Sunday began my last week here in Israel. I have been staying at the Mash’abei Sade Kibbutz for the past three weeks and have taken five day trips: one to Jerusalem, two back to the suburbs of Tel Aviv (Shapira and Holon), one to Haifa, and one to the Dead Sea. I’m going to make a separate post about the kibbutz itself and my final week here, so in this post I’ll be writing about a few of my day trips.
I’ll say it again: my IG is amazing right now, so follow me!
Last Monday (12/19), my friend and I took the bus from Mashabei Sade to Be’er Sheva. I created yet another security dust-up when I tried to take a picture of the Kosher McDonald’s sign and Señor Mossad at the entrance to the bus station confronted me and made me go through all the pictures I’d take over the past day. Embarrassing! At Be’er Sheva we transferred buses and headed for Jerusalem. It turns out it was the day of a huge protest outside the Knesset and we went straight to the Israel Museum, which is within view of the Knesset. A guy here at the kibbutz told me it had something to do with agriculture. There were hundreds if not thousands of people with pickup trucks, flags, shirts, signs, and everything else marching to the Knesset. It started raining so I couldn’t get any good footage, but it was the second time I’ve witnessed a protest overseas (the other was in Spain).
The museum was so interesting. There is obviously a HUGE collection of Judaica from various Jewish communities around the world. So, as I mentioned in a previous blog, prior to getting to know members of the Jewish community in the Bronx, I had an extremely ignorant and monolithic view of Judaism. My dad was stationed in Iraq and Egypt and I took classes in college about Islam, and I was raised in a Christian family (Protestant and Catholic) and took classes about the Reformation in college too, but I never knew any Jewish people or took any classes about that religion. My friend’s family migrated (see also: WALKED and rode donkeys) from Afghanistan to Jerusalem in 1935. Millions of other Jewish people from countries that were transitioning to Muslim rule also migrated to Israel. It turns out there were native Jewish populations all across the world that I had no idea about. Seriously, when someone mentions Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, etc. I only imagine those populations as completely Muslim (excluding my knowledge of the Christian community in Iraq), but it turns out those countries and many others had Jewish populations too. My friend’s family is originally from Mashhad, Iran but after some “issues” in the 19th century they migrated to Herat, Afghanistan with other Persian Jews who created a sizable Jewish community there. The Israel Museum has models of synagogues from India and Africa, numerous costumes and pieces of jewelry, and various pieces of religious paraphernalia from hundreds of Jewish migrants who came to Israel before and after 1947. Seeing these colorful costumes, I never would have guessed they belonged to Jewish people. I told my friend: the ideas of Jewish people promoted in movies and on TV are very sterile, European, and “black and white” (literally) so seeing all the colorful clothing, huge headdresses, jewelry, and other accessories were arresting and eye-opening. The Jewish diaspora is so much larger and diverse than I ever knew. The Israel Museum also recently opened a Goya exhibit which was amazing to see-although insanely crowded. There is also a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden that provides wonderful views of the city and a path to the Bible museum where you can view the Dead Sea Scrolls (got yelled at again in there for taking a picture;there were no signnnnns saying you couldn’t…), the world’s tiniest bible (a nano copy that’s almost invisible to the naked eye), and the Aleppo Codex (which was sad to see considering the current situation there-there’s no telling how much history has been lost, on top of the loss of life).
After touring the museum, my friend’s friend picked us up and we drove to Ein Karem. HOLY. MOSES. This area is my favorite so far! SN: Haifa>Jerusalem>Tel Aviv #sorrynotsorry We drove down into the valley past Mary’s Spring and the Church of the Visitation. He and his friend grew up in Shapira, an immigrant neighborhood in Tel Aviv, and the friend was born in Afghanistan. He made Afghan pilaf with chicken, raisins, carrots, and rice. His girlfriend came too. She was a really nice lady who traced her roots back to Poland. After our delicious meal and some wine, three of us drove back to Ein Karem proper and walked around a bit. Unfortunately, the Church of the Visitation was closed but I got to see Mary’s Spring and we walked all around and saw some beautiful buildings!
The next day, my friend’s friend dropped us off at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. I got to go to the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tour the Jewish Quarter, and see SANTA ON A CAMEL!
I (very uncomfortably) took some pictures/Snaps from the Wall and a few of you asked me to explain what’s going on there, so here’s my attempt: The Wailing Wall aka the Kotel aka the Western Wall is a pilgrimage site for observant Jews. Wayyy back in the day (around 515 BCE-63 BCE), Jews had their main temple (the second temple, as the first was built and destroyed too) near the site of the Western Wall and it was also destroyed. Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were built on the original site of the temples and Jews aren’t allowed to visit, but the Wall is a surviving exterior wall to the former temple area (aka the Temple Mount which is important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews). Here Jews carry out daily prayers, mourn the destruction of the second temple, and otherwise conduct worship. Jews in the diaspora also pray in the direction of the Wall. *I’m not going to get into the political issues surrounding the current location, but from the destruction of the first and second temple-before the time of Christ-until 2016 (like, literally last week), there are stilllll very heated disagreements about this location and which religious group has rights to it. So, read about it and decide for yourself. Currently, the Western Wall is split into a men’s section and women’s section since Orthodox Jews, similar to other religions (Muslims, super Baptists, etc.), do not believe in the mixing of the sexes during certain activities. Men use prayer shawls and Tefillin, while the women dress in modest clothing, cover their hair, and use holy books to recite certain prayers. Both the men and women sway their bodies in a rocking motion while praying, often touch the wall, and back away from the wall rather than turning their backs to walk away. You can also write requests on pieces of paper and stick them into the wall. If you’re interested, please read more because I know veryyy little about the various periods of Jewish history and the current contentions surrounding the area. It’s a fascinating topic though and I will write more about it as I learn!
I also went to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was really mind blowing too. There was also a group of Muslims from Pakistan touring and a Jewish group too, so it was amazing to be in the church with Jesus’ tomb, Nuns, Muslims, and Jewish tourists. The tomb area was empty so it was special to be able to have some time to pray and see the tomb alone.
After the Old City, I walked to Mea Shearim-a neighborhood for ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. My friend’s family lived there before their house was blown up in an attack in the late 40s, when they moved to Tel Aviv. We visited two Afghan synagogues, bought some candy, and had a little lunch. It is a SUPER interesting place to see, but I don’t know if I would suggest walking through the area if you aren’t with someone from there. My friend told me to cover my hair because sometimes they will yell at women that aren’t dressed modestly and there are posters up all over the place condemning those who aren’t Haredi. Several Haredi men put their heads down, averted their eyes, turned their backs, and even stepped off the sidewalk when passing. There was also a car driving around with a loud speaker announcing a funeral, which was surreal (video to come). If you do go, don’t point your camera at people either because I was told that’s a no-no too. Again, it’s a fascinating place and like no where I’ve ever been or ever will go. Before learning about Judaism, I thought every Jewish person was Haredi, so it was interesting to see just how diverse the Jewish populations are in Israel and in the diaspora now that I know people from different sects.
Lastly, we went to the big market in Jerusalem, Machane Yehuda. I had a delicious beer at a stall owned by an Iraqi-Israeli man and his father for the past 50+years. SN: A huge number of Mizrahim or Jews from the East (my friend says this term can be used as a point of pride or in a deragatory way since Jews from the East were often looked down upon) are from Iraq! Then I walked around and surveyed all the amazing stuff. At one point I was looking at some dry goods and I hear, “HEY GINGER!” Of course, I turned around immediately. It was a merchant from a stall across the market trying to get my attention; I laughed and he laughed and everyone laughed. It was hilarious. I stopped and got some schnitzel (thinly fried chicken) and french fries and then we headed back to Ein Karem. Jerusalem was amazing, but getting back to Ein Karem was an adventure. My friend’s friend told us the wrong bus number so we wound up all the way on the other side of the city, then took another bus and rode it to the end of the line, had to get a taxi to take us down into the valley, and then we had to walk to his house. We headed back to the kibbutz the next morning, but I will definitely go back to Jerusalem one day!
For my second trip, I went back to Tel Aviv to stay with my friend’s other sister and I visited Holon and Shapira. My friend was invited to the monthly meeting of Afghan Jews in Tel Aviv and I am so stoked to say the host agreed to let me film and take pictures. As I mentioned in the last blog, I cannot get video footage off of my DSLR and onto my iphone or ipad to edit, so I’ll have to put together videos from this trip when I get home, but it was such an AMAZING experience. The meeting is meant to allow Afghan Jews to practice speaking the Dari dialect of Persian that they spoke before migrating. I listened to some readings from a new book about Afghan Jewish heritage, met a bunch of new people, got to watch one of the men lead the lighting of a Hannukiyah SN: did you know the candelabras used for Hanukkah AREN’T called Menorahs?! (I didn’t!). The specific candelabras for Hanukkah have 9 places for candles and are called Hannukiyah (singular) or Hannukiyot (plural).
The following day was my 28th birthday and we met up with the guy we went to have dinner with in Tel Aviv during the first week (who is also part of the Iraqi-Jewish diaspora). He is a master baker (like fr fr…he’s certified by the French government and was on Israel’s national baking team) and is now the head chef at a bakery in Holon. He took us on a behind the scenes tour of his bakery, then we went up to his office and he made handmade pizzas and we had some whiskey, balloons, and I even got a flower crown a la SnapChat, hahaha! After the tour, it stormed like MAD (hail, lightening, torrential rain, and thunder), but my friend’s family came over to celebrate Hannukah and they brought a cake for my birthday. The last day in Tel Aviv was short because it’s a long ride back to the kibbutz, but I got to tour the Shapira neighborhood and learn a lot about the former communities that inhabited the area (and take awesome pictures). The architecture was so interesting and like many areas it is undergoing intense gentrification which is sad. My friend hadn’t been back to his childhood home in decades. Randomly, the current renter was home and let us in! He said the current owners plan to demolish it when/if he moves out. As a military brat, I often dream about getting to go back to visit my old homes, so it was special to get to accompany someone visiting their childhood home after so long.
SN: If you are planning on coming here for the holidays, you should stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Most of the Christian holidays are only celebrated in Jerusalem/Bethlehem/Nazareth/Tel Aviv-Jaffa. From what I’ve been told, Bethlehem and Nazareth are not that safe so, yeah. NYE or “Sylvester” parties are mainly restricted to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem or private homes (make some friends, yo). Ya see, Jewish New Year was a couple of months ago and Christian New Year isn’t a big thing here-like at all-outside the main cosmopolitan areas. The kibbutz I’m at did have a bar night on the 30th and I think a university in a nearby city hosted a party with trance music, but public transportation in the middle of the Negev desert is impossible. So, I don’t have any cool stories from the holidays, but just be aware if you come here for that purpose that you need to plan far in advance, figure out transportation, and realize that this is obviously a Jewish country that largely follows the Jewish calendar.
P.S.S: Per transportation: in the areas of the Negev I’ve visited, the last busses are around 6 PM daily (obviously, you can get a later busses from Be’er Sheva, but for instance the last bus from the Dead Sea to Be’er Sheva is at 6 and the last bus entering the kibbutz from Be’er Sheva is at 6…). In the ENTIRE COUNTRY, public transportation shuts down Friday afternoons just before Shabbat starts and doesn’t resume until after Shabbat is over (early Sunday mornings and maybe late Saturday nights in the metropolitan areas, I believe). This means if you are planning weekend trips, you need to be where ever it is you plan to stay before the sun goes down on Friday. This also means if you want to go out Friday nights or travel anywhere on Saturdays you need to have some cash and be prepared to pay for taxis both ways.
My next post will cover my last week in Israel, including my two favorite day trips so far: Haifa and the Dead Sea! I am headed back to a town near Tel Aviv for my last weekend here, but I still have two more posts waiting in the wings so check back soon…
Talk to you crazy kids then!