KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Israel was in turmoil. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous economic situation, and an intense heatwave which had everyone cranky and ill-tempered. It’s no wonder that most riots take place in the heat of summer.

The predominantly Arab areas were seething with resentment while the Jewish population was none too happy either. It was a rough patch, but when had it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what makes the city unique. The Jewish population is highly diverse. From secular and downright anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are Christians of every stripe and every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans — and sects I never heard of — and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

French Hill

I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, the clothing, the open-air markets. I loved everything and everyone, but not everyone loved me back.

The newspaper I was running was broke. We’d been going on fumes for the last few issues and it was obvious we’d be out of business and out of work very soon. We kept hoping for an angel, someone to come along and invest enough to get us well and truly launched. In the meantime, it had been weeks since we’d gotten paid.

I was doing my share, trying to keep the newspaper alive, so when someone had to take the pages to the typesetter in Givat Zeev up by Ramallah, I volunteered. I had a car. I’d been there before. Why not?

There’s a myth that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot. The theory is, if you keep driving, sooner or later you’ll get there, wherever “there” is. That’s not quite accurate. You may get close — but when I’m the navigator close may not be close enough. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it.

Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a minor riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was happening or why (exactly), but I was sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I was lost. No idea how to retrace my steps and get back to French Hill. Going forward wasn’t an option. I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I hadn’t locked the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” That’s easy. It’s the same in almost every language.

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity which some would have regarded as a lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is or was. They were under no obligation to help me. Yet they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

An act of kindness by strangers and people who were, in theory, not on “my side.” People can be incredibly kind when you least expect it.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

HALLEY’S COMET AND THE END OF HIPPYHOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

I did take a lot of drugs … but I never considered them a “religious” or otherwise “exalted” experience. They were fun. Music was magical and just being outside and watching the stars was a glorious experience. In all those years, I never had a bad trip. But I was always careful about where I used stuff and who I was with. I never did understand people who took those drugs and then did things like go grocery shopping.

Why bother? Just go grocery shopping. The drugs were a kind of mini-vacation for weekends with the people you loved to be around.

When Tom met Timothy Leary while he was working, he got to tell him that he had used his travel service many times. I wish I’d been there to say thanks, too.

I stopped using them when my body stopped reacting well. It was, in fact, my 39th birthday and I was in Jerusalem.

Halley’s Comet was in the sky and a group of us went into the Judaean desert. We theorized we’d get a better view of it the sky from the desert. What we hadn’t known was that Bethlehem kept its streetlights on all night and they were exactly where we needed to look for the comet.  Jerusalem’s turned off its streetlights at around 11pm, so finally, we gave up and went back to our house which was right on the edge of the desert (it no longer is — that area is full of hotels and restaurants and fancy clothing stores. Where we all discovered we could see the comet just fine from the sidewalk in front of the house.

I wrote about it and it was the only article I wrote that got published in the Jerusalem Post. I wish I had a copy.

I wasn’t a hippy. I was too busy to be involved in full-time hippyhood and I was too fond of living in a comfortable house and being clean. I had a child (and in Jerusalem, three children) as well as a full-time job, a house to care for, a husband (two, at different times)(and Garry makes three just so you don’t get confused), and a lot of friends.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem

I think I had so many friends because I was one of the only people (couples) who owned big enough houses and had enough food to provide a “base camp” to one and all. In New York, everyone else lived in the dorms at school or a rental apartment and in Jerusalem, we had a really big space compared to most people.

This made me an official weekend hippy. Regardless, my brain had to be clear and functional before the start of work on Monday. I had clear limits.

All of us — the whole gang — grew up to be hard-working and well-respected people who believed in the value of work and understood that drugs were fun, but not a lifestyle. I was one of the people who watched hippies on TV and wondered how they dealt with all that MUD and grunge.

It was a strange and fascinating decade and a wonderful time to be young. I had already recovered from having my spine “repaired,” so I was happy to be alive. I definitely needed a baby. I always remind Owen that he was definitely no kind of accident. I wanted him and it wasn’t easy to produce him, either. When one gets so close to death, making new life seems the way to go.

Those were great years. By then, I was out of that gigantic plaster cast and braces and could (mostly) do what everyone else did. Arthritis came years later and for the next 20 years, I was fine. That was when I also took riding lessons. I had sent my son to riding camp and I realized he was learning to ride, but I was still waiting.

Mount Gilboa when the wild iris bloom

From the other side of the mountain

So, I learned to ride and then to climb. I climbed Mount Gilboa to see the wild iris in bloom and climbed down Land’s End because my stupid ex-husband dared me to do it. I swam naked in the Mediterranean and played bridge all night. I never seemed to need sleep back then.

Other than the battles with the ex, the rest of my life was what I wanted. When I got upset, I got into my tiny little car and drove around the old city. It was amazing at night with the lights on the stone walls. I never imagined I would leave it and I still dream about it. In my sleep, I can still speak Hebrew.

People spent an awful lot of time categorizing people into “groups.” If you took drugs, you were a hippy. Never mind if you also worked a 50 hour week, hauled groceries and tended your garden and when the time came to not take drugs, you simply stopped taking them and life went on.

The Banias by Mount Hermon

There were some really great memories back then. I remember tripping high up on the Banias in the Golan and realizing — for the first and final time — that the problems in the Middle East were never going to be solved. Someday, the Arabs would get their act together and push little tiny Israel into the sea, just like they said they would. It wasn’t a bad trip, but it was a realization and a revelation that sometimes, what you most wish for isn’t going to happen. No amount of hoping, wishing, planning, and negotiating will make it work.

That was probably as close as I ever got to a druggy religious experience. We had been talking about The Country and all its problems. How we knew, even if the rest of the world didn’t seem to catch on, that the reason Israel had not been overrun was (1) American foreign aid, (2) American fighter planes. Nixon, in the middle of Watergate, stopped to make sure the fighters were shipped to Israel and that is why the Yom Kippur war wasn’t a national catastrophe. And why Israelis thought of Nixon as a hero — a thing I found hard to reconcile. And (3) that the Arab community was just as much at odds with itself as with Israel and that’s why they never managed a sustained military campaign.

That has changed since terrorists seem to have replaced armies, but they are still fighting each other. If they weren’t doing that, they would have enormous power to change their world. And everyone else’s.

YOU CAN’T BUILD A FUTURE ON HATE – Marilyn Armstrong

When I moved to Israel in 1979, I thought I knew something. After all, I read books, I knew the history.

After I had lived there for 9 years, I realized I knew nothing at all. There is SO much right and wrong on BOTH sides and everyone had a good reason for whatever they’ve done.

It’s about the past and ironically, not about the ancient past but about the past since the 1920s or thereabouts. Because in more ancient times, Jews and Arabs got along well — FAR better than Jews and Christians or Muslims and Christians. Christians only got along with their own KIND of Christians. They didn’t even get along with each other if they were slightly different sects. In fact, they still don’t.

The British got this mess started. It gave them a reason to plant their flag in the soil and say “We have to stay here to keep the peace” when the absence of peace was of their own making.

This is why I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again.


THE ONLY WAY THERE WILL EVER BE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS FOR EVERYONE — JEW AND ARAB OF EVERY KIND — TO LET GO OF THE PAST.


Terrible things happened and who did the more terrible thing? Does it really MATTER? They can’t go back and fix what broke. What happened, happened. What they need to understand is if they stay frozen in the past, they will NEVER find a future. Hatred breeds hatred from generation to generation and no one’s life is made better as a result. NO ONE has a better life because they hate.

I remember once sitting up in the Banias talking about how hopeless it seemed and realizing that as long as everyone believed that their version of the past was the only one which counted, there would be no progress now or ever. It’s the main reason I left and came back here. Who knew the same evil would follow me home?

According to Terry Pratchett

I’m sure these people have said hateful things and they should take them back. Hate is not the same as disagreement. You know it, I know it. Everyone knows it. We all have to stop hating and recognize that people — all people everywhere — have more in common than differences.

The irony is that most Israelis are NOT religious. Most Arabs are not orthodox, either. We could get along. Our kids get along until some adult tells them they can’t.

Jews need a homeland. They have nowhere else to go. Arabs have a lot of homelands and despite rumors to the contrary, many Arabs live in Israel and build a life there. Maybe imperfect, but my life isn’t perfect either. Israel may be a “newbie” in these centuries, but not always a newbie. And many of the Arab countries were created from existing nations.

On some level, most countries are “new” at some point. The world didn’t come into existence with national-lines drawn with various placenames so we could live nearby and fight all the time.

Hitler managed to do a pretty good job killing off most of the Jews in Europe and many Jew-hating countries helped finish the job even after WW2 was over. Israel is a tiny piece of land. No oil, no aquifer, not rich. Maybe two peoples could share it? Why not give it a try? There’s little to lose and much to gain.


Donald Trump believes in hate. It’s his thing. He really must have had a terrible childhood to be so totally centered on hate. Does he have any love in him? That he has worked so hard to fill the United States with people who hate others without a single reason — except they had the misfortune to listen to their so-called president. 

Hate never makes the world better. Never in history has hatred spawned a better world, neighborhood, nation, or faith. Never does hate make better, only uglier and eviler.

That Trump has managed to take his hatred and spread it around is appalling. If you know anything about the 20th century, this is how we got the world wars into gear. World War 1 was a tinderbox, waiting for the first match to blow it up into the biggest butcher bill our world ever saw. The next butcher bill could conceivably be worse.

It could be total annihilation.

I keep thinking we are better than this. All of us. Humankind is better than this. Why do we let the worst of us force the march? What’s the matter with us?

I’ve been blogging for seven years. More than seven years if you want to count the little blogs that preceded this one and I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to grab a pencil and form letters. These days, I’m tired. My heart and I are not doing well and I’m not looking at a long road ahead.

I desperately want to see a better world while I’m still alive. In the United States. And in the U.K, Israel, Russia, China, Korea … everywhere where hate appears to be winning and the rest of us are being flattened by racism and despair.

We cannot hate our way to a better world. I am living in a world I never wanted, surrounded by people I thought knew better. Was my life a total waste? Was yours?

You can’t build a future on hate, but you can build an end. Hate will not make America great. It will tear it to shreds.

“They Hate All Jews” – Fandango

FOWC with Fandango — Newbie

A PASSAGE OVER WATER – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP TUESDAY: PASSAGE

In the I Ching, a passage is not just a passage. A passage over water means something different than a passage over a mountain or across a meadow. Each movement carries its own specific message for you.

I was never very good at deciphering it.

Passage over water usually means a long journey to another country. It doesn’t have to mean “real water,” either. It merely implies “a long trip.” Someone in Israel taught me to read the I Ching. I don’t remember who it was. I was never very good at it anyway. It usually made more sense after it happened than it did in the original reading.

Still, I remember that passage over water. I was thinking of vacations to distant lands. Maybe a trip home to visit family. That was definitely over water — an entire ocean.

It turned out to be leaving Israel and never coming back to live there. I did return once to work, but that trip was even more unreal because it landed me back in Boston two days before 9/11.

Thus whenever I hear the word “passage,” I remember the journey back to the United States, I recall leaving behind everything I’d accumulated during the 9 years I lived there. Some of it came back, but most didn’t. It made Israel a trip that lost its reality quickly. I had no photographs or items that meant something special. My friends were gone and I only saw just one of them ever again.

In less time than I had spent living there, it became distant, misty, and unreal. And now, with all the changes that have occurred, it is even further away than it was before.

WHEN YOU JUST CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry had a prescription to pick up in town. No big deal except he wasn’t feeling good and just wanted to get the errand run, come home, and crash on the sofa. He couldn’t get into town. On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day a parade was in progress. He asked the local cop how he was supposed to get into town.

“You can’t,” he said.

“But what,” asked Garry, “If this was an emergency? I mean, I need my medication.” The cop shrugged.

Main Street in downtown Uxbridge

“You’d still have to wait till the parade passes.” Garry didn’t like the answer, but there wasn’t much to do about it. He went to the other grocery store, the one just across the border in Rhode Island, picked up a couple of things and came home.

“I couldn’t get to Hannaford’s,” he said. “There was a parade.”

I nodded. “Veteran’s Day.”

“One of the problems of living in a small town.”

“What, you never tried to get somewhere in Boston on Patriot’s Day? Or any day when the Red Sox were playing? How about when President Clinton visited the North End? They closed the entire city. You couldn’t go anywhere until the Secret Service cleared the area.”

Garry grunted. “Still,” he said, “What if I needed those pills and it wasn’t just a refill?”

“If you were that desperately sick, you’d be in a hospital, not on the way to the pick up a prescription.” He harrumphed.

“Did I ever tell you about the day I had to sign for my new car in Jerusalem? I had just gotten to Israel and it had taken me a little while to get everything in order. I had ordered my new car, a white Ford Escort. I absolutely had to get to the Ford dealership, sign the papers and give them money.”

The King David Hotel

The dealership was across the street and down the road from the King David Hotel, so I hopped a bus. The bus stopped about 100 yards before we got into town. A policeman came to the door, told the driver he had to stop. We were told to get off the bus. We weren’t going any further.

“But,” I said, “I have to get to the Ford dealership. I have to sign for my new car and give them money!”

The policeman shrugged. “Your President is here. Anwar Sadat is here. Begin is here. You can’t go.”

I looked around. There were snipers on the rooftops. The area was crawling with Israeli armed forces and the secret services of three countries, all of whom looked ready to shoot me. It was a lot of firepower. I decided I’d rather not be a target.

“And that is when,” I told Garry, “I knew I absolutely, positively I was not going to sign those papers or make the payment on my car.”

“You win,” said Garry. “You trumped my story.”

I remembered watching the cars sweep by, the big black limos each carrying a head of state with the flags of their respective nations affixed to the front. I caught a glimpse of each man as they took those corners at remarkably high speed. No one was taking chances. It was such an optimistic time in Israel. Everyone thought we would have — at long last — true peace. Not a cease-fire, but the real deal.

Moshe Dayan — Israel’s negotiator — was glowing. Carter was smiling. Sadat looked content. The crowd cheered for each car as it flew around the corner. Then, gradually, the military withdrew. The road opened up. I went home to return the following day. That was March 26, 1979.

On October 6, 1981, Sadat would be assassinated. Ten days later, Dayan would be dead too. Technically it was his heart and cancer but I knew it was the same bullet that killed Sadat. When they shot Sadat, they killed Dayan. And killed the hope of peace.

Under the weight of the Iran Hostage Crisis which dragged on for years, Carter’s presidency would be in tatters. The optimism of March 1979 would be replaced by sadness, bitterness, and pessimism.

But for one bright afternoon, a day on which I absolutely couldn’t get where I needed to go, Jerusalem was full of joy, hope, and celebration. And I had a new car waiting for me at the Ford dealership across from the King David hotel.

THE JOY IN JERUSALEM – Marilyn Armstrong

The odds favor that, if you live a full life, you will witness events that are historically important. Depending on your definition of “witness,” you’ll inevitably witness a lot of history. You can’t avoid it.

Some events are more dramatic and make better stories. Even if your witness was via television or the news, you are no less a witness. Certainly, we are all witnessing history now … and wondering if maybe we are witnessing the end of the world we knew and thought would last forever.

My favorite “witness” experience was being in Israel when the Camp David Accords were signed. I had only arrived there a few weeks before. I was still trying to figure out what this place was. It definitely wasn’t the romanticized venue in the novels I’d read … or even the idealized “homeland” my mother imagined.

It was far more complicated, textured, and nuanced … which should not have been a surprise, yet was.

I bought a car shortly after I arrived. A Ford Escort. Ford had a little factory in Israel and Escorts were “Everyman’s” car. Small, and by American standards, underpowered, they were a “best buy” on Israel’s new car market.

The Ford dealership was across from the King David Hotel, which was where Begin, Sadat, and Carter met and made deals. As fate would have it, it was also the day on which I was supposed to pick up my new car. When I got to the street, bigger events were taking place.

My car would wait.

The King David Hotel

There were armed men everywhere. On the streets, the rooftops. Everywhere you looked, and probably thousands of places you couldn’t see, armed men stood guard. No one was getting assassinated on Israel’s watch. At least, not that day.

Around midday, to the enthusiastic cheering of the crowd, the official limousines swung past, each sporting the flags of its nation It was a sight to see.

King David Hotel entrance

All over Israel, there was great celebration and joy. It was one of the happiest, most optimistic moments in Israel’s short modern history. Finally, there was real hope there might be real peace. Hope that somehow, out of the bloodshed and wars, this was a significant step forward.

Not long thereafter, back in Egypt, Sadat would be assassinated. Ten days later, Moshe Dayan who had crafted the accords, would die too. He had been sick with both cancer and heart disease for a long time, but I believe he died of disappointment.

After that, optimism faded. The joy was dampened and life was “business as usual.”

I was there for that brief, bright moment, witness to the great moment when joy exploded in the streets of Jerusalem. No matter what anyone says nowadays about Israel’s intentions in the region, if you were there that day, you could not fail to know that the foundation of everyone’s hopes, was peace.

A WORLD IN PASSPORTS – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Passport

The first time I needed a passport was when I was going to live in Israel. It was such a busy period, I don’t actually remember it. I remember having the passport, but I don’t remember the process or getting it or getting pictures taken, or anything else. I must have done all of it or I could not have gone to Israel, but it’s a complete blank.

I do remember the next passport, though because by then I was living in Israel and I had to get a passport at the American Consulate in Jerusalem.

I was also, by then, an Israeli citizen, so around the same time — I had to get an Israeli passport. Remarkably, the only thing I remember about getting my passport at the American consulate was that the guard was a Marine in full dress uniform. I was very impressed. He was like one of the guards at Kensington Palace — as still as a statue.

As for getting my Israeli passport, I remember that I knew my “number” by heart. Everyone knew their number. These days, I can barely remember my own phone number.

That was the same passport I used when Garry and I honeymooned in Ireland and the same one I used when I went abroad to work in Israel. I had to use my Israeli passport and it had the wrong name on it, so I had to use my American passport too, to prove I was me and will still be me.

The next time I had to get a new passport was when we were living here. I hadn’t even realized my passport had gone past due, but that was when suddenly, you needed a passport to go to Canada and we were going up to Jackman, Maine which is right on the Canadian border and thought we might want to wander into Canada.

Jackman, Maine

That used to be no big deal. You didn’t even need a passport. Just a driver’s license, a wave and off you’d go. Now you needed a passport and there was a line of cars. And prices were really high and there wasn’t any sense of “hospitality” for which Canadians are supposedly famous. Maybe it’s because we were obviously tourists.

Or maybe it’s because our friends were obviously Natives to whom not all Canadians are friendly.