Tag Archives: Israel

Jerusalem – The most venerated site on earth

Jerusalem –  The Most Venerated Site on Earth

From the Arthur Hotel in Jerusalem located on the famous Dorot Rishonim Street, I overlook the walking area of Ben-Yehuda Street, named after the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Yehuda believed Hebrew and Zionism shared a symbiotic relationship.  This location is a perfect ten-minute walk from the Old City. As I feel the warm evening breeze, I hear the buzz of this midrachov, pedestrian mall. I hear the sounds of this historic city as I watch people eating at sidewalk cafes. Street musicians play their guitars as the smell of falafel cooking is in the air, while cats wander about looking up to me to say hello in the land of milk and honey. On the Sabbath morning, I hear the sound of silence. No cars, buses, or people’s voices, only the quiet that comes from respecting the day of rest.

© hannah kozak

Child in Jerusalem

Between Egypt and Mesopotamia a land bridge known as Canaan connected Africa to Asia. This land passage of Canaan which became Israel was a geopolitical death trap then and today. It was predestined to be a battlefield of the ages and is one of the most volatile locations on our planet. Scholars and holy men find her to be the navel of the world. I like to visit elevated places that are instructional and educational so Jerusalem is a perfect fit. The Four Quarters of the Old City are made up of The Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and the Christian quarters. Jerusalem causes one to look more closely at everything, not just observe and definitely stop judging.

© hannah kozak

Mother and children on the Sabbath in The Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

Abraham’s wanderings were around 1800 BC. The first written mention of Jerusalem appeared on Egyptian clay pottery known as execration texts around 1850 BC. Jerusalem has been called the most venerated site on earth, a halfway house between heaven and earth. The Jews have always loved Jerusalem the most, almost like a best friend where the love is constant, Jerusalem never fails to give me hope and strength.

© hannah kozak

Child in Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Boys at school in Jerusalem

I wandered into this shop called Sinjilawi while I was in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. The colors, fabrics, smells of incense, lights and pottery grabbed my attention as I spoke to Omar Hamad, who explained to me that nine generations of his family have owned this business in the Arabic section of the Old City. I loved peeking down the fifty nine foot (eighteen meter) well that is inside their store.

© hannah kozak

Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem

@ hannah kozak

Sinjlawi – Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Children – Jerusalem

@ hannah kozak

Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Israeli soldiers – Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Jerusalem

Israeli soldiers - Jerusalem

Israeli soldiers – Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

A favorite falafel shop in the Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Children in Jewish Section- Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Children in Jewish Quarter -Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

The Old City – Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Children playing – Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Near the Jaffa Gate – Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Israeli Soldiers – Old City, Jerusalem

 hannah kozak

Old City, Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Jerusalem cat- I bring fish in my pocket to share with the wandering cats

© hannah kozak

Shop in Jerusalem

© hannah kozak

Another delicious breakfast in Israel – @ Arthur Hotel

© hannah kozak

Where do the children play? Old City, Jerusalem


Israel’s Memorial Day Remembrance in Jerusalem with James Turrell’s Space That Sees

Jerusalem proved to be full of surprises that will stay with me forever. I walked into James Turrell’s “Space That Sees” at the Israel Museum of Art with a new friend I met at The Arthur Hotel in Jerusalem. I could be in a pyramid, a mausoleum, or a temple from this creation by Turrell, who is known for spaces with openings in the ceilings or walls and edges so thin that it looks like there’s no separation between them and our sky. Turrell has the ability to seduce people into paying attention to the present, to find gratification from staring at the sky for long periods of time.  While observing the sky through this profoundly simple work of art, I was feeling a deep connection to my surroundings in Israel. There is an acute sense of Jewishness here, a spiritual connection between land and soul. I belong.

© hannah kozak

James Turrell – A Space That Sees @ The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

We sat on the concrete and limestone and within moments of arriving, a siren started, commemorating Israel’s Memorial Day.  Everyone in the space stood simultaneously, no one moved an inch and I felt the stirrings of my father’s past come up inside me. The tears are healing.  There is a desolation in traveling that is soul crushing yet I imagined my father getting on a boat called General Blachford, alone, crossing the Atlantic from Germany, not knowing the language where he was heading, without any money, or a friend in the world and I am filled with and energized by his fearlessness and bravery. So while fear is an obstacle for most people, it is an illusion for me. I’m never alone for too long for G-d is in my heart and always seems to put wonderful souls into my path. I was also moved by the friendly, caring spirit of my new found friend who lives in Rome, that I met in Jerusalem.

© hannah kozak

In observation of Israel’s Memorial Day

The others left the space shortly thereafter the ending of the siren, clearly planning to be in the space for that event, while ours was a serendipitous moment, simply divine synchronicity followed by a meditative experience, laying on the ground together, looking up to the heavens imaging saints and thanking the angels for making this magic occur.

© hannah Kozak

James Turrell – A Space That Sees

Situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem is the Israel Museum, one of the leading art museums in the world. These works of art in particular, made me take notice and moved me.  If something moves me, I like to photograph it. If something causes me pain, I photograph it. Art is meant to provoke feelings; good or bad. As I continue to wander through Israel, I feel alive. I find myself by getting lost.

Adi Nes

Adi Nes – Untitled – 1996

© hannah kozak

Adi Nes – Untitled- 1999

This is Adi Nes’ version of the “Last Supper”. There are fourteen young Israeli soldiers sitting and standing at a long table in a bullet-pocked desert barracks. His photos are elaborately staged, often homoerotic, with macho Israeli soldiers featured.

“I wanted to express the idea that in Israel, death lingers. Death is being foreshadowed in most of these pictures,” says Nes, standing in front of his huge “Untitled” (1999), which was inspired by Leonardo’s “Last Supper.”

Israelis, he says, “are dying not only in combat, but in their daily activity — from bombs on buses, suicide bombers in restaurants. The moment you serve as a soldier, you choose to give yourself over to the society, to the army, to someone else. You have to take the possibility you’re going to die. Here, I tried to incorporate the idea that this supper may be the last for any of them, not just Jesus. All of them are Jesus, all of them are Judas, ” adds Nes, whose pictures, with their attention to detail and dramatic contrast of light and shadow, are composed with an eye toward Caravaggio.

© hannah kozak

Henri Edmond Cross – Clearing in Provence ca. 1906

© hannah kozak

Théo van Rysselberghe, The Mediterranean at Le Lavandou, 1904

© hannah kozak

Camille Pissarro
Sunset at Éragny, 1890

© hannah kozak

Paul Gaugin, Upa Upa, (The Fire Dance) 1891

© hannah kozak

Vincent Van Gogh, Corn Harvest in Provence, June 1888

© hannah kozak

Oscar Kokoschka, The Eibe at Dresden, 1918-1922

© hannah kozak

Andre Derain, Three Trees, L’Estaque, 1906

© hannah kozak

Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hebuterne, Seated, 1918

 © hannah kozak

Hans Hofman, Golden Glows into a New Day, 1965


Old Jaffa and Eilat, Israel

Jaffa, the old city in Tel Aviv was as magical as when I visited thirty-three years ago. The small, narrow streets lead you to unique boutiques, restaurants and cafes but what I love most of all is walking along the ancient cobblestones as I spot cats wandering. Neve Tzedek and Tel Aviv have their own unique flavors but the history of Jaffa as the main entry point to the land of Israel until the late 19th century when Jews were returning to Israel, makes it astonishing for me.

©hannah kozak

Jaffa

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

The ability to meet people from around the world is at my fingertips with the power of social media, which although can have a loaded connotation, is actually meant to be friendly, useful and genuine. A photographer followed me on Twitter, and I followed him. I checked out his site and saw his sensitivity, ability to understand light and use shadows to evoke feeling and emotion. Check out his site on RedBubble; an incredibly diverse, creative community on the internet.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/stran9e

I wrote to him that I would be visiting Israel and asked if we could meet. Having only one evening in Tel Aviv before I left for Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, Vicktor not only met me but helped make my experience filled with memories of Jaffa and a new, kind friend.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

Vicktor drove us to Jaffa, where we walked around the ancient city, looking at the ocean and settling into a local restaurant where we enjoyed a glass of Syrah, ate appetizers of hummus and eggplant with olive oil, while discussing photography and life. I eschew groups even more so when I travel and adore one on ones so it was a perfect evening.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

For my stay in Tel Aviv, I choose the ArtPlus; a brand new, sixty-two room hotel which supports the arts. The overall design mimics the ambience of art galleries and exhibition spaces.  Five famous local artists were commissioned to create the murals that distinguish the décor on each floor and my favorite; a mezuzah, reminding us of our connection to G-d, and protection, on each door.  In the morning, I left early for Eilat before having the delicious breakfast that is found all over Israel; fresh salads and hummus yumminess.

© hannah kozak

Artplus Hotel, Tel Aviv

© hannah kozak

Goikey breakfast at Artplus

I’ve read that the truest beauty can be found in the harshest land, that G-d can be found by keeping your eyes open. As I pulled my luggage along the cobblestone streets in Eilat, feeling the sun and shedding a layer of clothing, a taxi driver slowed down, called out to me in Hebrew, and stopped his cab, to hand me the lock that had fallen off my luggage in the bus station when I arrived. I offered my hand, a smile and todah rabah, thank you very much. I was so tired from schlepping, that I hadn’t noticed the lock missing.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Entrance to Synagogue

© hannah kozak

Street names in tile

© hannah kozak

Street art in Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Jaffa cat -Who’s your mom?

The warm, balmy air feels good and I hear seagulls calling out to their friends. The breeze of this oasis reminds me I am on the coast of the Red Sea and I am grateful for my breath. I spent the late part of the day on the beach, reading “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman, a novel a friend had given me two years ago that is set during and after the fall of Jerusalem.  I promised myself I would read this book when I was in Israel and that is precisely what I am doing. The Dovekeepers takes on an added layer when traveling through this holy land. I am free and not in bondage as my father was in Nazi labor camps.  As I look out to the sea, where the calming, transparent waters remind me the animals live by the rhythm of the sun and sea, of the desert, of G-d, of life itself. The earth, and sea and desert will live on forever. I will not. I am blissful from this quiet time in the desert.

Jrr Tolkien_Not All Those


Yom Hashoah honored by Israel with silence, sirens and contemplation

As the sirens begin to wail and continue for two full minutes, I witness people getting off their bikes, stopping in their tracks while cars and buses also halt wherever they are.  People bow their heads and I find the space to feel the loss of my father, a Holocaust survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, who recently died. I am in Israel. So while some may view Israel, a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt as a place of violence and terror, I see nothing but beauty in a land that was created for displaced Jews.  I murmur a prayer for the dead, for my father who made survival his art.

© hannah kozak

Yom Hashoah observance in Ramat Hasharon, Israel

Nine days after my father left his physical body, I booked a trip to Israel to rejuvenate and Poland to seek out my heritage, to visit my ancestral shtetl. I want to see where my father lived with his seven siblings, mother and father in a one-bedroom apartment in Bedzin, Poland in my quest as a redemption narrative, going beyond what I know.

My sojourn began in a suburb called Ramat Hasharon to be with my mother’s brothers’ family.  I spent the morning swimming with my cousin in a outdoor sea water swimming pool in the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, which revitalized me from the jet lag I was in.

© hannah kozak

Mediterranean Sea from Sharon Hotel – Herzliya

Now I am part of a day to memorialize the tragedies of the Holocaust.  We stand in remembrance for our families and for those we never knew. The Knesset in Israel made Yom Hashoah a national public holiday in nineteen fifty nine and a law was passed in nineteen sixty one that closed all public entertainment on this day.

As Neo-Nazis have once again been legalized in Europe, openly sitting in parliaments, I, along with the people next to me, bow my head in silence as the tears run down my face. I needed this experience to help me feel and clear out the sadness from losing my father.

And now the best part of returning to Israel, a mission to find the best hummus. My uncle brought us to a local favorite restaurant that is on the border of Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv called Dagim 206. Their hummus gets a ten. Goiked!

© hannah kozak

Hummus in Ramat Hasharon

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien


The long & winding road to Masada with Hummus

The Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea is home to an ancient site in Israel; Masada. Anything on the World Heritage List fascinates me. It’s true. Why am I in Israel? Being in Israel brings me to my family on my mother’s side, the home of the Jewish people, and a country that not only has the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea & The Dead Sea plus pretty mountains and a bonus of yummy falafel and hummus.

Sitting in a bus is relaxing as we drive in the desert since I don’t have to worry about directions. I feel my breath slow down. When we physically don’t move, our minds become still. I don’t need any mantra or teacher or technique. Our minds were given as tools to serve us not to be our master. I recognize my breath in broader terms than simply respiration. As I slow my breath down, I close my eyes remembering the story of Masada.

It’s a great, awesome yet tragic story. Not to be flippant but if nine hundred sixty Jews committed suicide so the Romans wouldn’t force them into slavery, the least I can do is climb the snake path. You can either take the snake path, which is eight hundred thirteen steps, ( I love minutiae) and was the original and only way the ancient inhabitants walked or you can take the cable car to the summit. The 1st century Roman-Jewish historian Joseph Flavius wrote of the snake path “And one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual windings and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then the other; there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.”

You’d never see something like this in America without rail guards. Frankly I think it’s completely safe and I doubt anyone is going to fall. I have the fear chromosome. I just refuse to let it run me & my life. Honestly the walk was challenging but it’s worth the pain. I had an injury that I’ve never been quite the same from and whenever I attempt to do things like this, I pay for it dearly. In my head I’m still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I go off into a fantasy where I see Jewish people climbing this path and I hear them singing my favorite songs from Hebrew school. Hevenu Shalom Aleichem which means we brought peace onto you. Don’t worry if you don’t get the first verse. Second verse is exactly the same. I always liked mantra because I was trying to quiet my thoughts. I just didn’t know that it had a name back then.

I wish I had shorts on instead of jeans. I start to remove my layers of clothing as I begin the steep climb. It’s just me and my favorite MJ Off The Wall t-shirt all the way to the crown.

I was nearing the top as a group of four was coming down the stairs. A woman, noticing my obvious discomfort says “take some water”  in a tone that is part stern teacher and part loving mother. “I don’t have any” I replied. “Honey, give her some water” she said to her husband in a tone that was not negotiable. For a split second I saw a “why do i want to give up my water to a complete stranger when I still have to climb this entire mountain down the hill” look in his eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed me his Arrowhead water bottle. “Keep the bottle” she said my discomfort so apparent anyone could see. They continued their descent down the mountain.  I leaned my right hand on the mountain as I was shaky, stopped and drank the entire bottle and was thankful for this person reaching out to me. I would have done the same. That is if I had any water.  I love when we see each other.

I reach the summit. I feel the light of god’s presence which swallows my loneliness whole. As the group around me chit chats with each other I am off with my camera recording what I see. The force of holiness is looming in every crevice in this all at once sacred and god forsaken spot.

I have a meeting with G-d. I ask if he can take away my mother’s pain and sorrow from living in a home for the aged for thirty one years. I further make a request to remove my sister’s hurt and anguish because she’s the only one who visited my mother most all those decades. Please G-d grant me acceptance of my mother’s life. I beg him. I have no choice but to feel everything I have been running from.”Sorry but it’s all yours” he says. Mine’s so big he can’t make any arrangements. It’s karma that belongs to me because I choose her to be my mother so I could learn forgiveness. Who was it that said no matter where you go there you are? I flew all the way to Israel and I still can’t get away from me.

Freud defined neurosis as the separation of self. If I’m a child of G-d then the love is inside of me. It has been all along. It’s so simple but we mess it up. Whenever love disappears we become fearful. Fear is to love just as darkness is to light. Anytime your mind goes south, it’s fear that the love is gone. G-d didn’t create fear. We did. If it’s not love, it’s an illusion. Speaking of illusion, next stop is the Dead Sea. It doesn’t seem like it could be real.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. But the translation is not accurate. Yam Ha-Melah, means the Salt Sea. It’s the lowest place on the earth, 33.7 % salt and eighty six times saltier than the ocean. It’s so dense you can’t really swim rather you float. You can see my view from the Israeli side looking across to Jordan.

As I sit silently in the bus as we make our way back to the bus station in Tel Aviv I begin to think of my father and what it took for him to leave Poland after losing his entire family during the Holocaust, seven siblings, his mother, father and both sets of grandparents. No one. He was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, not a dollar in his pocket and he boarded a ship to make his way to America. He had nowhere to go simply because he was a Jew. Out of nowhere I feel the emotion well up inside of me like a wave. I have no family on my father’s side because he is Jewish. That seems insane. I’m in Israel because I feel connected to the people here. There’s an unspoken understanding we have. Even if I feel as if I don’t belong sometimes; which I struggle with less and less; in Israel I am part of a group.

I moved to Israel thirty years ago to deal with my feelings and emotions surrounding my mother. Now I am back in Israel and am thinking of my father and what a survivor he is. In the dictionary there is a photo of my father next to survivor. He worked a nine to five job for thirty years at Hughes Aircraft as an aircraft inspector. On his lunch hour some days he’d sell porn out of the trunk of his Chevy Nova and/or leather jackets he would buy wholesale. Once a week he’d tell his co-workers to cover for him as he would drive to downtown Los Angeles from Culver City, a half hour drive, to buy clothes second hand which we’d sell every weekend at the swap meet. “These pants are too small.”  someone would say trying on clothes. “They’ll stretch” he’d swiftly reply.  “These pants are too big.” from another.” They’ll shrink.” he’d come back just as quickly. He bought real estate on the side; renting out homes in the San Fernando Valley. My father was raising five children so he had to hustle. His motto of stay hungry kept him working non-stop seven days a week. I never saw my father kick back on a couch on Sunday with a Budweiser can in his hand. He makes most men look like bums my father. He taught me to sell just by watching him. My eyes are so filled with tears now that I can’t see the road anymore. I don’t need to see it. I’m not driving. I’m thinking about a friend that I miss so much that I flew to Israel for the holidays so I wouldn’t have to be at home. I have a tendency to run when I start to feel too much.

I’m noticing the beauty that is in front of me and all around me. G-d created the mountains on either side of the road and the sun is beginning to set as the sky turns a brilliant orange and pink. I have a bag filled with bath salts from The Dead Sea that I purchased to give to a friend along with olive oil to bring a friend because she practically lives on it.  Michael Jackson is singing to me from my iPod and in between the tears from thinking about how inspiring my father is; I am humbled with how blessed I am. I am in Israel, I’m thinking to myself. I have my mother’s family here that I love, friends like Hope and her beautiful family are nearby and I have time to be alone when I need to. When I return home I am going to visit my father. I will call him just to say how are you doing Dad. I have my breath. My life is a blessing and a gift. I’m off to search for the perfect hummus and falafel in Tel Aviv when I get off this bus. And a side of forgiveness.Now we’re talking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Oranges, figs, olives and furry friends make me smile

Shuk Ha’Carmel is the largest fruit and vegetable market in Tel Aviv. One crowded alley of stall after stall where vendors shout out about their goods. Reminds me of working the swap meet with my father throughout my junior and high school days selling second hand jeans and shirts. “Two shirts for nine dollars” he’d call out to no one in particular. I had to get over feeling silly real fast if I was going to sell. I think that’s part of where I learned to be bold.

I walked two minutes outside my apartment to this find. If you enter from Allenby street there is a little Turkish Bureka stall that sells these yummy puff pastries with spinach, cheese or potato right out of the oven.  They’re salty and served with a side of a hard boiled egg, tomato and home made pickles along with a spicy sauce.I’ve also seen Bureka spelled Boreka-why? Maybe it’s the same answer as why is Hanukkah also spelled Chanukkah.

The bright colors of the oranges, strawberries, figs and grapes are inviting. I stayed away from the butcher’s area. The smell of fresh baked bread and the selection of cheese, olives, pastries, spices made even a non foodie like me want to run back to my apartment and cook. Instead I opted for yet another hummus plate. I found this cat to be independently taking in the beauty.

Who is your mom?

I made my way to Neve Tzedek; the first neighborhood in Tel Aviv,where I continued my quest for the perfect mezuzah for a dear friend. I need a mezuzah that is pretty, eye catching, yet understated  I was thinking to myself. And definitely no pink. The mezuzah I found has light purple stones that are so pretty I darn near payed more than the asking price but not really.

Why did I wait 30 years to come back to Israel? I start asking myself. I love the food especially the endless hummus/falafel bars in Tel Aviv.Okay, I’m not wild about the falafel balls because they’re deep fried but they taste great combined with hummus, pickles,onions and pita bread.  Even though they can be a bit pushy sometimes (like me), I enjoy the Israelis. They’re tough on the outside but soft and mushy inside. I hear Hebrew and I’m back to 30 years ago when I was fluent living on Kibbutz Gal-Ed near Haifa.Now and then I understand a complete sentence of what someone is saying. “Ein yeladim raeem yesh yeladim shera lahem.” “There are no bad children only children that feel bad”. My family here welcomes me with so much love that I lay down in bed with a big smile on my face. There’s so much history in Israel it’s not easy to take it all in. My head swims sometimes from all of it. Do I concentrate on Jerusalem and  the West Bank or should I climb Masada and swim in the Dead Sea? Visit Yad Veshem Museum and get depressed for the rest of the afternoon?  What about spending the day looking for a superb bottle of olive oil at Shuk Ha’Carmel. Yikes. Too many historical events for one skinny, Jewish broad to take in at once.

This dog in front of the shop acted as if he owned the joint.

Who is your mom?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


O Jailed Town of Bethlehem

I’m sitting in an apartment in the Nachalat Binyamin area of Tel Aviv; about ten minutes from the Mediterranean Sea and next door to the Shuk Ha’Carmel market. Every day I venture out on my own to an area that pulls on me. That may not seem like a big deal except I’m directionally dysfunctional so it’s a great challenge for me to wander off on my own. Sometimes I feel as if I have to go faster and see more. There’s so much to see in this world and I want to see it all. I started traveling decades ago and haven’t slowed down. As I get older I want to see more not less because every inhale is a gift and I’m acutely aware of the gift of my breath.

Israel; a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. I feel very safe. Fear doesn’t enter into my vocabulary whether traveling or at home. Actually the sight of soldiers carrying weapons has the opposite effect on me. It quells the fear that instinctively rises inside of me so that I can continue on my adventure feeling both protected and secure.

I seem to be concentrating on The West Bank area of Israel namely Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho. Bethlehem is not heavily traveled so I am pulled there. Not only is it of the burial place of matriarch Rachel but it’s also the birthplace of Jesus. It’s often ripe with strife which attracts me as well. My relatives with Israeli passports cannot visit there as Israeli civilians are not allowed access. Later they told me they were worried about me when I was traveling there for the day.

Bethlehem is a Palestinian city that is about five miles from Jerusalem. It took quite a bit to cross in to get in.  First the line where I showed my passport and went through xrays not too different from an airport. They have built a wall that consists of fences over miles (including electrified fencing), buffer zones, deep six foot trenches, barbed wires, electric sensors, thermal imaging, video cameras, sniper towers, razor wire, unmanned aerial vehicle; a 26-32 foot high wall. Keeping certain people out. From the center of Bethlehem, you can see the path that prevents certain people from entering. This wall, which serves to isolate and annex the religious areas,  reminds me of the prejudice against the Jews during WW2. This wall isn’t really a fence or a wall, it’s meant to be a separation barrier. The obvious historical parallel is the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long. This wall will be 403 miles when complete and does nothing but violate human rights.  I’ve read that the Israeli authorities say it is meant to block the passage of terrorists including weapons, and explosives.

Initially I thought “this is barbaric.” Upon researching I found that 900 people died from suicide attacks since Sept 2000. The wall was started in the Spring of 2002 and there has been a sharp decline in violent attacks. The threat of violence is all too real. My friend and writing teacher and her Israeli-born husband agreed not to ride on any buses with their daughters on their recent visit. Speaking to my hair dresser, an Israeli who moved to the U.S., I began to see it from a native’s perspective. There are less senseless violent acts like blowing up buses since the wall has been erected. So there is no easy answer. There is no right or wrong. There is no logic. But a city sealed off from the rest of the world just doesn’t sit right with me. I begin to feel sad about this realization and fact of life in Israel. Even this quote from the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the issue of the wall constructed by Israel feels as if I’m not alone in this thinking.
“Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall.” – International Court of Justice

Bethlehem has severe unemployment; around 65%. Hence a lot of fighting between husband and wife because the man at home is never a good scenario. Back in 1999, 2000 there would be 5,000 tourists a day. Now it’s dozens. “Keep with people” my uncle told me before I left which of course, I didn’t. I like to go off on my own to explore people with my camera.

I was on a mission to visit The Church of Nativity as I lean towards places of worship.  From the moment I had to bend down to enter through the “Door of Humility”; I was humbled. There are legends surrounding the door. Some say that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts.I love that; bowing.We’re not a bowing culture. The act of humbling oneself  to the soul of another person. A most gracious way of honoring God in another person. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent nonbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbors.  Just to see the Corinthian columns alone was worth all the angst the wall originally brought up for me; pillars of orange, yellow and brown reaching fifty feet toward heaven; an elaborate illumination of lamps throughout.

The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. Yet there was a heaviness in my heart. I couldn’t help but think about the wall separating people. A wall surely can’t be the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The sweet little city where the Bible says Jesus was born is surrounded by a 3-story concrete wall topped with razor wire.

I noticed two women with a child that caught my eye so I followed them to an area I had already seen just so I could watch them. Even though we were from two worlds, we were interested in the Church of Nativity. The sadness I felt from Bethlehem being annexed eased into acceptance of what is. As I watched them I was struck with how much we are all the same; wanting to explore our world. They too went through what I went through to view this glorious site. We have an innate desire to see and understand the beauty all around us. As Yogi Bhajan shared with us in the sutras of the Aquarian Age: Recognize The Other Person Is You.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


%d bloggers like this: