TIME TRAVELING SLOWLY – Marilyn Armstrong

Without a machine or a wormhole, we travel through time every day of our lives. We don’t do it instantly, but every photo we take is a picture of us in the past. Recent past, long ago past. All our memories are from the past and with each breath, we move one lungful at a time into our future. It is time travel, but slow.

When I was ten, I read about Halley’s Comet. I learned it would be visible in the heavens on my 39th birthday.”Wow” I thought. “I’ll be so old and I will see the comet on my birthday Thirty-nine!” I couldn’t imagine being that old — or seeing Halley’s Comet.

96-Halleyscomet-1986

When my 39th birthday rolled around, I was living in Jerusalem. On my birthday, as I had planned when I was ten, our bridge club went out into the Judean desert to see the comet. It was Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. It has special significance for Orthodox Jews … and one of us was Orthodox, so he was up a long time because he had to get up before dawn to start praying. That’s Judaism for you. Lots of very long prayers.

The Jerusalem Post had published the exact times and position when Halley’s Comet would be visible as well as where on the horizon you should look. Sure enough, there it was, low on the horizon over Bethlehem. It turned out, when we got back to the house, we could see it perfectly from our balcony. When we knew where to look, it was easy to locate.

halleys-comet-1986

That was 43 years ago. I remember knowing the comet was coming and planning to see it on my 39th birthday. I didn’t know I’d be living in another part of the world by then. Now, as I approach my 73rd year, it’s a one-time memory. I have the perspective of a child, a woman, and a grandmother. I have traveled through time. Slowly. Without a machine, without a wormhole.

It is no less time traveling than in a science fiction story … just a lot slower. Life is a trip through time. Mine, yours, everyones. We won’t bump into our younger or older selves, but we carry each of these selves with us as a future, past or this moment in time.

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.

WALKING THROUGH PARADISE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Paradise

Although Jerusalem was my home and I loved it beyond words, I had a second passion which was the Galilee. That northern part of Israel is rich and beautiful. The wildflowers alone are worth a trip in the spring. I don’t know how the seasons are now.

The best little piece of the Galilee is Tel Dan, archaeological site and nature reserve.

Wild poppies in the Galilee

In Hebrew, it is “Gan Eden” and there’s a sign (or was, anyway) in English that read “Paradise” with an arrow. Just follow the path.

I haven’t been back since September 2001 and much has changed, especially the weather. But it used to be that May in the Galilee, the open fields were covered with wild poppies, scarlet against the green grass.

Waters in full flow at Tel Dan – Photo by Shmuel Baram

Israel has a climate that is not unlike Arizona, which is to say winter is rainy and green. Chilly unless you are atop a mountain, but not usually cold … not like the cold we get here. Spring starts very early, in January when the almond trees bloom and April and May are typically breathtaking. The ground is still moist from the winter rains and the world is green.

Later in the summer, months after the rain has ended and it’s just plain hot with a blue sky and sun that never ends, everything turns brown or beige or tan with little green to be found except on balconies overflowing with flowers.

Review of Tel Dan

One spring, we traveled up to Tel Dan. It is obvious that there has been considerable development, archaeological, in the park itself, and of course, hotels. When we were there early in the 1980s, it was a park with some archaeology work in progress, but no hotels. No fancy walkways.

It was a “school trip” or a family outing. Now it’s fancier and there is more to see, but I think I liked it better before the betterment.

Entryway to Tel Dan Nature Reserve

There’s a lot of information about it and a lot of photographs, too. This is one of the magical places in the world. You can see it, feel it. It is part of the source waters of the Jordan River and has been in existence since before Abraham which is at least 5,000 years.

Wading pool at Tel Dan

There are several websites about the park, but this is the one at which I would start: The Tel Dan Nature Reserve. The site is written in English and Hebrew (there are probably other languages too). It includes some amazing photographs. The big waterfall is the Banias (originally probably “Panaeus” from the Greek).

The Dan River

When I was there, there were no “floating walkways.” You just tripped along rocks and roots through the flowing Dan river as it bubbled up out of the mountain. There are deep pools which look inches in deep because the water is absolutely clear and frigidly icy. That’s where I met my first bee-eater who was every color in the rainbow.

The Banias by Mount Hermon

There is also a lot of archaeological digging in progress. There remains much more to discover including caves, alters and probably a lot more below ground. It is one of the oldest known sites in the area. Not as old as Jericho or the caves at Carmel, but very old and continuously inhabited for most of its time.

I walked through Paradise and I don’t doubt for a minute that it was indeed Paradise. It felt like it to me.

THE WESTERN WALL IN JERUSALEM – Marilyn Armstrong

My favorite place in Jerusalem was the Western Wall, sometimes incorrectly called the “Wailing Wall.” In Hebrew, it’s Kotel — it rhymes with motel.

I used to go to the Kotel to pray and leave messages for God.

Western-Wall-Placard-1000x666

I loved the approach to the Temple mount. I would stand for a while, looking down at it from the approaching steps, trying to form an image of what it must have looked like when it was the hill where God talked to Isaac, where God said that He would never again ask for another human sacrifice.

So what was with all the war and massacre and death? Doesn’t that count?

Then I would walk down the stone steps to the wall and get as close as I could get, so my nose grazed the Wall. I would lay my cheek and the palms of my hands flat against it and feel the humming of power in those ancient stones.

Western wall overview

From close up, you see the messages, tens of thousands of messages rolled tightly into tiny scrolls tucked in the crevices between the rocks. Every kind of prayer, every kind of message, all on tiny folded pieces of paper, cradled by giant stones.

Tucked between the stones were all the prayers, hopes, fears, and gratitude of people who came to this special place to leave a messages for God.

The Wall talks to you and says “You can leave your message here. God always checks his messages and He will get back to you.”

I always brought a message and tucked it into the stones. I knew God would read my message and get back to me. As surely as I knew Jerusalem is the center of the universe and closer to Heaven than any place on earth, I knew I lived down the street from his message center. If every prayer is heard, prayers left at this address got to Him sooner.

western wall with notes

There were groups of rabbis who spent their lives praying at the Wall. For a small fee, they would pray for you. If you believe there is a special potency to the prayers of pious men, the rabbis of the Kotel were worth a donation. They didn’t ask for much – whatever you could afford and for your money, you got a prayer specialist to put the word in for you.

I probably went to the Kotel more than a hundred times over the years, but I most remember one day above all others. I went that day because my mother was dying. I wanted to ask God to give my mother and I some time together.

It seemed pointless to pray for her cancer to be cured. It had spread too far, had invaded too much. I knew it was her time. I accepted death, even my mother’s, but a little time didn’t seem too much to ask.

I bought prayers from the rabbis, then went to the Wall and left my message among the stones.

More than thirty years have passed, but I bet my message is still there, exactly where I left it. With all the other messages left for God in the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

GUILTY – BUT WAS I CHARGED? Marilyn Armstrong

BROUGHT UP GUILTY

To be brought up Jewish is to be brought up guilty. I think Catholics have a similar problem. We are guilty of different things, however. Catholics have the whole “sin” thing to deal with. Jews get to be guilty about all of Our People who were slaughtered in various parts of the world because they were Jews in the wrong country at the wrong political period.

Hofstra University 2014

Often, for us, there was no right period. Until relatively modern times — minus Nazi Germany, of course — Jews were anathema to most Christian monarchies.

And all the countries were monarchies. We did our best for the long years under Islāmic rule. They were fine with Jews as long as we didn’t tread on their religious sensibilities and tiptoeing through other religious ideologies is a very Jewish thing. We got lots of practice.

When I married my first husband, he had no religion. I mean literally none. They didn’t attend any church and I doubt anyone had ever been baptized. Jeff thought he might be a Druid and planned to return as an oak tree. I was a non-practicing Jew. So we got married by a minister that his mother remembered had buried some family member.

We didn’t have a real wedding. No church or synagogue. No wedding gown. Just a little get together with a minister (Methodist, I think) and a few friends. A couple of weeks later, my mother had a reception at their house, which was nice because it was casual. We didn’t need fancy invitations. After which, we got on with the business of being married.

Our house in Baka, in Jerusalem

So, when Owen was about to be born, we had to figure out what to do about religion. We didn’t have any and neither of us were believers in dogma. I had a friend who was also a rabbi and he said he was not a believer in pediatric Judaism.

Neither were we, so we just didn’t do anything … except we had Owen circumcised which gave him a whole set of Jewish godparents … then we had him Baptized and Garry became his godfather. And that is why Owen’s middle name is Garry.

The Dead Sea

When Jeff and I divorced and I took Owen to Israel, it seemed a good time for him to be Jewish, so he had a Bar Mitzvah there, at the only Reform synagogue in Jerusalem.

He got a 6-year dose of Jewish guilt, but then he went back to the U.S. and forgot all about religion.

I got to keep the guilt. He got to be American.

Summer afternoon on the Mumford

Guilt can be a mother’s best weapon to manage recalcitrant children, by the way. Owen may not remember much Judaism, but he sure does remember guilt. Not bad at using it himself, now that I think of it.

AN INKLING OF GREAT DINING — ELSEWHERE

If you are looking for a great meal and a fantastic place to eat it, the Blackstone Valley isn’t IT.

We can find a few diners that are good and at least one interesting hot dog joint in Worcester … but otherwise? Let me give you a hint — an inkling — of great dining you won’t find here. Or anywhere in the area, including Boston.

Rich’s post today on his home blog brought me waves of nostalgia about food in Jerusalem. When I first moved there, I was lost. I couldn’t cook because I didn’t recognize the packaging and things were usually just a little different that they had been back in the States. Eventually, I worked it out and became a better cook than I’d been at home because I no long relied on prepackaged ingredients. I learned to make everything “from scratch.”

When I first got to Israel, I didn’t even know what good food meant. Eventually I discovered a million tiny restaurants tucked into neighborhoods all over the city, all with the name “Mother” in title.

Sure enough, Mom was the head cook. She had a few daughters and maybe a niece or two working their way up — as well as half a dozen sons and nephews handling the serving, busing, management, shopping … and cleaning. Restaurants — the good ones — were family affairs and ALL of them were good.

Dishes were some version of Middle Eastern Jewish — meaning no pork or dairy in it, but that was no problem. Muslims don’t eat pork either and dairy isn’t generally a part of dinner anyway.

The absolutely best food EVER was served by friends and neighbors on Shabbat.  Our Moroccan neighbors with whom Owen played could cook. I don’t know if every family were quite as brilliant as those neighbors on Hebron Road, but … OH my LORD.

Owen got to eat out pretty much every Friday night. His friends mothers loved him. “Look at that tall skinny kid — doesn’t anybody FEED HIM?” They could feed him to death and he’d roll home and tell us about it. I’d drool.

Middle eastern food is labor intensive to a degree that is hard to explain. It takes days to make all those little chopped up dishes that are wrapped in couscous or grape leaves or some light yet delightfully crunchy cover. Served plain — with a sauce — or as part of a soup.

We called those skinny roll-ups in thin filo dough “cigarettes” which they resembled in form, but too delicious to describe.

Everything was chopped, seasoned, sometimes cooked, sometimes semi-raw or entirely raw, and  wrapped. Then there were the sauces ranging from red (hot) to green (blow your head off hot). Owen learned to love ALL of it. I never quite made it to the green stuff, but I loved the red sauce.

It’s a very short hop to vegetarian or Vegan cooking, too. Meat isn’t the big issue in any of these dishes. In these native lands, meat was in short supply, which is why is was shredded and chopped. A single chicken could serve a lot of people that way.

There were some other foods, too. Israel adopted a bunch of Vietnam boat people who had nowhere else to go, so they took over opening oriental restaurants. Some were pretty good, some not so great, but at least it was different.

Italian was popular:  Kosher which meant meatless because the cheese was more important than the meat — or non Kosher. But it wasn’t as good as Italian restaurants in New York. Then again, few Italian restaurants are as good as they were in NY, unless you went to Italy where my mother assured me you would find the BEST food in the world. She used to diet in advance of traveling to Italy because she always came back 10 pounds heavier.

In Israel, though, the  great food was “tribally” local. Moroccan, Tunisian, Syrian, Persian, Algerian and sometimes Kenyan or generally Arabian — everything was GREAT. Also expensive. Eating out was surprisingly expensive, so getting an invitation from a neighbor was like getting invited to the best restaurant in town. Better, really.

I miss the food. I can make just about the best humus you’ve ever eaten, but the rest of it the food requires mother and three well-trained daughters — and about a week to prepare it. You don’t see that around here. Maybe in other cities, but not in New England.

We settle for good Japanese food. Sushi and tempura and anything that comes in rolls. But so far, not very good Chinese. There were some wonderful Chinese restaurants in Boston, but not out here.

That both Garry and I have eaten some amazing food in amazing places probably explains why we find most of the local eateries uninspiring, to say the least. Other than a couple of Japanese places, we haven’t found anywhere worth the price. Food is bland and the preparation is uninspiring. As for Italian, try mine. Much better. For that matter, try my son’s. His is much better, too. We do not live in great dining out territory.

I’m told there are good Indian places in Worcester and in Providence, but we don’t like a lot of traveling for dinner. I don’t mind going, but when we’re full of food, we don’t want a long trip home.

Retirement, you know?

WHAT A SHOCK!

You think you know someone. You hang out with them. Exchange emails, jokes, anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. One day, out of the blue, you discover they are fundamentalist Christians who think you are going to Hell. Or a hard-core right-wing Republican who voted for you-know-who. Maybe a conspiracy theorist or a proud believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

fobidden planet poster

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. It probably should not be a big surprise that you meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish His work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed perfectly normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission and there you were, transported to wacko central.

I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel lounges, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was, like me, an American. So it was inevitable we would meet. I did his horoscope for him because in those days, I did horoscopes for an awful lot of people.

We struck up a chatty little relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and then, there was his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.

Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me one of two things: he was an alien from on another planet … or … he was Jesus Christ.

edward-gorey-donald-imagined-thingsIt turned out to be the latter. Yet one more Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be his Paul and spread the word. I told him his timing was off. I promised to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home.

He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.

Then there was the guy I worked with at a high-tech company in Rhode Island.  One day he told me he was going to quit his job and move to an underground bunker in anticipation of the coming American apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope. Our relationship went rapidly downhill.

These surprises have made me wary of new friends who don’t come with references from other friends. I’m afraid of what might be revealed when we get to know each other better. The thing about people who believe in cabals — or that they were dropped from an alien space craft or will be leaving on one shortly — are that they are sure God has assigned them a mission and you cannot argue with them.

You can’t point out the incongruities and contradictions of their beliefs. They believe what they believe and that’s that. Facts are irrelevant. They ignore evidence. They know everything they need to know and given where they’re coming from, that’s probably enough. For them.

I haven’t personally met a real nutter lately, so I think I’ve got an opening in my tribe. Any applicants?

THE MIKVEH

In 1980, I got married. In Israel.

Israel is a funny country. A democracy and also, a theocracy. Family matters fall under religious courts, including marriage. To get married in Israel, you have to be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. If you want a non-religious wedding, you have to go somewhere else. Another country. People of mixed faiths who want a neutrally religious ceremony have to leave the country to get hitched. The good news? An out-of-country marriage is honored in Israel. If you’ve made the contract, it’s legal, but a lot of people would prefer not having to go overseas to get married.

Mikveh in a modern hotel in Israel

The guy I was marrying was a Jew. Not much of a Jew, but to be fair, I wasn’t much of a Jew either. Not religiously, anyway. I had done a lot of reading, so I understood what it was about. I was good with it. It was medieval, but as medieval stuff goes, it was a good kind of 14th century.

Since the destruction of the Temple (by the Romans, in case you were wondering), the Mikveh’s use is almost entirely for the purification of Jewish women and men, and as part of the tradition for converting to Judaism. And before you ask, yes, people convert to Judaism. Not only because they are marrying a Jew. Some people do it because they find Judaism a religiously logical structure. As I do, even though I don’t practice it.

The Mikveh is used to purify people and sometimes, things. Like a body for burial, utensils for use in a Kosher home. But mostly, it’s for people.

An ancient Mikveh

Most forms of impurity can be fixed by immersion in any natural collection of water, but some things require “living water.” That is to say, moving water, such as springs or groundwater wells. The Mikveh is designed to simplify the whole process by offering a bathing facility that is permanently ritually pure and in contact with a natural source of water.

Back in the old days — like a couple of thousand years ago older — rivers and lakes were the place to go. But that water was cold. There were no hair dryers. You couldn’t get your fingernails done after your ritual bath. What about those lovely warm towels? The modern Mikveh doesn’t merely purify. The water is skin temperature and very comfortable — and clean. You exit to heated towels. Hair dressers. Manicures. And, of course, there is food and you can bet it’s Kosher.

“I have to do what?” I asked.

La-mickve-de-besalc, Spain

My friend, who was religious and regularly went to a Mikveh, was patient. She told me she’d make sure I went to a good one, where they would treat me properly. By which she meant they wouldn’t question me very hard about my level of religiosity. Which was fortunate. I didn’t have much to say except that I quite liked the way Judaism believed winning God to your side was more about doing the right thing and a lot less about repentance. You could repent your ass off as a Jew, but if you weren’t kind to the poor, diligent in your prayers and all that stuff, God was not going to be impressed. You might not get to be part of the rising of the dead to …

Well, maybe heaven. Maybe … something else. Judaism doesn’t have anything at all to say about the afterlife. Believe whatever you choose. It’s not in The Book. I like that. It was sensible. Although I didn’t practice, I appreciated it. Also, she told me to not tell them I was getting married because they were a lot stricter when you were getting married.

Stricter? About what? I’d been married before, after all.

“No,” she explained. “It doesn’t count. You didn’t marry a Jew.”

It was dizzying. She also explained that you had to walk into the water and take a complete dip. Every single inch of you had to be under the water. Including the top of your head and if you missed, they’d make you do it again until you did it right. You had to do it right so they would stamp your official purity ticket. The one you had to show to the Rabbi to prove you were pure enough to get married.

Say what?

In my lifetime, purity was not an issue. I’m pretty sure we abandoned purity sometime during the 1960s, right around the time when we smoked pot, but didn’t inhale. Oh, don’t be silly. Of course we inhaled.

Purity is not something you can ignore in Judaism. It’s a very big deal. Before I could get married, I had to be purified. Whether or not I’d ever do it again, I was going to do it at least this once. I was supposed to be peeved about this reversion to medievalism, but actually, I was intrigued. I’m a history buff. I like ancient rituals and this was an honest-to-God ancient ritual of which I would be a part.

Did I mention that you also have to be incredibly clean to be purified? Your fingernails and toenails have to be as clean as the day you were born.

A modern Mikveh — much like the one I used in Jerusalem

I did it. I was confused, especially because they spoke only Hebrew and mine wasn’t good, which is an understatement. But I cleansed, dipped, and got my stamp of purity approval. I liked it. It felt good. I felt cleansed. I thought if I’d been in a different place …

I left the Mikveh wishing life was offering me other choices. But I was missing the point.

Life always offers you other choices. The hard part is seeing them and doing something about them. Recognizing options can be extremely complicated, but the choices are always there. Grab those choices before they get away.

But I didn’t see them. Time passed and life moved on.

LIVING ABROAD IN JERUSALEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, in another life, I had a home in Jerusalem, just down the road from Jaffa Gate.

When I remember Jerusalem, the edges are soft. “My” Jerusalem is gone, replaced by housing projects, shopping malls, and office parks.

When you move to Jerusalem, it is called “going up” to Jerusalem. Indeed, it is on top of a small mountain, but there’s more to it than the simple physical act of climbing. It’s an emotional event of rising into another place and a different world.

I didn’t know I was arriving at the end of an era. Those would be the last years the Bedouins would cross their sheep through the middle of town, stopping traffic on King George Street on their way to the greener grass on the other side of the mountain. Those would be the final years during which you could stand on the edge of the wadi by an ancient olive grove to see the great golden Dome of the Rock glowing in the first light of dawn. Now, the wadi is filled with condos. A promenade has been built where ancient olives trees grew.

At the end of January 1978, my son and I arrived at Lod airport. Neither of us had ever been to Israel. Owen knew absolutely nothing of the place. I had read a great deal about it … history, legends, guidebooks, and novels. We had no friends or family in the country, nor were we familiar with the language or customs. Despite this, we would make it our home and both of us would grow to love it.

My mother said she thought me very brave to leap into the unknown. I enjoyed the role of intrepid heroine. But I was not brave, just hungry for adventure and yearning for culture shock.

When we arrived, exhausted and anxious at the airport, I scanned the faces in the crowd, wondering who would be there to take charge of us and get us to our destination. Remarkably, someone was there. Somehow, we recognized each other. We were collected, processed and given official identity papers. A small amount of money. I had no idea how little it was worth. It was a while before I learned to do exchange rates in my head.

I remember that the taxi driver played the radio loud and sang along. The music was 1960s American rock and roll. The driver spoke no English. I spoke no Hebrew. Images tumbling one on top of another.

Israel-jerusalem-westernwall

The apartment in which we were to live had a living room, a hallway with a kitchenette, a small bedroom, and a tiny bath with a half-tub. No closets. You buy closets and install them. Israeli closets combine closets and dressers. Lacking any place to put our things, we used our trunks as dressers.

We had nothing to eat. The refrigerator was empty. Hunger was gnawing at us, but we had no car nor a clue where to shop. No other choice, so we ventured out. Found a grocery store. All the labels were in Hebrew. Bread was sold in whole, un-sliced loaves. Cheese was sold by metric weight. Mostly, I recognized the fruits and vegetables, but even some of those were unfamiliar.

Culture shock really struck when I tried to buy milk. Finding milk required asking everyone until I found someone who spoke English. He then led me to the dairy case. This was unsettling since I’d thought that a dairy case is a dairy case and would be easy enough to recognize. Milk was sold in plastic bags.

Not cartons. Not bottles. Bags. What in the world was I going to do with a bag of milk? Finally, I bought a pitcher. After tearing the bag open with my teeth – not having thought to bring scissors – I poured the milk into it.

It turned out that there are special containers to hold milk bags and you just snip off a corner and pour the milk directly from the bag. Who knew?

We finally slept. The next morning dawned into brilliant sunshine.

“Let’s go see our city,” I said and we found the bus to Jerusalem, rode down Hebron Road, and got off at Jaffa Gate.

The walls rose up around us. I shivered with excitement. I suspect that Owen, lacking my expectations, was merely stunned into silence. This was what had brought me to Jerusalem. Thousands of years of ghosts floated through those narrow streets. You never walked alone in Jerusalem. Generations of ghosts walked with you wherever you went.

Donkeys, so heavily laden that they looked as if they would collapse under their loads, plied the stone streets, cruelly prodded by small brown boys armed with sticks and shrill voices. Vendors called from their stalls. Dresses blew gently in the soft wind, brightly ornamented with intricate needlework.

Everything rustled in a light breeze. Stall owners stood in the lanes accosting passersby.

“Come in, come in,” they called. “I make you a special deal.”

Small open spaces housed spice markets that filled the air with the most exotic smells, the scent of ginger mixed with cinnamon, cumin, and saffron. Breathing in all the scents was a joy.

As the day moved on, more and more people arrived, filling the shuk until it seethed with activity and noise. Everywhere, people were haggling over prices, making deals, grabbing up bargains, filling their bags. It was vital and alive.

Everyone was buying or selling. Voices echoed off the stone. Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of stone, and in the springtime and summer, Jerusalem of flowers. All around you, embedded in the walls, is the architectural history of the city.

Yerushalmis change their minds a lot,” I was told. The walls told stories. You could see the outlines where arches and windows had been but were now closed and see how the ground level had risen.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem

That first day, we wandered. The city led us into herself. She twisted us around until we found ourselves atop a hill, looking down at the Temple Mount, the golden Dome of the Rock shining in the sun. The walls, the golden dome, the stones made my bones resonate.

I fell in love with Jerusalem. No matter how difficult my personal life became, the city lifted me up.

Jerusalem sang to me, called to me, made love to me, and now, so many years later, in my dreams, I am still in love with her.

MYSTERY OF THE MISSING REPORT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Abram Kardiner, my father

The State of Israel was created in 1948. Part of its population lived on rural Kibbutzim scattered throughout the country. At the time, most of the Kibbutzim had all their children housed together, separate from the adults. Parents didn’t live with their children in nuclear families. Parents and their children spent time with each other, but every aspect of live was communal.

My father, Abram Kardiner, was a well-known and well-respected anthropologist and psychoanalyst.

He had created a methodology to study cultures or social groups using psychological testing as well as anthropological analysis.

The Israeli government contacted my father and asked him to do a study on the psychological effects of Kibbutz life, particularly on child development. My father hired psychologists and anthropologists to do in-depth studies of the child rearing practices in the Kibbutzim. They also did psychological tests on children and on adults who had been raised communally.

The results came out a few years later and were not favorable to the Israeli social experiment. The children were technically well cared for, but were always in a group. They had very little one-on-one adult interaction and very little involving consistent adult figures, like parents.

My father found that this type of upbringing created socially responsible individuals, but most of them lacked good self-esteem, were aggressive, and had trouble relating well to others.

The study concluded that breaking up the nuclear family unit was not a good idea long-term. My father recommended parents and children be allowed to live together as the primary child rearing unit, though children could spend the day, when parents were working, in communal day care centers. Everything else in the Kibbutz could stay completely communal.

The study was presented to the Israeli government. I think it was some time in the late 1950’s. Someone from the government met with my father and asked him not to publish his report. The government would take it under advisement, but it didn’t want these negative findings publicized. The mere existence of the State of Israel was under attack. The government didn’t want to give extra ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

My father agreed to keep the report to himself. But he did keep the original copy of the report. Here’s where the mystery comes in. A while later, my dad went to check something in the report – and it was missing! My parents knew where it had been kept and it wasn’t there. They searched my father’s entire office but still didn’t find it.

Dad was convinced that the Israelis wanted to make sure that Dad didn’t change his mind about sharing his report with others. The only logical explanation is that Israeli ‘agents’ took Dad’s only copy of the report. So we may have been part of a top-secret Israeli ‘operation’!

Kibbutz in the Galilee

There is a kind of happy ending to this story. The Israeli’s took Dad’s findings to heart and within a few years, the government had changed the social structure of the Kibbutzim. Most living arrangements on Kibbutzim to single, nuclear family units. Parents and children moved back together, as my father had recommended — and so it remains today.

So, not only was my dad part of a spy operation, he actually influenced the policy of an entire country! Not a bad outcome overall.