November 13, 2016

Reunion with Indira Sarma and Narayan Subedi

Best people, best Bhutanese food, best time!

How I missed this wonderful couple and how joyous our reunion. True to my inherited trait, weeping when happiest, I shed many tears embracing my beloved Indira and Narayan. And we laughed, shared, and probed local, personal, and global matters; drank divine nectar and ate ambrosia they had prepared; and held closely Pritam, of blessed memory.

Ashish later joined us and shared with the Bhutanese-American couple about mutual interests (healthcare), neighboring birthplaces (Bhutan, India), common spiritual traditions (Hinduism), and exchanged thoughts in at least half a dozen languages! Then Ashish and I took off to spend the rest of the day at the Martin Luther King Jr Historic Site.

Indira, Narayan, me, Ashish

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October 09, 2016

In East Jerusalem: With Yu, a fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research

The professional and the dilettante 

Minutes after a drive-by shooting attack at a nearby East Jerusalem light rail station, I caught up with Yu Zhang, my brilliant and adorable friend from China currently a fellow at the prestigious W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. (At Tel Aviv University, Yu wrote a master's thesis on Canaanite Cult Behavior and the Egyptian Political Hegemony: A View from the North of Israel.)

A shout out to Yosef Halper at whose eponymous used bookstore on Tel Aviv's Allenby Street Yu and I met. Yosef and I were talking books and kvetching when Yu walked in looking for specific archeology texts. She used terms I recognized from a course I had been taking and asked, Is Dr. Omer Sergei your professor at Tel Aviv University? Yes! Our immediate deep-dive freewheeling conversation has happily continued, time- and geography- permitting.

September 25, 2016

Let the Jewish New Year and its blessings start | תָּחֵל שָׁנָה וּבִרְכוֹתֶיהָ

In Jerusalem's Makhne Yehuda shuk/market
honey for sale adds sweetness to the New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls on Tishrei 1 and 2 in the Hebrew calendar. In 2016, it begins Sunday evening, October 2 and ends Tuesday evening, October 4. I first published this post September 12, 2007.

Dear Tamar, 

Let the New Year and its blessings start | תָּחֵל שָׁנָה וּבִרְכוֹתֶיהָ | Takhel shana u-virkhote-ha. * 

The Hebrew word Shana comes from the word li-shnot (to repeat) but it also sounds like le-shanot (to change). I think that's the main idea every Rosh Hashanah: it's our chance to repeat our mistakes or harness our thoughts and steer our actions to change. I hope your New Year will be filled with good choices. 
Shana Tova 5768

*  Shimon cites the concluding one-line chorus in the 13th century piyyut, Jewish liturgical poem, by Abraham Hazzan of Gerona (Girondi), Spain. The chorus replaces this chorus in preceding verses:

Let the year end with all its curses | תִּכְלֶה שָׁנָה וְקִלְלוֹתֶיהָ | Tikhleh shana ve-killeloteha! 

Listen to the exquisite Syrian melody in the recording (Hebrew) of this piyyut,  Little Sister | אָחוֹת קְטַנָּה | Akhot Ktana.

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September 19, 2016

In Gaza: Young scholar-leaders doing well while doing good

I am so proud of my good friend Msallam Mohammed AbuKhalil, a medical student in Gaza. Listen to him and his fabulous fellow young leaders — working against all odds contributing their massive talents and dedication to healing and empowering communities, locally and globally.

Msallam reports:

My second video participation for the Social Good Summit 2016: Connecting Today, Creating Tomorrow with other former and current students including engineers and doctors-in-making. Everybody has shared their personal vision about what they hope to become as potential leaders in their fields and how they see themselves as global citizens connecting with the outside world in this age of huge technological advances. 

September 04, 2016

London: Ismaili Center

Posing with Nymeth at the London Ismaili Center

The calligraphy conveys the Quran's opening phrase in Arabic, "Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim" ("In the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most compassionate"). Muslims recite it on beginning a task to receive the Creator’s strength and blessing, among other reasons. The phrase faces the entrance to this religious, social, and cultural meeting place for the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in the United Kingdom. Nymeth Ali guided me through the center, pointing out examples of the relationship between the architecture and design details and the traditions, symbols, history and values of her faith community. For example, the building exterior materials and colors are compatible with surrounding buildings while the interior features traditional Islamic colors — whites, light grays, and blues.

In our rapid-fire give-and-take Q&A, my new friend helped me understand more of Islam and its ethics, and of Muslim peoples and their values, among them humility, charity, and hospitality. And, I endeavored to answer her wide-ranging questions on aspects of Judaism and Jewish people. Together, we traveled the globe across centuries till and including our own lives, roots, passages, and journeys. Thank you, Ryan Makhani, for the introduction! You hinted, “I have a feeling you both will have some incredible conversations.” You did not exaggerate!

September 01, 2016

London Tate Britain: Sketching Mr. Turner

It was Valerie's idea to sketch a J.M.W. Turner masterpiece

Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery houses the world’s largest collection of works by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), the master landscape and seascape painter of light. On my visit to the Gallery, I came upon Valerie. Unselfconscious and focused, the nine -year-old was studying a single Turner creation, pausing intermittently to paint, scrawl, and scribble using colored pencils to render her own.

Visitors engage with Turner's masterpieces

While Turner, at the end of his life, became increasingly eccentric and isolated, he never stopped loving children. How delightful to meet Miss Valerie sketching one of Mr. Turner’s masterpieces.

The finished sketch

J.M.W. Turner will become the first artist to appear on a British banknote following a nationwide vote to chose a deceased cultural figure to be the face of the new £20 note. The note will feature Turner’s 1799 self-portrait and The Fighting Temeraire, his tribute to the ship that played a key role in Nelson’s victory at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

August 30, 2016

In London: The Threepenny Opera at the National Theater

Selfie with Kidane Isaac Tikue and
a Threepenny Opera poster

“This is an opera for a city that has gone beyond morality. A cheap opera. A threepenny opera.”

With these spoken lines, opens London's National Theater production of Bertolt Brecht's and Kurt Weill's dark masterpiece (1928), "The Threepenny Opera" (TPO), a play with songs about the devastating consequences of naked self interest, bourgeois decadence, rampant corruption, and the pernicious effects of poverty. The German duo's adaption of John Gay’s 18th century "Beggar’s Opera" hasn’t dated at all. Sadly.

I was thrilled to sit beside Kidane Isaac Tikue at his maiden experience of the great tunes and wordy lyrics, mini-dramas in their own right. We dissected the work over lousy cappuccino in the Theater cafe and later at Whole Foods (amazing cappuccino!).

Outside the theater at Southbank Centre — sunny, cheerful, people, pets, food, art, and Modified Social Benches.

On the ground, a plaque about Festival of Love 2016
 and the Danish artist's winning entry 

On this Modified Social Bench, a boy climbs
while a woman sits reading a book

London: Burqa and bra strap tranquility

Hyde Park Serpentine Lake
A Muslim woman wearing a burqa and a Jewish woman whose bra strap is showing. Easy, chill, gracious London.

August 28, 2016

London: Holland Park Kyoto Garden

Kidane, me, Zeeko

This formerly private playground estate now for the 99% features a stunning Japanese garden with a waterfall and koi fish pond encircled by leaping squirrels, strutting peacocks, Pokemon addicts, and a rule-breaking peacock feeder. Zeeko (in the photo, right) approached the offender and spoke gently while pointing to signs: Please do not feed the animals.

While Zeeko is staff, he did not press the non-stopping offender, and I soon understood the reason. I asked why the shabby peacock feathers (mating season ended) and whether the eggs hatched (no, local wolves dine on them). And then, not recognizing his accent, from where did he immigrate. A few sentences, a brief Q&A, a lifted shirtsleeve and pant leg exposing a scarred leg and arm. Suddenly, Zeeko's first-person testimony and physical evidence supplanted grotesque reports and images of civil war, torture, and dismemberment in Sierra Leone.

When Zeeko recently visited his homeland, he met the madman whose machete dug into his arm; and, about to sever it, was suddenly called away. When the madman asked forgiveness, Zeeko replied, I have left behind the past and what you did. But the ones you killed, how will you ask their forgiveness?

August 23, 2016

Tel Aviv to London: דרך השלום | The path of peace

Flight seat neighbors

After decades' traveling, going from Tel Aviv to London was the first time I sat next to one of my heroes, a rock star for peace. Shared geography, histories, and values led to our first meeting in 2002, when I was living in Jerusalem. Ibrahim Abu El-Hawa was born on the Mount of Olives where my father is buried in the Jewish cemetery.

On this flight, the renowned Sufi Muslim known as the "ambassador of goodwill" was accompanying his grandson Akhmed to New Orleans; there, the teen will live with his uncle's family several months learning English and life beyond his native East Jerusalem. Ibrahim and I yakked nonstop and howled laughing (fully understanding) when first-time international traveler Akhmed frequently asked, "Are we there yet?"

A fresh 'do for adventures in New Orleans.
"Are we there yet?" 

Ibrahim showed me the papers he carries, including a laissez passer travel document (no passport yet for him and fellow East Jerusalem residents), copies of articles in the Hebrew, English, and Arabic press on his work, travels, and close relationships, including with the late Ravi Shankar and (Orthodox settler) Rabbi Menakhem Froman.

"דרך השלום" [Hebrew, The path of peace]

Ibrahim has logged millions of miles carrying his message that peace is possible among neighbors, whoever they are, wherever they live. Next stop: China.

June 28, 2016

In Tel Aviv: International evening beach picnic

Le dejeuner sur la sable

At the Mediterranean Sea, near Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, we gathered to cool off in the oppressive heat and humidity and to lift our glasses, forks, and voices to celebrate friendship and discoveries.

We: Two American-Israelis, one Israeli, one Canadian living in Portugal, and one Portuguese. 

Photographer: A New Zealand Maori living in Sweden and attending a local friend's wedding. 

Menu: Merlot wine followed by focaccia breads, pastas, salads, watermelon, and white chocolate.

What's up with the footwear? I dislike wet and sandy toes and delight in wearing my GORE-TEX® boots not only in puddles, the rain, and snow but on the beach, too.

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May 30, 2016

Memorial Day: Do we find the cost of freedom / Buried in the ground?

Gathering poppies in central Israel (2009)
I first published this post on Memorial Day in the USA in 2009

Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground.
Mother Earth will swallow you;
Lay your body down.

It's the refrain of an old Crosby, Stills & Nash song by Steven Stills that I first heard in the early 1970s. Today, I was humming it while listening to Bob Edwards interviewing on XM radio several members of the Navy’s Third Medical Battalion, which served alongside the Third Marine Division during the Vietnam War.

For today is Memorial Day when we are called to remember and pay tribute to our service men and women, whether they died on native soil or overseas in German forests or on British coasts, in the jungles of Vietnam or atop the mountains of Afghanistan, or in the sands and urban jungles of Iraq. And while we honor those who sacrificed their lives responding to their country's call to duty, we are also called to address the forces that drive men to war.

Reworking the Crosby, Stills & Nash antiwar anthem
A couple of years ago, in Bountiful, Utah, Scott Wright crafted a video of his photos set to the folk rock supergroup's classic, "Find The Cost Of Freedom." Scott explains, "Their songs carry so much meaning. My thanks to my nephews Ben and James for letting me use their photos in this compilation, both of whom are currently active in the US military; and to my Father Warren Wright who served in WWII. I hope you will watch it in the spirit in which it was made of Peace and day we will get to the place where there is no more war...of this I am certain."

Watch the video (4:32 minutes). The lyrics are below the screen.

Daylight again,
Following me to bed.
I think about a hundred years ago,
How my fathers bled...

I think I see a valley,
covered with bones in blue.
All the brave soldiers
That cannot get older 'been
Askin' after you.

Hear the past a callin',
From Armageddon's side.
When everyone's talkin'
And no one is listenin',
How can we decide?

Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground?
Mother Earth will swallow you;
Lay your body down.
(Repeat x2)

Lay your body down...
Lay your body down....

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May 05, 2016

Categories of Extermination (poster) in the Museum of the Liberation of Rome

Categories of Extermination (poster)
The poster shown in the photo is among documents and artifacts in the Museum of the Liberation of Rome, the former headquarters of the Gestapo terror apparatus during the German occupation of Rome during World War II. The building contained a prison in which Jews and political opponents — members of the Italian Resistance were incarcerated and tortured.

Half a day was not long enough for me to explore carefully documentation on the persecution of Rome’s Jews (with copies of newspaper reports and posters imposing bans and anti-Jewish orders), underground struggles (including resistance manifestos and handbills, and torture and murders of its members), and in some torture cells, messages on life and freedom etched in the plaster walls and other graffiti by prisoners often nearing death.

On this somber day in Israel, we are marking Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day when we remember approximately 6 million Jews, among them 1.5 million children who were annihilated during the Holocaust. As we pledge to never forget, may we remember also 5 million more who perished during this tragic episode in human history, among them Gypsies/Roma, Serbs, Polish intelligentsia, resistance fighters from all nations, German opponents of Nazism, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, people with disabilities, habitual criminals, and the "antisocial," such as beggars, vagrants, and hawkers.

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April 22, 2016

In Rome: A children's bookmobile

Read-aloud picture books for enthusiastic lilliputian-size
Italian-speaking or -babbling listeners and their minders

What could possibly top off a visit to MAXXI, Italy’s National Museum of XXI Century Arts, in Rome? As the country’s first institution devoted to contemporary creativity in art and architecture, it’s no wonder that in the museum courtyard, a public space, I came upon a public library bookmobile!

The MAXXI building is a major architectural work designed by Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, and features innovative and spectacular forms.

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March 22, 2016

In South Tel Aviv: Children of foreign workers, asylum seekers and Israelis celebrate Purim

Costumed twins during events marking the Jewish holiday Purim.
Photo credit: Reuters
Happy Purim! These magnificent children join Purim festival joyous traditions — wacky costumes, parades, performances.

Applause and praise for their dedicated teachers at the famed inner-city Bialik-Rogozin School in South Tel Aviv and their Israeli and international friends, tutors, health and legal professionals, hi-tech companies and other businesses and individuals who understand that —

"There is only one man in the world and his name is All Men.
There is only one women in the world and her name is All Women.
There is only one child in the world and the child's name is All Children."

— Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) American poet, writer, editor

My Purim posts

March 19, 2016

Ukuleles for Peace perform in Tel Aviv, Hawaii, elsewhere locally and globally

"We participated in the 2015 Ukulele Festival in Hawaii,"
gushed this trilingual (Arabic, Hebrew, English) performer.

Radiating infectious warmth and joy, young Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens performed with Ukuleles for Peace (UFP) today at the Bereaved Families Forum Peace Tent for street dialogue set up along the Mediterranean Sea where Tel Aviv meets Jaffa. (Forum members are Israelis and Palestinians who lost a family member to the conflict.) 

Scottish singer, songwriter, guitarist, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Donovan, a huge draw during my own teen years, has invited Ukuleles for Peace to warm-up the huge audience this summer for his first appearance here.

With their families and teachers, they picnic, celebrate festivals,
and visit each other's (Jewish and Arab) schools and homes

Making music while building friendships
without any stereotypical prejudice

The goal of Ukuleles for Peace is to bring Jewish and Arab children together to play with ukuleles, kazoos, and other fun instruments. The hope is that one day they and their families will be the force driving the wheels of social change in Israel. — Founder Paul Moore

February 28, 2016

Leibowitz Prize winners 2016: Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan and Yaakov Manor

Street dialogue; Peace Tent banner signs
(Arabic, Hebrew):"It Won't End Till WeTalk"
The Leibowitz Prize award ceremony in Tel Aviv last month felt like two minutes and an eternity. The auditorium packed with honoree's families, supporters, and colleagues, and the messages (Hebrew, Arabic) powerful, significant, moving, heartbreaking, and uplifting. An antidote to the negativity and craziness.

The annual Leibowitz Prize, a Yesh Gvul initiative for public activism in the spirit of the political and philosophical teaching of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, was awarded to Yaakov Manor of the Alternative Information Center internationally oriented, progressive, joint Palestinian-Israeli activist organization, and to Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, spokespersons for the Bereaved Families Forum (members are Israelis and Palestinians who lost a family member to the conflict).

Before the ceremony, the Forum organized a street dialogue among Forum members, friends, and guests, and passersby.

Forum members Robi Damelin, Rami, and Bassam

The next generation: sons of Bassam and Rami

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903, Riga, Latvia – 1994, Jerusalem) was a religious thinker and biochemist with doctorates in philosophy and medicine who kept up a relentless critique of Israel's policies in the occupied territories and of its political and religious culture. He supported Israeli Army resisters who refused to serve in the territories, and warned that soldiers in the occupied areas risked becoming "Judeo-Nazis."

Yesh Gvul ("there is a limit", "there is a border", or "enough is enough") was founded in 1982 at the outbreak of the Lebanon War by Israeli combat veterans who refused to serve in Lebanon and has expanded its opposition to service in the occupied territories.

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February 14, 2016

In Tel Aviv: Along the shoreline to Yafo/Jaffa

The Mediterranean Sea peeking between me and Racheli (R)

Sunny Shabbat afternoon walking along the sea from TLV center to Yafo and back. 
  • Dogs chasing Frisbees all up and down the canine beach. 
  • Cats sunning. 
  • Toddler Belle in pink tights and giant grey headband. 
  • A one-man band. 
  • Riders on all kinds of wheels. 
  • Scents of the sea, Nargila (hookah) smoke, and Mangal (barbeque). 
  • Jews, Arabs, Tibetan monks, missionaries, tourists, African refugees, singles, couples, families, sandcastle builders, sunbathers, and fishermen speaking Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, French, and languages unidentified. 

My related posts

January 21, 2016

In Tel Aviv: Beit Bialik, home of Israel's National Poet

Selfie with painting of Israel's national poet (r.)
Hayim Nahman Bialik (b. Odessa 1873, d. Vienna 1934) is Israel's national poet. Bialik helped revive the ancient Hebrew language from one reserved for prayer, sacred text study, and scholarship to a robust modern language. I grew up on his poems, songs, and stories for children, and since have been singing his songs and studying his poetry and the classic Sefer Ha-Aggadah — compilations (with Yehoshua Ravnitzky) of thousands of stories and legends scattered through the Talmud and rabbinic literature, from the creation of the world to the world to come. 

On his 60th birthday, in 1933, all the schoolchildren of Tel Aviv were taken to meet him at his home on Bialik Street that has been converted into Beit Bialik, a museum and center for literary events and the Bialik Archive. Last night, Shmuel Avneri, director of the archive and an important Bialik scholar, treated me and two friends to a private tour. 

This selfie cannot hide my shock and awe standing behind Bialik's desk and in front of a painting of the poet (right) and Ravnitzky. Imagine standing behind the desks of USA national poets Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, and Maya Angelou. Or behind the desk of any national poet of any culture you love.