Israel’s Political/GeoPolitical Maze + Food+Art

The pool at our hotel wasn’t going to open until 8, so I walked up the road to the Jerusalem YMCA for my morning swim. Their new sports facility opened in November, and it was quite impressive — a ten-lane pool! As always, it is part of my embodied prayer/meditation time, though now that I have started learning qigong, I have another embodied practice, as well.

Swimming at the brand-new YMCA in Jerusalem

A small section of the breakfast buffet at the Orient Hotel

I returned to the hotel, grabbed a quick breakfast at yet another amazing buffet, and proceeded to our morning lecture with Professor Reuben Hazan from the Political Science Department of Hebrew University whom I had previously heard speak a number of years ago. He offered us a comprehensive comparison of Israel’s parliamentary and America’s democracies, an up-to-date analysis of Netanyahu’s political and legal troubles, an Israeli view of Trump, and a sobering analysis of Obama’s legacy in the Middle East.

Prof. Reuben Hazan, Hebrew University

We then hopped our bus and proceeded to Gilo, a Jewish suburb of south Jerusalem which was not part of pre-‘67 Jerusalem. Uri offered maps and a nuanced analysis of the issues related to the occupation, with threats are both internal and external. Are all the settlements the same? To what extent is the “security barrier” an “apartheid wall” or a “ghetto wall”? Would pulling out of the West Bank create the same kind of untestable vacuum politically that it did in Gaza? What about a one-state rather than a two-state solution? We were all left challenged by the many complexities and how to translate them to our larger communities that may only know sensationalist headlines.

Uri sharing maps of Jerusalem pre- and post-1967, while standing on a lookout from Gilo

View of Jerusalem from Gilo lookout

Raz from Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah on border with Gaza

We travelled to a beautiful moshav on the border with Gaza and met with a man named Raz who spoke about the ongoing trauma that they all live with due to the rockets and missiles that are launched. Previously, they have had to contend with tunnels that have been built from Gaza into the moshav (initially for smuggling, now for attacks; they had to block one up with concrete which then created a toxicity problem for them).

The furthermost home on the moshav is only 200 feet from the border with Gaza. At one point they received 386 alarms in two days — and only have 7-9 seconds to get to the bomb shelters once the sirens blare. The government offers a lot of psychological services for adults and kids, and everyone is trained, including bus drivers. They even have surfing therapy for the kids! He spoke about resilience being community-based and about their Tu B’shevat celebration two weeks ago at which 400 of them went out biking. “My victory is living a normal life,” he said.

Raz spoke of the days when they hired Palestinians from Gaza to work on the moshav before the disengagement in 2005 and said he and his family had kept in touch with some of them for a time, and sent them money. He is well aware of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in much of the Gaza Strip and believes that it is self-preserving to help the Palestinians, that desperate people do desperate things. “If this is difficult for us, it’s much more difficult for them.” He also said that because he has never seen or touched peace, the only thing he can believe in is co-existence.

A home-made missile and the head of an Iron Dome that landed in Netiv Ha’asarah. The army tries not to use Iron Domes too close to the border for fear of them landing in Gaza and the Palestinians getting hold of sensitive technology.

Netiv Ha’asarah decorated the security barrier at the Gaza border

From Netiv ha’Asarah we travelled to Sederot, another border town with Gaza which I had visited five years ago. During that trip, Chaim and I had seen an indoor playground that was equipped with several specialized bomb shelter rooms — one for computers, one for soccer, as well as a climbing wall that only went up half the wall so that the kids could fulfill the 15-second rule should the alarms sound there.

Today we visited an outdoor playground that also has innovative shelters — long colorful serpent tunnels.

Waving from a bomb shelter/play tunnel at an outdoor park in Sederot

We left Sederot, returned to Jerusalem and met with Noa Sattath of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli equivalent of the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement in Washington, DC. She spoke about the 4 major issues that they focus their attention on: 1. Equality for non-Orthodox movements in Israel
2. Ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Jewish life in Israel
3. Gender segregation in public sphere
4. Racism, including starting a racism crisis center!

After a brief rest back at the hotel, we went out for an evening at Mahane Yehuda market, which has become a hip place for new cuisine after dark. We tasted Syrian tahini, Israeli beers, Georgian pizza, and Lebanese knaffeh. We also saw some of the art of Solomon Sosa, a street artist who has painted about half of the 360 shutters in the market, only seen at night!

So another day ends with a full stomach and a full heart and mind.

This wheel for making tahini was smuggled out of Syria, and is based in the Mahane Yehuda market at Tahina haMelech (Tahini the King)

Solomon Sosa started making street art on the closed shutters of the market.

Boutique beers from all over Israel at Beer Bazaar. They have over 100 beers, including 7 they make themselves.

Etrogs are not just for Sukkot anymore. Etrog Man to the rescue!

The other night I went to see an Israeli film called “The Baker from Berlin” and this was one of the specialities featured, pull-apart chocolate rugelach that made my mouth drool. Now I saw it at Marzipan bakery, and we bought some for Shabbat!

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