The Way of the Keffiyeh: From High Fashion, Baked Goods, and “Israelization”

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Beginning to Feel Like a Local

I left the 1926 Apartments on Moshe Aharon Street downtown Haifa; jumped on a 103 bus to the central bus station; ran to gate 6, got on Jerusalem bus;  watched and listened to singing, drumming bus driver for two hours; hopped off in Jerusalem at the central bus station;  walked down Jaffa street to the shuk (Mahane Yehuda market);  waded into hordes of pre-shabbat shoppers; bought olives (7 nis), a loaf of crusty white bread (15 nis) and a small container of hummus (10 nis);  continued down Jaffa street next to the train tracks; used the atm; walked up Ben Yehuda;  elbowed my way on to the 74; piled off at old train station (currently, site of the ice show);  walked two blocks to my apartment in Abu Tur. Did all this before transportation and stores close for Shabbat at 2:00. (Did I say it was Friday?)

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Coloring the World

I first met Itamar Paloge, a street artist in his late twenties and the curator of the Tabula Rasa street art project next to the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on a YouTube . Until he walked through the doors of the Casbah restaurant, Florentin #3 in Tel Aviv, I had expected a middle-aged person (You tubes are deceiving.), partly because of the size, complexity, and depth of the project and partly because of his prompt and professional response to my email requesting a meeting and interview: “It’s an honor, and I’m very glad to hear that you like Tabula Rasa so much. I will be glad to meet with you.” (He suggested the restaurant choosing somewhere “cool” for me and a place close enough for a walking tour of the street art in South Tel Aviv.” I like it here,” said Itamar, “because it’s so free.” Wearing an orange and blacked striped hoodie, wool cap, and bright yellow chain hanging from jeans pocket, Itamar joined me and my Canadian companion Shirley.

Over Pad Thai, hamburger, antipasti, and Goldstar, I interviewed Itamar for 20 minutes asking him about his art, work as a curator, and thoughts on street art as a medium of expression.  Itamar received formal training as a jewelry maker at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Deciding the studio was not for him – he needed “adrenaline and action-”  Itamar began doing live art performances in events, at festivals, and during parties three years ago. He believes street art reaches a lot of people whether rich or poor; people who wouldn’t necessarily go to a gallery.  Currently, he is self-supporting through his art, but before this “being good with his hands,” he worked as a carpenter, installer of sound systems, and even designer of restaurants.

Itamar loves to color up neglected and underserved neighborhoods. It was his idea to cover the metal siding which surrounds construction sites in Jerusalem with street art. Based on the work he had completed for the municipality of Jerusalem in projects such as the one on Shushan Street, he was hired to be the curator of Tabula Rasa for which he collected approximately 30 artists, photographers and sculptors both students from schools like Bezalel and street artists such as Einat Shtekler, Itamar Mendesflor, Tamar Pikes, and Know Hope.

Itamar believes all street artists share the message about or have the desire for freedom of expression. “The walls are mine; this is where I live, and I want to be part of it.” Beyond that he thinks “some street artists are political, some social, and some are in it just for themselves.”  Believing that street art appeals to all ages, Itamar also  recognizes that right now street art is cool and in fashion, but if it is “smart enough and good enough,” it will appeal to anyone. Most people have welcomed Tabula Rasa and the work he does, but sometimes people think he is “polluting or defacing” their worlds. He hopes Tabula Rasa will be extended because it has “good resonance.”

He admires Know Hope who is “so poetic” and also a close friend and thinks that the Broken Fingaz, a group from Haifa, “is technically outstanding.” He also likes the big four: Foma the only female street artist he knows, Zero Cents,  Klone, and Know Hope. He admires Dioz, “a close friend and big talent,” and he has just gotten to know the artist Natalie Mandel with her street installations. Itamar likes text and art together and acknowledges that that’s how graffiti and street art got their beginnings: “First there was the word.” When asked about the difference between street art and graffiti, he said street art is everything not just sprayed art.  It is really just a technical separation. He likes the idea of “coloring up the world” which includes Israel’s separation wall but he recognizes “he is not from that side of the wall” and understands that many Palestinians think the wall is ugly and don’t want it made beautiful because of the reality it represents.

In the future Itamar would like to do a project with kids. While traveling in Cambodia, he paused at the Land Mine Museum, which presents the horrors landmines have caused Cambodians, and there he volunteered, teaching painting to children. But always, Itamar would like “to go someplace where some color is needed and where it is monochrome and depressing.”

If you would like to see more of Itamar’s work, go to

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The Things She Carries

In my Eddie Bauer backpack and Baggallini shoulder purse, I pack a laminated map of Jerusalem, a hummus sandwich with cucumbers on dark rye, a lemon Luna bar, a book (today’s:  Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture ), fleece gloves,  a small, spiral- bound 3 by 7 notebook, a collapsible umbrella with 2 broken spines, a pair of reading glasses, two pens (one with Khalifa Shoes Ben Yehuda Jerusalem on it), a  camera, my phone , two apartment keys, a pile of shekels, a souk scarf, lipstick (Afghan Red), cards in a Palestinian embroidered case bought in Damascus, a calendar, bus numbers for the day’s trip, and a bright green wallet with new ID cards: bus, Hebrew University, Israel Museum and Cinematheque. I read the reminder taped above the door lock to turn off the space heater and head down Mt. Zion often in pursuit of “art.”

Before stepping into a sunny and green Jerusalem this morning, I had to write a report for FH360 (Fulbright), attempting to classify what I have accomplished so far in my project: “Teaching Palestinian and Israeli Identity through the Arts.”  The report; full of contacts, websites, places, and even a few images; fell into these categories : visual arts, movies, dance/hip hop, music, graphic novels, schools, trips (The Abraham Path), suggestions from the Jerusalem Fund, and theatre. When I had tapped in the last comment about a potential webpage, I signed off with”Now I’m going out to find some art!

Today’s quest involved the Al- Ma’mal foundation for Contemporary Palestinian Art, my jeweler friends in the Souk, and the Al Hoash Gallery with detours to El Nasser’s, my Starbuck’s, for a Turkish coffee; a hardware shop in the Arab Quarter for a knife, a fork, and a spoon (10 shekels or between 2 and 3 dollars); and a sweet seller for some Turkish Delight. (Yesterday, I ate Hamantashen in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk in West Jerusalem. It is, after all, Purim).  My internet search told me to enter the Old City by the New Gate, 1896; this dropped me in the Christian Quarter. Between  the years of the War of Independence or the Nakbah and 1967 Arab-Israeli War the gate was closed since it delineated the border between Israel and Jordan. Apparently, Al- Ma’mal ‘s building  is being restored, so a man in a leather  shop – purses, belts, wallets, and sandals- sent me to the temporary  offices down a cobbled alley, past  some Palestinian children, and across a courtyard to the right. Inside, I found two young hip people at computers. When I explained my project, they smiled and told me everything was online:  artists’ work, descriptions of past Jerusalem Shows, “curatorial point of view,” workshops, and artist in residence programs.  The curatorial point of view, I discovered, includes this: “We like to see it as an attempt to intercede between the apocalyptic decadel tides of upheaval under which the city kneels, stealing time during the ebb of violence to wage an action of covert resistance to the forced hegemony of one creed and one people on the city. In a way it can be perceived as a political action.” Information in head, I was on my way to Al Hoash outside the Old City Gates and north toward the American Colony Hotel.

But first I needed my souk fix, a stop at the brothers Sinjawali .  I met this Palestinian family (only men, their wives, sisters, daughters are never in evidence) four years ago when I was a summer student at Rothberg International School. Ayman,  Joseph , Omar, Abdullah, and Mustafa always greet me like long lost relative and assure me that I am getting the Friend’s Price when I buy a shawl or a pair of earrings. Today, I asked Joseph and Omar if I could, at some point in the next four months, videotape them talking about traditional Palestinian arts; they agreed. While there Omar showed me a book, written in Arabic and English and read from right to left, about Palestinian jewelry and embroidery. They directed me to the shortest route, third left and then straight (through curvy narrow alleys filled with spice and hardware stores, men playing backgammon, saleb sellers, and clothing shops of the Muslim Quarter) and out the Damascus Gate. As anyone who has been there knows, it is very easy to get lost in the Old City.

Heading right out of the Gate, I was really in East Jerusalem. Every woman I saw wore a hijab and there were no tourists in sight. (It is the part of Jerusalem a student in my class at HU warned me to stay away from.)  Nobody bothered with me or even glanced in my direction, and the few times I had to stop and ask directions to Azara Street, the responses were courteous and prompt. On the way, I passed markets with almonds, artichokes, dates, oranges,  shishkbab lamb on  the grills , piles of ka’ak,  and coffee shops.

Earlier I had emailed Hanan at the Al Hoash Gallery In her reply, she welcomed me to the gallery and showed interest in my project.  I was not to be disappointed. The foundation, housed up some stairs and behind a heavy iron door, consists of several rooms- for teaching art to children and displaying the art of professionals- and a main office filled with postcards of children’s work, booklets of past shows, and packets of promotional materials. Two people, a mother and, I assumed, an artist- teacher, were speaking French. I entered the office and met Hanan, a young woman in her twenties sitting behind a large, wooden desk. She suggested I come back to meet and interview the gallery director, but not before showering me with information in the form of pamphlets and verbal descriptions about the educational work in which the gallery is currently immersed. Al Hoash, also known as The Art Court, will shortly release a video about an art-teaching project. As Hanan said, it is difficult to convince people to make art an educational priority when they consider other skills to be more important. Al Hoash has taken four English language teachers, two on this side of the separation wall and two on the other, and trained them for a full year to teach art. This project goes hand in hand with an arts educator who is asking students to create art and writing based on their identities as individuals, part of a family, part of a community, and part of a collective history. I described my Persian Miniature project, and we pledged to get together soon.

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Brief Encounters which Lead to Somewhere

In search of a second movie theatre recommended by Munther Fami, owner of The Bookshop at the American Colony Hotel, I headed toward the German Colony with its English street names: Lloyd George and Josiah Wedgwood, trendy coffee shops, and Anglo residents.  The Coffee Mill is not a coffee shop you would find in the Old City or on Ben Yehuda: New Yorker covers papered the walls; people filled the small, tightly packed tables, but the day before, I had learned a new custom at the Austrian Hospice Café. There, sitting by myself, reading The Yellow Wind by David Grossman, and yes, escaping the damp cold of my apartment, I was approached by a German couple who asked if they could sit at my four-seater table.  Christian pilgrims, they were visiting churches by day and sleeping in the Old City by night

In The Coffee Mill, I ordered a filtered coffee (“More filling than a long espresso,” suggested the American behind the counter) and looked at potential places to perch. Spotting a man whose laptop covered only half of a table’s surface, I crossed the crowded room and said: “Would you mind if I sat here?”  “It’s yours,” he graciously replied.  Make yourself comfortable.” Taking out my book, James Gelvin’s The Israel-Palestine Conflict, I began to read. (It is important to wait a decent interval before chatting.) “Are you sitting here to escape a cold apartment (my opening gambit on several occasions)?” I asked.

Sitting opposite me was Jon, the executive director of an NGO, the Tiziano Project  which “provides community members in conflict, post conflict and underreported regions with the equipment training and affiliations necessary to report their stories and improve their lives.” He had just moved to Abu Tor from Ramallah. I told him about my project, and we exchanged cards. Using terms like portal, central platform, partnering, and driving the traffic to one site; Jon explained that he is creating a website which might be useful for me. As he said, most people like me do projects, put up a blog, and then they die (the projects not the creators).  He wants to have projects which tell the stories of underserved populations on one site that can be shared.

Unlike today, yesterday I had a mission and was not simply wandering in a neighborhood. I wanted to peruse the tiny but intellectually and entertainingly dense shelves of the Bookshop at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. I also wanted to meet the owner, Munther Fami, a celebrity of sorts because of his Palestinian residency plight and the journalists he encounters at his well-known store. See “A Fixture of Jerusalem Literary Life, Threatened with Deportation” I had been to the book store four years ago and witnessed the shelves full of award winning fiction, Palestinian memoirs, and   photographs of Jerusalem street scenes.

The walk from my Abu Tor neighborhood to the American Colony Hotel passes Mt. Zion with its views of the Old City, goes up the paved road past the Jaffa gate, around the outside of the Old City walls to the Damascus Gate where it crosses the street to the Nablus Road. On this road, I passed men selling ka’ak, Arab bread with sesame seeds and sometimes served with zatar; the East Jerusalem bus station from which I will travel to Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin in the West Bank; and the Palestinian Pottery store. Then I arrived at the also- famous American Colony Hotel billed as “a fairytale get-away in the heart of Jerusalem, providing its luxurious hospitality services for more than 120 years. Personified by classic Arabian arches, this elegant boutique hotel prides itself in offering guests an enchanting ‘East-meets-West’ experience.”  Inside the bookshop I was alone; it was Saturday, still Shabbat, and still raining.  I introduced myself to Munther, described my project, and watched as he pulled ten books from the shelves about Palestinian identity. I was particularly interested in two them: The Invention and Decline of Israeliness by Baruch Kimmerling and Mountain against the Sea (Modern Palestinian culture) by Salim Tamari .Likewise, Munther was intrigued by the Middle Eastern graphic novels I mentioned; I promised to send him Harvard’s site listing and annotating these books.  As I left, I asked him if he had read my favorite novel set in Palestine, Martyr’s Crossing by Amy Wilentz. Although he owned the book and remembered the author, the New Yorker correspondent for the Middle East and frequenter of his shop, he hadn’t read the novel yet.

To pay my monthly rent, I have to visit a cash machine at least three times on three different days because of daily limits imposed by Charles Schwab. Finding myself in central Jerusalem on Ben Yehuda Street at a cash machine for time # three, I secured my rent and decided to treat myself to coffee and pastry. Next to me, this time at a separate table, sat a young American woman plugged into her computer while on the phone explaining to someone that she had just finished a very rough draft.  Jess, who works for the communication headquarters at UNRWA and has been living in Jerusalem for four years, gave me a number of useful sites and resources for my project: Camp Breakerz and Again, we exchanged cards and agreed to meet for coffee at a future date.

Maybe I will see these three again. Maybe I will just take advantage of the leads they gave me. Maybe…

Post Script: If you read the The New Yorker article about Munther, you might be interested to know that his status has been resolved, and he is allowed to stay in Jerusalem with his wonderful book store.

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Singing in the Freezing Rain

Arriving at the door of the Cinematheque, I stripped off my soaking pants and rain jacket. Underneath I was wearing a pair of jeans, pajamas, and an “outer coat,” a sweatshirt, a thin hoodie, and a t-shirt. I walked down the stairs to Theater #2 hoping to see 77 Steps, a documentary by a Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker about coming of age, identity, Palestine, and Israel… The catalogue read “subtitled in English.” Three minutes before the movie began, a lady announced that it would only be in Hebrew and Arabic- no English subtitles. So I picked up my jacket and dripping wet outer pants, which I had carefully spread over two seats, and set off for Abu Tor.

My day up until then had not been that tiresome.

Figuring out the two buses I needed to get to the Israel Museum was fairly easy. When the driver said he didn’t speak English, I addressed the entire bus with: “Does anyone speak English?”  A nice girl from Atlanta moved over, so I could join her.  While chatting and not thinking, I managed to say Palestinian-Israeli art (as an interest of mine).  Now, there are many variations and labels for what this area of the world and the people are called- Israel, Israel-Palestine, Israel/ Palestine, Israel and the West Bank, Israel and the Occupied Territories. Then there are the Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Israelis, Israeli-Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, but no one says Palestinian-Israelis. Oh well. As I said the girl, a piano teacher, was very nice.

Where else can you go to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, a Japanese Zen garden, Impressionist paintings, a magic lantern exhibit, and several synagogues? The Israel Museum is one of the “best” in the world. In 2008 when I was last in Israel, it was undergoing a multi- million dollar overhaul. I joined the 2:00 tour of the Contemporary Art gallery. I joined it with Barbara, our South African, former pharmacist guide who made aliyah 35 years ago, and one other man, an American at the end of his trip to Israel. Barbara’s docent training consisted of an extensive course on art history and constant updating of her art history background. A delightful combination of erudition, charm and colorful anecdote, she led the two of us through the gallery explaining museum policy, giving interesting context to each representative work she stopped at, and adding colorful bits about donors and decadent artists. 

After saying good-bye to Barbara and Sam, I headed to the Israeli galleries and watched the short film: Israeli Art the First 100 Years. Perfect for my project, “Teaching Israeli and Palestinian Identity through Arts,” the documentary explained the beginning of Israeli art with Bezalel movement and then showed how each war (beginning with the 1929 Arab riots) or major change in Israeli society shifted the nature of art and the artists’ attitudes especially toward Arabs as portrayed through art. Although the film did not include much Palestinian art, it did have extensive and interesting commentary about the Israeli artists who were and are reflecting Palestinian identity and treatment.

To complete the day’s visit, I watched Sharif Waked’s remarkable seven minute video “Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints””  The installation contains a series of documented pictures of Arab men at check points in such places as Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Kalandiya, Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, and Gaza City. All stand at gunpoint with exposed chests and stomachs.  Then the fashion show begins with a series of incredibly handsome Arab men walking the runway and wearing clothing that either comes apart, is unzipped, or rolled up to reveal vulnerable torsos, and it looked to me, like tiny bullet holes.  I intend to visit the Umm el-Fahem art gallery curated and founded by Said Abu Shakra  It is in the Arab city of Umm el-Fahem which lies in the eastern part of Israel, near the seam line separating the State of Israel from the Palestinian Authority.

I do have a membership. Next Monday is the guided tour of the Israeli Galleries. And I really need to find a copy of that movie!

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Confessions of a Shopaholic or What I Bought My First Week in Israel

2 Bars of Olive soap from Nablus to keep me clean when the shower water is HOT

Zatar on pita bread from the Old City

A purple, black, and gold scarf which says 100% cashmere (but we know It’s not) to keep me WARM

A container of hummus that bears no resemblance to what I get at Costco

Tights with sequined palm trees from the market at the Damascus Gate (to wear under my pants at night for extra coziness)

A card of 6 discount tickets at the Cinematheque for Palestinian and Israeli movies

A space blanket at Ace hardware that is wrapped around me right now

A membership to the Israel Museum

A laminated map of Jerusalem

A bus pass, but today I walked for 8 hours

Chamomile tea and chocolate cookies to keep me toasty in the evening

Frankincense and myrrh incense to take my mind off the cold

A cappuccino in the Jewish Quarter

An espresso in the German Colony

A Turkish coffee in the Old City

A freshly squeezed orange juice in the Mahane Yehuda market

And ½  shawarma with french fries  on Ben Yehuda Street

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