We filled our last day in Haifa with art. First we went to the Haifa Museum of Art to see “Dangerous Art,” a profound, powerful, painful, and provocative exhibit (with several sub-exhibits) representing the struggles of oppressed populations and addressing issues including those of sexuality, poverty, race, and displacement, including the current African refugee situation — the room of work that was most painful for me to witness. (By the way, last night’s rally in Tel Aviv in support of the African refugees was 20,000 strong and got good press.)
I learned a new term, “artivism,” referring to the intersection of art and social activism.
Note: It will be impossible to do justice to this vast collection of work with a handful of photos, so let me know if you are interested in more, and maybe I’ll put together a slideshow or something. The section on refugees was vast and particularly evocative and challenging.
“We Refugees,” the title of this section of work, “challenges the demographic self-perception of Israel as the Jewish state” by contributing “to a pluralistic view of the Israeli population as a diverse, multicultural society.” The contemporary pieces were paired with older pieces of art depicting refugees, including one by one of my favorite artists, Samuel Bak.
As if that weren’t enough art for one day, Chaim and I then (after lunch) went to the studio/gallery of Tamar Messer, a friend of our dear artist friends Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz. What a repertoire of media Tamar works in! From mixed media creations and furniture to painting to illustrated biblical books, originally done in silkscreen, to gorgeous b’nai mitzvah invitations tailored to the specific Torah portion. I couldn’t resist and bought a set of her beautifully illustrated megillot, each one uniquely reflective of the book it represents (Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes).
Now it is time to pack as we have to be up by 4 AM to get to the airport. I imagine I will have one or two more posts when I get back to the US, to tie up some loose ends and add some more photos!
Before we departed for our morning adventure to Haifa’s famed Shuk haPishpeshim (flea market), we read up about Wadi Salib, the neighborhood where it is located, now mostly deserted and in ruins. Before the “Nakba,” Wadi Salib used to be an Arab neighborhood. (“Nakba,” literally “catastrophe,” is the Palestinian/Israeli Arab term for the exodus in 1948 in which more than 700,000 Arabs were either expelled or fled from their homes throughout the country during the Israeli War for Independence.) After 1948, the neighborhood was home to Moroccan Jews. Chaim and I located a couple of Moroccan synagogues that remain in that neighborhood.
In 1959, David Ben Haroush, one of the Moroccan Jewish residents there, started a protest movement of Jews from Arab countries against the white European (Ashkenazi) establishment that discriminated against them. The civil disobedience and protests that started in Haifa soon spread to the rest of the country. This was an important historical moment in Israeli history vis-a-vis relations between Jews from Europe and Jews from Middle Eastern countries (who often grew up speaking Arabic at home). The buildings in that neighborhood are still beautiful, but sadly abandoned.
Shuk haPishpeshim is Haifa’s vast flea and antique market comprising multiple streets, most active on Saturdays and Sundays. It was safe (financially speaking) for us to go on Shabbat since we wouldn’t spend any money, but it also meant that Chaim wouldn’t take any pictures of me, so I had to resort to a selfie.
After returning home to eat Shabbat lunch and taking the requisite Shabbat shluf (nap), we went out for another walk. This time we visited the Gan haZikaron/Memorial Garden, honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers. At the stone in honor of the Sinai Campaign of 1956, Chaim reminisced about his memories of that time, when his father was drafted (his job was to keep watch for Egyptian planes), and at home they weren’t allowed to keep lights on at night.
We meandered home (it does feel like home!) through the now-familiar Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighborhood, filled with public art at nearly every turn. This time we discovered Poetry Lane with four poems by Hanna Abu Hanna written in Arabic, with both Hebrew and English translations.
Here is one, entitled “Fear,” that seems appropriate in this week following the horrendous events in Parkland, FL:
When fear prevails,
woes follow in rapid succession.
To lose the sense of shock,
the horror of horror,
to become sedated
and indifferent to suffering
to become immune to the spilling of blood,
the killing of a fellow human!
Woe to the target of the gun,
and woe to him who aims the gun.
Because with the sacrificed whose blood flows in the squares,
the sniper murders his conscience,
the very conscience of humanity.
We also noticed xeroxes plastered everywhere notifying the neighborhood about deaths that had taken place.
We wanted to be in Haifa because of the relative integration between Arabs and Jews and the spirit of coexistence that Haifa is known for. For instance, there is an Arab-Jewish pre-school downstairs in our very apartment building. And comparatively, I think the situation in Haifa probably is rosier than it is elsewhere in Israel. But my reading of what happened in Haifa after 1948 is rather sobering. The Arab population in Haifa was reduced to 3500 from 75,000, homes and neighborhoods destroyed, defenders killed, and those remaining urged to move to Wadi Nisnas. Remaining Palestinian homes elsewhere were confiscated and street names changed. Since most of the land is Jewish-owned, Arabs can generally only rent, not buy property. Legal discrimination in housing, at least, therefore remains even here.
In the words of Hanna Abu Hanna, I refuse “to become sedated and indifferent to suffering.” It breaks my heart that the world is filled with such injustice.
Tomorrow will be our last full day in Haifa, before we fly back to the U.S. on Monday morning. Two weeks has not been enough time to explore this city and its environs, but we are already talking about our next trip and our intention to be based in the south (Beersheba) for that extended visit, so that we can take day trips into the Negev.
We welcome Elijah the Prophet at three unique Jewish rituals: annually at our Passover seders, every Saturday night during havdalah when we conclude Shabbat, as well as at every briss/brit milah when a son is welcomed into the covenant. As the harbinger of the messianic age, Elijah infuses each of these three Jewish rituals with hope for that future time of peace.
Just as Passover speaks to a historic past of exodus and redemption, so do we hope for such a future. Just as we experience a mini-Eden each Shabbat, so do we conclude it with hopes — to be heralded by Elijah — that every day may feel so blessed and filled with shalom for body and soul. As for the briss, why settle for a Jewish doctor when you can aim for the Messiah him/herself? Each baby has that potential, and Elijah is there to welcome him. (We will need to infuse further feminist spirit into the tradition and invite Elijah to the babynamings for daughters, as well.)
In Jewish folklore, Elijah is the prophet who comes to earth in various guises, performing miracles for communities and individuals in need.
In the Bible, Elijah was a miracle worker and healer. He was also a curmudgeon, derisive of the Israelites and their faithlessness.
Joseph Telushkin teaches (in the name of his grandfather, as I recall) that Elijah visits each Passover, havdalah, and briss as a punishment for his doubt in the future of the Jewish people. In other words, God is forcing him to do teshuvah (repentance) every single day for his own faithlessness. Brilliant Torah! (I wrote more about Elijah earlier in the month — February 6, “Meeting the Other” — during my visit to a different Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel dedicated to Elijah and his murderous tendencies.)
But there is another Biblical story (1 Kings 18) about Elijah that is beloved: that of his hiding in the cave to escape the wrath of Ahab and hearing “the small, still voice” of God. That cave is believed to be a grotto on Mount Carmel that is sacred to Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. After dropping off our rental car, Chaim and I took a cab to the top of a trail that would lead us to that cave (starting at the monastery Stella Maris and ending at the Bat Galim beach). The cave was certainly the holiest place I’ve experienced thus far in Israel this trip. The devotion I witnessed there reminded me of what I’d seen in the Western Wall tunnels five years ago in Jerusalem.
From the beach we took a bus to our Talpiot shuk to replenish our food supply, came home to cook for Shabbat, and are sadly too exhausted to walk the hour (uphill) to Reform synagogue Ohel Avraham at Leo Baeck for Shabbat services, though we loved them last Friday night.
We began our day in the very insulated ultra-Orthodox community of B’nai Brak in order to visit Chaim’s brother. We then walked to the cemetery to visit Chaim’s mother’s (and grandmother’s) gravesites. Chaim and I were both pleasantly surprised that, except for one child who stared at me, no one in that community seemed bothered by the fact that I was wearing pants rather than a skirt. (I had braced myself for rude comments, sneers, and my own righteous indignation in response!)
We travelled from the world of B’nai Brak to the very different world of South Tel Aviv (Florentine) to take a tour of street art/graffiti with Guy Sharett of TLV1’s fun and informative “Streetwise Hebrew” podcast (for those who want to improve their spoken and slang Hebrew skills). He advertises this tour on the podcast, and we were very excited to take part! We learned about street art, architecture, Hebrew slang, linguistics, and contemporary Israeli culture. We also learned about the acceptance (or not) of street art. While some landlords enforce its removal as an illegal act of vandalism, others welcome it. We also saw examples of different artists responding to each other, or collaborating, on the same walls.
We learned the names of some of the regular street artists and how to identify them: They tend to sign in English so they can be easily found on Instagram or Facebook and gain a following: Frenemy, Murielle Street Art, Dedes, Sened, #Miss-Question-Mark, and so many others. Some are playful, some political. 269Life posts PETA-type graffiti, like a picture of a cow that said “I died for your sins” and another that read “Shoes are murder.”
Another one I liked was “If I forget you, Jerusalem, it will be because of Tel Aviv” (in Hebrew), a linguistic piece of street art that plays on the Biblical text from Psalm 137. But in this particular case, a disgruntled Jerusalemite perhaps (or someone disturbed by changing the traditional text) took umbrage, because the second, non-Biblical, clause was blotted out.
Not street art, per se, but all over Tel Aviv, as well as in Haifa and everywhere else we’ve travelled, we have seen loads of signs protesting the proposed deportation of the African asylum seekers from Israel. There will be a big rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night against the deportations, and as I wrote about previously, my friend Rabbi Susan Silverman started an organization to help hide refugees in danger of being deported.
Several months ago, Chaim and I signed up to take an online course in Psalms, sponsored by our local Jewish Federation of the Berkshires through an organization called Project Zug. Though we asked to be paired together as study partners, we were told that we were each to be matched with someone from the Afula/Gilboa area in Israel, that this was part of a relationship-building venture, which includes art projects and other cultural exchanges, to strengthen ties between Israelis and American Jews.
I received contact information for Keren, my chevruta (study partner), and my first online course material shortly before I left for Israel, but I did nothing about it. Then lessons 2 and 3 arrived, and I still did nothing. Chaim had already studied with his chevruta (a local, and not someone in Israel, as it turns out) and was impressed by the materials, being taught by Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar. But having already fallen behind, I wondered how I could — and even why I would — spend my time in Israel with this project. Besides, my chevruta seemed no more interested than I was, since I hadn’t heard from her.
But then while I was in week 1 of my Israel trip, Keren emailed me, apologizing for not contacting me sooner, explaining that she had just published a book and things were quite crazy. When could we speak? Well, I’m in Israel on a tour, I replied. I won’t be available until I get to Haifa and my husband and I settle into our apartment there.
And so it was that Keren and I spent an hour and a half on the phone last week studying Psalm 19 and getting to know one another. We had a lot in common, and after I got off the phone with her, I was inspired to write a story-poem and a prayer dedicated to her and our study together. When I sent them to her, she was so moved, she insisted that we meet, saying that she had written a story that had begun the same way as mine! It was bashert (destined) that we had been paired.
Today was the day. She met us at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek (halfway between Haifa and her home in Afula) where I had spent five months in 1981 (spring semester of my junior year of college), splitting my day between learning Hebrew in the Ulpan program and working on the kibbutz. I was very excited to return to this place that was so formative to my understanding of my Jewish identity and my relationship to Israel. I was particularly anxious to see the view of the Jezreel Valley that had occupied my dreams, been the source of such joy during my forest runs on the kibbutz, and spoiled me so that I actually never ran again.
And Keren would be joining us for this reunion!
It wasn’t clear we would have a view of the valley from the cemetery, and we weren’t sure where the trail I used to run even was, though I remembered it went past the cemetery. Then Keren showed me that we did have a view, and I cried with joy, nostalgia, pain, overwhelm! We found a bench, and I read Keren and Chaim the poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks (below). I started it at the Kinneret Cemetery with my rabbis’ tour; we had been asked to write a poem inspired by the poet Rachel’s poem about Mount Nevo, while sitting by her grave.
From the kibbutz, we travelled to Keren’s home in Afula for a lovely lunch, where we met two of her three sons (aged 7 and 11; the oldest is 15 but wasn’t home) and saw her artwork (both paintings and sculpture), some of her mother’s sculpture, and received an inscribed copy of her hot-off-the-presses book, part memoir/part fiction about her brother’s death by a Hezbollah sharpshooter during a military exercise thirteen years ago and her healing.
I am so blessed to have this new friend in my life! Part of the Psalms project will include making art together. We don’t yet know how this will play out, but are thrilled to be on the journey together.
My Israeli Brigadoon
@ by Pamela Wax, February 2018
In former days, bayamim ha-heim,
I would run through the forest past the kibbutz cemetery,
then further up
until a summit and a view
grabbed my eyes and yanked my heart
It was not yet my Mount Nevo,
a placeholder for unrequited dreams of the past.
Rather it was a screen upon which I watched
my future dreams unfold before me
in the Jezreel Valley
where I would take my place as an olah,
connected to the land,
to belong to something larger than myself.
But if what goes up must come down,
that idealistic aliyah to the summit
culminated in a descent.
It was not inevitable
but a choice made of fear
to run from that high place
to make a life
in relative safety
and unconventional convention
Yes, I belong at times
to something larger than myself.
But, if you ask, I will tell you:
I never again laced up my sneakers and ran anywhere.
Even when I lived half a block from a California beach
or Manhattan’s Central Park
amongst the rolling hills of the Berkshires
or near the park in the Bronx
where cross-country runners from Africa come to train,
I would not join them.
I was caught ever after in the thicket of Mount Nevo,
for a place I had been
and a dream yet to be.
* Mount Nevo was where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land but told that he himself could not enter there.
Both archaeological sites we visited today, Bet Shearim (a UNESCO world heritage site) and Tzippori (Sepphoris), have rich and unique histories. What connects the two is the personage of Rabbi Yehuda haNassi (Judah the Patriarch). He was head of the Sanhedrin (which was headquartered in Bet Shearim after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem and the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt — and before it moved to Tzippori), key leader of the Jewish community during the Roman occupation of Judea, and compiler of the Mishnah (3rd century, CE). Bet Shearim became renowned as a great center of Torah study after Yehuda haNassi (or just “Rabbi” in the Talmud) resided there. Though he spent the last 17 years of his life and died in Tzippori, the Talmud (Ketubot 103b) says: “Rabbi was lying on his sickbed at Tzippori but a burial place was reserved for him at Bet Shearim.”
The well-known story of his death is one of my favorite teaching stories for end-of-life work with families who may have differing opinions about keeping their loved one alive “to the end” (Talmud Ketubot 104a). Rabbi Yehuda haNassi was basically being kept alive by life support, which were the prayers of his disciples. His maidservant, realizing how he was suffering, threw an urn on the ground to interrupt the prayers and put Rabbi out of his misery. He died in that split second when his “life support” was momentarily suspended.
Because he was buried in Bet Shearim and because the Roman authorities had prohibited Jewish burial in Jerusalem, the cemetery in Bet Shearim became the “in” place of burial grounds both for those living in the land of Israel as well as for those in surrounding areas like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Phoenicia, and Yemen. We only entered one burial cave, but there were about 135 sarcophagi there! And there are many other burial caves that we not only didn’t visit but that haven’t even been excavated yet.
From Bet Shearim, we travelled about 13 miles to Tzippori National Park, with remains of an ancient city and gorgeous mosaic floors. There were ruins from Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as a fortress from the Crusader period. Yehuda haNassi’s grandson is buried in Tzippori. The Sanhedrin (and Yehuda haNassi) moved there from Bet Shearim at the beginning of the 3rd century CE and the Mishna was compiled in Tzippori.