Chased out of Jordan after three days by a wicked sandstorm, we arrived in Jerusalem to sleet and high winds, and left earlier than planned 6 days later to dodge a large snow storm. Housed three blocks from the Jaffa Gate and the Old City, we stayed warm climbing the Ramparts, and eating comfort food in the Muslim souk like Shakshukra, red pepper stew with baked eggs and fresh soft pita bread to soak up the sauce, and Macloub, below.

The religious fundamentalism of the Ultra Orthodox Jews is personified by head coverings. The married women wear wigs or scarves, some so glamorous I wish I had one for my bad hair days!

The men carry a variety of hat boxes to stow and protect their hats in event of bad weather, and spend a lot of time fiddling with their payes (side burn curls). Fashionistas, indeed!

They add a rich layer to the very diverse culture of Jerusalem. We knew that Sal’s Sister-in-Law, Gloria (who gives Catholic Communion to bed bound Hispanic elders in Los Angeles nursing homes every week) would love a sacred relic from the Holy Land; we bought a simple rosary at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and carried it along the Via Dolorosa (where Jesus allegedly carted his cross on the way to his murder), stopping at each of the Stations of the Cross, observing Christians carrying a large cross on the same path. We thought we got off easy just carrying Gloria’s rosary beads.

We are happy to be here amongst the density of 25,000 Israelis of various religions and secular leanings, cohabitating successfully together inside the Old City walls; regardless of religious preference, all 4 Quarters display roofs densely stacked with water cisterns and satellite dishes.

The only troubling note was the blatant, in your face statement of occupation by the Settlement Jews who have moved into the Muslim
Quarter and Arabic East Jerusalem…. dangling huge Israeli flags from every window and roof gutter. What happened to ‘live and let live’ (with mutual respect) as a philosophy for getting along? The Arabs in East Jerusalem are citizens too, you know!

We can tell you that the secular Jews here resent the fact that the Ultra Orthodox Jews: 1) make bad relationships with their Arab and secular Jewish neighbors forcing everyone to follow strict Jewish Shabat rules (streets are blocked off from driving, and public transport doesn’t operate for 24 hours); 2) do not perform the three years of national military service required of all Israeli 18 year olds; and 3) don’t pay taxes as they live on the dole, studying Torah daily instead of holding a job. They resent that a high proportion of their taxes also go to support the enormous military complex, and nothing is left to improve services and infrastructure for the majority of the country. “BB” (Prime Minister Netanyahu) is very unpopular with secular Jews wanting peaceful relations with their neighbors.

Israel has very complex issues as the occupying military force of lands that were Arab occupied until 40+ years ago. Add to that the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations pledged to destroy Israel, with funding by Iran. Very complex survival issues for a relatively young and very geographically tiny Jewish nation.

At the Western Wall, Sal said the Sh’ma on the women’s side of the barrier, and then stood stupefied, watching the mothers and other female family members stand teetering on unstable, broken plastic chairs peering over the wall to catch a glimpse of their baby boys becoming men, as Bar Mitzvahs. Hey! Who stayed up all night caring for those crying babies? Some thanks!

We were encouraged by the Women’s Torah Study Center near the Western Wall. I bet those women don’t get to sit on their tuches studying, while others cover the home front and pay their way.

But then again, one can always remedy any resentment with fresher and sweeter produce than any we see in the States, and lovely bakeries in every block.

A day at Vad Yashem, the most detailed Holocaust Memorial we have ever visited, left us sad and grateful that we have personally never suffered such persecution.

It is easy to see why Israel chose to observe the annual Holocaust Memorial Day, only a day separate from Israeli Independence Day. Tying the existence of the State of Israel so closely to monumental Jewish loss and suffering, makes it easier for us to avoid focusing on the inhumane behaviors Israel has engaged in to develop and defend Eretz Israel. Understand, this tiny nation has weathered constant scud missile, sniper, suicide bombings and rocket attacks from neighboring countries, and local Palestinian villages…and mistakes have been made. Give a terrified 18 year old an AK-47, and mistakes will be made, even though Israel has clearly intended to avoid harm to civilians while defending its citizens. Perhaps another wing of the museum could educate us about our history as oppressors, to ensure that we never forget our own inhumanity to our neighbors, to keep us humble and respectful in our current dealings, and to remind us of the sanctity of ALL life, even those who violently oppose our Jewish Statehood. It is very Jewish to grieve all injustice, all suffering, even at our own hands, even with the goal of survival.

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About Sally

A Studio Artist and painter trained at Stanford university, Sally has since then graduated from a long career as an Attorney with the Public Defender, and returned to painting. Living in Mexico with her son for a year, they adopted a feral dog, Lety. Sally's son left for college and their dog adopted her new best friend, Steven.


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