Everything You Never Knew About Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the eternal dichotomy. It is the embodiment of the holy and profane; the religious and secular. The two coexist side by side, just as in Judaism itself for over two thousand years. Yet Jerusalem is not known for it’s secular culture in the diaspora.

It is a slow and steady current that runs through the city streets.

To experience it is to believe in it.

Within Israel itself, many Israelis see Jerusalem as a place for the religious and Tel Aviv as a place for the secular. The rest of the world has also promulgated this notion. I find myself face to face with the reality of what Jerusalem is in actuality. We do not have to look far to see that this is not unique or new in any way. Our roots as living with a secular component are consistent in our history.

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Hilonim, the Hebrew word for secular Jews is first used in the Midrash, contained in the rather famous story about the Oven of Akhnai as well as discussions on the holy versus the profane. In the Oven of Akhnai, Kosher or not, all the rabbis say it is unclean and one Rabbi Eliezer says it is clean. He is the only one with this position and asserts- the Torah is not in the heavens, it is here on earth. He proceeds deeper and claims that “we” will decide what it means. He believes God has endorsed this concept that it is not in the heavens. (Deuteronomy 30:11,12):

“For this commandment, which I command you this day,

is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in

heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven

for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can

fulfill it?”

I find this assertion rather rebellious towards the rabbinate itself. The rabbinate uses this to serve a purpose of human autonomy. The story demonstrates an impulse or mentality that there is autonomy from God. For our purpose, this is a possibility to exploit a later modern secular philosophy.

This Midrash is evidence of Jerusalem’s past and present that I have come to call home. I am immersed in this diverse peoplehood and I am in love with the cosmopolitanism of Jewry here. Yet it appears to be our best-kept secret!

As I sit here and write this piece, I am in Musrara. It is an old Arab neighborhood, or it was originally. After 1967 it was part of the Jerusalem capture. I am surrounded by old Mizrahi Jewish families who immigrated here from all over the Middle East. Our view overlooks the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock along with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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This neighborhood abuts into Mea Sherim, where the Haredim live.

Across the street is Damascus gate; this is the Eastern side of Jerusalem where 155,000 Palestinian residents of Israel, non-citizens live.

I can smell spicy foods being cooked by someone’s ima next door. Musrara is where the famous art and media institute resides. I have the pleasure of browsing their galleries to look at all of the exhibitions throughout the year. Today is a Muslala event. Many of the arts and cultural events of Musrara are under the auspices of Muslala. These are typically concerts and performance art, funded by the Jerusalem foundation. They are held at the Musrara Art Institute and Naggar School of Photography.

I have had my windows open all day. The sound of electronic music, very experimental, hip, transcendent and sensual is flooding the area. It is welcomed because it drowns out the sounds of stabby gate (that’s what I call Damascus Gate). It’s a 24/7 circus over there with constant police sirens, arrests, horns honking, the loud route 60, with Yafo street traffic and the train all competing at once.

The numerous synagogues do not complain about the Muslala events. The Haredim from Mea Sherim do not protest or disrupt them. At night, I can walk past the Musrara venue and it is lit up with orange neon lights. It looks so cool and it reminds me of an urban, ultra edgy place you might find in New York or London. Yet this is Jerusalem, not the US and not Europe.

When most people think of Jerusalem they think of it as the most contested city on earth. They think about the conflict and about the presence of the three Abrahamic religions. They are unaware of the jaw dropping art and the powerful exhibitions here. They are oblivious to the vibrant LGBTQ community- and yes, many of them are Orthodox. The world does not associate Jerusalem with multi-culturalism, diversity or progressiveness.

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We are a complex peoplehood and our culture is painted with every stripe from all of our host countries. The costumes, the trappings, the way each of us dress, the foods we prepare, the accent in our Hebrew pronunciations- are all a reflection of the melting pot of our ancestors. We are pagan and we are First Temple Period. We are Hellenized and we are Second Temple Period. We are Middle Eastern and we are European. We are Jewish.

The secular and religious cohabitate peacefully here because it is an ancient tradition of ours; the mixed multitude, which stood together at Sinai. We are the holy and profane. Whether it is a sexy beach or technology, a tallit or an archeological dig- we are Jerusalem.

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Everyone is a Journalist Today

In a world of media bias and non-journalistic sources lacking credentials, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from a lie?

A broken clock is right once a day.

Even “fake news” has pieces of facts contained in it.

Once in a while, a journalist may get it right. Actually, they may get it partially right and partially wrong and this is why they succeed.

Thus media voices driven by agenda, which no longer report events dispassionately; they insert their opinions and spin the event to support their position.

If there were but one ordinary, simple, dry delivery of the events of the day, without commentary- it could free us of this propaganda induced society.

We would be able to think for ourselves. If only facts were stated like a grocery checklist, boring and without feeling. The only thing necessary to give the facts any sense would be context.

I remember my parents watching the news as a child. It was so dry and boring. Remember Walter Cronkite?

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Today it’s a show, it’s ratings, it’s looking sexy and attractive, and it’s arguing around a table and interviewing a person that gets cut off every sentence. It’s playing a game of “gotcha” and taking your words out of context.

I did some research on press and journalist credentials. As it turns out, most major and even minor news media outlets posses these credentials for the entire organization. Additionally, individual journalists can obtain said credentials on their own. When a journalist is going to write a story either in their own country or abroad, they need these credentials. They also need a letter from their affiliate to legitimize that they are doing a story. This can be done on corporate letterhead signed by a senior editor or producer with a current date.

Thanks to websites and social media, a freelance writer with no journalist or press credentials can do everything a credentialed one can do. In fact, an ordinary person who is not a writer can do all of this as well. This is both good and bad.

The Good:

An individual can go somewhere with an iPhone, take pictures, make a video and interview a person, thus creating ANY story they want and simply upload it to Youtube or Facebook. The world can see raw footage that is uncensored. A person can travel anywhere in the world and have an intimate experience, then share it publicly. Many discoveries about events, cultures and people have been shared in this way, that otherwise may not have occurred.

The Bad:

An individual can go somewhere with an iPhone, take pictures, make a video and interview a person, thus creating ANY story they want and simply upload it to Youtube or Facebook. The world can see raw footage that is uncensored. A person can travel anywhere in the world and have an intimate experience, then share it publicly. Many discoveries about events, cultures and people have been shared in this way, that otherwise may not have occurred.

I literally just copied and pasted the same thing for both the good and the bad. Do you see where I’m going with this?

 It’s sad really, for those journalists who are creditable, ethical and talented. Imagine your entire professional genre being hijacked by a bunch of tourists and wannabes.

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Here is something else to consider-

What about organizations that seek truth and expose it? Yet they are hated because it looks like and smells like prefabricated propaganda.

Here’s an example:

An NGO (yes there are like 40,000 of them here in Israel and it feels like meddling more than helping) strives to help Palestinians file police reports when they or they’re property are attacked by settlers.

Yes there are lies, exaggerations and half-truths where they tell you what happened to them, but not what happened right BEFORE the violent attack or action.

My observation is there are two sides to every story and usually an ugly action is a REACTION to something else that happened.

One does not always justify the other. Yet this place reminds me of what Americans call “the wild west”. People take matters into their own hands. Disputes between people and intersecting villages are handled in a tribal fashion. This is because we are not in the U.S.; we are in the Middle East- cultural norms matter and must be examined, not judged.

When you are reading your “news”, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, a newsletter from an organization, main-stream news outlets or a small independent source that is not affiliated with any journalistic or press agencies- just remember something:

It has become a free for all. The term “creditable” no longer carries any weight because it has become a subjective term. The credentialed journalists have crossed a line and become biased. The ordinary Joe on vacation uploading a video he took on his iPhone is viewed as creditable. A person who writes for a blog (like mine) is viewed creditable when people can corroborate my story, yet it is uncreditable when my story goes against the Hasbara script.

How are we ever suppose to know what is true, what is distorted and what is a flat out lie? You will not know. I am sorry I do not have a foolproof way for you to be 100% certain all the time.

Here is what you can do: Instead of reading ABOUT the conflict, meet the people who are IN the conflict. Instead of surrounding yourself with those whom you agree with, surround yourself with those whom you disagree with. Rather than joining bandwagons and perpetuating groupthink, hang out with people who exhibit otherness, those who are very different from you.

If you visit Israel, go where you have never been. Visit people you met online where you do not share the same opinions at all.

Listen. Do a ton of listening, not talking, not interrupting, not even thinking, just listening.

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I realize I have identified a specific topic here, but it is applicable to all news, all over the world of every kind. I have come to learn that things are not always as they seem. There is an exception to every rule and all generalizations are false- including the one I just made.

Lastly, there is something I call “giving up the right to be right.” This means that when you want to learn and grow, there are times when being right is not the goal. In fact, if that is always your goal, you will never learn anything new. There are times in life when being right will not help you, it will not save anyone or change anything. Clinging to being right can be rather useless and divisive. Being right comes with an ego and a self-driven phenomenon to feed that ego.

My father was obsessed with being right and we do not have a relationship today because of it. Being right is of greater value to him than having his daughter participating in his life. I once told him many years ago that I hoped being right kept him warm at night and would keep him company in the grave. I hoped that being right was worth not having a family. He will die a lonely man, but he will be right…

What does that story have to do with news media sources? It has everything to do with it. It is at its core about the ego. When someone posts a story, regardless of the source or subject matter, they are saying – “hey, look at me, I have something important to share and my opinions on it are going to be stated because I think others should hear me.” This idea that what we feel or think is important and must be expressed at lighting speed 24/7 is the epitome of ego. Oh but that is precisely what I am doing now, right? No.

Here is why:

We are bending over backwards and putting relationships with others on the line in defense of our OPINIONS. In fact, we are defending with intense rage, love, hate and sorrow deep emotional attachments about subject matters as benign as vegan food or a place we have never visited. We are aggressively shouting our opinions and posting sources to support them about people we do not love or respect. We have lost old friends and family members over the right to be right. You cannot take anything with you when you die. In the end, all we have to look upon in our lives is the people who mattered the most. What will they say about you when you are gone? That you spent 18 hours a day arguing on Facebook?

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There is a source on the Internet to support any position you hold on any subject. Let. That. Sink. In.

We must learn to value the soul, not words, not feelings, but the human soul. The rest is commentary…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Israel should turn verbiage on its ass

Israel should own the world’s terminology and push it right back in everyone’s face.

I think Israel should own the title “Occupier”- I mean seriously. Occupation is not illegal; military occupations are a legitimate status. The Occupation here can be summed up in two words- Check Points. That’s right kids, checkpoints. Both Israelis and Palestinians go through them.

Ever wonder why they are here? They were not here before Oslo. They were created as a tactic to end terrorism. Guess what kids? It worked. We don’t have buildings and buses being blown up anymore. You know something? Both Israelis and Palestinians hate the wall. It’s an endless catch-22 here. Gotta take the bad with the good.

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My biggest criticism of the occupation is that it is not a real one. It is a lame one. I think one of Israel’s greatest failures is not giving the Palestinians a proper occupation. Seriously, they should’ve done what the British did in India. An occupation should leave a population better off. An occupation is supposed to have a beginning and an end. There is suppose to be an agenda and once it is complete, that should be it. Israel should have been all up in the Palestinians lives- not these checkpoints; I mean every facet of their existence…

I think Israel should never own the title “Colonialist” (but I can make an exception)- Considering there has been a continuous Jewish presence here for 4,000 years- INCLUDING, but not limited to, being under other foreign overlords.

Today’s Palestinians cannot prove that all of them were here before the 1700’s.We cannot call them colonizers either because they didn’t colonize anything, they didn’t build infrastructure, no institutions, nothing.

There have always been other peoplehoods living in this land. Some of them have what is called – “long standing presence.” However, Mizrahi Jews make up half the country and was clearly here- thus not being colonialists. If the haters want to reduce the Ashkenazim to the colonialist title, fine then I will own it.

Damn straight the Ashkenazim are colonialists and if you don’t like it and want us to leave- just consider what that means. It basically amounts to us packing up our toys and taking them with us. We will take everything we built- EVERYTHING… In other words, we would be taking Israel in its entirety. Everything you can touch, taste, smell, hear and see would be gone. Poof!

The funny thing is that EVERYONE is a hypocrite because the entire world has been colonized- minus China. So, if you are not Chinese, guess what? Bingo! You are a mother-fucking colonist too. Colonization is one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind. Without it, there wouldn’t be the level of society or invention of nation state constructs without it.

Dear Jews, when the world calls us occupiers and colonialists- quit arguing and own it proudly as fuck. Both are an actual status. Both are legitimate and it has been going on forever. It’s not special or controversial at all. It only matters cause Israel.

When you look at all the institutions that existed during what was called British Mandate Palestine, you will find that many of its members and affiliates were Jewish.

(Give examples and photos) Why? Because Jews were living here. One could say Jews are the original Palestinians, but that is inaccurate because it implies Palestinian is an ethnicity. It is not, it is an Arab conglomerate. I have asked many Palestinians where their parents were born, their grand parents and great grand parents. They all say Jordan and often say Lebanon, Egypt or Syria. Folks, those countries are what we call the Levant. They are very similar- similar foods and preparations, language, similar dress, décor and customs. Yet if you look up what year Syria became a country, what year Lebanon became a country, what year Jordan became a country, what year Egypt became a country and what year Israel became a country- you will see a date.

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Up until two months ago, if you looked up what year Palestine became a country, nothing came up because it never was a country. Yet two months ago, someone added to Google that it became a country in 1981. Yet if you read what happened you will find that it did not become a country. Rather, in 1981 the PLO declared itself and independent government in exile from Algeria. No I am not kidding, I am not trying to be funny at all.

When the world calls Israel Apartheid, it doesn’t know the backstory of where that word comes from. Folks, it is South African, and it is uniquely theirs. They earned that shit and can keep it. You see from 1948-1991 those fuckers used policy to legislate racism. Now sure there is a ton of people in the world we call racists, but I’m talking about government sanctioned racism as written into law.

Israel gives a quarter of a million work permits a year to Palestinians to come and work in Jerusalem. Are you getting it yet? (Tell the story of the halva factory in Samaria)

War crimes- oh you mean like genocide? The Palestinian population has increased exponentially under Israel. If you actually took the time to get to know us, our culture and our customs, you’d know genocide is not a Jewish thing. Even the Palestinians know this. By the way, they do not perpetuate that lie, outside people who don’t live here do…

And by the way, if we wanted them dead, we would’ve annihilated them 50 years ago.

If you sit down face to face with a Palestinian and ask them about their day-to-day life, they will eventually get around to complaining about their own actual government, The PA- The Palestinian Authority. Oh, you mean you thought I was gonna say the Israeli government? Nope, that’s my government, I am Israeli. The Palestinians live under something called the PA. That’s right kids. They held an election 11 years ago and never had one again since then. The PA is a group of pseudo leaders with civil administration powers. Here’s the fun part, they are thugs, kinda like the mafia.

They are corrupt and the people loathe them. Just do yourself a favor and research it. It’s insane on a level you have never seen. They can’t run a fucking falafel stand without it being a train wreck. Research how much the PA gets paid and then look- up where those motherfuckers live.

Imagine for a moment, I say I wanna run for office in Cincinnati Ohio, (my hometown) but I live here in Jerusalem. Let’s say I get elected, but guess what? I live here, not there. Yup. That’s right kids. They live in places like Qatar. While you’re at it, you might wanna research how much Qatar funds terrorism.

There are also tens of thousands of European (and American) NGO’s here. They fund a ton of this drama and one day they will realize they can’t fund this venture because it’s just bad business. You can’t run a pretend entity on someone else’s dime. It is not sustainable… This is why I no longer bitch about the PA or the conflict for that matter.

So why don’t the Palestinians have an election you say? Let me introduce you folks to Hamas. This is a terrorist organization. They have had Gaza under siege since 2005.

Oh you thought Israel had Gaza under siege? Yeah, I know, you keep getting it backwards for some reason… Anyway, Hamas would win any election held tomorrow in the PA and this is why there are no elections. Why would Hamas win? Because, they would bribe the large Arab clan families here (look it up) to vote for them. They would threaten them if they did not comply. There are also those who would vote for Hamas because they want a war and want Israel to win. Huh? What? Yup. That’s right kids. Where am I getting my info? I talk to people who live here every day. The people’s dialogue is the only one that counts. The media doesn’t tell you anything other than what they decided is their own agenda.

Why would Palestinians want this? Because if Hamas attacks Israel then Israel will annihilate them and win. Then Israel will give the remaining Palestinian population citizenship and those Palestinians won’t have to look bad or traitorous. Poof. Done.

Couldn’t this be achieved another way? Sure it could. King Bibi could annex the West Bank and give them all citizenship now. The PA would become obsolete. Sure Gaza and Hamas would still exist, but that’s not our problem. We left there in 2005. Let Gaza serve as exhibit A for what a Palestinian state would look like under Hamas. I literally tell people I have no suggestion for Gaza because it is beyond my scope. I do not possess the expertise to address something that complex. Everyone thinks they have a solution for it and that to me is just ego. I have nothing else to say about that…

So why isn’t King Bibi annexing and giving citizenship to those Palestinians? Because, the conflict is an ATM, too many NGO’s, too many governments, too many meddling hands are involved and profiting. Additionally, the international community stokes the conflict. Between Arab and European anti-Semitism and the US with their obsession over Israel- no one will leave us the hell alone and just let us handle it. We could’ve ended the conflict 10 times over by now…

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The governments, NOT the people living here are the real problem.

Diaspora Jews in the US love to demonize ordinary Palestinians and Jews too. There is propaganda on both sides and it is a gross misrepresentation of life on the ground.

I have gotten to a point where I do not read one single word of hasbara (the word for explaining Israel- lol). I do not read anything that smells like Israel advocacy and I do not attend any more peace conferences. It is all bullshit and I mean total bullshit.

It is an endless circle jerk where people say the same shit over and over again, yet expecting a change. This of course is the textbook definition of insanity.

I listen. I walk around. I drink coffee. I go to art galleries and look at what is being produced by both Israelis and Palestinians. Art reflects life and it doesn’t need an agenda. It is honest, it doesn’t have to be politically correct and it is provocative.

I cook, I meditate, I do yoga, I read, I play my piano, I snuggle my pug, Fig and I journal.

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Anyone who reads this can easily refute every word of it. Why? Because I am a liar? Nope. Because not only do the 6 million Jews here have 6 million opinions, but also the same is true of the Palestinians. Some of them are hardcore nationalists, some want annexation, some want Israeli citizenship, some want to just share land and have their own identity. It is soooo not about Islam. I know, you are thinking to yourself how wrong I am. These people are not hung up on Islam. They want to live normal lives and that’s all. I see married Muslim Arab women in jeans and t-shirts. I see women in hijabs holding hands with their spouses and kissing on the train. I see them driving the family car with their husband in the passenger seat. They don’t give a fuck about Islam- only Diaspora, know-it-all American, right wing Jews. I have merely offered you MY experience. I merely shared with you what I here from the folks I talk to. This is not even about my opinion; it is me telling you what I experience here. An experience is neither right nor wrong. This is also true of opinions- they are neither right nor wrong.

(But this piece is on Facebook, so of course you will all snap and tell me how wrong it is.)

In only one year I have become jaded to this conflict. I have decided to quit treading water. My arms and legs are tired and it makes more sense to give in and let the current take me under. This is rather Israeli. Israelis just wanna live their lives too. They do not read what Facebook things about them and are the kings and queens of giving no fucks. I am done giving a fuck. I live here, I am Israeli, I can pay my taxes, exist as part of the fabric of Israeli society and accept that I don’t have to solve jack shit.

People want to know what I am doing now- I have abandon the peace, advocacy and coexistence world. I can only write down what I see in front of me and share it with you guys. I am on my second year here in this country and I am just breathing.

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Who knows, maybe this year my Hebrew will be at the level of a five-year-old instead of a two-year-old?

*This was a journal entry from my private diary. It was written in stream of consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Attacking Women of the Wall has nothing to do with Judaism

Attacking Women of the Wall (WOW) has nothing to do with Judaism.

Similarly, rioting on the Temple Mount has nothing to do with Islam.

Spitting, screaming and blowing loud whistles at the Kotel are the ultimate disrespect towards our holy site. This behavior is very unJewish indeed. Jews do this to WOW regularly…

The Women of the Wall come together to pray in the women’s section of the Kotel. They are there for Rosh Chodesh and all religious holidays. There is nothing in the Torah to prohibit women from praying. These women also have a Torah scroll. There is nothing in the Torah to prohibit women from reading Torah or possessing one. Despite this, both the non-religious Jews and the ultra religious Jews show hate and venom towards these women who by all accounts are simply observant Jews.

In Reform, we believe that all of us were given the Torah. We were a “mixed multitude” at Sinai. The Torah wasn’t just given to men, but to women, children, elderly, disabled, gay straight, skinny, fat, dark skinned, light skinned, etc. We always have been and shall remain a mixed multitude. There is nothing homogenized about Judaism. Non-Reform Jews hate WOW and accuse them of an agenda that does not exist. Non-Reform Jews are threatened by a very simple difference: Reform Jews include women in ritual practice.

It would be wise to remind all Jewry that all of our ancestors stood together at Sinai. Israel is the Jewish State for world Jewry, not just Orthodox. Israel exists not as a “right” for Jews, but because she has a responsibility to provide a place for all of us.

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When Orthodox Jews tell Reform Jews they are not Jewish I want to do the following: I want to take them to Yad Vashem and access the database. I would ask the Orthodox person to put in his family name and location during the Shoah. They would see their family listed and where they were deported, along with the date of their extermination. Next, I would type in my family name, our location and show them where we were deported and our date of extermination. Perhaps sitting there in front of the computer, next to me, they would absorb the severity of their ways and just maybe they would catch a glimpse of why there is no upside to despising us, telling us we are not Jewish and acting hateful.

Members of WOW have been threatened with physical harm and even death. Graffiti, hate mail, throwing rocks and accusations of hating Israel are just a few of the abominations committed by fellow Jews against them.

The police nor security does their job to protect WOW nor maintain order at the Kotel when these hateful outbursts erupt. The duty to serve the public and protect human beings from bodily harm is ignored. The slander and libel against members of WOW is promulgated on social media, news outlets and gossip circles.

This is not only being tolerated, but encouraged and Jews of all types are participating in this despicable behavior.

When will Jews realize that the in-fighting and making enemies of our own brothers and sisters has never once in all of our history served us well?

This is not an opinion piece. This is not my attempt to tell other Jews that they cannot have their own opinions about WOW. This is about me calling out and shaming every Jew who ACTS on their opinions with hate, aggression, physical harm and tormenting these women publicly at our holy site, the Kotel.

This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I call upon every Jew who has participated in the spreading of gossip, slander, hate, demeaning the lives and harming these women to search their souls. That is all I am asking. Humble yourselves, drop your egos and ask yourself if your comportment is acceptable behavior as a Jew. Sure, you can still despise them for wanting the option for families to pray together- because apparently that threatens you. You can bitch about them on your Facebook page and you can continue to assert all sorts of extrapolations and read all kinds of complex agendas into their efforts. You can continue to make shit up about them and declare publicly how you feel about them. Yet, at the end of the day we are all Jews.

There are people in the world that would kill all of us tomorrow and they don’t give a damn about egalitarianism. I hope your opinions; feelings and dogma keep you warm at night, safe in your houses and at peace within.

Chag Sameach. Shana tova.

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I’M NOT FINISHED TALKING ABOUT HEBRON

Sometime ago I wrote a blog titled: “We Need to Talk About Hebron”

I find myself coming back to the matter of Hebron again over a year later.

There is a moment I cannot get out of my head. I need to understand why Hebron keeps coming up for me. In a year’s time I have come to learn that Hebron is not talked about at great length. Judea & Samaria/West Bank/Occupied Territory/Jerusalem is discussed, but not Hebron.

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Last year I was visiting with three other people and one of them said it was the 30-day memorial of their colleague. He asked if we would mind making a pit stop to attend. The colleague was a gardener about my age who was brutally stabbed to death by a Palestinian. The mourner’s were all gathered and I was standing several feet away, but mumbling Kaddish to myself along with them.

Suddenly I heard a disruptive sound; it was my first time hearing the Muslim call to prayer. I was confused at first because I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from and didn’t know it could be heard in a Jewish city. (Yes American Jews can be naïve). I walked away from the group and went a little ways up a hillside. I realized the Muezzin was in surround sound. It was all around me, 360 degrees.

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It was in that moment a light bulb went on.

I realized I was standing in the middle of a doughnut hole.

I grasped the severity that this tiny Jewish community was in the center of a rather large Palestinian city

I looked through a fence and saw a huge bustling metropolis. I didn’t know Hebron was the second largest city there. I also didn’t know what H1 and H2 were. I didn’t know there were 215,452 Palestinians there and that it was given to them at Oslo. I didn’t know there were only 80 Jewish families living there.

I stared at the fence.

I stared at the metropolis.

I heard the loud sound of the Muezzin.

I turned and saw the mourner’s out of the corner of my eye.

I lost my shit right then and there.

I began to cry on the spot.

One of my friends walked over to me and said- “Buddy, you ok?”

I said – “Are you ok?” He said- “I cried my first time here too. There would be something wrong with you if it didn’t make you cry.” The only response I could utter was – “This is not ok.”

A year later I found myself in a café in Jerusalem telling this story to a Palestinian friend who lives in Bethlehem. He wanted to tell me how horrible life is under the occupation in Hebron. I listened respectfully, validated his feelings and then shared my experience with him about my visit there.

He looked at me and said – “I’ve never felt sympathy for a Jew before. I am sorry Kara.”

Yesterday I met a Palestinian jeweler in the Old City. He made me a tiny pendant and I put it on my necklace. I wear an amulet containing the Shema and a Hamsa. There are now three charms that hang together from my neck. He, like every person I meet when I go there invited me to sit and chat. He has an old book, Hebron Sefer. His family rescued 24 Jewish families from a terrorist attack. They were given citizenship. The book chroniclalized this and has the names of these Jewish families in it. I told him Hebron is the saddest place for me and I feel differently there, more than anywhere else in Israel. I did not share my story with him. Instead, I listened to his story because it felt very right.

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I have a friend in Hebron who runs a hostel and he is always inviting me to visit. He also wants me to take a tour. He is Palestinian. I also have friends who invite me for Shabbat in Hebron. I have been avoiding another visit there. I don’t ever want to cry like that again.

I can sense it coming. I know I am supposed to go back. I know I should meet my Palestinian friend. I know I should listen to what he has to say. I know I should spend another Shabbat there. I know I should go to Friday night service at Machpelah. I remember last time it was cold, windy and rainy. I was freezing and my body was shivering. I was so happy though because the sound of Jews singing their guts out in this place where we had no shelter from the cruel elements gave me strength. The PA won’t let us put anything but plastic above our heads and it is a miserable substitute for a non-existent roof.

I am not ready to see the IDF standing in Kiryat Arba staggered every so many yards apart. I am not ready to feel the tension that is so thick in the air, it suffocates me. I am not ready to put myself in that headspace. I am not ready for my heart to hurt.

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But I’m going to do it anyway.

I will deliberately continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations.

I will keep choosing to be with people who are different than me.

I will not stop spending time with people who have different opinions than me.

I will not stop listening to them.

I will not shun otherness.

I will not avoid difference.

I will not let fear dictate my choices.

 

You know what else I will not do?

I won’t let social media tell me about Hebron.

I won’t let an Op ED tell me about Hebron.

I won’t let a meme tell me about Hebron.

I won’t let Wikipedia tell me about Hebron.

I go there myself. I have my own experience.

It’s mine.

Hebron is mine. It’s been mine for over 4,000 years and I will not shy away from it because we gave it away. Hebron is not a possession. Rather, I belong to Hebron. Herod was our king, not theirs. He built Macpelah and don’t you and your guards ever forget that, ok?

Please dear Palestinians, at a minimum- do not forget you converted our rectangular, epic Herodian, Judean structure into a Saladin era mosque.

It’s cool though, right? Cause peace…

When I wrote the first draft of this blog, this ^ paragraph was not in it. The piece read rather soulfully. Then I began to ponder the way I felt inside Macpelah and it dug up old feelings. So I edited it…

Sometimes I think peace is possible in Judea & Samaria and the West Bank.

Sometimes I think peace is possible in Jerusalem.

Sometimes I think peace is possible in Gaza.

(Go on laugh, yeah it was funny, eh?)

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But I do not think peace is possible in Hebron.

This is because Hebron is not like anything else in the Oslo agreement.

It is very different indeed and it is the worst part of it.

It is not like the rest of J&S/WB.

It is H1 and H2.

80% is controlled by the PA (in reality it is more like 90%) and 20% is controlled by Israel (in reality it is more like 10%).

 

Hebron is everything.

Hebron is the beginning of us.

Hebron is the most important place on earth to me.

I love it more than the Temple Mount.

I love it more than the Kotel.

I love it more than the whole of Israel.

I don’t know how to handle how much I feel about this place.

And this is why I have avoided going for a year.

I am afraid of my heart and how Hebron makes me feel.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bedouins Teaching me About Coffee and to “make careful”

Journal entry May 1, 2017

Today was unplanned and that is my preference living here in this land.

Magic cannot happen if you plan out your life too much. One must leave space for the extraordinary to occur naturally.

I went to the Old City in search of coffee.

I am a coffee connoisseur and even a coffee asshole.

I decided that my next project here would be to write about the coffee culture in this land.

I am amazed at the vast differences that exist in coffee composition, presentation, brewing and aesthetic within this land.

The Arab villages have different ways unto themselves as to a particular coffee experience.

I had the good fortune of having Bedouin coffee without going to the desert this afternoon.

I stumbled upon a shop and they sold brass antique carafes used to make coffee.

I wanted one, an authentic one, not a new one. Little did I know, I was entering an entire village through a family- a large Bedouin family that also has residence in the Old City.

I made a new friend, Yoseph.

Yoseph- “Each piece in this shop was either in my family or belonged to someone my family knew. My father can tell you about them.”

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He showed me several and explained their detail and function.

We began our conversation in Hebrew and switched to half English, half Hebrew.

We talked about Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims. He likes being Bedouin and believes they are the most peaceful with everyone. I tend to agree after today.

They have horses and sheep. They have a large tent for hospitality in Beer Sheva. He showed me pictures of their vast compound. It was colorful and lovely. I very much want to visit.

He took me upstairs and showed me old Bedouin collapsible tables with brass plates, tapestries and stunning lamps.

I told him the last time I was in the Old City, in the Arab quarter- I was stuck for two hours. A man made my daughter and I tea, talked to us, took as all around showing us antique dresses and changing the price many times. He was touchy feely and my daughter was appalled. I wanted to leave and things got weird…-

Yoseph was understanding and said this:

“ I feel with my heart, not my eyes or my head. If my heart feels love I make careful with the person. If my heart does not feel love I do not make careful with the person.”

We bartered and then I purchased the 4,500-shekel carafe for 1,500 shekels.

He gave me a gift. He wanted me to select a pashmina and I did. He told me he wanted me to see how Bedouins wrap their heads and so I let him.

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I told him I wanted the tiny cups to go with my carafe and he asked if I wanted old or new? Of course I wanted old. He did not have antique ones so he said he would take me himself to find them. We left the shop and wondered the Old City together the rest of the day.

We ended up getting new ones because I wanted the old ones to be extra special and I wanted plenty of time to explore. I wanted plain white porcelain, but then he showed me some that had a Bedouin pattern. I told him I like plain and simple in all things- never fancy. But when he explained to me the story of the pattern how very Bedouin it was indeed – I said I wanted those instead.

Yoseph- “ No, you want the white, get the white.

Me- “No, you just told me a lovely story and now they are sentimental.”

Yoseph- “ No, it is not what you like, I don’t care really.”

Me- “I want the ones with the special Bedouin story, I have changed my mind.”

In Yoseph’s shop he has a photo album of their village, his family, the horses, the tents and their coffee. He showed me pictures of how they make it. It was fascinating. I noticed the coffee beans were white.

Me- “Lavan? How, where, when can I get some?”

Yoseph- “Yes, Lavan (white), we grow them in the North. If you come to visit you can have some. It is not bitter it is smooth and it is not like Turkish coffee. It has no sugar, but it does have cardamom.”

Me- “I love coffee and I want to explore all the coffee in the land. I have a blog and I want to write about the cultures of the coffee experiences here. I want to come spend the night at the Bedouin village and take pictures too.”

He took me to buy what he said was “the best coffee in the Old City.” I could smell it and he was right. I bought a ¼ a kilo for 8 shekels. This blew my mind as I have been spending 75 shekels on a half a kilo.

 

Two weeks ago I was in Bethlehem and I bought their coffee. Yes, each village has it’s own coffee. Same phenomenon- ¼ a kilo for 9 shekels. WTF have I been paying so much for coffee??? Live and learn…

Then Yoseph asked if I smoked sheesha. Of course I do.

We remained in the Arab quarter, which isn’t saying much since the majority of the Old City is Arab. The Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters are all Arabs.

I have never liked the Old City because it is too condensed, too many tourists, too many bodies walking closely together on the narrow streets.

Suddenly I decided I liked it very much. It is a different world, a different era, a different feeling altogether. It is ancient Israel, it is Medieval Israel, It is Greco Roman Israel, It is Ottoman Israel, It is British Israel, and it is a fairy tale and a history lesson.

I could try and live here for a year just for kicks…

The places to smoke sheesha are many and they are all lined up with men, only men. We went behind an establishment, pulled a couple of chairs around the corner and smoked. I remarked to Yoseph that in the U.S. men and women could be friends and go out in public together because no one cares. Here, men and women do not do that. I told him how awkward it was for me to see only men smoking and that I was the only woman.

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He told me funny stories about women and the culture, the economy, housing in particular and how he swims every day at the YMCA.

Yoseph- “You have a husband?”

Me- “No.”

Yoseph- “A boyfriend?”

Me- “Yes”

Yoseph- “Where is he?”’

Me- “He doesn’t live here. I had an Israeli boyfriend here, but he turned out to be selfish and not right for me. It’s still rather complicated between us…”

Yoseph- “Where is he, America?”

Me- “No.”

Yoseph- “He is hard headed, he probably has another girlfriend. Men lie.”

Me- “He doesn’t have a girlfriend and even if he did, there is nothing I can do about it. Why worry about what I cannot control?”

Yoseph- “Why would he let you live here and when does he come see you?”

Me- “It’s complicated.”

Yoseph- “Do you want to marry him?”

Me- “No, I am divorced and do not want to marry again.”

Yoseph- “What about children?”

Me- “I have one daughter and that is all I could have. I am happy with her.”

We talked about birth, health, babies and relationships a bit longer.

I smoked until I felt queasy because I had not eaten yet that day.

We walked back to the shop and his cousin made me mint tea.

His cousin told me I am family now and that I must come back to visit often.

Yoseph gave me another gift. He made lovely earrings and told me to select a pair. I told him I don’t wear earrings, but bracelets. He only makes earrings and so I selected an onyx pair with silver. He was so happy for me to have them. He wanted to keep giving me gifts. But I told him the best gift was that his cousin told me I am family. I explained that I have no family here. Yoseph’s father is 95 years old and the family is huge- nothing I can comprehend. He told me that next time instead of making my heart happy they will make my tummy happy too. They want to feed me. I like this idea very much. I want my tummy to be happy.

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I have met so many strangers here and I have spent afternoons in the company of strangers many times. They all want us to be life long friends- both Arabs and Jews I meet.

I have not kept in touch with the people I meet on this journey. Most if not all of them are one time friends- or to put it in Fight Club language- they are “single serving friends.”

I think this time is different. I think I want to be taken in by a Bedouin family.

Yoseph told me we would drive to their village, even though they keep a home in the Old City. I told him I would have to bring a friend because he is a stranger and I do not ride anywhere with strangers.

This surprised Yoseph. He told me I could bring anyone I wanted.

Then he said this:

“If you are with me, you are in my house. Right now we are walking down the street, but because you are with me, you will be treated as though you are in my house. You are family and if I say you are with me, no one will do anything to you. I am allowed to do anything I think I should to protect you. No one can or would hurt you because our culture understands that I am allowed to harm them in anyway if they try to hurt you. Do you understand this? I will never let anyone hurt you and it is because it is as if you are always in my house if you are by my side. It is the exact same thing- just like being in my house. You understand this?”

I nodded and smiled.

Yoseph guessed my age. Everyone in this country asks me my age. For fuck sake, really… He guessed it the first time. He cousin guessed it later on without knowing.

They kept remarking on my being older. I didn’t know how I felt about this. His cousin has five children and now I am number six. I like this very much.

They wanted me to stay longer, but I said I had to walk my dog. I showed them a picture of my pug, Fig. They have real dogs to watch their sheep- my dog is not a real dog.

I hope to return next week, but without purchasing anything. I hope to go to the village, eat a meal, be part of the family and sleep in their tent.

My favorite part of the day was when Yoseph said:

“If my heart feels love I make careful with the person. If my heart does not feel love I do not make careful with the person.”

I am going to make careful with these persons.

 

 

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THANKS BANKSY, and F**k You Too With Love

I am not a Hasbaraite.

Hasbara means to explain in Hebrew.

I am not a peace activist.

I am an arts advocate.

I bring people and art together.

I aim to depoliticize conflict by humanizing those who are different from ourselves.

Banksy is masterful at brining people and art together.

I went to Bethlehem this past week to see the Banksy hotel museum. Its aim is to discuss the wall. There is a wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel proper located in their West Bank and our Judea and Samaria.

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The installation was slick, sexy and a pop culture masterpiece. The space is whimsical and not to be taken too seriously. He even spray-painted over the brand name of the grand piano that sits in the hotel lobby.

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The upstairs gallery has changing exhibitions featuring Arab Palestinian and Arab Israeli artists. This is not advertised, but I know the difference between an Arab Palestinian and an Arab Israeli.

An Arab can be a Palestinian Israeli, but an Arab cannot be an Israeli Palestinian. Banksy does not realize the difference and does not address this issue…

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The permanent installation is a powerful exploit of the conflict. It walks the viewer

through the trajectory of the wall.

It is the most brilliant propaganda piece I have ever seen.

I was very uncomfortable, but that is part of what my line of work requires of me.

I deliberately go out of my way to make myself uncomfortable.

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How else will I experience otherness and learn to be empathetic if I do not expose myself to the very things that disturb me?

I listened to audio clips, watched videos and saw artifacts from the First and Second Intifada. I saw statistics from Operation Protective Edge and of course there is Gaza.

I have walked through many exhibitions about the Shoah. Holocaust museums are abundant in the U.S., Canada and Europe. This was similar only it actually exists in the physical space of the Nakba, which is catastrophe in Arabic.

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I took it all in. I was nervous, my stomach hurt. I was upset that yet another tool had been manufactured as a political weapon against the one and only Jewish state of Israel.

I was upset that if the entire Nakba were a lie it would not have survived this long.

I knew there was truth in it.

I was upset that Banksy keeps the conflict going.

I was upset that my Zionist friends in the diaspora keep the conflict going.

I was upset that Banksy put beautiful and soulful art with no agenda upstairs in the same place as this exhibition of doom and gloom.

Yet he did this methodically, strategically and without flaw in his execution.

Perhaps Shepherd Ferry would like to create a similar themed museum in Israel?

How does this help bring peace to the suffering people of the Palestinian territories? It doesn’t. It opens the wound and pours salt in it; then gasoline with a lighted match.

Thanks Banksy, thanks for doing this.

Thanks for making me feel like a piece of shit for the role my government has played in keeping this wall up, which separates our people.

Thanks for showing me that this wall is a promise to never have coexistence.

A thanks for showing me that Oslo was a failure.

Thanks for showing me that in 1967 we should have given residency to all Arabs and put them on a path towards citizenship. ( Of course you wouldn’t have this pretty museum then, eh?)

Thanks for showing me all the times Israel fucked up.

Thanks for showing me how much the Palestinians never did to fight the British Mandate in order to secure a state for themselves long before our return from our infamous 2,000 year exile.

So I really am a European colonialist, eh? Yes, my great grandparents were from France and Germany. Yes, I was born in the U.S. Yes, I understand that a person born in Bethlehem is stateless and I am not.

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So where do we go from here Banksy? What have you left us with? What good is it to show us the wall?

Despite your efforts in illuminating this tragic plight; I for one would like to see the wall destroyed. I would like to see them given citizenship after all this time. I would like to see integration, not segregation. But you have now made that even harder. You have added to the noise and you have skillfully planted a seed in the heart of every human who walks through the Walled museum hotel.

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The seed is not a seed of hope. It is a seed of despair.

Am I denying the artifacts you placed in the museum? No I am not. Am I in denial about the well-documented Five Broken Cameras? No I am not.

I want every Israeli to go see your masterpiece of despair. I want us to own every good deed that has gone undocumented, every error that has been meticulously documented and all the unsaid deeds that will never be mentioned on either side of the wall.

I have no problem with self-inventory, taking responsibility and being confrontational. I know the truth is ugly and it hurts, but guess what Banksy?

I am not of afraid of your museum. I am not afraid of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. I am not afraid of facts, names and dates. I am a Jew. I get it already…

I accept all of it, every inch of your museum.

I will continue to return and subject myself to the discomfort and each time I will experience a new take-away. I will continue to listen to my Palestinian brothers and sisters. I will continue to seek out their artists and their beauty. I will continue to show them as human beings who live in this land.

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I will continue to hold out my hand to them and open myself up to anything and everything that comes into my path as I live my life here in this land. I will continue to visit the other side of the wall and I will never stop being human.

The wall is in the psyche of every Israeli and every Palestinian. The wall was built to protect us from terrorism. The wall was built to keep them inside. The wall was built to ensure we would never cohabitate. Yet now, so many want this and the wall is still there, reminding us that it must come down.

You literally just made the wall stronger than it was before. Thanks Banksy.

Yes, it is art- and each individual must interpret it for himself and herself. Each person will be affected differently by this exhibition. I for one am thanking you for making me more determined than ever before.

You see, my people are not going anywhere. The Palestinians are not leaving. I will swallow it, I will be the bigger person and I will lead by example.

I will keep chiseling away at the wall within my own heart and maybe my fellow Israelis and Palestinians will choose to tear down the wall in their heart too.

 

 

 

 

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