts from 1948 to this day.

Will Israel once again invent oppressive logistical and bureaucratic means instead of listening to the political message: Normalcy will not be possible for Israel as long as it perpetuates the sequence of dispossessions that began in 1948.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Purim in Jerusalem

After 5 days of stormy weather Purim turned out to be a wild time for all. Think Halloween on steroids. Growing up in Chicago, living in Los Angeles and Portland I never knew Purim was such an intense celebration. All ages participate, most schools are closed for the day and there is security everywhere. I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves. We walked to the "shuk" Mahane Yehhuda market and to our surprise even a few seriously orthodox got into the spirit. The Chabad folks (these are Jews who believe that all Jews are equal in their Jewishness before God)... or so that is what one of the nice men told me when he handed us bags of candy. Not all Jews believe that, I will do a blog on that just before we leave the country... if you catch my drift.

We then walked towards Ben Yehuda the main pedestrian street figuring we'd find some costumes, we heard music turned a corner and the first sight we saw were two soldiers eating cotton candy. We struck gold and saw 3 bands, tightrope walkers, people on stilts, dancers and some of the most creative costumes imaginable, but not a witch was to be found. The security was very intense as the Arabs are very upset about Israel wanting to have Rachel's Tomb and the Tombs of the Patriarchs be National Heritage Sights. Now Palestinians are throwing stones at tourists in the old city... OY, why can't we be friends already. There were police and soldiers everywhere including roofs ... like an uzi parade.
It's now 9pm here and fire crackers are going off in all directions and children in our apartment building are laughing and screeching:-) I'm ready for bed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Was Walking Down the Street One Day...

In a matter of a few hours while out walking I saw the following things, some funny some disgusting but it is life in Jerusalem and Israel:

1:  3-4 year old children playing with fire and sticks without close by adult supervision We watched this go on for at least 5 minutes), it was a preschool group in a park.  In general Israelis are not as uptight about safety and security as are us Americans.  OSHA does not exist here... they have bigger fish to fry.

2: On a major road I saw a large turtle walking down the street (I carried him to a green space).

3: Honking Cars; this is one of my 2 pet peeves; Israelis* are the MOST OBNOXIOUS DRIVERS in the world.  They will sit in their cars for ten minutes honking for a friend to come out rather than to get out of their car and ring the doorbell or use their cell phone... and this goes on all day and all night. They honk (like a scream) if someone isn't going fast enough , Everyone honks at taxis as they stop wherever they please to pick up or drop off fares, or just to try to pick up a potential fare, and bus drivers honk because they can!  I may never honk again.

3: Egg plant (someone has a sense of humor)

4. I stopped to feed cats a chopped up can of sardines ( Paul and Noa made fun of me, pretending I was the old woman from Mary Poppins with the tuppence)  I love cats and someday when I weigh 300 pounds and have a house full of cats, I'll have the last laugh:-)

5. Man on an accordion; as I read The Book Thief along with Noa, I have a special place in my heart for men like Hans Hubermann.

6: Dog Poop  Pet Peeve #2; Israelis* are BARBARIANS, as most people live in apartments  and there are not back yards or  parking strips, they let their dogs poop right in front of your front door!  I hate this more than the honkers.  For example the lady with two adolescent boys who lives just below us, was fighting with a neighbor across the street as she walked her large dog to poop on their sidewalk in front of their apartment, and they yelled at her to have her dog poop in front of her own home.  When I returned home later in the afternoon, there it was a huge smoking pile in front of our gate... I'll spare you that photo.  People don't bother to pick up after their dogs or themselves for that matter... future blog will be on Recycling in Israel.

* A few people have begun to pick up after their pets and there are a handful of kind drivers.  After living in Portland for 17 years, I too became a more civilized driver.  As we are more than halfway through our adventure, part of the charm of everyday life has worn off a bit. Sorry to sound like a bummer, it is just an honest look at life in Jerusalem.