Category Archives: Israel

On our own again…

Well, after a wonderful [almost] month, Neil left this morning to head back to the USA.  So we’re both on our own again, at least for the next couple of months until he returns.

Apologies for the silence on this end over the past few weeks – it’s not that we’ve been particularly busy [at least, not if you define busy as leaving the house], but we’ve been with one another, which kind of defeats the original purpose of this blog  – to keep each other informed of our goings-on while apart.

In any case, despite spending quite a bit of time working, we managed to get out a bit.  First, we took a four-day trip to the Golan Heights and northern Israel – see our trip map:

The various places we visited over our four-day excursion

Neil, per usual, took many lovely photos, which you can see here, here and here.

We also took a lightening-fast trip down south, through parts of the Negev desert:

...and this is the map of places we visited in the south, all in ONE day. Craziness!

This trip was with family friends who know the country very well and are happy to share that knowledge.  Of course, the down side to having a tour guide is that you go at the tour guide’s pace.  We were a little exhausted after this particular one-day zip through the Negev.  Not exhausted enough to prevent Neil from processing more beautiful pictures.  Check them out.

And, of course, we managed to get to the beach – maybe not every day, but at least three times a week.  Believe it or not, it is still summer in Israel! Well, it’s starting to get cooler in the evenings, and we’ve been sleeping with a light blanket for the past few weeks…but nothing like December temperatures in the Northeastern United States.  I am thankful for that…

Anyway, I guess now it’s really back to work for us. There are lots of visits and visitors to Israel coming up in the next weeks and months, so I need to get my interviews done while I can!

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an ancient walk [for an american]

yes, i am here safe and sound. finally getting over my jet lag and enjoying the neighborhood and vicinity to the Mediterranean Sea – great choice Karen & Roomie!! [thanks for approving, Aunt Varda!]

we haven’t done too much. we’ve been very happy with the company of one another, even while we work. we did have a very nice dinner on a veranda across from the Tel Aviv Opera House – thank you again, Aunt Varda!

today we took a stroll to Yafo, the ancient town to the south of Tel Aviv. it is thought to be about 7.5 thousand years old. it is hard to see that on our stroll today, except for the one section on the harbor with the minaret. there are some nice modern, stone buildings in Yafo, relatively speaking compared to the glass sky scrapers on the rise in Tel Aviv, that give a sense of place and uniqueness.

the best sense of uniqueness today, from my perspective, was our destination – a hummus shop in Yafo run by an old, Arab Yafo family called Abu Hassan Hummus. as you will see, it was packed. there was a horde to get in and we shared a table with a young teenage boy. and, it was loud. all we could do, as you will see, is smile and say how much we enjoyed the hummus. it is not an atmosphere to discuss the finer points and flavors of hummus. it is a place to enjoy jostling, the food, people watch and the waiters. the waiters were all men who strongly kept ‘order’. they pushed the line back out into the street. they pointed to where you would sit and if you went to the wrong empty table, they would shout and point you to the correct empty table. and then, they took your order.

with all this cacophony from the people dining and talking, the waiters would holler your order from your table to the chefs. over your head and over the din. with one order near my ear, my ear made a hasty retreat further back into my head. that man could bellow. at another point the waiter stood in the middle of the restaurant towards the counter and just started shouting at all of us. i have no idea what he said or was trying to say. i’m not sure others did either. there was no major movement or response of the diners. it was entertaining. i’d go back just for the experience. oh, the hummus was good, too.

on to the pix.

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Adventures in food: a triptych

1. Kubbe.  I accompanied my roommate one day this week to her field site, a neighborhood slightly east of where we live: Schunat HaTikva, or the “Neighborhood of Hope.” I have been hearing for weeks about this tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the owner has been dishing up kubbe for nearly half a century. For those of you who aren’t familiar wtih this particular dish, kubbe is a Middle Eastern version of an empanada: meat stuffed into various types of dough [semolina, rice].  The Lebanese and Syrian versions are made into torpedo shapes and fried, but this places served Iraqi-style kubbe: a semolina flour version, steamed and served with amba, a mango pickle sauce. See for yourself:

Kubbe! Amba on the right and Iraqi pita on the left...

The restaurant is known for its kubbe, but they also serve up more parts of a cow’s body than most of you would like to think about [lung, anyone?].  As a bonus of sorts, we were served stuffed intestine [filled with rice and meat].  It wasn’t bad, actually…

2. Pita.  Between interviews in Jerusalem this past Thursday, I stopped at a bakery near Machne Yehuda, the open air market, for some Iraqi pita [like the kind you see above].  I ordered my pita from the baker in Arabic, asking a [probably very funny sounding] question about how well it would keep for multiple days.  This funny sounding question led to a lengthy discussion [well over 30 minutes] with my new friend Hassan and his co-worker Zion, about people, friends, life, and politics.  Nearly all in Arabic, I should add.  And I should also add – I understood most of it.  Not bad considering how little I’ve used the language in the past few months.  But mostly it was yet more evidence of how little it takes – just a question, and a funny sounding one at that – to show people that you care enough to try.

…And just how little showing that you care enough to try translates into new friends.  Hassan, my new baker friend, took my number and called me later on to make sure I had his. [Funny but true: I was on the way back to Tel Aviv when he called, sitting next to an Arabic speaking woman.  She laughed out loud when she heard my Arabic…but complimented me on trying, at least.  Ha.].

Here’s Hassan doing what he does best:

3. Olives. And Politics.  I bought the pita for a trip I took Friday with Rabbis for Human Rights* [RHR] to accompany Palestinian farmers harvesting their olives.  The organization accompanies Palestinians 6 days a week, throughout the year – during the planting, pruning, plowing, and harvest seasons.  We’re nearing the end of the harvest season now.

Our group – about 10 of us – headed to the settlement of Tsufim:

Tsufim, a settlement in the West Bank. The broken line represents Israel's pre-1967 borders: everything East is occupied territory. And to give you a sense of how small this place is: we were only about 25 minutes from Tel Aviv!

Why to Tsufim, if we were accompanying Palestinian olive harvesters? Well, turns out that this particular family’s olive groves are within the settlement itself.  That means that in addition to having to obtain permission to cross the separation barrier, they had to get permission from the settlement to enter their land [whose land??] to pick their olives.

Olive trees on left, fence on right. Need to get through one to get to the other...

The day itself was relatively uneventful, politically-speaking.  No settlers bothered us, and in the 5 hours we were there, we managed to finish harvesting most of the olives on the trees [we worked on about 10 trees – the family has about 30 overall, and had already been to the area twice for harvesting in the week before this one].  I managed to use my Arabic some more with the family we had joined, but once the talk turned political [“what led you to join us today? Why are you here?”] I struggled to express myself and we switched to English, instead.

The day in pictures:

A gorgeous olive tree...

As the olives get picked off the tree, they fall onto these tarps...

...which then get consolidated into these buckets

...hard at work

________________________

* One of the more thoughtful gifts Neil and I received for our wedding was a donation made by my brother and sister-in-law in our name, to this organization, in order to help them plant new olive trees.  The organization plants trees to replace ones that have been cut or burnt down by Israeli settlers. Having now been out with RHR and having a better understanding of the reality of the olive trees – I now appreciate this gift all the more.  Thank you…

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

Folks,

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:

Lunch!

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…

Milestones

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.

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…