To Be Terrorized

The bike was lightweight, low, one speed, no gears, one foot brake, one hand brake, nothing to master except balance and fear. It was love at first site. I had wanted a simple bike that would keep me upright, close to the ground and here it was, a “city” bike for a price lower than that of used bikes. The salesman in the store in south Tel Aviv let me take it for a spin on the sidewalk, but it being Levinsky Street, I reached the corner and quickly turned around.


“The handle bars shake,” I told the guy, disappointed the bike wasn’t perfect.

He took it for a spin and said the handlebars were fine, meaning I was the one who was shaky. I owned up to my fear, bought the bike, a lock and rode it to a store on Shalma that sold blades for old Braun food choppers. “Rode” isn’t quite the right verb, because the sidewalks in commercial Tel Aviv are obstacle courses. I got off the bike at intersections along Har Zion Ave. and often, after a few cycles of the wheels on the crowded sidewalks, I slowed down, kept one foot on the right pedal and pushed with the left, as if my new bike were a kick scooter.

These precautions did not prevent me from rubbing against a school girl walking towards me. Panicked, I stopped, placed both feet solidly on the sidewalk and asked if she was OK. She continued walking in the opposite direction, seemingly unscathed, looking back over her shoulder to get another look at this crazy old woman who didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Tikuni Dani didn’t have the blade I needed, so I walked my bike down Shalma back to Mount Zion. It was teeming with people of all colors, speaking as many languages as there were spokes in my wheels. Young men raced by on one, two and three-wheeled vehicles. I pedaled to the first cross street where I was happy to stand next to my bike and escort it across the street.

My goal was Feivel, off Arlozorov, which I reached fifty minutes later, stupidly taking Begin, which is one elongated building site. I got off the bike, shaking mildly, but cogent enough to remember to lock the bike to the bike rack with my new super duper Cryptonite lock. The lock did not cooperate. We got into a fight. I lost my temper, swore, cried, and attacked the lock. The lock won, only after I realized I had been trying to open and close the damn thing with my mailbox key.

Isn’t it odd that the State of Israel tests drivers of cars, trucks and buses, but has no tests or minimal requirements for bike riders? Any idiot can go out and buy a bike and cause havoc.

All this happened during the week that racism and hatred stretched their ugly elongated arms, strangling the country’s streets, a week of bloodshed, death, grief and fear. The enemy Anarchy knocked at every door. Some people opened it, driven by fear.

After so many years in Israel, I refused to be terrorized, or so I thought. On the day I bought my new bike, I was busy with other fears. What I feared most was my losing control and because of that, seriously hurting someone else and knowing that that pain would inevitably hurt me for years to come.

But I couldn’t help wondering, too, if this fear was just another version or expression of the same fear others felt when they walked down the street and imagined a crazy kid rushing towards them, waving a knife above his head like a medieval sword and proclaiming the greatness of God. I wondered if there was any qualitative difference between one fear and the other or if the object of the fear was secondary and fear itself was enough to paralyze an entire nation.

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Thoughts in Honor of Berthold Feivel’s 140th

Greetings to all my loyal readers from the city that never sleeps, the white city, the crowded city, the rectangular city, the hot city – Tel Aviv. More specifically, greetings from one-way Rehov Feivel. That’s Baruch, (Berthold) Feivel, writer, poet, editor, translator, lawyer, banker and early Zionist, a friend to Herzl, Buber and Weitzman and first director of the Keren Hayesod. (Not to be confused with Feivel Mousekewitz from An American Tail.)

I wanted to move into our new rental on Feivel to celebrate Bertie’s birthday on August 15th, so arrived on the 14th.    Nobody was celebrating due to the severe heat wave.

David, my city-challenged partner, is grateful our apartment is a mere five minute walk to the Arlozorov bus station, which means only a five minute walk to an air conditioned bus that goes to Jerusalem every ten minutes. Jerusalem may be hot, but it is rarely humid. Living in Tel Aviv only ten days, I have discovered my sweat glands. They are getting a good workout, which I assume is healthy for my skin. I haven’t fainted yet and remain upbeat.

Our fabulous locale is also a five minute walk to the train station, so I visited my three grandchildren in Haifa, did the Haifa tayelet and returned to my own bed on Feivel by 10:45 PM. During my visit my nine-year old granddaughter gave me a tattoo of a peacock on my arm. With my new short haircut and my tattoo, I fit right into the city on the sea.

Before I moved here I saw TA  women from the point of view of a hill person who respects modesty. In a day I too wanted to shed all my clothes, wear short shorts and did not give a hoot if my bra strap showed. It took a mere two days to feel only pity for women who wear long sleeved acetate blouses and nylon stockings all because some men can’t deal with their urges when they see a bare elbow or kneecap.

It’s interesting that in a hilly region, such as Jerusalem, houses have arches and convex rooms, whereas in a flat city, you have square and rectangular buildings and square and rectangular rooms. The only arch on Feivel is made by the gardener who shapes the shrubs. I am sure this difference in architecture, round versus straight, has far-reaching ramifications in other areas, but it’s too hot to think about it just now.

Squares, rectangles and a shaved date palm on Feivel

Squares, rectangles and a shaved date palm on Feivel

We live on the third floor – sixty stairs, bordered by a strong wooden hand rail. Sometimes I wish I lived on the 2nd floor, but there are times, even in the heat, when I have reached the door to our apartment and I want to keep climbing. Climbing stairs will keep us young and agile, which is why I wanted to move to Tel Aviv in the first place. Also interacting with people, as opposed to trees and spiders, will keep me on my toes. I exaggerate. On the moshav, I interacted with Colette, the cashier in the local makolet, a few good friends and my upstairs neighbor. Too often I took walks on empty streets overlooking Hadassah Hospital or the new Highway One to Jerusalem. Occasionally I passed the Philippine worker accompanying his ward suffering from Alzheimer and we all exchanged hellos. If I wanted more than a broom and a stuffed grape leaf, I had to get in my car and drive to the mall in Mevasseret. I felt isolated on the moshav and over dependent on Henry Ford.

In Tel Aviv I don’t feel isolated. I can walk everywhere or take a bus that stops three houses away. People of all ages and ideological persuasions walk on the streets or ride their bikes. My daughter and her family are a fifteen minute walk away. I saw them four times the first week. My Tel Aviv granddaughter learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The wonderful Yarkon Park is twenty minutes away and even Jerusalem, the city I am forbidden to forget, lest my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, is a mere sixty-minutes from Feivel.

Although there was no celebration on this unknown Zionist’s birthday, I have been blessed with a neighbor who knew someone who knew him. She is a woman after my own heart, who, after she tells me that he was a womanizer, recalls the military parade she watched from the roof of “our” building, new in 1961. “Everything north of here was a field,” she explains. “The road to our east was called Derech Haifa,” she says pointing, “not Namir. I saw shepherds and their herds of sheep and goats in the distance,” she says with a hint of sadness, the sadness and longing of a woman born in the small, familiar city of Tel Aviv, before it became home to start-ups and gays, electric bikes and hi-rises. Then she reprimands herself for becoming nostalgic.

I don’t tell her that I too miss the shepherd from the corner on Derech Beit Lechem and  Reuven. Rather, I tell her that Feivel left Europe for Jerusalem in 1933 and died four years later at the age of sixty-two in the holy city.

It’s easier—and maybe healthier—being a Zionist abroad,  I think to myself, or in this unholy city.





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Into the Land of Flip Flops and Tank Tops

I’ve finished the memoir I’ve been working on intensively over the past three years and less intensively over the past thirty-three, but I’m still playing  with titles. I’m up to thirty-three possible titles, one for each year. My goal is to reach fifty and if the book does not find an agent and/or publisher by then, I will write a short piece about the fifty titles. That, surely, will find a home. Stringing along with titles is my way of dragging out the process of letting go of the memoir, which is about—no surprise here—letting go.

My friend Susan descending Wadi Daraja

I could have written a doctoral thesis during the past thirty-three years, reviewing all the literature about LG. I could have become a neuro-surgeon or a computer engineer or a painter or an Egged bus driver. Instead, I climbed down ladders into my psyche and described scenes along the way, as one might document the descent at Wadi Daraja overlooking the Dead Sea.

Sometimes you fall into a pool of refreshing water. More often you scale the edge of a cliff, going down, breathless, towards the Dead Sea. Each time you complete the descent and walk out of the wadi in one piece, you feel emboldened. That’s how I felt after I completed each chapter of my memoir:  strengthened, secure, accomplished, my self-esteem rising to several centimeters above the Dead Sea.

Another metaphor for finishing the memoir is having turned myself inside out. In this writerly acrobatic act, what gets dropped onto the page are tears, sweat, blood and guts. No wonder I’m thinking about a vacation.

So much has happened since I finished my memoir. I’m relearning the vowels with Imri, my newest grandson, who is almost three months old and lives in Tel Aviv. I have decided to move to that city so that I will see this grandson and his older sister more than twice  a week and so that my trip to Haifa to visit my three grandchildren there will only be 90 minutes instead of three hours.

Moving to Tel Aviv might be as scary as writing a memoir or descending Wadi Daraja, but I am up for the challenge. Why? Because I’m turning seventy (!?!) next week and my own mother, may she rest in peace now that the eleven months of mourning are over, moved from Cleveland to Sarasota when she was seventy. If she could make a move from cold Cleveland to hot sticky weather at seventy, I can leave the Judean hills for the damp coast. I can’t wait to live my life using my legs as the sole means of transportation, plus the occasional train or bus. Good-bye car; hello bike.

I can’t wait to watch the ocean open up into the sky in all its glory and at the same time open up something inside me. I want to fly into the sunset. In Beit Zayit I do not have a sunset, only stars, vineyards, trees, birds, jackals, hills, and an annoying cemetery beckoning opposite my living room window. Its persistent whisper Nu? Nu?  make me want to run away into the land of flip-flops and tank tops before those whispers morph into demands.

In Tel Aviv I will recreate The Writing Pad, which has become a necessary venue on the Anglo Israeli writing scene for so many grateful writers and teachers. I’m looking forward to this challenge and to hosting my Jerusalem writer friends in the flat city of  Bauhaus and cockroaches.

Meanwhile, the whole world is changing: gay marriages are in, the Confederate flag is out and ISIS is salivating on our borders.  Change is in the air and I am joining the fray.  In Tel Aviv I will complete my next three books, which, at my pace, should be ready for publication in 2048, just in time for Israel’s centennial and my own 103rd!


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An Open Letter to The Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Nir Barkat, Concerning the Establishment of Sabbath Peace in the City of Peace

Dear Mr. Mayor,

On the lovely spring afternoon of Shabbat Tazriya-Mezora, April 25, 2015, at exactly 5:30 PM, I desecrated the Holy Sabbath by entering my partner’s car in Moshav Beit Zayit, where we live, and drove to the corner of Street of the Prophets and HaRav Kook Street in downtown Jerusalem. As you probably know, this is the only corner in the city on the Day of Rest where you can find a cab to Tel Aviv, on the Sabbath.

Until I reached Street of the Prophets, the idea that I was desecrating the Sabbath was a low-grade thought simmering on the back burner of my consciousness. Anyone who has lived in Jerusalem for thirty-eight years, as I did until 2005, cannot help but be conscious of the Holy Sabbath. But my personal desecration morphed into a full-fledged public affair when I reached the cab, for surrounding the yellow ten-seater van were fifteen middle-aged men in long coats, their high furry hats miraculously balanced on their heads as they stretched their vocal chords to the extreme roaring, like lions, SHABBES, SHABBES.

Roaring Lion

Fear spurred me to counter their unpleasant screaming, so I belted out a song I learned at my Reform Sunday school in Cleveland, Ohio, where the love of Zion first took root.

Shabbat Shalom, hey, Shabbat Shalom, hey, Shabbat Shabbat shalom, Shabbat Shalom.

When I saw this had no effect, I raised my voice to a roar.


A police officer stood nearby and smiled. Behind him a police woman adjusted the rifle strapped over her shoulder. Several cadets standing around gave each other confused looks, wondering, no doubt, what this crazy old woman was doing. It was not clear to me what these men and woman of the law were doing there. Were they there to protect the screaming ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, the passengers trying to get into the van headed for Tel Aviv, or the unfortunate drivers.

Once I was seated inside the van, the men with fur hats inched up to the window next to my seat and repeated their cries SHABBES, SHABBES. I did not want to look at their ugly, hateful faces, so I slid the curtain on the window closed. This did not prevent their Hebrew words from registering, however: “The punishment for desecrating Shabbes is Death.”

I am sure you will agree with me, Mr. Mayor, that those are strong words, especially when screamed into your ear with only a glass window separating you from the screamer. Fortunately, half the passengers in the now full van did not understand them. They were tourists, foreign workers and African refugees, but we Hebrew-speaking, Sabbath-desecrating Jews, we understood.

I had left home with love and joy in my heart, with great expectations for seeing my new grandson whose brit was the next day. Yes, in less than twenty-four hours my grandson would enter the covenant. Now it was with a heavy heart that I sat in the van that drove to Tel Aviv, not fast enough, I might add. As the van climbed the Castel, I thought of that Friday afternoon in August 1966 when I first wandered the narrow streets of Mea Shearim. Such holiness I saw in their filth. Men in long coats carried plastic bags under their arms, their damp towels sticking out. They were running home from the mikvah to greet the Holy Sabbath Queen. The smell of cooked chicken emanated from each apartment, or so I imagined. I was moved to tears by a world filled with meaning and beauty. Now, in 2015, that feeling was dead.

Sure, I rationalized, these men have a right to protest. After all, they live in a democratic state. It is important for them to get their message out, because they believe that if every Jew keeps the laws of the Sabbath, the Messiah will come. I defend their right to protest, but why can’t they do it from the other side of Street of the Prophets, standing behind a police barricade? Do I not have a right to enjoy a peaceful Shabbat on the streets of Jerusalem? Must I be harassed by a crowd of what the tourists termed “lunatics?” All I wanted, Mr. Mayor, was to see my grandson in the profane city of Tel Aviv. For this my punishment is death?

By the time we passed Ben-Gurion Airport, I had calmed down enough to weigh my options. My first instinct was to sue the Municipality of Jerusalem for not keeping the City of Peace peaceful on the Day of Peace. Granted, no stone was thrown and no spit was fired. No rubber bullets were released towards the lower half of anyone’s body. I endured no physical harm. But the soul, Mr. Mayor, the soul. My own was ripped, torn, wounded, like the small penis that would be cut in less than twenty-four hours in Tel Aviv. Does the soul have no value in Jerusalem? Are there no bylaws that define the distance between protestor and object of protest? This was not a one-time incident, I learned from the driver. “It happens every week,” he said with disgust and resignation.

I refuse to be resigned. I do not care if these men belonged to a small group from some minority sect, as some of the Jews in the van claimed. They were disturbing the peace and physically intimidating. Did they have a permit to protest? Do they have a weekly permit to protest? If not, why doesn’t the Jerusalem police force tell them to go home and copulate with their wives, a mitzvah on Shabbes, or study, rather than degrade Torah.

It hurts me to blemish the name of Jerusalem in public, Mr. Mayor, but it hurts me even more to see how screaming hooligans can ruin the quiet atmosphere in Jerusalem on the Holy Sabbath and threaten the tenuous status quo.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I took a cab to my destination. On Shderot Chen the atmosphere was peaceful. Young parents played with their children in the shaded parks along the boulevard. Old people sat on the benches with their foreign caregivers. Middle-aged couples strolled in the shade of the enormous sycomore trees and couples, both gay and heterosexual, kissed in public. Peace and quiet reigned, undisturbed by the few cars that drove by.

As the sun set and the holy light of Shabbat faded, I walked along King George Street. Groups of twenty and thirty-year-olds gathered in outdoor cafes and restaurants. They talked softly, looking cheerful and happy to be spending time  with friends at the end of their day of rest in their beloved Tel Aviv. Many were desecrating the Sabbath in more ways than one, but nobody screamed that they deserved Death. In fact, nobody screamed anything. All was peaceful.

Need I describe my confusion, Mr. Mayor? I felt a strong desire to forget Jerusalem. I know my tongue will cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget her and my right hand will wither. This is a steep price, but after what happened on the corner of Street of the Prophets and HaRav Kook Street, forgetting Jerusalem was exactly what I wanted to do.

I look forward to your reply and advice. I need to know how the city can help me stay within its realm. How can I strengthen my attachment to a city I once loved, when Sabbath peace beckons only forty-five minutes away in a saner place?

Yours sincerely,

Judy Labensohn

Citizen of Jerusalem, 1967-2005

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How Blogging 101 Heightened the Boycotting Issue

Yesterday was the final day of Blogging 101, a free course offered by the happiness team at WordPressU. I think it’s fair to say I failed. The course is wonderful if you have four-six hours/day for blogging business. That includes reading lots of other peoples’ blogs, responding politely to the blogs of fellow students in Blogging 101, managing widgets, writing your own blog posts that inspire conversations and attending at least one blogging event.

After my initial enthusiasm for Blogging 101, I began to cringe whenever I saw an email from Professor Michelle in my inbox, knowing it would nudge me towards another task and assignment that would take me deeper into the blogosphere, that colorful universe of hard workers, over-crowded like an ant hill. By day five my signs of resistance emerged: I read the assignments, but didn’t do them. By the second week, I didn’t even open the emails. This was ironic, because when I signed up for the course, my first thought was that the group might boycott me: I’m Judy over here in sunny Israel!


Sunny Israel


Instead, I boycotted the group.

I’ve adjusted too well to my isolation in sunny Israel to relate to thousands of bloggers from all the ten corners of the known world. Blogging 101 tired me out. If I’m not asleep by 10:30 PM, my next day has fewer hours of sunshine and I get depressed. Staying online  until 12:30 AM, kindly suggesting to other bloggers that they learn English before writing a blog post, caused severe exhaustion. If I learned anything in Blogging 101, it’s the same lesson I learn each time I try something new: Moderation in all things. Seek Balance.

An isolationist does not a successful blogger make. Try a Vipassana retreat. The blogosphere, where everyone is equal, demands your full attention and involvement. You must link to others (Sue over there at FoundMyFork dot com thinks green beans and onions are the cat’s pajamas!), respond to others (Great post, Chris, but why do you spell tribute with a y?), roll (whatever that means) and link yet again (Tanya in Prague YouCanDoIt dot com has overcome anorexia and she wants to help you now!)

A Carmelite convent might be more appropriate if you are a simple lover of sentences and voice, persona and punctuation.

Maybe I’m a cynic at heart, or I use cynicism to defend myself against the myriad active claws of the blogosphere. I’m certainly not upbeat enough for this busy new digital space. I prefer black and white TV from 1952, where it’s just me sprawled on the living room floor, thumb in my mouth, and I Remember Mama.

Maybe I became more edgy during the  last days of Blogging 101 due to the election results over here in sunny Israel, where a Bibi manipulated his return to the prime minister’s office. He used racial fear tactics: The Arabs (read Other, read Terrorists, read Enemy) are flocking to the ballot box. By appealing to mythic tribal affiliations (Them against Us), he blasted us back to the Stone Age.

This Bibi scares me deeply. He is a brilliant manipulator and therefore dangerous. He will bring ruin to Israel. Need I qualify that sentence?

Occupation Kills Us All

The Occupation Kills Us All

I may have to leave my monthly blogging here at WriteInIsrael dot com to become politically active, in order to remain living here. Maybe I will start a new blog and name it “The Fall of Hava Nagila” or “Armageddon Lunch.”

Maybe I’ll use the new blog as a vehicle to topple the Bibi. Do you think that’s a good idea?

We Have Not Yet Lost Our Hope

We Have Not Yet Lost Our Hope


Have you ever toppled anyone? And while I’m asking questions to further this conversation, do you think my own personal choice of isolation, symbolized by boycotting Blogging 101, is a by-product of the cultural milieu in which I live over here in sunny Israel? Or does my own isolationist temperament contribute to creating this cultural milieu?

I look forward to hearing your response, as Professor Michelle, might say.


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The Writer Kvetches about Place

I am a city mouse living the life of a country mouse. David and I live in Beit Zayit, a moshav west of Jerusalem. This place was our compromise because David does not like cities and I did not want to move far away from Jerusalem. It took me five years to get used to living in the country. Country living is highly over-rated, in my opinion. Where is the Me who used to love Nature, who lay on her back watching clouds? Now I need more stimulation, people, action. The writing life is quiet enough. I want to go outside and see people of all ages and colors walking to and fro, vegetable vendors and bakeries, pharmacies and post offices, all within walking neighbors
On today’s Morning Walk  in Beit Zayit,  I saw three other humans. One was running with a dog. One was walking with a grandchild who held the leash of a dog and the third drove  a Jaguar. The only other stimulation, other than the trees leaning into spring, were painted water pipes and decaying errata.
How did I get here? Why do city folk romanticize country living?
 empty frame
Beit Zayit used to be a farming community, ten minutes west of Jerusalem. Now it’s twenty minutes west of Jerusalem because there’s so much traffic. The Jewish Agency settled Egyptian and Yugoslavian Jews here on rocky terraces in 1949, built each family a chicken coop, gave them a few dunams for plum trees and said Good Luck.
 Sixty-five years later, wealthy Jewish businessmen from Israel, England, France and America are buying up the 3-dunam plots and building mansions. These are hubris houses that show no respect for the lay of the land. Beit Zayit is becoming Jerusalem’s Bel Air.
David and I are involved in a group of people aged 50-70 who want to create a co-housing community for active aging somewhere in Israel. I hope we’ll find an appropriate site in a city, soon, before I deteriorate from lack of local stimulation. Though city air may be more polluted, living with people is healthier for writers who close themselves up in rooms for hours on end. This writer needs a vibrant environment for stimulation and human contact, not more isolation.
But that’s just my opinion today at 10:45. What are your thoughts about this matter of isolation vs. engagement, city mouse vs. country mouse, a place full of people or empty streets?
 empty street
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Bring Out the Cocoa

Once I realized that my nose surgery was not going to deform me forever and that I didn’t care if I had an unseemly blackish-brown scab the size of a shekel on the side of my nose, I buckled down to finish my memoir. In November 2014 I had sent An End to Mourning to an editor who put in comments using Track Changes. She sent it back in December. For the last three months, like an ant carrying one seed at a time from one side of a field to the other, I have been plodding (and plotting) through the text. I have been uncharacteristically ambitious and determined to get the thing done, out of the way, off my desk and my desktop. This morning it happened, I sent the manuscript back to the editor!!! She will now put in my corrections and rewrites and send me back a clean copy, I hope.

Recently, I read a quote by someone who said there is a difference between writing a memoir and having written a memoir. I am pleased to be in that second category. I wrote a memoir. Amen. Halleluiah. Pass the brandy. Bring out the cocoa.Room 4 Marshm

For me having written a memoir means I have a usable past. I have a story that works. I can connect the dots between Cleveland, Ohio and Jerusalem, Israel. What my unconscious has known all along for the past five decades now makes sense for my conscious mind as well. The dots are on the page. It is out of my body.

Having the plastic surgeon scrape that cancerous glob out of my nose provided the perfect metaphor for what I had been doing for more than thirty years. It took the doctor no more than ten minutes to clean out the stubborn, tenacious cancer, which had probably been growing in my beautiful, straight nose since 1959 when I had radiation treatments for acne. (This was not an uncommon method of treatment in 1959.) Or maybe the cancer started in the summer of 1953 when, as a child of eight, I swam in the pool at the country club for hours on end, the sun burning my fair skin red.

The cancer in my psyche took more time to locate and extract—thirty-five years, give or take.

Now I am free. Even as I sit here in my house with all my heaters on full force, I feel excitement and anticipation towards the coming Spring. I want to do something new and outrageous, after so many years of obsession. Now the obsession has a home in a book and I am free, free, free. Whether or not An End to Mourning finds a publisher, writing it has achieved its goal. It has given me a life, a past, a story. The rest, if it happens, will be the marshmallow in the cocoa.cocoa

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A Day in the Slice of a Writer

It’s 12:22 PM and I still haven’t been able to sit down to work on my memoir. I did my morning stretches, drank hot water with lemon, followed by black coffee, ate my morning oatmeal and millet with date, walnuts and chia, (Forgot to throw in the ground flax seeds.) read the morning newspaper cover to cover, both national and international news and now rather than sit down and work on my memoir-nearing-completion, (It’s been nearing completion for thirty years.) I prefer to write this slice of life. Then, maybe I will take a walk in the wadi,  read a few stories in Alice Munro’s Dear Life for the book club and call to make an appointment for an eye examination  for my driver’s license, having arrived at the age when annual eye tests are a prereq for renewing the license, and then and then . . . there are the black beans that need cooking in the pressure cooker which demands my standing nearby, lest the cooker explode, the continuous attempt to get my electric space heaters to work in sync so I won’t freeze or sweat during the five remaining hours of daylight, the coughing up of phlegm and blowing my left nostril with silk Kleenex dipped in aloe lotion—winter rituals especially prevalent during a slight cold—and mainly, mainly, the effort exerted to not think about the minor procedure on my right nostril two days ago.

As far as procedures go, mine was a best case scenario: outpatient, local anesthetic, a cut here, a slice there, no big deal compared to invasive intestinal procedures that can take ten hours under the knife. So why this anxiety, this unease, this avoidance of focus on work?

“It looks like a crater,” said the plastic surgeon as he sliced a hole on the side of my right nostril. His tone was comforting and matter of fact.  I didn’t digest the content. The local anesthetic may have seeped into my brain. He was an expert on the Mohs procedure,  using it to take out a morpheaform basal cell carcinoma. Later, when I got home, crater sounded melodramatic. I needed a more modest metaphor and found it in the shallow bowl in which I serve home-made tehina. crater

At home I thought I’d reread Gogol’s “The Nose,” but all I could  think about were my options after the doctor would take off the bandage next week. I came up with three: 1. Join a freak show; 2. Become a poster woman for the Israel Cancer Association; 3. Lobby for lowering the price of sunscreen in Israel.

David, my wise partner, suggested I wait to see what the nose would look like without the bandage. Of course this made sense, but I was already determined to turn my scar into a PR ploy. I would glue fake diamonds, rubies or emeralds inside the oval bowl on my nose. I would draw attention to it, create a fashion statement with glitter. I would tell everyone who stared at me, “Use sunscreen! Wear hats with wide rims!”

My own skin doctor, who did the original biopsy that came up with “morpheaform basal cell carcinoma,”  does not believe in sunscreen and thinks it may cause more problems than it solves, but this plastic surgeon, the Mohs expert, believes in sunscreen with over 30 SPF. Once I’m fully recovered from this current slice, I plan to use both sunscreen and hat and possibly my  parasol. And I want to talk to students at Shenkar College of Engineering,  Design and Art in Ramat Gan. I want to ask them to design head gear that covers the nose and whole face.

Why should only Bedouin and Muslim women protect their skin from the sun, wear the niqab? I, being the blonde child of Ashkenazi parents, will wholeheartedly cover my secular face, as long as the covering has some pizzazz.

Many people I know believe in keeping medical issues private, but I am not one of them. I believe we get support from each other and our own experiences can help others. I also have this need to put myself into the world via the page, to turn myself inside out, to make the hidden known, reveal that which is concealed. Why else write? Why else did I run to the skin doctor when I felt a lump inside my nose?

One needs a lot of strength and courage to stand up against the Beautiful-Skin industry, the anti-aging industry, the anti-human industry. But stand up I will, at least on the page. I have earned my wrinkles and I have earned my crater/tehina bowl. A close-up photo, non-photo-chopped, may not make the cover of Vogue, or even Mad Magazine, but it reveals the truth of that face, with all its historical landmarks, scars, sun spots and forced smile.Nose&Graft

So why the anxiety? Even though the excision is an out-patient procedure, when it happens on your own nose, the nose that has found comfort in the middle of your face for nearly seventy years, the nose that remembers your thumb sucking and nosebleeds, your blackheads and glasses, the nose that channels every breath of life, then, by God, it is a big deal.

Now, hopefully, after getting my sliced nose off my chest and into your face, I will be able to sit down and write my book.


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Why I’ve Changed My Attitude towards Engineers

My inner curious George has been hyper-active over the past few months. The engineering feat developing opposite my kitchen window pulls me and my iPhone camera out of the house on Saturday afternoons.Yellow helix I’m documenting the building of the new Highway One at the Motza curve for my grandchildren, who still love steam shovels and other large vehicles the names of which I know not, neither in English nor  Hebrew. Visiting the building site is like a trip to the zoo and the museum all in one. The machines, with a little imagination, resemble dinosaurs; the colorful use of triangles, circles and squares would feel comfortable in any pavilion of modern art.

As a young woman I thought engineers were square. They stubbornly kept their hair short in the mid-sixties, when guys in Eng. Lit. and art history boasted shoulder-length locks. They wore ivy-league shirts, when poets and artists wore dirty t-shirts that said Make Love Not War. I looked down upon the clean-shaven engineering students, but not anymore. Today I have nothing but respect for engineers. They have concrete dreams and know how to make those dreams come true. How else can you explain the amazing work being done at the Motza interchange, where a road is being built high in the air to avoid a curve in the damp landscape below?Orange Bug

Maybe engineers had this reputation of being square because they spent too much time drawing geometric shapes. But what does it matter? They learned how to design and build bridges and roads, structures that, hopefully, will pass the test of time, missiles, earthquakes and whatever other disasters await us here in the valley west of Jerusalem.

The designers of the new Highway One  have ignited my curiosity with their colorful equiptment, knowledge of rock and wind, daring and diagrams.  All I can diagram is a sentence. I salute the engineers  building this project, right in my front yard, to the delight of thousands of drivers who  curse the current road leading up to Jerusalem and to the dismay of deer and jackals who are losing a foothold in the valley of concrete. I hope some professional  film maker is producing a movie  to document  the construction of  the new road.  All I can offer are a few amateur shots from an iPhone.

Fantastic shapesYellow trianglesDinosaur4 ropesBlue X'sForkMay we all dream big colorful dreams in 2015 and, like engineers,  figure out how to achieve them.

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TCB, Taking Care of Business in Bully Land

Let’s imagine Jerusalem as a total institution, controlled and constrained as a mental hospital. Such institutions, delineated by strict borders, socialize their inmates into specific roles. Because Jerusalem is a city of hills, a metaphor for understanding the social relationships inside the borders might be the children’s jingle common in England and America from as far back as the 1850’s: ” I’m the King of the Castle and you’re the dirty rascal.”


Since June 1967 when Israel conquered or liberated East Jerusalem from the Jordanians, we Jewish Israelis have become the victors. We are King of the Castle. Our prime ministers and mayors assume this role gives us Jewish Israelis the right to live wherever we want, even though the city had clearly-defined neighborhoods before we took over.

“Mine, mine, mine,” sing the conquerors as they march into Arab neighborhoods, couches, tables and armed security guards at the rear, for which the Israeli taxpayer foots the bill. “Ours, ours ours,” goes the refrain as we take over a house in the Muslim Quarter, a few more in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Ras al Amud. We Israeli Jews can live wherever we want, because we own the city. It is ours. We have texts to prove it. Screw the dirty rascals who live here and everyone else who gets in our way.

We behave this way under the guise of a “united city.” This nomenclature, used by the king of the castle, insults all those who live in Jerusalem. Those who defile language assume we are passive inmate-citizens, having no eyes and no brains. Such misuse of language and its accompanying behavior is called “bullying.” Jerusalem is the capital of Bully Land.

In English “bully” refers to the common tough guy met worldwide on playgrounds, in high school lunchrooms and often enough in boardrooms and governments. In Israeli Hebrew, bully (or buli) is also the slang for penis, derived from bulbul, also slang. A bully, or bully-bully, as used frequently by new admiring parents of boys, is a cute little penis.

Bully Land is the place where groups of men fight for male dominance. This became clear to me when I stood at French Square near the Prime Minister’s house in West Jerusalem years ago with ten other middle-aged and older women dressed in black. We held small black signs shaped like a hamsa, the hand of Fatima, that read “End the Occupation!” A few cars beeped their horns in support, but all the male drivers who bothered to slow down to share their political stance expressed their rage in sexual terms: “Go f—k the enemy!” one screamed. “You screw Arabs,” growled one. “You should screw Arabs,” yelled another. “Go f-k yourself,” a man cried, as his 4-wheel drive limped towards Ramban Blvd.

Our signs obviously touched a sensitive spot on these drivers’ anatomy. Beneath their anger, I sensed fear. These men, who others might call hot heads, actually seemed to think with their bullys. Was it we women—dowdy, menopausal and dressed in a-sexual black—who aroused their fear? I think not. Their reaction was so exaggerated that I could only assume it was the Palestinian men, whose liberation we sought, along with their Palestinian wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, who aroused their fear.

Maybe their illogic went like this: Any woman against the Occupation must prefer having sex with a Palestinian Arab rather than me (an Israeli Jew.) This is the fear of an insecure man and possibly the fear of all conquerors who live in constant terror that the conquered sex organ will become more alluring to the conquerors’ women than that of the conquerors. The “power” of the bully is really an expression of his fear of powerlessness, otherwise called impotence.(A similar dynamic existed among blacks and whites in America, as described by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice.) Israeli women in black, the illogic continues, undermine my violent and forceful occupation.

Forty-seven years of occupation and the only things growing in Jerusalem these days are hatred, fear, violence and revenge. Jerusalem is not a nurturing place. It is neither open, united, nor shared. It resembles a closed mental institution more than a democratic, pluralistic, tolerant mixed city. For almost fifty years Israeli Jews have failed Jerusalem. All we are good at is bullying. Bullying leads to unending cycles of repression, rebellion, hatred, violence and revenge.

What is a sane person to do in the presence of this festival of hatred, blood, power and fear?

I suggest inviting a former mayor from Vancouver or San Francisco or some other multi-cultural city built on hills, to come serve as Mayor of Jerusalem for six years. Let this person bring the experience needed to teach Jerusalemites the art of listening and respect, the art of sharing and compromise.

Let one long multi-cultural debka encircle the walls of the Old City.

After this mayor leaves, another such former mayor will come for another six years. This will go on for sixty years until the hatreds subside,  blood pressures fall,  knives return to their proper places in kitchens, and stones will be used for building. Experience has shown that on our own, we Israeli Jews cannot build up Jerusalem as a city of pluralism and peace.

We need help from the goyim. There is no shame in admitting this.

In addition to male insecurity, another serious block to rebuilding a sane city is the fact that in Jerusalem, the hills are alive, not with music, but with conflicting stories. Hill and people are locked in symbiotic knots. Rather than stories embellishing, enlivening or imbuing each other with deeper meanings, we get stuck in our own narratives. They hold us like straight jackets, making Jerusalem feel even more like a closed institution.

I would hope that one of the ten visiting mayors would build The Museum of Narratives, in which each version of each community’s story will be enshrined in a pavilion of the Museum. In this way, citizens and visitors will be able to walk through the conflicts, reading the various narratives of each hill. The stories, finally, will be separated from the rocky hills; each story will command the respect it deserves. Differences will be explored inside the Museum of Narratives with words, rather than outside with sticks and stones.

All municipal council meetings in the rebuilt Jerusalem will begin with the singing of the refrain from that glorious song made famous in 1967, not by Naomi Shemer, but by Aretha Franklin, who spelled out her dream as clear as gold:


Find out what it means to me


Take Care. . . TCB



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