Yesh makom lekulam
My last three weeks in Israel basically involved 1) running around Israel 2) saying goodbye to friends in Nazareth 3) schlepping to formal goodbye events with my sponsoring organizations 4) Haifa Haifa Haifa 5) school race to the finish and 6) PRIDE.
I’ll start with Pride.
I heard the phrase yesh makom lekulam (“there’s a place for everyone”) often in my last few weeks in Israel — a familiar mantra on signs and banners at the Pride events, parades, and marches I went to in Israel.
My first Pride event was in Haifa — Haifa’s queer community was celebrating the city’s new LGBTQ center, which opened earlier in 2017. My friend and I visited the center (brand spanking new!), listened to music and some speeches, and watched a drag performance. The next day, I headed to Jerusalem to spend Shabbat with my cousins — first I headed to the Machane Yehuda and Ben Yehuda areas to walk around, and I happened to walk straight into Jerusalem’s Slut Walk. For anyone who’s not familiar with the Slut Walk, the idea is essentially that women (or anyone, for that matter), should be able to dress however they want (slash merely exist) in public without being subjected to shaming and/or harassment — such a simple mission, and unfortunately far from reality.
The fact that they pulled the Slut Walk off in Jerusalem, of all places, was pretty awesome.
I spent Shabbat with my cousins David, Meir, and Leeann, hanging out (and eating/drinking) with my big cousins and baby cousins. The next evening, after Shabbat ended, I headed down to Beer Sheva for a Sunday learning day with BINA. When I got there Saturday night, my friends and I headed to a pub in the old city — a typical neighborhood pub, where it seemed like all of the locals knew each other.
We slept overnight in a little compound used by BINA’s Israeli program participants, which is located smack dab in the Old City. There was an outside hallway and rooms to lounge and sleep in around the perimeter. We sang into the early morning while Josh played the guitar in that outdoor common area, and then everyone broke off to sleep in random rooms. I pulled a sleeping pad off a rack and set up outside.
The following Thursday, the fellows in Migdal Ha’emek, Nazareth Illit, and Beit Shean (these BS fellows aren’t with BINA) went to our pedagogical advisor’s house in Haifa for snacks and to talk about the year. Afterwards, a group of 7 of us grabbed a train from Haifa to Tel Aviv for Israel’s biggest and most well known LGBTQ Pride festival. We celebrated on the train with our favorite American snacks.
Pride was a blast.
On Friday morning, we took off for the beach and set up camp in the shade. We lounged and hung out until 2ish, when the parade started coming down our street, the home stretch.
We waited on the curb for the start of the parade, beers and apples in hand. Happy campers all around!
The floats came marching one by one (very, very slowly). Have to say though, I missed the DIY floats that we always have at parades in the US. This was more flatbed truck-style floating.
And the fun continued…
Despite all of the fun, the topic of “pink-washing” in Israel has become a contentious matter of debate, and there were a few side events at Pride protesting and discussing the issue. “Pink-washing” is the idea that Israel uses the LBGTQ community and festivities surrounding Pride in order to create a “moral cover” for human rights abuses elsewhere in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. Many feel that Israel’s Pride frenzy has been a way for Israel to showcase its moral/progressive character to the world, especially as Israel tends to compare its record on LGBTQ issues to those of surrounding countries. However, many in the queer community are pissed that they’re used this way by the Israeli government (and specifically, by the Tourism Ministry which benefits and invests a lot in the festivities in Tel Aviv) without investing nearly as much in LGBTQ organizations and initiatives, without gay marriage, without accessible ways for trans people to get surgery if they want it, etc.
We had a great time at Pride, but it seemed that TLV Pride focused on gay men — including the tens of thousands of gay men who came as tourists to Israel to celebrate. It wasn’t the most serious or representative Pride that I’ve been to, but it was still a blast, and nice to have the beach right there when we wanted to swim or relax.
The North at Pride:
On Saturday morning, we headed to a little open air food market, with stands featuring homemade foods ranging from quiche to kambucha (we went for the quiche, not the kambucha).
Then, back to the beach! More guitar, more beer, more sea. Jaime managed to get stung by a jelly fish —ouch.
And finally, back up to Nazareth for another week of school.
And because no blog post would be complete without food adventures, here we go — I made some some pita breads a couple weeks ago in Nazareth, which we had with eggs and labne. A few days later, I grabbed some homemade flatbread with pesto and labne in Nazareth, with olives and salad. And just a couple days ago, my friend Sewar set me up with a homemade flatbread that her grandmother made.
The following weekend, my friend and my housemates took an overnight trip to explore a few places in the West Bank. We left Haifa early on Friday morning and drove to Jerusalem before heading to the Qalandia checkpoint to get into Ramallah. The checkpoint was closed that day, so we waited in traffic to get turned around by the checkpoint officers. Then we headed back towards Jerusalem to try to get through at another checkpoint, and were turned around again by the officers, who said that the checkpoint wasn’t being used by civilians that day. Before these guys let us go, they questioned our friend on how he knew us and why he was taking us to Ramallah rather than the Western Wall or the Dead Sea. I thought that these questions were unnecessary to the point of being offensive, but my cousin David made the point later that the officers are tasked with checking out unusual situations or groups (which admittedly we were). Still, if Israel just took down the checkpoints and got out of these areas, they would avoid pissing off / humiliating everyone which I feel doesn’t help with the security situation.
Anyway, we doubled back past the Qalandia checkpoint and headed into Ramallah from the east. About an extra hour and a half to our travels, but we still made it to Ramallah by 10:30am.
As we approached the city, we found ourselves in a small village and in the middle of throngs of pedestrians. They were all boarding buses and minivans to Jerusalem, in order to visit al-Aqsa mosque — during Ramadan, Israel loosens regulations enough to allow Palestinians into Israel to see their families and to visit the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City.
Our first stop in Ramallah was our apartment for the night — we had booked an airbnb — a really nice place close to the Old City.
After dropping our stuff off, we drove to Dar Zahran, a heritage house in the Old City of Ramallah. In the 19th Century, Ramallah was a large Christian village, and Dar Zahran had artifacts and photos from the Dar Zahran Jaghab family dating back to the 1850s. A nice man greeted us at the house, explained that he was a descendant of the family, and toured us around the house. He first showed us a map where visitors can pin their home cities and countries (which we did, of course).
One of the rooms on the ground floor is now an art gallery featuring works by Palestinian/diaspora artists. Below this floor was a basement quarter where livestock used to be held — it was cooler and safer for the animals to live inside the house.
From Dar Zahran, we drove to the Mahmoud Darwish museum.
There was a beautiful view over Ramallah from the museum grounds.
Mahmoud Darwish was born in the Galilee village of al-Birwa, but his family fled to Lebanon during the 1948 War when the Israeli forces occupied the village and declared it a closed military area. After a year, he and his family returned to what became Israel and settled in Dier al-Asad near Acre —coming back to his own village was out of the question, as it was leveled by Israel and some of its lands were used to establish the kibbutz of Yas’ur. He eventually moved to Haifa, and then to the USSR, Egypt and Lebanon, where he joined the PLO and was officially banned from Israel. Decades later, he settled in Ramallah.
One fun fact that I learned in the museum was that Darwish had a relationship in Haifa with a Jewish woman, Rita, who is the subject of some of his poems. Apparently, his political sensibilities (he was a communist), contributed to his ability to create relationships across the Arab-Jewish divide with other like-minded people.
Here you can see the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, which was written by Mahmoud Darwish and presented by Yasser Arafat in 1998:
After visiting the museum, we walked around the city a bit…
In the mid-afternoon, back at the apartment for a little break and “nap,” Matt and I passed out on the couches for the next 15 hours. We woke up groggy and confused at 7am the next morning and left early to do some exploring on our own. We walked to the shuk, and then (because no cafes were open that early during Ramadan), we stopped at a hostel to see if we could grab some coffee. The owner of the hostel was friendly and helpful (we got our coffee!), we found a musical instrument there that we enjoyed playing around with, and the hostel had an incredible view of the shuk and the center of the city. Not a bad deal.
From there, we walked back to our apartment, stopping on the way (of course) at a bakery for cookies and burekas.
After our friends woke up at the hostel, we got our things together, gave the key back to our host, and took off for Taybeh. I was the navigator (using my phone GPS), and so I took us on the most direct route — on dirt roads through olive groves, up and down little hills, and finally onto the freeway connecting us with Taybeh.
Taybeh is a cute little Christian town, famous for its beer and wine. Taybeh beer is exported around the world, and you can buy it in Israel at most Arab-owned bars and pubs. We stopped at the brewery for a tour by the owner, who who showed us the equipment and talked to us about the brewing process and the history of the brewery.
For such a huge operation that ships internationally, it felt like a small mom-and-pop place — pretty cool.
Our friend with the car decided that he was going to immediately dig into his new bag of beer, and so I decided that I was immediately going to be the designated driver. When I asked what would happen if Israeli officials checked the car or pulled us over and saw beer bottles, he said that beer bottles would work in his favor — it would be clear that he wasn’t a religious Muslim guy. Sure enough, officials at the green line border crossing later saw the bottles and didn’t comment.
Off we went from Taybeh to Jericho, listening to Ramble on Rose by the Grateful Dead (password 123): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJJCQ4dtAlw
We stopped in the town square of Jericho, right next to city hall, and we immediately found a restaurant that worked for all of us — a rare thing. After lunch, we visited the Mount of Temptation, which is supposedly the place where Jesus was tempted by the devil. Built into the side of the mountain (you should be able to see it in the center picture) is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Temptation.
From Jericho, we took Route 90 up straight up to Beit Shean. We had a bit of trouble at the checkpoint and were pulled over for further questioning. After some back-and-forth between our friend and the officer, we were allowed to pass through.
An hour later, back in Nazareth, I immediately set to work making an iftar meal for my friends in Nazareth. Because most of them were fasting for Ramadan, they could only eat and drink after sundown during the month, and the first meal after sundown is called the iftar. I had about three hours to cook and prepare before my friends arrived, and I barely made it… phew.
One of my friends brought a platter of kanafe and fteer — both involve sweet cheese and loads of butter, but the fteer is made more like baklawa while the kanafe is more soft like … I have no idea.
After dessert, my friends taught me and my housemates how to do the Arab folk dance, “dabke” (Password 123).
Early the next morning, I took the bus to Tel Aviv to meet my college friend Joe. We met at the Dizengoff shopping center and walked a few blocks to one of my favorite cafes for lunch.
We spent the rest of the day at the beach, swimming and hanging out.
We stayed for sunset at the beach (over some cups of coffee, naturally), and then headed to Jaffa for a night on the town. The next morning, we had breakfast at a popular European style restaurant with cute outdoor tables. Then we said goodbye and I walked to the BINA campus for our farewell meeting.
The whole group from the North met up in Tel Aviv to talk about the year, and all of the adventures, misadventures, and food-ventures we had together.
We sang kumbaya for a few hours at the BINA campus, first just us by ourselves and then with the group of fellows living in Beer Sheva.
Back in Nazareth for my last week, I said goodbye to the friends I had made that year (and ate, ate, ate with them).
My friend’s mom made mulukhiyah, a stew made of a plant that I don’t think we have in the US, called tossa jute or Egyptian spinach (or mulukhiyah, in Arabic). After being boiled with meat, it tastes a bit like stewed spinach or collard greens.
My school had a really nice new display in one of the hallways for a couple of weeks — a model of Nazareth in the old days. I also tried my hand at sketching at a friend’s house in Haifa…
Saying goodbye to my school kids wasn’t so fun, but over the last month or so fewer and few kids came to school every day during Ramadan — by the last week of school, a third of the students were probably coming to classes. It made it difficult to create any real sense of closure with the students, as they dropped like flies over the month.
I did manage to teach some of the students who stuck around one last thing (123):
My host teacher showed me the plaque for the school year, with head shots of all of the teachers and the 6th grade class. Where’s Waldo? And two girls in the following middle picture were tasked by my host teacher with helping me organize the English room, but they decided to sit on the (ground floor) window sill and pretend to fall out instead.
On my second-to-last day of school, I planned an activity to thank the teachers for their friendship and support during the year. First, though, my host teacher presented me with a PowerPoint slide presentation with pictures from the year. Afterward, I read a letter that I had written to the teachers, and we filled in an outline together with puffs of tissue paper as we shared memories and *feelings.*
Right after my last day of school, I took the bus from Nazareth to Afula, and from there a train from Afula to Beer Sheva. A Pride parade had been planned for the previous year in Beer Sheva, but it was cancelled last minute due to problems with the police — they wouldn’t okay the parade route along a main thoroughfare. This year, the LGBT community managed to have it on that main drag (you’re welcome), and we weren’t missing it!
The parade was more serious than the Tel Aviv one — more of a colorful march or protest than anything else — but then again, Beer Sheva isn’t one of the gay friendliest cities in the world.
That weekend, I saw a college friend at her new house in Jerusalem and spent my last Shabbat with my cousin David and his family. On Sunday, my friends and I took one last tiyul up Mt. Tabor — the church was closed, but we looked out over the views of the lower Galilee and hung out at the summit before driving back down.
That night, I took the bus to Haifa and met my cousin David — who was guiding a family tour and happened to be there — at a beer garden, and then spent the night in Haifa before coming back to Nazareth the next morning.
I packed my shit on Monday afternoon and finished in time for my host teacher and Naz bestie Sewar to pick me up. We grabbed coffee and dessert together one last time, and then they drove me to the Afula train station in a fully caffeinated, sugared-up, and emotional state of mind.
A few hours later, I was at the airport and boarding my (5am ugh) flight to the States.
I have one last post coming forth ASAP with my general and not-so-general thoughts about my year in Nazareth.
If you read this far, wowsers and thanks!