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July 29, 2014 | 2nd Av 5774

Jerusalem Interlude

December 16, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

I spent the past week as “educator in residence” for a group of Mexican Jewish educators, in an intensive professional development seminar at the Mandel School in Jerusalem. That means I got to sit in on lectures and tours and try to make intelligent comments tying them together. Like so many Jewish educators from Latin America, these are fluent in Hebrew, so that is the language of instruction. It was an enjoyable and interesting week. Sometimes one has a day that seems a microcosm of life in this country. Wednesday, for example:

9:00 Study session on modern Israeli poetry, the focus being poems that deal with issues of identity-ambivalence - particularly the feelings of the immigrant and of the Israeli abroad.

11:00 Study session on “The New Jew,” the efforts by the Zionist educators of the community in Palestine before 1948 to create a new Jewish identity, the new “type” who would build a renewed and revitalized Jewish life in the state-in-progress.

2:00 Tour of the Supreme Court building, a magnificent new structure, with emphasis on the ideas of law and justice as symbolized in the various design elements of the building.

4:00 Chanukiyah tour in the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where the custom is to light the lights (generally oil lamps) in a glass case on the balcony, to fulfill the mitzvah of “publicizing the miracle.” It is lovely. But despite our modest dress and manner, we are chased out of Meah Shearim, apparently because the residents object to any tour groups at all, as they don’t want to be stared at and pointed at like monkeys in the zoo... This is unsettling; the guide, a veteran Jerusalemite, feels angry; but I think some of the group are angry at him for taking us where we are not wanted.

9:00 At the Jewish Film Festival at the Cinematheque we see “A Trumpet in the Wadi,” based on the best-selling novel by Sami Michael, a love story set in the mixed Wadi Nisnas neighborhood of Haifa. It is the somewhat rare occurrence of a beautiful movie being made from a wonderful book: full of authentic detail, of gentle humor and interesting characters and sad ironies. The movie is bilingual: the Arabs speak Arabic with Hebrew subtitles; the Jews speak Hebrew with Arabic subtitles. Huda, a Christian Arab who is deeply and naturally attached to her family with its traditional culture, yet very much a part of the Jewish/Israeli environment where she lives and works (she loves Yehuda Amichai’s poetry) struggles to live in two worlds and wonders if she is going to find a husband before it’s too late. Alex, the son of refuseniks who works as a stevedore at night and studies at the Technion during the day, moves into an apartment upstairs. Against the backdrop of the first intifada, and of Huda’s younger sister’s romantic adventures and misadventures (that portray without polemic the sad conflicts that beset Arab women who have tasted modernity), Huda and Alex fall in love. Their story has elements of romantic comedy and elements of tragedy (sort of like reality). Huda and Alex are not just outsiders to the Israeli mainstream - each of them is an outsider to his/her own outsider subculture. There is, of course, no happy ending, and we cry for Huda. But I realized I wasn’t just crying for Huda (who, characteristically, ends the movie laughing and crying at the same time): I was crying for this country and for what we are doing to ourselves and to each other.

11:00 In the cab on the way home, the Arab driver is listening to the army radio station, which is playing the current hit, a new version of an oldie, the chorus of which goes like this: “It is not easy, our way is not easy, but there are fields of flowers up ahead.”

 

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