Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Delicious Kunafa and Rooftop Wanderings: The Final Adventures

Group dinner at Kedma, a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Old City. (One of the ones where we all look semi-decent)

Surprise! Went to visit Galya. We made noodles and pesto (we love noodles), and then afterwards sauteed an entire onion just for fun. Delicious. 

Yes, Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is the second largest central bus station in the world. It's also considered a failure: most of the shops in its seven floors it are empty. What it does have is a synagogue (in fact, these are signs for one on the 3rd floor and one on the 6th. There may be others, too);

This is a bus that was right next to me on my way back from Tel Aviv.  This picture doesn't show the full diversity of people that were on the bus. But every single person was Thai, Filipino, Indian, Sudanese, or Eritrean. There were no "typical" (Jewish/Arab) Israelis. 

I was in Gan Yavne (south) for the weekend, and we drove to Max Brenner, a restaurant that serves (mainly) stuff made out of/with chocolate. On the way there, we passed this mall (?) that had dinosaur replicas outside

At one point when I was with Bar (this is her driving), the car next to us started honking and waving crazily at us. Bar was getting annoyed at the aggressive driver...until we looked and saw that it was her friend Bar (yes, it's a popular name) and her father!

When I got back to Jerusalem on Saturday night, I walked from the Central Bus Station and met Leah by what's normally the shuk. This is how it looks on a Saturday night: kind of eery! 

The night before I left was "tu b'av," meaning the 15th of the month of Av. Apparently, it's the Jewish/Israeli Valentines Day, so all the restaurants were decked out with hearts and red balloons (except for one that had green balloons. That was weird). There was a huge tu b'av concert/show/festival a few blocks from the apartment with big names like Eviatar Banai. But it costed 55NIS, so I just stood outside the gate and listened from there (don't worry, I wasn't the only cheap person doing it!)

Monday morning I was on a mission. After I slept in (!) and finished reorganizing my suitcases so everything fit under the weight limit, I walked to the Old City. There were a few final things I needed to buy that I hadn't. I intended to go to one particular shop near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (I may not be able to pronounce it, but I can spell it!), but terribly and hopelessly lost, and find myself deep in the less-touristy more necessity-shopping sea of the Arab Quarter markets.

I had no idea where I was or how to get out (all the streets look the same, and all the vendors sell the same stuff, and alleys poke in and out from every direction), but then I saw this sign, and knew that I had inadvertently achieved one of my missions for the summer. My Aunt Emily had told me that "One of the vendors by the Damascus Gate sells the best kunafa in the world." If I'd gone looking for the Damascus Gate (like the Church), I never would have found it. Good thing I'm good at getting lost! It was actually only the second time I'd ever had kunafa (and it was milk, not cheese, the kid selling it said), but it was soooo good.
Interesting note: It's Ramadan, yet all the vendors selling food were still selling food. And not just to tourists (in fact, tourists don't really get to that part of the shuk, It's not kitschy and touristy. It's clothes and produce and vegetables, etc.)--but to people who were probably preparing for the iftar break-fast meal at the end of the day. But in any case, it's not comfortable to eat while walking amongst so many people who can't eat, so I walked around carrying my kunafa. I walked into a shop with Jerusalem tiles and chatted with the guy in Arabic (he was very impressed), and then he said: "You eat that here. Take a spoon, and a napkin. Don't eat out there. Eat it here." So I did.

Remember how I couldn't find the Church? Good thing I made another wrong turn! Because I (literally) stumbled into the courtyard, just in time for some ritual with incense that I'm sure has a name, but I don't know it. As soon as I got there, the organ started playing, and all the priests (monks?) started walking around swinging incense on chains and doing that at all the altars in the church. It was super cool.

Also, when I went to the Church with the Mechina, it was under construction, and a lot of it was closed off. It was really cool to get to explore all the alcoves and chapels and altars--and even the basement and second story!

And another wrong turn leads me to... the rooftops of houses in the Jewish Quarter? What?

That boy was so cute. These people live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and get to there house (somehow) by walking over the rooftops.

Oh, right. The rooftops also have grates in them. If you look down, you see that you're actually standing right over the shuk!

So Israeli.

My feet at the end of the day. Crazy tan on top, gross-dirty on the bottom. 
My plane from Israel was delayed two hours... because something was wrong with the engine. We left at the last possibly time before the Ben Gurion Airport curfew kicked in (flights can't leave after 2am, which means they must be taxi-ing by 1:45am). I have never been more scared to fly ("There's something wrong with the right-side engine. We're going to reboot the entire plane, which means it will be dark except emergency lights for the next five minutes" Cue: every baby on the plane starts crying.) Luckily, I was sitting next to a sweet couple, who gave me one of their giant white-chocolate kit-kat bars. I got onto my connecting flight to Chicago 10 minutes before it was supposed to take off. Then I renewed my driving permit (!), and drove home, where I'm sitting right now.

Israel Summer 2011: finished.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Well, Ben Gurion Airport has Free WiFi, but it's Not That Fast

(So the big "cool things I've done in the past 5 days" post--which includes wandering on rooftops, seeing priest/monk/something rituals, making pasta, eating at a chocolate-only restaurant...and many more--will have to wait till I'm home and have a better connection). 

This picture was taken by the friendly lady named Yael who sat next to me in the Sheirut (taxi for multiple people) to the airport. She's going to Georgia (the country!) for two weeks with her friend. Why Georgia? "It's cheap, and has really good hikes." She was super friendly. And then I remembered I had taken the obligatory "picture with all my stuff" so when we got out I asked her to do it for me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A bit of Nachlaot, joining the protest, and some Tisha B'av

Last Thursday I met up with Galya for lunch at the shuk. Even though I'd shared a pasta dish with Leah the night before at the restaurant with Sam's dad, of course Galya and I got pasta (that's all we ate in Italy!). And even though Galya had just been on a tour of the Nachlaot neighborhood--bordering the Machane Yehuda neighborhood, which the shuk is part of--with the army, I made her take me through it. It some combination of tenement-style one-on-top-of-the-other apartments, religious and non-religious neighborhoods, and funky artsy galleries, including one of the only thrift stores I've found in Jerusalem. (The other thrift store had this doll, which was gone the next day when I went back. Who would buy it!?)
This is the door to a synagogue in Nachlaot

Just a pretty rusted-red door in Nachlaot, with some fuchsia flowers growing in front 

If the news of the mass-protests on the streets of Israel has reached the buses in Shanghai, as Naomi has informed me that it has, then I'm sure it's been reported in the States. Earlier this summer there was a boycott of cottage cheese (which might not seem like a big deal, but here it's a staple food), because the price has gone up dramatically in the past few years. Although I'm not sure how related the "rent is too damn high" protests are to the cottage cheese, Israel is certainly in the mood to protest [in addition to the students/everyone protesting high rent prices, parents protesting the increasing costs of public education were on the streets, as well as groups protesting various other policies. The protesters are specifically non-partisan, but are calling for a more socialist approach to government]. Saturday night the estimates put the number of protesters out in the streets of Jerusalem at about 30,000, with 200,000 in Tel Aviv and another 70,000 or so throughout the rest of Israel.
I went partly to see the showing, and partly because it's a pity to be in a country when such a big act of civil society is taking a place and to not at least see it.

I went with Sam [yet another Sam from Yale who's in Israel for the summer. I had Shabbat lunch with him and his grandfather] and his grandfather to the protest. The path went from the center of town down Ben Yehuda Street, by Gan Ha'atzmaut, up to Keren HaYesod, and ended a few hundred meters from the Prime Minister's Compound.
Among the slogans: "Gilad also deserves a house." Gilad, of course, is the Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas immediately before the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, and who is still in captivity.

The crowd. Many of the slogans were parodies of popular songs and phrases.

Israel's only hipster? I liked this guy. The sign says, "WE ARE THE ALL SINGING ALL DANCING CRAP OF THE WORLD." I'm not sure what that means, but they were having a ball.

People of all backgrounds were there: black and white, Sephardi and Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, men and women, single and married, religious and secular, students and adults, children and grandparents

The sign says "The nation demands social justice". It's one of the slogans of the movement. As you can see from this picture, there really were 30,000 people out on the streets in Jerusalem. The little boy on his father's shoulders next to the banner, and a religious man sitting on the traffic light to get a better view.

A family affair

Daniel Gastfriend comes to visit! And of course, when Daniel comes to visit, we go out for ice cream :) The friend from his year at the Mechina that he'd been staying with is the cousin of my friend Ariel from the Mechina. Also, a word of advice: never order ice cream before Daniel. You will be done with your two scoops before he's done taste-testing every flavor in order to decide what to get (this is the same at dining halls at school. Consider yourselves warned). Chen came down to Jerusalem to visit, as well!

There are still some crazies in Jerusalem. This is a poster inviting people to read Lamentations on the Temple Mount on Tisha B'av (the 9th day of the month of Av), a day of commemoration and mourning in the Jewish calendar. At any time of the year, it is forbidden to pray/read scripture that is not Muslim on the Temple Mount--I'm sure that during Ramaddan, these restrictions are taken even more seriously.
Tisha B'av mourns the destruction of both the first and the second Temples in Jerusalem, which tradition tells us were destroyed on the same date. Among the other tragedies in Jewish history that also occurred on this date are the declaration of the First Crusade in 1095, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Traditionally, Jews fast on Tisha B'av. Similar to Yom Kippur, the fast goes from sundown to sundown, and other things like washing oneself and wearing leather shoes are also prohibited. Unlike Yom Kippur, however, one is allowed to use electronics, etc. on Tisha B'av. It is also customary to read the Megilla of Eicha (Lamentations) while sitting on the floor.

This is me NOT on the Temple Mount. Adj's friend was in town--and she with a friend of hers from Paris--and wanted to go to the Kotel (Western Wall). I walked with them there, and unfortunately the authorities were extremely meticulous about boundaries between the men's area and the women's, including in the courtyard, which is not usually separated. However, we found a group of three women reading Eicha, and when thy were finished they lent us their book so we could read it, which I did, aloud. Afterwards we wandered towards the mechitza (divider between men and women), and found a man sitting next to his wife, reading Eicha with the tune, so we sat quietly behind them and listened.
And now I've begun packing. I'm not sure how everything's going to fit, since I'm going home with about twice as many books as I came with, and not really getting rid of much. Good thing I brought an extra gym bag, to take full-advantage of my two-pieces-of-checked-baggage allowance!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

blog WHERE ART THOU with mine

I was asked to guest-blog here, and let me just say that I'm flattered! As I understand, Abby has readers across the world--from Tunisia to Russia to Germany to, well, sketchy Hyde Park, so it's an honor to be addressing you, her readers.

Although Abby did write a post acknowledging my existence, she failed to mention what I'm doing here. What am I doing here? Well, thanks for asking! My one-week stay in Israel came at the end of a 6-week trip throughout Europe on what some would call a "roots trip." My grandparents were all Holocaust survivors from Poland, and I spent my time first visiting their hometowns, then researching their families in various archives in Warsaw, then exploring their post-war choices and lives. The trip took me through Ukraine, Poland, Austria, and the Czech Republic, and along the way I got to see my grandparents' houses, met people who knew them before the war, and in Israel, met lost cousins of my grandfather who knew more about him than I did. It's been a whirlwind trip, and I can go on and on about it...oh wait...I did! You can visit my blog (with a guest post from Abby tonight) at esilberman.blogspot.com

Anyway, since I've been in Israel, when I wasn't meeting long lost cousins I've been relaxing--something I didn't have much time for in Europe! For those of you who don't know, Abby and I have known each other since high school--even though we attended different schools, we had a lot of mutual friends, and both were participants in the Write On For Israel program. Now we both go to Princeton! But you probably knew that part. Hanging out with Abby in Israel has been fun, especially after a trip where the average age of people with whom I talked was probably 60. Here are some highlights: 

-I call Abby the other night, but instead of using my cell-phone (which has a British number), I use the phone from the apartment where I'm staying. Typical Abby is to see an Israeli number calling her and answer (in a deep, Israeli-accented voice), "Alo?"
-Abby takes pictures. Of everything. We hung out this past Saturday, and after Shabbat was over, I played piano in her apartment. For one of the many creepy pictures she took then, see her most recent blog post. 
-Abby and her roommate, Leah, made cookies one night. When I visited, Abby offered me these cookies out of a metal tin, and after I ate one, asked me where I thought she found the tin. A thrift store was the first thing that came to mind. "No, it was on top of somebody's recycling." Typical...

Okay, that's enough from me. I would write more but I'll refrain. Just ask Abby about her naked dinner at the "blind" restaurant. I don't think she mentioned that part of it in her post...

***ABBY'S NOTE: Ricky, that last line is NOT appropriate!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Day Before Ramadan We Go to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock/Haram alSharif (and some other things)

[Shabbat was quite a funny reunion: I was supposed to have dinner with Sarah Kreimer, my dad's friend from grade school/high school in Pittsburgh, and her two sons. A few days before, I got an email telling me that there had been a change of plans, and that instead we would all be going to their family friends... the Klein-Katzes, who I know from camp. Their son, Matan, was my first "Shabbat Walk" ever, in Bonim 2004. I got there, and Aaron and Noah Weinberg were there. Also, turns out that Sarah's older son knows a friend of mine who went to his Mechina, and her younger son went to high school with my friend Amir's younger brother, where I had lunch the next day. This is the first week I made Torah reading on time, and it's a good thing, too, since there was an engagement party and singing and dancing!]

I mentioned to Sarah that I wanted to go to the Temple Mount, and she told me that Ramadan was starting today, so I needed to go Sunday or I wouldn't be able to go. So I went with an (unnamed) intern right when it opened. They didn't ask for my passport--or any ID at all, for that matter! The only annoying thing was this guy wearing a kippah who was in front of me in line who said, "Are you going in as a tourist or as a Jew?" I said "tourist" and he said, "Oh, I'm going according to halacha [Jewish law] you can go in front." I should have said, "I'm going as a Jewish tourist."
I got up very early in order to get there when it opened. I went with the Mechina a year and a half ago, and was wearing skinny jeans--yet for some reason my knee-length, not form-fitting skirt was not long enough this time, so I was forced to buy a twenty-shekel scarf to wrap around my legs. Which is what you see here.

The mosque is absolutely beautiful. Apparently, the gold for the dome was donated by Osama bin Laden's father. Who knew? And yes, even the Dome of the Rock gets renovations... This is closer than I was when I went with the Mechina. Then, I didn't go up the stairs to the platform of the mosque, although some people did. Although I wasn't allowed to go into the mosque, there was one window with a tear in the screen, so I could see inside.

I'm not sure what the "baby mosque" in front is here. But the shadows in front are the shadows of the ancient arches behind me.

All around the courtyard were groups of 5-15 men studying the Koran. It was very cool.

Immediately outside the exit of the Dome of the Rock... lots of graffiti.

This is actually on Friday. Some of you may have heard about all the protests going on in Israel right now. These are members of the student housing protest, they are speaking out against the high prices of rent in cities, and that they are being pushed out by people who, for example, buy an apartment in Israel but only spend two weeks here throughout the year. They have set up tent-cities around the country (and here you see a guy who's built a tent-like structure on his bike). Sunday night in Jerusalem was a huge protest--a combination of those protesting rent prices, parents protesting the increasing costs of pre-school, and many others (at the beginning of the summer there was a protest against a monopoly on cottage cheese).

Doesn't it just make you smile?

Gandhi! This is my favorite graffiti, and I pass it nearly every day. Israel loves stencil graffiti.

In the German Colony, where I live, and Baka (the neighborhood next door) there are all these buildings with cool geometric-design tiles on the floor. Friday, on my way back from walking Gabe to the bus, I popped my head into a few of these buildings to take pictures of the floors and the light patterns. 

Another stencil graffiti. It says "LOVE." It's actually a parody on the painted-on-walls signs that point out the nearest bomb shelters.

On a gate near our apartment. Israel has the prettiest gates and the doors with the prettiest colors.

Ricky came over on Saturday and played piano. I almost fell asleep.