Tradescantia Zebrina .:. The Wandering Jew


tales and opinions of the wandering Jew

Bethlehem – 1.

I haven’t quite figured out what I want to say about Bethlehem yet. At this point, I have many thoughts, but they’re fragmented. So the words will come later.

In the meantime, photos [full set here].
And a video. I took several videoclips of the graffiti on the Bethlehem side of the wall (“security barrier,” as it’s euphemistically called). Some are political, some are angry, others hopeful. Many are in Arabic, many more are in dozens of other languages as visitors from around the world leave their mark of solidarity, frustration, outrage, or sympathy. The voice in the background was that of our tour guide, Elias, who works for Holy Land Trust; his words don’t always match what we’re seeing on the wall.


Filed under: graffiti, israel, photos, politics, random, travels, war, wtf?

Ringing in the New Year

This afternoon, I joined visiting friends at the International YMCA in Jerusalem. There, we climbed the bell tower to take in the panoramic view and listen as our friend amazed us with his incredible carillon playing abilities. If anyone was near King David street/the YMCA or the surrounding areas, I’m sure you could have heard those bells singing from about 16:15-17:00.

Amazingly, playing the bells does not require crazy running around, hitting the bells. Nor does it require pulling long ropes to swing the clappers. A story below the bells was a room with a device that looked similar to a piano or organ. Instead of tickling the ivory, you pound the wood: when you press the wooden keys (like dowels), it pulls a wire that runs up through the ceiling and pulls the clapper, ringing the bell. So there’s a second’s delay between playing a note and hearing the bell. The higher notes equal smaller bells equal easier to press keys. The bigger, heavier bells result in lower notes; some of these keys were actually foot pedals. [Full photo set here. If I get permission, I’ll post some clips of on youtube.]

I was incredibly impressed. The set concluded with Auld Lang Syne, of course.

And let’s not forget about the view! Two stories above the keyboard, there was an open floor with four small balconies, one facing each direction. Before sunset, I captured a great view looking east: over the Old City, into East Jerusalem. And during sunset, another looking northwest, past the construction site of the King David Residence.

Filed under: friends, israel, music, photos


I think the way I need to deal with everything I learned, saw, and experienced, is to tell myself that the settlers aren’t Jews. There’s just no way that I can support their position. And there’s just no way I can understand Jews behaving, believing, as they do. Therefore, I have to believe that they’re not Jewish.


Because Friday I spent in Hebron, on a tour offered by Shovrim Shtika/Breaking The Silence. The group was started by soldiers who served in Hebron, the West Bank, Gaza, and wanted to tell their stories. Our tour guide was a soldier, then a commanding officer. Our very first stop, at the grave of Baruch Goldstein in the Qiryat Arba settlement, showed us how the settlers can justify and twist history. Dr. Goldstein is best known as an American-born Jew who moved to Israel and, fast forward many years, massacred 29 Arab Muslims after he barged into their mosque. He was beat to death by some of the men who survived his open-firing. At the grave, our guide attempted to tell us this history, and explain the different views of what happened and how this impacted the residents of Hebron. Instead, a settler by the name of Feldman shouted his message (which included some great conspiracies – did you know the EU is funding Israelis to kill all the Jews and bring down Israel?) and prevented our tour leader from speaking. (Our tour guide was then brought in to the police station as Feldman and another settler accused him of physically assaulting them at the grave. And two weeks ago on a tour, they accused our tour guide of desecrating the grave of Baruch Goldstein by urinating on it, which never happened. (Our tour continued without him. Luckily, he was released, and rejoined us about 4 hours later.)) When people on the tour asked Feldman why he was exalting Goldman, a murderer, his response was, “Dr. Goldman’s 17 grandkids were killed by Palestinians…” And does that justify murdering 29 men while they pray? “Understandably, he went a little crazy because of his sadness over his grandkids.” And that justified killing 29? “No… 29 were killed in terrorist attacks.” Right.

Then on to Hebron.

Perhaps I should back up and give some information for those of you unfamiliar with the city/cities. Hebron is the only city in Israel with a Jewish settlement within it. (Therefore, it’s the only Arab city that Israelis can legally go to.) But let’s back up further. In the 15th century, Jews, of Middle Eastern background, moved to Hebron for religious reasons. They wanted to live where the Tomb of the Patriarchs was located. (NB: they did not move for nationalist/zionist reasons.) They lived in fairly good relations with their Arab neighbours until the late-19th/early-20th century. As the political atmosphere started to change in Israel, the Jews of Hebron still remained peaceful and refused to take arms. This changed in 1929 when there were massacres of Jews in various locations, including Hebron, as part of a Palestinian uprising (although Jews said it was purely anti-Semitic). In Hebron, 67 Jews were killed; many more were raped and injured; property was destroyed. Most of the Jews of Hebron left the city following the massacre; the remaining Jews left Hebron in 1948. In 1967, after the area was taken from Jordan in the war, Jews returned to Hebron, and it became “one of the first settlements.” (A rabbi was given permission by the army to take a group of Jews to Hebron for Passover, but they were supposed to leave after the week. Instead, they refused to leave and the Israeli army eventually allowed the settlers to stay.) In 1970, a settlement was built next to Hebron, so the Jews moved there from the centre of Hebron. In 1979, women and their children infiltrated the Bet Hadassah (old Jewish hospital in Hebron). Because there weren’t men with them (their husbands visited on the weekends but didn’t stay all week), it wasn’t considered an actual settlement by the army. These people saw themselves as a continuation of the pre-1929 Jewish Hebron community, and said they were reclaiming Jewish property. A few of these Jews were killed in 1980 and 1981, prompting the government to respond by allowing the Jews to actually create settlements there. Four settlements were built in Hebron. In 1994 there was the Baruch Goldstein massacre. And in 1997, Hebron, a city of 150,000 Palestinians was divided into two zones/cities: H1 and H2. H1 is 80% of the city, Palestinian controlled, and had a population of 120,000 Palestinians in 1997. H2 is Israeli controlled, included the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the old city, and the industrial/market centre, and had a 1997 population of 30,000 Palestinians and 600 Jewish settlers (plus 500 soldiers, plus about 100 police). Today, about 40% of the Palestinians in H2 have left, because they are confined to certain areas of town, and have restricted access to streets, the town centre, etc.

Right. So we went into Hebron and saw the centre of town which basically looks like a ghost town. The shops are all closed and the streets are empty. It’s a “sterilized” street, which means Palestinians aren’t allowed to have shops on it or drive there. The army extends this to also mean “no walking.”

We were invited into the home of a Palestinian family. They showed us videos they took of the settlers. In one clip, the family is inside their apartment because it’s during curfew. (Curfew meant that the Palestinians had to stay in their homes, except for 2 hours every week or two, during which they could go buy food and supplies and such. In 2003-4, there were 400 curfew days.) We see the settlers destroying Palestinian homes and breaking into their locked homes, while the Palestinians are inside (because, again, it’s curfew). You can clearly see police and the IDF (army) not doing anything. Our tour guide explains that it’s hard for a few soldiers/police to hold back a mob. But on the other hand, how much are they even trying? The second clip shows a group of young Jewish girls, probably in their early teens, waiting on a hillside in Hebron. A few seconds later, Palestinian girls try to pass by, escorted by their teachers. The settlers are waiting there to push them, shout “kill the Arabs, Hebron is ours!,” and throw rocks. The police/soldiers are there, not doing anything until some of the settlers start picking fights with the Palestinian girls, pushing past their teachers, at which point the soldiers tell the settlers not to do that and try to get them to separate from the Palestinians. But not successfully; nor do they really seem to maintain any effort to keep them from repeating the offenses against the Palestinians. As the Palestinians make their way towards the edge of the hill, they have to go down some stairs to the street below. Where young settler boys are waiting with rocks, throwing rocks at the Palestinians while the soldiers on the street do nothing. The Palestinians basically run down the stairs to the street and keep running towards their homes. This is despicable, disgusting, and unacceptable behaviour. It’s explained to us that the settlers used to get out of class before the Palestinians, so they’d wait and do this most weeks. Especially on Saturdays or holidays. And the offenders are most often children, under the age of 14, because they can’t be prosecuted under the law. (Our tour guide, who served in the army, told us a story of being attacked by settler children/youth, while a father shouted in the background, “only the kids under 14!” because he knew they wouldn’t be arrested.)

Part of the problem is that there is 1 armed security person (soldier or police) for each settler in Hebron. So that’s roughly 600 settlers and roughly 600 soldiers/police. When the settlers do these horrible things, why aren’t the police/army stopping them? Because the role of the soldiers is to protect the settlers from the Palestinians. There’s nothing in their job descriptions about protecting the Palestinians from the settlers.

Another part of the problem is that a rabbi has told them that if they are actively fighting the Palestinians, then they do not need to fast on Tisha Ba’av. This tidbit, coupled with the Palestinian family who described how the violence against them, their home, and their fellow Palestinians increases on Jewish holidays made me think. My first thought was, “that’s really fucked up.” My second thought was slightly more analytical: how are the settlers rationalizing this? Some use the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 7:1-5 which talks about destroying (some read as “killing”) the 7 nations. But, you might say, the Palestinians are not among the seven nations. Ah, yes, I would agree. However it seems that some claim that the Palestinians are the Canaanites. Ah, you might say, then the land of Canaan belongs to the Canaanites who are the Palestinians, so why don’t the settlers return the land? To this, I would say, good question – it seems they only follow the logic when it’s convenient to them.

I realise I’ve gone around in circles, and haven’t even fully begun to describe all that I want to from Friday in Hebron. But it’s late and I’m on a borrowed computer. So I’m going to have to get back to my original statement: I cannot accept that the settlers are Jewish. People that readily kill, harm, destroy, hurt, belittle, impoverish, and humiliate their neighbours are not operating within a Jewish framework, within the Torah as I know and understand it. People who lie to the police in order to have a Jew arrested so that they can present their honoured version of history, is not operating within a Jewish framework. Someone who believes they are above both civil and martial law, and uses that to wreak havoc on others is not behaving Jewishly as I know it. I can not associate myself, my religion, my Torah with a people who act so poorly towards other humans. I just can’t.

Hebron photoset (with comments) here.

I’ll write more on other aspects of Hebron when I borrow another computer.

Filed under: israel, palestine, photos, politics, travels, war, wtf?

The week of Sukkot, plus…

A lot happens in Jerusalem during Sukkot. There’s no school (for the children nor for the yeshiva students), so it’s really a big holiday. Aside from the sukkahs we build, and the crazy Christmas connections (see my previous post), the city’s also abuzz with events, parties, learning opportunities, and more.

There was a food fair, which boasted 40 food vendors, representing the 40 years of a “re-unified Jerusalem.” We had fun drinking beer and choosing our meat (the tandoori chicken was amazingly tasty, the Chinese food not so much), before we went to watch the apathetic cheerleaders on stage, followed by a dance competition for members of the audience. It was all kind of a waste of the 10 sheqel entry fee until we found the dried fruit. Oh so tasty, amazing, dried fruit. We bought a lot of it, and will make liquor with the dried kiwis and lychees.

There was the much advertised, highly hyped Jerusalem civic “sukkah-riah” (a combination of the words for sukkah and candy).Unfortunately, it was not built out of candy. Nor was there metric buttloads of candy being doled out to all of us, as other media reports had promised. So sad, so disappointing. [Pictures form the week of Sukkot here.]

There was the tasty pizzas (with sourdough crusts) that we baked and ate in the balcony sukkah at our friends’ apartment. There was much drinking, a lot of fresh fruit chopped and blended to add to the drinking (fresh pomegranate juice and vodka? oh yes!), meals in sukkahs, long conversations, walking to and fro… And trips to the shuk. [Pictures from the sukkahs here.]

There was also the Christian Zionist parade through Jerusalem. I think this might deserve its own post, but I’m writing here now, so this will have to be the place. Wow. c_IMG_1942.JPGThe background is that 6,000-7,000 Christian Zionists from around the world come to Jerusalem during the “Feast of Tabernacles,” ie Sukkot. They do bible study, tour the country, and have this parade. Their pilgrimage/conference is one of the largest tourist money makers for Jerusalem each year. So the parade was basically a bunch of the Israeli big companies (the banks, utilities, post office) then the delegations from each country. Kelly called it the “Christian Olympics,” because they all marched behind signs boasting their countries’ names and flags. There were contingents from every continent except Antarctica. Irish, USAmerican, Canadian, German, Zimbabwean, Brazilian, Chinese, Papuan, New Zealanders, Estonians, and more. Many of whom carried (and blew) shofars as they marched. Many of whom wore t-shirts telling us that Jesus (Yeshua) loves Israelis/Jews. They’re not legally allowed to proselytize while in Israel, so aside form declaring their love of Israel, they also had a lot of messages from Psalms (exalting Israel) and Ruth (“your people shall be my people, your G!d shall be my G!d”). The latter I didn’t really understand. In the book of Ruth, that’s said to Naomi when Ruth declares that she doesn’t want to return to her nation, but rather wants to stay with Naomi and become a Jew. So were the Christian Zionists saying that they want to convert to Judaism? Another thing that was disturbing about the parade were the missionaries. In one of the groups, I believe it was the Ugandans, there were two tall, white, thin, modestly dressed people walking at the back of the group. It was obvious to us that they were missionaries. I was amazed – I didn’t realise that it was still an acceptable practice to go to Africa and convert people to Christianity. It seems very… several decades ago. After 2 hours, we were all traumatized by the parade, and had even run out of new ways to mock what we were seeing. [Pictures of the parade here.]

Oh, and there was the beating of the willows, which was quite spectacular. Though possibly because we were all so relieved that the marathon Hashanah Rabbah service was finally concluding, that we all just really let loose and beat those willows.

And then it was the final holiday for a while, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. Last night we went to a small Yemenite synagogue, not far from my apartment. It was excellent. Their amazing accents took some getting used to, but once we clued in, it was great. After the auctioning off of Torah scrolls (it’s a custom of many communities to auction off the rights to carry the Torahs during the procession and recitation of piyyut (liturgical poems)), the successful winner tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the Torah he had won (Drew was given the other Torah he’d won). This was exceptionally generous of him, and made us feel all the more welcome. So we carried, sang, and tried to blend in a little. (This was easier to do among the men than the women. Kelly later said she felt twice as tall as the Yemenite women.) The service ended early, so we wandered Katamon and the Geman Colony looking for other shuls, or other chances to dance in the streets with the Torahs. Unfortunately, the opportunities just weren’t there, which seemed odd – in North America there would have been dancing, and it would have continued later. In our wonderings, we did check out a Breslov shul, a yet-to-be-classified Chasidic shul, and the one that was a few hundred people standing in the streets socialising while maybe a dozen people danced. Alas.

This morning, I returned to the Yemenite shul. Even though I was less able to follow their service (amazingly wonderfully confusing tunes, coupled with different liturgy than I’m accustom to and their accents), it was still fantastic. And my own benchmark for a great Simchat Torah was met: there was dancing on the tables, while the tables were being lifted up. Excellent. It ended early, and I went back to the some-sort-of-Chasidic shul, which was also full of singing and dancing. Around 1:30pm, I made my way to Kedem for some egalitarian action, and davened my 4th amidah of the “morning.”

It’s been wonderful, busy, and somewhat exhausting getting through all the haggim plus Shabbats these last few weeks. In some ways, it’s nice that they’re over so I can concentrate on ulpan and learning, and create a regular schedule. But… I’m really going to miss them too. (Which is why I will be celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday.)

Filed under: friends, good eats, israel, judaism, photos, random, religion, wtf?

Hatred in the City of Peace

I have never taken for granted the fact that I was raised in Canada, in the big cities, to liberal parents. Some of my earliest memories involve one of m parents’ gay friends who helped my nanny take care of me when my parents were on vacation in Europe: he picked me up, on a weekend morning, and took me to my pottery lessons. After my class, before returning me to my home, he bought me ice cream. This was a huge deal: it was not yet noon, and I had not yet had lunch. In my family, dessert was for special occasions, and we certainly weren’t allowed sweets before lunch! At the ripe old age of 4, I didn’t know what “gay” meant, but I knew that adults used that word when referring to this family friend and his housemates (I later clued in that they were two gay couples sharing a house). So in my young mind, I equated “gay” with “sweet before lunch” which meant “cool.” A formative experience, to be sure. I went on to attend both elementary school and high school, in different cities, with queer teachers of different genders, and at least twice had students in my class whose gender – to this day – remains unknown. All of this was fully accepted, encouraged, and supported. It wasn’t a big deal when I came out; the first pride parade I marched in was captured on film by my math teacher and her partner, who cheered as I walked by with an LGBTQ youth group.

Which isn’t to say that my life has been untouched by homophobia. I was once attacked by a group of guys, who shouted homophobic slurs as they took their swings and kicks. I lived in a small town where homophobia was as “natural” as drinking beer. Once while sucking a popsicle in my car, another driver shouted “faggot” at he passed me by (okay, that one might have been called for!).

But I’ve written those off as isolated incidents that were few and far between. I was able to balance them with the activism and volunteer work I was doing to educate my communities on issues relating to homophobia, heterosexism, heterocentrism, transphobia, and more. Work I’ve been doing for more than half my life.

Living in Jerusalem, however, I’m having a hard time compartmentalizing, pushing down, the rampant homophobia. It started my first day in Jerusalem, walking from Rehavia to Mahane Yehuda. Scribbled on a paper recycling bin was “homo = ill,” “homo = filthy,” and “homo = dog.” I was shocked. In a city where destruction (or amelioration) of public property, through graffiti and stencil art, for political statement or “just” art, was the norm, I couldn’t believe that no one had challenged this message. As I continued my exploration of the city, I found that this message was repeated on paper recycling bins, electricity boxes, telephone poles, walls, gas metre boxes, and other public places, not just in Rehavia, but in Baka, Nachlot, Katamon, Germany Colony, city centre and Ben Yehuda, and more. I was able to determine that the hatred was all being written by the same hand.

I quickly devised a plan, supported by friends, to correct the graffiti. We started carrying permanent markers with us and changing the message from “homo = ill” to “homophobia = ill.” But the more we changed, the more we had to change. On streets where I had corrected every then-marked-up spot, a second walk a few days later would reveal new, bolder, places where the hatred was being displayed. And tonight I noticed that some of my corrections had been amended. “Homo very dangerous for children.”

I feel like I’m loosing this fight. I could keep writing messages back, correcting what has now been written to counter my anti-homophobia corrections, but it’s becoming overwhelming. This individual clearly has a lot of time on his/her hands, and I almost feel like I’m being watched or followed as I walk around making these corrections.

If you’re in Jerusalem, I implore you to take a sharpie in hand and correct them as you see them (or just cross them out). It’s exhausting living in a city where messages of hate are scribbled everywhere I look, and even more exhausting feeling like no difference is being made. If things don’t turn around soon, I think I’ll be taking this story to the press.

V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha…

Filed under: diy, graffiti, homophobia, israel, judaism, photos, politics, queers, wtf?

Images of Elul

With so much to report on – the possible war with Syria, the peace talks, proposed changes to the law of return – or thoughts to share – on t’shuva, slichot, and payot – I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, and cloudy-brained. So while I clear my head and try to jot down my thoughts in a comprehensive manner, I’ll offer up some photos.



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IMG_6346.JPG IMG_6345.JPG IMG_6365.JPGMehane Yehuda (the shuk – outdoor market):
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IMG_6355.JPG IMG_6354.JPG IMG_6363.JPGShakshuka!
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Filed under: friends, good eats, israel, photos

Photo post, the fist

At first, I thought they were limited to Rehavia, the neighbourhood in Jerusalem where I am currently staying. As EKO and I walked around last week, and then as I continued walking further on my own, I realised they were pretty much everywhere. What am I talking about? The neighbourhood paper recycling bins that have been vandalised with homophobic graffiti. Most now display homo=ill, homo=dog, homo=filth. And looking closely at them, it appears that they were all scrawled on by the same marker and hand. On Shabbat, we were talking about these, and decided to start correcting them. I did the first today:

I’m hoping people will notice that someone’s taken the time to add to the original “homo,” even though the addition may be subtle or unnoticed at first. … And I plan on fixing many more before I leave for Haifa.

Another major feature of any neighbourhood walk through are the stray cats. So. Many. Stray. Cats. Sleeping under cars in the shade, on walls, on dumpsters, in gardens, on benches, under benches…. they’re everywhere. Last weekend, I heard a constant steady cry of a cat, so steady it almost sounded like an alarm. I went out the next morning to look for it, and found a tiny cat. So small, and so still, I thought it was dead. But it’s not! I think it’s the runt of the litter, the only black cat amongst grey siblings. It’s about 15-20cm long, stretched out. And so skinny, I could easily wrap my thumb and index finger around it’s widest point. It spends most of the day and night sleeping, though I did take joy in seeing it’s siblings trying to chase it up a tree yesterday. And s/he got maybe 30cm up before the other two lost interest and scampered off, leaving it to figure out how to get back down on its own.



Folks leave food out for the cats, and buckets of water too, which is nice. And they’ve clearly honed their garbage scavenging skills too. They’re not starving, but they don’t look like healthy house cats either…

On a more cheery note, I noticed a couple days ago that R’chov Ha’Ari (Ha’Ari street) had been relabeled:


Filed under: diy, graffiti, homophobia, israel, photos, politics, queers, random, wtf?

Almost [t]here…

I’ve just returned from a week in New Hampshire, at the 2007 NHC Summer Institute (aka, ‘tute). After havdallah, I wrote in my journal, excerpts of which I’ll share here:

peeps at the 'tuteI’ve spent a wonderful week here in Rindge, NH at the National Havurah Committee’s Summer Institute. Friends, classes and workshops, singing and dancing, swimming and kayaking, cuddling on the beach.To get in the mindset of shabbos, I sang, I went to the beach, I whispered what I wanted to cast off as I dunked, naked, in the lake-come-mikvah.

I sang, I danced, I welcomed the Sabbath Queen with friends and hugs and smiles all around. I stayed up all night talking and singing and laughing, until we realised the sun was about to rise. I huddled under a blanket with five friends and stood on the field as the sun crept over the mountain tops, the fog rising off the field around us. Between dovening and Torah, I managed to nap, eat, sing, and play Scrabble under an old beautiful tree.

The rest of the week, I took (and skipped) classes; taught a workshop on the history of, and contemporary issues facing, Canadian Judaism; ate a lot of salad and ice cream; helped drink $100 of tasty bourbon; toasted, sang to, and danced in honour of friends’ new marriages and soon-to-be marriages; studied Talmud; talked a lot about sexual ethics in class, at meals, and in an intergenerational discussion group; was forced to get out of the lake by security at 2am; watched meteors sail across the sky; took part in traumatic dramatic readings, spoken word style, of songs found in “Rise Up Singing;” told Nachman stories; and had a great time with a friendly community of open-minded people.

All photos uploaded to flickr thus far by me and others, are here (in a nice slideshow).

Next year’s ‘tute is August 11-17th…. I hope to see you there!

Filed under: friends, good eats, judaism, nhc 'tute, parties, photos, religion, seasons, sleep/insomnia, travels

Limmud Photos

There are two sets of photos for Limmud:

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The craziness that was Friar Tuck’s             … And the loveliness that was the people.

Filed under: limmud, photos

Limmud @ Friar Tuck

Prior to registering for this year’s Limmud NY, I hadn’t realised that there was a town of Catskill, NY – I always thought of the Catskills as a region only. ut, lo!, I drove the four hours, with one_in_progress, through the mountains to arrive at the Friar Tuck. I assumed it would be a similar venue to last year’s Kusher’s, full of kitsch and a bygone era of Jewish families vacationing for the summer. Instead, my first sight was that of a brick building with a castle-esque motif. It didn’t stop there though, as I wandered the maze-like hallways, I found the interior design to be eclectic and eccentric. And the rooms! With names like “Buckingham Palace,” “Camelot,” “Scarlet,” and “Sherwood,” I felt like their ought to be men in tights (but probably not as Mel Brooks envisioned) strumming lutes and prancing about. It seemed only fitting that those of you who were unable to join us in the learning, laughter, conversations, and great food, not only read about those aspects of LimmudNY but the setting as well. And so, for the second year in a row, we present the photos of Limmud – not of the people, but of the facility itself.

cross-posted to JewSchool.

Filed under: friends, limmud, photos, travels