Life in the Center of the World: the “this is cool” version

I live in the center of the world.  That is, if you’re going by this ancient map of the world.

jerusalem map

Ancient map of the world depicting Asia, Europe, and Africa, with Jerusalem in the center

The mosaic of this map is in the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and there is a new tiled version outside of City Hall.  My memory of historical facts is poor, but I believe that this map wasn’t symbolic: people actually believed “all roads lead to Jerusalem.” (Please correct me if you know the real history of this map).  Of course we have all seen a modern globe and know now that Jerusalem is not in the center of the world.  But I tell you, sometimes it feels like it is.

Although Jerusalem isn’t in the center of a map, it is often the center of attention and has been for centuries.  Because of this, I really feel sometimes that I live in the center of the world.  Oftentimes I am overwhelmed by this feeling and living in the tension breaks me down (note: I had a huge emotional breakdown over it last week).  But sometimes I think, “I live in the center of the world.  That is so COOL!”

I had that thought recently because I was seeing my “world” in public places:

1)  A Cookbook

The new best-selling cookbook, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi references my school and my church. And I’m not even joking when I say that the pictures in the book are so familiar that I’m looking to see if I’m in any of them.

jerusalem cookbook with words

My school and church are discussed on the page about Lamb

2)  A Commercial

I went to the movie theatre to see Jurassic Park in 3D (best movie-going experience of my life) and was surprised when I saw a commercial before the film that looked familiar.  First I shouted, “Hey, that’s my neighborhood!”  Then I shouted, “Hey, that’s my street!”  And finally, “Hey, that’s my HOUSE!”  It was cool.  If you want to see what it looks like where I live, just watch this commercial.  I know every place in it.  *Note: where the kid rolls around in grass doesn’t actually exist.  I saw them filming one day and was happy to see we had a new patch of grass, but when I came back later it was disappointingly and suddenly gone.  At least now I know why it was there for a day!

3) A Movie

An Israeli movie came out this summer and is being shown in every theatre I know of.  It’s cool because it has Patrick Stewart in it, but also because all of the hospital scenes were filmed at my school!  The filming took place last year; school started a couple days late because of it, they used my classroom for props and whatnot, and Patrick Stewart autographed a copy of Romeo and Juliet for me.  And now, the movie is out and my school is in it!  So cool.  Here’s the trailer, however our school didn’t make into the trailer itself, just the film.  But watch the trailer anyway, because it’s good.

Hunting Elephants Trailer

4)  A Conclusion

I remember when I first moved here a friend of mine from college was passing through the city.  I was taking her to the main sites in the Old City when she asked me, “What’s your favorite thing about living here?”  I replied, “There is always the potential for something to happen.”  At that exact moment, we saw Bill Clinton walk down from the Dome of the Rock and over to the Western Wall, where he impeccably proved my point.  I am excited about moving back to the States eventually, but I do wonder if I’ll find myself a little bored after living here, in the center of the world.

Clinton 018

Bill Clinton at the Western Wall (being guarded by an extraordinarily furry policeman)


Michigan and Other Places

With all the news about the bankruptcy, I’ve been thinking about Detroit lately.  Actually, more accurately, I’m trying not to think about Detroit.

I’m not from Detroit, but since living overseas I find myself identifying with the city and claiming it as my own; to me, it has come to represent Michigan as a whole, and my home.  I used to be excited to read about Detroit on the rare occasion it popped up in the news, but these days I cringe when I see a headline and immediately turn elsewhere.  What Detroit is going through pains me.

The news is reporting what I’ve been aware of anecdotally — Michigan is dying, almost dead in fact, and on life-support.  I’m often nostalgic for my home, but what I miss doesn’t exist anymore.  I used to go home to visit a multitude of friends and family, but if I were to go back now I would have only one friend to visit, only one friend who hasn’t yet emigrated elsewhere to a better place.  On Facebook I saw pictures of my old group of friends “up north” for the fourth of July weekend.  But the group has changed a lot so that I only recognize a smattering of faces, and they’re of people I’m not in contact with anymore.  It makes me wonder if I did go back to this place I miss, Michigan, would I be accepted?

There’s a deep part of me that wants to return home, but alongside that desire is a fear that that home doesn’t exist anymore.  Michigan is dying, friends have moved, and I abandoned the state and those that remained.  I wonder if they could forgive me for that.  I wonder if I could fit in again, and find a home again.

I expressed these thoughts to my boyfriend of almost four years when in a flash I finally understood an infinitesimal part of what his life is like.  Anis is Palestinian, and for the first time I was able to feel genuine empathy for his situation.  I asked him how it felt to not have a recognized country, to have a land that is not technically his, to be homeless.  I finally began to understand.

Geography is important.  I have great respect for my father and his opinions, but one I don’t share is his thought that geography is irrelevant.  He travels a lot and he says that all places are the same and if you’re there long enough, you’ll like it just as well as anywhere else.

I disagree because in geography you have cultures, societies, languages, landmarks, people, and atmosphere.  Every city feels different.  When I visit a place I am able to learn about the people and culture based on how the city feels.  Switzerland is xenophobic and dull, Lithuania is depressing and defensive, China is ignorant, Paris is haughty, Marrakesh is traditional, Istanbul is modern and diverse, Jerusalem is mentally ill, and Detroit is struggling against itself.

I realize that I’m rambling; I apologize.  To sum up what I’m saying, geography matters to a person, and I think it matters a great deal more than we credit it.

Detroit’s problems are obviously affecting the people currently residing there, especially the senior citizens, but they also affect all of Michigan, and anybody who has a connection there.  I don’t think all of my friends wanted to move away, but they were literally out of options.  Ideally I would love to move to Dearborn, near Detroit, because there Anis and I could live in both Michigan and Palestine at the same time.  But that will never happen, because there’s nothing there for us.  There is no industry, no jobs, no life.  I wish I could say, “I’m going to move back to Michigan one day!”  But I won’t. Because that would be going backward.  I want to go home, but my home is dying.  And even though I’m far away, and possibly not even accepted by my home anymore, it still pains me to see it like this.



I’d almost forgotten about love.

I’m trying a new church, and today they talked about love.  That’s to be expected at church.  But somehow, it felt new again, because I had almost forgotten it.

Since moving here I’ve learned a different kind of love, one that is more action-based and practical, and that is good.  Very good.

But what I miss is community love.  Saginaw, Michigan, the town where I’m from, was once again named one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the United States.  While the city itself doesn’t have a lot going for it, I know that if I am ever in need, I can return to Saginaw and be enveloped in love.  Between my high school friends, family, friends of the family, and teachers, I always feel a community of caring around me.  Even strangers are friendly, because the Midwest is wonderful like that.

It’s likely that I’m seeing things through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, but one love I know is real, that I miss, is the love of my family, both immediate and extended.  We do the best we can with Skype, but I do look forward to the day when they’re a phone call or a quick plane ride away.  But for now I’m thankful I at least have my niece Layla putting her mouth on the screen to give me kisses.  That’s the best.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or unhappy, because I’m not at all.  I have love in my life; and it is beautiful and rich.  It’s just not all nearby, or in one community.  So I guess at this point I’m just being greedy, because I want it all.  I want to live in a global society where I travel and move, but I also want the benefits of a life-long, loving community.  Is it possible to have both?

Dressing for Neighborhoods in Jerusalem

I have a 45 minute walk every day this summer, to and from class.  The walk is interesting because it takes me through three different neighborhoods, and as I pass through the neighborhoods, I have to adjust how I carry myself.

I’ll show you how it works chronologically, going from my flat to the university.

1) Nachlaot: an ancient neighborhood that mixes religious people and hippies, in the downtown area right next to the big open air market.

This is where I live, and it’s cool.  Most of the streets are winding, pedestrian walkways, and the buildings are so close together that you can hear your neighbors across the way scraping their dinner plates.

There used to be signs asking people to dress modestly in the neighborhood, but I think the hippies took them down.  I live next to a Yeshiva, but I can still basically wear whatever I want.  I go out in my running clothes relatively comfortably.  This is what’s great about downtown Jerusalem, you can wear whatever you want! You want to dress like Moses?  Nobody will look twice.  You want to dress like a slut?  No worries, you won’t be heckled.  You want to dress in tourist gear and/or typical American clothing and talk loudly and obnoxiously?  You’ll fit right in.  Want to dress like a religious Jew or Muslim?  You still fit in here.  Downtown, you’re free to be yourself!

2)  Mea Shearim:  an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood, where the extremists who aren’t busy living on the settlements live.

This neighborhood scares me more than any other neighborhood.  Here I have been shouted at (for wearing pants), attacked (for driving on a main road on a Saturday), and I’ve read/heard too many stories of stone-throwing and spitting.  They are not fond of outsiders in their neighborhood, and even have billboards warning against tour groups going through, and explanations of how women should be dressed.

There is one main road, Shivtei Israel, that connects downtown to the “other” side, and it’s a huge shortcut.  So, I take this shortcut every day, and every day I am nervous.  Today was a lovely 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so I decided to wear a dress.  This dress is fine for downtown, but I was nervous about walking through Mea Shearim wearing it, so when I approached the neighborhood I wrapped a scarf around my waist, adding an extra few inches to the length of my dress.

The scarf did the trick, I didn’t get spat on!  But my (lack of) clothing still got a reaction.  Every single male I crossed paths with shielded his eyes.  Most would entirely turn their heads away and cover their eyes and continue walking, and one who was guiding a man in a wheelchair turned to face the wall until I passed.  It’s not pleasant, but I will take being treated like a leper over being stoned.

3)  Sheikh Jarrah: an Arab neighborhood that contains what many consider the “downtown” of the Arab side.

Ok, this neighborhood isn’t as interesting as the others, because it’s relatively normal.  Most of the men wear long clothing and the women wear hijabs (headscarves), but if you look different, it’s not a big deal.  This neighborhood is used to expats because it’s where a lot of the aid workers hang out.

I mean, I wasn’t entirely comfortable walking through Sheikh Jarrah wearing my dress, but the only attention I received was stares.  And I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a girl, because I’m wearing less clothing than Muslim women, or because Arabs just stare, a lot.  It’s a cultural thing I guess.

I do have to be careful with my clothing in Arab neighborhoods, but unless you pass a group of young guys trying to be cool by saying, “How are you?” in a thick Arab accent, there isn’t any harassment.  Just weird staring.

And that, is my walk through three different neighborhoods every day.  I would love to take pictures to show you the different ‘hoods, but I’m too scared to take a picture of Mea Shearim.  So, either come visit or use your imagination!


I read an article in the New York Times; it was interesting, but I want to take one paragraph out of context and focus on that.  The author, Roger Berkowitz, describes people like Adolf Eichmann, head Nazi during the Holocaust, as being joiners.  It’s not Eichmann that fascinates me, but Berkowitz’s explanation of what a joiner is.  Read the paragraph and see if it resonates with you,and see if you can think of modern day joiners.

Here it is: “That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe. It is this thoughtless commitment that permits idealists to imagine themselves as heroes and makes them willing to employ technological implements of violence in the name of saving the world.”

Apparently I wasn’t the only person who connected with this paragraph as I found multiple commentators also referencing it.  The other commentators spoke of the Republican party being full of joiners.  Because of my context, I first thought of the joiners as a majority of the people in this country: the Zionists and settlers, the suicide bombers and stone-throwers, and many in between.  Additionally, many expats who come are joiners as they are usually more politically vocal and outraged than the locals.

It’s easy to point fingers at joiners, but it’s difficult to turn it on yourself.  To some degree am I a joiner?  I think we all are.  I definitely used to be; I was an Indie joiner, an athlete joiner, a literary snob joiner, but I was mainly an Evangelical joiner.

Although I’ve been working hard to become less of a joiner in recent years, I’m sure I still am to some degree.  Because to be completely independent is, as the article stated, lonely and alienating.  It’s important to be part of communities that share purpose, but this article reminds us to be careful of the evil of allowing ourselves to be so swept up in our community’s movement that we become joiners.

“Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’”