Saturday, May 31, 2008

A last word

With my sabbath spent lounging under the soft shadows cast over green vines and grey mulberry leaves onto the Jerusalem limestone house, and with the calming bubble-bubble of a stone fountain, I was reunited with an old friend, one Leo Africanus. It is in his words that I will end this latest journey:

A last word written on the last page, and we are already at the coast of Africa.

White minarets of Gammarath, noble remains of Carthage, it is in their shade that oblivion awaits me, and it is towards them that my life is drifting after so many shipwrecks. The sack of Rome after the chastisement of Cairo, the fire of Timbuktu after the fall of Granada. Is it misfortune which calls out to me, or do I call out misfortune?

Once more, my son, I am borne along by the sea, the witness of all my wanderings, and which is now taking you towards your first exile. In Rome, you were 'the son of the Rumi'. Wherever you are, some will want to ask you questions about your skin or your prayers. Beware of gratifying their instincts, my son, beware of bending before the multitude! Muslim, Jew or Christian, they must take you as you are, or lose you. When men's minds seem narrow to you, tell yourself that the land of God is broad; broad His hands and broad His heart. Never hesitate to go far away, beyond all seas, all frontiers, all countries, all beliefs.

For my part, I have reached the end of my wanderings. Forty years of adventures have made my gait heavy and my breathing burdensome. I have no longer any desire other than to live long peaceful days in the bosom of my family. And to be, of all those that I love, the first to depart. Towards the final Place where no man is a stranger before the face of the Creator.

The Druze Billy Madison

I woke up bright and early to go with my camper Meadad to his high school. I was going to be the American "show and tell" for the day. We stood out at the bus stop and took the bus through a few villages and on to Yarka (a bigger city) to the Druze High School for Science and Leadership. First, I was always curious where so many Druze got their light skin, blue and hazel eyes and occasional blond hair- Prof. Ma'oz explained to me that the Crusaders had a bit of fun with the Druze blood line, and those European characteristics are still held today.

Meanwhile, it was hysterical being at school, and I caused a bit of commotion. High school kids are the same the world over. First we had gym class, and I played soccer with the kids. Then there was a surreal calculus class taught in Arabic, with the occasional Hebrew punctuation. The class erupted in cheers when I introduced myself in Arabic, and once it settled back down I sat reading "On the Road" while class went on around me.

After math class, there was a Hebrew class, where the students discussed Hebrew poetry. Then Meadad got pulled out for a singing class, as he is in the chorus, and so we went to the "Arkadi Gaydamak" auditorium. Arkadi Gaydamak is a Russian-Israeli "businessman" (see under: russian oligarchs) of shady repute, and is busy spreading his money around for political purposes. This happened to be one of his projects, and he paid for the auditorium. Anywho, I got a serenaded with a nice concert of Druze music.

After chorus practice, Meadad and I went to a little humusaria near campus for a pre-lunch snack. On our way, we saw a teacher examining a confiscated cigarette butt from a student he caught smoking and was now to be expelled. Meadad and I snacked on warm pita and wonderful humus with olive oil and pine nuts, with a plate of raw onions, fresh tomatoes, pickles and olives. We returned to class for the final period, but it was canceled, so I held court with the shabbab, talking about the world beyond, and chatting about high school things and making them giggle by teaching them gibberish.

After school ended, we took the bus back to Meadad's village and had our proper lunch with his mother's wonderful cooking. Chicken, salad, french fries and a cinnamon rice, washed down with America Cola. Then Meadad's father drove me back through the Galilee and its verdant olive fields to Nahariya, to get myself back to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem before shabbat.

Since there were no buses to Jerusalem or TA, I hopped a bus to Haifa, where I figured I could catch another. The hour ride got me to Haifa at around 4:30. Unfortunately, I didn't end up in the station I wanted, and I had missed the bus to the main bus station. However, the office person at this station assured me there was another bus at 5pm to the central bus station. I hung out waiting with a Mexican and Hollander who were working on a kibbutz and in Haifa for the weekend. Eventually a bus did come to take us to the central station, and it meandered across Haifa's hills. Just as we pulled into the central bus station, the guard stopped the bus and made everyone get out because the station was closed. Great, I was officially stuck in Haifa without the luxury of time to stay.

After a little confusion while trying to see if there were sheruts (mini-buses), I found none and decided to try to "tremp" it to TA. I made a little sign that said I was trying to get to TA, and I stood on the side of the road trying to get a ride. I waited, and I waited. People driving past would slow down to stare at my sign, but I had no takers. Meanwhile, I watched the recently chosen national bird of Israel, the hoopoe, fly around the grassy junction where I was hitching.

After no luck, I went for an alternative method, and hopped a sherut to Hadar, a neighborhood in Haifa where I heard there were sheruts to Tel Aviv. Sure enough, they were there and I caught a mini bus to Tel Aviv, and then another on to Jerusalem. I arrived late to Jerusalem, and headed to Bethy's apartment where I had a mon-key waiting for me to get my stuff out of her apartment. Bethy was away, but I chatted with her roommate Dekel about the "joys" of living in Israel. I crashed on the couch, and woke up early to a lovely shabbat morning outside of the Old City. I went for a last stroll through the cramped quarters, then was picked up by my family friend Joe Lowe for our traditional shabbat lunch.

I have been having shabbat lunches with Joe and his family since I lived in Jerusalem a decade ago. As tradition dictates, we always head over to the Haas Promenade to admire the view of Jerusalem over cigars and politics. We puffed our Habana Montecristo's and kibbitzed over "haMatzav," then headed back to his place for a lovely shabbat lunch of roasted chicken with tomatoes and onions, Israeli and Asian salads and sweet potatoes. We finished the meal with watermelon, plums and a new personal favorite, Charoset ice cream. Yes, really charoset ice cream, and it was delicious. Now, I am going to partake in a shabbat nap, as I get ready to bid Israel farewell once again. Shavuoh Tov, a wonderful new week to all!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Catching up

I spent wednesday and thursday catching up. My first location was the Jerusalem Post, and I caught up with my editor Amir. I came at a good time, as the office seemed abuzz with the latest Olmert scandal. We chatted for a bit, and I picked up some old papers with my articles.

Afterwards, I walked back from the Jpost office, back downtown and on past the Old City to meet up with my old Dana. Dana was consul when I was in Houston, and is currently on leave from the Foreign Ministry to be general manager at a theater called "The Lab." She gave me the tour and we went for lunch at a cafe located at the theater. I was a little taken back by the bourgeois cafe given my previous days in Palestine and Judea- it just struck me as such a different world from the previous two locations and was a little funny and odd. After a lunch of a goat cheese, pesto and roasted veggie sandwich, I headed back for a nap.

After my nap, I made a startling realization that while my flight is on sunday, it is at 12:20am sunday morning, and is practically on saturday night. I had to adjust my plans accordingly, and the pace quickened.

On Thursday, I caught up with Prof. Ma'oz, who I worked for last summer. He is at the Truman Institute at Hebrew University, so I trekked up to my old stomping ground on Mount Scopus. The Truman Institute was hosting a 60th anniversary program, so I sat in for a bit. Then Prof. Ma'oz and I sat out and had our traditional coffee and cigars, while we Orientalists chatted over the latest goings-on in the Middle East.

After, I met up for lunch with my old boss Yael at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. I got to see the lovely FM building and we chatted about family and future plans.

From there, I headed on the bus station to catch a bus north to Nahariya to meet my SOP camper Meadad. There was no bus to Nahariya, so I caught one to Haifa. As I sat waiting for the bus, I was really taken by the young soldiers. These cherubic kids carrying m-16s, guys who barely shave and girls whose hips couldn't support the baggy green uniforms. These child-soldiers who are literally "freshman on the frontline." So strange.

Moving on, I caught my bus to Haifa, and then hopped a train to Nahariya to meet Meadad and his father. This is my second trip to his village, and as always the Druze hospitality is incredible. Meadad's mother cooked a feast of fried fish, salads and french fries. We sipped coffee after dinner, and chatted with various uncles and cousins as we ate Golani cherries and snacked on salty sunflower seeds.

Now, I am this Billy Madison is at a Druze high school, but I will explain that in another entry.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pinchas Eliyahu in Judea

Yesterday, I bade farewell to Deborah, who was off to Istanbul. We said we would catch up again, for tea in Tashkent, or some other spot on the Silk Road. I then met up with my friend Bethy (Bat-El), an old YJ friend who I see and stay with when I am in Israel. I sent my brother to her for shabbat when he was studying in Israel, and told him to give her a big hug from me, without mentioning to him she was shomer negiah (no touch)- he was mortified when he found out. Anyway, I was waiting for her in Kikar Tzion, and I noticed some girl walking in a conical vietnamese hat. I giggled to myself how strange Jerusalem is, then the person in the hat started waving to me. Beth was on her way to Gush Etzion, a settlement outside Jerusalem to check out some bouldering areas, and I decided to tag along. I figured the 180 degree shift would be interesting.

We took a bus out to Gilo, and then "tremped" (hitchhiked) our way to the Gush Etzion settlement. There is a lot of people hitchhiking back and forth on the settler roads, and it took us no time to get a ride. There was a big traffic jam caused by a traffic accident, but once we were passed it, we flew through a few tunnels out of Jerusalem and into the Judean Hills. We drove alongside the walled section of the security barrier, and past the rolling green hills and sprawling settlements of Efrat and others. Our ride dropped us off at Kfar Etzion, a settlement within the Etzion bloc. Unfortunately, Beth forgot her sunglasses, and spent a while trying to find the driver who took us. I snapped some pictures from the beautiful view and chatted with the guards at the entrance to Kfar Etzion. There was one fellow from Minnesota originally, and another named Boris who was originally from Russia but had been living for 10 years in Kiryat Arba, a settlement in Hebron. It was surreal, given where i was the day before.

Beth wasn't able to find her glasses, so we tremped our way from Kfar Etzion to Bat Ayin, the settlement where her friend Eliana lives. I had met Eliana the previous year when I was in Israel. She had since gotten married, and moved to a small house with her husband in Bat Ayin. They lived in a house built by a family living on the settlement, and there place was technically illegal. Previously her husband had been living there in a caravan. Due to the sunglasses debacle, we didn't have time to check out the bouldering, but I had a chance to admire the view and look out to other settlements in the distance such as Beit Zeit.

We tremped our way back from Bat Ayin to the Etzion junction with an amiable fellow living there originally from Amsterdam. Then we caught another ride from the junction crowded with other hitchhikers, through the checkpoint to back into Jerusalem and just outside of Bethlehem in Tantour. From there we walked to Hebron Road, and were waiting for a bus. Since none were coming, and Beth needed to be at work, I suggested we grab a Palestinian minibus that was pretty frequent. Beth had never taken one, and was a little apprehensive. I told her not to worry, and that I had been riding them all yesterday. As a Palestinian minibus approached, we got up to get on. A fellow sitting at the station, told us not to get on, but we didn't listen. We got back in no time, with no problem. The irony is that Beth has lived in jerusalem for years but never taken one of those buses, whereas I don't live here but know them well.

Anyway, we got back to Jerusalem and walked up to grab some wonderful falafel at a yemenite place. Beth went off to work, and I hung out and wandered around East and West Jerusalem and the Old City, killing time to meet up for meetings that got cancelled.

I must say, the last two days left me a little disheartened. There is a giant chasm that exists between the two sides and they are both so disconnected from the reality of the other side. I know this comes as no revelation, but its still hard for me to realize that the conflict is in many ways getting farther from, not closer to, any sort of compromise as both sides become even more disconnected. As I always say, both sides are so warm and wonderful and have such hospitality for everyone but the other side.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boulus in Palestine

After the equivalent of a nap, I headed with my group to the airport to bid them farewell. I said goodbye, then headed back to Jerusalem with Deborah as the morning was starting to break. We arrived by sherut (shared taxi) to an area near the central bus station, then walked into town. We had to wait until a reasonable hour for any hostels to be open, so we had some bourekas and coffee at Aroma cafe and waited around. We ended up at the Jerusalem Hostel, a tad pricey for its wonderful location off Kikar Tzion (Zion Square). We napped for a while, then I took her down towards the old city to see the areas that were verbotten for Birthright.

We entered the city through the Damascus Gate, and into the dreams of "A Thousand and One Nights." The Muslim Quarter is always the Orientalist's pleasure. We stopped for some gooey kanafey, and snacked on various types of baklavah. We wandered through the Muslim Quarter and into the Christian Quarter to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We wandered around the various subdivisions in the church and past the various pilgrims. After, we walked crisscrossing through the Muslim and Christian Quarters, and into the Jewish Quarter, then circled back to find a hookah coffee place I used to frequent. It seemed to be now closed, so we wandered in and out of various quarters and through the Armenian Quarter as well to round out the trip. We walked on out the New Gate in the Christian Quarter, and I took her down to see East Jerusalem. We walked through East Jerusalem and grabbed some turkish coffee at a favorite coffee shop of mine on the east side. We chatted with the proprietors about languages, and Deborah told me about her project looking into the Ukrainian identity and narrative myths based on the "black soil" of Ukraine.

After we walked back down towards the Old City and grabbed some delicious street falafel and kebab sandwiches. We then headed back from East to West Jerusalem. It is always such a switch as you cross between the two sections. They are so different, so divided. You would have no idea that they are part of the same city, the feeling is so starkly contrasted. East Jerusalem is more cramped, and gritty, with more smells and sounds and feels more like Amman than the West side. West Jerusalem is much more spacious and clean, and feels almost sterile in comparison. Deborah and I laughed about the contrasting sides, and how it felt like we crossed some invisible line.

As we were trying to figure out what to do the next day, Deborah suggested we go to Jericho. I wrestled with the idea, since I had never been. I didn't have an issue going myself, but was a little apprehensive to take a blond, blue-eyed girl with me. However, I decided it would be fine, and raised the stakes by suggesting we visit Ramallah too, since I had to see my camper Mohammed. I tried to visit him last year, but it was Passover, and the territories were closed for entry. I had promised I would visit him first when I returned. I called his house, but him mother told me he was in America. She said however, they we were more than welcome to visit for tea and coffee if we came. I knew Mohammed's father from Seeds of Peace, as he was the delegation leader for the Palestinians and a journalist.

We woke up a little late since we had been so exhausted, and ended up being too late to visit the Dome of the Rock before our trip into the West Bank. We headed out the Damascus Gate to the mini-bus station in East Jerusalem. We first caught a little minibus to Abu Dis. As we crossed through Sheikh Jarrah and through a tunnel, we appeared in the West Bank, in an area that little resembled the Israel I knew. The lush, green coastal plains of Israel were replaced by the dry, rocky, rolling West Bank/Judean Hills. Again, stark contrasts. We arrived to Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Abu Dis was proposed as the site of the Palestinian capital in an expanded Jerusalem. We entered an area that was flying Palestinian flags, and with nary an Israeli in site. From Abu Dis, we negotiated for a shared service taxi to Jericho.

We flew through the desert and in half an hour arrived to the oasis in the desert that is Jericho. Jericho is the oldest city know to man (although the oldest inhabited is Damascus). As we came to the checkpoint to enter the city, there was a sign in Hebrew that said that it was illegal for Israelis to enter. Israelis are not allowed into Area A, places like Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus because the Israeli government is worried for their safety and the ability for them to be kidnapped. The irony of the conflict of Israel holding territory that Israelis can't enter. After another checkpoint, this time for the Palestinian Authority, we arrived to Jericho. I felt more like I was in Jordan than Israel.

The taxi driver dropped us off at Hisham's Palace, an old winter palace for the Caliph Hisham of the Ummayyad Dynasty. We wandered around the scorched ruins, through the burning heat. We saw an old star that was the sign of the Ummayyids, and assorted columns. We also talked with a tour guide, and visited a wonderful mosaic of the Tree of Life with a gazelle being attacked by a lion. My parents have a tile print in their kitchen, although I will bet a sheckel that they didn't know where it came from. After hanging out a bit in the burning Jericho sun (it even smelled like something was burning), we took a cab to Tel al-Sultan, the site of the archaeological ruins of ancient Jericho and its 4,500 year old walls- those same the walls that Joshua helped crumble. We also had a nice view of the City of Palms and its palm-filled terrain. We also watched pasty tourists ride a cable car into the Monastery of Temptation, built into a side of a cliff where the Devil is said to have tried to tempt Jesus. The monastery looked very much like the Temple over the Void, which I visited in Datong, China.

We headed back into town, and had some wonderful kebabs and chatted with the restaurant's owner. He is the father of ten children, nine of which were girls. He was an amiable fellow who gave us some coffee. We then waited for a shared service taxi to Ramallah to fill and left on our way.

The road to Ramallah wasn't very long, maybe 45 minutes. It was through the hills until we reached Ramallah's heights. It was strange to see the security barrier's walls from the other side, and was not the best feeling. We arrived to the center of Ramallah and wandered around a bit, laughing at the coffee shop Stars and Bucks. The city itself was bustling and full of energy. We watched the fashionistas roam, and the traffic snarl to a stop. There was even a police officer directing traffic in the manner of a breakdancer doing the wave. We then caught up with Omar and his wife Magda. We drank tea at their lovely apartment and ate cakes and delicious baklava that was dry and nutty.

We chatted about my camper Mohammed, who is at boarding school in Massachusetts. Hysterically, he is managing the hockey team at his boarding school; a Palestinian from Ramallah who has rarely seen snow now runs the hockey team. We chatted about the situation, which is always a difficult conversation. I am always reminded that my moderation is never matched by "moderates" on either side. I won't dwell, as we had a nice time and lovely hospitality, and I would love to return to see more of Ramallah. We caught a bus back to Jerusalem, along the walled section of the security barrier and through a large checkpoint, and back to East Jerusalem. A rather interesting day in what I can only term as Palestine, because it resembled nothing of the Israel that I know well.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ha Sof (the end) part II

Editor's note: I incorrectly wrote that we spent 5/20 doing bonfires for Lag B'Omer, but that night, the group had a free night in Jerusalem. I went with some of the girls for waffles at Babette's, the best waffle place on the planet. I can remember the type of waffle I had last year, four years ago and even 10 years ago. I also sat out drinking fig arak and chatting with the ladies. We were going to walk back from Kikar Tzion to the hotel, some 25 minutes away, but 15 minutes before the meetup time, some of the guys called me because the Man U/Chelsea game was tied and in overtime. They asked for another 15 minutes, which I granted. I explained to my fellow madrichim (staff) what I had done. At 12:15, the game was still tied and in overtime. I let it slide a bit more cause I understood the weight of the game. Another 15 minutes passed, with the whole group waiting for the 10 or so watching the game that was still tied. I was about to tell them that they had to come, then the game went into penalty kicks. I couldn't take them away from that, and figured it would be quick. It wasn't, and went into double pks. The poor group had to wait nearly an hour extra for the 10 watching the game, and we didn't get back until late.

5/22 Yad VaShem
I paid the price for my decision the night before because I had to be up early to take Paulette to the American Consulate because she misplaced her passport. The overtired day quickly proved to be a litany of errors, mistakes and confusion.

First, Paulette overslept a little because her roommate reset her alarm. We quickly got out of the hotel but there were no taxis. We went to catch one on the road, and had to hop into one in traffic. When I told the driver we wanted to go to the Consulate, which is in East Jerusalem, he balked and wanted 70 shekels ($20- way too much). I said no way, and told him to put it on the meter. He got angry and dropped us off on the side of the road. We caught another taxi who agreed to put it on the meter, and asked which consulate we wanted, Agron rd or Nablus rd. What? I thought there was only one. I called Nitzan our tour leader, and she said Agron. We got there, went up to the consulate and were told we wanted the other consulate- this one only handled management and public diplomacy. So we hopped another cab and went across the city to East Jeru. We were told by the program to be there at 7am. We got there at 7:15, to find one person in line in front of a closed consulate that wouldn't open till 8am. We sat there in line till the Consulate opened, filling out paperwork. Paulette couldn't remember her parents' birthdays, which was rather funny because she had told me how upset she was with her father because he couldn't remember the exact time she was born.

Anyway, we waited till it opened, then approached the window and were told she needed to request an emergency appointment. They gave us the paperwork and sent us to fill it out on the side of the road across the street. After she did that, we were told to wait on the side of the road for 10 minutes while they set it up. After about 10 minutes, they came out and called her back. Paulette was sent in line, but I was refused entry into the Consulate as I was not related to her and it wasn't my passport that was lost. I tried to explain that I was her madrich, but to no avail. So she nervously got back in line, and I asked the nice American family behind her to assist her. Meanwhile, I sat on the side of the road and took a nap. I woke up a little later with some friendly laughing Palestinians looking at me, wondering why I was sleeping on the side of the road. I then went to wander around East Jeru for a bit while I waited for her, and picked up a copy of the news to read about the latest goings-on with Syria and Israel. After an hour and a half or so, Paulette appeared. She received a stern lecture about losing her passport, and was told she could get a new one that day and to pick it up between 2:30-3:30pm.

With the first part of our task accomplished, I took Paulette walking through East Jeru. Note: participants are forbidden from going to East Jeru but since we were already there for kosher reasons, I figured it was fine. We walked through the main thoroughfare and got some coffee and falafel. She said it was the best falafel she had ever had. She seemed pretty amazed by the difference between East and West Jeru. We walked through, and got some kanifeh (a pastry of cheese covered with shredded wheat and oozing in honey) for her to try. We walked all the way down to the Damascus Gate and caught a cab to Yad VaShem. I thought this was a good opportunity for Paulette to hear a little from the other side, so I asked the Palestinian cab driver a few questions to get him going, and go on a rant he did. A real learning experience for Paulette, and I made sure to push back when the guy was getting a little too caught up in hyperbole, and made sure to explain to Paulette what was bs after.

We arrived to Yad VaShem, and went in to try to find the rest of our group. Eventually we found them, apparently there had been some issues with the guide and microphones. The guide had started off talking in excruciating detail, but then they had to be rushed some because they were supposed to hear from Holocaust survivor. The group was annoyed because they felt they were being rushed at a place that needs its proper time. We navigated the issue of time and the speaker, and promised to give them more time to return after the speaker, which assuaged some of the group. After they finished through the museum, we took them to meet the survivor, about 30 minutes later than planned.

I was working on getting the whole group in the classroom to hear the speaker, and my comings-and-goings seemed to annoy the speaker. He started chewing me out, but I was just making sure everyone was there. Then my phone rang, and he yelled at me some more as I left. Enough for me, I was not returning. I met Nitzan and grabbed the groups' bags, which we put in another classroom. I explained to Nitzan that I couldn't go back in on fear of more admonishment, so I napped on the bags to make up for my exhaustion. I had planned to leave with Paulette at 2:00pm, but the speaker didn't start till 1:40, and I wanted her to hear it. So I waited till 2:30, and listened through the door to see if he was done. By 2:40, we really had to go, so I sent Nitzan in to get Paulette, since the speaker was still going. He glared at her too, but she managed to get Paulette out.

I tried to hurry Paulette, but she had to go to the bathroom. I told her to go, and I would get her stuff that was still at the front entrance, and to meet me there. I immediately thought it to be a bad idea, but went on anyway. I grabbed her stuff and waited. And waited. And ran back to the building where I left her. And back and forth. She was nowhere to be found. At 2:50, I was freaking out. I finally found her in front, after she had taken a wrong turn and gone far out of her way.

With time of the essence, we ran to a cab and got into the first one in the front of the line. I told the guy where we wanted to go and to put it on the meter. He started the cab and then asked me if I had asked someone else first. Confused, I said there was no one else here, and that the two cabs behind were empty. He then turned off the cab, and said I had to talk to some other guy. At that point I lost it, unfurling a string of curses in hebrew, arabic and english. We got out, and some other guy came up. We told him where we wanted to go and that we were in a rush. He said he didn't want to go there, but the other guy would take us. Apparently, this was what the first cabbie was talking about. We got back into his cab, and he started going. He explained that he was a christian and the other guy was a muslim, and that he would get beat up if he took us without asking. Huh? Okay fine, we were finally on our way, and I apologized for my outburst, except this senile old driver was the slowest, craziest cabby in all of Jeru. He was driving super slow, and letting people go ahead- while he talked about marrying Paulette and me. I tried to calmly explain again that we really needed to hurry, and we weren't getting married. We puttered across Jeru, and got stuck in traffic. It was a race against time, as it was 5 minutes before closing time, and we were close. We got close enough that I sent Paulette running for the Consulate while I paid. After a little more confusion, I made my way to the Consulate.

I was crestfallen to see Paulette standing outside the consulate, but she smiled and said not to worry and that they were getting her passport. They let her in, and she wandered around an empty consulate, looking for the person with her passport. She finally found the last employee still there and got the passport. When Paulette appeared with passport in hand, I called the staff and exclaimed "har ha-beit bi yadeinu." We wandered back through East Jeru, having a cup of almond milk and some lunch, before catching another cab across town to Mount Herzl.

We arrived to Mt. Herzl, only to find the gates locked. I called Nitzan, who told me there was an alternative entrance along the side road near Yad VaShem. We followed a fence through some forests to the entrance. Unfortunately, the gates were closed and locked. We were about to give up, when I noticed there was room between the bottom of the gate and ground. I then did a palmach roll under the gate, and Paulette did a pilate to get through. We were covered in dirt, but were in. As we turned around, we saw that the fence had ended at the gate, and there was no more fence after it- we could have simply walked through. This capped everything off, and we fell apart laughing. We walked up to Herzl's grave, and waited for the group. Eventually the group came, and we had a moving moment of singing HaTikvah in front of Herzl's tomb. I was especially moved as I saw the Israeli soldiers standing in salute as the anthem was sung.

We arrived back to the hotel, and I said goodbye to our medic/guard Shimon. He had to be replaced because he had pissed off/offended most of the girls in the group. He was young, a little immature and a little chauvinistic with a group of highly educated women, and had to go. We received a female medic who was a better fit, and later had our Lag B'Omer bonfire. At that point my story takes a little turn, as Deborah, a participant on my program with which flirtation had been taking place, came back with me from the bonfire. Deborah is a lovely 25-year old grad student at U Michigan, who is studying Russian and Ukrainian, and is on her way to Lvov (my original hometown) to study Ukrainian for the summer. Although it is prohibited to have any sort of relations between staff and participants, I figured we were both adults, and I was never one for rules of any sort.

5/23 Old City
For the morning we went to the Haas promenade, to take in the view of Jerusalem. We did a shehecheyanu in honor of the their arrival to Jerusalem, and I read three passages from the three monotheistic religions:
Judaism:
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137)

Christianity:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthem 23:37)

Islam:
O Jerusalem, the choice of Allah of all his lands! In it are the chosen of his servants. From it the earth was stretched forth and from it shall it be rolled up like a scroll. The dew which descends upon Jerusalem is a remedy from every sickness because it is from the gardens of Paradise. (The Hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed)

After, we went down to the kotel, and everyone went to pray. I put a note in the wall related to my grandmother, who had passed away the previous week, wishing her peace and peace to Israel. All of the guys from the group got together to lay tefillan. After we left the wall, the whole group got together in the shade, and watch the Omer haircutting celebration for a 3 year old boy.

From there, we went to the Cardo (the old Roman ruins) to say goodbye to our soldiers. We had a moving goodbye with the soldiers, who gave the entire group dogtags with their names in Hebrew. There had been a real connection between the group and the soldiers, and it was sad to see them go.

The group had some free time to shop around the Jewish quarter. I grabbed some falafel and alternated with the other staff to watch the entrance to the Muslim quarter where the group was not allowed to go. When it was my turn, I was sitting watching one direction, when two girls from my group and two Israelis came out from the Muslim quarter. Apparently they had gone up through the Armenian Quarter and down through the Muslim Quarter. After they explained this, I put my hands over my eyes and said I didn't see them. In reality, all the quarters are fine and safe, and it is a liability issue. I couldn't punish them for something I did regularly when I was on yearcourse and was forbidden. After my watch, I ran into a group of two girls and two guys who wanted to buy a hookah, and didn't want to pay the overpriced amount in the Jewish Quarter. Since the guys were pretty big, and they didn't need to go far in to get a hookah, I simply explained that it was liability issues and told them how to get in and out quickly, while dodging the staff who was guarding the entrance. Ah rules, how I was never for thee.

After, we went to Machane Yehuda, and the group shopped amid the shabbas bustle and we ate fresh, warm ruggeleh and drank almond milk.

Anyway, we went back to the hotel after our shopping trip, and planned for shabbat. I got a few members of my group together to plan a peer-led shabbat, and the service was lovely. After dinner, we all hung out, smoking hookah and drinking wine. Deborah had a ticket to Turkey, where she was starting out on her way to Ukraine, but I invited her to stay around for a few extra days and I would show her around the rest of Jerusalem. She was able to change her ticket, so I had would now have a travel companion for a few days after the program ended.

5/24 Shabbat in Jerusalem
We had a late day for Shabbat, and went on a walking tour to the Knesset and the Wohl Rose garden. Nitzan and I spoke a little more on the history of Jerusalem, and we had a last tie-in session where we divided up and spoke informally in small groups. I led the discussion about Shabbat, how to keep it in different forms and fashions, and our own ideas of shabbat. It was a nice session, which the whole group seemed very engaged.

After we returned, I had lunch and had a shabbat nap. We returned to speak about how to moved forward on our experience. Elizabeth, my co-madrich, spoke about organizations and programs to help keep them involved. A group member named Amanda spoke about the AJC, which she works for. I spoke about the role of Israeli Consulates in bringing Israeli programming, what news sources would keep them up to date, where to find alternative info, and provided a recommended reading list.

We also said our final words to the group. I said how it had really come full circle with me in Mitzpe Ramon, and now I was able to give to them what I had been given some 12 years ago. As Winston Churchill said, "you make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give." We were here trying to give them a connection to their history, their culture, their people, their land and their birthright. I also said how wonderful it was to watch the transformations taking place in them from day one, and how special it was to be part of it.

After we packed up our stuff, we left the hotel for a closure ceremony at a kibbutz nearby. We drank great Israeli wine, and ate salads, homemade cheeses and pasta. We also received a nice closing ceremony by Gia of IsraelExperts, and all shared our "ah ha" moments when everything kind of came into perspective.

We left to stay at a kibbutz near the airport, for what was literally a nap before most got on their flight home.

The program ended, with much gained by all involved, and I was so pleased to help teach, lead and learn from my wonderful group. It was an exhausting but beautiful experience where I got to watch people develop a real relationship with Israel and closer ties with the Jewish people. I miss them already, and I will never forget the experience.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ha Sof (the end) part I

Where to begin?? I have had an utterly amazing, crazy, exhausting week, and now Birthright is over. It ended last night, and I dropped my group off at 4am at Ben-Gurion airport. I haven't been able to write in days, so I will try to get to the main details of what was an incredible week.

5/19 Masada:
We took the bus to Masada, and climbed up the snake path. I had never ascended this way, it was quick and a little too easy. We arrived just in time for the sun rise, and Nitzan (the Israeli tour leader) and I played the Rocky theme for the group as they arrived to the summit. We toured around the sight, explaining the history behind the ruins and also playing games with echoes across the Judaean desert, and listening to its glorious silence.

After the tour, we climbed down the direct path, and I walked arm-and-arm with two of my participants who needed a little more help. We got down to the exit and orange juice stand, and I chatted with the Arab guys who ran the place and managed to extort some backsheesh in the form of a free oj. Editor's note, I have been receiving all sorts of free drinks and things as backsheesh for my groups spending proclivities.

We walked on to tourist center, and I sadly found that the saying "Masada will never fall again" was not true- as Masada has fallen to crass materialism and rampant consumerism in the form of tourist kitch. Sad. After a long break, and one lost participant, who ended up on another bus, we headed on to Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is a little spring in the desert, and we did a short "stroll" (the euphamism caused some consternation) to the water spring. People were tired and cranky, but once we all got a dip in the spring, they perked up as we splashed and tossed wet moss at each other.

From Ein Gedi, we headed on to the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was perfect, and we all got covered in mud and floated the afternoon away, while digging our toes in the salt crystals and admiring their shine. Always heaven at the lowest place on earth.

This was followed by a quick trip to a camel riding park, a kind of BS toursity joke. From there, on to Mitzpe Ramon and the Maktesh Gadol (Big Crater).

At the hostel, Nitzan and I were looking at a convention room, when suddenly I was overcome with a feeling of deju vu. As I turned around and viewed the room from a different direction, I realized I had indeed been there before. Twelve years ago, I had been in the room for a lecture on rain in the Negev by Dotan, my Israel Discovery madrich (counselor). I had been to this hostel on my arrival to Israel some 12 years before, and i suddenly was transported back. I had truly come full circle, as it was now me leading the tour and sharing my love of Israel with a group of wide-eyed innocents abroad. I was a little overcome with emotion at this. Later, when I was in my room, I saw myself lying on the top bunk, jet-lagged and trying to figure it all out all those years ago.

That night, we had a presentation from the group of Israeli soliders who had joined us for an encounter perspective within the tour. They put on a presentation on life in Israel, and I read a piece by the Israeli journalist Yair Lapid. After the presentation, we had a rousing game of "I never" that did much to break down any barriers within the group.

5/20 the Maktesh Gadol
We woke up early and went on a small hike around the Ramon Crater. The views of the desert were stunning from the overlook, and we admired its majesty. We walked past a group of horned Ibex, and learned about life in the desert. After, we had the group do a silent walk through the desert to take in its full atmosphere, and Elana sang a moving version of "Eli, Eli."

After our silent hike, we packed up and headed back north by way of Tel Bersheba, where we met with Miriam- the Bedouin proprietor of the "Daughter of the Desert" cosmetic line. We sat in the bedouin tent, and heard from Miriam about her experiences starting a business. The girls loved this empowerment story. We sat in the tent, and dined on fresh bedouin pita, labne (goatcheese), olives and sipped rosemary tea.

From here, we made our drive to the Valley of Elah, just outside of Jerusalem. The Valley of Elah is where David fought Goliath. We climbed up to a lookout, and stared out over the valley, as Nitsan spoke of the battle and I read the passages from the bible. It seemed to give the group a good perspective on how the land and the bible are so connected.

After, we broke into groups and had a moving session on the Holocaust before our visit the following day to Yad VeShem. I discussed with my group how they were connected with the Holocaust and heard stories of their families connection. We discussed visiting the camps, different holocaust museums, and Jewish/Israeli relations with Germany and the Jewish people's relationship with the Holocaust compared to stories of other genocides carried out.

From here, we made our ascent to Jerusalem, and as we entered the holy city, we played Naomi Shemer's "Jerusalem of Gold" and Matisyahu's Jerusalem song. We checked into our final stop, and got ready for the Lag B'Omer celebration. We had a group bonfire for the holiday, and I checked out early over a tremendous amount of exhaustion. I had been running on 3-4 hours of sleep for a while, and I felt my grip on sanity lessening.

I will continue the update later...

Monday, May 19, 2008

ongoing

I am writing this from my once-home, Arad. It is about 4am and we are about to to climb up Masada. Picking up where I left off, we went out after shabbat for a night out in Tiberias. The group was having a great time some wanted to stay late, so I volunteered to take the revelers back on condition that everyone be up early. Thankfully, those who were last in were also first up the next morning.

On sunday we first went to a place called Shorashim, which does some outreach with Israeli Arabs. We then went to an Israeli Arab school for the group to have dialogue with Israeli Arab students. We played musical chairs as we ran the gauntlet of questions ranging from shopping to questions on how the kids felt for Israeli independence day. I got to chatter away in Arabic a bit, it was fun. After the sessions, we grabbed some wonderful gooey baklava to add to the proposed picnic we were planning. We took the group to a supermarket, gave them lists of foods in Hebrew and hoped for the best that they would find all of what we needed.

The supermarket trip seemed to work out fine, and we headed to a place called Sachne to swim in springs and have a picnic. We sat under the sun and swam, and dined on Israeli salads, cold cuts, and watermelon. Topped off with phenomenal baklava. As we were getting ready to leave, and the park was going to close, some of the guys and I went to an area where you could do some cliff diving. When we got up there, there were two police officers. I thought I heard them speaking Arabic, so I started in that, then switched to Hebrew since I wasnt sure. They said the cliff area was closed. I pleaded but they said no. As we were walking away, they asked me if I spoke Arabic. I replied I did and started chatting. They then waved us on and we were free to jump. We lept from the cliffs, and into the water below, and were greeted upon entry by the shrill whistles of the lifeguards who werent in on the plot.

We drove on to Tel Aviv and stayed in Jaffa. Given that I thought everyone wanted a late night in TA, I fought to give the group a late night option. We hung out in the port area, and I snuck off outside of the group boundaries for some much needed time for myself. In the end, most of the group went home early, and I berated them for their elderly behavior.

Monday we visited Independence Hall, then I spent the day sitting around the Interior Ministry, with Miriam who needed a new Israeli passport. We sat around for nearly 5 hours, and were the last people to leave the office. Even the security guard left to have lunch, but we got the passport, and I got to nap in the office.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Sabbath

We welcomed the sabbath in a syngogue in a bunker under the hotel. Like everything in Israel, this was a slight issue as this was the first time men and women had prayed together in the synagogue and the hotel was not pleased.

We had a nice shabbat meal, and hung out talking and the group drinking outside till the wee hours. Yum, Israeli wodka that tastes like pine-sol. It was especially funny when a girl named Alicia tried to speak out curses in Hebrew from a sight she found on google on her blackberry- the accent was hysterical.

We slept in, and then walked to an overlook over the Sea of Galilee and split up into groups to have a tie-in session. We rehashed the last 3 days and talked about issues of identity as Jews and as a Jewish state.

After, we had lunch and I ducked off for a nice shabbat nap. We then had an activity on the changing map of Israel. Now we are about to welcome in the new week and give the group a free night in Tiberias. Off for havdallah.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tzfat

We had a wonderful drumming session last night with a Druze fellow named Bashir. We banged the darbouka, a long hollow drum, and learned to dance the debka. After the drumming, I sat out with my group for a carlesburg and we chatted till late.

I woke up at a semi-normal time today, the jetlag seemes to have passed. A wonderful breakfast of cheeses, shakshouka and cucumbers and tomatoes, and then we were off to Tzfat. In Tzfat, we took the group to meet an American fellow who made aliyah and studies kabbalah while doing art. He gave them a hippyish lecture on kabbalah as the root of all love in the universerse, and said things were "awesome" quite a bit. After, we went on a brief walking tour of the city, then set the group free for some chofesh (break). I grabbed some lachoch, a yemenite pancake of sorts with tomatoes, onions, egg, zaatar (haha Harry) and schoog (spicy paste), and washed it down with a fresh squeezed glass of orange and grapefruit juice. I sat out in a courtyard and read O Jeru for my free time. Off to greet the sabbath bride. Shabbat Shalom to all from eretz Yisrael.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

HaShiva (The Return)

After a mournful goodbye I said to my grandmother in her hospital room, I hopped a shuttle to JFK. So began my days as a madrich, counselor, for the Birthright tour. The scene at JFK was a little chaotic, with 3 other Birthright tours all leaving at the same time. I immediately became glad that I had the 25-26 year old group and not the college kids. After a lot of waiting around, we got our tickets and started passing through security. I helped facilitate for all who were not accostumed to Israeli security.

There was only one very minor fiasco. After a girl in my group put her bag in the x-ray machine, she was told she could go by some security person. I told her to head toward the gate. After she left, a higher up security person asked where she was because she had a question about her bag. Since she was gone, the security person then said the bag wasn't going on the flight. I had to sprint to find her, through security, and bring her back to the baggage screening. Sweating, we made it back to the baggage screening. The questions:
"Do you have books in your bags?"
-yes
"What kind of books?"
-a travel guide
"Ok, you can go."
STUPID! That was it.

The flight was uneventful, save my i-pod messing with my head as it kept playing shuffling Israeli song after Israeli song. We arrived, collected our luggage and went to our guesthouse called Neve Shalom.
We had dinner, and I dined on humus, israelis salads, split pea soup and fresh pita. We then gave our tired, jetlagged group a quick orientation, then let them go, and had a staff meeting.

It was so wonderful to be back in Israel. The warm night air carried the sweet smell of rosemary and fresh flowers, as I looked up at the stars punctuating the purple night. I went to bed, only to be plagued by jetlag and woke up at 3:30am, and couldn't return to bed. I spent the morning reading O Jerusalem, which I read some ten years ago, and watching the night end and the sun slowly come up.

This morning, we had a delicious Israeli breakfast of tomatoes and cucumbers, eggs and more pita, while I washed it down with elite coffee and fresh rosemary tea (a Jordanian recipe). We took the group on a brief tour of Neve Shalom, which is a unique community for both Jews and Arabs to live together.

After that, we hopped on the bus and drove three hours north to the border with Lebanon. We visited Misgav Am, a kibbutz that literally hugs the border with Lebanon. We heard the muezzin's chant echo across the fields of southern Lebanon and across the valley in northern Israel. After a lecture from an American rightwing nut, who was a bit abrasive, the group headed to the mall at Kiryat Shmona to hang for a bit before we went rafting down the Jordan River.

We paddled and meandered down the mighty Jordan, the groups in rafts, and the shomer (security) and me in a kayak. There were a bunch of Israeli Arab kids splashing around and causing mischief on the river, and the shomer remarked, "see, just like the Arabs. I hate the Arabs." I immediately told him to shut up. I said they were behaving no differently than teenage Israelis. He disagreed, but as we floated farther down the river, we ran into a group of teenage Israelis doing the exact same thing. See, I exclaimed, same-same. That shut him up.

Now I need to get back to my group and to a Druze drumming circle. So nice to be back to the only place that really feels like home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Utter lack of leadership

It is so utterly frustrating to scan the newspaper headlines today. There are so many issues that need to be addressed, yet the total lack of leadership on the part of the Bush administration leaves the situations completely exacerbated. You can rattle off a litany of places where the slightest bit of leadership could do a world of good.

Bush burned up all the capital necessary to mobilize international forces in Darfur or Burma, when so few could do so much. There is real support to do something in these places, yet no leadership. We are left waiting for Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister of France and the founder of Doctors without Borders to mobilize efforts Where is Condi? Where is some real leadership?

I don't hear Bush standing up to Mugabe in Zimbabwe as he steals an election with thugs and violence. Nor a peep when Russia threatens Georgia and Ukraine, or Hezbollah takes over Beirut. I gave Bush a nod of credit around the time of his second innauguration. I cheered when Syria pulled out of Lebanon, just as cheered the various colored revolutions, and gave him a little credit. All credit is gone, as all situations are deteriorating. I really can't name a single Bush success in the realm of foreign policy. He is like King Midas, except he turned all to shit-all while the Axis of Oil grew in strength and treasure.

I want to hear from Obama. I believe he could be more forceful if he spoke out about the issues affecting the international stage. How will an Obama presidency deal with these issues?

PS: A good article by one of my favorite Ha'aretz columnists Bradley Burston

There is a G-d above

And for some odd reason He seems to find favor with this humble servant. I just received my trip manifest for the Birthright tour I am leading, and found out that 30(!) of the 38 participants are Jewish girls age 25-27. I had to count a second time, and chuckled the whole way down the list. Ah, how my harem shall grow; I'm going to come home with so many camels from all my trades. Perhaps this is why I have been so interested in the FLDS Mormons and their plural wives.

But as the Eagles noted in "Hotel California":
"There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'"

Because the prospect of traveling with 30 Jewish girls, and all the time it takes for them to get ready and moving could be an utter nightmare. See under: herding cats.

Birthright

As sixty has past, I am sizing up my birthright. When I look out over the sixty, across the long horizon that was, wasn't and could have been, I see much that has been. Tomorrow I make my way back to Israel. To see it from fresh eyes and new perspectives. I look back over years and see the faces, pictures and images. I see Ben Gurion speaking in Tel Aviv, and I see him standing on his head. I see Golda, smoking a cigarette from her balcony. I see Rabin, as a young man on the eve of those sleepless June nights, and I see him old with his hand shaking on that autumn White House lawn. There is Begin's eloquence, and Arik's bravery. I look back and see the statemanship of Peres on the global stage, and I see Shamir with cautious look outward. I see back over 60 years, and I see back for millennia. That is our Birthright, that is my gift to give.

Monday, May 12, 2008

As the sun sets

"The bright day is done,
And we are for the dark."
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act V Scene ii

On the eve of Mother's Day, my grandmother had a stroke and has slipped into a coma. She had previously had a serious stroke some 6 weeks ago, on her 60th anniversary with my grandfather. She always had a flair for the dramatic. The whole family came together to spend time by her side, and enjoy the last of her company.

The upshot of all of this is that my siblings and I got to spend major bonding time with our little cousin Sabrina. Sabrina is nearly a decade younger than my brother and two from me, yet she is from New York, which makes her precocious, full of sass and far too wise for her years (I sure didn't know what "transgender" was at 9). I think my grandmother would have really appreciated all of us giggling together, and I imagine her smiling that she brought us together to be her youngest grandchild's "surrogate siblings."

I will miss my grandmother, my nanny, but I know it is her time. She has lived and loved her life to the fullest. She dragged out all the best and most for a long period of borrowed time. She is ready to go, even if we will never be ready to let her go.

Sadly, Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes just lost his mother, and wrote about it this week in his column. Sadly ironic for me, because it was a mix of his influence and my grandparents that I have been doing my life of travel. So I send my condolences out to Tom Friedman, as I wait for winged angels to take my dear Nanny to her rest.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday roundup

As I was on my way to teach my citizenship class, I came across this wonderful quote by John F. Kennedy on immigration policy. I found it, of all places, on the back of The Onion. See fake news sources often have most reality to offer. In reality, the quote was connected to an advert, but not important. I read it to my students, they all seem moved by it.
"Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience."
JFK, A Nation of Immigrants (1958)

A great op-ed by Doug Glanville, the former major league baseball player, about hitting curveballs of all sorts.

I saw a wonderful bumpersticker the other day: "Right-like Jesus would own a gun and vote Republican"

Meanwhile, related to my post from yesterday, I spent last night driving home in the rain, listening to a most interesting report on Israel's 60th birthday from Deutsche Welle, German radio. They first had a report on Israel's 60th birthday from Israel, then a report on how it was being celebrated in Berlin with Jews and non-Jews coming together to mark the occasion. It game me a real sense of how far we have come when we can have the 60th birthday of Israel celebrated in full regalia in Berlin. I pray that by the 120th birthday, we can do the same in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Happy Birthday Israel!!

A happy, happy 60th birthday to Israel. For sextagenerian, you look pretty damn good. Sixty is quite an achievment given all that Israel has faced over the years. I had hoped to be on hand celebrating, but timing proved too difficult. No worries, this time next week I will be leading a Birthright trip to Israel, helping people who have never been experience the joy and wonders of Israel. And I will be sure to be on hand for the 70th birthday.

Ironically, the best birthday gift Israel could give/receive would be a seat at the table for Palestine's first birthday. What was correct 60 years ago, ie partition and two states for two people, is still correct, worthwhile and vitally necessary today. I won't dwell on any of this too much today, I would rather be celebratory.

I am posting an article I had in the Jpost around Independence Day last year called "The Jewish State, abnormal as ever." I am also posting an oped I helped write for the Israeli Consul General some 4 years ago that appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and Austin American Statesman:

"Reflections at 56"
Birthdays serve as a time of reflection. They allow us to ponder how far we have come and how far we have to go. Today Israel reflects on its 56th birthday.
In Israel, every joy bears some tears of sorrow. Even our celebration day is preceded by our memorial day for those who fell in defense of our state and were victims of terror.

Looking into the mirror, Israel's reflection shows many reasons to be proud. In 56 years, we became a thriving, pluralist democracy; the one nation in the Middle East where its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, have the right to liberty and freedom.

In 56 years, Israel has entered the forefront of innovation in agriculture, medicine, science and technology. America's own Christopher Reeve recently traveled to Israel in order to study the path-breaking Israeli medical technology that could one day help him walk, saying "Israel is an extraordinary place, and is among the world leaders in scientific research."

Along this path, the United States of America has stood beside Israel as a pillar of strength and solidarity. Together, we have forged an alliance based on the common values that both nations share: liberty, freedom, peace and democracy. Together we even reached the heavens, with the Columbia space shuttle. Together we mourn its tragic loss.

Israel has shown its dedication to peace with its neighbors. Last month, we marked the 25th anniversary of our peace agreement with Egypt. Next year, we will celebrate a decade of peace with Jordan. We have sought peace with our Palestinian neighbors and this coming year shall be no different.

But our reflection in the mirror is combined with grief and frustration. After three-and-a-half years of terror and almost 1,000 Israeli dead, we realize that no matter how much we work for peace, we do not yet have a committed Palestinian partner. Israel has been left no choice but to move unilaterally. It is the duty and responsibility of all governments to take measures that provide security and stability for their citizens. This year we realized that it is not a matter of accepting the Palestinian desire to have a state - because we have done so. Nor is it because of our unwillingness to make painful concessions for peace - because we have done so in the past and are prepared to do so in the future. It is because we are lacking Palestinian leadership that is committed to stop terror and to build peace.

In his recent visit to Washington, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon introduced the groundbreaking Disengagement Plan. This initiative rests on unilateral withdrawal, and removal of Israeli settlements and military installations from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. In addition, the construction of the anti-terrorist fence will be accelerated, as its completion is essential to assure the security of the citizens of Israel. President Bush rightly termed this new initiative both "bold and historic" and stated that the plan can make an important contribution to peace. There is no breakthrough without a risk, but we are willing to take it.

Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank will be painful. Almost 8,000 Israelis must leave their homes, where they raised their children for three decades. But, this removal of Israeli presence will reduce friction with Palestinian civil society, creating new opportunities for peace.

In the absence of a partner, we have no choice but to take unilateral measures to assure our security. We remain fully committed to the U.S.-backed Road Map for peace, knowing that in the long run, peace will be achieved around the negotiating table. We take the necessary steps for peace. What about the Palestinians? The Palestinians can write their ticket for a prosperous future, as the burden for peace now rests on their shoulders.

As we celebrate Israel's 56th anniversary, being so proud of our achievements, we will do whatever we can to fulfill our dream for peace. I hope that next year the emerging opportunity for peace will be taken.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I hate you

I was on a photo shoot this afternoon for a project that I am doing at work. The project involves taking pictures of the elderly with their caregivers. I arrived to take pictures of an elderly woman and her two caregivers doing their evening "changing of the guards." The elderly woman was dolled up for the photoshoot, in an outfit reclaimed from the mothballs, and she even got painted up in lipstick and pink fingernail polish.

As the caregiver was feeding the elderly woman some Ensure before the the photo shoot, the caregiver kept saying to her, "Isn't it awful. Its so disgusting." I gave a puzzled glance, and wondered why she would be saying this to the client, who was sucking down the drink. She then explained to me that her client suffers heavily from Alzheimer's, and many things are reversed to her.

After drinking the "disgusting" shake, we went outside and the "grandpapa-razzi" snapped pictures of the ladies out by the azaleas. The client and her companions put pink and white azaleas in their hair as they smiled while I played shutterbug.

As I was going to leave, the elderly woman, with smile on her face and flower in her hair, very forcefully said to me, "I HATE YOU." To this, I smiled back and said, "I hate you too."

Luv you Tarheels;Hoosiers your pretty good too

I waited late into the night watching the returns, and woke up this morning with a new sense of optimism. I haven't felt like this since before Ohio. It's a feeling that maybe we really are moving forward, that maybe the games of Republican-style political hits and bogus pandering has run its course- never completely, but in recession. This may not yet be the beginning of the end, but it sure seems that way- at least the talking heads say so.

Moving forward for this bright and beautiful day that seems so full of promise, I will offer up a directed observation and a poem from Eduardo Galeano's "Walking Words", from the new book of his that I am reading(Gracias Tita!).

The observation: "In the Guaraní language, ňe'ẽ means both "word" and "soul."
The Guaraní Indians believe that those who lie or squander words betray the soul."

The poem:
In Cajamarca, January is the time to weave.
In February delicate flowers and colored belts appear. The rivers sing and it's carnival time.
In March cows and potatoes give birth.
In April ears of corn grow in silence.
In May the crops are harvested.
In the dry days of June, new land is made ready.
There are weddings and fiestas in July, and devil's thistles come up in the furrows.
August, red sky, is the time of winds and plagues.
The ripe moon, not the green moon, is for planting in September.
October pleads to God to let the rains fall.
In November the dead rule.
In December life celebrates.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hoosiers and Tarheels

I already made a plea once, I won't bother this time for North Carolina and Indiana. North Carolina, we seem to be on the same page. Indiana, please don't get hoodwinked that Hillary is your union buddy. She was excoriated by conservatives in the '90s for being a liberal elitist, now she is running as blue collar workingwoman. Have a little sense, please. Check out Andrew Sullivan's blog post on the Weekly Standard's take on Hillary, and why the neocons love her these days, and for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Whither Dream ticket?

Apparently I'm not the only one revisiting the idea of a joint Obama-Clinton ticket. Check out Chris Cilliza's blog of the Wash Post.

Guaming up the works

Not since General Roy Geiger and General Hideyoshi Obata were squaring off over the dear island has Guam been so bitterly contested. Shout out to the 7 Guamians(?) who turned the Pacific tide. I spent the morning pouring over the sunday papers, only to take a break to watch Obama on Meet the Press. I thought he did a good job this morning on the toughest interview on television.

With the split contest, I started thinking again about a joint Obama-Clinton ticket. On some levels, they really complete each other very well. Yet, later in the day I saw some clips of her talking about how she won Michigan, and some other junk, and the bile started rising again. Ugh, I want to like and respect you again Hillary, but the lies and falsities must end. I tried to watch her on the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, but I had to change the channel.

I flipped it back later to see Obama's Jefferson-Jackson speech, and was captivated. It was a moving, rousing speech that had the crowd on their feet. Here is some of it that I found on Youtube. Maybe there needs to be a President/Prime Minister split for the two. Make it like a national unity government.

Speaking of VPs, there are rumors going around that McCain might pick Bobby Jindal.

Bobby Jindal is a political wunderkind from Louisiana. He is a brilliant, young (36) Republican governor of Louisiana, who is of Indian origin. I first noticed him when I was working for the Consulate and quickly put him on our radar. Smart move by McCain if he can pick up Piyyush.

Great oped today in the Washington Post by Sebastian Mallaby called "Wright and Ridiculous." Worth a read, as it puts all the Wright nonsense in perspective. And by-the-way, I love how Hillary claims she would have walked out of Wright's church, when I remember her sitting next to Suha Arafat a decade ago (before the second intifada) as Yassir's wife excoriated Israel with hyperbolic invectives of conspiracy including that Israelis were gassing Palestinians and poisoning their water. Hillary didn't walk out, she sat there and gave her a hug and kiss when Suha finished her rant.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Aloha, Kingdom of Hawaii

A group of native Hawaiians took over the old palace of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On this glorious May Day, Che Pablo supports his dear Hawaiian comrades in their struggle for liberation, and I'm sure that together we could reconfigure the potato gun to fire off some pineapples. My Dad asked the question that if Hawaii secedes from the Union, where does that leave the Hawaiian-born Obama in the presidential race, since he would no longer be a US citizen. I will ponder that over some macadamia nuts.

Now, in all seriousness, Hawaii's monarchy was overthrown by a bunch of sugar baron oligarchs in the most unkosher of fashions. As I have noted in some previous blogs, commodities were cause for war then, as they still are today. As Eduardo Galeano wrote in Open Veins, "They lie to us about the past as they lie to us about the present."