Always. More. To. Learn.
There are many things that draw me to this region. First, it was Ultimate and sheerly coming to a new place. My friends pulled me in with something I was familiar with: The power of Ultimate to change lives, with the added bonus of feeding my addiction for travel. I knew I was going to learn. I knew I was going to see and experience “new”. What I really couldn’t have imagined in that early spring of 2012 when I was gearing up for my first trip to Middle East was how much I was going to learn. How my life was going to change.
On Friday morning, March 14th, I slept. What a glorious feeling to sleep in and wake up to the gentle sound of rain in the heart of the Old City. After a leasurely run through of my day, I picked up a small dosage of hotel coffee and joined the scrum on the street. I love being enveloped by the Old City. There is so much going on. Everything is interesting. I moved with a purpose to the south, then east, through a quick security checkpoint, and out into the Western Wall plaza. Out in the expanse, I looked around for a place to fold and contemplated the weather. It was cold, and blustery, but I saw Torah stands I could use. Also, on this visit I was better prepared: I had my own Yamaka, straight from Zach and Mimi’s wedding. (Oh, by the way Zach, I now have a basic idea what all that interrupting was at your pre-wedding ceremony Tish.)
Out in front of the wall it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to fold inside, so I went into the arch over to the left, into the sea of praying Orthodox Jews. The power of concentrated prayer, in that space especially, is quite amazing. I did feel out of place, and yes, I really was, but at no point did I feel unwelcome. So, I made my way over to the far wall, found a chair and a stand, and began to fold. I folded cranes out of paper with written messages from my mother’s church and a few students from my school. It’s a 3-hour period I will remember forever. As I folded I placed the finished cranes on the seat next to me. The seat was eventually covered. Three times during the stretch something new happened — Orthodox Jews came up to me and spoke to me. At one point, I looked over my shoulder and two were watching me fold, so I picked up a blank piece of paper, folded a crane, and gave it to one.
I then bagged up the cranes and moved out into the plaza, to the outside portion of the wall. I found the crane I left yesterday, and went to work placing cranes around the edge of the same stone. While placing the cranes, I had one conversation with a secular Jew from Tel Aviv who said it was wonderful that non-Jews had faith in the Wall. He said he came here, to be at the wall and charge himself, like an iPod connected to an electrical socket. What a convergence of place and terminology. Wonderful.
I then backed away and looked over the cranes, all of which were now placed. Back in the center of the square as I walked away, it began to rain again. So, I moved north up into the Muslim Quarter, and headed to my favorite spot in all the world (Yah, I think so), the roof of the Austrian Hospice. On this visit I only stayed a short while, soaking in the view of so much… everything. I then walked the short distance north to the Damascus Gate to meet Rachel, a local UP coach. We walked the Old City, ate Knaffe (yum!) and then took in some Arabic Coffee at an expat cafe in Jerusalem.
We then met up with one of Rachel’s friend’s, Lucy, and made out way to a Shul for a Shabbat prayer session. I stood through the packed ceremony, and took in the calling and loved the dancing. Afterwards, the three of us were invited to Shabat diner with another of Rachel’s friends, Dave, a Rabbi and author. There ended up being 10 people at dinner and it was so, so, so over the top wonderful. We ate, talked, prayed, laughed. We laughed until we cried and hurt. The group was incredibly welcoming, interesting, and had such beautiful stories. The whole dinner spanned a solid 3 hours, and there was no down time. I can’t wait to visit Dave’s family again. After dinner, we walked back into the night, which was pretty interesting as Purim was gearing up and there were a healthy number of people dressed up running around in the streets. We saw many Smurfs. Yes, Smurfs.
I made my way to the Jaffa gate, and then through the rain-slicked alleys of the Old City, back to the Hashimi Hotel where I quickly crashed.
The next morning I woke to another easy morning. I got caught up on email, packed up, and before checking out had a nice breakfast in the hotel, right next to a window overlooking a huge vista of the Old City. I then made my way out into the Old City, and quickly treated myself to another round of Knaffe, before moving to my perch on the roof of the Austrian Hospice. I got comfy with a book and read for a while, taking in the view every few minutes.
Back in the scrum of the Old City, I meandered over to the Jaffe gate and sat and watched from the top of the stairs to the David museum. Shortly afterwards, I met up with Rachel and we caught a taxi to checkpoint 300, where Ben picked us up. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the Beit Sahour School, where we setup for practice. Ben did a fantastic job pulling the kids together, warming them up with a fun close-pin game of tag, and then ran them through drills and a couple scrimmages. The kids have game. We had a small space, but they used it well and showed good patience.
After practice Ben, Rachel, Amanda (Ben’s friend) and I had a very filling dinner in Bethlehem. After pulling down lots of hummus, kebobs, and some Taybeh beer, we drove Rachel back to Jerusalem, played some cards, checked out the view of Jerusaelem from the roof of her building, and then Ben, Amanda, and I made it back through checkpoint 300 and to Beit Sahour, to Ben’s apartment. Sleep was grand.
The next morning I woke up and we all talked about what to do. We quickly settled on a trip to the Dead Sea, given that the weather was perfect. So, we picked up Rachel, then headed east and then south on the very nice highway, to Ein Gedi, stopped briefly to load up on lunch on the way. The drive out was notable for the scenery and the 2,500+ foot drop to the level of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Crazy. Oh, we saw some camels along the way too.
After parking, we ate some lunch and then went down to the rocky shore, and had a blast floating in the water. I noticed the sign that said don’t put your head under, and I didn’t plan to, and now I know… that would be a truly terrible idea given how much salt is in the water it burns your eyes like crazy. You’re so boyant in the water it’s actually not very easy to stay veritcal while floating. There’s also a pretty strong current, which means people tend to drift without noticing. The salt also coats many of the rocks on the shore, which is pretty cool to see.
After drying off the best we could, and accepting the layer of salt that was bonded to us, we got back in the car and drove back to Jerusalem. There we dropped off Rachel and went back into the West Bank. Back at the apartment we got cleaned up and then headed out for dinner, stopping at the local KFC to see how fake it was… only to discover that it was REAL! By that point we were so hungry we succumbed to what was in front of us and enjoyed some American chicken! Back at the apartment we all slept soundly.
The next morning I woke up early, polished off some UP work, and then Ben drove me to the Bethlehem bus station where I easily found a taxi van to Ramallah, which took off right after I arrived. Heading north I enjoyed the view of the valley, and the huge winding road built with USAID funds. In Ramallah I got out to a familiar sigh of controlled chaos, and made my way to the Manara circle. From there it was a straight shot to the Friends Boys School, the Upper School I was visiting for the day. (The Boys School is in name only. It’s now coed.)
After a bit of exploration, I found my contact, Elizabeth, who then gave me a tour along with another visitor. I then had some free time to explore and then the head of the Upper School, Mahmoud, brought me to an 7th grade math class which was high energy and great fun. Next, I had some time to talk with Elizabeth before I got to see a 8th grade math class which was quite advanced! Right before the end of class I was pulled out and brought to the basketball courts where I got to run a middle school gym class! In all I had 20+ kids running after discs and flying all over the place. All the kids showed great energy and there were a couple that showed some great skill. At the end of the session we took a group photo and then I talked to a few of them while helping them learn how to throw forehands. Such great kids! I left a few discs behind and told them I would be back in June.
I said my goodbye to Elizabeth and then headed out into Ramallah to find the store where I could purchase some FBS clothing. A couple wrong turns and some help from locals later, I found the store, got the jacket I was looking for, then headed back to the bus station where the bus I wanted was just about to leave. Back in Bethlehem I arrived at the bus station and started my journey on foot back to Ben’s apartment. Walking at night, through the crazy streets of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, I was super happy to take two wrong turns before finding the apartment. Comfortably ensconced back at the apartment, I worked through some UP emails, then slept.
This morning I slept in a bit, packed up, and then walked back to the bus station where I caught a taxi van to Hebron, a new place for me to visit. About 45 minute later I got out of the bus into an amplified version of Ramallah. Everything was busier and more crowded. And more intense. I was immediately approached by someone offering a tour, which I nicely brushed off. I then got my bearings and walked in what I thought was the right direction to find the Cave of the Patriarchs. Along the way I found the tourism office which verified I was going in the right place. I continued down the one street of the Old City of Hebron, and passed through security from zone H1 (Arab) to H2 (Jewish). There I walked up and entered the Mosque section of the building. I ended getting a tag-along with a local guide who was, really, doing it for free. What an amazing place. I saw all the tomb markers, and was particularly drawn to Sarah’s. Through the green grate I saw the large marker, and over to the side the edge of the same type of window for the Temple side. Wow.
I then made my way back outside, and around to the other side of the building, to the Temple entrance. Outside I put on my Yamaka, passed through security, and went up into the Temple. I joined a prayer session, and then viewed the tomb markers — the same ones I saw before, from the other side. The whole experience was powerful and truly surreal.
I’ve found that the place is best described in this line from Let’s Go:
“The allegorical possibilities of this astounding effect—two different groups looking at the same object from segregated areas and investing that object with different meanings—are almost comically endless. Regardless of whether or not you see this place as a symbol of the conflict, it is a foundational site for Western religion and an unparalleled opportunity to compare the differences both deep and superficial that exist between Judaism and Islam.”
Back outside, I walked around the rather empty streets, got a bit of food int he Settler’s cafe, and then my way back into H1, up through many streets, and eventually found the taxi van launching area for Bethlehem. Before boarding I had a great conversation with the driver and one Hamaya security guard. Fun. The ride was smooth and so very interesting. Seeing the constant security as I did in Hebron, where everything was so packed together. Back in Bethlehem I was let out in a new area, but given that everything is so close together I easily found the Church of the Nativity where I met Ben and together we found dinner.
We’re not back at the UP apartment, working away at UP tasks.
Tomorrow I’m going to explore and attend the Bethlehem practice. I am also hoping to visit the Beit Sahour school. In the days after the plan is to attend the first Jerusalem practice, explore and find the Marzapan Bakery, and then go to Acco with Miri, the Origami teacher. Friday night there may be a UP coaches social gathering. Then on Saturday I fly home.
Always. More. To. Learn.