Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broadcasting Live from Rome, this is Abby, Rachel, and Galya!

Right-o, so I came back from Rome a week ago.

I was in Italy for a week with Galya and Rachel (Galya's friend from home, and at the other location of our Mechina), which is something we'd talking about nearly since the beginning of the year. We bought our tickets the day before going to Gadna (at 2:15am, when we didn't even have official permission to go), because we weren't going to have time afterwards to by them. Luckily, Dan/Orly (from the Israel Experience organization) gave us permission to go.

Anyway, because of the a) lack of computers for the entire week of Gadna, b) Chulyat Kvutza's week (my Chulya) the week after Gadna--at the end of which we flew to Italy and c) the abundance of Art Week (next week) meetings during all of Kvutza's week, it was nearly impossible to plan an actual itinerary for what we were doing in Rome.

In fact, we only decided to go to Florence at 1am last Friday morning, an hour and a half before the taxi came to take us to the airport. We were booking our hostels (like I said, we really did not plan our itinerary in advance. It kind of made me nervous. We were also sort of under the impression that we'd just be able to show up at a hostel and stay there. Luckily, we booked.) and decided it would be nice to take a train to Florence for two days in the middle. So we booked a hostel there too.

We were completely pooped by the time we got to the airport, because none of us had slept more than about 3 hours in the preceding two days... lo nora.


We had no trouble getting to Rome, except when I chekced the weather the forecast was predicted to be mid-50s all week... and when we landed the pilot said "Welcome to Rome. The temperature is currently 0 degrees Celsius." (Galya punched me. She's from LA and doesn't know what cold is.) Although there was a bit of confusion when we were trying to meet up with Rachel's friend Matt (who is studying in Rome for the quarter and who were stayed with for the first two nights), we found our way tiredly but happily. Matt took us on a nice walk around the area (he lives right by Campo di Fiori, which is home to one of the most famous open-air markets in Rome, and is right next to where Julius Caeaser was killed) and also through the Jewish Ghetto (it used to be a ghetto--for 300 years--but the name just stuck) where we got some kosher deli sandwiches, some challah, and some Bartenura wine for Shabbat. We went to Kabbalat Shabbat at the Great Synagogue--where we were only let in by security after having our passports and IDs checked (there was a terrorist attack there in the '80s, I believe). The shul was packed (we were not in the main chapel) which was nice to see, because it means the Jewish community is alive and well. We only found out afterwards that we were at the Sephardi service not the Italian one, so that was kind of a bummer. (Italian Judaism is not considered Ashkenazi or Sephardi, because the Italian Jews came to Rome before the distruction of the Temple and subsequent dispersion of the Jews around the world.) When we got back to Matt's we crashed until he got home--and made us a delicious dinner of pasta with cooked spinach/broccoli and cheese. It was one of the best Shabbat dinners I've ever had, actually.


We didn't wake up in time to go to shul on Saturday, and instead spent the day wandering around the city. We went to Castel de Sant'angelo, which used to be a mausoleum before it was turned into residences (and now it's a museum, like most other things in Rome...) It looks like a giant ship. The sidewalk in front was covered with all sorts of tourist-shop/booths with things like calendars and tchotchkes and really beautiful opera masks that we played with until the merchant said we had to buy or skidaddle.

We skidaddled. We found ourselves at a flea market and got very excited and planned to go back when we could buy stuff (ie: not on Shabbat) but know that it would happen. We also wandered into probably 15 different churches; they literally litter the streets of Rome, popping up between every unsuspecting two buildings filled with beautiful art and mosaics, and tourists. The irony was that we went to lots of churches on Shabbat, and no synagogue. When in Rome do as the Romans, I suppose. At a Jesuit church that we found ourselves in there was a beautiful diorama/replication of Jesuit churches in a number of different countries. The models were all made of wood, and very intricately built.

Somehow in our meandering, we ended up in a museum כלשהו that had an exhibit called Australia Today--aborigine paintings and sculptures. With the map that we bought in Israel (that listed "gay" as a type of food, along with "Jewish" and "Chinese" and "Italian") we navigated to Piazza Navona, famous for the best gelato in Rome. We saw there the fountain of the four rivers (designed by Bernini), which was right next to a church designed by his student, Boromini. From there, we went to the Pantheon which basically is a huge echo chamber, although you're not allowed to yell there. It's as wide as it is tall, and its dome is essentially the inspiration for all domed buildings. The pantheon is larger than ginormous (which is actually a word), and very well-designed (the floor is sloped with holes in the center for water drainage).

The Trevi Fountain (water for the Trevi Fountain gets recycled via aqueduct to the Fountain of the Four Rivers) is possibly the most packed tourist-attraction that we saw. We were asked by countless men with polaroid cameras if we wanted to pay for a picture, and also tried to convince one man that we didn't know English so he'd stop bothering us; we failed when he saw that the tour book we were looking at was in English. Oh well. We walked to the Spanish Steps, because we'd read that there were free tours at 5:30--we found the tour... and were more than a little surprised when the tour wasn't actually of the Spanish Steps, rather of all the sights we'd seen that day (seriously: Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, etc.) It was actually really nice to have been able to wonder and discover by ourselves, and then to get a briefing (not the right word. for Hebrew speakers, think תידרוך) of the history and importance of everything. For dinner we crossed the river, to the less touristy side of Rome, and found a nice Indian place to eat; we decided it might be funny to eat a different cuisine each day we were in Rome.


We had planned to sleep in a bit and then to head out for the farmers' market in Campo di Fiori to get some fresh vegetables and bread for breakfast. When we walked outside and saw that there were no shops there, we realized that we were in Rome, and Sunday is their Sabbath. Oops! We tried to find something to eat, but everything was closed, not just in the market. "The Jewish Ghetto probably has something" we decided, but got lost on the way there and ended up finding a corner-store type place to grab a pizza and some pastries. The store happened to be right across the street from the Vittorio Emanuel monument and a tribute/statue "for the unknown soldier" (it's a rather large statue for someone who they don't even know who he is).

With our map in hand, we headed back to Matt's, packed up, left a note, and booked.

To get to our hostel we walked--backpacks, suitcases, and all--through the more downtown-y, less tourist-y part of Rome, which was really great to see. By that time, stores and shops had opened, so we stopped at a grocery store and bought ourselves some good, American PB&J materials. When we got to the the Chianti Hostel the Romanian girl who works there asked for our name. We said "Rachel Wolf." She said, Äll of you? Here I have Rachel Wolf as one person, three nights. But you are three people." Luckily, everything worked out and there was enough for three people, one night.

We didn't have a knife with us to spread the PB&J... so I found a pencil in the bottom of my backpack and we used that. Afterwards, we headed over to the Colosseum. You know, that big famous building? We read about it in the guide book we borrowed from Matt, and then got in line (actually, there was no line. That's the great thing about going in the winter, during a time that's not high tourist-season!). We saw that going with a guide was somehow 50 euro cents cheaper than just an entrance ticket... so why not? We went with a guide. The tour was a lot shorter than we expected it to be, but I actually did learn a lot (there's a maze of paths under the Colosseum which is where they kept the animals before releasing them. The boards/sand with which the paths were covered was called arena, which is where we get the word. Also, we read something that said that Jewish slaves were among the slaves who built the Colosseum). Our tour guide had very bizarre speaking mannerisms, but we enjoyed it a lot. We also ran into a woman who had been on our free tour on Saturday.

We attempted to find the entrance to the Roman Forum, and instead found ourselves on a dead-end path that led us straight to SURPRISE an abandoned church. When we got to the entrance to the Roman Forum, it had closed 15 minutes prior. What a bummer, because our Colosseum ticket would have gotten us in to there, as well! No need for regrets, but it is frustrating to know that if our planning had been a bit more organized ahead of time we would have been fine. I started to get a little nervous that we were going to get to see everything we wanted to see, because I'm not used to doing trips without planning ahead of time--but I think it was good for me to be with Rachel and Galya who weren't into a strict-schedule type thing.

On our way to Capitol Hill we got sidetracked when Galya saw a sign for a surrealism exhibit (she's a bit of a surrealism freak). We went in, and ended up spending about 2 hours at the exhibit there. I really enjoyed it, and saw a lot of artists that I'd never heard of that had really interesting work! (I kept a list). One of my favorites was a painting of a woman's back, onto which the artist had painted the openings that are on a violin--I don't know how you call them. Basically a violin-back. My other favorite was an empty page of sheet-music (ie: a page of music staff) where the artist had started drawing notes, but by the end it had turned into scrawled words.

On our way back to the hostel we saw some anti-Israel graffiti, which was more shocking than disappointing, I think. We just weren't expecting it at all; it was clearly by the same person. We passed a sign for an exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci, but it had just closed. We took a flier and wanted to go back sometime (but never found the time). True to our thought about a different cuisine every night, we found ourselves at an Irish pub for dinner, where we had an excellent hour-and-a-half of people watching: an Asian man with dreads, a woman with too many piercings, an elderly man who read the menu with a large magnifying glass, a couple that we weren't sure if they were a lesbian couple or a heterosexual couple, and a group of four middle-aged women friends, one of whom we decided was "Abby Senior." At one point during the meal, a man walked into the restaurant trying to sell roses to the patrons. We ordered one glass of italian beer, which was a lot better than any of the beer any of us have had in Israel.

Back at our hostel, we were glad to find that the two Brazilians we were sharing our room with had computers. One, Daniel, selflessly helped us plan our trip to Florence for the next day. He looked up train times and alternatives and prices and everything for about an hour, and even came to the rescue when Galya's ring fell down the drain.

I'll continue writing about the rest of the trip later, but I figure it's better to get at least something on the web.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I'm going to be in Rome from January 22-January 29... no internet until after.
Expect a good post then

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Much Delayed Post About My Week in the West Bank

Let me first begin with a short introduction (self-reference). Shavuat Yehuda v'Shomron (Shavuat Yosh) was planned by Chuliat Yosh ("Yosh"=Judah and Samaria), an independent Chulia that arose for the purpose of planning the week. Somehow, Yosh managed to function as a dictator, and "stole" days from the week before it. While most weeks start on Sunday, Yosh hijacked Thursday, Friday, and Shabbat (it wasn't supposed to be a Shabbat that the Mechina spent together).

Thursday we were at the Mechina, and had three lecturers, and on Friday we already set out on the way to Kdumim, our first stop. Kdumim is a yishuv in Shomron, the northern "bubble" of the West Bank. It was there that we stayed for Shabbat, sent off in pairs or groups of three or four to differet families. Before the splitting, however, Daniella Weiss, ifluetial in the fouding of the yishuv, showed us around the area. To get to a nice lookout of Kdumim and Shchem, among other nearby cities, we climbed up a hill. It was a hike--a small one--but the climb up a mountain over rocky and winding paths is these people's back-yard! The most incredible thing was not the information she shared with us, but that she knew it all. He knows every single house on every single ridge on every single mountain that you can see from Givat Rashi.

After that, we split off into our Shabbat groups. Noa and I were at the Paz family--a family with 7 kids, although only 4 of them were home. In terms of religiosity, the Shabbat wasn't differet from anything I'm used to, although for Noa it was. Being part of her first observant Shabbat was actually really exciting; exciting to show her the page numbers in the siddur at shul for Kabbalat Shabbat and to explain some things that the family did... In the morning we got to shul in time for Kaddish at the end of shacharit, oh well. In terms of ideology, the Shabbat was different from almost everything I'm used to. They did't try to force their ideology on us, not at all, and they didn't initiate political conversations. In fact, they were very open to the fact that we would probably be coming from a very differet perspective than them, and welcomed our questions and tried to answer to the best of their ability. The mother, Lavia, was born in Ramat Gan, which I think actually makes her story more interesting; she chose to move to the West Bank. From that, and the way her girls were able to take us out back and point out every hill, explain what's going on in the lives of the people who used to live where the goverment has now frozen settlements, their connection to the land is very clear. The connection to the land itself, something that I know is a key tenet of the Druze, is somethign that I've had a very hard time uderstading, so listening to them show (show, not tell) the importace was especially interesting.

On Friday evening we had a shiur with Daniella again, although I can't remember all of it because I didn't write because it was Shabbat. An interesting point that I do remember, though, is that Kdumim is not surrounded by a fence (it is surrounded by Arab villages). The choice, made by Daniella and the community council, was a purposeful one. Their theory was that fence=fear=vulnerability, and by showing that they're not scared of the surrounding Arabs, the Arabs won't attack.

On Saturday night we met again with Daniella, and spoke with Shlomi Chazoni (uncle of a girl I'm going to be going to school with next year) and Rabbi Natan Cohen, who spoke about Breslever Chassidism and the origins of the who Rabbi Nachman movement. A question I still haven't been able to answer, though, is that the whole idea of Breslever Chassidim is a person's personal connection, individual conversation with God. But then why do they follow so strictly the halacha about the specific ways in which and times when you're supposed to pray? Especially when one of their biggest things is "pray for everything, even the smallest thing"--isn't that sort of devaluing the meaning of prayer?

Moshe Zar is very very very right wing. When you walk into his house, the first thing you see are books--every wall has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books and books on top of those. There's an ancient chandelier that's probably covered with spider webs ad ablack wood cabinet with two lions of Judah o it. We sat on a red Persian-style carpet that I'm sure would have looked a lot differet if we were to have taken it outside and beaten the dust out. The chairs that we pushed to the sides of the room in order to sit o the floor are like thrones; deep, rich-colored wooden backs and arm rests with seats upholstered in crimson velvet. Behid me were four tarnished, yet embellished covers for daggers. Aboe them was a giat Chinese-style chandelier/lantern with two red cloth balloo holders for the lightbulbs. "This is a beautiful house," I said to Uri. He replied, "Yeah, too bad it's stolen." I think that's a good mood setter for what Moshe Zar told us. Summed up in one (translated) quote, it was basically, "I'm not against Arabs. I'm for Jews." But those don't have to be mutually exclusive! And why should he care if the Arabs in Natzeret Elit tear down their houses ad rebuild them "from edge to edge". So they don't wat a yard, why does that matter? It's not good or bad to not have a yard... it certainly doesn't make them bad people. Listening to Moshe Zar was very hard, and Galya and I kept sharing glances. What was interesting, though, was the feedback from Mechinistim afterwards; some found listening to him just as hard as I did, and others had fallen in love with him.

"I think this is the most beautiful place I've ever bee. I've ever said this word before, but this view is breathaking," said Tal of the view from Har Kabir, the moutain about Eilon Moreh (north of Shchem). It's a place that's described it he Bible, a place where they built an exact replica of the Temple, and among the first places settled in the Shomron. If it was a clear day, we'd have been able to see the Medditeranean Sea, the Jordan River, and Mt. Hermonn (three borders of Israel). "This tiny place is what the whole world is fighting about!?" said Benny Katzover, who showed us aroudn the mountain. We couldn't see any of those things, because a cloud of fog had settled getly over our 800m high moutain. Down to the bottom of this moutain, everythig was clear--just grass and big stoens. But right at the critical poit (ie: the middle of the valley) the view looks like the Claritin Commercial before the hand peels off the foggy layer. As the distance increases the view was more ad more smudged, like an oil-pasted drawing that the artist has purposely smudged to erase sharp lies; everything blends smoothly together. At the horizon there was a thicky gray cloud that lowered itself over the land for as many degrees as I ca see (with an occasional moutain-side poking through) which makes the ground appear as though it's o a patfrom because the sky above is blue blue with only an occasional cloud. Althgouh the phrase seems oxymoronic, I can best describe the visibility as a clear fog. It's very light--words like majestic come to mind. Somebody said the Garden of Eden. What Benny Katzover told us is that the archaeologist Adam Rosenthal did a dig there and found bones; lots and lots of animal bones. All the bones were from Kosher animals, ad 95% were from animals less than one year... descriptions of the sacrifices made during the time of the Temple.

That evening we drove to Kiryat Arba, where we slept at a school. Elyakim Ha'etzi (grandfather of someone from the Mechina) spoke with us. Some things I was thinking: What percetage of the non-settler Israeli Jewish population identifies as right/thinks that the West Bank should by settled by/under Israeli control. What percentage of the non-religious non-settler population?... Terminology makes such a differece--Elyakim did't hide his bias at all. The nuances are decisive if people don't kow the story, because they're hearing it from only one biased point of view, instead of multiple biases. His solution to the problem is to give the Arab population "autonomy"; basically, the name but none of the rights. Israel would have control of the water and skyways, and that the autonomous Palestinia state wouldn't have any rights to build a military or to have weapons, or to make international agreements. So what would would they be able to do? And would they every agree to those conditions? My asnwers are "nothing" and "no", respectively. Another thing he said "God forbid you think I have any sort of hate for the Arabs. But we're not talking about one person, we're talking about them in general." But that's the problem--you can't make generalizations like that. That's like saying, "I hate Jews but you... well, you're different. You're an okay Jew."

The next day we went to Hebron, to Ma'arat HaMachpelah (the cave that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried in.) There was so much security there--lots of soldiers ad two sets of metal detectors. We could see the Muslim section through barred windows from one of the Jewish areas, but we couldn't go in. The Muslim section, what I could see of it, was beautiful--colors and calligraphy. Listening to Noam's talk about the capture of Hebron in '67 and etc. we ca hear me singing "Shabchi Yerushalayim" from the room enxt door. They're siging with such intensity, such emotion. Listening to them actually brought tears to my eyes, although I know that if I was in the same room as them I wouldn't have had the same feeling because it would have bee the same old "watchig me pray" deal. But hearing them sing--snig as one voice, the tones rising and falling in unision, illustrates how song alone can be spiritual. The nusachim after they finish Shabchi Yerushalayim are mostly familiar, but eve the ones I don't know have similar structures to the oes I do. It's a comforting sound, too. Light and in the background, but back and pervasive, as all. There's also a over-voice, it sounds like a muted echoing hum. You can hear their belief.

Sitting in the yard outside of Maarat Hamachpela, I looked aroudn at the buildings. Across the street is an apartment made of thick, yellow, Jerusalem stone. On the roof is a Arab woman wearign a long, Cubby-blue dress, and a scarf tied on her head. She's strung two clothes lines ad is clipping wet laudry up to dry. It's a hot day, shouldn't take long. I'm certainly more used to the sight of hanging laundry now than when I first got here; but I still get excited every time. We walked through the ghost-like streets of Hebron, and I had trouble keeping up with the group because my eyes were stuck on the painted-over signs and the abandoned stores, the vacuum of citizens replaced with Israeli soldiers and their M-16s every meter or so. I had a hard time focusing on what our tour guide was telling us about what we were seeing, instead paying attention to visual clues. And small, trivial details: the repair man working on one of the synagogues was wearign construction-tzit tzit (made of denim)! Also, everything in Hebron is in memory of somethig--every buildig, every house. I lost track of the umber of houses I saw with doors painted in bright colors with "in memory of our son, who was killed...". Some other thoughts that I'd like to share as well, but there's simply too much more to write, and not much more time, and the blog is already so long.

A break from the political side of things, we also looked at some ancient sites in the West Bank; among them were Sussya and Herodion. I don't feel like writing about Sussya or Herodion really, for that matter. Except to say that the remains are incredible. Especially at Sussya, you can tell what a sophisticated society it was and what sophisticated engineering they had, even in the 4th century. Herodion (Herod's palace) is also incredible--they basically built the city and then covered it in a man-made mountain.

The final thing we did in the West Bank was go to the Sdeh Bar Farm. Basically an alternative home for kids who would otherwise have ended up in juvie. A really great idea, very impressive the way they've built the farm ad the community there, with having the kids join families as opposed to having "staff." It's in the West Bank not for ideological reasons; simply beacuse of the belief that in order to solve a problem you have to remove the person from the problem environment--and finding a lot of open land is Israel is really hard to do. We played with newborn goats and had fresh dolce con leche!

Because of the difficulty of preseting more left-leaning positions in the West Bank, we waited to hear those until returning to the Mechina. One of the most interesting lectures we heard back at the Mechina was "three states for two nations"(Eitan Keter Yaakov). He did a simulation with the tallit. He had Jews, Palestinias, the right, the left, the Americans, the whoever... each hold on. Everyone wants a part of it. But if we keep going, we're goinng to rip Israel apart. It's like King Solomon and the baby...maybe. His solution is somewhat complicated; if you really want to know I can explain it later. Don spoke about the religious left, which was iteresting, and about the connection to the land itself... the way the Arabs are connected to the land. Anyway, I really can't sum up everything all the speakers said, but if someone is interested I can write more later.

On Thursday we had a tour of the separation barrier/wall/fence in Jerusalem with an orgaization called Rabbis for Human writes, which is an apolitical organization. I'll just say two things: we went to Kever Rachel (where Rachel is bured)--I've see the burials of all the ancestors now. Also, there we saw hundreds of cookie-cutter boys: little Chassidic boys wearig sweaters and velvet kippot and payot. The other thing is that we went to Silwan, and Arab village where two Arab me spoke to us. At the end, one of them pulled out the key to the house his family left in 1948. The key is big--a skeleton key--strug on a thick white string. I thought that was just in the books, I didn't know people actually carried the key around with them.

I APOLOGIZE FOR SPELLING MISTAKES.... the n is elusive on this keyboard.