Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Path to Peace

 

Path to Peace.jpg

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

It has been two months since I came back from Israel and people still ask me what my favourite part of the trip was.  It is a question that I find impossible to answer.  The trip has become a series of moments and a blur of places.  Each place has their own story, but none more than Netiv Ha’asara – a small Moshav (cooperative agricultural community) that is the closest Israeli community to the Gaza Strip. The distance is 400 metres away or a little less than a 5 minute walk.  Just to give you some perspective, the distance from Niagara Falls, Canada to Niagara Falls, US is around 5.6 kilometres.  When we first were told that we would be visiting Netiv Ha’asara, I was filled with a sense of excitement.  How many people get to visit this place?  Other people may be a little fearful, but I knew that by going, that I would be able to see things differently.  It would not just be my own love of the country of Israel – it would be seeing, first hand, the day to day struggles of people living under the threat of rocket fire and now, the thousands of burning kites.

NATIV Haasara

To get to the Moshav, we drove through an imposing gate with barbed wire – it gave off a prison-like feel.  This quickly dissipated when we stepped out of the van into the hot, desert sunshine.  A short distance away, we could hear children laughing and playing in a pool.  It felt like we could be anywhere in the world.  We were met by a resident and we walked a short distance to a building that was the community bomb shelter.  It was larger than I expected and looked more like a place where you would have a town hall meeting versus a safe haven from missiles.  He explained the founding of the Moshav (they moved from the Sinai Peninsula after the Egytian/Israeli Peace Accords when they were displaced) which is why they feel that they cannot move.  He showed us some of the Qassam Rockets that rained regularly on the community.  We had the chance to hold them and they are quite heavy and capable of a lot of damage.  He also showed us an Iron Dome which Israel uses to intercept and destroy the rockets.  He patiently took our questions, but one question that he was not sure of is how much longer he could live with the rocket threat.

We were then taken a short distance to an outlook where you could Jabalia (Gaza) a very short distance away.  It really brought home, to me and my traveling companions, how precarious the situation was for these residents.  As we drove another short distance, we could see these little buildings decorated with artwork.  They were bomb shelters, decorated for and by children to make them less scary.  When an air siren goes off, the people (including the children) of the community have 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter.  Imagine living your life that way.  We were dropped off at the Path to Peace (Netiv Hashalom) Visitor Centre where we had the pleasure of meeting its owner,  Tzameret Zamir,  Zamir lives in a house that is closest to the imposing gray walls that protect the people in Netiv Ha’asara from gunfire from the Gaza Strip.  We were shown in and told to select a colourful tile with a saying on it; I selected happiness.  We then sat and watched a movie about Zamir, her daughter and the Moshav that they call home.

We learned more about Zamir and what the Path to Peace is.  We took a moment to write a wish on the back on the small tile we were given.  We walked beyond the Visitor Centre (which is attached to her home) to the walls that protect the Moshav.   The walls, huge and imposing, are covered with a sign made up of thousands of tiny mosaic pieces, like the ones we just wrote our wishes on.  On one wall, there are doves and peace signs with Path to Peace written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.  On other, smaller walls, there are butterflies and flowers and an Israeli Flag mosaic lives on yet another wall.  It was overwhelming.  There, the scale of what Zamir has created finally made sense. She told us that she wanted to create these beautiful works of art so that the first thing that the Gazans see is something beautiful and welcoming when they look across at Israel.

Ceremic Messages

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

We each placed our tiles down and took a photo.  We had just a brief time to walk around before our visit came to an end.  I hugged Zamir and told her what an incredible person that she is and how moved I was by the experience.  I was also a little embarrassed that I did not know about the place or the Path to Peace artwork.  It is, of course, not controversial enough to make conventional news.  It is also too positive of a story to get any traction.  It is a reminder of possibility in these very dark times.  The residents of Nativ Ha’asara do not hate the people on the other side of the wall.  They want peace and this wall is there as a reminder to all that anything is possible if you set aside fear and embrace hope.

 

 

 

 


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Israel Then and Now

ElAl

EL AL Airlines postcard circa 1961.

After my mother died, I found a bin where she had some of her cards and letters saved.  I came across a stack of letters and postcards from my grandparents first and only trip to Israel in 1961.  My grandmother wrote my mother almost daily while she was away; her musings and love for travel put a smile on my face.  There was a wonder about travel in the 1960s.  People were still amazed that you could fly overseas and they dressed up in their finest clothing, not in their yoga pants like I do.  Sometimes, I wish that we had the same innocence, but my latest trip to Israel did remind me of how incredible the country is.  It was the right place at the right time in my life with the right people.  I thought it would be fun to look back at how much the country has changed using the postcards from my grandparents, putting them side by side with current pictures of the places that we visited.

 

It is not exactly Tel Aviv, it’s Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean on the left, with a photo of the beach in Tel Aviv on the right.  The biggest differences?  The swimsuit fashion and now Israel is so dog crazy that they have part of the beach reserved so that the pups can bond, play and go for a run with their owners.  Here was a passage from my grandmother’s note: “We arrived here tonight (Ashkelon) and this is the loveliest place.  Our rooms are like bungalows facing the Mediterranean.  We are staying here overnight, then leaving for Beersheba and Jerusalem.”

Tel Aviv has changed so much in the 57 years since my grandparents visited.  On the left you see what part of the city used to look like.  On the right, the modern skyline of the White City.  My grandparents loved Tel Aviv with my grandmother telling my mother that “I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful city.”  She also wrote: “If my cards sound mixed up, Daddy was rushing me, so forgive the mistakes.  Daddy is so excited.”   Yes, my grandparents called each other Mummy and Daddy and no, it was not creepy in the least.  It was adorable.  They had quite a love story.  If you are all good, maybe one day, I will tell you about it.  It really is swoon-worthy.

Haifa Hotel

We did not go to Haifa this time, and I only got to spend one day there when I was in Israel in 2006.  It is a city on a hill with the beautiful  Bahá’í Gardens being the centerpiece. She wrote: “Arrived here yesterday, I doubt whether any place could be more beautiful than Haifa.”  The hotel featured on the postcard was Hotel Ben Jehuda – I do not believe it is still open, but there are plenty of places to stay.  I cannot wait to go back and spend a little more time there.

My trip ended in Jerusalem and even though it was the second time that I was there, it is still awe-inspiring to see the first view of the city as you wind around the Judean Mountains.  My grandmother wrote: “We just arrived in Jerusalem and never will I forget this drive!  When we came into the city, Daddy was asked to say the prayer and everyone was crying.”  Remember, that when my grandparents visited, the country was only 13 years old, and the Holocaust was not even a distant memory.  My grandparents and their contemporaries, likely never thought that there would be a Jewish State or that they would have the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall – a single spot that has not changed in thousands of years.  It meant everything to them, and that is just one of the reasons why I find visiting Jerusalem such an incredible experience.  It is a blend of ancient and modern; quiet contemplative moments and hustle and bustle; religious and secular.  It’s everything.  By the way, the President Hotel has long been abandoned, but had a very interesting history – check out this article to learn more https://guyshachar.com/en/2016/abandoned-president-hotel-jerusalem/

There were other postcards, from other places, like Eilat, where my grandmother was so excited to sail on a glass bottom boat.  One of the nicest surprises for them was the last night of their trip, at a farewell banquet, “…and for dessert, oranges from the Zelikovitz Orchard.  Was Daddy proud!”  My grandfather and two of his brothers, were in the fruit business for a long time, and until a few years ago, our family had the orange orchard.  The land was donated back to the State of Israel but for a long time, it produced oranges that were sold around the world.

The best part of Israel?  It is a country that is continuously changing.  The Tel Aviv skyline has changed, even in the 12 years since I was last there.  The Old City in Jerusalem has changed as archaeologists continue to excavate and discover groundbreaking knowledge that is corroborated by both the Old and New Testaments.  It is at the forefront of new technology and advances in medicine that can change lives.  It is a country that was a desert and where trees and flowers now grow.  It is a place where I can go, even though it is thousands of kilometres away, and feel the presence of my family.

 


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All Roads (Flights) Lead Here

I leave for a media trip to Israel and I was asked to write a tweet about what I was looking forward to the most.  In so few characters and with a more general audience, it’s hard to put what I’m feeling into words.  I kept it simple and said the White City in Tel Aviv and the Old City in Jerusalem. Of course, experiencing the blend of modern and ancient that Israel possesses is incredible. I am happy to be doing everything from a tour of the Soda Stream factory to being moved by once again visiting Yad Vashem to seeing the beautiful Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.  There is one thing that I am looking forward to more than that though.  It’s not a place – it’s a feeling.

When I visited Israel for the first time in 2006, I was overwhelmed by many things.  What stood out to me the most though, was not the history of the country itself, although that was impressive, it was the knowledge that I stepped off of a plane and into a place that held so many memories for the people who were the most important to me.  My grandparents, Nathan and Sara Zelikovitz, visited in the late 1960’s and fell in love with this new nation.  My parents visited the country in the 1980’s and could not stop raving about it.  It was, and is, still a very important part of our family history.

When my mother passed away 4 months ago, I made a promise to myself to find ways to honour her memory whenever and wherever I could.  I never thought that I would be travelling so soon after her death, but when my friend Shai asked me about coming, one thought really struck me. I could say Mourner’s Kaddish (a prayer that you say for 11 months after the death of a parent or for 30 days after the passing of a child, spouse or sibling) for my mother at The Western Wall – the holiest site where I can pray as a Jew.  I am not religious in the least, but my mother was spiritual, and this is something that I can do for her and it will be especially meaningful in the land that she loved so much.  Once I finish, I will put a paper in the wall with what is believed to be, a written prayer to G-d.  Spoiler alert – it will be prayers of good health for my family, particularly, my oldest sister Michele who is also battling breast cancer.

On my first trip to Israel, I wanted a picture at the Wall simply because my grandparents and parents had photos from there and it was a chance for me to recreate a moment in time, even if my relatives could not be with me.  This time, my wish is that somehow, my mother will feel that I am doing this for her and that my grandparents will know too.

Not too long ago, when I was cleaning out my mother’s papers, I came across some letters that my grandmother wrote about her own trip to the country.  She wrote about how much she and my grandfather loved it and were so excited to be there.  She said that at dinner one night, they were served oranges from a grove that my grandfather owned, and he was bursting with pride.  I can picture the look on my quiet, unassuming Zaydie’s face.  To know that I’m going to be back in this country, a place that was so important to my family and to be able to honour my wonderful mother is what I am most looking forward to.