Rosh Hashanah 5773: Palestine arts delegation report 3
Rosh Hashanah 5773. I am in Jenin and Romana in the Palestinian occupied territories. I know they are occupied because the area is closed to travel except where there are settler roads.
After two days of traveling through the north of Israel, around the Galilee — including Tsfat, Capernaum, Haifa, Nazareth, and the two bodies of water where we soaked our feet and collected shells — we tried to enter Jenin from the northernmost machsom (or barrier). The road was closed. A jeep full of soldiers did not respond to our request to let us know if any other areas close by were open. They dismissed us with the barest of hand movements.
Although we were only three miles from our destination, we had to travel an extra 150 kilometers to arrive in Jenin. Why? Because of the Jewish New Year: Rosh Hashanah. Palestinians know about Jewish holy days because of the closures associated with them, not because this is a time we invite them to our houses to share a meal in honor of the chag.
Once we arrived at our destination, Dara and I sipped some wine, dipped some apples in honey and said a few prayers of thanksgiving and hope for a time of open borders. The experience of being cut off is the most common one in Palestine, especially during holy days. The longing to share what is beautiful in our tradition is almost impossible as an occupier.
The next day, after spending time with the pre-school children of Romana village near Jenin, we were hosted to an elaborate meal by Hussam, a man who spends most of his time caring for the people around him. He helped build the pre-school, and worked hard to bring electricity to his village after eight years of trying to activate a grid that was paid for by the French. All electricity comes from Israeli sources. It took eight years and a lot of effort to make it happen, which it finally did in 2008. For six months during 2006 the entire village was without electricity. During most of the period from the second Intifada onward, the village of 3,500 souls only had electricity for about two to three hours a day. Welcome to the Occupation.
This year, the Rosh Hashanah dinner I ate was cooked and served by Hussam and his family. We were treated to maklube, a delicious dish of chicken, cauliflower, and rice served with Arabic salad and yogurt. In addition, we drank Tamarind justice, soda, and water, followed by tea and Arabic coffee. Hussam urged me to tell the group that food is the principle way that Palestinian households show honor to their guests.
For me, the irony of this particular situation was in the exchange of language. Hussam speaks excellent Hebrew and my Arabic is still at the beginner’s stage. So I translated his story of his village and our conversation from Hebrew to English for the sake of the group. I have met many Palestinians who speak Hebrew, but few Israelis who speak Arabic. I pray for a day when this land will be bilingual, with open borders, and a place where people can travel freely to enjoy the blessings of each others’ holy days and culture without fear.
In Nablus it is a tradition for the children to fly kites. We drew pictures with the children of the neighborhood, and placed it in the context of the old city in Nablus where we painted this mural. Every day tea and coffee came to us from many directions, a sign of the approval of this project.
The boy lives in the house with the green door just next to the mural. One of our delegates, Wenceslao painted him. The mosque is also in the neighborhood.
This is our second mural and currently we are in Romana about to paint two murals in a pre-school. We are working as always with the images given to us by the community, in this case, the children’s drawings of their families, homes, and natural surroundings.
[Ed. Note: The article originally listed the Jewish Year as 5753.]
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is one of the first ten female rabbis in modern Judaism. An avid proponent of interfaith engagement for peace and justice, she is coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Interfaith Peacewalks project and has led more than a dozen Middle East peacemaking delegations on behalf of FOR, including this year’s Arts of Resistance delegation. Click here to read a more complete bio for Rabbi Lynn.