Faces Of israel
“His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.” A.A. Mllne
Faces Of israel
“His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.” A.A. Mllne
The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon
Jerusalem is a symbol of three great religions but is also a city filled with hatred. The conflicts are mostly between the Muslims and the Jews but also with the Ultra Orthodox.
The Temple Mount is in the South East corner of Jerusalem’s Old City surrounded by date palms and cypress trees. It is the most holy place in the city, with major significance to all three religions.
It is thought to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.
For Jews, the Temple Mount was the location of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments) It’s the most sacred site in Judaism.
For Christians, the Temple Mount is significant because the Jewish temple located here was where Jesus prayed daily and later preached with his disciples.
For Muslims, it is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The rock under the dome is where the Prophet Muhammad left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse in the 7th Century.
The Temple Mount is a controversial and culturally significant place.
Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, but Muslims continue to manage the site.
However armed Israeli soldiers patrol inside. It’s a regular flash point for protests and violence between Jews and Arabs.
The entrance for non-Muslims is at the Mughrabi Bridge (an enclosed wooden ramp) near the Western Wall. Tourists can usually visit the Temple Mount, but there are restrictions.
It’s a religious site, so modest dress is required. (blue cover ups if you are not dressed correctly)
You must pass a security checkpoint with metal detectors, and certain religious artifacts are not allowed in (Bibles, crosses, Star of David, etc.)
There are only certain times that non-Muslims are allowed to visit.
It is quite different from the staircase in the wall that we used to go back and forth many years ago.
Tourists can walk around the plaza taking photos, but are currently not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a fire was set inside the mosque by a Christian extremist many years ago. You are able to peek inside Al-Aqsa from a window on the side of the building.
Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but they can’t pray openly. Only Arabs are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
Some Orthodox Jews feel the site is too holy to even walk on while others believe they should be allowed to pray there. The chief rabbis have posted a sign forbidding Jews to pray there.
There is definitely tension in the air, but it didn’t feel dangerous.
The world is a big place and three religions are fighting over a plaza of stone. We are supposed to respect each other’s rights and freedoms. None of this feels God like to me.
Mea Shearim, The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem
“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” Jon Stewart
Walking into Mea Shearim is like walking into a shtetl (village) in pre World War Two Eastern Europe. When you walk through this community they expect you to be respectful of their way of life and dress appropriately. There are signs in English for that.
Tzedakah boxes are posted all over to give money to the poor.
For religious Jews, giving is not an option. It’s a law.
Information is controlled by the chief rabbis of the different communities. The important information passes to the public, after being filtered, and hang as Pashkvil – street posters.
There are a couple of newspapers though not everybody purchases them. There is supposedly no internet and there are signs about that also.
There was something nice about seeing the large families all together, the fresh bakery smells and hearing the language of my childhood. It was a simpler time.
Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.
For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls.
Women and girls are urged to wear modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves.
The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.
Most of the men spend their days studying Torah, living off a meager stipend, government aid and sometimes their wives salaries. Some go to work. They are exempt from paying taxes and the mandatory army service that all Israelis have to do to.
As with all closed societies, the extremists set the tone. The gulf between secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox is getting wider. There are more similarities between the extremist Islāmic and ultra Orthodox communities. Most stay in their community only leaving to go to the Arab Market and pray at the Wall.
The Orthodox have their own unregulated school system which does not prepare their children for the modern world. Religious schools don’t teach mathematics, science, or English; only the Bible. All day, every day. The men are expected to continue that Bible study for the rest of their lives. It’s all funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are… secular Israelis.
It appears that secular Israelis are moving forward to global life into the modern world and the orthodox are moving backward to a more observant God driven one.
It looks like no one understands both sides and the situation seems to be getting worse.
Maktesh Ramon, Israel
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince
The drive from Tel Aviv to Mitzpe Ramon was fairly smooth thanks to Waze which was invented in Israel. The majority of it was through the barren Negev Desert.
We checked into our rooms at the beautiful Beresheet Hotel which is located right on the Maktesh (Crater). I had done the research. I walked out on the terrace and stood in awe.(sunrise)
Even knowing about it, the beauty just snuck up on me. The rich, vibrant colors, shapes, layers and textures were beautiful and peaceful. We looked out over the vast expanse and soaked up the natural splendor of the Maktesh.
There are only seven formations in the world like this, with all of them being located in Israel and Egypt. The Makhtesh Ramon is the largest and best known of all.
A maktesh is a geological landform with steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley which is typically drained by a (river).
We wandered around the hotel grounds. Rooms and cottages, all fashioned out of stone, are scattered around the main building that houses the restaurant and spa.
There were two swimming pools, one indoors, and a Turkish hammam at the spa.
Carefully designed to fit in with the desert environment, Beresheet Hotel was built using local materials and designed with a desert theme that includes bright colors and wood crafted furniture.
My two and a half-year old god-daughter is happily exploring with me. “Good life?” I ask ( a question that is usually reserved for when we are eating dessert) “Good life. she replies.
The next day we take a half-day jeep tour and descend into the crater.
Our guide builds a mountain with sand, showing us that the outer layers were composed of hard limestone, while the peak and the bottom layers were soft sandstone. Then he flattens the mountaintop and scoops out a bowl instead. Wind and water have scoured away at the soft sandstone for millions of years.
It is not a crater caused by a meteorite. It is technically a maktesh which is an erosion crater.
I loved the solitude.
There was nothing but us. The Negev Desert just seemed to sprawl endlessly out away from civilization.
Maybe it is the extreme quiet, the vast emptiness and loneliness that comes with being in a wide open space.
I don’t know. But I do know I love the sensation.
Maktesh Ramon is surprisingly colorful inside and we have a plan.
The next day we drive on the two lane road through the crater to gather different colors of sand to make our own sand art.
And by we I mean the women.
There is one place in the maktesh where they allow you to do that. We were on a mission to get every color.
We head to the alpaca farm. It’s about five minutes from the town but we are driving on a small side road through empty desert. It definitely felt longer.
It was not a busy day, the alpacas and llamas were hungry. Even in the middle of the Negev desert, it felt like every animal farm, I had gone to with my kids.
We stop at Jinkys in the center of Mitzpe Ramon for some delicious falafel and hummus.
I am looking for a small industrial park built decades ago to provide work to North Africans and later Russian immigrants. It now houses art galleries and boutiques. The Faran organic cosmetic factory and store is located there and I buy camel soap- a perfect gift from Israel.
We drive back tired and relaxed. Whatever little problems we had before we came, the desert stillness had driven away.
“There’s a golden phone with a direct connection to God at the Vatican. To make a call, it costs $1,000. And there’s a similar golden phone offering the same service here in Jerusalem, where the same call costs only 25 cents.” When I asked why, he said, “It’s a local call.”Unknown
Jerusalem is complicated even for tourists. Before planning our days the tour guide asked me my religion. We were Jewish and Christian.
The Via Dolorosa is the mile long route that runs through the old city and leads to the place of the crucifixion.
At each of the fourteen stations of the cross, there is a marker or chapel. Pilgrims of all Christian denominations will take this walk which ends at the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre.
The Christian Quarter has about forty Christian sites and was built around the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre. As with other holy sites, dress modestly.
Local guides know that, among Christians interested in seeing Jesus’ tomb, most Protestants prefer the burial chamber outside the walls in the Garden Tomb, while Catholics prefer the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built upon the summit of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Because it’s holy for all kinds of Christians, who see things differently and don’t communicate very well, it’s a cluttered religious hodgepodge of various zones, each controlled by a different sect. There are chapels for Greek Orthodox, Franciscans, Coptic Christians, Armenians,etc. There are many arguments.
As you enter, the first sight is the Stone Of Unction which is the place that commemorates where Jesus was anointed before his burial. The stone is always surrounded by pilgrims from all over the world,
On the second floor is the chapel of Calvary. The chapel is divided into two sections: the first one is where it is believed that Jesus was stripped of his clothes and nailed to the cross. In the second section, you can find the Rock of Cavalry, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The queues can be long to touch the stone but I have to admit that even though I’m not a Christian, watching people experience this was impressive.
The Greek Orthodox priest who is monitoring lines says “ One hundred are photographing and zero are praying”.
Located under the dome is the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre which is believed to be the burial-place of Jesus. The queues are even longer here and can be a few hours.
The next day we take a taxi to the top of the Mount Of Olives. It is easier to take a taxi to the top and walk down. There is so much history here and such a beautiful view of the city.
The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years.
Approximately 150,000 Jewish people are buried there including some of the greatest Jewish leaders, prophets, and rabbis of all time.
According to the Gospels, the Garden Of Gethsemane is situated on a slope on the Mount Of Olives.
Gethsemane means olive oil press in Hebrew
. It is here where Jesus and his disciples often went to pray and was betrayed and arrested on the night before his crucifixion.
Some of the world’s oldest olive trees dating back 2000 years are in this spot. When I was younger you could sit under them, now it is fenced in.
A number of Christian churches on the hill mark key events described in the New Testament.
It is peaceful on the Mount of Olives. A large Christian group from Indonesia is walking down near us, stopping everywhere for photos. All these conflicting religions are fighting over a place that is all about beauty and truth.
March for Our Lives
“It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.” Frank Warren
The faces and organizers of March For Our Lives were almost all under nineteen years old. They were able to get 800,000 people on and off of Washington D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue in three hours. They attracted A-list celebrities. They turned out marchers at more than 800 satellite events held around the world.
Gun violence disproportionately affects people of color. Their death rate is ten times higher than among white children. I marched in the westside neighborhood of Santa Monica, California. Thousands turned out to protest for serious gun control reform. Most of them were white middle class to wealthy people. It is true that some of us had been silent when it affected children of color in neighborhoods far away from ours. But many of us have never been silent when it came to stricter gun control laws. Today, no one who cares for the future of children, can afford to be silent.
Chants of Never Again and NRA Has Got To Go echoed down Montana Avenue. I don’t think anyone expected the huge turnout that showed up. The organizers had not been able to get permission to close the street but the large number of marchers just took it over. The big rally was downtown.
There were so many small children, elementary and high school students. It is their generation that has to go through the fear of school shootings and have lockdown drills. Parents, adults and seniors marched in support of the kids. We did not fight hard enough for stricter gun control laws and trusted the system. We let them down. Now students feel that they have to try to change it themselves.
A young girl carrying a sign that said Am I next? said to me, “I think it is bad killing anyone, but especially the kids.”
It is clear from these demonstrations that most of the American population are at the point where we want serious gun control laws with extensive background checks. We child proof our medicine bottles, baby proof our cabinets, have mandatory car seats for kids and seat belts. Our goal has always been to eliminate as many potential dangers from children as possible. Gun control doesn’t hurt our freedom. It protects our children.
I Cry Every Opera Season
“I know one thing: that I know nothing.” Socrates
I was not born with a manual. I tried to be the best daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother and friend that I could. I think that is what Socrates means. We don’t really know how to do anything. We are all just winging it.
My mother loved opera best of all her many cultural pursuits. Opera was always playing in my house growing up. She took out records from the Donnell Library in Manhattan every week. We listened mostly to musicals and operas. Whenever she was alone, it was all opera, all the time. There was not an opera she did not like – Italian, French, German. She listened to them all. I would walk into the house and talk about my day at school with the Marriage Of Figaro, Rigolletto, or La Traviata in the background. Her children were going to be named Don Giovanni, Tosca and Carmen. Apparently, my father intervened. We had to have American names.
I hated opera as a kid before I ever saw one. my mother would tell us the stories or the libretto as she called it. I responded with “It’s just screaming to music. Why do they have to sing when speaking the story would be just as effective? All they say is I love you, I love you, I love you. I’m dying; I’m really dying; I’m dying in ten minutes. I died.” I would fall on the floor coughing and dramatically clutching my chest. Tuberculosis or consumption was a big killer in opera. Someone always dies at the end.
She tried taking us to operettas. I can handle Gilbert and Sullivan. I do know all the words to the Mikado, Pirates of Penzance and Pinafore thanks to those weekly records. I never made the transition to serious opera. I would always say that she was wasting a ticket to take me. I did not get it.
Opera is supposedly the most emotionally direct of all art forms. The combination of dramatic narrative, stagecraft and music, and especially the range and vulnerability of the human voice, make opera the art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion. It is storytelling at its most vivid and manipulative. Those big moments in opera are usually the ones that deal most directly in the big human themes: life, love, death, loss, passion, joy, anger .
In her later years, My mother loved to go to the opera dress rehearsals at the Met with her friends. They would bring lunch and spend the day. She would say that the Met was the best place to have a picnic. The tickets were different colors. My mother didn’t have tickets to every rehearsal but she had all the colors. Someone would find out the color of the ticket that day and she and her opera loving friends would run by the ticket takers waving their ”blue tickets.” I was a little surprised. “Mom, you are sneaking into the Metropolitan Opera House?” She would laugh. “Who is going to stop a bunch of sweet, little old ladies?” They did not.
I never thought to ask her why she loved opera so much. What was it about opera that made her sneak into a rehearsal or listen to it all day? Why didn’t I ever go with her to find out? What was I doing that was so important?
On her ninetieth birthday, she planned for everyone in her family who could come to New York to attend the opera with her. I volunteered for babysitting so everyone else could go. She laughed at my not so suble ruse. It was a long one but I don’t remember what was playing. She died at ninety one.
Her memorial was the day after my birthday. The ceremony was held at an event room in her friend’s apartment building overlooking Lincoln Center. I walked into a Starbucks in Los Angeles before going to the airport on my birthday. Opera music was playing. I had never heard opera in a Starbucks before or since. I asked what the song was called. It was a famous aria by Puccini called O Mio Bebbino Caro – oh my beloved baby.
A year later, my son asked me to go to an opera with him. I said yes, knowing my mother would have loved that. I sobbed through the entire opera. The music starts, and it doesn’t let you go until the very end. For a few hours, I am in my apartment in Brooklyn and an opera is playing on the record player and my mom is alive.