Sunday, 14 February 2010

Idan Raichel sets the tone

Fri 31 Oct
The Merkavah 09 group had just about assembled in the hotel in Jerusalem. The bulk of the party had just arrived from Buenos Aires, doubtless in even more need of showers, food and rest than the rest of us, who had got there a bit earlier. However - no such luck - this is Merkavah! We were ushered into the bus and whisked back along the road to Tel Aviv, past the airport which most of us had not long since arrived at, and on to the Israeli Air Force Theatre in Herzliya.

In what turned out to be the first of many inspired changes of schedule, we were on our way to see a concert by the Idan Raichel Project - much better for our souls than a shower, food or a rest; they could all wait, our souls needed immediate attention.

Idan Raichel has gathered together a group of musicians and singers who between them represent many of the communities who live in Israel. They play in a wide range of styles, and sing in more languages than any of us could name. The are currently amongst the leading lights of Israel's popular music scene, and many of the audience were singing along to many of the songs, and not just in Hebrew, but also in Arabic and what I took to be Amharic, the language of the Ethiopian Jews, as well as  French and Spanish.

Pablo and Frida were ahead of the game, as usual, and had incorporated several of Raichel's songs into their dance programme. Todas las Palabras in particular was a firm favourite:

The song was written by Colombian singer Marta Gómez, who sings it on the record (and in this videoclip); in the concert that we saw, it was performed by Ethiopian singer Cabra Kasai (see this short concert clip). 

Here's a stunning, passionate song sung in Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic (I think, but I could be wrong on all three) from a concert in Leuven (Belgium) just 4 weeks before we saw them:

I'll try to check which song it is - but I may have to go through all the CDs to find it . . .

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Yad Vashem

Today, 27 January, is International Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the day in 1945 that Allied troops captured the Auschwitz concentration camp. This painting was Jan’s initial response to our visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem. See the post she has written today on her Jubilación blog.

Sun 1 Nov

Yad Vashem is truly shocking. 

The Memorial Centre commemorates the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in the biggest, most organised and most cynical attempt at mass extermination in human history.

The existence of the concentration camps, and the full horror of what they had been used for, only became apparent to the rest of the world in the last few months of the war as the Allies captured them one by one, and discovered the incinerators, the mass graves and the few helpless survivors. The memorial centre documents Jewish life in western, central and eastern Europe through the centuries, up to and including the Nazi régime. 

From 1933 onwards the Nazis brought in measures banning Jews from the professions, from public office, from publishing, from commerce, and from education. They encouraged violent attacks on Jewish people and property including public beatings and humiliations and the burning of homes, shops and synagogues. They forced Jews to wear an identifying yellow star, forced them out of their homes and crammed them into ghettos, confiscated their property, then deported them to forced labour camps and concentration camps and finally murdered hundreds of thousands if not millions in gas chambers.

So Yad Vashem, which documents all this, is truly shocking. 

The visit 
The Centre displays original pieces such as photographs, letters and personal items such as clothing, which are particularly touching because they relate to individual, often named people. It also reconstructs a number of scenes including ghetto streets, the cattle trucks in which people were transported to the camps, the bunks in which people were crammed 3 to a bunk 3 tiers high.  All bar one or two items in the Centre use original materials, so you walk down a reconstructed Warsaw Ghetto street, and you stand before one of the cattle trucks and try to imagine how hundreds of people could have been forced into it and shunted off to certain death.

The most affecting part for me was the final area, the Hall of Names, where, after you have seen the exhibits and reconstructions, read the panels and listened to the guide, you enter a domed hall in which the names of all known victims of the Holocaust are recorded, hundreds of photographs are displayed, and files kept documenting what happened to at least some of them. Looking at the photos here and elsewhere in the Centre, I kept seeing myself in the little boys and young men, and my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts - sometimes it would be a likeness, with others it would be the look in a person's eyes, or the pose they struck. It could have been me; it could have been us.

The Centre houses an enormous amount of material, and the guide very sensitively took us round a selection of exhibits for the best part of two hours, explaining and answering questions in a very straightforward manner. For some members of our group it was the first time they had been in a position in which they had had to confront such horrors. 

Amongst other visitors while we were there we noted two groups of people in their late teens or early twenties - a group of Arab (Palestinian?) students, and a group of Israeli soldiers in uniform; the members of both of these groups looked and sounded as numbed and shocked as we did.

As for myself, I had visited Buchenwald and Majdanek concentration camps on visits to Germany and Poland when I was their age, in the 1960s; I cried then and I cried again at Yad Vashem.

I found myself responding on several levels, both during and after the visit. Each brought up an array of unanswerable questions. 

First and foremost, as a human being - how could human beings inflict such suffering on other human beings? How could they justify their actions to themselves? How could thousands of other, seemingly normal, people, be persuaded to carry out these atrocities? What religious creed could sanction them? How could millions of other, supposedly sane, members of that society tolerate what was going on? How could they possibly not know what was going on? If they did know, how could they live with their consciences?

Then, as a Jew, born in England during the war - what if I had been born elsewhere? In Germany, say?  How can a persecuted group respond to such persecution? Could this have happened in the UK? How does all this affect my own sense of Jewish identity?

Finally, as the particular individual that I am - what happened in the areas of eastern Poland and Belarus from which my grandparents came to the UK over 100 years ago? Were any members of my family still there during the years of occupation and war? What happened to them? Did they survive? Where are they now? How can I find them?

And underlying all of these questions the one inescapable, fearful thought: it could have been me. It could have been us.

NB: The Yad Vashem website has an enormous collection of information and documents on the Holocaust, including images and media items, which hugely extends the range of material available in the Centre itself.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Poems and Pictures

Some of Jan's poems and pictures. If you find it difficult to read, use Fullscreen (above text) and Zoom (below) to adjust the size.

Poems and Pictures

Checkpoint Bethlehem

Fri 13 Nov

On the way back to Jerusalem from Bustan Qaraaqa we went through the Separation Wall at the Gilo checkpoint in Bethlehem. It took us an hour of standing in line, in a zigzag cage to the entry point. We were unlucky in that we’d forgotten it was a Friday and people would be wanting to go to Jerusalem, from the West Bank, to the Al Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers. We were lucky in that it can take up to 3 hours. Peace be upon Us All.

Once through two turnstiles (a fraught experience as people get stuck in it as the gate locks, only letting a few through at a time) we were hauled out of the queue by soldiers to go through the X-ray machine as tourists. Once on a 241, we got back to J’salem, and into the souk… 

See the Slideshow from the checkpoint.

Hindu sacred dance

Mon 9 November

This was an altogether surprising session, with Yuval Cohen. As our coach (as always very late!) picked its way through the back streets of Tel Aviv, we passed a building with huge windows – I (Jan) saw a person standing at the window, with a body expressing boredom and frustration in equal measure… as the coach did a U turn, I realised this was where we were heading, and he – for it was Yuval – was our guide through the rhythms and the gestures of karnatic dance. Only one person in our party was Indian, and even she wondered what this was about!

For me, Yuval was the re-embodiment of Lindsay Kemp (I was going to say re-incarnation but I’m convinced he’s still alive!) in terms of body shape and mass, facial expression and gesture, style and lightness, strength and grace, costume, decoration and his mesmeric quality… and outrageously camp, of course! An inspiring afternoon.

See the Slideshow of the workshop. 

Friday, 11 December 2009

La nueva tierra

At the farewell meeting on the final morning, Elvira's contribution was a poem:

La nueva tierra

Está la nueva tierra al horizonte
Ligera, sútil, transparente,
Donde el abrazo, las sonrisas, el compartir
Son las nuevas leyes de la gente.

Sobre el barco del ego naufragado
Las almas liberadas toman vuelo
Y como mariposas coloradas
Están decorando el nuevo suelo.

Esta tierra eres tú, soy yo, somos el todo.
Hoy en Merkava comprobamos
Que la danza es el nuevo oro.

Shalom a todos


The new land

The new land is on the horizon
Light, subtle, transparent,
Where embraces, smiles, and sharing
Are the new laws of the people.

Above the boat of the shipwrecked ego
The liberated souls take flight
And like colourful butterflies
They are decorating the new ground.

You are this land, I am, we are all.
Today in Merkava we are showing
That dance is the new gold.

Shalom to everyone


Thursday, 3 December 2009


Please be aware that this is a work in progress - it's our attempt to get our Merkavah 09 trip into some sort of order. There will eventually be over 80 posts, many of which we haven’t had time to start writing yet. There's already over 1000 photos, and we haven't even started on the video clips yet. Plus some of Jan's sketches and poems. So please come back again to see where we’ve got to - you never know, we might just have got round to doing the bit you were hoping to see :-) .

Quick links to: Photo Collection on Flickr - Videos (soon) - 
How this blog works - News, views and background

NB: you can always use the right-hand panel to navigate the material

Merkavah 09 - To fleece or not to fleece?

Merkavah 09: Timeline 
Fri 30 Oct: Jerusalem
Look who I met in Jerusalem - Jerusalem in the rain - Women in Black -

Sat 31 Oct: Jerusalem
Mount of Olives - Via Dolorosa - Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Old City Souk - Western Wall -

Sun 1 Nov: Jerusalem
Yad Vashem - Mea Shearim - More Western Wall - Western Wall Tunnels

Mon 2 Nov: Jerusalem
Jaffa Gate - Temple Mount - Cotton Merchants - Muslim Quarter - Jewish Quarter - Armenian Quarter -

Tue 3 Nov: The Dead Sea
400 metres to go - Qumran - Masada - Dead Sea -

Wed 4 Nov: Dead Sea to Acre
Leaving the Dead Sea - Caesarea - Ein Hod -

Thu 5 Nov: Acre to Rosh Hanikra
Acre - Rosh Hanikra - Yemenite Group -

Fri 6 Nov: Safed
Safed - Ha'ari Synagogue - Kabbalah Art - Reggae Kabala -

Sat 7 Nov: Galilee
Galilee shore - Shells of Galilee - Capernaum - Yardenit - The Mount of Beatitudes -

Sun 8 Nov: Northern Galilee
The Druze - Pki'in -

Mon 9 Nov: 
(Lots: Kibbutz Dalia, Israeli Dance, Indian Dance) 

Tue 10 Nov: Negev desert
Into the Negev - Bedouin hospitality - Moroccan Cultural Centre - Yad Harif displays -

Wed 11 Nov: Farewell

Merkavah 09: Music and Dancing
Idan Reichel - Mayumana - Pablo and Frida workshops - Scarf, hand and ball dancing - Morning dance - Ethiopian dance - The Whirling Girl - Darbuka workshop - Israeli Dance workshop - Indian sacred dance - Moroccan Jews in Netivot - All the colours of Israel -

Merkavah 09: Kibbutzim
Kibbutz kids - Kibbutz Dalia -

Merkavah 09: Fences and checkpoints
Fenced in - Papers please - Frontier -

Merkavah 09: The group
The group - Indian dinner - Party time - Headscarf workshop - Sergio's wish -

Merkavah 09: also spotted
Moon over Galilee - Jerusalem streets - Solar water - On the road - Hamsa

Merkavah 09: Poems and Pictures
Poems and pictures - Jan's drawings

Bethlehem by bus - Bustan Qaraaqa - Permaculture building - Checkpoint Bethlehem - After midday prayers - Can you see my iPod?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Western Wall Tunnels

Sun 1 Nov
Deep under the Old City a 500 metre-long tunnel runs alongside the original foundations of the Western Wall, so its path, and much of the stonework, dates back 2000 years or more.

The slab in the picture is said to be one of the biggest bricks in the world, and you wonder where they got it from, how they got it here, how they cut it to size, and how they got it into place. The museum has a natty little film answering these questions, complete with cartoon workers pulleying pulleys, levering levers, and rolling logs.

At various points along the route various civilisations have built cisterns for the city's water supply, some of which are still there and in use. You can also see the different courses of stone set down during reconstructions of the Wall in different historical periods. At one point you stand on paving stones of a street laid in King Herod's time (over 2000 years ago); part of the passage follows the route of an aqueduct dating from the Hasmonean period around 100BC.

Part-way along you step through an arch in the stone into a small space provided with a couple of chairs. As we passed by there were a couple of women sitting deep in prayer, and another waiting her turn. When we came by on our way back 20 minutes later one of them was still there. This spot functions as a tiny synagogue, and is physically the closest any observant Jew can get to the Holy of Holies, at the heart of the ancient Temple, which lies on the other side of the Wall, within the Dome of the Rock mosque some 60 (?) metres away.

More Western Wall

Sun 1 Nov
The Western Wall by night
The Western Wall has a special atmosphere at night - there are fewer tourists but the Orthodox groups keep coming, until at least 10pm. The square is quieter than during the day, but the murmur of prayer is still all-pervasive. The Wall is floodlit, and this light reflects across the square and casts strong shadows on the ground.

Mon 2 Nov
It's a Barmitzvah!
This is not normal behaviour - a line of women standing on chairs to get a view over to the men's area? The whole purpose of the separation of men and women for prayer is to avoid the possibility of distraction from the business in hand, and the temptation to think un-holy thoughts. Some kindly women made space so I could peep over, and all became clear - it's a Barmitzvah!