In our Foremothers’ and our own Footsteps

Spring is here!

Our fore mothers have taught us that spring is the time to  harvest wild edibles and medicinals.  Hanalisa Omer, a woman and visionary artist, whom I met in a New Moon gathering in Jerusalem, invited me to walk in the hills between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to see what’s out there and to bless the dûdã’im. A plant deeply connected to women’s fertility in the Bible.

Roberta uncovering the mystery of the dudaim

(Mandrake in Hebrew is דודאים (dûdã’im), meaning “love plant” ( More about this in the footnote)*

Her purple flowers revealed

Hanalisa picked me up in her car at my new apartment on Derech Hebron in Jerusalem. We  drove through several checkpoints  to her magical cabin at Moshav Bar Giora. **  Several checkpoints because we went into Palestinian territories, then back into Israel. The hillsides are dotted with alternating Palestinian ( Arab) villages and Jewish settlements ( neighborhoods). There are Arab and Jewish villages on both sides of every  border.

I loved hanging out in Hanalisa’s simple cabin. For one thing, we shared  amazingly delicious food, some of which she foraged from the hills. Wild asparagus, stuffed clary leaves, teas from a variety of plants ( cured my cough in a few hours!), home  cured olives and Israeli sheep cheese.

She also gave me a tour inside some of her visionary paintings ( really check out her website- Hanalisa Omer).

We set out to the hills on this  lovely early spring day. Almond trees are blooming, impossibly bright blood red anemones peeking through everywhere, the cyclamens ending ( already!), wild irises clustered everywhere, and wild asparagus. Hanalisa was so fast in snapping the asparagus stalks,  it took me quite a while to spot my own and pop it into my mouth.

Wild irises , nothern Judaen Hills

Ancient stone walls and ruins of ancient villages are everywhere. I was excited to spot an old pottery shard- then I noticed that the entire land was filled with them.  Gardeners in  my home county, Ulster County New York, bemoan our rocky soil.  Here in the Judaen Hills, there are white craggy and sharp rocks absolutely everywhere. Yet these hills have fed people and wildlife  for thousands of years.  Signs of deer and groundhogs everywhere. Dogs barking. At dusk, hyenas or jackals howling.

While the sun was still high, we found our first dûdã’im. Its leaves were large, shiny, so strong and fresh, in the prime of youth. Instructed by Hanalisa, I gently spread the leaves and found a bouquet of 20 or so purple flowers underneath.  We blessed the plant that she will have all the conditions she needs to grow into its fullness-this year and every year.

We walked on and found  more, blessing each of them with a long life.

We returned to the cabin as darkness fell and enjoyed more  hot freshly foraged tea.

Women to the Back of the Bus

Hannalisa suggested I take the “settler’s” bus back to Jerusalem. This was the bus from  Betar Illit, a Haredi ( ultra orthodox Jewish settlement). I was excited and a little nervous-I want to experience the people and life in the settlements, to open my eyes and heart,  as I do in all of Israel and the Middle East, and I have heard stories about women being told to ride in the back of  some of the settlement buses. So I felt curious and intrigued.

As we waited at the bus stop,Hannalisa said that I may have to ride in the back of the bus. Just then a very packed bus stopped. I saw through the windows that women and children were packed in the back and men sat with far more spaciousness in the front. I felt a lurching in my stomach.  I was glad that was not the bus to Gilo, where I was headed.

I waited a few more minutes for the next bus. Okay, I thought, how can I get into an inner space where I will willingly, joyfully, honestly, authentically, go to the back of the bus? I thought of times in India when I asked for the separate women’s compartment on a train. I thought of times traveling in India when I adopted my dress to suit the culture.  And countless times when I have sat on the women’s side in synagogues around the world- not that I would choose that if the choice was open, but its been something I am willing to do. Let me do that here, out of respect for people’s ways.

I got on the next bus, intending to walk to the back. I got on the bus with a woman who was dressed with a long skirt, head covering,  as Haredi Jewish women generally dress; she had offered to tell me where my stop was. I boarded first. As soon as I got on the bus and saw men sitting in the first five or six rows, then about five empty rows, and the women in the back, something else from deep inside me guided my next action; I walked to the row immediately behind the last man and I sat down. It wasn’t so much a conscious act of defiance as  an authentic expression of where I was at. I felt very calm, I didn’t feel anger or agitation. It just wasn’t in me to go to the back of the bus!

The woman I had boarded with was behind me; she said to me, softly, with a tentative smile, “I’m going to the back because that’s where the women sit. ”  I said, ok, and smiled at her.  She shrugged, and went to the back. Again, I  was just being where I was in that moment.  I was being myself and it felt good.

I sat there, wondering what would happen. No one said anything and I didn’t feel any kind of hostile vibe. I called my friends from my cell phone to see where they would pick me up. The man in the seat in front of me heard me trying to explain to them where I’d be ( my friends were visiting Jerusalem for a few days from Mexico and had no idea!). The man said to me, let me have your cell phone and I”ll explain it to them. He took the phone and talked with them in Hebrew for quite a while. At a certain point the phone lost coverage- he said the coverage isn’t so good here-  we were on one of the roads that is lined with the giant cement separation wall- he waited until the coverage came back on and resumed the call. Then he signaled to the driver to let me off, and explained where to wait.

Toda raba. Thank you,I said. and I alighted.

Tekoa and Rabbi Menachem Fruman

After a bit of a driving adventure, we found Tekoa, the settlement on the East side of the Separation Wall. I was traveling with three Jewish friends from Mexico; one,Moishe, made aliyah ( moved to Israel and became an Israeli citizen) at age 24, and is now in the army. Daniel plans to stay here, and started at a yeshiva in Mear Sharim. Eduardo,Daniel’s father, is here for he week to help Daniel settle in. Its all totally amazing because Daniel and I met on a bus in Chine in 1999 when we were traveling with Thich Nhat Hanh. We re met when he and Eduardo appeared at Elat Chayim for a Jewish meditation retreat years later. Here we are all together now in Israel.)

We wanted to meet Rabbi Fruman, ***  a renowned peace worker, founder of the settlement, hassidic rabbi.

In a synagogue with corrugated tin roof, folding chairs, in sort, very no-fancy- hundreds of mostly young people poured in- various styles of religious dress that included nose piercings, men with long air and dreads; this is a very different religious world from the settlement bus I had just come off of. The Rav came in and danced to a klezmer-rock band of long haired bearded young men with tsit tsits.# The Rav ( great rabbi) glowed, smiled, emitted light, peace, love. I felt as if I was in a room full of love. A great longing arose in me for a community where generations were together, hugging each other- a young couple announced their engagement and the room erupted in song, cheers and dance.

This is the Judaism that can light the world; this is the freedom and community and love that I want for everyone. And here is a Rabbi who is saying just that. And a Rabbi who is outspoken about his passion for peace, for interfaith work, and who still commands a loving passionate following in this Jerusalem settlement. Rabbi Froman interview

And, yes, I did sit in the women’s section at Rabbi Froman’s synagogue; and it wouldn’t be my first choice; I particularly felt sad, disappointed, when I saw the men dancing with the Rav in the front and the women looking on from the back. And, during his teaching, I could hear men speaking up, participating, because they were in the front.  It’s confusing for me- how can these young women who are in the world of modern Israel come back and sit in the back. I didn’t ask- it wasn’t the right time.

The other day, I did ask a Palestinian woman, Maha, a  question,   as we sipped cappuccino and ate pastry together on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem.  After we were sitting together for a while in the afternoon sun, I asked her, why did she wear the head covering? She told me she was 50 and had just started in the last three years- her husband and kids didn’t like it, and when they go to Paris she takes it off. Why then,I asked? She said it brings her closer to God. It reminds her of God. I asked, so its because it helps you remember God in every moment, as you go through your day? Exactly,  she smiled. She is an elementary school  teacher in a school  in Jerusalem and a world traveler.

I thought, the head covering  for her is like the tzit tzit for Jews. Remembering God through the day.

Jewish, Druze, Moslem and Christian Women Planting Trees in Jerusalem

Sharing our love for the beauty of the olive trees
Women Connecting in Jerusalem

Women’s events abound here, women are meeting together in dialogue, organizing themselves, stepping up.

Jewish, Moslem, Druse and Christian Women Planting Olive Trees in Jerusalem

Women at the Wall

Perhaps the most powerful and meaningful prayer experience for me here has been standing at the Wall calling out the sh’ma with 100 women from all denominations of Judaism- Sh’ma- listen- Israel-our God is Oneness. God is one-ness. We are oneness. Listen!!

Two generations of women standing with Women at the Wall
Tamar and Roberta at the Wall

Me and Tamar Ariel. Tamar has returned to Israel to work on water sustainability and parity between Israeli and Palestinian water useage.

After the Rosh Chodesh service with Women at the Wall, Tamar and her grandmother, Batya Ariel, share cappucino at Cafe Hillel on Emek Refaim

Batya is a founder of Kibbutz Sasa on the Lebanese border.  She was part of the Socialist Zionist youth movement  from America who built the kibbutz out of the rocky soil in the 1940’s, saying,  “The kibbutz that we build will be dedicated not only to the renaissance of our own people, but to… the future of mankind, including our Arab neighbors.”

*Among certain Asian cultures, mandrake is  believed to ensure conception.[ Most interpretershold Mandragora officinarum to be the plant intended in Genesis 30:14 (“love plant”) and Song of Songs 7:13 (“the mandrakes send out their fragrance”). In Genesis 30, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah finds mandrakes in a field. Rachel, Jacob’s infertile second wife and Leah’s sister, is desirous of the mandrakes and barters with Leah for them. The trade offered by Rachel is for Leah to spend the next night in Jacob’s bed in exchange for Leah’s mandrakes. Leah gives away the plant to her barren sister, but soon after this (Genesis 30:14-22), Leah, who had previously had four sons but had been infertile for a long while, became pregnant once more and in time gave birth to two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Only years after this episode of her asking for the mandrakes did Rachel manage to get pregnant.

** There is a 9 kilometere hike that begins at Moshav Bar Giora.  This hike is chock-full of historical sites beginning with Ein Hod, a 40 metre tunnel and Bet Abtar, a crusader fortress atop a hill 678 metres above sea level. Two other large structures along the route include the 50 X 70metres Te’omim Cave and the Hirbet el-Omadan, a group of Byzantine buildings with mosaic floors and olive oil extraction posts. The hike ends at Moshav Zanoah with bus service to Jerusalem.


Rabbi Menachem Fruman – Tekoa Go to contents

(From Roberta: This is a reprint of an interview with Rabbi Fruman, it is not in  my words.)

“For 25 years, I have had the same perception on the world and I knew that Oslo would be a failure. It is a political and intellectual failure. Oslo is the manifestation of the problem in Israel. We are perceived as emissaries of the West whose purpose is to insult the eastern traditions that have existed here for many years. The Oslo process was an attempt to impose a Western peace process on eastern traditions. Arafat, even though Clinton and Mubarak pressured him, will never give up on Jerusalem or on the right of return of the refugees.

What can explain the chemistry between Arafat and Fruman – one of the original settlers? Arafat is a religious man – the Wailing Wall is holy to him, as are the 10 commandments. He will never give up on Jerusalem. He and I understand this land belongs to God – not to us.

We need to establish a peace that will last only as long as the stay at Camp David or Wye River. We have to stop the bloodshed.

The reason that Fruman lives in Tekoa is because it is a holy site. It is the place of Amos the prophet, and Josephat. Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai lived there. This is why he lives there.

Fruman believes that we have to do away with the “lunacy” of the nation state. This kind of social structure has led to loss of million of lives, including the victims of the Holocaust. A new form must emerge, and should emerge here. We two small populations can serve as a laboratory and testimony for finding a solution of bringing the Muslim and Jewish worlds together. We can produce something good for this area.

The left is very narrow-minded. They believe that there is only one way to bring about a peace. There will never be an end to the war until we create interaction between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

# Wearing tzitzit is a Biblical commandment. The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread.” Wearing the tzitzit is also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12: “You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”


Author: robertaindia

In the world with a peaceful heart

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