NO SAFE PLACE?

JerusalemOldCitySepia-3It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. Fight? Uh, no, I don’t think so. Flight? I was lost. Go where? I stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. No idea what to do next.

Baka, Jerusalem

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock 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 up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“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 mustn’t go into 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 quite the thing to do.

I never felt endangered, though probably I had been. It was the end of the times when Arabs and Jews could talk to each other, even be friends. I am sad when I think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger to have an Israeli in their house. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are not just two sides to this conflict; there are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had some answers. I was sure I knew something. By 1987, I knew there were no answers … and I knew nothing.

EX-PATRIOT: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A VACATION AND BUILDING A LIFE

The Herodian, hideaway of the King of Israel

There used to be a joke in Israel. It worked in English and Hebrew, so here it goes.

A tourist goes to visit Israel. He is astounded at what a beautiful country it is. He’s awed by the crops in the field, the amazing range of topography from mountains to deserts, from to to ocean. Haifa sits on the ledge overlooking the Mediterranean and little Safed (Svat) is a gem atop a mountain overlooking the sea of Galilee. He decides his future is there and he gets his family on board and they all move to a Merkaz Klita (Welcoming Dwelling) where they will first settle for free while everyone learns Hebrew and figures out what work they would like to do. But nothing goes the way it’s supposed to. The family is completely bogged down in bureaucracy. The kids learn Hebrew quickly, but mom and dad? By the time they’ve been there a year they have a couple of hundred simple words and an accent that makes Israeli’s cover their ears. Their skills don’t seem to fit in and their poor language skills make even an interview feel like climbing a mountain. Although they arrived with quite a lot of money, a year later, they are nearly broke, still don’t have a home of their own or something they could call a profession. The kids are happy, but the parents are sometimes too depressed to get out of bed in the morning.

“What happened?” says the man who first came there. “It was perfect. Beautiful. Everyone was happy. It was just like a tourist guide, full of fascinating archaeology, golden fields, exciting technology, hope, joy … with a future.”

“Aha,” said the Israeli to whom he was talking. “That was because you were here on a tourist visa.”

This particular bit of humor works for any place on Earth — or for that matter, Heaven and Hell. It’s an all-purpose joke. You just don’t “get” a country when you go there on vacation. I know a lot of people who moved to places they fell in love with as tourists, only to discover that the day-to-day lives of those who lived there was something too different for them, at least permanently. Nonetheless, I maintain that everyone should spend at least a year living in another country and not next door. It’s the only way you learn that how we do things here isn’t the only way they can or should be done. When you live abroad, there are no foreigners because you are one.

I had a dream about Israel last night. I often dream about Israel, and frequently, I dream in Hebrew. This is particularly interesting because apparently somewhere in my brain, I know a lot more Hebrew than I ever managed to to speak while I lived there. Owen spoke like he was born there within six month, but I spoke with such an awful American accent, often substituted words that sounded similar to the correct ones — which was hysterically funny to Israelis who are not, overall, big on politeness. They laughed until they cried. Each burst of laughter made me less willing to try to learn the language properly.

Mount Gilboa where the wild irises bloom

Nonetheless, I stay just under nine years and loved the country. I didn’t love the politics. I’m not sure anyone loves their country’s politics, but Israel and the Middle East are particularly incomprehensible. There is truth on every side, lies on every side, and a bizarre mixture of both on every side. It is not only possible to believe two completely opposing beliefs simultaneously, it’s almost a requirement. For example you can believe it is absolutely imperative that Israel have borders that can be protected against invasion because we have seen what happens when we don’t, but also believe that the Palestinians are getting a raw deal. Both things are true and both issues need to be somehow reconciled. If it were up to me, I would try to convince everyone involved on both sides to declare the past done. It’s too complicated to work out the differences. Start from today. Make something work now because the past is gone and living there is not doing anyone any good at all.

Wild poppies in the Galilee

In my dream, a friend (who I didn’t recognize and still don’t) was singing an Israeli folk song. She asked me if I knew the song. I said I didn’t. She asked me a lot of questions about the country and places I had visited. Eventually, I woke up talking to her explaining I had moved there and never been a tourist. I never did touristy things unless I had guests from the States. I loved having guests because it was the only time I had to do the tourist stuff.

Otherwise? I worked. I raised a family, or tried. I had a terrible marriage which was a “bounce back” from a recent divorce (always a very bad idea — overseas or not). I didn’t understand anything and he wasn’t much of a help. I worked long hours and commuted … something few Israelis did at that point though I understand these days, Israelis do commute between cities. It’s a very small country, after all. Today’s Israel is very different. Owen commented the other day that he had overheard some Israelis talking and could barely understand them. The language — especial the idioms — have changed enormously during the past 30 year. He was embarrassed that he understood so little.

The western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

But the thing is, I was involved almost from the first couple of weeks in work, relationships, and working at being a part of a society about which I understood only pieces. I never gave myself a chance to learn the language which remained a huge barrier for me. I was tied down to very young children and their care while they didn’t even understand my language nor I theirs.

Moving to a country is not at all the same as vacationing there. Maybe retiring might be similar. I wouldn’t know. I never had any significant time off while I lived in Israel. I was always working. Like many people who move to a new country, most of my friends were immigrants too. From England, Australia, South Africa, France, the Philippines, and of course, the U.S. In the years I lived in Jerusalem, almost all of them went back to where they came from.

They got tired of battling bureaucracy, dealing with terrorists and impending war, as well as Israel’s weird brand of socialism crossed with capitalism. With salaries too low to live on and what was then the most insane inflation you can imagine.Calculating various currencies and overdrafts while tryin to figure out what you were really earning. Mostly, I came to realize that Israel was not solving its problems. With each passing year, the idealists got older and the younger ones were a wholly different culture than the ones in my age group or older. The new crowd were born there. As far as they were concerned, the lay of the land was the way it had been since before they were born and they weren’t giving up anything to anybody. Much like this country. Is the U.S. giving back our Native Americans their land? Or even giving Black people a couple of acres and the equivalent of a mule? Of course not. After a certain point in time. the land belongs to whoever has possessed it, regardless of what happened before. I did not think there would ever be peace in my lifetime or maybe ever.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem

Yet I loved it. I love the Old City. I love walking the wall of the old Jerusalem. You could still do that back then. You could still go and dig around in archaeological areas and “find stuff.” You could walk through a corner in Jerusalem where David fought Goliath. Climb a mountain where an Israeli king made a last stand. See where the Romans broke through the walls into the city. Look at the reservoirs built by Herod the Great (his greatness is in considerable dispute, by the way). You could climb the Mount of Temptations, follow the Via Dolorosa and have Arab coffee along the way at the Misery of the Cross Coffee House and Souvenir Shop while shopping for sandals. You could fall in love with the open air spice shops and vacation along the Sea of Galilee. Drive to the top of the Banias and visit Eden where Adam and Eve had that especially delicious apple.

Old city wall in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee

With all of that, it was never a vacation for me. It was beautiful, haunting, and rich with thousands of years of history … but in the end, it wasn’t “home.” Because when I thought of home, I knew I wasn’t there.

Maybe had I made a more sane marriage, learned the language, and felt the country was moving in a better direction, it could have been home, but I made too many bad choices too fast. I learned too little and most of that, too late. Ex-patriotism doesn’t work for everyone … at least not when it’s very far away, across an ocean in a culture that bears little resemblance to your own.

WHAT A SHOCK! – Marilyn Armstrong

You think you know someone. You hang out with them, exchange emails, jokes, and anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they are fundamentalist Christians who believe you are going to Hell or are a hard-core right-wing Trumpist, conspiracy theorist, or believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. 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. We struck up a little chatty 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 I’d done 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 and came from on another planet or galaxy … or … he was Jesus Christ.

edward-gorey-donald-imagined-thingsIt was the latter. Another Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure 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 one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope.

Not surprisingly, a series of these unwelcome surprises has made more than slightly wary of prospective friends. I’m afraid of what will be revealed as we get to know each other better.

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they were dropped from an alien spacecraft (or will be leaving on one shortly), are certain that God has assigned them a mission … ? You can’t argue with them.

You can’t point out the incongruities and contradictions of their beliefs. They believe what they believe and that’s that. There’s no point in offering facts. They will ignore all evidence that goes against their world-view.

These folks make me nervous. What happens when they (inevitably) decide I am one of their (many) enemies?

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.

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?

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.

NEED A NEW TIN FOIL HAT? DIRECTIONS INCLUDED!

Once upon a time, we thought this kind of thing was confined to the nutcases you met in regular life.

You think you know someone. You hang out, exchange emails. Make a few jokes. Maybe you work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they are a firm believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Or the next Messiah.

Even better, they are the new Messiah.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. Big surprise, 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 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. But he made pretty good pizza.

I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel bars, like the Hilton Hotel. He was an American, so it was inevitable we would meet. We struck up a little chatty relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

aluminum foil 1

Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and I’d done 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:

  • He was an alien and came from on another planet — or galaxy.
  • He was Jesus Christ.

The latter. Jesus again. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure 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.

Now, the people who run our government … the government of The United States of America … are as fruit-loopy as anyone I’ve met in my travels through the years. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or do both at the same time … but I am absolutely certain of one thing.

I need a good, sturdy, tinfoil hat. 


aluminum-foil-hat_directions


Then there was the guy I worked with at one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed, who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker. In anticipation of the upcoming apocalypse. Not zombie. Regular. I hadn’t even done his horoscope. It turns out he may have been more right than I possibly understood at the time.

So it’s not the weird people you bump into at work or at the grocery or pizza joint. It’s your government. My government. The big one. With all the money. And nuclear bombs and rockets and an army and Lunatic Numero Uno is at the very top of this.

Does he have a good aluminum foil hat? Could that be the problem?

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they came on an alien space craft, or will be leaving on one shortly, is you can’t argue with them. They believe what they believe. Absolutely. Don’t bother with facts, their minds are made up. What if they think I am one of their (many, many, many) enemies? Pass the aluminum foil. I need a another hat.

NOTE: Buy the super long roll of foil. The ultra strong stuff. Better hats.

FRIENDS IN STRANGE PLACES

It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice.

Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if there was any chance to save it. Many of us kept working without pay, optimists in the midst of disaster.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

Where I used to live.
Where I lived

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

Ramallah

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I definitely will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. I just stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. I had no idea what to do.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock 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 up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“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 mustn’t go into 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 quite the thing to do.

Jerusalem_ben_yehuda_street

That was the end of the days when Arabs and Jews could easily be friends. Sad to think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are many more than two sides to this conflict. There are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood and the sadder I became.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had answers, that I knew something. By end of 1987 , I knew there were no answers and I knew nothing.

Chance Encounter: The Discover Challenge 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – REDUX, REDUX, REDUX

Israel was in turmoil. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous  economic situation and an intense heat wave 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 make 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 and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

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 lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is/was. They were under no obligation to help me. But they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

And act of kindness by strangers. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

For the Daily Prompt. Again. How many times have I responded to this one? Are we up to a dozen yet?

PASS THE ALUMINUM FOIL (DIRECTIONS INCLUDED)

You think you know someone. You hang out with them, exchange emails, jokes, and anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they believe you are going to Hell. Perhaps a conspiracy theorist or a believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Or the next Messiah.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. Big surprise, 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 bars, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was an American, so it was inevitable we would meet. We struck up a little chatty relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

aluminum foil 1

Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and I’d done 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 and came from on another planet or galaxy … or … he was Jesus Christ.

It was the latter. Another Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure 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.

aluminum-foil-hat_directions

Then there was the guy I worked with at one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed, who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker. In anticipation of the coming apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope.

Not surprisingly, a series of these unwelcome surprises has made more than slightly wary of prospective friends. I’m afraid of what will be revealed as we get to know each other better.

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they came on an alien space craft or will be leaving on one shortly, and they are all sure God has assigned them a mission.

You can’t argue with them. They believe what they believe. Absolutely. Don’t bother with facts, their minds are made up.

What if they decide I am one of their (many) enemies? Pass the aluminum foil. I think I need a new hat.