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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Along Israel’s Borders

The not-so-distant mountains beyond the jeeps are Lebanon

Today was a day for learning some of the geo-political realities along Israel’s borders. Two jeeps met us at Kfar Blum to take us on a dirt road journey to the Golan Heights. On the way we came across a number of tanks and other military installations. Tank gunner Emanuel came over to tell us that we could not take photos of their equipment, and we engaged him in conversation. Before he left, our guide Uri told him to take care of himself, and Emanuel answered, “First, I take care of you.”

Conversing with tank gunner Emanuel. We are facing the direction of the Hula Valley, over which 1/2 million birds migrate bi-annually on their way to and from Africa.

As we continued up the road, we came across a huge herd of cattle blocking our path. We lost a lot of time trying to get them to the side so we could pass!

Clearing the cattle traffic jam so the jeeps could get through

Minefields on the border

Our destination was a former Syrian outpost at Tel Facher that Israel took in the ‘67 war, thanks to Israeli spy Eli Cohen, an Egyptian Jew who went undercover in Syria. It is because he suggested to the Syrians that they plant eucalyptus trees at this lookout to protect themselves from the heat that the outpost was evident to the approaching Israeli soldiers. The Israeli phrase to “throw yourself on the fence for someone” derives from the battle at this site. The device to blow the barbed wire malfunctioned, so a soldier threw himself on the barbed wire fence so that his comrades could walk on his back to get over it.

Uri demonstrates military maneuver of the ‘67 war at Tel Facher/Golani Lookout

Uri, our master tour guide, was full of these moving stories of courage and devotion to land and people during the ‘67 war. In the bus, he continued with some of the history of the War of Attrition and the ‘73 Yom Kippur War.

From Tel Facher, we travelled to Mt. Bental overlooking the Syrian border to meet with Lieutenant Colonel Sarit Zehavi, former intelligence officer where we got a thorough briefing on the current geo-political situation and its many complications, including strange bed-fellows. She is in the process of completing an experiential museum center near the Lebanon border which will provide an opportunity for visitors to experience how security is done through situation-room kinds of war games and technology.

Snow-covered Mount Hermon (left of tree, in background)

Learning about the current geopolitical situation with Syria, Lt. Colonel Sarit Zehavi, former intelligence officer

Our next stop was the exquisitely beautiful Kinneret Cemetery, right next to the Kinneret itself (Sea of Galilee). Here many of the early Zionist pioneers are buried, including Berel Katznelson, one of the intellectual founders of Labor Zionism. We spent a good amount of time at the grave of beloved Israeli poet Rachel, reading some of her poetry and even wrote some of our own (I still have to edit mine before posting). There is a closed box next to her grave where one can take out copies of her poems to read.

Poet Rachel’s grave at Kinneret Cemetery. Uri is showing us the hidden box of poetry that resides next to her grave.

Singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer is buried there, too. Notice the font — I want Hebrew script on my grave one day, too.

I can’t come to Israel and not meet a camel, can I?

We left the north of the country and travelled south to Jerusalem along the Jordan Valley, through the West Bank, this time close to the Jordanian border. My Verizon phone service even sent me a text that said “Welcome to Jordan.” In one day, I saw Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, reminding me how close Israel really lives to its neighbors.

We stopped at an overlook at Mt. Scopus to recite the Shehechayanu as we watched night fall over the Old City.

Here we are staying at the gorgeous and brand-new Orient Hotel in the German Colony.

Another informative and tiring day concludes. It was an emotionally (and morally) challenging day — I cried more than once, falling in love all over again with Israel in a way I hadn’t since my very first visit in 1981.

Thanks to my wonderful rabbinic colleagues and to our wonderful guide Uri for making this trip so meaningful and fun!

If you’ve never been to Israel (or even if you have), let’s plan a group trip. I know a really good guide…

 

Meeting the Other

Stop 1 at Givat Haviva with Mohammad Darawshe, a leading expert on Jewish-Arab relations

Today’s theme was on diverse communities in Israel: we learned some about the Arab communities, the Druze community, and the special needs community through our varied visits today.

We departed Tel Aviv and headed to Givat Haviva, an educational center on a vast kibbutz-like campus that fosters a shared society between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Mohammed Darawshe, director of the Center, spoke about the economic, social and political challenges that Israeli Arabs face in Israel. First of all, he said that Israeli Jews and Arabs understand co-existence and equality differently. While Israeli Jews support both concepts, they tend to believe that co-existence will lead to equality, despite the majority never having had visited an Arab village or having invited an Arab into their homes. Arab Israelis, on the other hand, believe that equality must come before co-existence is possible.

The Center no longer brings youth from the two communities together for immersion programs because they found that while stereotypes were certainly challenged in the short-term, the effect would wear off within 9-12 months, and the students reverted to the beliefs of their family and larger community. This is known as the “going home syndrome.”

The solution had to be longer-term. However, while successful, there are only six integrated Arab-Jewish schools in all of Israel, with the possibility of integrating only one new one every three years. So what they have implemented instead is the bussing of the teachers — Jewish teachers in Arab schools and Arab teachers in Jewish schools, a program now operating in 840 schools, affecting 184,000 students. For Jewish students, it may be the first time that they have experienced an Arab in a position of authority. For 68 percent of the students, this is the first meaningful encounter they have ever had with the other, and for 92.2 percent, their perspective about “the other” changes to the positive, for both groups. It sounds like it works!

Mohammed shared so much more about the changing face of the economic situation for Arabs in Israel and about the changing economy itself, about women in the workplace, and some telling anecdotes that I will love to share with anyone who is interested in hearing more. Mostly, I left feeling encouraged that Israel now understands that its own economic viability depends on an educated and financially stable Arab population, and is taking real steps to close the gaps.

Stop 2, Said Abu Shaka at the Um El Fahem Art Gallery.

We travelled from Givat Haviva to Um El Fahem Art Gallery to meet with founding director, Said Abu Shaka, who spoke movingly about his poverty growing up, his mother’s love, and his dream of opening this art gallery where Arab artists could exhibit. He said he wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The gallery includes a ceramics workshop for women to create art.

Hamsas!

Stop 3, Nurah’s Kitchen

We travelled then to Dalyat haCarmel, a predominantly Druze city, to have lunch at Nurah’s Kitchen. Over a lovely (kosher) meal, Nurah told us some about the Druze community and religion, and our guide Uri filled in some information, as well. Most fun facts: 1. Druze broke from Islam because they considered Jethro (yes, the Jethro who is the father-in-law of Moses in the Hebrew Bible) their true prophet, not Mohammed; 2. Druze are not allowed to enter their holy places if they harbor any anger or animosity in their heart; 3. It is a closed society with no converting in or out; 4. It is a also a secret society with not much known about its religion; 5. There are secular Druze; 6. Druze do not have aspirations for a homeland and therefore are “home” wherever they live. There are Druze communities in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

Stop 4, Statue of the prophet Elijah at El Muhraqa, Carmelite Monastery

View from the roof of the Carmelite Monastery

The summit of Mount Carmel, El Muhraqa in Arabic (literally, “the sacrifice”), has a remarkable 360 degree view of the Jezreel Valley. On the grounds of the monastery stands a statue of the prophet Elijah, sword raised because it was here that the Bible (I Kings 18-19) says he killed the prophets of Baal, after which he fled and heard “the still, small voice.”

Most Jews know the kindly Elijah who visits Jewish homes at the Passover seder, at every brit milah, and every Saturday night at havdalah, and we love the folk stories of the chameleon-like Elijah who can appear in different forms to save the day. But the Biblical Elijah was strict, uncompromising, and curmudgeonly towards the Israelites. I like Joseph Telushkin’s teaching that Elijah is punished for his doubt in the faith and continuity of the Jewish people by having to visit us every Passover, Shabbat, and brit milah to be proven wrong in his pessimism — we have and do survive.

Stop 5 at Tulip Winery

In the town of Tivon, a German-Jewish father of a special needs daughter, founded a community in 1964 called Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope) where people with special needs might live. 223 special needs individuals live there now, all have jobs either in the community dining hall, laundry or winery. Tulip Winery, the largest boutique winery in Israel, employs 41 of the villagers. The winery’s motto is “We don’t put labels on people; we put them on bottles.”

Stop 6, The Pastoral Hotel at Kibbutz Kfar Blum. If I told you that this photo represents only part of the dessert offerings, you can only imagine how extensive the salad and main meal buffets were.

My roommate Michelle and I are staying in the Whoopi Goldberg room at the Pastoral Hotel, set in between the Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep rooms.  This is a beautiful hotel on Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Galil region. Our dinner was a buffet spread like I’ve never seen before, with gourmet flavors that I also have never tasted before.

Another long day concludes, before an early departure for the Golan Heights.

Jaffa/Tel Aviv

Scenic view from the train

Sunset from my hotel room

Last evening the CCAR (my rabbis’ organization) Leadership trip began. I said good-bye to Bili and Mats (whom I will see again in a week) and took a beautiful scenic train ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, which I’d never done before. Our group gathered in the lobby of the Royal Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv at 6:30 PM, and I met the other eight colleagues on this trip, only two of whom I had not known before. Additionally, we are joined by our colleague Rabbi Hara Person who works for the CCAR.

Our tour guide is Uri Feinberg, the son of Rabbi Shaul Feinberg who had been the dean of the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College when I began in 1988. I will have to take Uri aside one of these days to let him know the debt of gratitude I owe his father for his care and concern when my mother took ill, then died, during that first year of rabbinical school. Shaul made all of the arrangements to get me and my brother (who was on kibbutz at the time) home to see her before she died, and it was only because of the Pan Am tragedy over Lockerbie, Scotland that there was even a flight to be had over Christmas to get us there in time. (Pan Am had availability, though no other airline did.)

This morning my roommate Michelle (a rabbi in California) and I took an early morning walk along the beach before going to the amazing Israeli breakfast buffet at the hotel. And from there we were gone from 8:30- 6:30 PM, touring and walking and learning and eating.

First off, a walking tour of Jaffa, starting at the Jaffa port which the Bible story of Jonah tells us is where Jonah embarked on his escape from God’s call. But for modern Israeli history, it is also where the first immigrants to Israel arrived in the late 19th century.

Jaffa port

Our tour of Jaffa included graffiti and an introduction to a couple of Arab-Israeli artistic collaborations, Na Laga’at and the Jaffa Theatre. Na Laga’at is also a theatre company of blind/vision-impaired and deaf, hearing-impaired performers, but their center also contains the Black-Out Restaurant which is set in total darkness, in which the waiters are all blind or visually impaired.

You tell me: am I devil or angel?

We then met with members of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism’s pre-Army mechinah (academy), a 10-month immersion into Israeli and Reform Jewish culture through study, volunteering, touring, and preparation for the Army, physically, emotionally, and morally. A key component of the program is when the young people are dropped off somewhere with no food or money in order to learn to trust both strangers and themselves for two nights — the first night asking to be housed by a stranger, and the second night living out on the streets!

Shimko, Nimrod and Tom tell us about the IMPJ mechinah program

We then visited Independence Hall where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The NY Times proclaims the new state of Israel AND the immediate bombing that resulted

We also visited the Shalom Center where we got a tour of the colorful mosaics by Nahum Gutman which depict the history of Tel Aviv.

Part of the mosaic

Our lunch consisted of an ethnic tasting tour, a walk through Tel Aviv’s famous Levinsky Market. We “visited” Greece (for olives, cabbage rolls, beans, salmon and other salads), Turkey (for bourekas), Libya (for a nut/quinoa/lentil salad), Georgia (for a walnut and grape energy bar concoction), and Iraq (for halvah).

The Georgian spices

The Greek olive and salad bar

The Turkish bourekas

The Iraqi halvah

The Iraqi halvah

After this feast, we went to the State of Mind Innovation Center, sponsored by Taglit/Birthright, a museum dedicated to Israel as a start-up nation, with exhibits about the technologies that Israelis have created in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture, transportion (we all use the Israeli Waze app, right?), and safety/security (did you know you can download an Israeli app called the Salient Eye that will do home security from your phone?) This was a feel-good place, indeed, (and not only because my friend Yosef Abramowitz’s company Energiya Global was featured). The medical advances included things like Orcam, Pillcam, Rewalk, and SoftWheel. And in the science field, I was amazed by a company called WaterGen whose machines can create water out of air (if there is at least 20% humidity). They are each worth a Google search!

At the Innovation Center

Our visit continued with a presentation by an entrepreneur who started a website buyforgood.biz which focuses on social impact products, and then we concluded with a fascinating conversation with journalist Nathan Jeffay about the (not very encouraging) state of Jewish and Israeli news coverage around the world.

Let’s call it a day!

My Israeli Birthday, My Israeli Family

Mats sharing the birthday cake that Bili’s mother made (Mats’ birthday was Wednesday) with me (whose birthday was today)

With Bili’s parents Yafa and Shmuel

With Oded, Bili’s brother

It had been five years since I’d been in Israel and last seen Bili’s parents. They first met me as a 20 year old college student, and welcomed me into their home Shabbat after Shabbat, helped me hone my Hebrew (Yafa speaks no English, and Shmuel speaks some), taught me to love the forest behind their home and the beauty of the land of Israel. Seeing them last night for Shabbat dinner was like coming home — a place of total acceptance (and amazing food). Yes, we were all a bit older, and yes, we had our heated conversations about Reform Judaism and Donald Trump (whom Bili’s father and brother consider “good for Israel”), but I knew that I was heard and valued. Before I left, Yafa told me that I am her American daughter, which made me cry.

This morning Bili wouldn’t let me into the kitchen as she whipped up an amazing Israeli birthday breakfast of borekas, salad, fresh orange juice, bitter orange marmalade, a gazillion sides, plus a strawberry cake. Only the pomegranate and the salad are on my Weight Watchers “zero point” list, but there are no points to count on birthdays anyway, right?

With Bili and her friend Tali at breakfast

Only one candle?

We (Bili, Mats, their friend — and my new friend —Tali, their dog Hunter, and me) then took a road trip in search of wildflowers, Bili’s weekend passion. She gets news alerts from her botanical club of where things are blooming when, and she goes running, taking loads of photos that she posts each week on Facebook. We went to both the Mata Forest and to the Adulam-France National Park where we saw a lot of red anemones, cyclamen, and, of course, the almond trees in blossom. We are actually in a winter heat wave in Israel so Bili is a bit afraid of what this will mean for the wildflower blooming “schedule,” but this is always the best month in which to see spring “spring” in the holy land.

Me and my anemone

Our picnic lunch

The almond tree in blossom

A glorious day concluded with another Bili feast and binge watching of a British series “Unforgotten,” a phone call with my sister, email and Facebook wishes from friends near and far, and a true sense of feeling younger, not older.

So grateful for this 48-year friendship with Bili. Penpals since age 10 and so many great memories from many (though never enough) different trips to Israel.

Thanks, Bili and Mats, for making today another wonderful memory for the archives of my blessed life.

Shavua tov.

 

All Roads Lead to Jerusalem

I sort of knew it would happen, expected it to happen. But even so, it felt like surprise, not inevitability, to run into people I knew in Jerusalem.

Yesterday it was Rabbi Rich Kirschen while I was wandering around the beautiful campus of Hebrew Union College, where I’d spent my first year of rabbinical school. We had known each other during rabbinical school in New York but mostly from when we’d both lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He works for NFTY, the Reform youth movement, in Israel.

With Rich Kirschen at HUC in Jerusalem

Part of the breathtaking architecture at Hebrew Union College campus

Today it was “Captain Sunshine” solar energy pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, married to my friend and classmate Rabbi Susan Silverman. Knowing I wouldn’t get to see Susan this visit since she is in the US, Yosef and I had made tentative plans to see each other at synagogue services tonight, which ultimately wasn’t going to work for me, since I will be visiting my friend Bili’s parents outside the city for Shabbat. So, voila, the magic of Jerusalem abra-kadabra’ed a serendipitous meeting while buying fruit and vegetables before Shabbat.

With Yosef Abramowitz in Baka

Susan and Yossi are, indeed, a power couple, both regularly featured in world and Israeli news: Susan for her activism on behalf of Women of the Wall and most recently on behalf of Miklat Yisrael, a organization opposing the deportation of the African refugees residing in Israel and finding homes in which to hide them. There is a growing movement in support of these African refugees, including Holocaust survivors who “remember when,” human rights activists, and now even some  ElAl pilots who are refusing to pilot the planes that would return these refugees to Africa. Susan has been called a “Zioness Lioness” for this human rights work. She was recently in the US on a different tour to promote her new book, Casting Lots:Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World, about adoption and raising a transracial family (Susan and Yosef have 5 children; their two sons were adopted from Ethiopia). For his part Yosef was co-nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, brought solar energy to Israel, and now is expanding accesss to renewable energy in Africa. A film is currently being made about his work (for which crowdsource funding would be welcomed.)

But, most essential to my Jerusalem experience is my time spent with Bili, the friend I’ve had since I was 10 years old and she was my penpal practicing her English on me. Bili has also been in — and on — the Israeli news of late, saving the Israeli TV archives (which she directs) from short-sighted governmental near-destruction. Bili vs. Bibi! (Bili, it’s worth my spelling your name my old way, rather than your newer way — Billy — just for that play on words!)

Bili and her husband Mats, eating his birthday cake! Happy Birthday, Mats!

Yesterday I had the great honor of travelling to the Jewish Kessem school in Neve Ilan and to the Arab school in Abu Ghosh to participate in classes of fifth graders as part of my friend Simon Lichman’s  program The Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage. The CCECH is a nonprofit that brings Arab and Jewish school kids together around folklore programs. When I emailed Simon when I was coming to Israel, he wrote, “How wonderful! Would you like to come to the Abu Ghosh and Kessem schools on Thursday morning? I’m preparing them for a shul visit in 2-1/2 weeks so you’d be the perfect companion.”

In the Jewish School, we spoke about Jewish ritual objects which the kids had brought from home, and in the Arab school, the kids had prepared presentations about Jewish culture, such as Jewish garb, Jewish food, etc. In both schools I got to practice my Hebrew, and they all got to meet a woman rabbi. A win-win for all. Plus I then got to eat the famous Abu Ghosh hummus over lunch with Simon. We also visited the wild and crazy Elvis Diner outside of Neve Ilan, owned and run by a big Elvis fan. Simon also took me for a tour of two Arab villages, Ein Nakuba and Ein Rafa (where everyone seemed to know him) and explained the cultural differences (one is more traditional, in which the daughters marry early and don’t get educated) and history of each.

If you want to read more about the real impact of CCECH’s work, this article about what Simon accomplished in these two villages (and why they all know him) will warm your heart and perhaps spur you to make a donation to support his educational co-existence work.

The class of 5th graders in Abu Ghosh; Simon standing in the back.

Elvis memorabilia at the Elvis Diner

More to come; I’ll be in Israel for almost a month. Shabbat shalom!

Montreal, Leonard Cohen, and Anniversary #14

When Chaim and I decided to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary in Montreal, a place we could easily take a train to (albeit a LONG train-ride and a troubling one — FOURTEEN U.S. border guards came on-board to grill us before we entered Canada, only to go through it again on the Canadian side), we did not realize that we would be here to witness an amazing exhibit dedicated to Leonard Cohen on his first yahrzeit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. For those of you who are Leonard Cohen fans, the exhibit lasts until April. It is a must-see (honoring Cohen as a painter, songwriter, musician, writer — he did not consider himself a poet — and humanitarian); I already want to come back.

Leonard Cohen exhibit at Museum of Contemporary Art, entitled “There is a Crack in Everything”

Yesterday we walked 12 miles all over the city, taking in street art and art installations,

The tree is a shadow, not part of the mural itself (Blvd. St. Laurent).

Chaim found a friend (on Sherbrooke).

Here I am with my zaftig friend (on Sherbrooke).

The little one carrying a giant (on Rue Jeanne-Mance.)

visiting an eclectic bookstore, eyeing the Belzer Hasidim who live in “our” neighborhood of Mile End,  tasting (1) the borscht at the new Jewish museum, (2) the famous Montreal bagels at St. Viateur bagels,

The bagel maven at St. Viateur bagelry!

and (3) great vegan food at two other restaurants (all while staying within my allotted Weight Watcher points!), and paying homage to Leonard Cohen’s home, where flowers were left to honor his yahrzeit, in addition to a sign requesting that no burning candles be left.

Front door at Leonard Cohen’s Montreal home

Today we took a 4-hour bus tour for a fuller overview of the city and then went to the contemporary art museum before going out for our anniversary dinner at an elegant vegan restaurant.

I had first been to Montreal when I was 16 on a teen trip to see the 1976 Olympics. Here is a photo of the Olympic Stadium, which I remember from then, 40+ years ago.

Olympic Stadium from 1976 summer Olympics, later used for now-defunct baseball team.

I next visited Montreal within the year after I was ordained, 1994 or 1995. I had gone on a women’s Outward Bound canoe trip as part of my ordination rites (I felt that I wanted to add a physical component to the spiritual, intellectual and emotional challenges that my rabbinical school training had offered), and one of the women from that trip lived in Montreal at the time, so I had come to visit her with another friend from that adventure. What I remember most was our trekking around on Mont Royal. Here is today’s view from the top.

View from top of Mt. Royal. The Olympic Stadium can be seen on the horizon just to the right of center.

We are looking forward to Shabbat at the Reconstructionist synagogue here, Dorshei Emet.

I hope I return to Montreal before another 20 years goes by. It’s a great city!