Thursday, April 29, 2004

I'm feeling lazy

Yesterday Helen and I went to the Knesset (the Israeli government building) for the English-language tour. It was actually quite interesting, learning how everything goes on there, where everyone sits, etc. We saw the Israeli declaration of independence (written on parchment like the Torah), and learned why Israel has no constitution (nobody could agree on anything). Afterwards we went to the Israeli National Library, where we saw ancient Torah manuscripts and a special exhibit on Einstein, but where we couldn't find a single book. Apparently, there are thousands upon thousands and myriads upon myriads, but you don't browse through them yourself. You find them on a computer, submit the info, and in an hour, someone emerges from the bowels of the building with all your books. Fascinating.

Other than that, I haven't been doing too much. I'm kind of in one of those states where I want to cease to exist for a while. I get that way sometimes--just kind lof tired of being alive. I don't mean that all morbidly; it's just that on certain days I'm very aware that I have this many hours to pass before I can go to sleep. All this time, and I must figure out something to do to make it go faster. This happens to me every few months. But it will pass soon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Me and a bunny rabbit at the Katz'z house.


Sunday, April 25, 2004


I've got lots to say about all my little birthday celebrations, but they will have to wait. Tonight I head to the Western Wall for the opening ceremony for Israel's Memorial Day, in which its soldiers who have fallen in defending their country and civilians who have died in terrorist attacks are honored. I know it will be a difficult day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Another birthday

I am twenty-seven years old today. My birthday celebrations began last night at midnight, when my friends an I were at the Diwan for a "Vanunu party." Mordechai Vanunu is a rather infamous Israeli figure, having done as many things wrong as possible for an Israeli to do. First, he converted to Christianity. Then, he told the British media about Israel's nuclear capabilities in the eighties. He was convicted and sent to prison for 18 years, only to be released yesterday. So, like good little left-wingers, we went to a party in his honor. And it was there, at exactly midnight, that my nearest and dearest toasted to me with Arak.

When I had imbibed a sufficient amount, I went home and woke Jeffrey up. He answered quite groggily with a mumbled "happy birthday," and I think maybe we spoke for a few minutes? Neither of us remembers much. Eight hours later, he woke me up to wish me happy birthday again, so that the last thing I heard before I went to sleep and the first thing I heard when I woke up was his voice. Not a bad way to start out my twenty-seventh year, eh?

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Sigh of relief

I am done with my papers. When I say that, it is important that you realize that what I mean is I have finished them. They are complete. That is, I am no longer working on them. Meaning, it is over. There is nothing left to do. All work on said papers has ceased. Terminated. Ended.

They came to 19 and 27 pages respectively. They were quite heavy. I was relunctant to give them up almost. They felt so nice in my hands...such a nice dull heft to them. But I put them in the box and walked away. I miss them, a bit. But like I said, I am done. I have turned them in, and I am free.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


I am home again, and my body is all ache. We hiked for what seemed like forever in the hills surrounding Petra.

Petra--how to describe it. The famous "lost city" of the Nabotean Empire, built entirely from the red stone of the Jordanian Desert. To get into it, you must walk over a kilometer through the "siq," a narrow pathway forged between two sky-high cliffs. When you reach the end, the facade of the most impressive structure--the Treasury--is just visible between them. Then you step out into this rocky valley, and there it is, this massive tomb cut from the rock face, with huge corinthian columns and aging Hellenistic statues perched on impossibly delicate ledges. It is huge, bright coral-colored, and beautifully preserved, having been so well protected from the desert wind by the cliffs that encircle it.

From there you can continue on the length of the city, with eroding pillars and hundreds of tombs and temples and caves cut from stone. It is hard to imagine what it must have looked like in its prime--at one time Petra had a population of 30,000 people. Then it was abandoned for 1500 years, inhabited on and off by nomadic Bedouins, until its rediscovery in the 19th century. I have never seen anything like it.

For some of the higher hikes, we did the smart thing and hired some donkeys to take us up the steep steps. That felt a tad precarious, on the back of this wheezing beast as it tripped its way up these narrow rock stairways, with a gaping drop two inches from its hooves. But they got us safely up to the high place of sacrifice, where we saw the alter, complete with gutters for draining blood and sites for burning the bones of animals and the unfortunate virgins whose fathers gained prominence in the communtiy through their sacrifice. From there you could see the entire city, and the red valley spread out for miles.

After several hours in the sun, hiking through caves and ruins, we would eat huge Bedouin feasts of lamb and yogurt and rice and salad and bread, and drink non-alcoholic beer, as Muslim Petra does not serve alcohol in any establishment. Everywhere we went the people would welcome us and talk to us and ask us where we were from. They reacted with indifference to Germany, but every time I said I was American, their eyes would light up and they would say "Welcome! America and Jordan friends!" So perhaps not everyone hates us. Or perhaps it had more to do with the fact that I am an American woman that apparantly most Jordanian men found attractive, as evidenced by the fact that inevitably they asked if Bernt and I were married, if I was looking for a husband, and if I would marry a Bedouin. When I told them I had a boyfriend (and they were always surprised to find that it was not Bernt--why were we travelling together then?) they asked if maybe, since I was not married yet...

One man asked me if I would trade my boyfriend in for a Bedouin. When I said that Jef might not like that, he said "tell him I will give him 100 camels." Jef should be very proud, as 100 camels is quite a lot for just one wife. Hopefully he will not be too upset that I took the liberty of turning down the offer. Another man, who worked at our hotel, insisted on giving me tea and food every time he saw me, and we would have stilted conversations in sign language, in which he asked me several times, if I interpereted correctly, if I would marry him.

Last night Bernt and I were hoping to watch the sunset. We saw a particularly lovely perch on the roof of a hotel high above the city. When we went in and asked the proprieter if we might sit on his roof and order a cup of tea, he said "of course" and proceeded to carry two chairs and a table up to the roof. As we sat there, he brought up, in twenty minute intervals, the following: sweet tea, Arab coffee, mango juice, and cake. When we left a little later, after a spectacular sunset, we asked if we could pay him and he said no, everything was free, welcome to Jordan.

This morning, we sadly said goodbye to Petra, and began the long journey back to Jerusalem. Now I am resting, and planning my next visit to the Hashemite Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

I am writing this from the Petra Internet Cafe in Petra, Jordan. Bernt and I arrived here at eight o'clock this morning after a four hour bus ride from Jerusalem to Eilat at the Dead Sea, where we arrived at four o'clock in the morning and spent two hours camped out on someone's front porch waiting for the border to open.

At the border, exhausted, we talked with the Jordanian border gaurds while we waited for a taxi to take us to Aqaba, from where we would catch a sherut to Petra. The border gaurds were friendly and funny. They asked us where we were from, and when Bernt said "Germany," the younger one smiled and said, 'Oh yes! Germany. Hitler!" Which I found hilarious.

Everybody we've met so far has been like those gaurds, so friendly, conversational, interested. Who are we? Where are we from? First time to Jordan? Welcome! We've gotten a free place to stay, free rides, free coffee and tea--the Bedouins being perhaps the most welcoming and hospitable people on Earth. I really like it here. The streets are clean (cleaner than Israel), everyone is polite and helpful. At the coffee shop we just came from we had two waiters--one who worked there, and one fellow patron who translated for him.

As for Petra itself--that will have to wait until tomorrow. I am too tired to do it justice.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


In the interest of remaining connected, I went into the Old City yesterday sans camera and other ecoutrements of memory-preservation, carrying only my Bible and some money for the market. I went back to the Holy Sepulchre and stood by the tomb, watching the long line of pilgrims fighting there way to the door to get inside to get a glimpse of the possible place where Jesus rose from the dead. I read the ressurection story in Luke, then John, then stood there at a loss for the appropriate thing to do.

That night I went back to Luise's (of course) for a fish and rice dinner. We had a sort-of make-shift communion, in that we ate bread and drank wine and I silently remembered, and then sat on the terrace until the sun went down. Later on we went out in search of--of all things--creme brulee, and by God we found it, and it was gooood.

Today I was supposed to be on a bus to Eilat, from which I was supposed to head into Jordan to see the awe-inspiring ruins of Petra. However, unbeknownst to me, Israel went and shut down...well...everything, once again, for the holiday. Hence there are no buses until tonight. But at exactly midnight, Bernt and I will be on our way. And when we return, praise God, we will be able to buy bread again. (Aside: in Israel, during passover, it is illegal to sell bread, or pasta, or popcorn, or even rice. Illegal, mind you. So I have been sneaking it in from the Arab quarter. Shhhhhhh!)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Via Dolorosa

Yesterday was--again--quite a day. I am emotionally spent. At eleven thirty Ksenia and I headed into the Old City for the Way of the Cross, the procession that travels the route of Jesus to Golgotha. The experience is difficult to describe. The day was hot, a bit fierce even, and we were standing on the border between the Christian and Arab quarters. To our right, the Arab suq was in full swing, with merchants crying out and people making their way through shops full of baklava and jewelry and pottery and sheep heads and underwear and stalls full of almonds and cucumbers and popcorn and multicolored spices. To our left groups of pilgrims stood whispering, leafing through guidebooks or Bibles or maps. And everywhere there were people wandering about in the traditional dress of a hundred denominations: Catholic priests with white collars, Coptic Egyptians in white cotton, Men all in black with pointed hoods, Jesuits in brown robes reminiscent of Robin Hood friars, Polish women with their heads wrapped in scarves clutching crosses, Americans in shorts and tank tops, Ethiopians wrapped in yards of white cloth. It was like a gigantic Christian costume party, and the air was one of anticipation.

Soon the priests formed a line and announced the first station, where Jesus was sentenced, and the long solemn parade began. We were all smashed together, walking slowly behind the line of priests who announced each station as we passed it--here is where Jesus was whipped and beaten, here where he fell the first time, here where Simon volunteered to carry his cross, here where he saw his mother in the crowd. People were carrying crosses, some so large they required four or five worshippers to hold them. We were winding through the market, passing electronics stores and butcher shops and music stores with bootleg copies of "The Passion" for sale. The procession must have been a mile long, and every few yards or so a different group was singing a different song in Latin, Arabic, Russian. I was furiously taking pictures, with the result of feeling even more disconnected from what we were actually doing, but such is the way I deal with things like this. I don't really know how to keep myself from feeling removed.

Finally we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. While it is disputed, archaeologists generally believe that this is the actual site of the crucifixion. I made my way up to the chapel over Golgotha, and read the crucifixion chapter in John amidst all the noise and chaos. I walked around the church, to the slab where his body was laid out for burial--around which a crowd was gathered--everyone waiting their turn to kneel at the slab and cover it with perfume, incense, rose petals, kisses. Then I walked to the tomb, where ceremony after ceremony was taking place, one after the other, each in different languages, singing different songs.

Somehow I had managed to lose Ksenia and two other friends. I left and wandered the Old City, a bit overcome, and ran into Luise and some others. We had a bit of lunch outside on a roof overlooking the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulchre, sipping Arak with water and generally trying to calm down. The Arak helped, of course, and soon I felt almost normal.

The rest of the day played out in typical incongruous Holy Land fashion, with a birthday party for Luise on the terrace of her house, where we ate shashlik from the grill, drank wine, and danced to Arabic music. At three in the morning, Shadi dropped me off, and I stumbled into bed, called Jef just to hear him say goodnight, and fell promptly to sleep for ten hours. I am tired. I have very few emotions left to feel.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Maundy Thursday

Jerusalem is surreal and particularly holy this week. It is more crowded than usual; in the streets you can hear Christian pilgrims speaking in all sorts of different languages: French, German, Italian, Korean, Swahili, Arabic, Syrian--just a few that I've heard. They walk in solemn groups, cameras flung over shoulders, yellow bandanas or green nametags differentiating one group from another. The Old City was crawling with them yesterday, and yet I didn't get the claustrophobic feeling I usually do when I'm in a place with a million other tourists.

Ksenia and I were in the Old City by two thirty, and our first stop was the Upper Room, or what is reported to be the Upper Room, where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper together the night before the crucifixion. There was a brief service in Italian, and then everyone just stood in silence, staring into this large empty room, most likely picturing the same thing I was: Jesus washing the disciples' feet, Jesus breaking the bread.

After that we went to the other supposed site of the Upper Room, and one of the first churches in Jerusalem, at the Syrian church deep in the winding streets of the Christian quarter. The service was long, in Syrian, and full of chanting and singing, and afterward there was a procession of priests to large drums and bagpipes.

By this time we were hungry, ao we ate at Papa Andrea's rooftop restaurant in the Christian Quarter before heading to the Anglican Church of St. George for a Maundy Thursday Service. It was quite beautiful, in Arabic and English, with a foot-washing ceremony and communion, which I took for the first time in a year and a half. I've been avoiding communion, not quite willing, I suppose, to submit to whatever God might tell me to do if I open myself up to him again, but I took it yesterday. A reaffirmation of something suffocating, I guess.

After the service we walked in silence to Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony, knowing that he was soon to die on the cross. We prayed and sang some songs in the garden, then walked through the Olive Trees that have been there since the time of Jesus. In the Basilica of the Agony I prayed by the symbolic "Rock of the Agony," where Jesus is said to have prayed so hard that he sweat blood. In a strange moment completely uncharacteristic of me, I kissed it. Just in case. Just in case he really did touch this rock. Suddenly I was a true to form pilgrim. Something I guess I don't mind at all.

By this time it was almost midnight and my legs were aching, but we walked through the Kidron Valley on the route that the soldiers took the captured Jesus, and up to St. Peter's church, built on the site of Caiaphas' palace, where Jesus stood in a makeshift trial.

The stairs there are from the time of Christ, and he probably walked up them in chains. In the church we went all the way down to the pit where it is believed he was held. The whole night was unimagineable, really.

I finally made it home exceptionally late, and now I'm off to the Old City again.

Monday, April 05, 2004


Yesterday was the first day of Pesach (Passover), and I went with Tammy and her family to a cousin's house for the Seder feast. Their house was incredible, a bit on the museum side (they had an elevator), and their was one impossibly long table beautifully set for something like twenty-five people. We sat and read the Haggadah (my first time all in Hebrew) and when it was my turn I got all shy and asked to be skipped. There might be rules agains Gentiles reading it, after all.

We dipped the parsely in the salt water, ate of the eggs and the matzah and the bitter herbs, drank the prescribed four glasses of wine, and even sang a few of the songs, albiet somewhat half-heartedly. The funny thing is that most of them didn't know why they did half the things they did, and I, the only non-Jew, knew more than they did. Apparently, once you live in Israel, you've done your part.

It was great fun. We started at eight and ended at eleven thirty, and there was much feasting. I ate until I got sick, but it was all so good. I got a bit tipsy from the wine, but not enough to start speaking Hebrew, but everyone was gracious and spoke to me in English. One of theses days I'm going to have to be brave and use my Hebrew outside of class and taxis. I'm really not half bad--I just clam up or forget everything all of a sudden.

I love this country. I'm thinking of converting.

Sunday, April 04, 2004


It's been a busy few days. On Saturday we went up north, and it was wonderful. We left at eight in the morning, and arrived at Rosh Pina by eleven. Rosh Pina is a small town that was first settled in the late 1800s, built on the side of a mountain. We had coffee and cake and walked through the oldest part of town, with its cobblestone streets and old stone buildings full of art galleries and craft stores.

Here we are in Rosh Pina

After that we drove to the Hula reserve, a huge nature reserve that used to be a swamp. We walked the length of the trail, most of it a boardwalk over the remaining swamp, and saw pelicans and buffalo and lots of turtles. The whole swamp was full of papyrus plants, and maybe I would have picked one and made me some paper if it weren't, you know, illegal.

The Hula Reserve

After that we drove up to the Tel Dan, another reservation that was absolutely beautiful. The Dan River is one of the feeders of the much smaller Jordan River, and also the site of the ancient city of Dan, where naughty King Jeraboam set up an alter to a golden calf. (See 2 Kings) We saw the ruins of the altar and the city gates, then walked through the park. The trail was almost completely made up of stones in the river, so that we were basically walking on the river itself. The trees hung over the trail, so it was like walking through a big green cave. It was beautiful. I took many pictures.

Yesterday Tammy and I ate brunch at a moshav, or farm settlement, in their little restaurant overlooking a field of wildflowers. The food was fresh and yummy and we ate ourselves silly. After that we headed north of Tel Aviv to Netanya, a beach town, and drove to a ranch north of the city, where we went horseback riding on the deserted beach, through cliffs and sand dunes. It was, again, beautiful. I've never ridden a horse on a beach before, but it was all very romantic, as evidenced by the fact that one of the Israeli guys riding with us kept hitting on me, in spite of my horrendous Hebrew. I have discovered it is incredibly hard to speak Hebrew atop a horse on a beach. He didn't seem to mind though, and after we drove away, he pulled up in front of us at a red light and his friend hopped out of the car, walked to my window, and proceeded to hand me a slip of yellow paper with his friend's number on it, saying I should call him. Interesting. We shall see. It was a strange way to be picked up.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Beginning of the holidays

I am now in Ra'anana with Tammy's family, where I will remain for the next few days. I'm having the passover seder feast with her family, and I'm a bit nervous as everyone has to read out of the Haggadah, and my Hebrew may not be up to the task. I will try my hardest, however, and be on my best gentile behavior.

Tomorrow Tammy, Yoni and I head up to the Golan Heights in the north, one of the most beautiful places in Israel. It's up close to Lebanon, the area siezed in 1967. We're going to hike around a bit, maybe have a picnic. Hopefully the weather, which seems to be a bit two-faced these days, will cooperate--because I also have big plans for the beach on Sunday. We will see.