For the Love of Hummus

Delicious, delicious hummus.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Holy Land Round Up

Dear Family, Friends, Well-Wishers, Strangers, and Stalkers,

We always knew this day would come, but did we know it would happen so soon? I'm talking, of course, about Rachel's last ulpan class. Oh, also, our penultimate blog post from Israel!

Yes, yes. I know. Calm yourselves. After a little over five months, the time has come to bid farewell to the hummus and embrace, at least for a little while, corn flakes and apple pie. But don't worry, this won't be a long, gasbag, posturing post. Instead we'll tell you a little about our very safe trip to Bethlehem, the land where okay, fine, Jesus REALLY walked and the Virgin Mary REALLY spilled some breast milk, and the long-awaited Shtar concert (fantastiche!) and maybe a few other events from the last few weeks thrown in!

Our venture to B'lehem began at Kever Rachel, where a lovely Orthodox woman coughed in my face after I declined the opportunity to buy a red string bracelet, and Rachel davenned Shacharit. Kever Rachel is a place where woman pray for fertility, or for healthy babies, which is generally what I think they pray for at every tomb but hey, I'm no Pardes student.

Then it was on to Bethlehem! Little known fact, the literal translation in Arabic is house of meat, while in Hebrew it's house of bread! Rachel was beyond excited. There was no trouble at Checkpoint Charlie (thanks to that rare currency of blue gold, aka American passports)and then it was on to the big sites!

Church of the Nativity! Shepard's Field! The Milky Grotto! Some Overpriced Souvenir Shop! (Tim, if you're reading this, look forward to some tasteful olive wood Christmas ornaments this year.) Well, our first stop was Shepard's Field, which was where Ruth and Boaz saw a shooting star, and actually the star was Jesus. As far as I could tell. We'll never know the truth, because it was closed.

Then it was off to the Milky Grotto, where we bumped into King David standing guard outside. Inside was a cool relief from the heat, and we found a chalky sort of cave church where we were told several different versions of the same story. Namely that: This was the place where Mary was breastfeeding Jesus, and a few drops of milk fell to the ground, turning the color of the grotto from a sort of reddish to a chalky white.

From there it was a hop, skip, and holy conception over to the Church and Grotto of the Nativity, filled ceiling to floor with gold-plated religious artifacts, portraits and reliefs of the Man himself, and foreign tourists.

Our kind cab driver met us outside each of these stops (reassuring and stalker-ish, mostly comforting). We invited/begged him to walk with us through the shuk and he seemed happy to oblige. Dafna had some shopping to take care of--Boni, Bamba's Arab step-sister snack food:

We learned that these mannequins' eyes are covered because it's unwholesome to look into the eyes of women.

Guess what? Bethlehemites don't use agurot. Smarty-pants.

We couldn't be happier to re-enter Israel...

We went to see Shtar the other night at Canaan. Shtar is a Hip Hop Orthodox Zionist band Dafna discovered that we now love.
"Shtar" means document, or something like that. While my Shtar gently weeps. Check out Dafna's Omanoot comment on their flyer. She wrote that for them!

We forgot to mention it, but Dafna's bday party was awesome. We ate brownies, sang Kanye West songs and played Uno. Our pals came out in full force.

Last blog post is forthcoming: We just made our own hummus!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tying up some loose ends, or Dafna's vomit showers Jerusalem in honor of Yom Yerushalayim

For all of you out there who video chat or skype with us, here's an outside look at what we look like when we talk to you!

Anyone ever heard of a little book called Everything is Illuminated? Written by Elijah Wood? I mean, Jonathan Safran Foer, his twin. We had the distinct privilege and pleasure of attending a few sessions of the International Writers Festival in Yemin Moshe. We saw Amir Gutfreund interview Jonathan Safran Foer, Andre Kurekov interview Etgar Keret and A.B. Yehoshua interview Daniel Mendelsohn. All fantastic. All informative. Altogether a very pleasant experience, except for the older members of the crowd pushing and shushing us cooler, younger members of the audience. It was hard because it was hot in the tent, but come on, people. The most articulate person was absolutely Jonathan Safran Foer. A.B. Yehoshua had the smartest, most well thought out questions. Daniel Mendelsohn was the most American. He kept using his same three Yiddish words of schlep, mishpocha and meshugga. Andre and Etgar had the best rapport. Etgar was hilarious. And Andre's English put ours to shame, and he's from Eastern Europe! Amir Gutfreund is still very sad about the Holocaust and has a serious self-esteem complex standing next to Jonathan Safran Foer.

We stood in line to meet Jonathan and Amir. I bought a couple books by them and they both signed them. Dafna had to do a little song and dance for Jonathan because Rachel was so star struck and dumb. Jonathan and his family are living in Jerusalem for a few months. Should Rachel have offered to babysit? According to Jonathan, if I sold his hard cover, first edition of Eating Animals I could get 75 bucks for it on the street.

Rachel went on a little Pardes Shabbaton to Achziv, a beach town near the beach town Naharriyah. Nahrriyah is for fun lovers! Achziv is famous because the Haganah tried to blow up a bridge there but were unsuccessful. The town still stands. We stayed at a field school there. The food left much to be desired, but the sunsets were niflah. Tugged at my Zionist heart strings to see the flag wave next to the sunset. I hiked in a cave and talked to my spiritual chevrutah, aka myself.

The following Tuesday, we went to the namal in Yafo to visit the theater company Na Laga'at, or Please Touch. It is the world's only deaf and blind theater company, and has been operating for three years. It's amazing. Before the show, we had dinner at Blackout, the theater's restaurant. It's pitch black inside, so it simulates the experience that a blind person would have. The waiters are blind, the food delicious. When we say pitch black, we mean COMPLETELY dark. No shapes or outlines. We eventually started just eating with our hands! This is what our waiter, Beza, had to say on the Web site about his experience:

"In “Nalaga’at” I'm doing something I never thought I'll ever do; being a waiter at a gourmet restaurant. Meeting real friends with the same disabilities makes me feel good and also working with good people who aren't disabled.“

Then it was off to the theater for the play, which is called "Not By Bread Alone." The actors are all deaf and blind, and throughout the show they make bread as they talk about their lives and their dreams with the help of super titles, sign language and other devices. The acting was excellent and we got to try the bread after! It was a very unique, very important experience.

The next day was Yom Yerushalayim, which celebrates the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem, which makes it somewhat of a complicated celebration. On the one hand, most Jews are very happy to have a unified capital. On the other hand, many of those same people understand how complicated East Jerusalem and the outcomes of the Six Day War. Has the 1967 euphoria dissolved with today's disillusionment? Is this a war to celebrate or to look back on with regret? Perhaps both. We didn't get to see it due to time constraints, but there's a big parade from Gan Sacher to the Western Wall, where thousands of children are brainwashed to believe in the Zionist project. KIDDING! They march with Israeli and Yerushalmi flags, and then wind up at the Kotel, where it turns into dancing! That night we went out and Dafna bumped into Edeet Cohen, old, old, friend from back in the day at Ezra Academy. They haven't seen each other since third grade. It was explosive and monumental. Dafna vomited near her. That put a damper on the reunion.

Yesterday we became hipsters and went to the T Market, a tshirt festival happening in major cities around the country. The one in Jerusalem was held behind the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Bling bling! We picked up a couple rings and a necklace. Rachel Pfeffer started the bow jewelery craze and Israeli artists have jumped on her bandwagon. Many tanks to her.

Last night we celebrated Shabbat at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Women sit in a big, not air conditioned balcony (in stark contrast to the awesome AC at shira chadasha this morning). Usually there is a men's choir that sings on Friday nights. It reminded me of Glee.

Friends and family, please wish Dafna a very happy 37th birthday. Rachel's planning to throw Dafna a tasteful,it's-almost-time-to-say-goodbye-to-your-thirties party next week. Wine and cheese, Apples to Apples, a beer keg. Very adult.

Rachel's refrigerator is broken! So we had McFlurries aka glida pitzutz from the only place open. Thank you, golden arches for providing us with a traditional, lovely Friday night dinner. Our first since we got to Middle Earth.

HUC is ending its semester, so Keara and Carmela are hitting the old dusty trail. Wishing them happy years in Los Angeles.

We'll both be home pretty soon...until then, we're trying to devour all of the hummus in this city and soak up life with our trusty pita bread.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Yoms, The Parents, The Violin, The Basketball!

Well howdy howdy!

It's been a really fun, busy-in-a-great-way almost 2 weeks or so. Lots of stuff going on - Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Lag b'Omer, Rachel's parents visiting, some concerts, some basketball, and a Shabbat in the Gush!

Rachel's parents! The only word I can think of is lovely. Best couple of Rabbis I've ever met. They did a lot of fun things (Botanical Gardens at Hebrew U. in Givat Ram, Beit Ticho, ate at T'anim, what I'm told is an amazing vegetarian restaurant in Yemin Moshe, among many other adventures.)

Where to even begin? A bit late here on the events of the Yoms, but worth describing however briefly. Sunday night, Rachel, Rachel's parents and I headed over to the Kotel for the national memorial ceremony for soldiers. Very solemn, very quiet. It started with a siren, and then they lit the memorial flame. We heard President Shimon Peres and Ramatkal (hmm. what's the American equivalent? chairman of the joint chiefs? someone help me out) Gabi Ashkenazi both give speeches. On the way home, we caught some singing at Shira Chadasha.

The next day, I hurried over to Har Herzl for the 11AM siren, and made it just in time. The military cemetery was unbelievably crowded, and I ended up in a section for soldiers killed in the 1990s, with active-duty soldiers and families at nearly every grave. Netanyahu spoke, and it was strange to hear so many people muttering "Amen" and "Brichu" as the Kaddish was said. It was also extremely hot, and a lot of people passed out. I managed to grab some water from kids here on YJ Year Course and explored a bit, waiting for Rachel and the Rabbis Marder for a tour being given by David Bernstein, who I think is the dean of Pardes. Very informative. We learned about people who were killed defending Gush Etzion, among others.
As we were standing in the area for soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, we spotted David Grossman standing at the grave of his son, Uri. It was odd, and perhaps more symbolic, to see him standing there only hours after Netanyahu had stood at the grave of his brother, Yoni, who was killed at Entebbe. Outside of politics, here were two people who have both suffered loss for the same cause, the State of Israel.

Then it was time for...Yom Ha'atzmaut! Talk about switching gears. Rachel and the Rabbis caught some Hallel and singing at Shira Chadasha (and then some fireworks) while I spent the evening with some lovely Pardes pals. We went over to Ben Yehuda and saw reggae violinist Michael Greilsammer playing a concert (more on that later!). Then it was off to folk dancing at Kikar Safra, where Rachel met up with us. Then another party at Machane Yehuda, and then the savory scent of BBQ at 3AM, wafting into our cab as we passed Gan Sacher. Our first Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel, and it was a fantastic experience. I just wish I could remember more.

I almost forgot! Rachel's friend Micaela, currently working with the JDC in Rwanda, came for a visit! Here she is with the incomparable Sarah Lauing. We spent a lovely afternoon gossiping about Palo Alto (even I recognized a few names) and then ate fancy food at a fancy place.

Let's fast forward a little. I headed north for a little family time and saw Mt. Meron in the process, while Rachel spent a lovely weekend at Kibbutz Lotan. A busy week ensued, and suddenly it was the weekend again. I ate my fill of uncooked food at a "Raw Shabbat" at the office/Edoe's apartment. It was...invigorating. Rachel spent a peaceful Shabbat at her teacher's house in Efrat. I'm told the food was phenomenal and a good time was had. We reconvened Saturday night at the Yellow Submarine in J-ru for...Michael Greilsammer! I interviewed him (great guy) and then we saw him play, and my oh my was it enjoyable. The man is a genius with the violin. Check out his Myspace:

It was also Erev Lag b'Omer, and on the walk home we happened upon many bonfires of varying intensity. The city smelled like burning wood, plastic and sofa beds. And who knows what else.

Sunday night we went to a HaPoel Jerusalem basketball game.

Now listen. Rachel is a former child basketball star and I went to a state school with two really good basketball teams, but never in our lives had we witnessed the scene at Malcha Stadium. We were nearly courtside sitting with "the local color," aka lots of kids and teens screaming like crazy. Banging big drums like crazy. Blowing air horns like crazy. Whistling like crazy. It was CRAZY, okay?? But amazing. We thought we were in between two warring clans. I think a full-on, bow and arrow-filled battle was only minutes away. And we won! Rachel got a t-shirt, myself a scarf. We're officially Jerusalem fans. (Sorry Mom.)

I'm back in TA, hard at work making Israeli art accessible to all you out of country fans. Tomorrow, Rachel and I are seeing some old friends speak at the International Writer's Festival. And by old friends I mean Jonathan Safran Foer, Etgar Keret and A.B. Yehoshua. Then Saturday, a Yeshiva music festival featuring my actual friends, the guys from Shtar, whose album just came out, and whose interview I should be working on right now.

Is that everything? It might be. Oh, Rachel made her favorite kugel. It was delicious. There better be some left for dinner tomorrow.