Friday, December 30, 2011

12/30/11: A Week In A Day: Goodbyes, Hellos, Holidays and... Hamas??

Since the departure of my sister one week ago, I have been working tirelessly to try and catch up on my work and daily life routine. Between that effort and the maintenance of my social life, I forgot to budget in time for the blog. Luckily I finally feel like I'm back to normal and will thus be resuming my (almost) daily posts.

It is hard to believe that another week has come and gone, and I'm fairly convinced that time slips by faster in Israel then back home. True, I am significantly busier here which undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that a month can go by in what feels like mere minutes, but regardless of this, I'm really starting to internalize and understand the ever so famous saying that "time flies". I will try to the best of my ability to adequately account for the past week without making this post a million pages long, but there were many things of note that took place over the last 8 days!

To start, I had the most wonderful 3 weeks with my step sister, Ida, and was so sad to have to say goodbye to her last Saturday night. In order to give her a proper send off we organized a rather large going away dinner at the lovely little sushi restaurant by my house. I'm averaging eating there about twice a week so they know me very well over there! The end of Chanukkah also coincided with her departure so it was a sad night all around. We were very good in the apartment and lit candles every night of the chag (holiday), but I did miss being at home surrounded by family very much.

The Cali Condo Chanukkiya 

After candles were lit and prayers were said we all headed down for Ida's last dinner. My two friends Sarah and Orlit were there to say their goodbyes to Ida, all of the roommates were present along with siblings and significant others, and it was a perfect end to her three week stay in Israel. 

 A little outnumbered by blondes! 

Sarah and me 

Orlit and Ida 

After dinner Sarah was kind enough to drive us to the airport where I said my final goodbye to Ida. I was so sad to see her leave but I know she will be back soon :-). I turned her into a Tel Avivit! The rest of the week was spent cleaning, studying, catching up on sleep, and trying to be as productive as possible in preparation for this weekend, which started with a classmates birthday part last night and will end with New years Eve tomorrow!! 

Before I go into details of my social adventures I will take this opportunity to briefly change the tone to one that is more academic. Since the semester is rapidly coming to a close papers are needing to be started and, in one case, finished. I have my first seminar paper due in less than one month and I have been working hard to compile enough research to write it well. The paper that is due in a month will be written on a very interesting, albeit radically different subject than what I am planning on focusing my main thesis on. I wanted to branch out a bit and chose to write on North African Sufism; more specifically the Gnawa who are Moroccan Sufis descended from slaves and soldiers from Sub-Saharan African. I will be examining how their Sub-Saharan roots and culture shape how they practice Islam and Islamic mysticism. 

The Gnawa during a music festival 
Though one paper topic was locked down, I was having trouble coming up with interesting and relevant subjects for my other two papers. At first I was strongly leaning towards writing about Jews from Arab lands, however, the more I thought about this the less it really fit in with what I want to do in the long run. If I merely wanted to get a PhD in history that would be one thing, but I came to this program knowing that I wanted to work for greater peace in this region (specifically dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), and in order to do so I need to really focus on gaining greater knowledge on everything concerning this region and this conflict. While I was gathering information on different journals and books regarding Palestinians and Israelis I came across an amazing quote from the man who wrote the book "Son of Hamas". He said, "“Love your enemies” is the only way to peace in the Middle East"- Mosab Hassan Yousef, and that made me realize that I need to spend some serious time getting to 
know the Palestinians, inside and out, along with studying Israeli politics, so that I will be able to fully understand the unrest in the region. Because of this I have decided to focus my next two papers on 
Hamas and Fatah, and will pick topics that incorporate the two Palestinian parties.

Now that I have dedicated a portion of this post to academics I can turn back to the social life free of guilt! Yesterday was yet another first and new experience for me. Moving in with the boys was fantastic but I have definitely been relying a bit too heavily on them in terms of my social life. Maybe it is because it is convenient going out with the people you live with, or maybe I was just being too lazy to forge my own way socially, but for whatever the reason, I have been starting to feel the need to branch out a bit. Luckily such an opportunity presented itself last night when one of my classmates had his 26th birthday party. 

Happy Birthday Jonny! 

It was so amazing spending the night out with people in my program and getting to know them better. I am so fortunate to be in a class filled with extremely bright and interesting people who, as I discovered last night, are so much fun to hang out with. We started at a bar in the center of town where we celebrated, had some drinks, and just genuinely enjoyed the evening. By 2:30-2:45am it was off to get a little snack, and then we headed to the beach to walk around for a little bit. Unfortunately, by 3:15am most things were closed and it was pretty freezing outside. Cold and mildly exhausted it was time for us to say goodnight and head home. It was a pretty perfect night and I had an amazing time, but by 4am I was very ready for some serious sleep! Tonight will be very mild to regain strength for New Years Eve! I still can't believe it is going to be 2012 but I have a feeling this is going to be an amazing year. How can it not be? It opens with a huge New Years party followed, 5 days later, by my 24th birthday :-) And, of course, in the mix I will attempt to be very productive at paper writing!! 

Stay tuned for a crazy New Years Eve post! 
Tisba7 3ala kheir ya chaverim <3,
Jordana Simone

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12/22/11: O Ethnic Ambiguity! Ahlan Akko!

Getting ready to enter Al-Jaza Mosque 

Today was yet another riveting day in the life of a graduate student in the Middle East. All of us MAMES (Master's in Middle Eastern Studies) students enjoyed an amazing field trip to the city of Akko, which is quickly jumping the ranks as one of my favorite cities in Israel. Unfortunately, due to insurance issues, I was not allowed to bring my sister along for this trip, but I was very happy she was understanding of the fact that this was an academic opportunity I didn't want to miss out on.  The amazing thing about Akko is that it is one of the few completely integrated cities in Israel where Arabs and Jews coexist side by side. Arabs serve in the government, run flourishing business, have schools, and do all of this along side of the Jewish communities in the town. It is a heaven to me and a city that should be the model for the state of Israel as a whole. 

It was a long day to say the least. I had to wake up at around 5:45am, get ready for the day, get out to the bus stop, and make it to campus by 7:45. Once I arrived to Ramat Aviv the group of us had time for a quick breakfast and then it was on to the bus to head up to the North of Israel. Being the pinnacle of a "morning person" I took the 2.5 hour bus ride as an opportunity to catch up on some of that sleep I was deprived of in the early morning. Lucky for me one of the guys on my program seized the opportunity to document my laziness! Thank you Greg :-) 

Doing what I do best! 

When we arrived in Akko we started our day at the home of our teacher's Israeli Arab friend. We had a fantastic opportunity to ask him questions about the situation in Israel for Israeli, Muslim Arabs, the situation with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, and other questions covering a wide range of other topics. It was very nice being able to hear from a member of the Israeli minority, and I feel that so much attention is put on the relations with Israel and the neighboring Palestinian territories, that we tend to forget there are about 1.2 million Arabs residing within Israel as full citizens. Hearing what this man had to say was really very interesting, including the fact that he, and many other Israeli Arabs, would remain in Israel even if a Palestinian state was established; Israel is their home and they are working very hard to establish greater recognition and equality for the Arabs in the country.

When we finished with our question and answer session it was off to the old city of Akko to take a boat ride on the mediterranean and visit the beautiful Al-Jazar Mosque. Lucky for us it was a beautiful day outside so the boat ride was absolutely fantastic. They were playing Arabic and Hebrew music on the boat, we were relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous mediterranean, and genuinely enjoying the splendor of the day.
Remember Allah (God)
Walking into the Old City 
Getting ready for our boat ride
When our boat ride came to an end it was off to Al-Jazar Mosque; the second largest Mosque in Israel. In order to get into the facility women had to cover their heads, and, lucky for me, I just happened to bring the scarf that I usually use when I attempt to tie a hijab! I have never been inside a Mosque before and it was absolutely stunning. We couldn't go into the prayer area (we had our shoes on), but we were standing around the outside seating areas where we could see the entire interior of the Mosque. From the decorations and script writings of the names of Allah, Muhammad, and the four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali), to the boards displaying prayer times, it was such a sight. 

Masjid Al-Jazar  
All wrapped up and ready to go 

Inside the Mosque 

Prayer times 

We were lucky enough to have a guide who gave us a sort of tour of the mosque, explained about some Muslim customs and traditions, and delved a bit into the history of both the mosque and the religion of Islam. When he was done with his presentation we gathered around him in the courtyard to hear his wrap up. When he finished speaking the group of us was silent, I was in the front of the pack, and he looked at me, pointed to me, and said: "You look like a Muslim!"... Needless to say, I was SOOOOO HAPPY about this! I was then told that I was ethnically ambiguous which, I think,  will serve me well when I travel all over the Arab world. 

When we finished at the Mosque we toured the tunnels in Akko and then headed off for a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the water. It was delicious, traditional Arab food, we had hookah, and it was a great way to unwind from the craziness of the day. After lunch we hopped back on the bus and journeyed back down south to an Arab, Israeli village named Kfar Karra to meet with the head Qadi (Arab Judge) of Haifa. Again we were able to ask various questions regarding his stance on Arabs in Israel and his job in the courts, he gave a little presentation (which was very interesting), and then we wrapped up and headed back to Tel Aviv. 

I finally arrived home at around 9pm, spent some time with my poor sister who had been home all day (I owe her), and now I'm getting rested up for the big weekend ahead. It is Ida's last weekend in Israel so we are going to have some fun before she leaves. Granted, on Sunday I will be locking myself in my room (or the library) and doing nothing but homework, but it will be worth it to spend these last two days having fun with my sister! 

Stay tuned :-) 
Jordana Simone

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12/18/11: Arab Jerusalem, The West Bank, And A Traumatized Sister... Part 2

Ahlan W Sahlan Ramallah! 

I have to preface this post by apologizing for the lack of pictures. I was more concerned making sure Ida didn't pass out of nervousness than I was concerned with taking pictures, so my words will have to suffice for this post :-). The day had finally arrived to take Ida into the West Bank and show her the city of Ramallah. In the beginning I thought this would be a really fantastic way to broaden her horizons and show her a taste of Palestine... Looking back now, however, I realize that this might not have been my most amazing idea ever.

We woke up around 8am on Saturday morning, headed down to the dining area in the hotel for an amazing feast of a breakfast, I briefed Ida on what kinds of things to expect in the West Bank, we checked out, stored our bags at the hotel, and were off to the Arab busses that travel between Jerusalem and various West Bank and Israeli Arab cities. However, with my directional aptitude, it took us a little bit of time to find the busses. I could tell that Ida wasn't so comfortable walking around East Jerusalem, but this discomfort was nothing compared to what she felt in Ramallah. Of course, here I was loving life and feeling completely comfortable in my primarily Arab surroundings.

When we finally found the correct busses we boarded and were on our way to the West Bank. We drove right through the heart of East Jerusalem, past the separation wall, through Qalandia checkpoint, and on to Ramallah. During the drive Ida was glued to the window and her face had an expression that can best be described as a mix of fear of the unfamiliar and a sense of being completely overwhelmed. It was as if she were entering completely alien territory... which, in fact, she was. For me this was nothing, for her, this was a big step. As if she wasn't uncomfortable enough, once we got off the bus, in the heart of the busy shopping district of Ramallah, the stares and cat calls began. Ida was probably the only Blonde in the entire area, she was certainly the most pale skinned and touristy looking, and people just reacted as if she didn't belong. By default, because I was with her, I was exposed to that same treatment which was very foreign to me.

To make matters worse, there was this very strange man who was following us the whole time whispering things to us that I was very glad Ida could not understand. I was not worried, since I knew this was harmless heckling, but she was very frightened and uncomfortable, and my lax reactions to his stares and actions was unnerving to her. I had a tight hold on her the whole time, took her into a few shops, walked her through the big produce market, and took her to the main square (where they were playing amazing music), but the combination of the heckles, stares, and the creepy man who was following us was a bit too much for her. I could tell she just wanted to get out of there and we headed back to find the busses to Jerusalem. To make matters a bit worse, when I was asking for directions to the bus (in Arabic) and the creepy man overheard and tried to show us the way. I let him get a comfortable distance in front of us before we proceeded. We were going the same way so we tried to be strategic about avoiding him.

We finally found our way back to the busses, jumped inside, and Ida absolutely looked like she was about to pass out. She kept checking her pulse, taking long, deep breaths, and I knew she just needed to get back on the other side of the border. I learned a valuable lesson that day. I may have this profound love affair with all things Arab, but a part of the reason for this is that I am so comfortable in their surroundings. When I am alone, or even when I am with other people who look Middle Eastern, I NEVER experience the treatment that Ida experienced. I don't get cat called, heckled, or even bothered, and if someone starts acting in a way I deem inappropriate I merely start speaking my broken Arabic and all ill treatment ceases because they think my origins are Arab. This was not the experience Ida had and I can understand her discomfort.

In all honesty, this was a very trying experience for me as well since I was treated like an outsider because I was with an outsider. Just like Ida I was also very ready to get back across the border and home to Tel Aviv. I suddenly found myself feeling like a foreigner in a place I used to feel completely at home in. Granted, this was absolutely because I was with Ida, but nevertheless I found myself greatly missing "Israel". When we made it back through the checkpoint we went back to our hotel, ate some lunch, calmed Ida's nerves a bit, and then caught a sherut back to Tel Aviv. We both just wanted to get home and Ida was so relieved when we were on our way back.

In the Sherut I had to put my music on and just relax after that stressful experience. I was so worried about Ida that I tensed up almost the entire time we were in the Bank. As we were driving back I was completely overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and excitement at the fact that I was going home. As crazy as it sounds I love my life here in Tel Aviv more than anything and I found myself not only missing the city, but also missing my apartment and the boys very much. I had only been away from home for a day but I really did miss them. I have no close family here in Israel and every day these boys are becoming just as important to me as immediate family. I have learned that when you are stressed or overwhelmed you just need to be home with the people who make you feel the most comfortable, and though these boys are all very different, and though I love them each very differently, at the end of the day I can't think of any group of people I would rather be with. Needless to say, Ida and I were extremely happy to get home.

It was an experience I am glad that I could give to Ida, but one that will definitely not be repeated. She was able to see a new place and for that reason alone I am very glad she agreed to come with me. I think it is so important to experience new things, even if they might be a bit uncomfortable, and I hope that she understands the value in this even though it might not have been her favorite experience. With the help of God we were safe and made it home with a little stress as our biggest problem. We took it very easy yesterday night given the day that we had, and just spent time around the apartment. Today was another easy day filled with homework, cleaning, reading, and a lot of relaxation. I am about to have one of my busiest weeks this week so I want to make sure I am rested (especially because I am sick with bronchitis).

Tomorrow is my long day at class, Tuesday I am traveling back to East Jerusalem for the day (this time without Ida) to help the Palestine-Israel Journal with a conference on the Palestinian Israeli conflict, Wednesday I am going on a class trip (with Ida) to Akko for the day and evening, and Thursday and Friday are Ida's last nights in Israel so we will be doing big things! With all that, it is good I spent the entirety of today at home!

Stay tuned for some good updates!
Ma-Assalame Ya habibs <3,
Jordana Simone 

12/18/11: Arab Jerusalem, The West Bank, And A Traumatized Sister... Part 1

Welcome to Jerusalem! 
Since Ida has pretty much been restricted to life in Tel Aviv, I figured that this weekend would be a perfect opportunity to show her a side of Israel that she had never experienced before; Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Granted I probably didn't give much thought to the fact that Ida is a short, pale skinned, blonde, or the fact that she does not share my Arab obsession, but I'm glad that she was exposed to something new; it well rounds a person :-) 

On Friday my good friend Sarah and her friend Orlit picked us up from the apartment and joined us for our day in Jerusalem. It was so amazing having Sarah back in Israel, and it was just as fun meeting Orlit and forming new friendships here in Israel. Before we arrived in Jerusalem we decided to make a quick pit stop in Abu Gosh to eat some delicious, authentic Arabic/ Middle Eastern food. Abu Gosh boasts some of the best food in Israel and I haven't had the pleasure of going there since I was with Susannah 3 years ago. Though it was only 11a.m we decided to treat ourselves to all of the delicious luxuries the restaurant had to offer: Labne, Humus, Lamb, Arabic Salad, etc. It was so wonderful and it gave Ida a chance to truly get her Middle Eastern food fix. 

Delicious Lamb Meal  
So much delicious food

When we all ate our fill it was off to the Holy city for some sight seeing, shopping, and genuine girl time. After being surrounded by men in my apartment all the time, it was nice to have some time with just the girls. When we arrived in Jerusalem we parked the car outside of the big Mamilla mall next to the Old city, had some coffee, and then headed off to my favorite place in the world through Jaffa Gate. 

Entrance to my favorite city in the world 

Americanized Mamilla right next to the Old City 

Once inside the walls of the old city we went straight to the Shuk to do some shopping. We all needed some souvenirs and it was time to give Ida a taste of the true Arab shuk in the old city. I haven't been to that part of the Old City in some time, but the second we started walking around the streets in the Arab quarter I remembered why I fell madly in love with this city, this culture, and this language. The Arab Shuk is a magical place that completely enthralls anyone who walks through it. The Ashab Il-Ma7al (shop keepers) sit outside of their stores filled with bright and colorful souvenirs of all sorts, young children run and play in the streets, groups of men (young and old) sit around with their hookahs playing backgammon, while tourists from all over the world shop for gifts and experience this amazing area.

Heading to the Arab Shuk  
Ida thought this was photo worthy :-)

A tourist's dream 

7helwat!!! SWEETS

As we progressed deeper into the Shuk we were thrust into the heart of the Arab world, or so it felt. There were less tourists, more local businesses (butcher shops, restaurants, etc.), and all around us the call to prayer rang out from speakers in various shop windows.

Yummy... not very Hala or Kosher though 

While we were there I found a little shop that could make a necklace for me of my name in Arabic. If you know me you know that I am never without my Jewish start necklace unless I am in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, or various other Arab towns and countries that I have (and will) visit. However, not having a necklace at all makes me feel very naked, so I have been trying to find an Arabic necklace for some time. While the necklace was being made the girls and I decided to go to the Kotel to pray before Shabbat. We each wrote our Petekim (notes) to put in the wall, had a few moments to pray and usher in Shabbat, and then it was back to pick up my necklace from the Arab quarter. I will say this, as much as I love a culture that is so different from my own, there is nothing in the world as special to me as being Jewish, praying at one of my holies sites, and living in my homeland.

Me and my sissy before going to the Kotel  
Our Western Wall <3

Sissy at the wall 

Sarah and Orlit at the wall 

Ida and me at the wall 

I would be nowhere without my faith and God 

After we said our prayers and placed our notes in the wall we headed back to the Arab quarter to continue shopping, pick up my necklace, and then wrap things up before the start of Shabbat.

My name in Arabic! 

At around 2pm it was time for us to say goodbye to the Old City, drop Orlit off at the Sheruts back to Tel Aviv, say goodbye to Sarah who had to go to a friend for Shabbat, and check in to our hotel in East Jerusalem. It was so amazing being back in East Jerusalem at Hotel Azzahra, and it was just as I remembered it from this summer when I lived there. Ida was a bit overwhelmed at first by the surroundings, but she seemed to really enjoy the hotel.

Our semi suite at Hotel Azzahra  
Huge hallway and balcony 

Extra bed for storage? I'll take it! 

Our terrace 
Once we were all settled we planned our day trip to Ramallah (scheduled for the next day), played around with our head scarves just to see what we would look like in Hijabs and Jewish head wraps, caught up on some work and emails, and then got ready to head down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. 

Muslim Jordana  :-) 
Jewish Jordana :-) 

 The food at the restaurant was just as delicious as I remember, although Ida and my stomach's were both having some problems with the water. I wasn't surprised at all since when I lived in East Jerusalem I had the same thing happen, but since we were there for such a short time it was not the most fun thing in the world. After our meal we headed back to the room to get a good night sleep before our big day in the West Bank. However, being that it is East Jerusalem, there is never a dull moment. While we were in bed we heard what sounded like gun shots outside of our room. We are not sure that that is what the sound was, it might have been fire crackers, but airing on the side of caution, we both got into the bathroom away from the walls and windows. I remember hearing sounds like that when I lived on Al-Harir street, and I'm sure it was nothing, but we didn't want to take chances.

It was a wonderfully full day in Jerusalem and Ida and I were both very ready for a good night sleep. The next day we were off to Ramallah and we needed all the rest we could get before that adventure! Stay tuned for my next post on Ramallah! It was quite an experience and I'm pretty sure I permanently traumatized my sister, but it will be something she never forgets!

Until we meet again (which will be in about an hour or so when the next post is finished!) <3,
Jordana Simone