Monthly Archives: October 2010

And now for something a little lighter…[kind of*]


I know my posts as of late have been somewhat on the heavy side, emotionally.  Lots of ups and downs here – fieldwork is an intense experience, no doubt, and added to the fieldwork intensity is the pure insanity of being in the midst of Tel Aviv, in the midst of Israel, in the midst of the Middle East, etc. etc.

Let it be known, however, that I manage to escape the intensity of fieldwork for the intensity of other, more pleasant experiences [not that there aren’t pleasant aspects to my fieldwork – there are many].  For instance, culinary experiences.  For instance – hummus.

Yes, hummus, the food which has sparked numerous arguments in this country about the best location, the best hummus restaurant, the best hummus, etc. [hmm, I guess even hummus causes conflict here…].  Anyway, after at least two months during which it somehow never worked out, my roommate and I finally made it yesterday to Ali Caravan/Abu Hassan, touted by many as the restaurant [if you can call it that!] serving the best hummus around the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area.  The owner actually has 3 locations now, but we headed to the original location – a small, very crowded storefront not too far from the port:

Me in front of Abu Hassan - don't I look excited? 🙂

The choices at Abu Hassan are few: first, you decide if you want to sit in the restaurant [line on the left] or if you want to take your hummus with you, either as take-out or in plates, to be eaten on a wall nearby [line on the right].  Once you’ve made that decision, the all-important choice awaits: plain hummus, hummus with ful [fava beans], or masbacha [similar to hummus, but less processed]? My roommate and I both went for the hummus with ful, which came with pita, slices of raw onion, and some sort of pickle-sauce we couldn’t quite figure out:


Hummus with ful. Notice the already partially-bitten pita. I couldn't resist!

It took very little time until our meal was complete:

No more hummus...until the next visit, anyway...

…and it was delicious, although next time I might just get the plain hummus.  The creaminess was overwhelmed a bit by the hot ful.  Not that I’m complaining 🙂

To help digest the meal, we decided to head back to our apartment via the beachfront boardwalk, which was recently expanded and now reaches all the way to southern Jaffa, further south than where we were.  As we walked through the port and north to our little corner of Tel Aviv, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was really in Israel:

This could almost be in Woods Hole, don't you think?

Clearly I needed more than a walk, though: as soon as I got home I lay down and promptly fell asleep -I took  a good, long, afternoon nap, something I hardly ever get a chance to do.  Definitely a great way to start the weekend.  And visitors coming my way [yes, Neil, I’m looking at you!!], don’t worry, I promise you’ll have a chance to experience this, too…

*there’s a limit to how “light” a plateful of ground chickpeas, eaten with bread, can really be…



Another week has gone by and here I am just a little bit deeper into my data collection.  I wanted to just highlight a few milestones I’ve passed:

– yesterday I conducted my 50th interview [not all with alums, some have been with staff and past staff of both organizations].  When I think of how long [how short?] I’ve been here, 50 seems like an awful lot.  Now it’s time to sit back, interview a bit less, focus on what I’ve already collected and think about how to focus the rest of my interviews [both in terms of content and in terms of who I interview].

– this afternoon I FINALLY received permission from the Ministry of Education to conduct my observations.  Of course, the powers that be must have the last laugh: no sooner had I read the email stating that I can move forward with my observations than I received yet another email – this time from the director of the organization in question, stating that all activities are on temporary hold until some financial issues are resolved.  So, I have permission, but currently have nothing to observe.

Ah well.  At this point at least I know I can move forward once group activities resume…

Excuse the silence, please…

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to write a short note apologizing for my silence the last few weeks.  They have been full of coffee shops [where I tend to do most of my interviewing] and phone calls to set up appointments in coffee shops.  And, I am still waiting for Ministry of Education permission, although signs are pointing in the direction of obtaining that soon.  Fingers crossed…

I’ve also spent some time, particularly the last few weekends, away from Tel Aviv and from my dissertation.  Yesterday I was up north, visiting a friend and her fiance, and we traveled through the Galilee to the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] for a swim, then to Degania A – the first Kibbutz in Israel, and where this friend and I lived when I moved here in 2001 – for a picnic, and then down to the Tel Aviv area for an afternoon at the beach.  A busy day!

…And a nice distraction from the things I am encountering here on a daily basis.  One of the other reasons I haven’t been writing, I think, is because I have been struggling with how I feel about being here and about the way that Israeli society as a whole is moving.  Through my research I am hearing many, many different perspectives on the nature of Israel as a Jewish state, a democratic state, neither, both, something in between…I’m having a hard time coming to clear conclusions about my own feelings, but I can say that it is emotionally exhausting to be here – and becoming harder and harder to do so, or rather, to live as an Israeli Jew in “Jewish Israel” while learning more and more about the structural inequalities that exist here and how they impact non-Jews [Palestinians, refugees, foreign workers] in a concrete, daily way.

It gets harder to be part of conversations like one I was part of recently, in which I was told, in reference to an Arab woman who works with the person I was speaking with, “She’s just like an Israeli!” [ummm, she is an Israeli], and “Not like the rest of her primitive family.” These are people I had met for the first time that day – it’s not so easy to stand up and disagree with what is being said.

And it gets harder to be vague about what I’m doing here.  I wrote here about the political contentiousness of my topic, and things in that regard have not changed.  But I keep asking myself, why is it so hard to be proud of what I am doing? Why am I so reluctant to get into the political discussions that inevitably arise when the subject of my dissertation comes up?

These are daily struggles for me – struggles which, as I stated above, make my life here immensely fulfilling but also emotionally draining.  The “spaces I create for conversations,” as my roommate refers to my interviews, are learning experiences in multiple ways.

a place to unmess one’s mind: a NY State Tengri

it was apparently a Tengri weekend in central New York State (CNY). being so close and downwind of the Great Lakes, clouds are normal.  completely blue skies are abnormal, Abby Normal to be accurate. when these days occur, it is not unusual for CNY’ers to drop what they are doing and just go outside for as long as possible [at least in theory, they should].

this past weekend was just that kind of an era. i traveled through the Finger Lakes region – forests, farms and lakes – under completely blue skies – Tengri was present. saw family, old friends and got complete nourishment for body, mind and soul. hopefully the pix will convey was a few thousand words might.

a wicked blue sky, as a CNY’er or Bostonian would be apt to say

a perfect day for games

The Empire State Tengri sky

ida red on the left, empire on your right. the apples are ginormous

Canandaigua Lake

a soaring day

This place really messes with your mind…

Yesterday was a Jerusalem day.  Here’s how it went and why my brain hurt afterwards:

5:30 AM: Leave the house to walk to the Central Bus Station.  I am accompanied primarily by Ethiopian men, on their way out of the house and to work (or wherever they go).  The path to the Central Bus Station takes me through a neighborhood these days filled primarily with foreign workers and immigrants.  As I mentioned to my brother the other day, it kind of feels like walking across 125th St. in Harlem – – – many shades of color.

7AM – I am in [West] Jerusalem.

8AM – I meet my first interviewee in a coffee shop on the main street of Rechavia.  Rechavia is one of the intellectual hotbeds of West Jerusalem – an older residential neighborhood, home to many professors, several politicians, and a couple of embassies.  I sit with my interviewee for almost two hours discussing his experiences with one of the organizations I’m studying, and his experiences in the ensuing years.  A fascinating conversation.

10:30AM – I am at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University [where I took my Arabic class last summer], having hitched a ride with my interviewee in exchange for returning a library book of his.  I almost can’t get into the campus because I don’t have a Hebrew University student ID.  “You need a written permit from the person you’re supposed to see here,” explains the guard.  I convince her that I just need to return a library book and finally get in the gates.  I think to myself – what has this university come to that you need written permission to enter if you are not a student? What ever happened to making higher education more accessible? How is it that security concerns go thus far?

11AM – my 2nd interviewee of the day doesn’t show up.  I call her husband, who I am supposed to interview later, and who apologies profusely for both of them – “we both forgot because of x, y, z that happened in the last few days,” he says.  In the meantime he invites me to conduct my interview with him now, because at 1pm (when we were supposed to meet) he has to go to a meeting.  I agree and hop in a cab to Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, north of Mt. Scopus.

11:30AM – I chat with my second interviewee about his experience as the director [ex-director] of one of the two organizations I’m researching.  Another fascinating conversation, which I won’t go into in much detail here because, again, of IRB restrictions.  Suffice it to say that joint Jewish-Palestinian organizations have internal dynamics that are no less volatile than majority-minority relations in the country as a whole – even when the staff in its entirety shares beliefs about the importance of what the organization does.

1PM – I leave my interviewee’s office and head across the street to get on a bus back to the center of Jerusalem, or more accurately, the East Jerusalem Central Bus Station, which is just outside the Old City.  As I leave and as I sit on the bus back into town I am struck by the lack of services given to this neighborhood and the others we go through.  Egged busses [Egged is the national bus company here in Israel, although its monopoly has been broken in the last decade or so] don’t go to East Jerusalem neighborhoods – as my interviewee told me, the other option I have for getting back to where I need to go is to get on a “settler bus” – an Egged bus taking individuals from the Jewish settlements around Jerusalem into the city.  I prefer to take the local bus, for a number of reasons.

But the lack of bus service really bugs me.  As we head through Beit Hanina I see that the light rail, on which service is supposed to start sometime in 2011, does go through this neighborhood.  I am reminded of a newspaper article I read a few weeks ago lamenting this fact and voicing concern about the safety of Jewish passengers if Palestinians can get on the train.  As I look out the bus window at little girls walking home from school, though, the racist subtext underlying this particular concern really hits home.

1:30PM – out of the bus and into the mayhem that is East Jerusalem at its finest [sadly I don’t remember to stop for some of the best baklava I’ve ever had, sold in a shop near the bus station].  3 minutes later and I am by the walls of the Old City, reminded of the religious battles that underly political tensions here.  10 minutes later and I am in the heart of West Jerusalem – and not just any part of West Jerusalem, but one of the most expensive, tourist-dominated, American-dominated, highly Zionist and pretty religious parts of West Jerusalem.  A van fitted with loudspeakers zooms by blaring songs sung by the Nu Nachs, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews with a particularly strong missionary zeal.  As I near the West Jerusalem Central Bus Station I am surrounded by men, boys really, in kippot [yarmulkes] and generally by black hats [the ultra-Orthodox population here wear all white and black, including black hats, sometimes even fur, even in the midst of summer].  Then I get into the bus station itself, which is a total mix.

Where am I, again? What country, city, what population? And how is it again that such huge differences – in resources, in services, in ways of life – can exist so close to one another? It really messes with your mind…


postscript*: Today I was at an orientation for Fulbrighters in Israel.  The US Ambassador spoke, giving the American perspective on politics here, and then, later, our tour guide told us that Tel Aviv was built “on pristine sand dunes,” where nothing had existed before.  Nothing, of course…except the Arab villages she neglected to mention.  Like the villages themselves, their mere existence was erased from the version of history this woman learned.

Like I said, this place messes with your mind…

*apparently Neil is starting to influence my writing style…