The Uprise

There’s a lot of debate going on lately. It’s all in a name. What should we call all the terrorist attacks of the last weeks?

It might be a bit arbitrary to the innocent bystander. What to call something. It’s not as if we are trying to name the new Messiah.

At all. There is little salvation in the continuous acts of revenge and hatred that have been flooding the country lately.

There’s no relief. Just grief. Anger and fear. Spiraling upward.

That, in itself is an uprise. An Intifada.

So should we or shouldn’t we call the current situation in Israel an Intifada? Maybe we should call it an Urban Intifida because it takes place mostly in Jerusalem? Or maybe we can call it the silent Intifada because it seems merely a set of somewhat unrelated incidents?

The debate is if we may call it an Intifada because there appears to be no guidance. There’s no structure. It is an unorganized sequence of terrorist attacks. Or so they say.

There is a certain modus operandi, though. The new fad is to drive a car into people. Whoever is waiting at a bus stop is a plausible victim. In a comment to an article in Haaretz newspaper a Palestinian woman mentioned that there were no other ways to demonstrate anymore. That all people wanted was their territory back and being treated as equals.

The incredible tragedy is that the regular ways to demonstrate do often lead to death, imprisonment and torture on the Palestinian side. And the building of more settlements. And a wall to protect the settlements.

Today, the Knesset votes about a Jewish Nation State Bill. In it, there’s no room for Arabic as an official language in Israel. It sets out to establish democracy for Jews only.

There is no voice the Palestinians can use to make themselves heard. Driving over people or stabbing them is certainly not doing their cause any good either.

Not helpful and very wrong. It’s an act of utter despair. It’s a cry of help of those that live a life of constant frustration, humiliation, fear and anger.

It does make it more daunting to take public transport these days. It’s the kind of adventure I do not feel comfortable with yet. Nor am I numb enough yet to not be afraid. So we walk. Take routes that will not come close to the bus and light rail stops.

Blocks are placed in front of bus stops to protect the waiting passengers from drive-in terrorist attacks. When we drive through Jerusalem or through the West Bank, we have to drive around the people waiting for busses in front of the concrete blocks.

Yes, I said that right: people are waiting on the wrong side of the protective blocks.

And it strikes me: People are so used to fear, they do not recognize the feeling anymore. Fear turns in to anger. And angry people wait for the bus on the street. Angry about the bus that is always late. Angry about terrorist attacks. Angry about the way the bus driver shakes them on the ride (our children call it a free roller coaster ride). Angry about their life.

But never afraid anymore. Or so they think.

An Intifada would be scary. So we will not call it that. No uprise. Just a lot of angry people fighting each other.

And nothing changes.

 

 

 

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Let’s talk about sex, baby

One of the things I learned about Judaism is its orientation towards sex. Frankly full swing fascinating.

Again, no better place to witness the Jewish take on sex than here in my own ultra orthodox neighborhood.

Forget about the urban legend of the hole in the sheet (it is said some ultra orthodox Jews are so concerned about modesty, they have intercourse through a hole in a sheet). In Judaism, sex is everywhere.

Sex within the marital context, is the woman’s right. Actually, deprivation of it is a reason for divorce.

Women are on top, so to speak, within the Jewish religion. And to stick to the metaphor, men are at the very bottom.

That is also why women, being the stronger and holier sex, have to stay out of the men’s sight in synagogue. Were the men to see them, they would be unable to concentrate on their religious duties.

Some say a married couple should always sleep together completely naked and that foreplay is a full day activity. However, when a woman is Nida, within most orthodox communities her husband should not touch her at all. Not even directly pass her the butter at the breakfast table . A woman is considered Nida at least twelve days a month during her fertile years. For a newly wed couple, that’s an awful lot of foreplay.

No wonder that the custom is also not to look someone of the other sex directly in the eye. I am still struggling with this. It feels so incredibly rude not to look my friend’s husbands in the eye. I am getting better at it. Often though I awkwardly still don’t know what to do when I greet my friend. Should I  just ignore the character in black by her side? Or acknowledge his existence by nodding in his direction? Is it over the top to tell my friend to tell her husband bye? Or is talking about him also wrong?

Names are not just names. Names are given with seduction in mind. Most of my Haredim friends are called either Sara(h), Odele or Racheli. And so are their daughters. When they have more children, they will throw a Miira, a Maryam and a Veigy in the mix. Calling out to my friend Sarah in the playground is a tricky thing because almost all the girls wil look up.

One of the Odele’s explained to me why most girls share the same names. This, too has everything to do with sex. Odele said that when all the women have the same name, it will prevent the men from cheating.

I am not sure if I know how that works, but I guess cheating on your wife Racheli with another Racheli will just not feel as sweet as cheating on Racheli with a, let’s say, Samantha.

How vastly different, yet strikingly similar my night of clubbing was with two old friends who came to visit. We stayed up late and enjoyed the local LGBT scene. Starting in the friendly Evita Bar. Not only Tel Aviv’s oldest gay bar, but also Tel Avivs bar with the oldest gays.

We ended up in Shpagat. Across the street a pretty boy had his shirt off. His pants were hanging so low, we almost got to meet his member. As straight as he could still walk, he ended up between my own two pretty boys. Introduced himself with an Arab first name and a German sounding last name. After that, he got a little repetitive.

Pointing at my friends, poking their chests with his finger or slapping them in inappropriate places, he kept asking the same thing. Bringing me from Tel Aviv, right back to my friends in Jerusalem.

Because while Pretty Boy was desperately looking for love, he longingly repeated what by now must have been an almost existential question for him:

Top or bottom?

Are you top or bottom?

 

Shopping as a statement

Sure, when you buy a T-shirt with a print on it, it can be a statement. When you chose to buy organic, or from farmer’s markets, it can be perceived as a statement. This is true wherever you live.

Here, shopping is a somewhat different experience for the ones that would like to be environmentally savvy or politically correct. Here, every purchase feels as a vote. A vote pro or contra. A vote for one or the other.

It gets even more complicated being nice to the people and the planet.

Let’s pretend one wants to eat mostly organic. But one is also opposed to settlements. Or to teenagers working long days for 10 dollars a day. Let’s pretend one can not read Hebrew. Life will get very complicated…

We spent a couple of evenings with the map of Israel on the table and a long list of producers next to it. The CSA we wanted to get a weekly vegetable box from had several partners we were considering buying goods from. But we wanted to make sure that the honey, goat cheese and fruits came from Green Line Israel, and not from settlements.

When it comes to daily shopping, things are not so easy. The water I buy at the Arab side of town will not be accepted by my Haredi friends in the park. And even though the fruits and vegetables I buy at that side of town have stickers in Hebrew on them, my friends will not share in the fun. They only eat food I buy on the Israeli side.

Oh, the irony! I want to buy from the Arab guy across the street to help him make a living. He sells Israeli goods coming from a settlement. Where Palestinian teenagers are employed long days without a contract, insurance and severely underpaid. But if I buy there, my food will not be trusted by my friends. Even when the exact same brand is sold in the Israeli shop down the road!

When we need a new equipment or appliance, I hesitate to buy it here when I can postpone the purchase until back in Europe. Taxes paid here will support the local government policies concerning housing newcomers in the occupied territories. Something I do not want to chip in for.

Alright, alright, I lost you: when even shopping become political it does get kind of boring. I agree. It’s not as if I would buy everything fair trade in the Netherlands, either.

Sometimes living here is just one big Catch 22. But it is also an eye opener. It is educational beyond words. Next time when I decide to buy the cheapo cherry tomatoes in the Netherlands, coming from “Israel”, I will think twice. I now know I am actually supporting child labour. Or settlements. Or both.

That’s more in a tomato than anyone could bargain for.

Colder weather

These days, the breeze cooling off Jerusalem is almost chilly. Chilly to our skins, that have been fighting the scorching summer heat the past months. It feels so good to know autumn must be around the corner.

Some days are just as hot as always, though. Or seem to be just as hot. We pull out the homemade popsicles with mango and pomegranate juice. Our youngest one takes off all her clothes and we try to keep her indoors not to offend the neighbors. It’s a weird mix between super summer and almost autumn, these days in September in Jerusalem.

We can almost start counting the days to our departure, too. And it makes us less antsy, less nervous about offending others. We used to leave the house on Shabbat, not wanting to wake up our neighbors from their naps. And we dressed our girls in tights and long sleeves going shopping, afraid we might offend our Haredi neighbors.

Not anymore. Bare legs on a 6 and 8 year old are fine. And after having been kept awake until the wee hours of the night with loud music, we do not mind the Shabbat nap so much either, anymore.

I try not to worry about what happens if the cease fire does not progress in to a truce by the end of the month. I am hoping for the clashes in Jerusalem to stop.

I hang out with Sara with my already rusty Hebrew and talk about the new collection of girl’s clothes having arrived in our favorite dresses shop. Sara is a fashionista, when it come’s to children’s clothes. She tries to enjoy the little time she has to dress her children colorful to the fullest. The few years, before they will have to get “serious” and start wearing black and a little white for the rest of their lives.

My husband’s rib is slowly but surely healing, too. He still can not lift heavy things, let alone children. But his pain is considerably less and his mood a lot better.

We enjoy the morsels of remarkables that life in Jerusalem throws at us. When we bring the car for a polish and vacuum to a car wash in Jerusalem. To pick it up with Quran FM playing loudly over the car stereo. The huge exhibition of tanks at Latrun memorial where a boy’s dream comes true when he is allowed to climb on dozens of them.

But other than that, things are cooling off. remarkably.

Everywhere.

Friend only to the undertaker

Remember Edwin Starr? Well, neither did I, actually. The guy’s name, I mean. His song has been playing in my head all day, though.

We decided to take refuge in Hippie Heaven Clil for the weekend. Booked weeks in advance, we thought it might calm our senses and give us a reason to come back here after our break in the Netherlands.

This time around, it was slightly less heavenly, though. Two events clouded the weekend over.

The yurt was still there, alright. But on the first evening, my husband took the baby on his arm and in to the swimming pool. To slip on the algae covered steps, fall backwards and injure himself badly. With his last strength, he held the baby up for me to take over. Crawled out of the water and couldn’t move for minutes. Then, he crawled back to the yurt, moaning and panting.

Believe me, I am the first to mock men and their ability to endure physical discomfort. After having birthed five babies, I do not envy the guy who tries to compare anything to my labour pains. But this time, it was me trying to look up medical websites. Cursing Clil for the poor internet reception on my cell phone. My man was in a very, very rough place.

A tiny ray of wifi told me bruised and fractured ribs are most commonly cured with pain killers and rest. And so, Cli was a little less relaxed than last time for me. My dear old husband could hardly move, so I ended up being super nanny and super nurse.

Super nanny by the favorite attraction of the place. The Pool. Let me elaborate: the pool where my husband seriously injured himself. With five small children. Three of them with no swimming abilities whatsoever. I think the kids would have voted a prison guard over my presence anytime.

Super nurse probably created the same wish. If patients get better sooner because of the ever grumpy, cursing, rough and cranky nurse, I might be the perfect candidate for any hospital. Our four year old learned a whole new array of curse words just over the weekend. 

Still, there were sparks of wonderful everywhere. The donkey and her baby in the field. The owner of Clil Café we discussed politics with. My tears when I heard a flute play a flute sonata by Bach. The fish that tickled my husband’s feet when he finally dared to wade through the pool again.

And then, half an hour of continuous thunder on a bright and sunny day broke loose. Just above our heads. Fighter jets, helicopters, back and forth. We could not make ourselves heard. Roar and thunder made conversation impossible.

Later, my husband explained IS is just behind the Golan Heights. No less than 40 UN soldiers from Fiji are held captive and nobody even talks about them. Israel is making it’s presence felt, making observation flights. Makes sure IS will not even think about entering Israel anytime soon.

I had to think of all these tons of fuel being burnt for nothing above eco village Clil. I had to think of the ongoing fight that will not bring peace.

And that’s why, from that moment on, I couldn’t get good old Edwin Starr out of my head anymore.

War. What, exactly, is it good for?

 

 

Ripples

A week ago we packed our things up and left for the Netherlands. Cabdriver Daoud, who calls himself David to get more clients, drove us to Ben Gurion airport.

There’s a check point at the airport. Until now we passed it by saying hi to the checkpoint attendant and go on. Now things were different because our cabdriver was Arab. Daoud was asked to pull over and had to hand over his ID. Three different checkpoint people came over to open the doors of the cab, ask us where we came from and where we were going to.

I thought it was humiliating. Daoud thought it was nothing. Not even a ripple on the surface of the lake of Galilee. Just a week ago he passed with a bus full of teenage girls with Canadian and Australian passports. But Arab names. The checkpoint people made him wait for one and a half hours. Everybody had to get out. Luggage was opened, the bottom of the van checked. A canister with some kind of gas was thrown into the car to check for explosives. 

Nothing disturbing was found. And yet, Daoud and the girls’ entry to the airport was denied and they were sent back. Just to try the whole thing again some hours later.

Daoud didn’t even bother to get upset about it all. I had steam coming out of my ears and foam coming out of my mouth. And the same futile question arose that I have asked myself a thousand times since arriving in Israel: How can people do this to each other? 

It all boils down to fear. Dogs that are afraid, bite. And people? People humiliate, check, force, deny and kill when they are afraid. At least in this country. The fight or flight response reduced to just fighting.

Not being one of the fighting parties, I will flee.

Is that a gun in your pocket?

The Netherlands prides itself in being a country where free will is practically the main religion. The Dutch want people to think things through. Thoroughly. If you have, who can keep you from doing what you really want to do?

Abortion, Prostitution, Euthanasia, Cannabis, just to name the most well known. If you follow the rules, if you are an adult and are not bothering others, the Netherlands is the place to be.

When it comes to weapons, the Dutch are not so soft, though. Sure, if you love to shoot, you can sign up and become a member of a shooting range. After a year, you may apply for a license to purchase a gun. But even then you may only carry it on the way back and forth from the shooting range to your house. Even toy guns that look a bit too realistic are illegal.

There is no wide spread hunting tradition. Basically, except among gangsters and criminals, guns are not considered cool. People found at shooting ranges and hunting societies were rarely the most popular in school.

Actually, I had always been a little afraid of people that love guns. Like one can be afraid of the unknown. I just hadn’t seen that many. I thought, as most Dutch do, guns belonged in the righteous hands of law enforcement and the army. And that’s it.

Until a rifle stroked my leg when I was walking the streets of Jerusalem. It dangled off a long strap over the shoulder of what looked to me like a civilian. I had gotten used to all the uniformed people in the streets carrying guns. But this was new.

It turned out I just hadn’t paid attention well enough. Because guns are everywhere. Tucked in the back of people’s pants. Happily swimming in a lady’s handbag. And dangling off young father’s shoulders. Even looking differently at people now, I am sure I am only seeing a fraction of the amount of weapons being carried around by people.

I learned the question of the guard at one of Jerusalem’s largest shopping malls, Malcha Mall, wasn’t that weird after all. Even before I could enter the parking lot, he made me open my window to ask me if I was carrying a gun. At first I didn’t even understand the question. He wanted to repeat himself, and stopped short when he saw the bunch of blond kids sitting in the car with me. I still don’t know whether it was the kids or the fact my Hebrew is still very crabby that made him decide to stop his interrogation.

When we went to the playground today, a young couple was sitting on a bench, obviously very much in love. They were fondling, not even kissing or heavily making out. Still, they were the talk of the town among my Haredim girl friends. It enraged them. These could only be Arabs. How could they do this, in front of the children?

One of the ultra orthodox women got up and went to the couple. She told them to leave, or else.

In a country so full of guns, one can not help but wonder “what else”? What could have happened if the couple hadn’t been wise enough to leave the playground. If they would have replied in an unwelcome way. If things hat gotten nasty.

Or is carrying a heavy weapon around in the scorching heat of summer, just something that people need to do in order to feel safe?

I’d rather meet people that are glad to see me. That’s for sure.

 

Of dead roaches and friendly spiders

Friday morning Ze’ev came to the rescue. I had never met Ze’ev before, nor his boss Amir, but apparently Ze’ev’s English was better than Amir’s and so he was sent to us.

Ze’ev carried a yellow tank on his back and a spout in his hand. This was obviously a man of action and not many words. Ze’ev asked me where the closest manhole was. We have two right outside. One, a mere ten centimeters from our kitchen door.

Who, I ask you, who designs a house in a warm country with a fragile concrete manhole cover ten centimeters from a kitchen door? It must be someone who adores roaches and prefers them well fed.

In a large family it is complicated to store away all fruits and vegetables every day. Specially when vegetable delivery comes from a CSA, in large quantities, once a week. Uncovered food combined with a manhole stinking it’s way right in to our kitchen spells trouble. And I got a little, let’s say, antsy from all those little friends crawling over my counter tops at night. Hiding in the coffee maker. Crawling through my oldest daughter’s hair at night.

So here came Ze’ev with his tank and his spray. Spraying his way through our manholes, our sinks, our kitchen cabinets that we had emptied so meticulously the night before. Unprotected, but warning us to stay away for a couple of hours.

The kids and I obliged and fled the house. What better destination than the Jerusalem Zoo? In this zoo, I kid you not, there’s a cockroach display. Behind glass, thank Goodness.

For extra safety, we had booked a weekend in a yurt in the Northern part of the country. When we came home for five minutes to pick up our bag, there were dieing cockroaches everywhere. Big ones, small ones, all out in the open. It was… a special sight.

We left on our weekend in heaven in the North. And we came back. In the car on the way back a spider crawled on my leg. It tickled and I stroked the little guy off my leg. Gentle thoughts filled my mind. Feeling for this spider so far away from home: it must have been on one of the pomegranates we had picked from a tree today. Poor little fellow.

There’s apparently a world between roaches on my counter and a spider from our weekend getaway. I, for one, should not distinguish between the two. But I do.

Does it make me understand people who think some people are just worth less than others? Not at all. On our way home, I checked every little town we passed. Googling it on my phone. And it’s still a shocker when I read comments on Haaretz with people hating each other’s guts without knowing one or the other.

Spider? Cockroach?

Religion? People?

I guess you can make it leave. But you can not take it away.

The Situation

I live in a situation. We live in a situation. The situation is almost over, we hope. But then again… We are currently in a situation.

lt’s weird to live in a situation. Whenever something was cancelled, or rescheduled, or warned about, it was called “due to the situation”. Sometimes it was the “Political situation”, most of the time it was just the situation.

The first time people didn’t show up when they had to and I had to reschedule things because of the situation, I got mad. WTF, situation? Call it war, call it a conflict, call it what it is, but do not call it… you catch my drift.

It’s like talking about cancer and calling it “C”. Or telling your kids about “the birds and the bees”.

Why would you want to sugar coat something we all live under, day after day? Last Sunday we were at the beach during what I firmly believe was the last rocket attack of this 2014 war. Sorry, situation. The rocket alarm went off and people were told to flee to the shelter in the toilets. We calculated the risk. Staying where we are against fleeing to a filthy toilet with our five little ones. We decided against the so happily announced “sherotim” and stayed at the beach.

Our oldest son could not have been happier. He still talks about how he almost saw the rocket explode in the air. Would have seen it if his parents hadn’t forced him to take at least a little shelter. A situation that happened quite right above our heads. Pure bliss for a ten year old. Five minutes later all the beach people returned to their towels and things were as if nothing had happened. No more situation? Or is the cloud in the air where the iron dome missile hit the rocket still considered a situation?

The weirdest thing about this whole situation? It is not just the war in Gaza. The situation applies to a everything that happens now. Because everyone is under stress, everything is considered linked to the war. So when a bulldozer hit a bus today, and runs over a pedestrian along the way, it is called a terrorist attack. It leads to hours of sirens and helicopters and stress.

Might have been an attack, sure. I believed it was, too. Until I heard the bus had been empty. Quite the terrorist. This situation possibly had nothing to do with terrorism. But people are so on edge, everything seems to need a cause.

So maybe situation is a good word for what is going on, after all. As long as it does not refer to the war, the bombing and rocketing, the gunfire in Gaza and the muscle talk of Hamas against Israel and vice versa.

The Situation is in people’s heads and hearts. it is the stress of the last four weeks, and for many, the stress of a lifetime. There’s no end to that situation.

Even if that rocket we saw from the beach in Tel Aviv was the last one fired by Hamas and the last one intercepted by the Iron Dome.

Even then.

Jerusalem Syndrome

I love cults. There, I said it. I love to learn about lifestyles that tend to adhere to a certain kind of absolutism. Groups of people following strict rules or beliefs, living a rigid or more seemingly free flowing lifestyle, fascinate me. Not only do I want to understand what drives them. I also tend to think that life like that must bring a wonderful sense of simplicity. As long as  you live it according to a strict set of rules.

Maybe “cult” is not the correct way to describe the object of my fascination. Because I would also love to visit a country under dictatorship before it turns to democracy.

For someone who is hoping to wake up one day knowing what her calling is, this sounds like pure bliss. Inner peace and true serenity must come to those that do not have to figure out how to live life to the fullest or what direction their bliss went that “they should follow”.

Of course I realize I would find the opposite of inner peace. I would fight my way out. And that paradox might be the core of the fascination to begin with.

One of the wonderful aspects of living here. Hardly a day goes by without some kind of Religious Extremism. First of all our ultra orthodox Haredi neighbors. It took me a couple of months of learning to get to understand them . A couple of months of diving as deep as I could into their rites and traditions. Buying artifacts, reading books.

Judaism is quite an obvious part of every day life in Israel. So it was not just easy to learn more about it. It also felt as an necessity to understand more about the country I live in now. But here’s the fun part: Jerusalem tends to attract a wealth of religious fanatics.

Coming from a country where Free Will seems to be the religion, It almost feels like heavenly intervention to be here for a while.

I took my Hebrew classes in a place that is -very- closely related to Opus Dei .

During the walk over the old city walls we met “watchmen”. Dutch people who have dedicated their pro-Israel lives to reading the Bible on the old City Walls. Because they believe that that is what God calls them to do.

Or how about “God’s General” on Jaffa Street, who is saluted by several “soldiers of God”. The General knows for a fact that the war Israel is currently fighting is actually brought on by the sinful lifestyle of the Tel Avivians.

I want to believe every single one of them is right. Mostly because by nature I want to do everything as I should. I want to do everything right. But it’s hard. Having a book in my house that will protect our family from rockets sounds like superstition to me. Superstition that is forbidden by the same religion our Book Seller Aaron is faithful to.

Living life in celibacy with some other people from Opus Dei seems unnatural and unnecessary to me. Not to mention spending long and unpaid days on the City Wall to read the Bible out loud to whoever wants to hear it.

But then again, wearing a wig because you believe you should cover your hair, is that cheating or is it wise? And another favorite of mine: the mitzvah of wearing of TzitzitThe sole purpose of that Mitzvah is to not forget to fulfill all the other 612 mitzvahs.

The beauty of it all? Jerusalem Syndrome, the mental illness that hits some people visiting this city, has no preference for Jews, Christians or Muslims. Anyone can get it.

I wonder if the affected knows he is affected. Or she…