A Jerusalem encounter

October 8, 2009 - 10:32 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: General 

A police roadblock in Jerusalem.

A police roadblock in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has always been a volatile place, but the last week of protests and rioting by local Palestinians in the Old City and east Jerusalem over what they claim to be Israeli efforts to move in on the Temple Mount really show what a tinderbox it is.

But sometimes, trying to hone in on a human aspect instead of looking at the dismal macro situation can provide a differnent view of the situation that Jews and Arabs find themselves thrown in together in the place both sides call their home.

I was waiting for a bus yesterday across from the Regency Hotel near Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus to take me through the tunnel and to Ma’aleh Adumim. A short distance away, at the intersection that leads to Wadi Joz, the police had blocked off the road and were redirecting traffic – evidently a common procedure during the busy days of Hol Hamoed Succot when so many extra visitors come to Jerusalem, but undoubtedly mighty annoying for residents of the area.

There was one other person at the bus stop, a young man in his 20s, wearing trendy sunglasses and holding a small overnight bag.

“Are you going to Beit She’an too? he asked me in Hebrew, revealing with his accent that he was Arab. I told him no, and we started talking about his journey.

“I’m going to Jordan to visit my sister. She’s lived there for years,” he said. “It’s easier for me to cross over the border at Beit She’an.”

Turns out his name was Khaled and he lives in Shuafat, the Arab neighborhood that borders the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, next to Hebrew University.

We started talking about Jordan, and he offered some tips about visiting our eastern neighbor. “There’s not much to see in Amman, it’s best to just go to Petra. But don’t go to Akaba, they don’t like Jews there.”

“Are things quiet in Shuafat now,”? I asked, referring to rock throwing and tire burning that had taken place there in recent days.

“Yes, but you never know when it will start again. There’s a few instigators who start doing those things,” said Khaled, who said that he was entering his last years of a Master’s degree in business administration at the university.

“I don’t like living here,” he added, pointing to the roadblock a few feet away. “You can’t go where you want. When I finish my Masters, my girlfriend and I are leaving – to America, or maybe Europe.”

We tossed things around for a few more minutes until my bus arrived. Khaled and I shook hands, wished each other well, and I got on the bus leaving him waiting for his.

On the way back home, I reflected on the encounter and felt a certain sadness – if decent people like Khaled are throwing up their hands in despair and leaving the fate of Jerusalem to the rock throwers and tire burners, then our future looks bleak. I wanted to get off the bus and go back and tell him, ‘stay here, help us build a society that we can all live in together.’
But my bus was already entering Ma’aleh Adumim.

Foto Friday – David Shankbone’s Jerusalem

May 22, 2009 - 11:42 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Art, Blogging, Foto Friday, General, History and Culture 

David Shankbone is a photographer, writer and vice-president of non-profit organization Wikimedia New York City, Inc. He has also, for the last three years, engaged in a public art project on Wikipedia, in which he has released all his photography on topics ranging from landscapes and cityscapes to celebrity portraits, for the public to use. As Shankbone puts it, “I set out on a project to create a body of high-resolution work whose copyright allowed the public to reproduce it, even alter it, without my permission. Even for commercial purposes, as long as nobody’s personality rights are violated.”

“The totality of the work is a documentation of human existence” states Shankbone, who has photographed everything “from subway stations to Kanye West; from Madison Avenue to Madonna; from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the hills of southern Lebanon.” And, as of this past March, Israel, where he was invited as a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For his project, Shankbone snapped pictures of Jerusalem that are illustrative…


and poetic…

…ranging from the Old City…


…to the New…

…the past — and possibly the future!

Shankbone’s Wikipedia work is an amazing resource, giving users the benefit of being able to use work from a photographer who is both skilled technically, and an artist in terms of effect and composition.

They can also benefit from his news-savvy. On Wikinews, which is Wikipedia’s news arm, Shankbone has posted over 40 interviews with global cultural leaders. A story about the project entitled, “Why Shimon Peres sat down with David Shankbone” is definitely worth a read as it explains a bit about his history and the project.

Scroll wars

The scroll seized by authorities this weekA sad byproduct of the tragic media war we’re currently engaged in is that Zionists and Palestinian nationalists seemingly can’t even agree on what the region looked like 2000 years ago. Forget about the possibility that we just might have common ancestors – if the “facts on the ground” are disputable today, then all the more reason to dispute what they were in ancient times.

Because for hard-core dogmatists, much of the “whose land is it, anyway” debate boils down to whose land it was back in the day. For many years, the Palestinians have been excavating the Temple Mount, with Israelis decrying the destruction that these excavations have allegedly wrought. Many have even posited that the digs have a goal of finding and destroying any evidence of a historical Jewish connection to the area, with a nationalist agenda.

Archeology and nationalism can go hand in hand easily. In the best cases, they can even build bridges of international cooperation, as we saw this past winter with the Italian government’s interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But in Jerusalem, where high-stakes heists and sleuthery are known to rear their heads every now and then, sometimes the powers that be feel the need to exert their power in order to maintain an edge in the information war.

And that’s how it came to be that a crack team made up of several Israeli bureaucracies came together to put the sting on two area Arabs this week. The Undercover Unit of the Jerusalem Border Police, the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region, the Archaeological Staff Officer of the Civil Administration and the super-specialized Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery all worked together to recover what experts are calling a Second Temple-era Jewish legal document.

As the AP tells it:

Undercover Israeli officers foiled an attempt by two Palestinian men to sell an ancient, valuable papyrus document on the black market, police said Wednesday. The men were arrested at a Jerusalem hotel Tuesday after a sting operation lasting several weeks, police said. The 1,900-year-old Hebrew document, previously unknown and valued at millions of dollars, was rescued, and police showed it to reporters.

…. They are suspected of violating Israeli antiquities laws by illegally possessing and trafficking in archaeological artifacts and could face several years in prison if convicted. Police are trying to determine how the document fell into their hands.

This specimen of Second Temple-style Hebrew calligraphy (pictured), written on six square inches of papyrus scrolls seems to be from around the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it could help (Jewish nationalism-tolerant) historians to better understand what life was like in the region some 2000 years ago, about 500 years before the birth of Muhammad.

Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains:

“From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel.”

Pooping out the Pope

May 1, 2009 - 12:14 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: coexistence, General, History and Culture, Religion, Travel 

Pope Benedict XVI welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres at the pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome in 2007.

Pope Benedict XVI welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres at the pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome in 2007.

We’re gearing up here for the arrival of one of the most charismatic guys around – attracting thousands of admirers to every appearance he makes. No, I’m not talking about Leonard Cohen, but Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives here the week after next.

It will mark the first visit of a pope to Israel since Pope John Paul II made a five-day pilgrimage in March, 2000.

I’m not sure who put together Pope Benedict XVI’s schedule, but even doing a quick scan of it left me breathless. It looks like somebody’s trying to poop out this pope, expecially considering he’s in his 70s.

Take a deep breath and imagine you’re in the Popemobile:

Monday, May 11

11:00 Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Official Welcoming Ceremony
12:05 Arrival at Mount Scopus helipad, Jerusalem. Welcoming Ceremony by Jerusalem Mayor, Nir Barkat.
16:05 Visit to the President’s Residence, joint planting of a tree in the Presidential Garden
17:30 Visit to Yad Vashem, Memorial ceremony at the Remembrance Hall; Wreath laying; Address by the Pope.
19:00 Interfaith Meeting, Notre Dame Hotel

Tuesday, May 12
09:15 Meeting with the Mufti, Temple Mount
10:00 Visit to the Western Wall
10:35 Meeting with the Chief Rabbis, Heichal Shlomo
12:00 Visit to the Church of Dormition – site of the Last Supper
12:30 Visit and Prayer at Latin Patriarch
16:15 Mass at the Garden of Gethsemane

Wednesday May 13
08:00-19:00 Visit to Bethlehem

Thursday May 14
08:30 Travel to Nazareth
09:15 Arrival in Nazareth, Welcoming Ceremony
10:00 Mass at Mount of the Precipice
15:50 Meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Church of the Annunciation
16:30 Meeting with the Faith Heads in Israel, Church of the Annunciation
17:30 Prayer at the Church of the Annunciation
19:00 Return to Jerusalem

Friday May 15
09:15 Meeting at the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch
10:00 Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
13:30 Leaving Ceremony, Ben Gurion Airport

Whew! Talk about an intense four days. Let’s hope the Pope has some comfortable walking shoes.

Unclogging the drains

January 9, 2009 - 3:48 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, Life, War 

aromaAlmost two weeks into Operation Cast Lead, and there’s a strange sense of normalcy that pervades the major parts of the country not in Hamas rocket range.

There are plenty of ways that the average person is getting involved though – like care packages being arranged for soldiers serving in Gaza, and there’s home hospitality that’s being offered for residents of the South at families in other parts of the country.

But with Friday morning being ‘erev Shabbat’, the Aroma at the local mall was packed this morning with coffee drinkers and diners, going about living their lives. They’re not being callous or uncaring, but just as the rest of the country carried on as usual during the Second Lebanon War, you wouldn’t know there was a conflict going on by walking around Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

There’s still errands to do, and clogged drains to fix. And we’ve got plenty of both of them. Our friend, and local plumber, Haim Mayim (loosely translated as Haim the Water guy), spent a couple hours at our house trying figure out the source of our kitchen sink clog. Joe the Plumber’s got nothing on Haim, who can expound on Talmud and Springsteen with the same breadth and humor.

Simultaneously, my wife was trying to cook for Shabbat, and we were making sandwiches for the kids’ lunch. Not easy when you’re ankle deep in dirty, muddy water.

The police daughter was keeping the peace in Jerusalem’s Old City, where she was monitoring Friday Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount. With tensions taut due to what’s happening to their brethren in Gaza, there’s no guarantee that riots wouldn’t erupt at any moment. But a 2pm check found her enjoying a relatively boring shift. Thank God for boring.

And daughter number two was staying in Jerusalem after school so she could attend a birthday party Friday night. if you’re wondering what senior year parties are like in Israel, they’re probably just like senior year parties in other countries, with the potable accessories that come hand in hand with adolescence. But these are the ‘kids’ who may be on the frontlines a year from now, so if they want to indulge now, I’m not going to complain as long they don’t drive.

Before Shabbat dinner tonight, we’ll remember the soldiers who have fallen these last two weeks, and say a prayer for the safety of those defending our country, including many family friends. We’ll also remember the civilians in Gaza who have lost their lives, and express the hope that they’ll one day find leadership who will care about them enough to not put them in the middle of a war.

Then we’ll eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company – and contemplate the totally illogical, impossible, yet intoxicating place in which we live.


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