Israeli wedding: full heart, bum knee


Jane Fishman

Sunday, July 12, 2015



There’s a reason so many movies revolve around family weddings. It doesn’t hurt the narrative if it’s a destination wedding (in Israel), if the cheapest way to get there is to fly on a Russian airline (Aeroflot), or if our first few days in the country were spent with friends in East Jerusalem who live across the street from Pope Francis’ Jerusalem residence, Mormon University and an Israeli settlement, all within earshot of the 4:30 a.m. Muslim call to prayer (during Ramadan).

Sometimes it takes more luck than brains, said my Detroit-born cousin Beth, the mother of the bride, using one of her favorite Hebrew expressions. She was referencing being able to find a parking spot near a beloved schwarma dive in the 24-hour, car-crazed, Bauhaus-heavy, global city of Tel Aviv where the biggest thing to fear, according to Beth, is a traffic accident.

But she might have been referencing our luck when we told her about leaving Old Jerusalem and asking the cab driver to find us a wine shop, which he did on some dark and twisty street. Leaving the motor running and the radio going (“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), he dashed into the shop to facilitate the sale. None for him, though. It was Ramadan. He was Muslim.

Or maybe Beth was thinking about our luck when we started talking about visits to the Palestinian/Muslim populated Bethlehem and Jericho, all places on the other side of the unpopular check points within the contested West Bank that are not that easy for Israeli Jews to visit. We passed the controversial Israeli West Bank barrier, decorated by some crazy graffiti, including some by Banksy, the English political activist and graffiti artist. My favorite? “Make hummus not war.” We stopped and walked in Wadi Qelt, an eerie desert landscape between Jerusalem and Jericho where a sixth-century Greek monastery is tucked into the cliffs. We didn’t see any monks and we resisted buying trinkets from a Bedouin who approached on his donkey. Somewhere near the Dead Sea we stopped for gas and stared at a camel and camel driver who were resting in the shade.

In a country the size of New Jersey it’s pretty crazy to think of all the people (listed in no particular order) who have traveled/owned/lived/claimed parts of the land: the Etruscans, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims, Napoleon, the Mamluks, the Jews, the Arabs, the Turks, the Brits. Even Mark Twain chimed in with his book, “The Innocents Abroad.” That’s how I felt in this Middle East conundrum, like an innocent, an amateur, an observer.

And that was before my feet tangled in a mass of wire in Tel Aviv and I fell, smack on the knee, somewhere on the street that parallels the Mediterranean Sea. All that was before I got back to Savannah to find out I had broken my kneecap.

But life goes on. After The Fall (and a full day on my back, watching televised Wimbledon in Hebrew with occasional Russian subtitles and Israeli beach soccer and in between multiple icings and pain pills) and before The Immobilizer, a full-length black knee brace I would get in Savannah to keep the knee stiff so it can heal (can you say the hollow-legged Dennis Weaver as Chester in “Gunsmoke”?), there was The Wedding. Guests came from Rumania, Thailand, Minneapolis, Seattle, Flint and Detroit (Mich.), Argentina, New York City, Washington D.C., and Boston.

Using my Israeli crutches and traveling in a golf cart arranged by the congenial Avner, the bride’s father (like that’s all he had to do), I followed 250 guests and a New Orleans-style jazz band up a hill in the old port city of Jaffa to beautiful early evening skies to see Hadar and Sheldon and their family under the traditional huppa, the portable white canopy symbolizing the future home of the newlyweds. And then the dancing began. Some of us kept time with the rubber tips of our crutches. The bride’s sister donned a belly-dancing outfit. Everyone did the hora. Someone else Skped the whole wedding ceremony and party in real time to the groom’s grandfather who lives in San Diego. We got back to the hotel at 2:30 a.m.

Trips rarely turn out the way you expect them to. Instead of floating in the Dead Sea and smearing myself with mud, I schmoozed with cousins and their children. Instead of revisiting Yad Vashem, the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, I ate leftovers from The Wedding with other out-of-towners. Instead of returning to Jerusalem, I piled into a car with everyone else, drove to the Mediterranean Sea and on July Fourth watched the sunset.

I left the country with a lot of questions, a bum knee and a full heart.




Road trip to Reidsville and Janisse Ray

Savannah Morning News column

June 28, 2015


When Janisse Ray calls, I answer. Always have. Ever since I read her book (now dog-eared with pencil marks),  “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” a book I’ve gifted to others many times over about a life that couldn’t be more different than my own. Ever since our wonderful Bull Street library sponsored a speech by her when I sat awed by her passion. Ever since she sponsored a “Growing Local” conference in the middle of nowhere when she and her husband Raven Waters prepared all the food (grown on their farm) after the designated caterer was called away at the last minute. Impressive.

This time the call came to speak to the Friends of the Tattnall County Library in Reidsville, another “in the middle of nowhere” location. Bi-coastal snobs wouldn’t know about Reidsville. Bi-coastal types, people who live on either the left or the right coast, tend to dismiss the middle of the country as “flyover territory.” What could possibly be interesting in Kansas, for goodness sake, or Missouri or middle Georgia? Sometimes I think the same attitude exists in our fair city, in Savannah, aka the State of Chatham. Aside from politics (let’s agree not to go there, ok?), there’s an elitist, stuffed-shirt, pompous attitude that kind of ignores the rest of the state. We have art! We have the ocean! We have historic properties! What could anyone else possibly have?

It’s an attitude I might be guilty of my own sorry self. But a deal is a deal. So sometime last week with the temperatures nearing 100 I headed off in late afternoon, the hottest part of the day, to speak at the library. Where is Reidsville? someone asked. Where is Tattnall County? West, I said. Somewhere west of here. Somewhere, I was to learn, not too far from the Rusty Pig BBQ, one of those on-the-road joints you always hope you’ll find when you’re on a road trip, a place food writers Jane and Michael Stern, in their quest for small town eateries, should discover. This one – Janisse’s suggestion – was in Glennville. This one boasts, “BBQ with an attitude” (now this is an attitude I can abide).  PS, the Rusty Pig BBQ is worth pulling over for if you find yourself anywhere near U.S. 301, an interesting route of sorts that parallels U.S. 1 from Florida to Delaware.

We pulled into the library minutes before I was supposed to speak. But first I had to peruse the Wiregrass Georgia Seed Library. This tiny little library, suggested by Janisse and Friends, has turned an unused card catalog into a repository of seed packets. Visitors can “check out” five packets per visit. At the end of the growing season patrons are urged to return the favor by gathering and returning more seeds, preferably from heirloom vegetables or herbs or flowers that grow well in this climate.

On the other side of the standing card catalog (remember those? very analog) the Friends of the Library crowd has filled the drawers with individual metal cookie cutters in the shape of the state of Georgia or a cactus or a lopsided heart, you know, something that you may use once every five years. You can’t make something like that up. On the wooden catalog stood a stack of newsletters called Readsville (aha! A sense of humor) from the Friends of the Library.

I’m a reader but I’m not good at reading faces so while standing in the front of a room I just talk. And talk (this time about Sandy West and my book, “The Woman Who Saved an Island”). And talk some more, hoping no one falls asleep and starts to snore, hoping words keep coming out of my mouth. Later we would go to a gathering in town. That’s where I met someone who makes bows and arrows, someone else from Salt Lake City who described herself as a Jack Mormon (a fallen away Mormon), using a term I never heard before, and two sisters who moved their still-sentient 102-year-old mother down from Ohio. I heard a story about two artist/yoga types who knew one another 40 years ago in New York city who moved, independent of one another, to, yes, the eclectic town of Reidsville.

That next day I passed the Nelson Hotel, a dreamy two-story Victorian 1908 hotel that is for sale for $150,00. Janisse and others are trying to populate the town with artists, thinkers and dreamers. They’re trying to plant a seed. Any takers for the Nelson?

Ah, Reidsville. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.