under the surface

unnamedAt first glance the Jaffa street shopping district seems like a typical outdoor commercial area found in cities all over the world. A pedestrian only zone filled with stores selling fashion accessories and cheap trendy clothes, cafes with seating spilling onto the sidewalk, and various performers peppering the streets with their musical stylings. Upon further inspection details reveal the political tension that permeates the city of Jerusalem. Head coverings such as kippahs, and hijabs indicate religion, gender, ethnicity, and marital status are on display side by side in the sea of humanity that roams Jaffa center. The compound of sides isn’t all butterflies and rainbows though. In addition to musicians, public demonstrations and large and sometimes violent gatherings frequent these city blocks. In support of the police force, soldiers are often posted with loaded automatic weapons slung over their shoulders, with the occasional the riot control team. Violent outbursts are not common, but more often the stress buzzes just under the surface like a background static with unknown origin. Jaffa center is the micro view of the tension in Jerusalem as a result of the astriction of political and historical foes in the same city.

 

Guilty Pleasure

IMGP2318While traveling, I have the tendency to guzzle Diet Coke. Typically I consume the borderline toxic substance on a bi-montly basis, but while cruising unknown city streets, its difficult to fulfill my DC cravings. I even disgust myself while drinking the stuff, yet somehow that doesn’t stop me. I suppose there’s worse things to get into while abroad, just as long as I leave this nasty habit as soon as I arrive stateside.

Tel Aviv Trip

IMGP2267Took a weekend jaunt to Tel Aviv, to see the beach, some city sites, and well the beach. Staying in Tel Aviv was a huge sigh of relief. Rather than being a city divided between Israel and Palestine, Tel Aviv is primarily Israeli. There isn’t the threat of demonstrations getting violent, or the underlying tension that occurs when two sparing groups co-inhabit in a relatively small city. I didn’t feel like I was getting constantly judged by the ultra religious folk who disapprove of wearing tank tops or showing my hair.

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Tel Aviv is a beautiful combination of beach front joints, and a city full of great cafes and boutiques. Not terribly unlike Southern California, except the planes flying over the beach weren’t carrying banners of advertisements and marriage proposal, they were carrying explosives en route to Gaza, and instead of  fireworks, there were missiles. While Tel Aviv doesn’t have the rich history of Jerusalem, its much more friendly for long term residence. The people were incredibly friendly, and I made friends just hanging out on the beach. As I’ll be returning to the landlocked state of CO, I already have another trip to the beach planned.

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Finding Balance

Somehow or another I’ve found myself in a war zone. Ok, war zone is a bit of an over statement. Technically, yes, Jerusalem is a war zone,(Sorry Mom.) And yes, on some days there are rockets that have been intercepted on route to the city that I’m staying in. But those rockets have been intercepted, are of low power, and infrequent. This in no way compares to the terror that is occurring on the Gaza Strip. Over 80 people have been killed, and several more injured. Three injuries have been reported in Israel. To make any assumption that both sides are having a similar experience of the conflict is tremendously unfair. Sure, I knew there was a greater chance of violence in Jerusalem, rather than the crazy metropolis of Fruita, CO. But didn’t think anything would actually happen. Events of the last couple weeks have dramatically shifted the nature of my summer “vacation.”

This upheaval of reality has brought out a vast amount of emotional and cerebral experiences. The most basic being my definition of safety. Earlier this week I received an email from a dear friend asking me if I “felt safe.” That simple question brought me into a tail spin. I couldn’t give a direct answer. For the first time I realized that safety isn’t black and white, it lies on a spectrum.  With recent events, decisions in the house have been made based on our location on the safety spectrum.

Two nights ago I had my first rocket siren experience. This wasn’t some fire drill so frequently practiced in school, this was the real thing. My host parents and I scrambled to scoop the kiddos out of their beds and haul them into our safety room (the bathroom.) Its an odd experience waiting for something to happen, while hoping that it never comes. We were quiet in a dark bathroom, all nine of us just sitting there. I managed to grab a beer en route to the bathroom and chugged it quickly after confirming the safety of all small humans. The adults put on a facade of cool, collected, and rational, while I was internally flipping my shit. Once we got the ok clear and put the kids to bed, my host parents and I discussed exactly what was happening.

Here’s the deal:  After talking logistics, we came to the conclusion that a direct hit on the house is extremely low. However, having rocket fire become a reality has caused some serious cracks in my foundations. Honestly I’m not 100%, there’s no way that a sane person would be. But I’m learning how to rationalize the situation, in order to have a reasonable emotional reaction.

As I’m currently dealing with a safety spectrum rather than an absolute, I’m working on finding a balance between sanity and perceived safety. For the first 24 hours after the siren I left the house only to take the kids to the playground and go to the corner market. There was a brief period that I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry. Then I realized how much I was over reacting. Once I regained my confidence and made it outside, I found that life in Jerusalem was continuing almost as usual. An uninformed observer wouldn’t be able to tell a difference in the downtown shopping area. In fact there was a smaller military presence, and less tension than last week’s clashes. Conflicts such as the one occurring now are a reality of life here, and while its important to make smart choices, life still goes on. The threat isn’t enough to hole ourselves up at home, waiting for something that may never occur. I’m picking my activities and destinations with caution, and keeping my guard up at all times. I’m not taking the situation lightly, but I’m not allowing myself to become paralyzed by fear. The situation hasn’t gotten to that point yet. And if it does, I’m lucky enough to be able to go to a truly safe home, unlike many people here.

Within the walls

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Stepping into the Old City of Jerusalem is an assault on your senses. The ancient city explodes with commercial stalls overflowing with colorful goods, and the even more colorful characters who sell them. The plethora of spice shops with bins of neatly pilled cinnamon and cardamom fill the air with delicious fragrances. The spicy smells only last until wandering into the butcher alley where animal organs not even known to be edible are on display, permeating the air along with the extraneous juices from the butchering process. Soon enough though the produce stalls fill the air, and flirt the senses with stacks of beautiful fruit, and various unidentifiable vegetables.

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The best parts of the Old City are the pockets of genuine humanity, often hidden by the overwhelming presence of “salesmen.” The old men playing backgammon, hanging out at the barber shop, sleeping on the job, shooting the shit with their friends across the alley. The crowds of people clamoring at the bread cart as he momentarily stops his mobile store. The mothers buying the parts of the evening Ramadan Meal, or their counterparts preparing for Shabbat. The best place to experience these glimpses into real life is the Arab Quarter where the store keepers are more concerned with selling their shoes or house-hold tools, than even looking at the passing tourists.

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Its nearly impossible to get to a specific place on purpose in the Old City. The narrow alleys and rows of identical stores immediately steal away any sense of direction. I find that its best to go with the flow and see what wonderful things the circus of the Old City brings your way.

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The Update.

photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Call it American paranoia, but I’ve chosen to stay close to “home” this weekend. The update from actual news reporters.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/clashes-in-jerusalem-galilee-as-protests-spread/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/world/middleeast/israel.html?_r=0

Like usual, things sound much bigger and widespread than they really are. I’m not making a call on the importance or severity of the situation, more like the physical location. Although we are also staying in Jerusalem, close to Damascus Gate, we haven’t so much as heard any evidence of disturbances. The only indication of clashes we’ve encountered are a significant increase in police and military presence, and a slowdown of public transportation. Mom, I’m OK.

All that glitters…..

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This Sunday, I finally got to see a glimmering jewel of the Jerusalem skyline, the Dome of the Rock. As its hot as heck these days, I decided to get up and get after it nice and early. It was a treat to walk through the streets of the old city before the commercial stalls were open, when only the trash collectors and street cats were out and about. Once I got to the gate, I was confronted by the fact that I wasn’t the only one that woke up with the sun that morning, the line was at least 100 meters back.

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Unsurprisingly it was well worth the wait. After being squished in the narrow streets of the old city, the complex of the Temple Mount is vast and open, and and the golden dome is in the middle of it all. Throughout the grounds there were various Islamic study groups set up on plastic chairs in the shade of buildings, or olive trees.

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I was blown away by the structure. Beyond the glittering gold, the base is covered by intricate designs of colored tiles, worthy of striking awe into the even the least enthusiastic of viewers.

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The serenity of the grounds did not last long. A group of young Jewish men decided to take a “tour” of the grounds. Lead by an IDF soldier, it could be said they were there to provoke. As they moved through the complex each study group started singing/chanting and increased in volume as the group moved by. A groundskeeper “accidentally” sprayed them with water as they walked by, causing the soldier escort to confront the man. As energetic words were exchanged, it was tempting to get closer and observe, but in this end of the world, arguments can quickly escalate, so I decided to find the furthest exit and hope things settle down. As I didn’t read anything in the news, things seemed to have leveled out.

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This site is hotly contested amongst several religions. The current structure is a temple build in 688 CE but renovated several times, with the current gold top dating to the 1980’s, to house the rock that the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. The Jewish and Christian religions lay significant claims to this area as well. The same rock is said to have been the site that Abraham started to sacrifice his son before being stopped by an angel. It is also the site of the first and second temples, and the most sacred site of the Jewish religion.

Clash with Reality

Beyond the beautiful history in the city, Jerusalem (and Israel) have a turbulent current situation. The Israeli and Palestinian populations are in a constant state of conflict. At times this conflict is an under riding tension, while other times the tension explodes into clashes. Upon arrival I was immediately taken aback by the constant military presence. I found it incredibly unnerving to encounter military personnel carrying automatic weapons while on simple retail outings in the city. I never expected it to turn into something.

Then news happened. Earlier in the month 3 Israeli teens were kidnapped on the West Bank, yesterday their bodies were found. The last few weeks the Israeli Defense Forces have been conducting raids on the West Bank, resulting in several hundred arrests and 5 Palestinian deaths. Hours after the  report of the bodies discovered, a revenge murder of an Arab teen occurred late last night. There have been several clashes reported in the last 24 hours, some have been violent, some have not. Public transportation has either been canceled or greatly diminished.

Honestly I’m not sure of the likelihood of any immediate danger to me or the family I’m staying with. We’ve been sent notices to stay close to home, and avoid demonstrations and specific locations in the city. I knew there was some risk in coming to this part of the world, but I honestly never thought that risk would be so relevant. After talking to a few Israeli’s, situations this tense aren’t anything new, and is unfortunately part of life here. Walking home from the grocery store this evening, the streets were still full of families, and the playground full of kids.

Having grown up in a middle class American town, I’ve never actually felt an actual fear for my safety beyond walking home alone late at night and hoping I didn’t get pick-pocketed. Receiving a Red Alert Security Notice from the US consulate has been deeply unsettling. Although I don’t worry about the case of an actual event, I’ve been in a state of stress all day. I could be blowing the severity of the situation out of proportion, American’s tend to do that. Hopefully I am.   Suddenly the minutia of my personal problems have been put into perspective, from a graceful slap of reality.

Here’s a couple articles with more information from various sides on the current situation:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-murdered-teenagers-body-of-arab-teen-found-in-jerusalem-in-suspected-revenge-killing-sparks-clashes-9577858.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/06/30/israels-slain-teenagers-4-things-you-should-know/

 

 

Unexpected Reunion

Upon arrival in Israel, I hit up my social media world to see if I had any connections in my current location. Some were dead-ends, but one turned into a beautiful reunion. Erika, a friend from my days at Chapman University, and Rock Harbor Church was also in this fine city, and even better actually wanted to hang out.

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We grabbed some coffee and set off to take the city by storm, or just walk several laps around town. The majority of our time was spent making tracks in the old city and hitting up two of the three main religious sites, including the Church of the Sepulchre, and the Western Wall. We continued to wind through, around, and over the old city. 

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After we had gotten our fill of extremely old, and extremely important sites, we made our way to the newer part of the city. As Erika had already spent a couple weeks here she was happy to show me some great spots, along with places that are actually open on Shabbat.

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Our adventure didn’t end there, we made our way to the Arab neighborhood close to my house for falafel and some World Cup madness. Holland was playing and I have adopted them as my secondary team to cheer for. I’m already a shameless bandwagon World Cup fan, I’m totally ok with picking and choosing my teams. It was a delightful time hanging with a heard of old dudes smoking hookah and cheering on teams that neither of us actually had roots with.

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Hang day with Erika was grand demonstration of how big and small the world can be. Although I’m half way across the world I was still able to run into someone that I knew. Being in a place that is so totally different its nice to have a familiar face. Although I had only been in town for a few days it was great to verbally digest the political information that I had already been bombarded with. We both come from relatively similar backgrounds, in that we grew up with similar religious beliefs, in a middle class American town, and we blessed with a university education. She has spend her time here gathering stories and perspectives, from various stand points. To hear what she has learned and her stance was a great introduction. Unfortunately her synopsis is that the more you know, the more difficult and cloudy the situation becomes.

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