LIVING ABROAD – 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 or bottles. Plastic 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 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.

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?

WHERE IN THE WORLD? – RICH PASCHALL

 Ouagadougou, anyone?  by Rich Paschall

One of the many things that has surprised me about education in the twenty-first century is the absence of Geography in grade school and high school curriculum.  When I have asked any young people in the last two decades if they have taken geography in school, the answer is usually the same.  “Geography?  What’s that?”

When I was in elementary school, we took Geography.  We had Geography books.  The class room had Geography maps so we could understand where in the world our place of study was located.  They were the kind of maps that rolled up like your window shades.  There were pictures pinned to a bulletin board of various places we might study.  The geography course was our window to other locations in the world.  It was an introduction to other people and cultures.  I always found it an interesting class, although I did not know at the time just how useful it would be.

Earth

There were many things about geography that I did not find so interesting.  The topography was lost on someone who lived in an area that is completely flat.  Information about crops and commerce held no delight at the grade school level.  The local currency meant nothing to a boy with a tiny allowance.

Climate was interesting, however, to someone who had experienced the severity of all four seasons.  I could not imagine living somewhere that had a colder climate then we have in winter.  I did imagine that places with warmer weather throughout the year would be great to visit, especially in winter.  Pictures of green mountains or long, sandy beaches fueled my imagination.  I did not think I would ever get to travel much, but the views of great scenery and different types of structures were the joys of my young fantasy vacations.

With the news of the world more available than ever, you would think that geography would be an important field of study to more than the CIA.  Perhaps those in charge of various school boards around the country do not think so.  Can you match these cities recently in the news with their countries?


City ——————————- Country
Mogadishu————————United States
Castañer ————————– Israel
Bishkek —————————-Turkey
Ankara —————————- Kyrgyzstan
Tel Aviv —————————- Somalia


When I was first working in freight forwarding, a young person was trying to pronounce the name written on one of the folders.  She may have been filing items by destination. To just look at it, you would not think it a mystery, but the uneducated person was lost. “Tell a, Tayla, tellavi…”  At that, a very annoyed supervisor in another group yelled over to our area, “Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv! It’s in the news sometimes.”  It was the capital of Israel at the time, and it is the only international airport in the country.  I guess we are always stunned by people who do not know the capital cities or the largest airports of any country.  By the way, the supervisor shouting the name of the city across the office remains one of our favorite air freight stories. It also points to the deficiency in our education on geography.

Another part of Earth

When I got a job in air freight, I think I already had a good idea of the capitals and major cities of most countries, and now I have come to learn their airport codes as well. The locations of major hubs of commerce and the airlines that fly there are key to our success.  You could put Asian freight on Lufthansa, who makes its first stop in Frankfurt, but it may make more sense to put it on a carrier going west to Asia.  It really depends where you are. If you are on the east coast, for example, it may make a bit of sense to go east.  Lufthansa does go most places in the world.  If you are in Chicago, it may be better to go west.

We can send your Shanghai freight from Chicago on a European carrier, but the distance will be greater to fly east, the cost will likely be more and the time of travel will be greater.  No plane would have the range to go nonstop.  However, there are Chinese carriers, as well as American Airlines, who fly non stop from ORD (Chicago, O’Hare) to PVG (Shanghai, China).  Because of competition, you are likely to get a good rate for the faster transit.  In freight forwarding, it is important to have an idea where everything is located in order to make the best routing decisions.

This is true for your vacation trip as well.  When I tell people I have gone to Alsace, France, they usually conclude I must have flown to Paris.  The truth is, I usually fly to Frankfurt, Germany which is about the same distance from Strasbourg and usually cheaper.  I have also considered the Euro-Airport at Mulhouse, France which is closer, and the airport at Zürich, Switzerland.

Strasbourg, France

Grab a map and discover the world. OK, here are the answers, although I am tempted to tell you to grab a Geography book or just Google it.

1 – Mogadishu is the capital of war-torn Somalia.

2 – Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

3 – Ankara is the capital of the Republic of Turkey.  You probably thought it was Istanbul.

4 – You can fly to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, which is a major international city, but no longer a capital. 

5 – Castaner is a mountain community in Puerto Rico that was devastated by the hurricane.  Yes, it is part of the US.  And one more just for fun. 

6 – Can you find Ouagadougou on a map?

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.