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.

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.

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.

UP TO JERUSALEM

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.

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 1979, 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. It was 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 a pair of 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 tall around us and 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, garments 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. Just breathing 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. The shuk 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 tell stories. You could see the outlines where arches and windows had been but were now closed and see how the ground level had risen.

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. No matter how difficult my life became, the city would lift 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.

DESCENDING TO THE CENTER OF DISSENSION

In Hebrew, one is always said to be “going up to Jerusalem.” Not only because Jerusalem sits on a mountain — not one of the Rockies or the Himalayas, but a mountain — something you’d know if you tried to drive there in a small car up the roads to the city from the coast, but because it is closer to heaven than other parts of earth.

For Donaldo MacCheesehead, it is definitely descending.

MacCheesehead’s trip to the middle east terrifies me on one hand, but on the other makes me laugh uncontrollably — to the point of falling down. If I had another hand, I’m not sure what I would do. Maybe weep?

Jerusalem – the star in the middle was where I lived, an area called “Baka.”

I remember when I went up to live in Jerusalem. I had read Exodus (Leon Uris) probably 100 times the year I was 14. I had been exhorted by my mother and many other family members on the importance of Israel to Our People. For the life of me, I couldn’t see why everyone couldn’t reach a sensible settlement. I’m a lot smarter than Chief Orange Blossom, but it turns out, you really need to live there for a while to “get” it. When I finally got it, I knew it was time to go home. I was not going to settle the problems. Not mine or anyone else’s.

To say that it’s “not as easy as it appears” doesn’t come near the heart of the problem. There isn’t a heart to the problem. So much of what happened in the region took place long enough ago that its remembrance is wildly twisted. The shape of the past bears little resemblance to anything that really happened. It has been buried by myth, opinion, counter-opinion, hopes, dreams … and far too much money spent on guns and hate.

Israel now

Who did what, when, and why? There is some truth to everything, but there is no absolute Truth in the craziness. No final, resonating Grand Truth against which no argument will stand except this single one.

The Jewish people deserve a place on earth where they can live and not be slaughtered because they are Jews. You can’t extract that position from the equation and come up with any answer.

The return of lands to Egypt and Syria

Since that is what “the Arab States” have consistently demanded, there has been no significant progress … collectively. Yet there has been quite a lot of progress between individual countries. Even before Jordan and Israel had an “official” peace, they had a good, working, informal agreement. And a lot of traffic between the two countries.

The peace with Egypt has had its ups and downs, but it still is hanging in there, on some level, and maybe if that nation’s own craziness were to fade, things would probably improve elsewhere, too.

Syria? Well, that’s not happening anytime soon. Lebanon? I don’t know what’s going  on up there, these days, so I have no current opinion. If I had one, I’m sure it would be complex, confusing, and involve hashish.

Israel in context with neighboring countries

America’s Orange King is going to discover — soon — that nothing in this part of the world is simple. He has not risen to Jerusalem, but rather fallen into the mire. In many ways, it should remind the man of his own issues with truth. Because in the middle east, there is no truth. Just fights, disagreement, disputes, arguments, confusion, dismay, ancient hatreds, and grudges which will never die.

“Simple” in not a word to use when talking of Israel and her neighbors.

If not for the future of human life and death on Planet Earth were not part of this conversation, it really would be funny.

So. For a man whose ability to focus on a problem is shorter than two minutes, getting him to “think” about making peace in the middle east really does make me choke with laughter … and tears. I’m sure his vision for the region is … HUGE!