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I once visited a refugee camp, and only once. Yet memories from the visit remain bright and vivid, with conflicting emotions that never seem to escape me in life. We can understand most human conflict is grounded in the following bases (1) divergent ideologies or viewpoints; (2) religion; and (3) the inability of people to see past stereotypes imposed by media, culture, or the environment in which they grew up. I was reminded of this visit yesterday, when an Israeli reader began to argue with me yet again about "scary" and "evil" Muslims. Given the current political climate in the U.S., and the escalating global situation with terror threats, now seems as good a time as any to share this story.Read more... )
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"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

I'm ambivalent about organized religion. I'm glad it's there to provide hope, comfort and a sense of purpose for so many humans around the globe, and I respect the right to practice any faith. Yet I must be honest and say I don't feel comfortable in overly religious settings or environments. My mentality is more aligned with Abe Lincoln's statement or the doctrine of karma. In my childhood, I was constantly surrounded by religion because I attended a conservative Baptist school from 5th - 12th grade. All the Biblical tales were embedded in my head, but once I graduated I never thought of them again, or picked up a Bible. After 20 years, it's difficult for me to remember the significance of all these holy sites in Jerusalem but many people in my group knew every detail and even recited Bible quotes to remind us of their relevance. Today, we take a quick look at some of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the ancient city.Read more... )
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"If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion." - Noam Chomsky

The famous American-Jewish author, Noam Chomsky, has written a lot about the West Bank, but I believe this quote hits closest to my heart. I've already told you how I feel about Palestine in my stories from Ramallah and Sebastia. I think many Westerners live in some sort of "comforting illusion" about this region. Believing only what they see on the news. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we see mostly horrific scenes from Gaza - dead children, bombed out apartments and buildings, extremists using humans as shields...Constant debate about Israel's military tactics in the area, yet also a strong understanding and justification for the defensive actions taken to protect Jerusalem and other parts of the country. However, the West Bank is much more than Gaza. It's a land filled with ordinary people, living in an undeniably oppressive environment. Colorful street scenes await your eyes around every corner, in a third-world sense. I felt the whole time that people on both sides of the Separation Wall are essentially imprisoned, but in very different ways.Read more... )
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At one point in history, working for the airlines was a glamorous profession. Beautiful, young and sophisticated flight attendants served passengers who were flying in high style, and for many it was even a big social event. A level of class and service was expected, and airlines delivered. Now, it has become one of the most thankless, mind numbing jobs on the planet. I know because I used to work for United Airlines before I became a lawyer. Dealing with annoyed, angry, drunk and frustrated passengers on a consistent basis is mentally draining and requires the highest level of patience, which I sometimes lack in my older years.

El Al, the national carrier of Israel, is legendary for its top notch security. However, security screening has absolutely no impact on abhorrent human behavior, which becomes more difficult to control at 35,000 feet above the sky. Last week, chaos ensued on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews boarded the flight to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the Holy Land. Hundreds of the men demanded that other passengers switch seats, claiming they can't sit next to women on the long flight due to religious beliefs. Some of the men even offered to pay female passengers to move seats, but most refused. In some cases, because they didn't want to sit apart from their spouse, in others simply to make a statement that they didn't condone the extreme behavior of the men. Once the flight took off, most of the ultra-Orthodox men remained in the aisles, refusing to take their seat next to a woman. One fellow passenger called the flight an "11 hour nightmare!" Flight attendants couldn't serve drinks, meals, etc. because the aisles were blocked by the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Here's a photo from Twitter:Read more... )
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Just a few months ago, I was roaming the streets of Israel and Palestine. Now I watch tensions and rockets escalate each night on the evening news, and I think back to my time in the West Bank. I became so tired of the crowds in Jerusalem that I couldn't wait to escape into less traveled areas, and let's be honest - many foreign tourists are scared to venture out of Bethlehem and travel deeper into Palestine. For me, the emotions of exploration, which were silenced during the first few days in Israel, immediately came to life when we entered the West Bank.

While my friends went to visit yet another church in the rural village of Sebastia, I decided to investigate the narrow, secluded streets where the church sat. I turned a corner and these children peeked outside their door, intrigued and happy that a foreigner was in their remote village. "Hallo, hallo, where are you from?" It was the same greeting all Palestinian children gave me during the journey, but the smiles of these boys captivated me in a special way. As always, I was struck by the innocence, beauty and curiosity of children, no matter the nation. They typically see only one race - human. As it should be.Read more... )
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Of all the places in the world, Israel was never at the top of my destination list. I didn't envision myself visiting this country, but sometimes gifts are handed to us when least expected and it's necessary to unwrap them. I was invited by a friend who has family ties in the area. One of his relatives is interested in creating tours specifically tailored to American clientele, so he offered a free trip for a few natives to visit and provide opinions on select hotels, services and destinations. Almost all members of my group are highly religious - some pastors, others devote Christians their entire lives. For them, visiting the Holy Land was a dream realized. For me, it was simply a new country to explore. Today a very brief post and introduction to Jerusalem, with a main focus on the market in the Old City. It was there that I met this friendly guy, who enticed me into his decorative shop full of dishes, mirrors and other handmade items.Read more... )
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Why do people read travel blogs, delve into the pages of journey books, or become intrigued by stories and landscapes from far away countries they will likely never reach? The answer is simple - many people have a strong curiosity about the way others live. The curiosity is often heightened for groups of people who belong to unique sects. Personally, I count the Orthodox Jews in this category. In Old City, Jerusalem they are everywhere yet to photograph them or obtain a stand alone image is very difficult. First, there were immense crowds in Old City, no matter the day I visited. I don't know if this is always the case, or if the crowds swelled due to the overlap of Easter and Passover during the week I was there. Second, they don't like to be photographed. So, when I obtained this photo of a young man walking the street I was happy. I posted the image a few days ago on Instagram, and was immediately attacked by someone with the username "madeinjerusalem."  What upset him?Read more... )
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Before every trip, especially solo ones, my mother goes into a complete panic. It doesn't matter if I'm traveling in the U.S. or overseas. In her mind, there's always an irrational fear that something tragic will happen and her daughter will never return. I can honestly say I don't fear many things in life, and certainly not death. In fact, I spend almost no time thinking about it, yet there are some who expend a lot of thought and money on death and what happens thereafter. One example I encountered during my trip to Israel is the maze of tombs atop Mount of Olives. Rows and rows of monochromatic slates pressed against each other on a sacred site. This is the most ancient and holy place for Jews to be buried, some paying up to $25,000 USD for a slot.

I'm not an expert in Judaism, but it's my understanding that many Jews believe when the Messiah returns the dead will rise from their graves and walk to the holy Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. From this cemetery, that's only a few hundred meters, thus people who are buried here will be amongst the first to greet the Messiah upon his return. I even read that everyone in the cemetery is buried with their feet facing the Temple Mount so they can come straight up on the big day and not have to adjust themselves. Amazing preparation and global positioning! :)Read more... )
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bus ad

Readers occasionally make comments to me that free speech in America is dead. If you still believe this, take a look at this shocking ad I saw plastered on a Metro bus in Washington, DC this morning. I could hardly believe it. The advertisements are reportedly the work of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, controversial founders of the organizations "Stop Islamization of America" (known as "SIOA") and the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller also operates a website and blog called "" here. To see a statement like this on transport buses in ultra-liberal and culturally diverse Washington, DC is surprising. Yet this appears to be the shock value tactic of this organization, who also ran similar ads in New York City. The banner below became the subject of a heated court battle with New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority system last year, when SIOA attempted to buy ad space which was rejected on the ground the advertisement contained disparaging content.

nYC ad

SIOA sued the NY Transportation Authority on freedom of expression grounds and won. The ads eventually appeared in NYC subway stations. The organization currently is engaged in a similar battle with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority who refused this same ad.Other anti-Islamic ads... )


Apr. 28th, 2014 10:26 am
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Who is an expert on Judaism? I know a lot of Jews in America, but none are overly religious or hard core practitioners. Many things I witnessed during my trip confused me. For instance, why must men and women be separated at the Western Wall? For some reason, this shocked me. Why do people sway back and forth while reading the Torah? It appears they are almost in a trance like state. One reader recently told me about "Jerusalem Syndrome." I thought it was a joke, but it's a real psychological phenomenon where religious people enter into an altered state or engage in odd irrational behavior after viewing the holy sites. For me, there was absolutely no psychological or emotional impact when visiting these sites as a non-believer, yet they are still interesting from a historical standpoint. Many people in my group became emotionally overwhelmed walking in the footsteps of Jesus, including two pastors who were my companions on the trip, though not rising to the level of hysteria.

Tell me other interesting facts or insights about Judaism. Of course, I can go on the Internet and read more about it, but it's more interesting to learn from people who practice the faith, or have a lot of knowledge and insight about it. 
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Hello dear friends! I'm now back in America after a memorable trip to Israel. Somehow I misunderstood the point of the sponsored tour there. I thought we would spend most of our time in Israeli-controlled areas, when in fact most of it was spent in Area "A" of the West Bank, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. I can only say that it was an amazing and eye opening experience. Perceptions of a place and reality often don't coincide, and it was the case for me in the West Bank. In the future, perhaps I'll write some posts and impressions about the journey. We visited many areas, including Jericho, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Sebastia. We were stationed in Bethlehem, and it was there I experienced the burning sensation of tear gas for the first time when a disturbance occurred at a checkpoint located close to the hotel. Overall, this is an incredibly interesting region of the world, with complex layers of human emotion tangled in webs of cultural and religious identity.Read more... )
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Sometimes opportunities arise when you least expect them. It happened to me recently when a new travel company asked me to visit Israel and participate in a test tour. I pay only airfare - everything else from luxury hotel accommodations to food are covered by the organizer. Israel isn't a country to which I previously envisioned traveling, but how can I resist such an opportunity? It gives me a chance to explore an entirely new region of the world. The schedule will be out of my control to some extent, but the organizers will work with participants to visit areas of interest. I know for certain that we will be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I don't know if we will go further into Palestine, but I hope so.

Of course, the primary tourist attractions in Israel are religious sites but they're of no interest to me. What else can I see/do in these cities? Where can I find the most dramatic desert or scenic landscapes? Interesting people or markets? I want to make the drive to Ramon Crater, and am curious about the bedouin village/school in Khan al-Alhmar after reading this report. Has anyone been there? Please leave any suggestions about interesting places or people in comments. If anyone knows local English speakers in these cities who may be willing to answer questions and/or act as a guide, please let me know. I'd also be grateful if you could throw links to interesting photo reports from other LJ bloggers who have traveled in the region.

Thanks, in advance, for the help! I depart next Sunday, and will be sure to share photos and impressions of my journey.


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