Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Some photos in honor of Israel’s 62nd anniversary:

Three women in an archway in downtown Jerusalem:

Three women in an archway

A scarlet pimpernel, very close up:

A scarlet pimpernel, super close up

As I watched the horse and rider approach, the rider stopped the horse so that I could admire him. I held out my hand for the horse to sniff. Then I stroked him, and he dipped his head to me. His name is Blondie.

Blondie and friend

Finally, red, white and blue:

Red, white and blue

Hag atzma’ut sameah!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Memorial Day

This post ran originally on May 1, 2006.

Helichrysum sanguineum

The deep crimson flower above has many names: red everlasting, cudweed, Helichrysum sanguineum. In Hebrew it is called dam ha-maccabim—blood of the Maccabees.

This is the flower that symbolizes the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. On this day, which started just a few hours ago and which will end tomorrow night—ushering in the festivities of Independence Day—many people wear special stickers bearing an image of this flower and the Hebrew word nizkor—“We will remember.”

Last week we remembered the millions of Jews who were murdered before they could reach these shores. Today we remember those who paid the ultimate price for our ability to live here as free human beings and as Jews.

Actually, we always remember. Not a day goes by that we do not. But most of the time it is a private remembrance. Today it is a shared, public one.

Here are two of the people I remember:

Rafi, a young man from the Netherlands who was in the midst of his conversion process when I met him in the Sar-El volunteer program in 1991. He was killed in a terrorist drive-by shooting the day after Shavuot in 1994, only three months after he had been married, on his way back from a vacation with his wife at a Gush Katif hotel. One of the medics who tried to resuscitate Rafi recalled that the marks of his tefillin were still visible on his arm when he died. I was listening to the radio when the news broke, but because Rafi had changed his surname since we had last met, I didn’t realize he was the one who had been murdered until I saw his photograph on the front page of the newspaper the next morning. One of the last times I saw Rafi was at the annual Yom ha-Shoah memorial service at Yad Vashem. I was there with my ulpan class; he was there in IDF uniform as a Sar-El volunteer.

Sara, a member of my women’s tefilla group and the first of us to take a stand on wearing a tallit during our services. At her urging we held an evening of learning and debate about the issue. Well into the evening, Sara told us that she had to leave a little early because she was going on a trip to Petra with her fiancé early the following morning. We said goodbye and wished her a good trip. The next morning, the No. 18 bus on which Sara and her fiancé were traveling was blown up by a terrorist. It was February 1996. They had planned to go to Petra; they never even made it to the Central Bus Station.

Some years ago I learned that the essential oil of the helichrysum plant heals hurts and bruises. Since then I have wondered whether that might, on some level, however unconscious, have anything at all to do with the fact that this flower was chosen as the symbol of one of the most painful days in our calendar.

We go on... but we always remember.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day

This morning, after the siren, I thought about two people.

One was Mr. Bill Ahrens, my eighth-grade social-studies teacher. I don’t remember whether he was a World War II veteran, but for some reason I seem to remember hearing that he was. He taught our class a unit on the Holocaust, during which he showed us the film Night and Fog. It was extremely difficult to watch, but Mr. Ahrens told us that we needed to see it because one day, people would try to say that the Holocaust had never happened, and here, on film, was proof that it had.

The other person whom I remembered was a co-worker in the US who, more than twenty years ago, maintained that anti-Semitism was dead. (This was the same workplace in which another co-worker later defaced, with impunity, a poster advertising events in honor of Israel Independence Day.)

I would like to contact Mr. Ahrens today to thank him... and I would also like to ask my former co-worker whether he still believes that anti-Semitism—or, as I prefer to name it, Jew-hatred—is dead.

Some more posts:

Katie Green: The six million, this time around

Treppenwitz: Jewish Anti-Semitism

Meryl Yourish: Never again

Finally, a song. Lyrics: Natan Alterman. Music: Naomi Shemer. It’s called “Al em ha-derekh”—a tree stood at the crossroads. In the song, which takes place sometime during the Aliyah Bet period, a young mother sings a lullaby to her son, a baby too young to understand the terrible and tragic story that she tells him about why they are on a barely-seaworthy boat on a stormy sea, sailing to the Land of Israel... and why his grandfather is not on the boat together with them.

The song was performed by the Israeli navy’s entertainment troupe in 1972. The lead singer is Haya Arad.

The video above contains a slightly abridged version. The full version, complete with lyrics, is here. Another full version that shows Haya Arad and the Navy Entertainment Troups is here. The lyrics (in Hebrew) are here.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cat on Tour

Actually, I was the one on the tour—a walking tour given by Dani Barkai, an excellent guide, and this is the cat I met.

The cat I watered

She was thirsty, so I watered her.

Specifically, I poured water from my bottle into the palm of my hand and let her drink. (Of course, I couldn’t get a picture of that.)

By the time Dani had completed his explanation, the cat had drunk her fill and wasn’t showing interest in drinking any more water. So I grabbed a photo and headed off with the group.

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Visit to the Western Wall during Passover

Last Friday morning, my group, Women of the Wall, held a prayer service at the Western Wall.

As we arrived and walked into the prayer area—passing the male security guard who sat at the entrance—I noticed that the women’s section had been expanded slightly. The metal divider, which is partially open here, is the one that is in place all year round. The divider covered with white sheets is the new divider, which was put in place for the holiday.

Temporary divider in the women's section

The prayer service was great—pleasant, quiet, completely uneventful, the way a prayer service ought to be. Some of the women present wore tallitot (prayer shawls) and nobody noticed—or, if anyone noticed, they didn’t say so. There were no disturbances at all, and the peace and quiet were wonderful.

I took this photo right before Hallel. Afterward, the group proceeded to Robinson’s Arch for the Torah reading. (I didn’t go because I had to leave early.)

Women of the Wall, hol ha-mo'ed Pesah 2010

In my opinion, Friday morning’s service was yet more proof, as if we needed any, that Women of the Wall constitutes no disturbance of the peace or threat to public order at all. The threat and disturbance come exclusively from those who come to the Western Wall deliberately to make trouble and engage in violent behavior. I suppose that the troublemakers were on vacation last Friday morning, which was just fine with us.

Since my friend D. had to leave early, too, we left together. On the way out, she called my attention to the dividers that had been placed behind the prayer area, in the plaza itself. “I think I know what’s happening here,” she told me. “There’s probably a plan to make this entire plaza separate, with men entering from one side of the plaza and women from the other.”

I reflected that this wouldn’t be practical at all for families who wanted to visit the Western Wall. They’d have to split up well before they got there, with one gender going around to the parking area and the other coming down from the direction of the Arab market. This would make visits to the Western Wall practically impossible for families with small children or elderly relatives. But when have considerations of practicality, or even common decency, stopped people or groups who were hungry for power and control?

At any rate, here are the dividers in the plaza, behind the prayer area, complete with signs above them ordering men to one side and women to the other:

Divider outside prayer area

That wasn’t all, though. Before we left the plaza, I decided to head for the restroom. As I began to walk toward the stone buildings at the other end of the plaza where the restrooms for both men and women are located, D. stopped me. “They’ve moved the women’s restrooms,” she said, drawing my attention to the sign above the doorway where they usually were.

Sign directing women to improvised restrooms

The sign reads: “Women’s restrooms in the parking area.”

So I turned back and headed toward the new, improvised restrooms. My friend said, “They’re probably messy and smelly.” I said, “They probably will be later in the day, but right now it’s still early. I’ll chance it.”

Of course, I also wanted to blog about them and post pictures. Here they are.

The improvised women’s restrooms, from the outside:

Sign: "Restrooms for women only"

The signs seem pretty stern, saying: “Restrooms for women only.” My friend and I had to laugh. Why was it necessary to add the word “only”? As if the restrooms were unisex the rest of the year!

Inside the small improvised restroom compound:

The entrance to the ladies' room at the Western Wall, Passover 2010

The sinks up close:

Sinks in the improvised ladies' room at the Western Wall, Passover 2010

Note that there is no soap, nor are there paper towels, as there are in the proper restrooms on the other side of the plaza.

So this is it: no soap, paper towels, hand-drying machines, counters, or changing tables. Because everyone knows that ritual washing cups are sufficient for proper sanitation, and mothers can change their babies on the stone floor.

Seriously: if it was so important to separate the restrooms by an entire plaza, then why couldn’t this improvised compound be for the men, and the women be allowed to keep the proper indoor restrooms? It would seem that in certain communities, chivalry is not only dead, but evidently never existed in the first place.

Here’s the exit, same as the entrance:

The entrance to the ladies’ room at the Western Wall, Passover 2010

I was so happy with our quiet and uneventful prayer service... but so disheartened to see these additional changes in the Western Wall plaza. This does not bode well.

Whose idea was it? And who gave permission?