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A step up from my usual felafel sandwich

“What have you seen of the gap between the Arab schools and the Jewish ones?” While it is not a question I can reply to more effectively than many excellent reports have done, I was greatly encouraged to have been asked it, due to the identity of the inquirer. I was having dinner with a longtime American supporter of Israel at a delicious kosher restaurant close by the top-notch West Jerusalem hotel where she was staying. Interested in the concerns of the Bedouin and the effects of the barrier on West Bank villages as well as in the gender and economic divisions within Israel, my hostess was extremely well-informed and incisive. A successful professional in the U.S., she brought her intellect, her emotional investment in the Jewish state, and her universal values to the discussion.

Would there be topics on which my interlocutor and I differed? I don’t doubt it. Is her voice currently the dominant one among supporters of Israel? It is not. Nonetheless, she represents the force most likely to make a real change in the conflict. Americans who are in favor of a vibrant, democratic, peaceful Israel are, I believe, the group positioned best to move us from the status quo to a more humane future.

Optimistic Lebanon


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Beautifully crafted renovations, new and attractive towers, and carfully preserved, well-presented antiquities are all on display in Lebanon. From the Saida souk to the new shops on Beirut’s Corniche, everything is clean and much functions well. Conversations with cosmopolitan Christians, Muslims and Druze all have an undertone of energy and forward thinking. The Arab Spring is definitely in the air. As a Muslim woman said to me, “Even if there are many difficult times ahead, now we can speak out loud. Even here in Beirut you used to feel that you needed to watch out, that someone could be listening. It is amazing to watch the people in Syria who say, ‘Use my name. I don’t care.’”

Walking through the old city of Saida, I peeked into a mosque. A shopkeeper across the street said, “Please go in! Take pictures!” He helped the women with me cover themselves appropriately. As we were leaving, an older gentleman came into pray. When he found out we were from the U.S. he said, “America, my friend! America, mother of all nations!” His son lives in Houston, and he was so welcoming. In entering another mosque in Beirut a man did ask a guard why he was letting in non-Muslims, but the guard stood his ground and admitted us.

The streets of Beirut are alive with people, restaurant rows in both the Muslim and Christian quarters of the city draw people of all faiths, and political debate is evident in posters and flags of different groups. Friends in construction are building, though they are holding back on very large investments until the situation in Syria settles.

Reading the papers shows plenty of issues to be concerned about, and the tragic events in Syria could easily spill over into Lebanon. Nonetheless, the spirit of the country is strongly positive.

Angry at America


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A beautiful spot for some ugly words

Mid-morning, December 26th, touring the Haram al-Sharif with visiting relatives: An older woman emerges from the Dome of the Rock and asks us where we are from. When we reply the United States, she shouts at us angrily, “All buildings in America burn! And Obama too!”

Mid-afternoon, December 26th, just outside the Old City: a man with an Israeli flag t-shirt and a clipboard approaches us, explaining that Jerusalem should be the eternal and undivided capital of the “indigenous” Jewish people. As part of his argument he claims, “Obama is pro-Islamist.”

Two angry people, both willing to express intense emotion to strangers. Both believe that the United States, to put it mildly, is pursuing the incorrect foreign policy in Israel/Palestine. Both personalized the argument, speaking about President Barak Obama.

Of course, there were also many differences. One spoke fluent English, having been born as he described it  “in exile in New York.” The other spoke halting English and was probably born within minutes’ walk of where we were speaking. One explicitly advocated violence (unless she was using metaphor). The other did not describe the methods he would use to remove the c. 200,000 residents of East Jerusalem that were not the “indigenous” Jewish population. One was part of some form of fundraising and advocacy movement; the other seemed to have no immediate goal other than expressing her opinion. One spoke in language calculated to be most appealing to his audience, the other could not have chosen a more worrying and hostile statement.

Where is the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem?


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For those of you who are looking for the American Consulate in Jerusalem, or already know how to get there but are preparing for your visit, here is a letter with some ideas I just sent to the Consulate. I had a great experience and encountered a few bumps I thought they might be able to smooth out. FYI, they wrote me back immediately with an extremely helpful response – I’m impressed!

Photo credit: Rahel Sharon Jaskow, Elms in the Yard (http://elmsintheyard.blogspot.com)

To the consular team, especially U.S. Citizen services,

I just applied for a second valid passport at the Consulate, and I want to compliment you on a highly professional and kind staff. I wish I’d caught the name of the man who helped me (perhaps in his 30s or 40s, native Arabic speaker, funny and chatty.) Indeed, everyone working at the Consulate this morning helped the process move along well and kept things upbeat.

Your system of getting an online appointment helps pace the crowds well – thank you. Regarding directions, I appreciate your putting a Google Maps link up – extremely helpful, since Google Maps has not yet identified “14 David Flusser” street.

Here are several suggestions to make the process go even more smoothly.

1. In addition to the google maps link, a bit of narrative would help. I came by foot, and it would have helped to know the following:

“From the west by foot or taxi, go to the corner where Klausner, Yam Hamelach and Kfar Etsyon intersect. Here there is a pedestrian path down to the Consulate.”

2. Also, that path is currently marked “For visitors to the Diplomat Hotel only.” Please change that to a sign telling people that down this path is the Consulate.

3. Thank you to the guards for providing places to check small items. Currently your website says “Sealed envelopes cannot be brought into the Consulate. Additionally, please also do not bring cameras, mobile phones or any other electronic devices, such as Blackberries, iPods, PDAs or remote-entry automobile key “fobs” to the interview as they are not allowed in the Consulate. We cannot held responsible for lost or missing items that are checked with security.” Perhaps change this to “Sealed envelopes cannot be brought into the Consulate. You may check small electronic items such as cameras, mobile phones or any other electronic devices, such as Blackberries, iPods, PDAs or remote-entry automobile key ‘fobs’ with security as they are not allowed in the Consulate. Note, though, that we cannot held responsible for lost or missing items that are checked with security.” Cell phones are now ubiquitous and for many it would take special arrangements to leave them behind.

4. Finally, I noticed that there is the technology for taking a number and having that number called, but it was not activated. Perhaps activate the system, which would allow people to sit or play with their children while waiting.

Once again, I appreciate your hard work in providing well thought-through, caring and professional citizen services. As someone living here for the year, I appreciate all my government does to make my visit possible.


Terence Gilheany

Teacher, St. Andrew’s School, Delaware, USA – http://goo.gl/kyMgu
Fulbright Distinguished Teacher 2011-12 – http://goo.gl/4L6q9
Blog – tgilheany.com
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/tfgilheany
Twitter – tfgilheany

A few ways of celebrating Sukkot


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There are many ways of celebrating Sukkot. Here are several we saw:

Art at the President's residence

Harvest bounty display in the President's sukkah

A martial arts / dance display at a mostly secular street fair

Haredis follow dance to music blasting from a brightly lit van parading through our neighborhood

Sukkot is Christmas (from the “fun holiday” point of view)


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Note – this post is cultural, not religious in nature!

Even at this tender age, my insights into comparative religions were stunning

As a little kid in Queens, my world was “Catholic, Protestant, Jew” to use the title of Will Herberg’s 1955 book. I don’t know when I became aware of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditions, but certainly later than these three. While I was extremely fuzzy on the theology, some things were clear: Catholics went to CCD, Jews went to Hebrew School, and Protestants did not go to anything. Protestants got the best of that deal, no question. Jews got a huge party in middle school called the bar mitzvah – clearly a win for them. Catholics and Protestants got Christmas, and Jews got a kind of pretend Christmas called Hannukah, which for some reason everyone spelled different ways and said wasn’t as good as Christmas (though some tried to argue you got eight days of presents.)

Get your etrogs here! Great for waving!

It blinks!

As I grew up I learned that Hannukah was a minor festival and that the really big ones were Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Passover. My initial impression, however, stuck with me: it seemed liked Judaism had no holiday with a long break, tinsel and the chance to set up big, fun symbols in your house and on your lawn. Turns out I was wrong! Welcome to Sukkot in Jerusalem. The shopping, the decorations, the “what does your set up look like?”, the visiting relatives – it’s all here on Sukkot. Arguably, Sukkot is even cooler for little kids. Christmas trees are pretty sweet, but a tent on steroids in everyone’s backyard – it’s like someone surveyed seven year olds to finish the sentence “it would be so awesome if…” I mean, our neighbor’s sukkah even has blinking lights!

Hurva Square, from a hard-won quiet spot on the side

As I discovered today, Sukkot also comes with its place you simultaneously absolutely must and must not go. In New York on Christmas, that place is Rockefeller Center and the window displays on Fifth Avenue –  it is iconic. Though locals claim to never go, they end up going far more years than they admit. For Sukkot in Jerusalem, that place is, obviously, the Western Wall. Even public transportation failed us today, as our #1 bus got stuck in such horrendous traffic that almost everyone got off and hiked up the hill to the Dung Gate in the midday heat. When we entered what is usually the run-up to the Kotel, far before one enters the plaza itself, there were already signs and barriers directing men one way and women the other. The whole Jewish Quarter was one big celebration, with a prayer ceremony / rally going on in Hurva Square. Haredi, observant and secular Jews, tourists and locals – all were out in force. A sign in English indicated the way to someone’s bar mitzvah. People on cell phones loudly coordinated with their relatives. A bunch of modern Orthodox guys streamed into a synagogue. As we entered the street dividing the Muslim and Christian Quarters the manic crush of people lightened and the almost entirely Jewish crowd was replaced by the typical Christian tour groups and local Palestinians shopping. I breathed a sigh of relief – one I recognize from getting on the Long Island Rail Road after a busy day in Manhattan during the winter holidays.

Haram al sharif, Western Wall, and Via Dolorosa on 9/11


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Hannah has very much wanted to see the Dome of the Rock, and though she has been in the Old City several times, we have not yet had a chance to go. So today we climbed the ramp by the Western Wall (a great place to view the prayers from), and then walked around the Haram al-Sharif. To visit the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock on the 10th anniversary of September 11th was not our intention, but as Hilary said, appreciating the beauty and power of at least two religions on that day was an appropriate way to spend our time. Hilary wanted to go to church at St. George’s, the Anglican cathedral, but time and kid logistics prevented it. But Hannah and I had some good conversations about whether she wanted to wear a cross – there were many for sale on the Via Dolorosa on our way back. So perhaps we got in some Christian reflection as well.

Three friendly encounters


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Several days ago, our next-door neighbor stopped by the other evening with a plate of brownies to welcome us to the neighborhood.

Neighborly note

The hospitable shopkeeper

In Ramallah yesterday, we were resting for a bit when the owner of a café across the street offered us water. At first we demurred, thinking he was selling it to us, but he insisted we take it. “You are not in the West – here when someone offers you a gift you take it!”

The Haredi Superman

Hannah was playing on the monkey bars at a nearby park when a c. 50 year-old Haredi man with a big white beard came along. He smiled at us, took off his long black coat and black hat, and limbered up. He then proceeded to do way more pull-ups than I would expect to crank out. He said, “There!” Have a good day!” put on his hat and coat, and walked off.

So tough even his face can't be captured.

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