Last week

It’s my last week in Israel. I’ll be returning home on Friday. Today I took the Hebrew level exam. This is a fancy way of saying I took my Hebrew final exam. If I pass it, which I’m fairly positive I did, I would be eligible to take the next higher level of Hebrew classes if I was staying here for another ulpan. This exam began at 8:30am..and yes it is Sunday..but Sunday here is like Monday to all you people in the States. The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. I also finished my Kabbalah paper today! I wrote on the sefirot of studying abroad which was actually kind of a fun paper to write. I even wrote three and a half pages past the minimum of 10 pages. So now I’m done with half of my classes. And it’s weird. I’m actually going to miss Hebrew, mostly because of my beyond amazing teacher. I’ve had very few teachers that are comparable to her. 

So here’s my Hebrew class. It’s been real guys.

Also, because I have this knack for quoting songs/books/movies that are not exactly relevant to the topics I’m writing papers about.. I just did that in my Kabbalah paper. I put a quote in from Eat Pray Love. (Which is a superb movie/less superb book, if you’re interested.) 

In the end I’ve come to believe in something that I call “The Physics of the Quest”. A force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of quest physics goes something like this: if you’re brace enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting-which can be anything, from your house to bitter old resentments-and set out on a truth seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself then the truth will not be withheld from you. I can’t help but believe it, given my experience. 

If I don’t blog again from Israel, I’ll blog from home. It’s been everything I ever wanted and even things I didn’t know I wanted. For now, I have two more exams to take care of, two suitcases to pack, two planes to take, and two very important people to return to (looking at you, mom and dad!). (There are more than two people I want to return home but that would have ruined my flow.)

 

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Armageddon is before us

Last last Friday I went with two friends to Megiddo, overlooking the valley of Armageddon. We took a bus at 7am (that was rough) and alighted on the side of the highway less than two hours later. After walking abut 30 more minutes down the highway (did a lot of highway walking on the Jesus Trail) we arrived at the Tel-the plateau thing that is Megiddo. The city had been conquered and resettled, destroyed and rebuilt, 25 times over its history. The Valley of Armageddon, which stretches before Megiddo was endless and gorgeous. This valley has seen more battles over the course of history than it should have, and it is at this very location that Christians say the final, and most important battle will take place. This is the Battle of Armageddon, the battle between good and evil, as foretold in the Book of Revelation. According to John on Patmos, the attributed author of this book, Satan will gather the armies of the world to fight against the return of Christ at the end of the tribulation period. Christ will return here as king, backed up by the armies of heaven. If you believe that, cool. If you don’t, it’s still a beautiful (and quiet) area. Luckily since we had arrived so early we made it out as many of the tour groups were just arriving. 

So here’s some pictures.

Sometimes spelling errors are funny.

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Flesh and Blood

Before any of you freak out and stop reading this post, let me say that Flesh and Blood is the name of the current exhibit at a great museum I went to last week. The Museum on the Seam sits on the boundary line between East and West Jerusalem. Meaning it essentially sits on the line between Palestinians (East Jerusalem) and Israelis (West Jerusalem). East Jerusalem, a heavily Palestinian section of Jerusalem, was annexed by Jordan in 1948 and reclaimed by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Many people today think East Jerusalem should become part of the West Bank, since it is so heavily Palestinian. My school and dorms are located in East Jerusalem, on Mt Scopus, and are essentially surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods. In fact, the separation ‘fence’ of the West Bank is visible from my campus as are West Bank towns beyond the ‘fence’.

I’m not sure who considers a 30 foot tall concrete structure a fence, but that is indeed what it is considered by many. Fences to me conjure an image of penetrability-it was easy for me as a child to climb fences into my neighbors yards in search of lost toys. Fences are not usually seen as threatening or oppressive, but merely as reminders of property lines. Most fences give people the opportunity to peek through them. I don’t know about you, but I sure haven’t seen anyone easily scale a 30 foot tall fence to retrieve their baseball. This past weekend I spent the day in Bethlehem with Becca and we spent an hour walking along the ‘fence’. It was a scary thing to not be able to see the other side-I had no idea what was happening five feet in front of my face. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with that in your face every single day.  

So yeah. Back to the museum. It’s a great museum that takes a critical look at the socio-political reality and how life is affected by that. Their current exhibit, as I said, is called Flesh and Blood. This is the description from the museum’s website.

The exhibition Flesh and Blood attempts to scrutinize the existing harsh relationship between mankind and other animals, and to challenge us to show sensitivity and to face the reality of which the majority amongst us is not sufficiently aware. The exhibition calls upon us to look at the flesh and blood as a fabric connecting the family of animals, of which we are part, and to treat it with respect and compassion.

If any of you don’t know, I’m a vegetarian, so this exhibit was especially interesting and powerful to me and definitely reinforced to me that I made the right decision a number of years ago to stop eating meat. (I’m against the treatment of the animals mainly.) To speak to the power of the exhibit, I have a friend who is a meat-eater and he said after going to the museum he was actually considering not eating meat for a while. I don’t think he went through with this but maybe I just need to get on his case. Unfortunately I was not able to keep the museum guide (how weird) but luckily pictures were allowed.

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This actually looked so much like a human being that I had to poke it. It was not in fact a human being. You folks back in the States probably would have heard my scream if it was.

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So I could go on their roof. This is the view I had of East Jerusalem. The black line marks the distance I walk everyday to school from my apartment. (Actually I only have classes three days a week.) On the left side is the kfar hastudentim (student village) and on the right is the campus. It takes about 20 minutes. You know how long it takes me to walk to class at Manhattanville? About three minutes. 

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Looking towards the Old City.

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The museum, seen from the train tracks.

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This sign flashes and says ‘olive trees will be our borders’ in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I love this so much. 

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FEMINISM

So there’s this organization based in Jerusalem called נשות הכותל-Women of the Wall. They’ve been around since 1988, fighting for equal rights at the Western Wall. Their requests are as outrageous as the desire to wear talliot (prayer shawls), and to sing out loud and read Torah out loud-all things that men are freely able to do. So these courageous women (if you can’t tell which side I’m on, clearly I’m on the side of the anti-progressive ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. PS-I like sarcasm) have been holding protests on the first of every month of the Jewish calendar, and are gathering at the Western Wall to do all of the above. They wear kippas, talliot, tefillin, sing out loud and read Torah. For any of you who aren’t familiar with all that Jewish terminology I just used, here’s a convenient picture of a man at the protest wearing all three. Men do come and pray alongside these women in support, which I think is such a beautiful thing.

The talliot is the prayer shawl with tzitzit (fringes) on the bottom. Some Jews place this over their head and shoulders while praying so as to remove themselves from worldly distractions. The tefillin are the small black boxes that are placed on the forehead and the arm while in prayer. They usually contain the Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel) from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and are a symbol of the binding between humankind and God. This particular man is not wearing a traditional kippa (head covering, also called yarmulke) although a head covering of any sort is a  sign that one knows that God is always above them.  

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Ever since the women began having these protests, they had been systematically arrested for being in violation of the law. However, on April 24, 2013, a historic ruling took place saying that women who donned talliot, kippot, or tefillin, or who sang and read Torah aloud were not in violation of any law. Their actions became legal. 

It just so happened that I went to the first protest post-ruling; so maybe now it’s not considered a protest, but a prayer service? I’m not sure exactly what to call it, and I’m not sure the women know either. Anyways, after passing through security to enter the Western Wall plaza, I could already hear the roar of people. (By the way, I arrived right around 7am, when it was set to begin. I don’t wake up that early for many things, but feminism is certainly something that I will always wake up for.) As it turns out, thousands of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth had been bused into the plaza to fill it up so there would be no room for the women to pray. Reports were that 5,000 Haredi were there. The Western Wall is segregated-with separate sides for male and female prayer. The female side is significantly smaller than the male side and was completely packed and overflowing up the walkway and onto the plaza. These Haredi youth had been strategically placed there by their teachers so that the Women of the Wall could not fully celebrate their victory but instead were forced to have their prayer service on the plaza, removed from the Wall. Now of course, I am not a Haredi (and I’m glad for that) but these youth were of high school age. When I was in high school, my brain, especially in terms of religion, was not capable of thinking in the terms it does today. I never would have understood the implications of my actions if I was in their place, and for this reason I doubt that they fully understood the impact of what they were doing. Frankly, I think they are brainwashed to follow the instructions of their teachers, who of course are being paid to teach that the Haredi way is the one and only right way. 

(So another shout out to my parents is necessary for raising me in an open-minded home where nothing was ever forced on me-besides maybe some vegetables-and where I was able to question whatever I wanted to. Also, I’m glad you won’t be arranging a marriage for me. Unless you guys have a hidden agenda that I’m not aware of. But yeah. Thanks for putting up with all the bizarre thoughts that cross my mind on a daily basis.) 

Here’s the sun rising over the Western Wall, with all the Haredi youth praying on their respective sides. Women on the right, men on the left. 

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The Women of the Wall steadfastly maintained their service for an hour, despite numerous drinks, chairs, and possibly a stink bomb being thrown at them. The Haredi men would continually yell, boo, and try to out-pray or out-sing the women. (Because those are all tell-tale signs of maturity, yet another sign that their brains are developed enough to understand the implications of their actions.) This was the first time that police and security guards were protecting the Women of the Wall instead of arresting them. That was such an amazing turn of events and something so powerful to see in person. This isn’t the greatest picture, but a Haredi man repeatedly leaned over the fence from the male side and was taunting the women. First, the soldier was able to get him down easily but the next time the soldier was punching the man’s knuckles to get his grip off the fence and to get him down. 

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Here the women are holding their prayer books and singing

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After the prayer service was over, a girl celebrated her Bat Mitzvah (coming of age ceremony, usually around age 13) with the Women of the Wall. That was an interesting thing to stay and watch since I had never seen one, or the entirety of one. I’ve actually stumbled upon a few in and around the Old City but did not stay for more than a few minutes to watch. 

I know not much is visible here, but I think the joy and celebration for this girl is visible. 

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After that, one of the leaders of Women of the Wall, Anat Hoffman, told us to be strong as we exited together. We would face backlash, but the police was on our side for the first time. She told us not to forget the struggle but to rejoice for the victory. I was one of the last few out, and as I tried to take a picture of the policemen holding hands to hold back the Haredi, one policeman behind me said in Hebrew, we don’t have time! So this picture happened when he told me that and pointed to the exit.

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Here’s another of the human barricade 

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After we all made it through the gate and out of the Old City, there were many buses waiting to take supporters away as the police knew the backlash by Haredi would be heavy. I did not get on one of these buses but stayed as spit and rocks were flying both at the buses and at the supporters remaining. For the first time, women were not arrested, but Haredi young men were-at least three, possibly up to five. That in itself says a lot. Here’s what the road right outside the Old City looked like. 

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I had actually bumped into a guy who is also in the study abroad program now, and he told me “I’m embarrassed to be a man right now, I can’t even believe what is happening.” After a day where I had lost a lot of hope in the ultra-Orthodox community and, I will admit, at the male gender as a whole, this restored some of my hope. I realized that not everyone thinks and acts in this manner, but only a select few do. When I see or read about actions similar to this that shock me, I have to remember that not everyone of the same religion, gender, race, etc, of the perpetrator would do the same act. The ‘nut-bags’ can be found anywhere.

The dictionary defines feminism as: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Truthfully, I had always been weary of calling myself a feminist and I had wrongfully let the negative but common stereotypes define my thoughts on the matter. But after this protest and seeing the despicable behavior of both men and women, I am not only proud to call myself a feminist but am also proud to know that I would never participate in the behavior of the Haredi youth.   

End note: I know this post may have some harsh criticism in it that not all of you may agree with. If you don’t, I would like to remind you in the most polite way possible that I do have the freedom to display my opinions on here, and if that is not something you enjoy, I’m sure you can find other blogs about Jerusalem that you can read. 

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Sunburns and Heartaches

(Despite the title of this, the weekend I am about to describe was actually great.) 

It’s been in the 80s and 90s for the past week or so, so on Friday, Stacey, Becca and I decided to go to the beach. Since we were only going for the day, we decided to go to Tel Aviv, which is only about 45 minutes away by bus. Once we made it to the beach, we sat down on lounge chairs that were spread all over the beach, only to have a man wearing a fanny pack come up to us and tell us we had to pay to rent the chairs. It was 12 shekels for the entire day, which is about $3.50, so of course we did it. The water had an amazing temperature, so Stacey and I went swimming. (Actually, I shouldn’t judge the temperature of the water since some of you may know that I swim in basically any temperature. I was swimming in the Dead Sea in February and the Sea of Galilee in March.) Then a lifeguard began yelling things in a megaphone, which we didn’t understand. We’re still learning, cut us some slack. Then he kept yelling until we turned and looked at him, looking at us and motioning for us to move over to another area. Still not sure why. Since Shabbat was starting, we took the second to last bus back to Jerusalem at 5:15pm. We all may or may not have ended up with sunburns. Whoops. Someone said the sun is stronger here than in the States. I agree with them. My sunburn is basically gone by now, so no big deal. 

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Sunset back in Jerusalem 

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And then on Saturday, I went with a group of friends to the town of Hebron, in the West Bank. (Also known as Palestine, if you desire.) And it is here that I will nicely package up my political biases and tell the story of Hebron from as neutral a stance of possible. (I want you all to be able to form your own opinions based off the people we encountered and the stories they told.) Since it was Saturday, the egged-‘Israeli’, whatever that means- buses weren’t running, but the Palestinians ones were, so we took that to Damascus Gate, and then got on a bus to Bethlehem. We alighted (I learned that word this semester and I love it but it’s not so practical) in Bethlehem on the side of the highway and took a service taxi to the center of Hebron.

On the side of the road

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If you want to know more about the situation of buses in Israel, especially East Jerusalem (my home!) here’s some good articles: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/03/201339123752297254.html and http://972mag.com/west-bank-and-east-jerusalem-buses-are-already-segregated/61041/. The situation of the buses actually provides a great glimpse into the society here and how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict affects many aspects of life. 

As we were driving through Hebron, it was pretty obvious that we would be standing out. We were a group of five, speaking English, us three girls didn’t have our heads wrapped-and two of those girls are blonde. My guidebook had said that Hebron, despite being the most heavily populated city in the West Bank, is not a destination for tourists. This actually makes it a great place to see the Palestinian culture as it is-without many things that are in place to cater to tourists. Hebron has been fought over and in 1997 was divided in two parts: H1, roughly 80% of the city, is under the control of the Palestinian Authority and H2, the rest of the city, which is under Israeli control and contains the Jewish settlements. These settlements are created by Jews who believe in Israel’s sovereignty to such an extent that they move into the West Bank, often forcing Palestinians to move out of an area. There are fewer than 1,000 Jewish settlers in Hebron but they have caused a lot of heartbreak and struggle for the Palestinians. (Oops, that sounded biased.) Over the marketplaces are metal caged roofs to prevent the settlers from throwing things on the Palestinians-anything from kitchen trash to dirty diapers to bricks and stones have landed on top of these cages-some things heavy enough and thrown with such force that they bent the cages.  

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Our friend Koichi knew a man who lived near the Old City market so we went to see if he was home-he wasn’t, but his brother and his family were so we stopped in for a minute so one friend could use the bathroom. The man told us it was rude to enter a Palestinian’s home and not stay for coffee or tea, so we had tea and talked with him for a while. He told us of how living near the settlers has caused him much heartbreak and destroyed his life over the past few years. The man has four sons, one of whom, who is seven years old, was shot by a settler and was temporarily blinded. He is just now slowly regaining his sight, due to many surgeries and much rehabilitation. Of course, the son is now very afraid of even playing outside, for fear the same might happen again. The man’s first wife was shot five times in the head by settlers, and died. I believe he said she was shot on the roof of their home, but I could be wrong. His home is next to a Jewish school for settler children, and he had to board up the windows that directly face the school. He said settlers would throw countless things at the windows and even released snakes through the windows into his home. His then two and a half year old son was sleeping underneath those windows. He said he often gets harassed by settlers when leaving his home and for this reason he doesn’t leave very frequently. He ran a shop that he was forced to close when settlers moved into the area; later, they completely burned the shop.

Palestinian flag on the street where his home is 

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View from the roof of his home 

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Both the building to the left and in the rear are Jewish settler buildings 

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After we left his home, we walked through the Old City market until the end. There, we encountered a security checkpoint of sorts, we had to pass through two gates with those ‘push it and it revolves’ sort of things. (I know there must be an actual word for these things, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be very appreciative.) We wanted to enter the al-Jawiliyaa Mosque, which houses the Tombs of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah). However, we had ever so conveniently shown up at the security check right when afternoon prayer was occurring. So we walked down the road, got asked our religion by an IDF soldier and continued to a shop where Koichi knew the owner. We told the owner we were waiting for prayers to finish, and he invited us in for tea and coffee. I seriously can’t get enough of Middle Eastern hospitality. That man works with a company called Explore West Bank and gave us the presentation that he usually gives his tour groups. He explained in detail the restrictions placed on Palestinians: where they can open shops, where they can walk, where they can drive. There are some roads that have barriers on them-Palestinians walk on one side and Jewish settlers on the other. 

When we were in the man’s home earlier, he had a portrait of Saddam Hussein on the wall. We asked this shopkeeper what people thought of Hussein, and he replied that he didn’t think there were any positive or negative feelings, just kind of neutral. Then he said something I think is a quote for the books: “People here don’t think. If they thought, the answer would come.” Whoa. After the shopkeeper finished his presentation, we bought some things from him and walked through Ghost Town. The main road in Hebron-Shuhada Street-has been closed to Palestinians and makes the city like a ghost town. (Remember, there are only about 1000 Jewish settlers.) The street is mainly littered with IDF soldiers every few hundred feet eyeing you suspiciously. I almost felt like we were in some sort of weird movie plot, walking down that road with no civilization except for us, soldiers, and some stray dogs.

Shuhada Street (notice the Israeli flags in the upper left corner)

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I’ll just let this speak for itself 

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Once we realized there was really nothing on this road, we turned back in the direction of the mosque. Afternoon prayers had concluded by then so we were cleared to go in. First, before approaching the small hill atop which the mosque is located, we were stopped by an IDF soldier and asked our religion. He let us continue, and we arrived at the security station before the mosque. The guards let us through with not so much as a bag check, which was quite surprising. (Compared with entering my campus, where my ID is checked, I walk through a metal detector, and my backpack is checked.) We went into the mosque and I was quickly reminded of Nazareth, where I promptly and rather harshly got kicked out of a mosque. The three of us girls were given full-body cloaks to wear while inside that looked like this: 

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Lovely, right? Apparently there is a Star Wars character that is dressed in something similar, so Steve if you’re reading this your knowledge will come in handy here! 

Anyway, that small building behind us is one of the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Their actual tombs are 17m underground, so what we were seeing are called cenotaphs-memorials for those buried nearby. The mosque and synagogue next door share a building, and are entered from different sides with different levels of security. The mosque has the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca, the synagogue has the cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah, and the cenotaphs of Abraham and Sarah are straddled between the two-so they are visible from both the mosque and synagogue. The synagogue was closed (it was Shabbat) so we saw four of the six cenotaphs. Not too shabby.  

This has a name in Arabic that I am not aware of, but this area shows Muslims in what direction to pray. Muslims always pray towards Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, where their holiest mosque is. This area faces Mecca.  

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Entrance to the area of the cenotaphs 

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Abraham’s cenotaph 

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Beautiful ceiling in the mosque 

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This is where the imam, prayer leader, leads prayer from (I know, my descriptions of things are amazing)

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 After we left the mosque, we had to use the bathroom. We went into the public bathroom, where we first encountered a room full of faucets along the wall. It took us a minute to realize these were for ablutions (ritual washings that Muslims do before prayer). The next room had the ‘toilets’, really holes in the ground surrounded by porcelain. Certainly interesting. I know that was maybe too much information for some of you, but whatever.   

Here’s a video on the issue of Shuhada Street in Hebron. The man who speaks at about 2 minutes in is actually the man whose home we were in at the beginning of our trip. http://972mag.com/watch-hebron-shuhada-street-authorized-entry-only/68568/

We walked back through the market to the place where the service taxis are and took one back to Bethlehem. We spent a couple hours around the market shopping and we visited the Church of the Nativity, but there was some long service going on so we couldn’t really go far inside the church. It feels so weird to say that I spent a Saturday afternoon shopping in Bethlehem. I’ll definitely be going back to see the churches and fields though, it’s so close and pretty cheap. As our bus was heading back to Jerusalem we passed through a checkpoint to exit the West Bank and had to file out of the bus and file past IDF soldiers with our passports open. 

So, if you’ve made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. It’s a long one but hopefully you learned something about Hebron and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because I certainly did. 

  

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This one time, in Gaza

Last week I convinced Stacey to sign up for a JStreet U Trip to the Gaza-Israel border. JStreet U is an organization, based mostly in the United States, that is for ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans’. After an awkward bus ride of switch seats and talk to your new neighbor about this topic and that topic (beginning at 8am) we arrived at Netiv HaAsara, which is a small village that is only a few hundred feet from the separation ‘fence’ between Israel and Gaza. We were graciously welcomed into the home of Roni Keidar, a resident of the village who had previously lived in Gaza (and Egypt). She had many fascinating stories of her time in Egypt and Gaza. She and her family left Gaza when Israel pulled out of the region in 2005. Her village has seen much heartbreak, including the deaths of two during missile attacks in the last few years. She told us of her heartbreaking day to day reality: the bomb shelter. A place of refuge turned into a place of terror, she described what it is like to live in a village under constant threat of attack. She told us of her son and young grandchildren who were out for a walk when a siren went off and they had to take refuge in the bushes. (When a siren goes off, residents must immediately seek shelter and count to 40 before the imminent threat has passed.) She told us of one instance when she was sure they were under a massive attack: she heard explosion after explosion and was in her shelter alone, unable to contact her husband or other family members. She heard nine explosions in total: Gaza launched three missiles, the Iron Dome (a system used to intercept and dismantle missiles in the air) launched the interceptor missiles three times, and the mid-air collision between the two, again three times. During one attack, she told us a heartwarming story of text messages between her and a friend in Gaza each making sure the other was safe and alive. This really struck me. It seems that it is the governments, not the people, of Israel and Gaza are those who are fighting. Listening to Roni, it seemed that the people on both sides desire peace, or at least a permanent ceasefire. They do not want to live in their current situation, always looking around for the closest shelter, never wanting to let family and loved ones out of their sight. They must wish they could live as they did previously..together. 

After talking with us, Roni got on the bus with us and took us to the separation ‘fence’.

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Seeing Gaza from Israel 

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The Path to Peace (Netiv L’Shalom). “The mosaic project is created through the individual contributions of on-site visitors, in the belief that one day our collective desire for a life of tranquility and peace will be fulfilled.”

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The dove and olive branch, the peace dove, is one of my favorite symbols. So much so, that it is included in my tattoo. (Surprise, mom and dad! Kidding, they know.) 

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This is the side of the ‘fence’ that Israelis see. They tried to make it more visually appealing for the children of the village 

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After saying goodbye to Roni, we were off to the Black Arrow Memorial on the edge of an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) base to speak with a lieutenant. This base is situated less than a mile from Gaza City, which we were easily able to see. The lieutenant talked to us about the many challenges that the IDF faces in relations with Gaza. Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, is the political force in Gaza. The lieutenant said they were democratically elected and do respond to the people’s desires, from what she knew. She told us about the tunnels that have been built between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. I imagined small tunnels that one would walk through. Then she said they have transported giraffes and hippos through these tunnels. “I hear there’s a nice zoo in Gaza City”, she said. Huh. She also attempted to tell us which house a missile was fired out of. “If you see that bush, look past it, to the left, way over there, the house is somewhere in that direction.” I figure her and her comrades must need some humor to get through their days. 

Our view from the base 

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After leaving the base, we went to the nearby town of Sderot. A resident took us to a police station where they had many missiles that had landed in the town and had labeled them with the date and location they fell. Residents of Sderot, in the best case scenario, have 15 seconds to seek shelter once a siren is sounded. So, every bus stop has a shelter next to it. On sports fields there are shelters, on the side of every house is a shelter, even playgrounds have shelters that have been designed to look like regular tunnels to alleviate the fear that children would have when a siren is heard. Just to add some perspective to the distance one can travel in 15 seconds. I ran track in high school and sprinted the 100m (roughly 330 feet). I did this in about 15 seconds. That was with training. So imagine the everyday resident and how far they could travel in that time. 

Bus stop and shelter

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This entire caterpillar is a shelter

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The guide took us to an overlook so we could see the proximity of Gaza to Sderot. If you can see those seven palm trees in a row (I marked them with the yellow), this is 150m past the Israel-Gaza border (meaning they are in Gaza). 

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This trip brought up some challenging issues and new perspectives that I am grateful for. It’s hard to say one side is in the right and one in the wrong, but I do know that something needs to be worked out between the two sides that will benefit the residents of both sides. 

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For anyone who has not seen this, please please please watch it! It was a really powerful video to me and something I felt I needed to share. New Zealand recently approved same-sex marriage countrywide and I really feel that we should follow their lead.  There is so much hatred and discrimination in this world and we should not be looking down on someone because of who they choose to love. I’m proud to live in a state where same-sex marriage is legalized and I know one family in particular who wouldn’t be where or who they are today without this law. They deserve all the same happiness that my family does. They are a great example of unconditional love despite hardship and setting a model of love and acceptance for their children. I pray for a day when they are viewed by society the same way my family is. “No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it.” 

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Jesus Trail: Day Five, Tiberias to Capernaum

This day we had to walk about 16km, right around 10 miles. Tiberias is off the trail by about 5km, 3 miles, so we decided to take a bus that would not only get us up the steep hills of Tiberias but that would also get us back to the trail. (I don’t feel like this is cheating, since we were off the trail.) Koichi again asked about five different people which bus we should take to Migdal. Once we got there, our trail was right there, so we were on our way. This walk was very easy and only took a few hours. We passed by Nahal Amud, a very beautiful area that we had hiked a few weeks prior during the Yam-el-Yam hike with our school. 

Bananas everywhere 

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Edge of Nahal Amud 

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We came from that farmland. Yep, that farmland. Way down there.

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Becca had taken a bus from Tiberias and met us in Tabgha. We stopped for lunch on the sidewalk amid hoards of tourists, something we had not experienced our entire hike. I felt as though they were intruding on us; we had walked four days to reach this point and they had taken a nice air-conditioned bus that carries them from town to town. 

I went to the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, which signifies the location where Jesus bestowed church leadership on Peter, found in Matthew 16:18.  

An outdoor service on the grounds

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Inside the Church is the Mensa Christi, meaning table of Christ. Here it is said that Jesus laid out bread and fish for the apostles.

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Finally at the Sea of Galilee!

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Job’s spring, “a warm sulfuric spring that gushes into the Sea of Galilee. There is a local tradition that Job lived in a nearby cave and treated his sores in the healing waters of this spring.” (Words of the guidebook)

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We continued a short walk down the pilgrim sidewalk to Capernaum. Upon seeing the sign advertising Capernaum, I told Koichi that I was going to hug it when we got there. He doubted me, but hug it I did. And him and Stacey joined me in this. We were so relieved to have made it 40 miles over four days, on our own, with only guidebooks and trail markers. And of course quite a few people along the way helping us out. I’ve never felt as though I’ve accomplished something quite this big independently (kind of) in my life. Not only have I never truly hiked, that is with all my gear on my back, but I have never walked such a distance throughout a country.

Walking down the pilgrim sidewalk

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The most beautiful sign I’ve ever seen

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Just for point of comparison, walking 40 miles from Woburn would take me to Hampton, NH, or out west to Fitchburg. For my New Yorkers, if walking from Mville to Staten Island was an option, that would be about 40 miles. So it was a pretty solid hike.

Before reaching Capernaum we stopped at a restaurant called Fish Restaurant to have lunch. I ate from their salad and pasta bar, since the fish they served were complete fish and had to be dismantled in order to be eaten. I’m turned off from fish for a long time. After that we entered the small site of Capernaum, which is the base of Jesus’ ministry throughout the Galilee.

I’m going to pause here a moment and go on a small rant about gender inequality. (This being only a minuscule portion of what I could talk about relating to this issue.) Before entering, there was a notice painted on a rock reading ‘no shorts’. Becca and I were both wearing shorts, as we had come from a day of hiking. So I put on my leggings, which were past the knee. I entered and payed after Koichi, and the clerk looked at my pants with a very disapproving look and shook his head at me. He didn’t say anything but it was obvious what he was thinking. Koichi was wearing shorts. His knees were showing. As far as I’m concerned, something that reveals the knee and has two leg holes would be called shorts. I understand that female shorts are shorter (for the most part) than male shorts. But never the less. He was allowed in no problem, and I was the one getting glared at for wearing leggings that went halfway down my calves. This was such a ridiculous notion to me, but I just accepted the ticket the clerk gave me without a word and continued on. If they are going to prevent me from entering with shorts, they should have prevented Koichi from entering as well. Or they should change their sign to ‘no shorts for females’, but if that was the case I probably wouldn’t have entered at all. Okay, I’m done.

Anyways, Capernaum dates back to the 2nd century BCE, during the Hasmonean Dynasty. When Jesus was ministering there, the population was around 1500. The small complex includes the remains of a synagogue dating back to the 5th century CE. Remains of what is believed to be Peter’s house were also found. In the 5th century an octagonal church was built over this location. 

Entrance to Capernaum

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Saint Peter with the ‘keys to the kingdom’

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Synagogue

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Looking out of the synagogue window to the Sea of Galilee

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Peter dwelt here, so it says 

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Church built over Peter’s dwelling 

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At the center of the church, looking into Peter’s dwelling

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These were all around the church, depicting Jesus’ ministry. This one is the healing of the paralytic 

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The Sea is beautiful 

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After exploring Capernaum, we were ready to head back to Jerusalem. We had used a trip planner on the bus website, which said we could get a bus from Capernaum Junction to Jerusalem. Well, Capernaum Junction is not in Capernaum. We had to backtrack about an hour to Tabgha. Then we waited on the side of the highway for an hour or two. Then bus 955 came roaring past. We flagged it down. It didn’t stop. Guess where bus 955 goes to? Jerusalem. Oh. Well then. We tried to flag down other buses going to Tiberias. No one stopped. We flagged down a cab who took us to Tiberias. 

This is the Mount of Beatitudes. There is a rainbow over it. My life is not real. 

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Once we got to Tiberias we got ice cream before getting on a bus that went to Jerusalem. Finally. Once we got to the bus station we decided to take a local bus so we wouldn’t have to walk up the hill that the light rail would have left us at. Our trip ended with us all crashing into our respective beds and not moving for four days. Just kidding. I think I got out of bed once in a span of 30 hours. Living the life over here. Thanks for reading my insanely long updates of the Jesus Trail. 

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Jesus Trail: Day Four, Ilaniya to Tiberias

Our longest day of walking would take us to Tiberias, along the Sea of Galilee. We left the goat farm nice and early and took a casual stroll down the highway, at one point having to run across it due to construction and our shoulder disappearing. We walked through another forest, under a different highway, and past Kibbutz Lavi, which is one of the few religious Orthodox kibbutzim. We only passed by the entrance to the kibbutz; since we weren’t staying there, our trail didn’t have us enter. 

Wheat fields near the kibbutz

Passing Kibbutz Lavi 

As we walked by a herd of cattle and continued through the pasture, it happened. Hundreds of flies descended on us. I wish I was exaggerating or kidding. They were all over our arms, backpacks, heads. I wrapped my head with a scarf because there were actually a few that flew into my ear canal. There is nothing that makes someone want to break down and cry more than 50 flies constantly buzzing around them simultaneously. At this point, the path was uneven stones, so walking that was hard enough, besides the fact of the flies. It was a pretty terrible hour. The only good thing that came out of this is that we made excellent time as we were walking as fast as possible out of the area.

The snow-capped peak is Mt. Hermon, located in the Golan Heights 

Making some friends

 

First glimpse of the Sea of Galilee

Horns of Hattin

We were all trying our best to not let the ugly flies spoil the beautiful view. We found the one solitary patch of shade and had lunch. Somehow we noticed all the flies were gone. As soon as they had appeared, they had disappeared. Good test, God. Maybe. 

At this point, Becca decided she couldn’t carry on. She had blisters, and her knee and hip were aching. Of course we didn’t want our group to split up, but it was clear that her walking to Tiberias would not be a good idea. We walked to the highway that was fairly close and walked up to the first bus stop we saw, which was were Koichi said she should take a bus from. However, the buses on that side were headed for Tel Aviv and Haifa, aka the opposite direction of where we were going. We had been given a different map at the goat farm that morning, and although it looked as if Tiberias was in that direction, it just didn’t make sense. Also, in that way we would have been walking away from the Sea of Galilee, again not making much sense. Koichi was as adamant about walking in that direction as I was about walking in the other direction. Eventually he flagged down a bus and asked the driver, who confirmed that the bus stop to Tiberias was on the opposite side of the highway. So we ran across, jumped the barrier, and got to the other bus stop. When a bus came that would take Becca to Tiberias, Koichi again asked this driver what way we should walk to Tiberias. We began walking down the highway, after running across it again. We’re kind of pros at highway crossing by now. Along the way, Koichi asked two more people how to get to Tiberias. At this point I was really frustrated, because not only had two bus drivers told him which way we had to go, but we were also walking to the Sea of Galilee and walking in the same direction as Becca’s bus had gone. Since we had left the trail, we decided to just walk down the highway to Tiberias. (Which apparently is not illegal, since a few police cars passed by us without a problem.)

Beautiful view from the highway

On the road to Tiberias

Tiberias 

Our hostel was in downtown Tiberias, at least a 30 minute completely downhill walk from where we began. I feel that it might actually be harder to walk downhill than uphill. As we kept walking and couldn’t find the street, I was nearly in tears. Not only because the streets don’t have street signs, not only because we had been walking about 7 hours at this point, but because I had developed 7 blisters that were enormous and very painful. I was wearing three pairs of socks and had put band-aids over them but nothing was stopping the pain. I was so exhausted and in so much pain that I almost cried again when we actually found our hostel, but this time out of relief. 

After resting for a while in the shabby hostel with shabbier bedding (but at only 50 shekels, about $13, we can’t really complain) we went out in search of dinner. We settled on a pizza shop and were soon eating pizza outdoors on a road lined with restaurants and other shops. After dinner we picked up some water and went back to the hostel for much needed and much deserved sleep.

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Jesus Trail: Day Three, Zippori to Ilaniya

We had about 20km, 12 miles, to walk this day. We woke up nice and early, making sure to locate the lizard that had faithfully watched over us the entire night, and went to find the owner to pay and be on our way. We ended up walking out through Zippori National Park, which had an almost eerie feeling at 8am as we passed through. We found our trail markings and were on the path to Cana. After a pleasant walk through the forest, we were in the town of Mash’had. This is a small, mainly Muslim town, that is where Jonah was born. You know, the guy who was chilling in the belly of a whale for a bit.

Approaching Mash’had

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Muslim cemetery with mosque said to house the tomb of Jonah behind it

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Some adorable goat herders

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After passing through Mash’had, we were about to enter Kfar Cana. (Kfar means village for all of my non-Hebrew speakers.) Cana is the location of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding feast. The village doesn’t have much to offer besides this claim, a few nice churches, and a very colorful mosque. However, Passover had ended the night before so WE COULD FINALLY BUY BREAD. This is actually a big deal. As interesting as it was to see grocery stores all blocked off and not selling leaven, it was not exactly what you would call a good time. Buying pita bread was a great luxury.

First view of Kfar Cana

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Greek Orthodox Church

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Inside the Franciscan Wedding Church

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Abu Baker Al-Sadiq Mosque 

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After passing through Kfar Cana, we walked through the forest, stopping to have lunch here, where unfortunately the shaded area was crawling with massive spiders. So we resigned to sit on the sunny path.

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We had missed one trail marker and came to a fork in the road, unsure of what to do. Koichi and Becca went to ask some people having a picnic, who couldn’t really tell us much. We blindly followed one path until finally coming upon an orange dot, coming from a tree farm we would have passed through. Hallelujah. The guidebook said we would reach a sandwich man at the end of this portion, and we were really hoping he had ice cream. This is when we still held hope in that idea.

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Unfortunately he only sold sandwiches. Onward we went, toward our destination: the Yarok Az Organic Goat Farm. I was more and more relived with each sign we passed saying that we were approaching it. It was a long day and I just wanted to collapse on a floor, I didn’t even require a bed, and not move for a few hours. I basically did just that when we got there.

Entrance to the goat farm

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Of course there were goats

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The inside of our ‘tent’/sleeping structure 

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Nasty and noisy frog pond 

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The owners told us we could pick whatever we wanted from the garden, so Koichi picked potatoes, cabbage, radishes, and various other things. We had bought pasta in Cana so we ended up having mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, pasta, and cabbage alone with some coke that other hikers had leftover and offered to us. Cooking in an outdoor kitchen on a windy night was not our brightest idea-it was cold, and the wind made it very difficult to keep a flame going and to cook anything at a decent pace. It’s all in the adventure. After dinner, we crashed pretty early, knowing that the next day would be very long.

They have a neat wall dedicated to hikers of the Jesus Trail since their farm is a very convenient location on the trail. We are able to sign and place a pin on the map indicating where we’re from. A group of our friends had hiked the trail about a month earlier and we found their names.

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Alright, now’s time to play Where’s Waldo! It’s not so hard, I promise.image

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