Sunday, April 18, 2010

Moving On (Back to Reality!)

This will be the final post to this blog.  It provided space for me to reflect while participating in the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher program.  I am, however, motivated to continue, I have moved all of these posts to a new blog, which can be found by clicking here.  I have enjoyed the global interactions with all those who have posted, lurked, and confessed to reading the stories I have told.  Let's keep the dialog going.....see you online at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It takes a village.....

Not exactly an original title, but appropriate.  It is time to say goodbye, for now, to Israel.  The official part of my Fulbright is at an end.  In two days, I'll be back in Fenway working with an eager group of seventh graders.  A fellow blogger wrote recently that it is important to thank people.  OK, this is going to take a while, but here goes....In no particular order.....Thanks to Paul A. for working the back end to make sure Catlin Gabel would continue to run smoothly in my Pam and Noa for being willing to head off on an unknown Richard, Faith, Johny, David, and Daisy for making sure we had all the tech tools we needed and for maintaining the long distance backups, Kabir for taking the medieval the class of 2015 for allowing me to leave in the middle of the my C&C for trusting that I would return in time for the end of the year and for finishing the yearbook Ruth, Tamara, and a host of others at Mofet for making sure I was well-taken care of in Augusta, Lamese, and the wonderful staff at AED for providing the framework for this Fulbright Kristin and the staff at Vanderbilt for making sure I had enough to read in Rafi, Eleanor, Alicia, Sarah, Reuven, and Susan for meeting with me, shepherding me in the right direction, and allowing me to tag along as they went about their the students and staff at all the schools I visited for showing me the best side of Israeli education, students working hard under the guidance of terrific Ribhe for making sure we always had enough the security guard outside Tal Bagel for making us feel welcome in the neighborhood and for proving that people don't have to speak the same language in order to Efrat for making Noa feel "grown up." Elaine, Chaim, their children, and their friends for making us honorary Yemenites, showing us how joyous celebrating Shabbat can be, and feeding us amazing Ahmad, Manal, and the kids for showing us the Israeli-Arab side of the equation.  We needed to spend more time with you.  To Dad and Louise for being willing travel companions north and the staff at Cafenetto in Mitzpe Ramon for the most delicious lunch in the Benedict for serving the best breakfasts in the entire staff at Cafe Restobar for making us feel at home in Jerusalem.  We invite you to join us in Portland and wish you good luck with the birth of your second Moller for the GPS unit.  It worked like a all of the Egged bus drivers who worked tirelessly to get me to where I needed to go and back home to Jerusalem again, even when I was exhausted, you kept me safe and Marilyn, s, Mom, and friends all over the world for responding to blog posts.  You kept us all motivated to write more, observe more, record Spencer for keeping us connected to Jeff for pushing me to write regularly, and not just about education in the classroom sense...and, finally, to Jay and his family for showing us the ropes, making us feel at home, answering unending questions, and pushing all of us to explore Israel in our own ways.  A huge thank you to everybody who I have left unnamed because I am still enjoying one more day in the fine Jerusalem spring.   One final note.....this blog will be moving to a new site in the near future. All of the posts from this site will still be there, but I think a new title is in order as this chapter is ending.  Stay tuned for Peeking over the Edge....Goodbye for now to Jerusalem and Israel, hello to Portland and the USA.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good, No, Great Friday

It is Good Friday.  Actually, it is a great Friday.  About 25° C (77°F), sunny, light breeze in the air.  While I was thinking of how to begin this piece, Sebastian Engelbrecht of Bavarian State Radio beat me to the best opening.  "Today, in Jerusalem, everybody is equal.  It is Good Friday for Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Protestants; Passover for Jews; and Muslims will attend Friday prayers.  People from all over the world are streaming into Jerusalem."  There is no more important city in the world today for the faithful, whatever their faith.  Others will write about the religious aspects of the day,  Yes, those are impressive celebrations, and it is a joy to see so many people peacefully professing their faith in so many different ways yet always directed towards the same God.  The people most responsible for insuring that all runs smoothly today will, if all does run smoothly remain almost invisible.  The Israeli military, border police, and local Jerusalem police have carefully planned how to insure that all the groups which need access to areas in Jerusalem's Old City have it.  Roads have been blocked off to insure smooth traffic flow.  When an Israeli soldier on traffic duty tells you that you may not pass, he is speaking with the power of Gandalf, the wizard in Lord of the Rings.  The only thing missing is his wizard's staff.  Watching the woman in the picture try to argue her way past (that is her cab behind her) brought smiles to our faces, and, eventually, she was going to have to find another way to where ever she was headed.  The way she was gesticulating, it seemed she was going to have to go all the way to Amman, Jordan, to reach her destination.  

On foot, through the Zion Gate, our favorite way into the Old City, there was no traffic.  There were almost no people!  We passed one group of pilgrims, and we entered the City as if it were any other day.  We headed straight for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we figured the crowds would prevent us even getting close.  Evidently, we were very early because we ended up at the final checkpoint before the Church.  We noted the knots (as in at least ten) Israeli security guards at the intersections and along the final streets leading to the Church.  The guards were clearly relaxing, having a little breakfast, and in general, not paying much attention to the crowd.  Now, this is misleading.  There were always at least four men (no women today) watching carefully, insuring that all went smoothly.  We passed traffic barricades ready to be moved into place to help guide the pilgrims towards the Church.  One road we walked on had huge awnings over it, crowd barriers to help keep order, and big screen tvs ready to go for services.  The awnings were to try to shield the faithful from the intense sun.  The security personnel were ready for anything.  Riot helmets were on shoulders or in backpacks, kevlar vests were packed with all the gear needed for the day, including at least three water bottles, and first aid kits visible on every soldier.

Noa and I stayed around long enough to enjoy the crowds, watch one group of pilgrims after another complete their march on the Via Dolorosa, and then decided it was time to move along.  The crowd was growing quickly and we didn't want to be on the wrong side of the barriers trying to explain to an Israeli policeman why he should let us through....

So we headed back into the alleyways and made our way through the Cardo to a spot we know has a great view of the Western Wall and Temple Mount.  There were more Jews around due to Passover festivities.  But, there were almost no visible security personnel.  Oh, a solider here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Down at the Western Wall and up on the walkway leading to the Temple Mount, there was the usual Friday complement of guards and police.  

The one interaction we chose not to view was further back along the Via Dolorosa.  Christians marching the Stations of the Cross have to walk West to follow the route.  Muslims trying to get to the Temple Mount, a traditional gathering place during and after Friday prayers have to cross the Via Dolorosa heading South.  Israeli security folks evidently stop the Christians every few meters with barricades to allow the Muslims to cross.  Watch tonight's news to find out if all went well.  

Why a focus on Israel's military today?  On this Great Friday, they are demonstrating why, under any proposed peace plan, they should remain the only military force in the Old City.  Unlike the Jordanians who barred Jews from the Old City for the 19 years they were a military presence and unlike the Palestinians who seem hell-bent on creating violence in the Old City, the Israeli military allows equal access to the important sites in the Old City to any peaceful  person who wants it.  They have done it since 1967, they continue to do it today.  Well done, gentlemen (and, because we know there are women working invisibly behind you, ladies.)  I can hardly wait for Sunday.....Easter and the end of Passover on the same day! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flirting Gone Awry

Today was a glorious day, weather-wise, in Israel.  Noa and I decided to head to Tel Aviv one final time.  Clearly, we were not the only folks in Jerusalem with this idea.  The Bus Station was as crowded as we had ever seen it.  Egged puts on extra buses for Passover to try to handle the crowds.  We got on a bus to Tel Aviv that was already pretty full.  I found Noa a seat near the front and headed for the back.  Usual bus etiquette is that one asks if a seat is free....some folks try to occupy two seats....and there is usually no problem.  Today, I approached a high school age boy, asked if the seat were free, and he clearly was reluctant to let me sit with him.  In fact, he left to go sit with another friend of his.  I called Noa back to me figuring we could sit together.....Big mistake.....Now, before I continue, I need to remind readers that Noa has fairly negative feelings towards Arab boys, ages 10-18, who have been more than menacing when she and Pam have walked through Arab neighborhoods and the Old City.  These children have threatened to spit at them, an interesting cultural characteristic.....Ok, back to the bus ride.....As we were entering the freeway, Noa and I felt sunflower seed shells hitting the back of our heads.  I turned around and glared at the high school age children behind us.  We were in the middle of a group of about 12 sophomores (my guess), maybe freshmen.  We thought they were spitting at the high schoolers in front of us.  When the second batch hit us, I turned around and asked the young people to stop saying that enough was enough.  The kids grew raucous, mimicked us, but at least they stopped spitting at us and resumed spitting on the floor.  A couple of the girls in the group also yelled at the boys to stop...which they sort of did.  Then a soldier sitting in the middle of the bus asked the kids if it were really necessary to be so loud and obnoxious.  They mocked him, too.  It must have dawned on a couple of the boys that they weren't getting Noa's attention, so they tried out a few English phrases on her, but she wasn't having any of it, so they began using their English to tease her.  This proved equally ineffective.  Then one of the boys decided to try smoking (all Egged buses are non-smoking.)  Again, the soldier in the middle asked what the heck was going on, the kids realized they had a problem, so they opened all the vents to try to clear the air and yelled at the smoker to knock it off which he thankfully did.  Once the boys realized that flirting with Noa was not going to happen , they went back to trying to impress the girls who were with them.  Now, I have taught high school kids in many countries, but I have never witnessed the hard slaps to the head that both boys and girls were dishing out.  These kids were way out of control.  Yes, it is Passover Break in Israel, and high school kids need to prove they are cool to their friends, but this group of children was not only disrespectful towards us, but towards all of the passengers and the Egged driver who was going to have to clean up their mess.  Clearly new to bus travel, many of the boys in the group tried to get off at the security checkpoint just outside the bus terminal.  The security guard sternly told them to stay on the bus.  Enjoying a moment of quiet after they exited, Noa and I made our way to the front, thanked the driver for his patience, and proceeded to have a fabulous day in Tel Aviv!

We walked up to Benedict, Noa's favorite breakfast joint, sat at the bar and enjoyed the world's best chocolate pancakes (Noa) and Matzohbrei (me)  Fresh orange juice and perfect coffee rounded out the meal.  Then, we walked the boardwalk.  It looked like a typical beach scene at the height of summer.  After a day in the sun, we returned to Jerusalem on a bus with no children, a great driver, and a bit of peace and quiet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A veritable feast!

As the Fulbright winds down, and the education community is on Pesach vacation, it's time for a gastronomic post!  Noa and Pam will blog about our visit to Ahmad Amer, a Fulbrighter from Kfar Qasem.  We ate unbelievable food! Noa's post for that meal.  Tonight we joined the throngs on Emek Refaim at Caffit.  All day long, people have been eating on Emek.  There is little Hebrew being spoken, but half the Jews East of the Mississippi must be in Israel right now....and they are all in our little neighborhood.  We ordered salad, matzo ball soup, sweet potato latkes, and a Pesach roll.  Then, we sat back and watched the hecticness of the season.  We have never seen hostesses (Pam will describe the fashion) working harder than we have seen anybody work.  The level of noise was similar to an NBA game.  Yet, food was prompt, gorgeous looking, and very tasty.  OK, Pam's soup is better, the matzo balls are fluffier.  The Pesach roll was.....better with butter!  Sweet potato latkes were delicious with the chive sour cream.  Noa's fresh apple juice was foamy and delicious. We had a terrific time laughing with the masses and cementing memories of our time here.

Many restaurants just close for the week.  Remodels are completed, work which might normally disrupt customers can be completed with no disruptions whatsoever.  Supermarkets cover up the "forbidden" Passover foods, and interestingly enough, Israelis finally obey instructions!  Nobody peeks behind the plastic!!  Even the gelato gets a makeover!  Our favorite flavors are on vacation this week....but we will have one more opportunity to try them on Monday night.

Definitely a fun time to be in Israel.....and with Easter coming up this weekend.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Experiential Education

Time to dedicate a blog post to Judy Teufel, art teacher extraordinaire and friend.  Judy taught kids to write "important stuff."  Didn't really matter if it appeared in nice, sentence form.  Much of what I have learned in Israel doesn't really fit a category, it was either observed or experienced.  So, in the spirit of Middle School Breakaway, Catlin Gabel's Experiential program for middle schoolers, here goes.....

Last week, a carpenter stopped by to see what could be done to seal windows and doors to try to keep the rain out.  While he was looking at the patio doors, I noticed a pistol sticking out of his waistband.  I've never worked with a handyman who carried a weapon before!  And, in a gesture seen only in Israel, on his way out, he touched the Mezzuzah outside our door. 

Those who follow Noa already know we travelled to the Golan Heights last weekend to visit the Hoter family.  We celebrated the most religious Shabbat I have ever participated in.  After leaving Jerusalem, we traveled east to the Dead Sea and Jericho.  We turned north at Jericho and found ourselves driving through a desert.  As we traveled north, the desert gave way to greenery.  We passed through the Border Police checkpoint and were out of the West Bank heading towards Beit She'an, often referred to as Israel's Pompeii.  Upon reaching Lake Kenneret (Sea of Galilee), we stopped for lunch at a delightful arts center.  We had the entire cafe to ourselves as we enjoyed the view, serenity, and good food.  It was an idyllic place filled with sunshine, birds, and flowers.

Back on the road, we stopped near Qazrin for a short walk before arriving at Alonei Habashan, the Moshave where Elaine and her family live.  Elaine is one of three Israeli recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, essentially my counterpart in this program.  Shabbat cleaning was in full force.  People running everywhere, furniture up off the floor, food being prepared, etc.  We were guests, and invited to take showers!  In addition to our visit, Elaine's daughter, Michal was home for the first time in many months, daughter Orit had come home from Acco (Acre), and three other family friends were also spending Shabbat with the Hoters.  It was quite a crowd!  I wondered about space for all of us, since most Israelis homes are not that large.  We all fit quite comfortably.  Noa, Pam, and I stayed in Orit's room. 

Once showered, Elaine lit the Shabbat candles.  No big ceremony, nothing like I had experienced before.  I looked up and she was over at the mantle lighting the candles.  Then, it was off to Shul with Chaim (husband) and Avichai(youngest son.)  Zichron and Effi, Chaim's college buddies joined us.  At one point Chaim asked me if I could read Hebrew, I said yes, but I couldn't read it fast enough!  Some of the prayers sounded familiar, others were totally new to me.  I was just happy that most of the time, I knew where to turn the page and didn't have to wait for Chaim to show me.

After an hour or so, services were over.  We met outside Shul.  Pam and Noa had been sequestered in the women's section (one of many reasons, we won't become orthodox anytime soon.)  Then it was time to eat and experience Yemenite culture close up and personal.  Turns out Chaim and his buddies are all Yemenites.  The Shabbat evening had such joy in it that Pam and I were soon laughing, humming, and attempting to sing all the while enjoying what we THOUGHT was the Shabbat meal......turns out it was only the first course!  The experience was dizzying.  Food everywhere....and very good food, too!  Chaim chanting blessings at the appropriate times, Effi and Orit singing the entire time.  Others joining in when they weren't eating or talking. After more than three hours of celebrating, the Monheimer's, who were falling asleep went to bed.  Fortunately, we had quite accidentally left our lights in the correct position or else we were going to have to sleep with the lights on!  No turning lights on or off during Shabbat.  Lights in common areas are on timers so we had light and hot water in the morning, etc.

Saturday morning, we had a light breakfast of sweet cakes and breads.  Zichron and we had both brought goodies from the same bakery in Jerusalem.  We discovered both Zichron and Effi lived and worked withing meters of our apartment!  The world is truly small.  We strolled around the Moshav while others attended prayers.  Then, it was time for lunch....which was nearly as elaborate as dinner the evening before!  Effi continued with what seemed like non-stop singing, Zichron and I engaged in a fascinating conversation about which electronics could be used on Shabbat and which couldn't and why the rules were needed.  After lunch, we strolled up the hill to an old Israeli bunker and admired the view into Syria.  The border reminds me of the German border in the days of two Germanys.  We observed no obvious weapons, but it was also clear they weren't very far away.  After returning to the Hoter's, it was finally time for the Shabbat nap! 

Of course, after our nap, it was time to celebrate the end of Shabbat guessed it, eat AGAIN!  Dinner was a mix of leftovers and freshly prepared new dishes.  After a quick hike on Sunday back to the Syrian border to take pictures (no photos on Shabbat), we headed back to Jerusalem.  Oh, I almost forgot....Pam, Noa, and I are now officially Yemenite.  We passed the two tests (secret, sorry.)  Sunday, it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Jerusalem.  Experiential Education part two coming up....Pam and I don't think we will ever celebrate Shabbat the old way again!  We understand why Jews look forward to it, and why, if we could go back in time, being Yemenite is the way to go!  Thank you Chaim, Elaine, Effi, Zichron, Avigal, Michal, Orit, and Avichai for being such patient, wonderful teachers!  The flower?  Golan Iris, only blooms in the early spring.  The Israeli equivalent of trillium.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring alternatives

This has been quite a week.  Monday, I joined a group of educators in Be'er Sheva (pronounced "bear" not "beer") who were visiting Bedouin schools.  Israel and the Bedouins have a special relationship.  Israel would like them to settle down, become less nomadic, and has built communities (think townships) for the Bedouins.  Some Bedouins have embraced this idea, others prefer to live in the manner their people have always lived.  To reach the first school, we drove about 5 miles out of Be'er Sheva and found ourselves on a brand new road with newly created roundabouts driving through what can only be described as a township in the South African model.  When we reached the school, I was struck by the fact that we just walked in.  There was apparently neither armed guard nor locked gate.  We just walked in, said hi to the kids playing, asked directions to the main entrance, and headed into the school.  Very different than every other Israeli school I've been in.  We walked into the male faculty room.  Later, we spoke with the principal who has a male assistant.  Clearly, there are cultural norms in these school which are different from other Israeli schools.  This must make some types of communication difficult, if not impossible.  This elementary school was an "experimental" school.  The Ministry of Education allows schools to "experiment" with lots of different areas of learning.  Experiments are funded for five years, then evaluated for success or no success (failure is really not an option.)  Successful schools are those whose students score at the same level as "non-experimental" schools in subjects such as language and math.  They then receive more funding to replicate their model and train other teachers/schools.  Almustabel (the future in Arabic) is right on the edge of the desert.  Students study every aspect of desert life, plants, soil, animals, birds, etc. in conjunction with Bedouin culture.  These kids collect tons of data.  I have already contacted Scott Bowler at Catlin Gabel to see if he wants to trade Northwest data with the science teacher at Almustabel.  The science guy (pictured here) lives in an unincorporated Bedouin village with no electricity.  He tethers his laptop to his cell phone and powers the whole internet connection with a USB modem run on solar power.  The biggest speed bump for this school right now is teacher retention.  It must be difficult to run an experimental school with high teacher turnover.  I don't envy Abdullah, the principal.

After lunch, we joined a caravan of cars travelling off-road to a brand new school in an unincorporated area.  Remember, those areas have little, no roads, no power, problematic water distribution, etc.  Suddenly, we drove around a dune and were face to face with a lovely two story pastel colored school.  The first thing I noticed was a loud hum.  The entire school is powered by a generator the size of a small recreational vehicle.  Once inside, I thought I was back in Oregon.  Bright pictures on the walls, no hum (thick walls!), lots of color, the whole place looked just like an American school.  We met with school staff to discuss an ongoing project involving teaching Bedouin parents how to use computers.  Hurdles to overcome in this program include separating moms and dads (they didn't even want to join together to celebrate their completion of the course!), stopping in the middle of the meeting to pray, and, most importantly, the fact that many more families want to be included than the school has either teachers or space for.  I asked if families were tracked after the course to see how they put the computer knowledge to use, but, I'm not sure I understood the answer.  It was a tiring, long day, and as I was returning to Jerusalem (on an Egged bus that was overheating), the bus driver switched from talk radio to oldies music.  I smiled and sat back to Aretha Franklin's RESPECT.  That is what the Bedouins really want.  Many serve in the military.  They just want cultural respect from their country....Israel.

Tuesday, I accompanied a university instructor visiting a student teacher who was completing a practicum at a nearby special ed school.  The best part about the visit was I didn't have to take a bus!  I could have walked to the school, but, of course, I met the instructorfive minutes walk from our apartment and we drove the final 5 minutes to the school.  This special ed school appeared to be boys only.  It was a tough audience in a tough school (doors in this school are locked not to keep the world out, but to keep the students in.)  I asked the instructor how the student-teacher came to be placed in the school.  Turns out she asked to work with this population.  After the lesson, I offered suggestions about English sites which the student teacher might find useful.  She is still acquiring the skills she needs to be an effective teacher, but, she already has a very important quality.....she is passionate about the welfare of her students.  All in all, a fascinating couple of days in schools which are way outside the Israeli educational mainstream.