Each day, for nearly a week now, I’ve thought about getting a new post up… Ok, Strike that. I haven’t really. I left the U.S. one week ago tomorrow for a 10 day visit with my daughter, in Israel. Between the 24 hours it took to get here, the exhausting but spectacular adventures each day, and the time change/jet lag, it’s been hard to do anything but crash each day, when we get back to her apartment. (Food: Shakshukah, Sabich, Fish, Halvah and Malabi: Sahlab (orchid pudding) with hybiscus syrup)
I hit the ground running. Upon arriving just after Shabbat ended last Saturday, I got to eat some kick ass left overs from her dinner earlier; we visited for a while, and then I went to bed. I was wiped out, my luggage had not arrived, and a mattress and pillow felt like a spa day. The first morning, we got up and dashed off to a favorite bookstore cafe for my first Israeli breakfast, assured that my suitcase would be here when we returned. Shakshukah is a traditional Israeli dish of cooked tomato sauce, with eggs poached on top… that’s far too simple for the fabulous goodness it really is. It came served with cheeses, the traditional Israeli salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrot, parsley) that is served with everything, as well as tahini (also served with everything) and a killer latte. I figured that if I was going to fall of the wagon and have caffein again, this is the place to do it. For the record, a nice latte has saved me from jet lag, a couple of times this week. (Images from Christ’s tomb, and the Holy Sepechre)
This week has been a daily assault of the senses. Cultural imagery and things to learn about have come with every place we have gone. My images of the Middle East have been fed to me through the popular media, for my entire life, and I have been forced to look at it all very differently here. The fact that I am so unaccustomed to seeing Arabs when they are not filtered through a notion of violence or ideology… but are simply welcoming me to a market, or offering me a delicious meal, or renting me a car, has been very eye opening. I have had to dig inside, to pull out the unconscious prejudices and ideas that have been allowed to lie hidden, living in my safe world at home where everyone looks mostly the same. White. (The Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Prayers at the wall, Orthodox quarter, and signs)
Having raised three Jewish children, I have been all too aware in the places that we have lived in the U.S. that we are a minority. There have been limited opportunities for my kids to feel anything other than different, in their faith and traditions. The fact that I have only known Jews within my limited world: our synagogue: fairly well off, and well educated…or, as seen very, very occasionally in other settings at home… has been equally eye opening.Talk about falling down the rabbit hole: hello Israel! Here, Ultra Orthodox Jews are everywhere. They are coming and going to work, school, the market, all around me— it is the norm here, not something that I am surprised to see. And in their world, on their turf, it is me that stands out. I am the one who has to pause and wonder whether I look immodest, or provocative. Strangely, it has been equally shocking to learn that Jews are rich, poor, educated and not here. The man who is wisely explaining a sacred site we visit is as Jewish at the girl taking an order at the Kosher McDonalds. Yes, there are Kosher McDonalds! (For the record, I have not eaten in a McDonalds- Kosher or otherwise- in at least 7 years). Having raised my kids in a world where they were constantly the odd man out, it is me who is not a member of the tribe… here. (The coast, at the boarder of Lebanon, The mountains of Syria, the town of Tiberius on the Galilee)
We have walked and walked, and I have found myself face to face each day with places that have been brilliant stories, in my mind, for most of my life. To stand on the site where Jesus was laid after he was taken down from the cross, or enter his tomb, was far more emotional than I ever imagined it might be. Having left my faith behind so long ago, I was surprised to find that my youthful desire to believe in something that big, was stirred, when faced with the places from Bible. To stand at the Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, where Jews have come to pray—Where their faith has been challenged and fought for, for thousands of years, was also stirring. An hour later, my daughter and I sat on the great Wall of the Holy City and listened to the Call To Prayer, over Palestine—just across the street. The sound of countless voices calling out to Muslims to stop and pray, was stunning.
As we sat on the wall, a documentary crew approached us and asked us if we would discuss our feelings about Jesus. They had no idea that they’d found such a mash up of faith and beliefs, in two women sitting silently listening to voices call out the first lines of the Koran. It was a film crew from Spain, and my daughter and I shared our thoughts on having come from such different places on the topic of faith and Jesus. I’m sure they felt they’d hit the lottery when I teared up and could not speak for a moment— So much emotion, in a place that means so many things to so many people.
Our sightseeing has been a constant dose of markets, zipping cars, desert, sea, olive groves, foreign languages, kind people offering blessings to me for coming to the land of Israel, scenery that is completely different from anything at home, and places that have lived only in the news. Yesterday, having visited the Golan Heights (slept on a Kibbutz the night before), and the northern coast of Israel, up to the border with Lebanon, we headed back to Jerusalem. We drove down from the dry crest of the heights, along the Sea of Galilee. We saw where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, visited site of St. Peter’s home, stood at the river Jordan, ate delicious fish from the Sea of Galilee and then drove back to Jerusalem through the fertile valley of the West Bank, along the border with Jordan. Several times, the Jordanian border was literally across the street. In 36 hours, I had been within a hike (or small step in many cases) of the Syrian border, the Lebanese border, and the Jordanian Border!
Driving home, as the sun set, the navigation took us on a “short cut” across the west bank and through the dry desert and hills of lands where Bedouin tribes lived in small, poor tents. I could see their cook fires inside the tents, as they brought their goats and sheep in. It was so isolated and barren looking, that it’s hard to believe that people have been living in many of these villages for 8,000 years! We found ourselves on one of the scariest “roads,” twisting and turning up the faces of a sharp cliff— the pavement became cracked dirt and broken asphalt. Rock slides were evident everywhere and at times the road became one lane, as we drove around blind turns, knowing that the Arab drivers coming toward us would not move over. My heart raced and as much as I was terrified, I was exhilarated and thrilled.
And each day has been filled with food and flavors that bring me to my knees. Things that seem so exotic at home, are served in finer restaurants just as easily as “fast food” places that we stop on the run. Grilled meats, fish that was caught in the morning, fresh produce (all local and grown here), cheeses, and fresh breads and pita— I could not walk enough, and we have walked and walked and walked, to work off the foods that I have eaten here. I feel like Anthony Bourdain, on my magical mystery tour of sites and flavors.
Today we go to the Dead Sea to float on its salty waters, and see a place that I have long imagined. My time is zipping by so quickly and soon I will be on another endless flight home. There is far too much to see in 10 days—I knew that when I came, but now it is so real. As I said in my last post, I cam here with no expectations. I came here with an open mind and an open heart, to see the world that my girl has embraced and wants to make her home. I have had all of that openness filled, each day, with color, flavor, sites and sounds that blow me away. I have tried not to see any of it as the “enemy” that will keep my girl far away from me. I have worked to see all of it the way she does, through bright eyes and an open heart. It has been an adventure beyond what I can share here… on deeply personal levels that defy description. It has all been stunning.
Note: Due to incredibly slow or non-existent wifi service, I could not add more photos. I’ll add them later.