Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Blue Gates and Windows of HaMoshava HaYevanit

The lovely Greek Colony (HaMoshava Yevanit) neighborhood of Jerusalem has a wonderful charm of yesteryear about it, but like many Jerusalem neighborhoods, it is in an ongoing process of gentrification. These old neighborhoods, just outside the Walls of the Old City, and among the first to be settled, are slowly losing some of their historic allure as new apartment buildings are being built, and older ones renovated.

Copious numbers of beautiful blue iron gates and blue shuttered windows can be seen throughout the neighborhood, and reflect one of the architectural signatures of the Greek Colony. I decided to photograph as many as I could, warmed by the visual charm of these lovely accents.

The History of the Greek Colony

Sandwiched between the larger neighborhoods of Old Katamon and the German Colony, the Greek Colony was settled in the early 1900's by wealthy members of the Greek Orthodox community, who had been living in the Christian quarter of the Old City, but whose living conditions had become tense and overcrowded.

At one time, the Greeks living here in HaMoshava Yevanit numbered around 7,000, but most fled the area during Israel's War of Independence.  After 1948, immigrants from Morocco and Yemen were brought to the empty buildings and new but inexpensive apartment buildings were built to accommodate them.

Many stately mansions remained however, as well as some of the charming one and two family homes that were built of stone. All were adorned with the blue iron gates and fences and blue window shutters. Not only the older mansion and smaller family homes but also apartment buildings, beit knesset, and garages boasted the blue. They remain to this day, a hallmark of the neighborhood.

One of the most striking buildings is today a lovely boutique hotel (Arcadia B'Moshava). Originally built as an apartment complex, circa 1918, by the family of a prestigious dressmaker from Beit Jala, it was bought by the Jewish Agency in 1948, when Israel became a state. At that time it was a center for Diaspora youth to come and study Judaism and Zionism. In more recent years it is perhaps most well known as the home of the Shalem Center (College) and Press. However in 2012, the Jewish Agency (still owners of the property) rented it to the Arcadia firm, who renovated the building and established the hotel, opening it in 2014.

This beautiful building, in fact, is mentioned on the Israeli Tourism website: "The prominent expert on Jerusalem's architecture, David Kroyanker, describes the building in his books as "the most special house in the Greek Colony" and as one "exceptional in beauty and splendor".  In 2003, after its [earlier] renovation, the building was awarded first place in the category of "buildings for preservation" in a competition held by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Fund.

Private Homes and Gardens

Nearby smaller residential buildings boast the blue gates in beautiful and individual ways. Behind these stone walls and blue gates lie gorgeous private gardens, protected from the public eye, but whose varied and prolific trees are visible to all.

I recently took a walking Garden Tour of the Greek Colony, led by Chanoch Ne'eman. Probably all the plants of Israel can be found behind the walls of these private homes. Of course we can see the magnificent Cypress trees, the tall overpowering Jerusalem pine trees - mostly outside of, and between, houses. But hanging over the edges of the stone walls and blue gates, are rimonim (pomegranate), mulberry, lemon, sheshek (loquat), olives, wisteria, figs, fragrant jasmine and more.  It is so lovely and peaceful, and so Yerushalaymi.

Is it Still Greek?

Is HaMoshava Yevanit still Greek? When asked if there were still Greeks living in Greek colony, Anistas Damianos, chairman of a committee with the still present Greek Community Center on Yehoshua ben Nun, laughingly stated that they still had a minyan (quorum of 10 men for Jewish prayer). ref: Haaretz.

The Greek Community Center is a attractive complex of 5 buildings, beautifully maintained and offering several Greek related activities.  On a pleasant summer evening the sounds of Greek dancing and song can be heard throughout the neighborhood as it emanates from the Community Center. Greek language classes are taught there. Shabbat morning coffee gatherings, and many more things still take place here. It is said that many well to do Greek Jewish families still divide their time between the Greek Colony of Jerusalem and Athens, with the Community Center being a point of contact.

The one building that is NOT embellished with blue gates or shutters, is the Greek Consulate, a handsome structure, which technically sits on the edge of Katamon, and on the seam between the Greek Colony and Old Katamon.

Through all the changes, it seems that to date, the blue gates and fences remain, giving this picturesque area of gardens, alleyways, and tall Cypress trees a connection to the past and charm to carry it to the future.

Door to the Consulate
Community Center Grounds

Beit Knesset

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut

It begins with sobering remembrance. Each year it's different as to how I observe these days..Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron...and finally Yom HaAtzmaut. Always, though, at some point, I am moved to tears. So much to contemplate. One sets the mood for the other.

On Yom HaShoah and first siren on Yom HaZikaron, I was at home, firstly on my mirpeset, and last night, on the street in front of my building when the sirens bade us to stop and remember.  Last night, there wasn't a lot of traffic on my usually busy street. I had hoped for more, to experience once again, the oneness of Am Yisrael, as together we stop, get out of our cars, buses, and remember. For personal reasons, I wasn't able to go to a tekes this year, and this would have to serve as a quiet personal reflection for now.

Even though I know it happens, I've experienced this before, but I'm always shocked, and it always takes me aback. In the midst of the siren, a taxi gunned it down the street at high speed, making sure everyone noticed HE wasn't stopping. Obviously the taxi driver didn't approve, flipping us the bird in the most obnoxious way he could.

On Yom HaShoah last week, I read of an arab bus driver who refused to stop his bus, taking all the people hostage who tried to no avail to stop him.

Today, as we approached the time for the 2nd Yom HaZikaron siren, I too was on a bus, on my way to the shuk. I noted that my driver was Jewish, comforting myself with the fact I wouldn't have to run to the front, grab the steering wheel and find the brakes when the siren went off.

Still I was unprepared.

When the siren went off, the driver stopped, opened the doors of the bus, and those who wanted to exit and stand outside on the street, did so, the rest of us stayed standing in the bus. Mid-siren my submerged emotions began to surface and I felt the tears start.  Suddenly to my left, speeding across the street were several yellow arab sheruts, joined in spirit by a motorcyclist who tried to keep moving but was blocked by cars. Tossing his head and giving verbal smart a**ed remarks to those who would bid him stop, he wanted to make his point. I turned my head towards the Walls of the Old City and the tears just streamed down my face. It wasn't just the loss of our boys, although that was strong enough. It was also, the continual, ongoing struggle of the in-your-face hatred we feel and experience every day that I mourned. It wasn't that it's too difficult, it's just ...I don't know....such a loss. It filled me with such sadness that belligerence, hatred and violence is so strong....that the battle is way far from over, in fact, unchanged and I felt the eternity of the struggle.

I cried quietly for 3 or 4 minutes. Our lovely driver was slow to turn on the engine again, waited for the next light, thoughtful and reflective as were the rest of the people on the bus. It's a sobering moment that deserves our respectful attention. I was so glad that I was on that particular bus.

It was then I realized where we were. I mean I knew in real time of course, but was not even thinking of the powerful symbolism until that moment. We could not have been at a more meaningful place. We were at the top of Shlomo HaMelekh in front of Kikar Tzahal.  (Tzahal is our IDF). It is the location where the Ottman Empire surrendered to Allenby in 1917, the dividing line between our newly formed IDF and the Jordanian troops in 1948; it was the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and "No Man's Land" , and is the symbolic seam between Jews and Arabs since the 1967 Victory and reunification of Jerusalem.

It seems - and not the first time for me - I was feeling more than the moment. I was feeling the angst of our People and the history of the very rocks that were crying and crying out.

With some difficulty we recognize it is now time to move into Yom HaAtzmaut. We have our set time for mourning and now it's our set time for rejoicing. As we move into tomorrow, let us celebrate not only with fireworks and mangal, but also with thankfulness that we are here. Just because it is such a struggle...it's important that we understand the outcome.

Israel, a sweet Land, filled with milk and honey, is ours once again.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Moment in Time

Sometimes i feel like getting out of here...leaving Israel for good. Life is so hard here.  Among other things it's almost impossible to make ends meet for most Israelis...for some of us way worse than for others. Of course there are people who are comfortable and more, but most of us struggle to finish the week or the month. The wear and tear and fatigue from the never ending battle just to survive is sometimes overwhelming. 

Additionally, it's a bit schizophrenic here. Part of it's the neighborhood we live in, I guess. Being under attack all the time does take it's toll. It requires constant diligence, overcoming techniques, many tears, heartbreak and funerals. We don't treat each other well, except in the midst of tragedy and then we are entirely One people - no one will ever be bonded more closely together than at those times. But in between events...it's a free for all circus. One minute a complete stranger will give you the money to get home on the bus because Egged screwed up your Rav Kav and won't - as in refuse - find a way to correct it, but five minutes later you will be cut in front of, in any line you have ever stood in, mowed down on the sidewalk by racing cyclists (including the Harley variety) or baby carriages (don't get me wrong I love babies, it's the parents wielding the carriage like a weapon that I mind), screamed at, insulted and out maneuvered.  The wear and tear and fatigue from the never ending battle just to survive is sometimes overwhelming.

And then there's the infrastructure. The mind-boggling bureaucracy, the unresponsive and self serving government, the public family brawl that is called politics...and a few other things that would be too airing of our family laundry to mention. There's not a single thing that we do not have to fight for, the first answer is always "no", and the rule is "wait two days", find a different person, and start over. Everything from receiving a package from the post office, to paying bills, dealing with the bank, maneuvering the health system, getting a renewal on your drivers license, paying your arnona (property tax) and everything in between, requires a lengthy instruction manuel on how to succeed at the task (except that no one has ever written one)....and an insane amount of sablanut. (patience). The wear and tear and fatigue from the never ending battle just to survive is sometimes overwhelming.

Nu, why on earth do I live here, you might ask. Fair question, as obviously, I ask myself the same.

The only answer I can give to that is to tell of a moment that happened to me this past fall. Even now I am trying to remember that moment again, especially when the fatigue of the battle overwhelms me.

That morning i was walking down the back road near my apartment, the sun intense and hot. Nearby cypress trees offered no shade, standing only like soldiers guarding the walkway and framing the Israeli sky.  The Israeli sky - that certain blue found nowhere else, proud and perfect and beautiful.  In front of me were the blue iron gates and fences of Yerushalayim - matching the sky and bringing heaven and earth together. The air, a mix between steamy and dusty settled into my soul filling all the empty spaces within.

For a moment in time, I felt the kind of peace that only Israel gives...the air, the sky & the Land is somehow eternal and it permeates everything. For a few real-time minutes my world became timeless -  by some immortal moment or memory, I found myself standing amidst the blazing sun, the Israeli sky, the companionship of the cypress as though it were anywhere in Israel and anywhere in time. I had stepped through a door into timeless realm ..and it was thoroughly delicious.

There was that inexplicable soul level knowledge/understanding that my neshama, even my dna, is married to this Land. I am safe here, my soul is safe. I am connected to this place Eretz Yisrael, this people, my people, Am Yisrael, and always have been. For better or worse, I am here.

So, on days when the going gets really tough, when my sablanut is missing or wearing thin, when the winter months are long, the days too short and the nights too dark & long, when i get yelled at or treated rudely one too many times, when i miss my family - none of whom are here in Israel - I will think of that special moment in time and try to remember why I am here.

I will stay and await my children to come, holding and anchoring a place for them like I always have. The safety of Gan Eden, they will come when the time is right.  I can only pray I am still here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Unusual Talent / Unexpected Dance

It's good to know that even in the midst of the War, normal things still happen every day in Israel. Life goes on. It must.

The other night I was running some errands in the normally busy German Colony (Hamoshava Germanit) - which I must admit has been abnormally quiet during this long summer War. That night however, it was bustling. Israeli families with exuberant "on-summer-holiday-from-school" kids, along with a few tourists, made the street an alive and happy place - like it used to be.  It was nice to see!!

So, rather than a War story, I want to share a little vignette about normal Israeli life and how it works here. But first let me digress a moment to share a necessary personal part of this tale.

All my life I have had this unusual "ability" or "talent" (smile) to unconsciously take on whatever the person I am walking with, is doing.  By that I mean, if the person is limping, pretty soon I find myself limping. Or if they list to one side, I may find myself tipping in that same direction.  You get the picture.

As you might guess, it's been the source of both amusement and embarrassment. Mostly it's been humorous, and an opportunity to show, well, I guess, empathy. It doesn't happen all the time, just once in awhile.

Nu, that night I was walking on the sidewalk and passed an older woman who was struggling with some very heavy bags. Pre-occupied in thought as I passed her, I suddenly realized she really was struggling. Quickly turning around to see if I could help, I saw her stop and drop her bags but before I could even start out, an older man rushed up, took her bags, asked where she was going, and took off down the street in the direction of the bus stop, heavy bags in hand.

I watched her for a moment to make sure she was ok, and I saw she was not. The man was half way down the street, but she was leaning up against the wall, trying to walk...but just couldn't.  So I ran to her and offered her my arm to help her get to her destination.  She silently took my arm and I could see she was in a lot of pain, too much pain to even talk.

Immediately however, there was a real problem. Heavy in the legs, with feet that turned inward, she simply could hardly walk. Not only that, when she did try, her gait was very disconnected, unstable, and unpredictable. We started to fall all over each other and I wondered how on earth would we get down the street to the bus stop.

Suddenly I remembered my "skill" !! Quickly I willed myself to fall in line with her gait, and I was able to match it immediately. This time it was done consciously but it kind of felt like magic! Ha!

So there we were, making our way down the sidewalk like in a slow motion dance - a dance whose steps I certainly did not know on my own. I had to concentrate, but only once did we lose rhythm - she had to stop and rest and upon starting up again it took me 2-3 seconds to match her gait once more.

Truthfully, it was wonderful, and I laughed. Who would have thought this odd skill/talent/whatever could ever be used for good!  When we arrived at the bus stop I turned to look into her face, and instead of the contortion of pain, she was radiant. Her face was glowing as she planted a huge kiss on my cheek and thanked me and  asked about the bus route. Perhaps no one had ever walked with her quite like that before, and for a couple of moments, maybe she didn't feel alone in her pain.

I am not sharing this to say that I did something good. Not at all. I am sharing this to say this is just what life is like in Israel. While Israelis can be rude and pushy and blunt, if someone is hurting, instantly another will come to help...it's part of the fabric of Israeli life.  We want to help, maybe because we all share in the hurting here in Israel..and we know what it feels like to be in pain of some kind.

But I am also telling the story, because .. IF you have some "unusual" talent, you just never know when it might make a difference in someone else's life. Maybe all that is needed is the right moment in time...to lift the spirits of someone, to make life momentarily easier, to help them to know they are not alone. Even a two minute uneven, awkward - but definitely choreographed - dance down the street can perhaps change a feeling of helplessness to one of momentary triumph.  I hope that happened to this sweet lady.. after all we were the cat's meow on that sidewalk in Jerusalem! I hope she laughed and the rest of her evening was happier, and she knew people cared about her struggle.

A few hours later I was huddled with my neighbors in the stairwell of our building, waiting out the rocket attack...midnight..in our jammies, getting to know one another.  I sure hope the old lady had a safe room and didn't have to go into a stairwell.

Life in Israel. It's good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on the funeral of a soldier

Dor Dery

Barkai Yishai Shor   
Moshe Davino

The graves lie side by side on Mt. Herzl and I am devastated.  I just returned from the funeral of Barkai Yishai Shor, one of the soldiers who was killed in Operation Protective Edge. There were 3 funerals at Mt. Herzl this afternoon and 3 others before it. One after the other, funerals for boys who died protecting our nation, who gave everything...for us.

My intention was to attend the funeral of Moshe Davino, whose father is an acquaintance, but due to a mix up in times, I missed his and ended up at Barkai Shor's. In between Moshe's and Barkai's funeral was Dor Dery's, who, it turned out, was the nephew of other acquaintances, through a friend. That's the way it is in Israel. We so often have some connection to every soldier's death, somehow we knew the family, or their best friend, or some other connection.

In Israel, the grief is completely personal as well as national, as if the child were our own...because really, he or she is. These boys and girls are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. There is no army like the IDF. All of Israel mourns them as family. I didn't know Barkai before the funeral but I knew him afterwards.

This was the first military funeral i have been to here. The tears began, when suddenly, in the stillness of the total silence of thousands of people who came to show their respect and bid farewell, there was ever so soft a cadence of the soldiers bringing in Barkai's body, punctuated by the grieving sobs of his mother, and now the sobs of the rest of us.

With the cadence of the soldiers began my tears, and they haven't ended til now. Tears mingled with thoughts of my own children, intertwined with the timelessness and comfort of the kaddish. I felt like I was listening to the kaddish said over every Jew who had ever died.  It was then i realised the eternal nature of Am Yisrael and how truly this boy Barkai was also my own child, as was Moshe, Dor and the rest.

One by one family members and friends spoke of the fineness, the generous spirit, the love this boy Barkai had for others, for helping others.  Broken hearts were not afraid to weep publicly...soldiers sobbing next to me, comforting one another as their achi was eulogised and laid to rest.

Perhaps some of the tears were the release of all the emotions held in check until now. I now understand the importance of joining the public mourning for our fallen. We are all together.

In spite of the sadness I felt much peace in our unity. At the same time, I began to think about the funerals of the terrorists... men and women filled with rage and hatred, glorifying in death, violent, teaching their children that murder and death are the wondrous goals of Islam.

The intensity of the contrast, and the knowledge that the world prefers the likes of Hamas and an army of murderers, whose goal is death and destruction, to the kindness and goodness of our people who love life and are filled with goodness, tore at my heart.

The unjustness of it reverberated throughout my soul. It wasn't that it was unfair. This is war, and there is neither fairness nor unfairness in war.  We are grateful, not bitter, for the sacrifice willingly made, and we honor their memory. But that we who are good and kind and desire to better the world and help others are despised, and the monsters who perpetrate horrors and love death are admired by the world - this is unjust !

When the eulogies finished, there I was at the burial site of all 3 boys, physically laid to rest side by side.  These are the beautiful sons of all of us, Am Yisrael, because in Israel, we are one family.

As i laid fresh sand and touched a farewell to Moshe, Dor and Barkai, there was one final reminder. A boom was heard overhead as Iron Dome took out another missile above us, punctuating what this was all about, reminding us of the unfinished business at hand.

May we finish the job for the sake of these three and all the rest, that they did not die in vain.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Haimaot - The Mothers : EyalGiladNaftali

It's been two weeks. I haven't written about it yet...until now. I guess the shock was still there ... waiting for good news.

Haimaot (the mothers) broke through their shock, refusing to wait for the good news, instead taking matters into their own hands. Boldly speaking out - first on the media, then to the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva, then to the Knesset - they have been an inspiration to all Israel.  Not only is their strength apparent in the midst of their terrible ordeal, but also their courage.

Traveling to the UN, a den of iniquity filled with snakes and vipers, who but a mother would have the strength to sit through the vilest of accusations against Israel, and still speak out for the truth, still plead to the world for the right of her child to come home from school - the right of any child -and still to leave no stone un-turned in the quest to save her/their children.

Racheli Frenkel, the mother of Naftali, spoke from her broken heart with simplicity and courage. She had no agenda but the cry of a mother for her child.  I heard her voice crack once. I think I would have completely lost my composure, but she paused one second to steady herself, and then continued on. I was amazed at her courage.

How could these mothers not have heard the terrible things said both before and after their plea. I heard them. I boiled with anger. I cried at the unjust lies being hurled at Israel and for their benefit...to humiliate and mock them.  I had to turn off the computer twice while waiting for the boys' mothers.

Not only was there the vilest of lies before, but the audacity of mockery after they spoke. "What kidnapping?" it was said. "I never heard of it".  Outright lies about thousands of Palestinians kidnapped and killed by Israel. The outrageousness of it all is hard to take. I have been appalled that some would suggest we have fabricated the story.

Yet, these three mothers persist, seemingly impervious to the abhorrent things that were and are being said, kept, and continue to keep right on going, not stopping until their boys are home, safe in their beds at night.

After the UN they took on the Knesset. Bat-Galim Sha'ar, mother of Gilad, spoke forthrightly about the responsibility of the government to do the right thing. Shocked that the operation was being scaled back, shocked that the government had made a "deal" with the hunger - striking prisoners, Sha'ar challenged them to do the the right thing, and to do everything. She told them the families would not accept "irresponsible" government decisions.  Full text of her speech, which was very moving, can be found here.

It can be said that any and all mothers would do the same. Mothers of other kidnapped sons have cried out and pleaded with the government and with the world. We must respect any effort of any parent to find their lost child...and our hearts have always been broken.

What is different, what is unique with the mothers of these boys, and their families, is that they are not asking the government to appease the enemy, to make deals to bring the boys home (all of which can nevertheless be understood and never judged), but these families are asking for the IDF, for the government to be bold, to stand strong and do the right thing. NO to the terrorists, no to "deals".

I was a supporter of the deal for Gilad Shalit, for a lot of reasons, but never for the release of prisoners for some insane "piece" negotiations with those who want to kill us.  The truth be told, Israel has always traded prisoners for our soldiers or their bodies, if they did not survive. This is no different....except for that one thing. This time it is being demanded that they be returned for the right reasons, and NOT for the deal of released terrorists. These mothers are demanding that our government, and even the world, stand up finally for what is right and just, and expect it to happen.

They have encouraged us, we who should be encouraging them.

It is time we stand strong as a nation. These are all our boys, our sons, our brothers, our friends. As it is said, the other Rachel, who wept for her children she did not have, because of her tears and her righteousness, merited the return of Klal Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael.

Please G-d, for the sake of these mothers, and for the same reason, bring Eyal, Gilad and Naftali home, alive and well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yom HaZikaron, Mishpacha Echad

photo from http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ 
Last night when the 8pm sirens began the 24 hours of Yom HaZikaron, our memorial day for remembering our soldiers who gave their lives for this country, I walked down the street seeking a neighborhood tekes (ceremony) and so that I could be outside when the sirens sounded.

In Israel when the sirens go off on Yom HaZikaron, (at 8pm for one minute, then again the next morning at 11am for two minutes) everything comes to a halt. People go out to the street, pedestrians halt, all cars and vehicles stop, even on highways, including buses, and everyone stands for the one minute or the two minutes of the siren. Drivers and passengers get out of their cars and stand beside their vehicles as we remember the fallen. It is a profoundly moving experience.

As the 8pm time approached, I saw many people gathering in the kikar (traffic circle) ahead, and others gathering in the circle around the kikar itself, all of us joining one another in this public expression of sadness and heartfelt mourning. I had never seen this gathering at the kikar, and it was very much an expression of all of us together and especially meaningful.

It was what happened next however that made this one of the most moving of Yom HaZikaron evenings. I found myself a moment later, at the One Family Fund building, where a tekes was beginning. One Family Fund is an organization that brings together all the resources of people, services and monies to support families of victims of terror.  It is dedicated to a lifetime of assistance if needed to those who have suffered such a loss, and there are so many, like the soldiers, who have given their lives for this country.

This night, on Yom HaZikaron, when we remember the soldiers, we also remembered another kind of soldier - those who died, not in uniform, but defenders of our Land just the same.  One by one on the screen, names and faces of those so familiar to us brought us close. Soldiers lost in battle and those lost in terror attacks were remembered together. Family members, sons, daughters, brothers or sisters, stood at the microphone and gave moving and uplifting testimony to their loved ones and to their struggles to move ahead and regain their own lives. It was indescribable...heartbreaking and healing at the same time.

The audience was filled with family members, friends, young soldiers, and as we all know, each of us is a friend and has a personal connection to each one who has died. Not just in thought or spirit, but truly, because we are really a family, it IS someone that we know, or the friend of someone we know. There is always a personal connection. No one is untouched, we are part of one another, we are, Am Yisrael, One Family, Mishpacha Echad.

It was then I realized, like I do every year, that we cannot - not only cannot, we don't have the right, to celebrate the happiness of Yom HaAtzmaut, without sharing with one another, the pain of Yom HaZikaron.

Photo from Onefamilytogether.org

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spring...it tries

Spring...it tries to come. 
Flirting carelessly..
...as if it would happen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Our Jerusalem streets abound with artists, musicians, actors - performers of every shape and talent - delighting... or annoying... passersby. Any and every corner can suddenly become a stage, and since Jerusalem is known for it's ..emm, unusual affect on many visitors or even residents, one can expect almost anything. The gig is usually for passersby to throw in coins of appreciation, sometimes to advertise an event..sometimes just for the sheer joy of performing in this supernatural City.

Because there are so many, so often, as a Jerusalemite, one rarely pays much attention, occasionally nodding or noting an appreciation if especially entertaining. Sometimes though, even the most blase among us get caught up in the beat, in the moment, and you might see people breaking into spontaneous dance just walking down the street, should they happen upon someone really good.

Visitors of course are another matter.  Enthralled with anything and everything about this City, they often stand in awe, drawn in, clapping, and of course, snapping picture after picture with their cell phones held high.  As a resident, sometimes it is a little embarrassing...i mean we really are normal, most of us. (I think)

But this fall, I too was fascinated and drawn to two remarkable fiddlers, fiddling, not on the rooftops, but very close, as they stood on a wall near the entrance to the Old City, at the Jaffa Gate. Walking past this spot one or two times a week, as I work in the Old City, I first spotted the dark outline of the fiddlers against the Jerusalem sky, and it was pretty startling. I felt a bit like Tevye, going about my business, and there he was, the familiar tune and the fiddler silhouetted against the sky. I really wished my daughter could have been with me, she would love it !

It was rather remarkable actually.  I mean life is very intense in Israel at all times and while we fake it a lot, there is a shadow of uncertainty hovering over us constantly.  But here was the fiddler, buoying us up, giving us a thumbs up, helping us to get through.  When the fiddler is at the Gates of the Old City, there is a little spring and lightness in my step as I bound up the stairs...in time to his music of course.

The fiddler and his music is a symbol of hope and survival for many Jews...through our history and times of trouble and uncertainty, the fiddler is there. If you remember from the play, as the drama ends and they are all leaving Anatevka, the very last scene is the fiddler, beginning to play, and, at Tevye's beckoning nod, he follows them out of the village. Kol beseder.

In our case, there are actually two fiddlers. Erik Fleshler and Vladimir Bob (Yourochkin) and they go by the musical moniker, Tip Top.Jerusalem. They call themselves The Eccentric Duo, and that they are.

A bit obscure, funky, and funny, Erik and Vladimir Bob are entertainers for free or for hire, here in Jerusalem, in Moscow, or perhaps wherever you need them, if they are available.You can find their page on Facebook, or contact them at TipTopJerusalem@gmail.com.  I think they have other tricks up their sleeve, because they made me a balloon snow bird? while talking with them.  :)

To be honest, I didn't ask a lot about them because I want to keep them in that somewhat esoteric place - Fiddlers on the Roofs of Jerusalem - where the music and the image speak louder than words, where the supernatural and the natural blend as one, and we don't have to ask questions.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Walk in the Neighborhood

Every neighborhood has it's charm and I suppose, it's drawbacks. My current neighborhood in Yerushalayim is no exception, except I can't really think of any drawbacks, to be honest.  Charming, picturesque, and quintessentially a Yerushalayimi kind of place, it is close to, even within walking distance of, most everything I want.  I have to move within a month or so, and my hope and prayer is that I can find another apartment in this same "hood".  

It is known as Katamon, Greek for "below the monastery" - referring to the San Simon Monastery. Katamon at one time was divided into several sub neighborhoods, which still remain.  They are called the Katamonim and the monastery sits in the one called San Simon, adjacent to a huge and lovely public park. 
While I still call it Katamon, as habit and tradition dictates, for many reasons I really prefer the Hebrew Gonen, meaning defended, because that tells the Israeli story

Katamon in general, and San Simon monastery in particular, played important roles in the 1948 War for Independence and was the scene of several strategic battles and events. Additionally a large swath of the Katamonim or Gonenim was the armistice line between Israel and Jordan prior to the Six Day War ... hence this area was called (he who defends or the defenders) - Gonen or Gonenim.

The Greek church sold some of the land surrounding the monastery to wealthy Christian Arabs, thus at the outset of the 1948 War of Independence, San Simon had become both an Arab neighborhood and headquarters and home for many British officials of the Mandate. This change developed in the midst of the surrounding Jewish neighborhoods, and during the 1948 War itself, the monastery became a stronghold for Iraqi volunteer fighters supporting the Jordanians. 
Death Alley

fascinating battle was fought here during the '48 War, when the Palmah captured the monastery, turned it into a hospital for wounded soldiers and at the same time, continued to fight a fierce and victorious battle from within it's walls. It was here Raphael Eitan was shot in the head on "death alley" and yet miraculously picked up a gun and kept fighting from within the building.  

All the streets from Jabotinsky to HaPalmach are rich with history from our Wars for Independence and our Land.

Ah...but I digress a little. The "battle" area has been an intimate part of my life and my neighborhood for many years but lately my walks are to the area and gardens next to Hansens Hospital- the hospital which for many years treated patients with leprosy (Hansen's disease).  

It's a place I love to go to when I am just "walking" and not trying to get somewhere, catch a bus, or run an errand.

There is something memorable and extraordinary about this place, a picture of another era painted against the hillside. It should stay forever. In fact, perhaps it will. 

But for now it is still a poignant remnant of the past and perhaps why I like to walk there. The struggle for survival in this Land is sometimes so intense that maybe I feel a connection with the will of those who were here, simply to survive.  I am sure they felt isolated and rejected, a feeling not so unknown to both Israelis and to Israel herself.   

Maybe it because I had an introduction to her already, in 2001, when I visited the grounds with a friend who wanted to purchase the compound for a healing center. 

When I saw it then, it reminded me - and still does - of the childhood book Secret Garden. I fully expected to see Colin, Mary and Dickon in the corner, watching the robin build his nest, planting and playing, laughing and whispering their secret.  :)  

  ...Or maybe i am simply drawn here because the entire area is stunningly beautiful, untouched by recent time...the landscape left alone and natural, especially - and where I walk the most - in the land surrounding the compound itself.

Last month, on a Shabbat, I snuck onto the grounds of the hospital and wandered quietly in the stillness and through the hushed campus, peering into the hallways and alleyways that wound their way into the building.  I am certain hidden treasures of days of old are there, waiting to be discovered. 

 This charming atmosphere won't last long however, as the good news is that the site was finally recognized by the Jerusalem Municipality as a historical site to be preserved.  As such it is now beginning to undergo major renovation, but hopefully not destruction.  It will be turned into a huge Multimedia Art Center, including exhibitions, labs, theaters, studios for artists, a guest house, cafe and restaurant and will be a center for research and development.

Before all these changes take place, I will try to do a photo shoot inside the grounds, for who knows how much of the original charm of the terraced gardens and the grounds will be retained. 

It is said that all the species of Eretz Yisrael are found here and on the adjacent grounds. Looking, one might think so, but I don't know if it is fact or legend.  I simply walk and think and find peace.

But I do know that it is here that fig and olive, rimon and sabra grow side by side and abundant in the hot Jerusalem sun. Grape vines, still trained on yesterday's trellises produce their fruit, providing visitors with a refreshing treat.  Wild roses, tall Jerusalem pines and date palm trees mingle with crab-apples and bridal-like white flowering bushes. 

Scenes from the gardens adjacent to the Hansens Hospital Grounds (the garden is Bustan Lior - the Orchard of Lior - named for a victim of a terror attack in 2004) and other scenes from the streets, alleyways and ganim (parks) en route to them can be seen as a slide show below.  

Enjoy your walk through this Jerusalem neighborhood !!                                     

Friday, August 2, 2013


Every lifetime has its course defined either by the gods or by us.  We agree or we choose, perhaps a little of each.  Sometimes we may choose in spite of the wisdom of a Council which would advise us differently.

Still .. we come.  Still they allow it.  Maybe our connections are so deep we have no choice even when we think we chose. 

The link between lives is too strong to disregard, at the same time it is often too strong to bear. 


Entering Israel one sees that the sabra are beautiful and almost majestic, a mirror of the Land. It is said the fruit though prickly is sweet.  Perhaps….or perhaps that is a legend perpetuated by those who simply don’t know what lies inside.  If the truth were known, the fruit is sweet but filled with hard stony seeds - too hard to chew, requiring them to be spit out or swallowed and ignored.  The sweetness, elusive.

I wish I could tell you not to touch the sabra but you will, because your heart is pure and you love deeply.  You will, because it is your destiny.  You will, because in spite of the depth of the pain and enormous sadness, your love is unconditional.  I know. 

You will because, like me, you will remember lifetimes when the fruit of the sabra was fully sweet and you were filled with joy and laughter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Even before I made Aliyah I knew about the Moroccan Mimouna celebration that begins as soon as Pesach ends. I always wanted to go... it looked so fun and festive ! (and it IS !!)   Each year I would try to work out an arrangement, and each year, for different reasons, it never happened.  There used to be a huge celebration at a local Jerusalem park (Gan Sacher.) While I had hoped for a more intimate gathering, the one year I attempted to go to the large public happening, no one showed up ! The police and the television were expecting the crowd, as was I, so in the end, with no one there, television Channel One interviewed ME !! haha..I even wrote about it in my blog way back in 2009 (Chasing the Elusive Moufleta).

For some reason, Mimouna itself remained as elusive at the mufleta that i wrote about ! Until THIS year ! 

But first, what exactly IS Mimouna? While I could go into varied and perhaps more esoteric explanations regarding the origins of Mimouna, very simply it is a Moroccan or Jewish tradition of North Africa, a celebration that begins as Pesach ends. The tradition celebrates the freedom we won coming out of Egypt, the heavens are open for our prayers, and blessings for success and prosperity, for courtship and marriages are kept in mind this night.  Every one is dressed in his or her finest, tables are set with fine china and linen, there is a festive spirit, music and laughter. The hosts normally dress in traditional Moroccan clothing and many men wear the Red Fez of Fez, Morocco. 

The culinary star of the evening is the mufleta - a crepe, spread  and dripping deliciously with butter and honey - the first chametz after Pesach. Many other traditional sweets and delicacies, mint tea and fruit fill the table as well.  

This year, ironically, I was going to skip trying to go.  Weary of never finding a celebration to go to, I said, maybe next year !! But the heavens were smiling on me and as I sat at my computer I heard the unmistakable sounds of Mimouna in my neighborhood.  I even wrote about it on Facebook.  Finally I decided to go out and walk down the street, to get a closer look.  I knew that here in Israel, I COULD just go knock on the door and most likely be welcomed .  What I didn't know was that the tradition of Mimouna is to leave your door open and welcome guests without their needing invitations. 

And that's exactly what happened.  As I drew near the house with all the music (just 2 doors down), I was waved into the home with open arms and special hospitality. I felt like I was the honored guest ! (And in fact I was ! ) As is the custom I was led to the table laden with food, a mufleta was prepared for me, and offered with great delight and fanfare. As I ate it, honey and butter dripping down my fingers, many of the guests came up to me to ask after my well being, leading me to the mirpeset where men were singing and chanting tradtional songs, with the music of the oud blending in with their voices.  It was very sweet.   

That's Mimouna... a very sweet tradition, with sweet food and sweet people.  I am so glad I finally had the privilege of joining in, meeting my neighbors in such a special way.  

I share these pictures with the permission of the family, even knowing it was my first attempt at photographing with my cell phone ! ha! They look more like impressionist paintings than photos but I hope you enjoy  them.  I was even given permission to photograph the women patting out and cooking the mufleta crepes in the kitchen.  

It was a chag sameach !!