Off-Topic: I’m Going to Be Published!!

A while ago I submitted a short piece to the Philadelphia Inquirer about spending Christmas in Bethlehem. I realize it’s a bit preemptive to announce this, because I haven’t submitted the release forms yet but I’m so excited, I can’t wait.  I am going to be a published author! Jo March would be so proud 🙂

Click here to read my original, much longer post from two years ago. It’s funny how one’s story-telling changes over time. I remember writing this for the first time, the event still felt so new and precious. It still is precious, but it’s imprinted itself on psyche a little bit more now.

Note: I won’t publish the new piece on here until three days after it comes out in the Inquirer. I have a lot to learn about free lancing and contracts. If you live in the Philly area, be on the lookout for my article in December!



Growing Up

One day when I was in Israel and the war was going on, my friend Sarah told me of a friend she had had in the army. Her friend had said to her once,  “Why am I here? Why am I learning about guns and military operations? I should be learning art, romance, opera, love.”

I turned to Sarah and I said, “I came here because I told myself, ‘Why am I not here? I am wasting my time studying art, romance, opera and love. I should be studying politics, military operations, guns.”

I wanted to understand the world.

But does this mean understanding guns?

Can you really ever understand guns?

I fear I’ve been judging reality and approaching life in a horrifically naive fashion. Because truth be told, people are just overgrown children with guns. There’s no secret that justifies war, ever. 

It’s symptomatic of studying the Holocaust. At a certain point, horrific details begin to become normal because you’ve become accustomed to the descriptions.

But these things are not normal. Not normal for a world that was created by God out of love. Not normal, ever.

Perhaps my existential crisis was brought on by, in addition to having spent the last six hours in the library, a poetry workshop I had the crazy pleasure of attending last week. The workshop, to my unraveling, encouraged word diarrhea, which is never welcome in military situations, nor in–let’s face it–some academic settings I’ve found myself in lately.

The funny thing is, we were specifically instructed not to talk about abstract concepts like war or poverty. Yet of course I did, because I’m slightly sadistic and moody. So, under a list of “Things I Know to Be True,” I wrote this:

4. War is never justified, but it is always justified until someone renames the war as something like “an operation” [which they did when I was in Israel] or “experiment” [like German medical experiments..]. That’s how you know that the person renaming the war is just as scared as the people running away from missiles. I know this because I ran away from missiles last year. They were small and wimpy, but no one appreciates blocks of metal raining from the sky. Maybe the only thing worse than hiding from a rocket in a cement underground is lying on your belly in a moving train with sirens blaring in the background tell you you may not live to see your sister step off the plain in Tel Aviv.

My handwriting had grown messier by this point and I admit my heart was pumping a little bit faster. This was when my instructors said “stop.”

This was why I thought I should understand politics, because maybe I could tell people that war is bad. But surely other people know that too?

They do, yes, they do. I’ll bet both arms the thousands of people afflicted every second by civil war know that it’s bad. It doesn’t take an education or a fancy suit to know right from wrong, but it does take a little bit of courage.

Maybe I’m being melodramatic and extremely selfish. Here I sit, safe at home in suburbia, tucked away from harm with a blanket of freshly fallen snow waiting for me outside. Yet I’m beginning to feel restless again.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

A small river flows beneath a sixth century (?) Greek Orthodox monastery
 in the mountain deep of a desert expanse separating Israel from Jericho in Palestine.

Not A Day Goes By That I Don’t Think of Be’er Sheva, Israel

        I read the news much more now than I did a year and three days ago, when I said farewell to John F Kennedy Airport and the Western Hemisphere and took off, unwittingly, to Asia: the Middle-East, to be technical, Israel, to be precise, Be’er Sheva, this random little desert city, to be exact. Despite the constant barrage of news reports about Israeli-United States relations, Israelis and Palestinians, Israel and the United Nations that I read daily, as I sit here cozily in my bed, on a lazy, rainy and very wet Sunday afternoon in lower Bucks County (deer country), Pennsylvania, I am so painfully reminded that this special little place that I called home is so, so, so very, incredibly far, far away.
To comfort myself, I look up and around my bedroom so as to feel connected to something. I begin to take inventory of my surroundings, and my eyes fall first upon the stack of books on my bed-side table. Books make me inexplicably happy. I love the shapes, sizes, and colors of books, from the very small and flimsy to the grandiose, heavy and sincere. Some I purchased abroad or at used book sales; some were gifts; some are on (very long) loan. I love the naked spines of my journals, which collect all my crazy thoughts, and the sparsely decorated historiographies and commentaries from Saints and sinners alike.
As my eyes feast on this variable cornucopia of information, I spy a small trinket, a pearl among the diamonds–a small, glass, hand painted bottle from Bratislava, which once contained a sample of Slovakian honey meade (travel size!). Now my eyes begin to wander, scanning past the sea of blue wall, to the double-pained window. A small assortment of jewelry, trinkets, and photographs rest there, along with an ill-crafted flute purchased in Bethlehem, on the off chance that I might have found some sheep that needed herding. Alas, I did not.
Below this sill sit my instruments: a large djembe perched on top of a foraged wooden stool and an old acoustic, three quarter size guitar. Suddenly, the term “traveling minstrel” begins to sound like a serious and viable occupation. But African drums are extremely cumbersome.
Above and to the right of the sill hang a few foraged and gifted pictures, not of people, but of wine bottles, sunflowers, inspirational quotes and a portion of Van Gough’s Starry Nights, repainted into a neat little four by four pun: “Van-Go,” and a Volkswagon beetle in the foreground.
My eyes turn again to the closet door, filled so deep with memories that I hesitate to unravel the fathoms just now. I think of the drawers of one cabinet, in particular; the bottom, being the deeper of the two, contains my old maps, travel guides, notebooks, ticket stubs, and Hebrew language learning assignments. Every map I gathered from every hostel I slept in or museum or mountain I visited I kept: from Eilat to Jerusalem to Budapest, Prague, Vienna, and Slovakia, and from Ein Gedi to Masada and Old Jaffa Hostel. Maps, like books, are precious jewels to me, founts of invaluable and unique information. On them I marked and circled all the sites I loved, the restaurants that served good beer or dessert, the hostels with the friendliest staff, the nearest bus terminal and number.
I am there now, at the bus terminal in Bratislava, sipping a Pilsner inside the station pub, which itself was converted from an out-of-use street car. Then I jump to the porch outside the Ein Gedi hostel, perched with free café (instant, in that red and black packet, and milk from a pouch!), watching the full moon rise over the Dead Sea, Jordan in the background. (As close as I was and as many times as I saw the cities and mountains of Jordan, I never actually crossed the border, despite Petra being a huge tourist destination. I have to go back!!) In my mind I wake up and stretch to greet the great dense, salty sea, then climb, high, higher still up the mountain to the highest legally allowed point in forty degree centigrade heat, then down, deep down into Dodom’s cave and waterfall. Oh, the magic of the desert!!!
My heart longs again for those secret places in the land, those deep mysteries that are so fixed, ancient and overwhelming. I come back to my room, and my eyes fall upon my favorite poem, framed and mounted above my chest of drawers, and I begin to read:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

     I think again of the silent and the chaotic in far away lands. I think of the silent and chaotic demons that test us here in my home country, indeed in my very heart and soul. Tests, challenges, other points of view–as cliche as it sounds, I found myself through living day in day out in Be’er Sheva, getting to sleep each night and waking up with the hot desert sun on my face. I found something I had been looking for since I was a little girl: the confidence and serenity to feel my feet fixed firmly on the ground, yet the faith to throw caution to the wind and let these same feet fly out from under me, over a rock into water or down into a cave. I found the truth–that the world is not such a nice place all the time, and that your life will never be what you want it to be if you put your store in changing times that make headlines, sell newspapers, and send people time and again to war. I think this is why so many pilgrims come to Jerusalem, why so many religious faithful live in Jerusalem, and why that city is and has been and will probably always be the hottest place on Earth:  they know, they understand that the ebbing tide of change only rushes over what is firmly rooted into time and space: God and his plan for us.
I have no answers for peace in the world, but I will forever strive, and may we all work for this:

     In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

Picture Highlights So Far

Just so you don’t think I’ve been brooding for a whole month, I wanted to share with you all some long overdue pictures of the breathtaking beauty here in Israel. You can see why everyone wants it!

From Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva

en route from Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion University, Be’er Sheva–where I’ll live for the next five months
The Negev
Ha Negev
Sand dunes
rocks on a desert cliff
view of sediment and rocks in the Red Sea, Eilat
Jordanian Mountains
view of Jordan from Kibbutz Lotan, Ha negev
View of Jordan from Kibbutz Lotan, Ha negev
view of Old City
The Old City
on a rooftop
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