Execution or Possible Redemption? Indonesia Kills Bali Nine Leaders

They are dead – executed by the Indonesian government 10 years after being arrested on drug trafficking charges in Bali.  Despite global pleas to spare the men, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran – and six others: four Nigerians, a schizophrenic Brazilian, and an Indonesian – were killed on April 29, 2015,  shortly after midnight by an Indonesian firing squad.

In Bali, the Hindu island of many gods where people believe in karma and the land is lush and beautiful, the Indonesian government is now “clearing out” its death row prisoners – especially foreigners who have drug offenses.

Bali, the land of lush rice fields.

Bali, the land of lush rice fields.

Even before Barry and I left Bali at the beginning of March, I checked the news with dread every few days to learn the fate of the two Australians. The two, known as leaders of the “Bali Nine” had already been moved from Kerobokan Prison with its 1000 inmates in Denpasar to the island of Nusa Kambangan in Java where Indonesia carries out its executions.

By all accounts, Chan and Sukumaran were reformed men. Myuran earned his degree in fine arts; Andrew became a Christian minister. In harsh circumstances, they both developed and grew into good men, who helped their fellow inmates. According to a recent Guardian news report, “At a 2010 judicial review into their death sentences, the governor of Kerobokan prison, Bapak Siswanto, appeared, testifying to the men’s character and positive influence on other prisoners. ‘Instinctively my spirit says, can’t he be pardoned?’ he told judges. ‘Can’t state officials show mercy?’” <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/bali-nine-decade-of-turmoil-for-andrew-chan-and-myuran-sukumaran-reaches-a-gruesome-end?CMP=share_btn_fb&gt;.

The Bali Advertiser of 21 Jan – 04 Feb., 2015, notes Sukumaran has become an artist and “teaches art to fellow inmates, operates a computer lab and a t-shirt printing room, offering the products for sale outside, with revenue flowing back to the prison.  Chan has become deeply invoked in the affairs of the prison church.

Each has apologized for being involved in a conspiracy to import 8.2kg of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005. . .’We’ve changed,’ Sukumaran wrote. ‘We’ve done so much in the last six to seven years . . . We rehabilitated ourselves with the help of the guards here . . . we were doing good things'” (p. 56).

Andrew Chan’s six-page letter to his 15-year-old self is featured in a new documentary, Dear Me: The Dangers of Drugs, aimed at high school students, in which Chan chastises himself for leading a heroin trafficking ring.  The director of Dear Me,  Malinda Rutter, an Australian, first met Chan at Kerobokan Prison two years ago.  She says, Andrew is “funny, articulate, he is charismatic and has a very caring personality. . . I’m proud to call Andrew my friend.”

“I’ve seen the heartache . . . but there are human beings involved and, as a human, you should show empathy and listen to people’s stories.”  . . . The documentary, produced by Wyhldfisch Productions, will be distributed to schools.   (The Bali Advertiser, 04 Feb. – 18 Feb. 2015, p. 57).

See a clip: <http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/bali-nine-drug-smuggler-andrew-chans-powerful-message-to-australians/story-fnq2o7dd-1227192061969&gt;.

For an overview of what happened and photos of the men, go to Michael Safi’s article: <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/bali-nine-decade-of-turmoil-for-andrew-chan-and-myuran-sukumaran-reaches-a-gruesome-end?CMP=share_btn_fb&gt;.

Bali, the land of many Hindu gods.

Bali, the land of many Hindu gods.

Three appreciative fellow inmates in Kerobokan Prison, Martin Jamanuna, Rico Ricardo, and French inmate Francois Jacques Giuily, volunteered to go in front of the firing squad for  the Australians.

Having a human birth is an incredible gift.

But are some crimes so horrendous that execution is the only proper response?

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his experience in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. In his accompanying “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” Frankl notes, “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. . . . ”

Frankl notes, “Let me cite the case of Dr. J. He was the only man I ever encountered in my whole life whom I would dare to call a Mephistophelean being, a satanic figure. At the time he was generally called “the mass murderer of Steinhof” (the large mental hospital in Vienna). When the Nazis started their euthanasia program, he held all the strings in his hands and was so fanatic in the job assigned to him that he tried not to let one single psychotic individual escape the gas chamber. After the war, when I came back to Vienna, I asked what had happened to Dr. J. . . . I was convinced that, like others, he had with the help of his comrades made his way to South America. More recently, however, I was consulted by a former Australian diplomat who had been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain for many years, first in Siberia and then in the famous Lubianka prison in Moscow. While I was examining him neurologically, he suddenly asked me whether I happened to know Dr. J.  After my affirmative reply he continued: ‘I made his acquaintance in Lubianka. There he died, at about the age of forty, from cancer of the urinary bladder. Before he died, however, he showed himself to be the best comrade you can imagine! He gave consolation to everybody. He lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard. He was the best friend I ever met during my long years in prison!’” (p. 133-134).

Capital punishment prevents that possibility for change, a chance for redemption and growth.   A life sentence could be the best alternative for protecting others from those who commit horrendous crimes.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran made a terrible choice when they were in their early 20s. Today- April 29, 2015- ten years later, the Indonesian government killed them (and six others whose stories I don’t know). During those ten years, Chan and Sukumaran have grown and made the best of a difficult situation.   And now they are dead.

According to an Associated Press report today in Canberra, Australia, “The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said given that Indonesia has asked for clemency for its own nationals facing execution in other countries, ‘it is incomprehensible why it absolutely refuses to grant clemency for lesser crimes on its own territory.'”

A 4/29/15  New York Times  article notes, “The mass execution was the second in Indonesia this year. In January, five foreign drug convicts and one Indonesian convicted of murder were shot by firing squads on the island . . .

On Monday, Andrew Chan, married his Indonesian fiancée in a small ceremony at the prison. . .

Shortly after taking office last October, Mr. Joko declared that Indonesia was facing “a national emergency” of drug abuse, and he rejected 64 clemency appeals from death row drug convicts, most of them foreigners. Saying Indonesia had a right to exercise its drug laws, Mr. Joko’s government rejected international pleas to cancel the executions, including from Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.”(<http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/world/asia/indonesia-execution.html?_r=0&gt;).

Ironically, Indonesia has shown compassion for those involved in the 2002 and 2005 Bali Bombings that left many seriously injured and 222 dead, including 92 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 27 Brits, 7 Americans, 6 Swedes and 3 Danes.   All 36 Indonesian terrorists who were sentenced to anything less than life for their parts in the 2002 and 2005 bar and restaurant ­attacks are now free. (<http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/paradise-for-terrorists-36-bali-bombers-that-killed-92-australians-are-walking-free/story-fni0cx12-1226904341271&gt;).

“The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict reports that around 100 extremists, especially those involved in the 2002 Kuta bombings and the subsequent 2005 bombings in Jimbaran and Kuta, which killed 20 people, including four Australians and injured 129, including 19 Australians, have been released,” says Simon Thomsen in his 4/29/15 article. <http://www.businessinsider.com.au/its-lucky-the-bali-bombers-didnt-have-drugs-on-them-2015-2&gt;.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that unearned suffering is redemptive, but being in an Indonesian prison for life seems to be a harsh enough penalty for the crime Chan and Sukumaran tried to do.  Because of the Bali Nine, Kerobokan Prison now has programs where they had none: theater, yoga, silversmithing, art, religion . . .

So what can we do?   Support leaders who are against capital punishment.

Of course, do not traffic drugs! There are harsh penalties for possessing drugs in Indonesia (and other countries) too.

And you can help those still in jail.  The others of the “Bali Nine” have life sentences in Indonesia.  Some  are making the best of a horrible situation.  Si Yi Chen, for instance, has with the aid of Joanna Witt of Yin Jewelry learned and taught other inmates at Kerobokan Prison to be silversmiths; those other men will be able to have good jobs when they are released. Money from the sale of the jewelry they make – the Mule Jewels (the Hope Project) – goes to providing needed nutritious food to the inmates. Go to: http://www.yinjewelryforthesoul.com/giving-back/mule-jewels-jail-project/ You may see something you like – and help people who are changing.

A Mule Jewelry pendant - The Chinese character "HE" - that means "peace, together, kind, and harmony."

A Mule Jewelry pendant by Si Yi Chen – The Chinese character “HE” – which means “peace, together, kind, and harmony.”

Personally, we can look upon others with compassion and the knowledge that they can change.

Forty-one more prisoners in Indonesia are condemned to die for drug offenses.

As of 1/1/2015 the total number of death row inmates in the U.S. is  3,019! (<http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-row-inmates-state-and-size-death-row-year&gt;).

What are their stories and circumstances?  Shouldn’t they have a chance of redemption?  Can we show compassion?  If “the mass murderer of Steinhof” can become a person of “the highest conceivable moral standard,” shouldn’t our governments – as civilizing and evolving nations – and we – give all its people (no matter the crime) opportunity for growth and change?”

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were shot today – and stopped from future growth and contributions – RIP.  Blessings to those who loved them, their families – who have also suffered terribly these last 10 years – and  to all those whose stories we don’t know.

Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

Capital punishment should be abolished worldwide.

With much sorrow, Renée

Let's create a world of love, one that encourages redemption.

Let’s create a world of love, one that encourages redemption.

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Thought for the Day – from Jane Goodall

“People say think globally, act locally.  Well, if you think globally, it is overwhelming and you do not have enough energy left to act locally.  Just act locally and see what a difference you can make.

We are constantly told to buy more, buy, buy, buy!  But do we really need it?  It starts with trying to live a more sustainable life in the small decisions we make every day,” says Jane Goodall, conservationist –  now 80.

from: National Geographic Traveler, May 2015, p.8.

What needs to be done in your garden, your family, or your neighborhood?  You are needed.

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Aloha, Renée

Posted in Africa, Conservation | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Barry’s Gleanings: “Runner of a Thousand Days” by Dave Choo

Ryojun Shionuma

Ryojun Shionuma  

Image from: http://shionuma-ryojun.jp/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/15.jpg

“Runner of a Thousand Days” by Dave Choo

In the mountains above Nara, Buddhist priest Ryojun Shionuma has accomplished astonishing feats of discipline and endurance.

It’s Saturday afternoon, and Acharya Ryojunj Shionuma is having a leisurely lunch beside a cascading Japanese-style garden at The Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House Café. Shionuma, conspicuous in his monk’s robes, is eating light: kale salad and vegetable soup. Tomorrow, along with thirty-thousand other people, he’ll be running the 2014 Honolulu Marathon. But Shionuma is utterly unlike 29,999 of those other people. A Buddhist priest from Sendai, Shionuma was invited by Honolulu’s consul general of Japan to run the race with him. The priest eagerly accepted the offer, thinking that the pair would race as a team, each covering half of the 26.2-mile course. But marathoning, as he found out, isn’t really a team sport.

Shionuma had never run the Honolulu Marathon—nor any road race for that matter. He didn’t train and did nothing to prepare beyond buying running shoes. Yet now, sitting in the café, he doesn’t seem concerned a bout his time or even whether he’ll finish. “I’m not sure, five or six hours maybe?” Shionuma tells me through an interpreter. “I just hope that I cross the finish line before they shut down the race.”

To the casual observer, Shionuma’s cavalier approach toward a race most others spend a year preparing to run seems naïve, foolhardy, even dangerous. But Shionuma knows a little something about tests of endurance. The unassuming priest, who looks ten years younger than his mid-forties, belongs to the Shugendo sect of Buddhism, one of Japan’s oldest, founded in AD 672. Shugendo (literally “the path of training and testing”) is associated with the indigenous Shinto religion, which as deep connections with the natural world. The sect was banned from the Meiji period until the end of WWII because it was considered too primitive, filled with magic and superstition. Its disciples are famous for testing their spiritual strength through feats of physical endurance, often in the mountains.

Shionuma has completed the two toughest of those tests. The first and by far the hardest is the Omine Sennichi Kaihogyo (One Thousand Days Trekking on Mount Omine). Every year during the trekking season (May 3 to September 22), he walked thirty miles a day in the mountains above Nara, hiking from Mount Yoshino to Mount Omine and back again, an elevation change of nearly four thousand feet. “The thousand-day practice is limited to five months out of the year because the trail is impassable during the winter,” says Shionuma. “However, because there is such a big change in altitude, you can experience many different climates during one hike, even during the summer when temperatures reach over one hundred degrees.” Averaging 110 consecutive days of trekking during each season, it took Shionuma nine years to complete the kaihogyo, a journey equivalent to circling Earth one and a quarter times. Only one other person has completed the thousand-day practice on Mount Omine in the sect’s 1,300-year history. Since 1885, forty-six people have completed a similar practice on Mount Heian, near Kyoto, but the Heian hike is shorter and less challenging.

Every night during the trekking season, Shionuma would wake at ll:30 p. m. and recite prayers while bathing under an ice-cold waterfall. Then he would climb the five hundred steps to Yoshino Kinpusenji, the temple where he would begin his trek. He would dress in traditional attire, his all-white robes (the color of death in Japan) fastened by three ropes from which hung a container with half a liter of water, two musubi (rice ball snacks) and a bell to signal his presence to bears on the trail. From one rope hung a dagger. If he failed to complete the course, Shionuma was prepared to use one or the other to either hang or disembowel himself. (Though having completed the hundred days of practice required of anyone wishing to attempt the kaihogyo, he was fairly confident that this wouldn’t be necessary.)

Shionuma would usually reach the summit of Omine by 8:30 a.m., where he would drink some water and eat his musubi before returning to Mount Yoshino. He would arrive back at the temple at around 3:30 p.m., a fifteen-hour round-trip. After a meal of tea and rice, he was in bed by 7 p.m., waking up four and a half house later to start again.

During his nine years of hiking, the priest had to sidestep countless venomous pit vipers, avoid wild boar, navigate around landslides, weather several typhoons and once had to face down an angry, charging bear. (He had neglected to wear his bell that day.) However, it was often the little things that posed a threat to survival. Because he wasn’t allowed to receive medical care during the thousand-day practice, injuries, illness and even insect bites could be debilitating, even potentially lethal. “Oftentimes I would brush up against a bush or tree and cut myself. I carried antiseptic with me and made sure that I treated the cut early and often. I knew that even a small scratch could lead to a serious infection,” says Shionuma. “The pit vipers were always a worry, but they were easy to avoid when you came upon them. The ticks and horseflies weren’t.”

Shionuma first learned of the thousand-day practice when he saw a television documentary about a monk attempting the Heian kaihogyo. He was only in middle school at the time, but there was something about the monk’s struggle that the young Shionuma found inspiring. To this day Shionuma doesn’t know why he became so enamored with the ascetic practice or why he was so intent on making it his life’s ambition at such a young age.

Having grown up poor, Shionuma was no stranger to struggle and deprivation. His mother was chronically ill and often bedridden. His father was mostly absent and inattentive when he was around. During Shionuma’s second year in middle school, his father left his wife, son and mother-in-law to fend for themselves. Relatives and neighbors helped feed the family, and the young Shionuma pitched in where he could: He would collect the discarded metal balls from the floor of the local pachinko parlor and eventually became skilled at the game, trading in his winnings for rice, shoyu and miso.

Shionuma says that his mother and grandmother were his sources of strength and inspiration during the toughest parts of the thousand-day practice. One of those came at about the halfway point, when he had contracted a stomach ailment that prevented him from eating or keeping down what little food he could eat. After several days of illness, he woke up one night an hour late, weak and delirious. He stumbled through his preparations, and shortly after starting his hike he collapsed and lost consciousness. However, drifting in and out, he felt a warm sense of calm. “I had no sense of pain or distress or discomfort,” he says. “I felt like I was encased in a protective sphere, and I hoped that time would stop and I could remain like that forever. However, there was another voice inside of me that said that if I didn’t get up and start walking, I would die there.”

Shionuma then saw his life flash before his eyes. He remembered the day his father left; he, his mother and grandmother huddled around a space heater and cried; how they vowed that they would somehow manage without his father. He remembered how they sometimes didn’t have anything to eat, how friends and family would bring them food or clothing.   Mostly, he remembered his mother and everything she had done for him, how she told him on the day he left to join the temple that life is filled with adversity and disappointment. He would have to learn to “eat sand,” she’d said, and move on. Still lying on the trail, Shionuma grabbed a handful of dirt and put it in his mouth. “It was really awful, but it immediately brought me back to consciousness, and I took off with a great burst of energy and went straight up the mountain,” he says. “From that time on, my physical condition improved.”

Shionuma completed the thousand-day practice on September 2, 1999. The night before, he had gone to sleep anxious. He was worried that he would wake up without the desire and enthusiasm to do the hike—an irrational fear, given that it had never happened before. Neither did it happen that last morning; he completed the hike just as he had 999 times before, without fanfare or celebration. “I only had the sense that the practice had ended; no more, no less,” says Shionuma. “Climbing those mountains wasn’t the ultimate goal. I had things to do. Completing the practice was like graduating from college.”

Shionuma, apparently, wanted to go straight from college to graduate school. Immediately he began training for the second-toughest test in Shugendo, the Shimugyo, or Fourfold Renouncing Practice. By comparison with the thousand-day practice, it’s a quickie. Only nine days. But nine days during which one is not allowed to sleep, eat, drink or lie down. According to Shionuma, about half of the practitioners who attempt the Shimugyo die trying, so he spent a year preparing. He says that fasting was the easiest of the four aspects to complete; during his nine years of the thousand-day practice, he’d become accustomed to surviving on very little food. Sleep deprivation was also not difficult to overcome, again because of his experience with the thousand-day practice. Going without water for nine days was another matter, the most painful physical and psychological test of the four, especially because one of his daily rituals was to carry and offer buckets of water to the Buddha. Even today Shionuma shudders when he recalls what extreme dehydration felt like.

Shionuma says that the fourth and fifth days, when he was at a physical and mental breaking point, were the hardest of the Shimugyo practice. Practitioners are allowed to rinse their mouths out with water during the second half of the practice. Shionuma had understood that this would occur sometime during the fourth day; however, he was told that he couldn’t do it until the fifth. Instead of protesting or despairing, he persevered. When he was finally allowed to rinse with water, he felt rejuvenated, just has he had when he ate dirt on Mount Omine. Unlike the subdued ending to the thousand-day practice, when Shionuma finished the Shimugyo a crowd of several hundred—many of them from Sendai—was waiting for him. After a lot of water and a simple meal of nuts and cooked vegetable, he was carried back to his quarters in a sedan chair.

The extreme practices of Shugendo are not about physical achievement but spiritual realization.

Shionuma says that completing the Shimugyo and the thousand-day practice has reinforced his belief in some of the central tenets of Buddhism: “When facing difficulties, throw yourself at adversity without anger and be humble. Facing hardship is the ordinary condition of life,” he says. “If you are single-minded in facing your difficulties, then mysteriously the situation will appear to you from a different and liberating angle” (my emphasis). After completing the Shimugyo in 2000, Shionuma decided to leave the mountain temple and return to Sendai. Today he is the head priest of Jigenji (Merciful Eye) Temple in a small village outside Sendai. There he prays, teaches, farms, writes books and welcomes pilgrims. He also speaks throughout Japan and around the world (including in Honolulu the day before the marathon). While much of his talk centers around his travails on the trail, his over all message is that anyone can have a similar experience in daily life. “Awakening is found in ordinary experiences, the change of the seasons, the difficulties of human relationships. It’s a gradual transformation” (my emphasis). Shionuma says that the thousand-day practice left him with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility. Hiking the trail day after day, week after week made him realize his close connection and obligation to others, and he wanted to continue his practice among people, not alone in the mountains. “No one exists just by themselves. There is no such thing as doing it alone.”

Unless it’s a marathon, of course. Shiomuma finished slow and steady at 7:03:57. He ate no dirt, just a banana or two and a lot of Gatorade. Not surprisingly, he plans on running the race again in 2015.

From HanaHou! The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, Vol 18, number 2, April/May 2015.

People are amazing!

Thankfully, we don’t have to do Shionuma‘s feats to know his insights.

Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

Posted in Barry's Gleanings, Japan, Religion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thought for the Day: It’s Enough

Spring flowers and a cat in the home of friends. I'm thankful.

Spring flowers and a cat in the home of friends. I’m thankful.

If the only prayer you ever say

in your entire life is thank you;

it will be enough,”  said Meister Eckhart

P1060770(via Harvey in MN – thanks)

For my family, friends, travels, and home, I’m thankful.   And, of course, you readers. :)

Aloha, Renée

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Thought for the Day: Inner Growth

Spring is the season of new growth and new life. . .

P1050071Human beings are perhaps unique among the Earth’s inhabitants.

Our most significant growth takes place inwardly.  We grow as we achieve new insights, new knowledge, new goals.

Let us raise our cups to signify our gratitude for life, and for the joy of knowing inner growth, which gives human life its meaning.

Together, with raised cups, let us say: “L-Haiyim!” – “To Life.”

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for Passover

– from “A Humanist Haggadah for Passover” by Machar Congregation <haggadot.com>.

Aloha & Shalom, Renée

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Posted in Israel, Religion, Thought for the Day | Tagged | Leave a comment

Surprised by Israel – Part II

The Old City is an integral part of Jerusalem, but I was surprised to see bullet holes in the walls.

Old City Jerusalem wall.

Old City Jerusalem wall.

Bullet holes are visible in the Old City Walls - these likely from the shelling in the 1948 war to establish Israel as its own country.

Bullet holes are visible in the Old City Walls – these likely from the shelling in the 1948 war to establish Israel as its own country.

Buskers are here too.

As in many cities, you will find street performers.  We heard "Fiddler On the Roof" several times. :)

As in many cities, you will find street performers. We heard “Fiddler On the Roof” several times. :)

You’ll find street art, hip cafés, smokers, religious pilgrims, fashionable women, and  lots of cell phone users.

Café outside the Old City Walls.

Café outside the Old City Walls.

You’ll find many high-end shops.

Well-crafted goods (expensive) are everywhere in Jerusalem.

Well-crafted, expensive goods are everywhere in Jerusalem.

Danny is getting his favorite olives from a favorite Arab shop.

With Barry watching, Danny is buying wonderful olives from a favorite Arab shop.

You’ll find friendly Israelis and Arabs interacting .       You’ll eat tasty new dishes.

Schm xxx with fresh squeezed orange juice and toast = xx

Shakshuka with freshly squeezed orange juice and toast.  Thanks, Danny!

Israel is composed of intertwining Jewish, Arab, and Christian communities.

An Arab community near the Christian Visitation Church.

An Arab community near the Christian Visitation Church.

You’ll find water sports in Israel.

Paddle boarders in Haffa.

Paddle boarders in Jaffa.

Jaffa boardwalk.

Jaffa boardwalk.

It’s warm in Israel – even in December –at least while we were there.

While Ruth was working, Danny showed  Barry & me highlights of Jaffa.

While Ruth was working, Danny showed Barry & me highlights of Jaffa.

Yoga on the beach.

Yoga on the beach.

Fishing is also a choice.

Fishing is also a choice.

You’ll find old buildings:

In Jaffa - an old passageway and buildings.

In Jaffa – old passageway and building.

Renovated buildings – the outside must conform to the original building facade :

Jaffa dwelling.

Jaffa dwelling.

And new –

Jaffa building

Jaffa building

You’ll find music festivals:

The beautiful Sea of Galilee - setting for the Jacob's Ladder Festival.

The beautiful Sea of Galilee – setting for the Jacob’s Ladder Festival.

Jacob's Ladder Festival - Folk and Blues.

Jacob’s Ladder Festival – Folk and Blues.

Music on the stage - and off.

Music on the stage – and off at Jacob’s Ladder Festival.

The young get tips at the festival too.

The young get tips at the festival too.

There’s everyday life:

Basketball kids on a kibbutz.

Basketball kids on a kibbutz.

Airbnb on the Golan Heights xx

Airbnb on the Golan Heights.  Barry, Ruth, and me with our great Airbnb hosts.

We saw jet trails and lights in Jordan from our Airbnb on the Golan Heights. You’ll see school kids on field trips.

At ancient ruins near the Golan Heights xx

At ancient Jewish ruins in the Golan Heights

Ruins from xxxl

During the 4th-8th centuries CE.  Ruins from ancient Qasrin: Talmudic Village and synagogue

You’ll find good wines:

Wine is now an important part of Israel's production. xxx

Wine is now an important part of Israel’s production.

Wine tour and tasting at the Golan Heights Winery.

Wine tour and tasting at the Golan Heights Winery.

Winery tour.

Winery tour.

Golan Heights Winery gate.

Golan Heights Winery gate.

Arab villages in Israel are very interesting.  Ruth and Danny took us to Abu Ghosh village to enjoy the great food.

We loved the Abu Gosh xx food - with Ruth and Danny.

We loved the Abu Ghosh food – with Ruth and Danny.

“His pot of gold gives sparkle to the whole town,” said The New York Times  in a piece about Jawdat Ibrahim.  (<http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/16/world/abu-ghosh-journal-his-pot-of-gold-gives-a-sparkle-to-the-whole-town.html&gt;)

Jixxx 's Illinois State Lottery winning of 22 million has changed the life of the Abu Ghosh village too.

Jawdat Ibrahim’s Illinois State Lottery winner – This article is posted in the Abu Ghosh restaurant.

A poor Arab among second-class citizens, Jawdat Ibrahim (one of six children whose father died when Jawdat was 4)  fled his childhood home of Abu Ghosh to live with his uncle in Chicago.  He became a tow truck driver, rescuing cars buried in Midwest snow storms – and then he won the Illinois State Lottery in 1990.  With his 22 million U.S. dollars,  not only has Ibrahim  opened restaurants and provided scholarships in Abu Ghosh, but he also sees himself as an emissary of peace – a bridge in Arab/Israeli relationships. As well, he has fun.  Mr. Ibrahim organized Abu Ghosh residents to make the largest ever plate of hummus, winning recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Ibrahim donated the tasty hummus first to Israeli soldiers and then to schools, hospitals, and needy people.

Largest hummus created by the Abu Ghosh village.

Largest hummus created by the Abu Ghosh village.

Recently, the Abu Ghosh hummus Guinness record was surpassed  by a group in Lebanon.  Jawat Ibrahim plans to create an even bigger batch of  hummus early this summer to recapture the title. Random things surprised me.

Santa was there in the Old City Jerusalem.

Santa was there in the Old City Jerusalem.

At dusk in Eilat - a typical tourist beach town -- except  you can see Egypt across the water. xx

At dusk in Eilat – a typical tourist beach town — except we could  see Egypt’s  Sinai Peninsula across the Red Sea.

The markets are colorful and fun.

This man was yelling that his tomatoes were so cheap that he must have stolen them. :)

This man was yelling that his tomatoes were so cheap that he must have stolen them! :)

What would you like?

What would you like?

The sands look golden in Israel’s Negev Desert, which cover nearly 4,700 square miles of this small country.

Hill after hill of sand and rock near Lotan in the very southern part of Israel.

Hill after hill of sand and rock near Lotan in the very southern part of Israel.

Kibbutz Lotan lemon tree.

Kibbutz Lotan lemon tree.

With good farming practices of soil enrichment and irrigation, Israelis have been able to produce much food.

Much hard work and experimentation has changed the desert into productive farmland such as this plot at Kibbutz Lotan.

Much hard work and experimentation has changed the desert into productive farmland such as this plot at Kibbutz Lotan.

Another surprise for us in Israel were the incredible stories we heard from Israeli families.

Hanakkah with xx Rohee and her family.

Hanukkah celebration with  Rooee and her family.

We had a feast.

Our Hanukkah  feast.

Eitai xx demonstrating an old steam engine.

Etai, with his dad and nephew, demonstrating an old steam engine.

The stories of the people who make up Israel are most amazing. During WWII, an infant who was left along the path to a church in the early morning hours wore a gold locket declaring,  “Whoever takes care of me, God will bless.” Later that morning, the child’s Jewish parents were sent  to a concentration camp where the mother was killed. The child’s father escaped twice and managed to survive in great part because he spoke seven languages. After the war, he searched for his child.   For the same morning that he had left his daughter, town records showed that an infant girl found on the path to the church had been turned over to the Nazis and killed.  With no family left, the father bought a ticket for the U.S.  But on the way to the ship, he saw a gypsy fortuneteller who cautioned him, “Someone is waiting for you.”

He sold his ticket and went back to his town.  He saw a girl he thought might be his daughter and followed her; she was his child!    The girl was brought up on a kibbutz and has raised a healthy family.  One granddaughter is now training for the Israeli Olympic swim competition! That story has been made into a play.

Letters from L

“Letters from Leokadia”

In another example,  a Servas host’s mother had been operated on by the notorious Nazi Dr. Mengele, infamous for the selection of victims to be killed in the gas chambers and for performing unscientific and often deadly experiments on prisoners.  It was a miracle that our Servas host’s mother lived – and a miracle that she was able to have a child.

Another’s story was that her grandfather acting as a recruiter for Israel had gone to Morocco to get Jewish immigrants to help populate what they hoped would be their new country.  He married a 16 year-old Moroccan Jewish girl who wanted to immigrate but was too young to go on her own. They got stopped at what was then the British mandate/ Israeli border and sent to a refugee camp in Cyprus.  The couple did manage to get into Israel, but it wasn’t easy.

Another woman’s mother was 17 when she got to what was then called the British Mandate for Palestine region (1922-1948) and later became the State of Israel.  Although she had lost her whole family to the Nazis, the mom was sent back to Germany. We heard many such stories.

Since the State of Israel was established in 1948, the country has opened its arms to immigrants.  Now with so many anti-Semitic problems in Europe, many are immigrating from there – especially the French.  We met U.S. citizens immigrating too.

A U.S. family from Florida with six children.  They are immigrating to Israel.

A U.S. family with six children are new immigrants to Israel.

Also, Israel encourages 18-26 year old youth from other countries to investigate their Jewish heritage with a 10-day free trip to Israel.  For more information on this incredible program (especially for non-practicing youth with even a slim Jewish heritage), go to <http://www.birthrightisrael.com&gt;.

Wherever we went, we saw that layers of history coat the land of Israel. Caesarea, for instance, is a coastal Israeli city and an important site in Christian history  built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE.  This  was where Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus and an important Roman city during the Byzantine Period of the 6th-7th centuries.

Mosaic floor of a Byzantine mansion xx

The Bird Mosaic floor of a Byzantine mansion  – end of 6th century in Caesarea.  The mansion apparently burned down during the Arab invasion of 640 CE.

The fortifications seen  today in Caesarea were rebuilt by Louis IX, King of France, who came to the Holy Land in the 13th century during the Sixth Crusade.

Caesarea

Caesarea

Caesarea is now also a tourist site with restaurants and arts.

Rohee getting glass-blowing instruction on the Caesarea boardwalk.

Roee getting glass-blowing instruction on the Caesarea boardwalk.

Watching kids in Caesarea

Watching kids in Caesarea

Israel is expensive.  Jerusalem has much on-going building.    The taxes are high: 18% on everything.  An apartment in Jerusalem for a one month rental of a very nice one bedroom furnished Windows of Jerusalem Tower apartment is $146.10 (U.S.) a night or $4,529.00 a month.    Windows of Jerusalem Vacation Apartments by EXP® Israel | 5 Star Luxury Vacation Rental Apartments I <http://windowsofjerusalem.com/?utm_content=4218058754&utm_term=rentals%20jerusalem&utm_campaign=Campaign+%231&utm_source=Bing&utm_medium=cpc&gt;.

Jerusalem building

Jerusalem building

Craig’s List Jerusalem offers a 2 bed/2 bath renovated apartment in the German Colony for 3,600,000 (U.S. $911,854). <http://jerusalem.craigslist.org/reb/4916541698.html> German colony Gem apartment – Loyd george street jerusalem2 You can see history and religion wherever you look in Israel.

View into Jerusalem.

View into Jerusalem.

Caesarea sunset.

Caesarea sunset.

Buildings and trees spread over Jerusalem.

Israel is rich in history and many resilient  people.

There’s much more to Israel than I’ve shared.    Go see for yourselves.

Shalom & Aloha, Renée

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Surprised by Israel

Israel and its people surprised me in many ways — big and small.

One big surprise is that there are many kinds of Jews.  Most Israelis are secular; however, just as we have many types of Christians in the U.S., the practicing Jews in Israel come from many countries and many traditions.

 Orthodox Jews from Poland have their pants legs tucked into their boots.

Orthodox Jews from Poland have their pants legs tucked into their boots.

Young Orthodox woman and baby - note the cell phone.

Young Orthodox woman and baby – note the cell phone.

Barry and I got to see a very Orthodox section of Jerusalem.  When Danny told me that I needed to wear a dress over my jeans and my long sleeved sweater, I thought he was a bit extreme, but no, here is the sign we saw as we entered Mea She’arim section of Jerusalem.

Sign in Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Sign in Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem

Women and girls need to wear a “closed blouse with long sleeves, long skirt, no tight-fitting clothes.” The Mea She’arim area, one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods, is populated mainly by Haredi Jews, an extremely conservative, anti-secular, isolationist expression of Judaism.    They avoid both non-haredi Jews and non-Jews in order to prevent outside contamination of their values and practices.

This banner strung across a Mea She’arim street really shocked me.

The sign is in English

The sign is in English

The sign announces, “Authentic Jewry always opposed Zionism and the existence of the State of Israel.  We pray for the speedy and peacefully  total dismantlement of the state of Israel.”

This ultra-orthodox Jewish group believes that the Messiah is the one who will lead his people to the establishment of their own country. The existence of the country of Israel, they feel, delays the arrival of the Messiah.

The men wear long coats, hats, and have beards.

Some Jewish men wear long coats, hats, and have beards.

Many in this area dress – and live – much as they did 100 years ago in small Jewish towns of Central Europe.  Life revolves around strict adherence to  Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.  They have absolute reverence for Torah (Judaism’s most important text, composed of the Five Books of Moses, the 613 commandments (mitzvoth) and the Ten Commandments), and they prize religious scholarship.

Mea She'ari residents.

Mea She’arim residents.

Mea She'ari residents.

Mea She’arim street.

Mea She'ari neighborhood.

Mea She’arim neighborhood.

The men study.  The Israeli government supports the family. The men study. The Israeli government supports their families.  In the Old Testament, God instructs that the Levites study and protect the Torah.

Usually, the women marry young and have many children.

Usually, the women marry young and have many children.

Girls in the Mea She 'ari neighborhood.Girls in the Mea She’arim neighborhood.

In order to prevent outside influence and contamination of values and practices, Haredim strive to limit their contact with the outside world.

This woman actually yelled at Barry and shook her finger at him for taking this photo - so we tried to be suripticious.

This woman yelled at Barry and shook her finger at him for taking this photo – so we tried to be more surreptitious. Three kids are in this stroller; no wonder she is testy, but she does have a cell phone!

This woman was encased in voluminous layers of robes that hid her body completely.  Only her face showed;

This woman was encased in voluminous layers of robes that hid her body.  Only her face showed;

Many of the men were running.  Were they late for prayers?

Many of the men were running. Were they late for prayers?

Then there are the Breslev Hasidim, another example of the diversity within Israel.   They use clapping, singing and dancing to develop an intense, joyous relationship with God.

The  white yamaka is a sign of the Brels

The white yamaka is a sign of the Breslev Hasidim.

Source: http://www.vosizneias.com/assets/uploads/news_photos/thumbnails/600_q28lbjbi3qq5apwesvu6qckblm51unlo.jpg

The Breslev Hasidim and the ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews represent a range of Jewish practices you will find among others in Israel.

Another surprise is Israel is a really, really small country.

Syria and Lebbonon are at the north.

Syria and Lebanon border  the north; Egypt the west, and Jordan, the  east. The areas in green are the disputed territories.

Image from – <http://assets.baptiststandard.com/archived/2002/4_15/images/israelmap.jpg&gt;

Today, Israel (including disputed territories) is not much larger than the 5th smallest U.S. state – New Jersey, which  is about 7,800 square miles (20,000 square kilometers).   The State of Israel covers 8,019 square miles (20,770 sq. km).

Israel used to be bigger – almost twice as big.   As a result of the 6-Day War in 1967, Israel gained much territory.

Israel captured the area colored aqua as a result of the 6-Day War.

Israel captured the area colored aqua as a result of the 1967 – 6-Day War.

In 1979, as a peace offering, Israel gave up the Sinai Peninsula (about  60,000 km2 – 23,000 sq miles – in area)  to Egypt.  Despite large oil reserves having been found in the Sinai and the area serving as a big buffer zone, Israel pulled out of the Sinai in several stages ending in 1982.

In an NPR interview, reporter Nicolas Pelham, who writes for The Economist, discusses the Sinai and the Bedouin tribes that control it in his article, “In Sinai: The Uprising of the Bedouin.”   The Sinai Peninsula is  a very large piece of land, sparsely populated, which has been a conduit for smuggling – including arms smuggling.  The Bedouin, a population of about half a million broadly divide into some 20 to 30 tribes in the Sinai, managed to build up its own arsenal of weapons.

Phelham notes the Sinai has “spun out of control [of the central Egyptian government]. When the Mubarak regime fell, its security forces, which had retained Egyptian control, fled.. . . and   it’s becoming increasingly a full-scale battle between the Bedouin and the Egyptian government”  (from: http://www.npr.org/2012/11/26/165945327/sinai-peninsula-often-ignored-in-coverage-of-egypt).

Recently, I saw the Sinai mentioned in The New Yorker  article that tells of Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean-born Swede, who “advocates for Eritrean asylum seekers. She receives many calls from Eritreans in the Sinai, who beg for ransoms as large as forty thousand dollars while their captors pour molten plastic down their backs”  (April 21, 2014, p. 79).

So although Israel gave the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in a peace agreement, Egypt can’t control the area, and Israel still does not have the promised peace with her neighbors.

Another big surprise is that although I knew Arab and Israeli areas were close, I saw they are actually intertwined even in the capital city of Jerusalem. In the photo below, you can see the wall separating Jerusalem from the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

A closer look at the wall that does cause hardships for Palestianians working in Jerusalem but helps keep neighborhoods safe against the few who are trying to kill all Israelis.

A closer look at the wall that does cause hardships but helps keep neighborhoods safe against the few who are trying to kill all Israelis.

On Maui, what could you do if a few members of one group in Wailuku shelled their neighbors in Kahului?  In New York, what if some Brooklyn residents sent bombs into Manhattan?  In Illinois, what if Evanston residents were mortaring the north side of Chicago? Or vice versa.

The situation is very, very complicated.

Shelling happened as recently as July-August 2014 when Israel launched a military operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip following the June 12, 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members.

More than 2,200 people died, most of them Gazans – many children– during  seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting.

“The stated aim of the Israeli operation was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel . . . Conversely, Hamas’s goal was to bring international pressure to bear to lift Israel’s block of the Gaza Strip, end Israeli’s offensive, release Palestinian prisoners and overcome its political isolation. . . .

On 26 August, an open-ended ceasefire was announced. By that date, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) reported that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired 4,564 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, with over 735 intercepted in flight and shot down by Iron Dome [an example of Israel’s great defense technology]. Most Gazan mortar and rocket fire hit open land, more than 280 fell on areas in Gaza, while . . . 224 struck residential areas. The IDF attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza; at least 34 known tunnels were destroyed and two-thirds of Hamas’s 10,000-rocket arsenal was used up or destroyed” (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Israel–Gaza_conflict&gt;).

The situation there is not good: not good for the Israelis and not good for the Palestinians.

All houses and apartment buildings that I saw in Israel have bomb shelters!

A closer look at the wall that does cause hardships for Palestianians working in Jerusalem but helps keep neighborhoods safe against the few who are trying to kill all Israelis.

View from Mt. Scopus and the wall separating Jerusalem from the Palestinian Authority area.

The wall causes hardships especially for Palestinians, but it provides a barrier between the two sides.

Another indication that Israel is small is that on our way back to Jerusalem from the Golan Heights, Danny’s car was passed by the prime minister’s convoy!  Such proximity to national political leaders does not happen on Maui — and probably not where you live either.

Those flashing lights on Danny's care are from a passing political convoy.

Those flashing lights on Danny’s car are from a passing political convoy.

The country is so small that Barry and I were able to go by public transportation (a bus and then a train; we did have to run to catch the train!) from Eilat at the very south of Israel to Binyamina, which is between Tel Aviv and Haifa in the north.  It took us only about five hours.

Binyamina is north of Tel Aviv and south of Haifa.  We started in Eilat at the very south of Israel.

Binyamina is north of Tel Aviv and south of Haifa. We started in Eilat at the very south of Israel. 

Source: http://hethathasanear.com/images/israel_map.jpg

On Amtrak in the U.S., it takes longer than that to go from St. Louis, MO to Chicago, IL!

In many other ways, Israel is a surprise.  Although pilgrims come from all over the world,  the surprise is who they are.

Of course, Jews come to Jerusalem.

A Jewish man in the Old City Jerusalem.

A Jewish man in the Old City Jerusalem.

Arabs too.

Muslim Arabs coming by bus to Jerusalem to pray.

Muslim Arabs coming by bus to Jerusalem to pray.

And Christians.

Israel is so small that we walked next to another  visiting pilgrim - one that had body guards.  Someone told us the President of Malaysia and his wife were visiting. xx

Israel is so small that we walked next to another visiting pilgrim – one that had body guards. The Prime Minister of Malaysia and his wife were visiting.

We were all on our way to Visitation Church - where Mary received the blessing of the Lord xx

We were all on our way to Visitation Church – where Mary received the blessing of the Lord – and saw these colorful women being interviewed.

Not surprisingly, I felt amazed to be in the actual places of the Bible.

Visitation Church

Visitation Church

A wall of the "Magnifica" in many different languages.

A wall of the “Magnifica”-  in many different languages  on the wall of the Ein Karem Church of the Visitation.

Visitation Church

Visitation Church

The Magnificat: Song of Mary – “My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.  For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.  For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name. . . .”

St. John the Baptist Church

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church

St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

Another surprise is in contrast to the ornate Catholic and Protestant churches, I saw that most of the Jewish synagogues are very humble and simple.

Synagogue near St. John the Baptist Church.

Synagogue near St. John the Baptist Church.

Another humble synagogue

Another humble synagogue with a Christian church behind it.

The important rabbis of this synagogue.  They put their emphasis on learning and studying.  Simplicity is important.

The important rabbis of this synagogue. The rabbis put their emphasis on learning and studying. Simplicity is important.

Also, I expected military presence in Israel, but my surprise was that it felt okay (although I’m a Quaker).  I even felt very safe.

After Israelis graduate from high school, almost all are required to join the army.  The exceptions are Arab Israelis (although they can choose to join), kids from the Orthodox Jewish families, and those with significant physical or mental problems.

So we saw soldiers and their rifles almost everywhere we went in Israel.  However, we could tell they were professional and well trained.  For me, seeing those young Israelis with their rifles was not like the scary experiences of seeing a gun-brandishing guy on the Chicago El or another with an attitude at the Tucson swap meet  – those incidences were scary!  The Israeli soldiers are defending the existence of Israel – the one place where Jews can live without worry that their government and its citizens may one day choose to destroy them.

Young soldiers with their rifles are everywhere in Israel.

Young soldiers with their rifles are everywhere in Israel.

Whether on-duty or off-duty, Israeli soldiers carry their rifles.

Whether on-duty or off-duty, Israeli soldiers carry their rifles.

On the trains - everywhere

On the trains – everywhere.

Young Israeli soldiers on a field trip.

Young Israeli soldiers on a field trip.

Another really big surprise for me – Shabbat, the time for Jewish prayer, rest, and celebration lasts from sundown on Friday until several hours after sunset on Saturday.  Shops close, public transportation stops, no one is to work, drive a car, cook, or even press an elevator button!  Shabbat affects everyone, religious Jew or not.  Some Israelis like Shabbat even if they aren’t religious because it is a time for family and rest.  Others just find all the closures as irritating.  Shabbat certainly has to be considered.  Barry and I tried taking the light electric train one Friday afternoon in Jerusalem.  The sun was shining brightly, but the trains had already stopped – at 2:30 p.m.!  We were told that the train conductors needed time to get home and prepare for Shabbat.  Thankfully, an Arab taxi stopped for us.

On a Saturday late morning in Eilat, Barry and I waited for a Christian Ethiopian restaurant to open.  We hung out on this bench watching a few people pass by.  And yes, that's a beer Barry is drinking.  It was still Shabbat - almost nothing was open!

On a Saturday late morning in Eilat, Barry and I waited for a Christian Ethiopian restaurant to open. We hung out on this bench watching a few people pass by. And yes, that’s a beer Barry is drinking. It was still Shabbat – almost nothing was open!  

Ethiopian cuisine characteristically consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (also w'et or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 20 inches in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour.

Our Ethiopian lunch – minus its usual meat ingredient. 

Ethiopian cuisine characteristically consists of vegetables and often very spicy meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (also w’et or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 20 inches in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour.   Our lunch was good and spicy — and we were happy to find a place to eat on Saturday during Shabbat.

Although most Israelis are secular, the country has Hebrew, the language of the Bible, as its official language and the government promotes Jewish holidays and practices.

Another surprise –  the buildings in Jerusalem are required to be  made from Jerusalem stone — which glows golden as the sun sets.

Jerusalem stone is the facade of the buildings throughout the city.

Jerusalem stone is the facade of the buildings throughout the city.

Beautiful Jerusalem stone

Beautiful Jerusalem stone

Jerusalem stone

Jerusalem stone

Fancy buildings or more humble - they all are of Jerusalem stone.

Fancy buildings or more humble – they all are of Jerusalem stone.

More surprises, big and small, were part of our visit to Israel.  But this post is long enough.  More will follow.

I hope you will go to Israel and find your own surprises.

Shalom & Aloha,  Renée

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