Friday, August 12, 2016

Israel 2016 - Arad day 2

Part of the itinerary for our time in Arad was to spend an evening visiting and having dinner in a bedouin village. The bedouins were originally pastoral nomadic tribes living in the Negev and Sinai peninsula. Their lifestyle has changed quite a bit over the past few generations and they've become more settled. They usually live in distinct villages but integrate well into Israeli society.

I was looking forward to this experience and photo opportunity, but was very disappointed to discover the 'village' we were to visit was little more than a reconstructed Disneyland-like village with some local bedouins dressed in costumes who talked to us about their village lifestyle. When we returned to Arad after the evening experience I discovered that one of the program administrators had visited an actual 'live' bedouin village near Beersheba. When I expressed some misgivings about our experience at the make-believe village and my wish that I would have much preferred to go to a real bedouin town, I was told that it was just a town like any other and I wouldn't have found it interesting. Really?

The make-believe village was called Kfar Hanokdim.

One of our group of artists with the founder and owner of the village.

There was a large tent restaurant in which a bedouin woman was making flat bread for the evening diners.

 As part of the presentation of bedouin village life, we were served tea.

A bedouin village woman talked to us about her family life, told stories of her husband leaving her for his second wife, and her striking out on her own to establish a career. After the talk she sold trinkets to us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Israel 2016 - Arad Day 1

The purpose of my most recent trip to Israel was to participate in a mission of artists from the Metrowest Jewish Federation area in a bridge program to network with and work on collaborative creative projects with the artists in Arad, Israel - a partner community with the Metrowest Federation. 

Arad is a city in the northern Negev, a few miles south of the artificial border of Judea. It's on a mountain between Beersheba and Masada/the Dead Sea. Because of it's elevation, the nights are comfortably cool in late June, but the daytime temperatures hover near 100˚F for about twelve hours a day. Except for its proximity to Masada/the Dead Sea and the stark Negev landscape, the city itself has little to offer visitors. Towards the western end of the city is an industrial area with cinderblock and sheet metal units that had fallen into disuse, but has been rehabilitated as a community of low cost artist studios and workspaces. It was with those artists with whom we networked.

The first full day we spent in Arad was Shabbat, a traditional family day in Israel as well as a rest day for many people. The time I spent with my host Israeli family turned out to be the highlight of my time in Arad. The kids were amazing.

But my favorite family member of them all was Tai (guess which one she is):

We took a walk into the Negev to get a feel for the environment - we began the walk at 9am and the temperature had already reached 95˚F. The Mitzpe Moav memorial which overlooks the Dead Sea was erected to commemorate an Israeli Air Force jet that had crashed in the location. You can get an idea of the stark landscape in the background.

My friend Hen (pronounced with a hard 'H' as if you're clearing your throat) invited me out onto one arm of the memorial that extended over a steep drop into a wadi. You can see the faint line of the Jordanian mountains in the background.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pidyon Haben - Redeeming The Firstborn Son

Last week I was invited to attend a religious ritual,  Pidyon Haben, that I had never experienced before. Rather than repeat all of its details, you can read about it here. It's an opportunity for family and friends to gather and celebrate the addition of another soul to the worldwide family of Jews. The conditions are stringent, so it's a not-often performed ceremony. The baby must be a first-born son, natural childbirth, with no previous miscarriages, and neither parent's ancestry from the tribe of Kohane or Levi. The baby is presented on a silver platter surrounded by gold jewelry to celebrate the special sanctity of the ritual, and the baby is also surrounded by little packages containing a bit of garlic and sugar - the Jewish sages taught that partaking of a Pidyon Haben meal has the power of fasting for 84 days, and the garlic and sugar carry that same power.

The baby being decorated with gold jewelry:

The mother and baby:

The baby in all his glory:

Two rabbis observe the ceremony:

The maternal grandfather:

The paternal grandfather carrying the baby:

The father carrying the baby to be presented to the Kohane:

The father offering to buy the baby back from the Kohane for five shekels:

Saying a blessing over the baby:

The Kohane making the ritual priestly blessing: