Sunday, August 29, 2004

To try to tell the past week in shortform is a shanda, a terrible crime. each day has been so full. but so will this day be, so I should sing it out and say it loud in whatever brief sketches and notes I can.
A week ago, after the Sulha, Eliyahu and I combined forces to host a Third Feast on shabbat afternoon. In the darkening back room of Eliyahu's Nachlaot apartment, neighborhood friends and international spiritual leaders and peacemakers from the Sulha sat in a circle, ate Pomegranates and roasted vegetables and nuts, spoke about their journeys, shabbat, and their struggles with peacemaking. Havdala broke out into dancing and singing--though some of the guests did not know Hebrew, everyone found a way to get into some of the traditional melave malka tunes, with hand percussion and clapping and dancing.
As we started to come down a little bit, Quzulini, a Zulu chief, spiritual leader, and peacemaker from South Africa stepped into the circle and began leading a chant with a bouncing beat. Hu-hm Hu-hm, Huh-hmmmm. Hu-hm Hu-hm, Huh-hmmmm. And then he gave us more parts, for our mouths and our arms and our feet, and a refrain, "One love and happiness!" and solos over it which he cried out in Zulu. This singing and dancing and chanting must have lasted a long time, but I really am not so sure exactly how long. The cicle of us let go of time and held on to the shabbat bride. I just know that by the time we gathered upstairs to bless each other in Hebrew and Arabic and Zulu and English and Gaelic, it was late.
Sunday and Monday I finished my work in the lab--I think and hope that what I put together in the end will be at least a little bit helpful for Viki in her thesis efforts. A lot of the results of the research I have done will not come out for another few weeks or more, after Viki gets back to the lab and can run some followup tests.
Tuesday I went to the tefillin factory in Meah Shearim with Sareet's family, and got a tour of the yearlong process of turning a little tough piece of skin from the back of a cow's neck into perfectly square boxes to house words of love for the divine, to be bound to arms and between eyes. It provided me a rare and much craved opportunity to connect with a bit of the story of one of the many mysterious objects that dance through my life. So much labor and holy intent into one little box. Afterward, I got my first tzitzit, and went home to clean and move out of my apartment.
Wednesday night, I went took a bus out to Givat Hamatos, a caravans-site originally set up as an absorption center for transitioning families. I have already written some notes on this experience which I might post at some point, so I will pass it over for now.

On Thursday I woke with a question that I have never considered before: "What DOES one wear to Ramallah?" I settled on a bandana, a ringer tee-shirt, and a non-descript pair of brown pants. As much as I would have loved to arrived a visible messenger of Jewish understanding and peace, proudly displaying kippah and tzitzit, I knew that this was not the time and not the way--I consider it similar to making sure I am not wearing shorts when I go to Meah-Shearim. I want to be able to connect with those around. I can dress in a way that does not efface or deny my identity, but at the same time is aware of the boundaries of the space and does not push people away immediately. I set off with Eliyahu and a documentary filmaker from New York, and on the way we picked up some Spanish Catholic men on an interfaith mission in Israel, and a peacemaker now living in Jordan. The event in Ramallah was a kick-off demonstration, part of a series of events featuring Arun Ghandi (Ghandi's grandson), who had been brought by several Palestinian groups to advocate non-violence.
We arrived at the park, roughly the size and shape of a football field, with dust instead of grass. Several thousand people were gathered, in and around the park. There was a large crowd around the stage, but there were also crowds gathering in other parts, in and around the field. Everything around me was in Arabic, and I was acutely aware of how little I could understand of my surroundings. There were a few inflammatory signs in English, mainly some distance away from the stage. One proclaimed "Bush=Sharon=Axis of Evil?" As we left, we also saw a banner lofted with huge boldface letters, "KILLERS," next to which was a characature of Sharon and a picture of a Nazi. Approaching the stage, it was immediately apparent that the audience was composed almost entirely of mothers and their children, each holding aloft a framed picture of a teenage boy or young man. When they saw the documentarain, many gathered around her to display their pictures to her camera.
We only stayed for a short period, but I was able to hear some of Arun Ghandi's speech (translated to Arabic as he spoke in English). His message was direct and clear. He expressed compassion for the suffering of the Palestinian people, for their needs and for their demands for rights they do not have. He told the audience, Your message should be direct and clear and it should be peace and it should be non-violence. He then proceeded to speak of previous non-violent resistant efforts, such as his grandfather's work, the civil rights movement in America, and the struggle against aparthied. He brought all of these examples to make a case that non-violence has worked, and can work for the Palestinian people as well.
It is difficult for me to tell, with such limited interaction with audience members, how the message was received. I came expecting a demonstration for nonviolence at which Ghandi was the featured speaker--it seemed instead, although it is hard for me to tell with any certainty, that the event was a political demonstration that happened to have Ghandi speaking about nonviolence as its keynote. I did not get the impression that everyone had gathered with a singular focus, so much as everyone gathered, and Ghandi's message was being brought in to try to direct the gathering. Even if I did not immediately see legions of nonviolence advocates streaming out to spread the message, it is heartening to me that such events are being organized by Palestinian groups, and that voices advocating non-violence are speaking loudly and are being heard by many.

For shabbat I journeyed with Baruch Casey to Bat Ayin. A favorite adjective at this fruity and mystical mountaintop yeshiva is "high"--and that describes my experience succinctly. We bused and hitchiked our way toward the Yeshiva, and then approached the last bit on foot. As we ascended toward the mountaintop cluster of caravans, we stopped to pick ripe red-green figs, dangling so invitingly from their branches, from trees growing along the path. We arrived to find grape-juice making already in process--Yehonatan had picked and squeezed a few bottles by hand, but there was not yet enough to serve to the 40some Yeshiva bachurs and their guests for the shabbat feast that night. So Baruch Casey and I set found a juicer (handpressing is so much better, but we needed to make quite a bit, pretty quickly), and picked an overflowing bucketful of red and green clusters--the giant and glistening beyond even the resemblences depicted in portraits of the bibilical scouts or on grape-juicebottles. By the time we finished, we had just enough time for a quick dip in the natural spring mikvah down the road before kabbalat shabbat. Services and meals were, well, they were high. Intensely meditative, punctuated to the rhtyhm of ecstatic singing and dancing. Yes, at the meals too. Between singing and divre torah, there wasnt a moment for casual conversation--everything was focus, intentional, exhuberant. Shabbat afternoon, Baruch Casey and I took our third trip to the spring (we had taken a wake-up dip first thing in the morning), and climbed into a small opening between the stones, through a narrow passageway toward the source of the spring. Very soon after entering, we were bathed in completely blackness and silence, wading in the shallow run of the stream bellow and trusting blindly in our hands to guide us through ever narrowing and widening passageway. After much blackness, a small spot of sunlight appeared in the distance, and when we reached it we found ourselves in a hig cavern, whose stones were laid (Baruch Casey told me) in the second temple period. A small opening high above lit the cavern, just beyond which the stream began, falling in stready trickle out of the rocks. Deep inside, we could chant and scream at the top of our lungs, and no one could hear us.
The entire shabbat experience had the feeling of being in a secret place, floating high above the world, filled with learning and meditation. What I would imagine the Jewish version of a mystical mountaintop monastary to be. Enchanting, and I know I need to go back.
I also am desperately craving to move in practical directions, to be useful to the world. I have learned, especially this summer, to float and fly. I would like to learn how to get my feet on the ground while keeping my head in the sky.


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