July 2nd, 2008

Willow

UGh

Am depressed - haven't been able to upload photos in all these days and I have so much I wanna blog with photos.

Will press on though else I will miss the mood and I got a lot to post about. Apologies in advance for the multiple posts and the flist spam. Skip me if I bore you.

Today we are having a kind of slower day. We are going to pick up the jewellery and I think I am going to buy the Magen David I was talking about the other day, if it is still there. Then we are going to meander down along the beach towards Jaffa and do whatever at Jaffa when we get there. I love Jaffa- it is so old and lovely.

Anyway. That's today. More about what has already happened!! Gonna do them in separate posts and I wish I could have posted them in the order that they happened cause I think my headspace jumps around a bit. I did draft up what I wanted to say after the wedding though so it should be somewhat honest towards the truth.
Willow

Jerusalem

Yesterday we caught a Sherut (let's see... it's a taxi that follows the bus route, is a little more expensive than the bus and takes like 6 or 8 ppl. So like a cross between a taxi and a bus? a public taxi???) to Jerusalem. It's about an hour ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And the trip did my head in because a lady sat between me and the others who didn't speak Hebrew but did speak French (she was from the Congo as it turned out) and the others had a chat with her. Which meant there were 3 languages flying about and it was really hard to keep it all straight in my head! In the end, I opted for looking out the window!

I love Jerusalem. I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's hard not to be overawed as you pull up and you see the walls of the city, so tall and stood for so long. It's humbling to think that those walls have stood, and withstood so much, for so much longer than you have existed and may well do so for so much longe after you have gone. The tangibility of the history blows me away. And the colour of the city - it really is golden! The whole day I had the song "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" stuck in my head (Jerusalem, City of Gold).

So. We as a group basically had three priorities - chachka shopping, the Kotel (Wailing/Western Wall) and Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum). We hied it down to the Kotel in the hopes that we would also be able to go to the Dome of the Rock. No such luck as it was closed for lunch (prayers, I think). So we did the Kotel and then headed off.

What do I mean by "did"? Men and women may approach the wall but in separate areas, divided in two by a barrier. So P and I headed down to the women's area (you have to get searched before you can enter the area and even that is divided into men and women!). I wanted to put a small prayer into the wall. So P and I sat down and each wrote something on a tiny piece of paper and then approached the wall to find a crack and put our rolled up paper in it. I had an idea of what I wanted to pray for (I had had so long before I even came to Israel) but on sitting in front of the wall, I was overcome and felt like anything that I wanted to ask for was petty and selfish. I asked for World Peace in the end (and some other smaller things). It was also a bit hard approaching the wall - right up close to it there are 3 or 5 rows of women sitting and praying, and then a row of women actually leaning on it and praying, and then everyone kinda stares at you, like who are you to approach the wall? Maybe they scoff and those of us who slip paper in the cracks, I don' know. But I remember thinking "it's not just *your* wall, it's *my* wall too!". (Have a photo to go here too!)

You don't turn your back on the wall so as you leave it, you walk backwards away from it. That was kinda funny watching women doing it on our approach. But when it was time for me to leave, there was something really respectful and humbling about slowly backing away from the wall.

I got some great shots of the wall so I will either post these separately or eta these and then blog the links later.

After the wall we went and had lunch in a little cafe just near it. I am for some reason making a point of eating Shakshuka whenever I can. Why not? *Israeli shrug*. And then we wandered through some streets and some markets. I think I am going to buy a belly dancer outfit before I leave. I also had a bit of a look at some Magen Davids and saw nothing I liked. The others bought chachkas, I am very far behind in the chachka buying. I have none!!!

And then we caught a taxi to Yad Vashem.

This is an enormous deal. For those of you who know me, and for those who have read this blog for long enough, you will know I have a "thing" about the Holocaust (like you couldn't have one about it but whatever). I quote my uncle with "thing" because it became apparent on our trip as we vaguely discussed when we would go etc - P really wanted to go, it was on her list to do here. I was reluctant but figured it might take me 50 years to actually do it and I might need a very slow introduction - like this decade I will simply stand outside the front. I took a book with me and didn't mind sitting and reading for 2 hours whilst she went through it.

So we went and my D and P were really good with me - I decided to sort of see as much as I could and then bow out when it was enough and they continued to check how I was going.

I didn't have nightmares last night so I think that was okay.

The Museum is not one building - it sprawls across several with beautiful squares and tree groves linking them. There are also halls and auditoriums and stunning views of Jerusalem. However, the actual history museum does not permit children under 10.

I decided to visit the Hall of Remembrance with the others. It was an overwhelming experience. I was flooded with emotion and realised that I was not actually going to be able to see all that much more after it. You enter the hall which is very dark, and the walls are made of large boulder type rocks. Everything else is black. Set down from the walkway is another floor which you look down to see the names of all the concentration camps in large gold letters. There is a flame burning off to the right hand side and several large wreaths. That is all. You, the dark, the names of all the camps and an eternal flame. That is all. And that is all that needs to be said. It is enough. More than enough. And it tears your insides out.

This is such a beautifully and compassionately crafted museum. They have thought very carefully how people will feel and you constantly are thrust back into the daylight and everywhere there are vast expanses of blue sky and groves of trees. You are constantly grounded back into the present.

I made it slightly further along, to the art gallery. Artwork displayed was done by the victims - some in the ghettos and some in the camps. A lot of it was not what you would expect - ie it was artwork by artists, who happened to perish. So pictures of dancers or portraits or whatever. There was the most beautiful set of illustrations for a bible that an artist did for his 2 year old daughter. It and the daughter were hidden with a catholic family and both survived the war. There are 90 illustrations of scenes from the bible and they are just exquisite, I want a bible illustrated with them (the artist includes some twists and rereadings of passages that show you his sense of humour and insights to his mind - they were just great)

There's only so much of "here was something brilliant or genius and beautiful and then the Nazis destroyed it" that you can take. But my "thing" about the Holocaust was at maximum and I was starting to feel panicky and very very upset. That was pretty much all for me and I was about to bail out, which was fine by D and P, and then the boy called me! All the way from Australia on my mobile! In fact, he had been trying to call me back when I was panicky in the gallery but there was no reception in there.

It was so lovely to hear his voice and I sat and listened to him and overlooked the vista of Jerusalem and he chased all the horrible images and thoughts out of my head. He talked to me for 55 minutes whilst the others went to the graphic, historical museum, and by the time they came back, I was good. All the yucky was gone. And I was up to looking in the bookshop - where I actually freaking bought 2 books (poetry and art by the children in the camps and ghettos and a Women in the Holocaust - letters they wrote and stuff). And I didn't have any nightmares last night.

After the gruellingness of the day, we caught a Sherut back to Tel Aviv, hit the cafe strip, enjoyed all that was built to be sure that never happens again and then went home to bed.

More later.
Willow

Woot! Photos are back in action!

Breakfast photos *finally* added to that post from a few days ago, for those of you *dying* to see what I was complaining about. Meanwhile I have corrupted the other two and we have a new "breakfast place". Of course, I have now hit my coffee limit, stomach has drawn the line, and now I have to drink tea. Bugger.

Here's me at the Kotel yesterday:
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Willow

My cousin is a rock star

Have been desperately trying to find posters of my cousin's gig from the other night, which we missed since we went to the wedding instead!

Found one this morning on our failed jewellery expedition:
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I am still yet to secure the Magen David. The jeweller is going to bring it, and the earrings P bought, to the hotel tomorrow morning. I am worried because I am not sure if we will accept my credit card in this fashion and thus may not obtain my desired item. I technically have one more shopping day in Tel Aviv on Sunday but don't like how fine that is cutting it. We shall see how it goes tomorrow.

Here is a photo of P. We were staking out the jewellery shop from the comfy location of one our coffee shops. P is obsessed with ice coffee. The store was supposed to open at 10am. At 11 we called him to find out that he was not going in to work today.

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We also dropped off some clothes at the local laundry this morning and it was so fun - just reminded me of the kind of Israeli movies I've watched on SBS. So much seemed to be going on behind the scenes between all of the people.

What else? There was of course more coffee in our day than any of you could contemplate. Me, I have had to switch to tea and am rapidly being reminded of how much coffee I drank the last time I was here and how that ended up. I have also switched to grapefruit juice, which just tastes so much better here than at home. We are also going to buy a watermelon to eat some stage because they also taste better here.

We spent the early afternoon at Jaffa (Yafo).

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It's 4000 years old and used to be a port - it's all through the crusades history and stuff (sorry, not a historian *shrugs*). I like it because it is so old and pretty and now very much an artists quarter. It's got lots of windy narrow streets with lots of steps and little nooks and crannies and it overlooks the sea.

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The art was just stunning. Such an inspiring place to create work, I would imagine. And such lovely and interesting pieces. I could have wandered around all day but we were on a time limit. D and I bought some beautiful silk screened paintings from this lovely little gallery run by the artist and his wife. An old couple but so friendly and kind. They even gave us bottles of water to take with us when we left. The works were mostly of religious icons but with a bit of fun in them - so children playing in the foreground of the Western Wall in the background etc. D bought a framed one with some figurines painted onto the glass giving it a 3D effect. Just stunning!

I'll finish with a view of Tel Aviv from Yafo. All the things we've seen this week have me think about art, and Jewish art and Jewish artists. There's some kind of thoughtfu post brewing but I don't think I have it sitting just right yet. I mean ... I'm on some kind of thought quest here about what it means to me, to be Jewish, I think. And maybe I just dont know the answer to that yet.
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Willow

The wedding

Okay, so my uncle and P have kindly given me permission to post pictures of them here but the others have not since I have not asked. So my photos of the wedding posted here are limited.

The wedding of course is the reason that I got on a plane and flew a very long way. My cousin married an Israeli and they decided to have the wedding here. It was a very big event and I was really shocked by how many Perthies were there - we had a Perth people photo and it was huge!

The wedding was held somewhere that was an hour drive from Tel Aviv. We ended up getting a lift from my mother's cousin and his wife who were also going. They were my family away from home when I was living here years ago. Their's was the house I hopped on a bus (from Haifa) to go to for the weekend when I was homesick or when I ran out of money for food or when I had no plans or whatever. And I got to be very close to them. And coming all this way was also partly about getting to sit down and have a coffee with Z and just hang out. And I got to do that on Monday before the wedding! We caught a taxi to their place and hung for a bit. And it was so great! There was this amazing feeling of coming home as I got in the lift up to the 4th floor (which I remembered even though I hadn't thought about it probably in 9 years) and then their apartment door was open and they were smiling and "Shalom Shalom!" and "Aleeezah! You haven't changed a bit!" Ahhhh ... it was great!!!

And so eventually we piled into the car and off we went, with Z pointing out all the new things that have been built or torn down since I was last there. So ... we got to the wedding venue (the Magical Garden) an hour early and it was hoooooooot. Anyway, lots of people were already there including my uncle and aunt and cousins and whatnot. And there was this lovely outdoors area to hang out in to take photos and greet people as they arrived.

My uncle (D) and I doing just that, below. See the outrageous cleavage? Everyone else was covered from chin to toes except my cousin's wife. And ... I dunno. There it is. Will have to see what the family photos look like.

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We had wine. We caught up with family as they arrived - a lot of my mother's side of the family (cousins) live here and almost all of them came. So we spent the next two hours catching up. There was even a pre-wedding buffet spread that came out. It was about at this time, that I deeply regretted how crap my Hebrew is. I'm not too bad listening and can follow conversations reasonably well - family talking to one another at pace has me understanding about 50% of what is going on. But as soon as they ask me to join in, forget it! So annoying too because I so much wanted to get into in-depth conversations and had to limit these by their English - most of them speak excellent English however (so that's more me being annoyed at not being bilingual enough).

So, some wedding shots. The chair below is the bridal seat - the bride comes out before the ceremony and sits on this chair for viewing. Family and friends sing and dance to surround the bride with joy before the groom comes out to view her. The groom is brought out surrounded by singing and dancing (and slightly drunk) men to greet the bride, check this is the one he was after and then he places the veil over her. Agreeing basically to marry her (see Jacob and Leah and Rachel in the Bible for the significance)
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Here also is the Chuppah - the bridal canopy - this is what Jewish people get married standing under. Everyone's looks different and they can be as simple as a Tallis (prayer shawl) and four sticks (one in each corner) held by 4 men to the fancy one here. The bride, groom, their families and the Rabbi all stand underneath for the whole ceremony.

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The wedding ceremony itself was at least an hour late, maybe more. I would like to report more about it but unfortunately was not able to watch it live due to the cameramen standing in exactly the way ALL the time. I couldn't see the veiling of the bride, I mostly couldn't see her walk around the groom 7 times and could hardly see any of the actual ceremony. The groom smashed the glass and apparently they were married! She'koach! Mazal Tov! I went up to congratulate everyone and my aunt yelled at me "You're next! I have someone to introduce you to!"

And then we went inside for food. There were no speeches at all. The wedding party came in for the first round of dancing after the first course. There was much traditional (chassidic, apparently - I never knew we did chassidic traditions, I thought those were orthodox) dancing and then more food. I accidentally ate meat cause the waiter said the course choice I ordered had no meat but he was wrong! So annoyed and nearly threw the plate across the room (in a style well developed by my grandmother) and he brought me a borekes (pastry with mashed potato inside). I was mostly annoyed that I had eaten meat without intending to, I really hate that.

We weren't seated with our Israeli fam so we instead just went over to their table and hung out with them - heck, I flew all this way to be with them, I wasn't going to miss out on one second of getting to be in and amongst the dynamic. I have to say, I love them so much! They are such an amazing group of people - such fantastic and wicked senses of humour, so kind and caring. And they love me unconditionally - I hardly know them and they were so happy to see me, some of them met me for the first time, and they wanted to know about me and what I do and they were so interested. They want me to send them 2012 so they can read it and they want to stay in touch with me. It's a feeling I cannot express to be so unconditionally welcomed, loved and accepted. And I have made myself a promise that I will not leave it 10 years to come back and I will come back regularly and often in my life. I am heartbroken to live so far away from them.

I should add that this is my mother's father's side of the family. My grandfather passed away when I was 6 and I miss him terribly. So many members of the family remind me of him and his nature that being amongst them is the closest I can get to him.

And so ... that was the wedding. For me it was about family - being with family and sharing in family simchas (happinesses, happy events). And in truth, at the core, this is really what being Jewish means to me. And ... I am so happy and glad I came and did not miss out on this. It was worth it. 1000 times, it was worth it!