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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Next week in Jerusalem!

This was written last week, although not posted until now. After a nearly 24 hour journey, I am here, tired but content.

Next week in Jerusalem!

My Jewish friends and relatives will understand the reference. For those who don’t, each year at Passover and at Yom Kippur, Jews pray," next year in Jerusalem."

But this year, in fact, I will actually be in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. I am leaving on Wednesday, October 5th, for six weeks in Israel. I will be spending the first several days in Jerusalem, but for most of my time there I will be living in the city of Umm el Fahem, an Arab city in Israel at the edge of the West Bank. I will be working at the Umm el Fahem Gallery of Arab Art. Not sure yet exactly what I will be doing. One thing they’ve expressed an interest in is having me tutor the staff as well as local children in English. I am more than happy to do that, and I also hope to do some pr for the gallery, work with the staff on art classes for children, and hopefully spend some time working in the gallery itself.

In fact, I will be spending a lot of time in the gallery, because I will be living in an apartment within the gallery itself. Lilli Stern, the project and development director, warned me that it can be strange, being there at night, when the gallery is closed and alarmed. I immediately had visions of the movie Night at the Museum, and also the wonderful book From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler, where a brother and sister run away to and spend a week living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (if you have a kid, or are a kid, or once were a kid, you should read this delightful book.)

I expect my adventure will be somewhat different from those, but I hope it will be equally as exciting.

I am not part of a group as in my previous volunteer assignments. The gallery accepts volunteers on an individual basis, up to four at a given time. There will be one other woman with me; a Jewish woman in her 60’s from New York. When I first heard that, I was a bit disappointed that the other volunteer comes from a background so similar to mine. (Sorry, Suzi!) In my other volunteer positions, part of the appeal, (and part of their intent) was to have a very diverse group. But I actually think it will be quite nice to have a companion, and Suzi sounds like an interesting person. Per the current plan, it looks like we will be meeting up on the train platform in Tel Aviv, she coming from Be’er Sheva, me from Jerusalem. Will we recognize each other?

As there are just the two of us, we will each have our own bedroom. Sheer luxury, compared to my other volunteer experiences, where typical accommodation has been a sleeping bag on the floor of a very crowded apartment, and a bathroom shared with a dozen or a couple of dozen. I did have my own tent, though, at last summer’s international music and dance festival.

Here’s what I know so far:

The gallery opened in 1996, founded by artist, former police officer and visionary Said Abu Shakra. Part of the gallery’s goal, in addition to showcasing Arab art, is to foster understanding between Jewish and Arab cultures through art. Both Arab and Jewish children participate in classes. There are also adult classes, a women’s group, support for kids at risk, and more. It sounds as though the gallery goes beyond art to provide a community center and social service agency.

There are big expansion plans, to turn the gallery into a Museum of Modern Arab Art. They have land donated by the city, and a plan designed by a Jewish architectural firm. Now they need to raise the funds to fulfill the dream. I am sure I will be writing more about that once I am there. I know that founder and director Abu Shakra was just in New York and Washington working on organizing a “friends of” organization. And various museums and organizations in Israel have given them support.

I know so little about Israel, odd considering my heritage and how prominent it is in world news. I have tended to think about the country purely in terms of its politics. Most of us see foreign places through the scrim of how the country is portrayed in the news, and the crises rather than daily life. It’s all a matter of perspective.

One of my favorite stories from when I was in Lima with baby Carolina : A taxi driver asked me where I was from. I answered “New York” assuming that he would not be familiar with Boston. And I am, originally, from NY, as you may have gleaned from my blog address. The taxi driver’s response was, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to live there. Too dangerous!” Through my laughter, I told him that is what people at home would say about Peru. (this was, after all, at the height of the Shining Path terrorist activity there.)

As I leaf through my guidebook and bone up on Israeli history, geography and culture,, little ditties creep into my mind. “This is the land of mik and honey,” lyrics from a Broadway musical Milk and Honey from the 60’s that probably nobody but me remembers. “Glee reigns in Gallilee, the Galil rejoices,” from Sunday school. Anyone remember that one? And, reading that the shekel is the monetary unit, the beggar’s comment to Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, comes to mind. “One shekel? Last week you gave me two shekels. Just because you had a bad week, why should I suffer?”

Strangely, I turn on the tv, after the shekel joke has been bouncing around my head all week, and what is on but the 70’s movie version of Fiddler, kitchy but wonderful. It’s worth watching for the dream scene alone, where Tevye convinces Golde that their daughter should marry the tailor, not the butcher. This scene is funny and frightening, worthy of Tim Burton. I think it would scare children at least as much as the wicked witch in Oz. You should watch it, and perhaps the rest of the movie too!

Okay, I’ll stop for now, may or may not pick it up again before I leave. In any case, next week in Jerusalem!!

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