Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jerusalem Beer Festival

As we say goodbye to summer and welcome in the new school year, we have one last BIG festival to celebrate here in Jerusalem. Tomorrow, August 31, 2011 (to continue on to September 1, 2011) will welcome the 7th annual beer festival to the holy city of Jerusalem. If you thought that Jerusalem was merely dictated by religious overtones, well then think again, because this city also happens to know how to get its groove on.

The wildly popular Jerusalem Beer Festival will be taking place on Wednesday and Thursday of this week at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem between the hours of 6 p.m and midnight. DJ Elad Varon and DJ Dror Shalit will be kicking off the music for the celebration, making sure that there will be non-stop music to set the mood for your beer-drinking experience.

If you are a beer enthusiast, then this is the place for you. Over 100,000 liters of more than one hundred brands from all over the world will be offered including mainstream, boutique and locally brewed beers. 


In addition to having a wide selection of a seemingly endless number of beer options, there will also be food stands to feed those hunger pains as well as accessories stands, an exclusive beer store and live beer production process demonstrations. Though you might find yourself wandering through the crowd throughout the night, you will also have the option of large and comfortable common areas to lounge in.

Passing by the area just a few days ago, I saw the setup beginning with barrels and barrels of hay being emptied out of multiple trucks in order to lay the foundation and set the scene for a memorable evening. It will cost you 30 NIS to get into the festival and if you happen to be a student, soldier or have a Jerusalem resident card, then your entrance fee will be just 25 NIS.

While you're there, be sure to check out "Beer Land", the one and only beer store in Jerusalem that comes alive during the festival's run. Perhaps you will want to make a purchase from here in order to take home some delicious beers that you cannot normally find within Israel. Discounts will be offered specially for festival attendees. 


Though it may not be Oktoberfest (see images below), the Jerusalem Beer Festival has grown to be quite the event here in Israel, attracting the biggest crowds of any Jerusalem event throughout the year. 




The ambiance will prove to be booming and spectacular and the beers will tantalize your senses so be sure to make it over to the Jerusalem Beer Festival during its two-day run. For further information and directions to the Old Train Station, please see the Beer Festival's website here.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Gilad

Today, August 28, 2011, marks kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's sixth birthday in captivity. Gilad was only 19 years old, working alongside the Gaza-Israel border as part of the Israel Defense Force, when he was kidnapped by Hamas militants on June 25, 2006. For the past five years and sixty-some days, he has been held captive in an undisclosed location inside the Gaza Strip, denied of basic human rights and even visits from the International Red Cross. Hamas has repeatedly refused requests to respect international human rights laws including visits from a neutral international human rights representative to ensure that Gilad is being treated with proper health and safety standards as specified for prisoners of war and that he be permitted to communicate with his family by sending and receiving letters.


For over five years now, Israel has been working to negotiate his release (though some Israelis will persuade you that nothing has been done), which has been a sore subject of great debate. Similar to the inflexibility that Palestinian militants bring to the table regarding land and territory, there also seems to be no room for negotiation when it comes to their request for ransom. Gilad continues to be used as leverage for Hamas to negotiate the release of thousands of Palestinians soldiers currently held in Israeli prisons; soldiers who are being held in Israel for multiple counts of terrorism and who face a serious and profound threat to Israel's security.

As you can see, the dilemma is complicated. Gilad's face can be seen all over Israel, on cars, buses, windows, posters, government buildings and various other public places. His family has been camping outside of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem for nearly two years now, demanding progress in the negotiations. I have never ceased to be amazed by the profound outpouring of love and support by Israeli citizens for their fallen and lost soldiers. In the US, it is easy to not even hear about a military death abroad or to merely hear it in passing; however, in Israel, each and every soldier is treated as royalty when it comes to the publicity and concern regarding their well-being. Thus, the issue of Gilad's kidnapping is one of the central issues of modern Israeli culture. You would be hard pressed to find one single Israel who cannot tell you about Gilad.


Join me in praying for Gilad, wising him a happy birthday and visualizing that this be his last birthday spent alone in captivity. If you are interested in reading a heartfelt letter from his parents written publicly to Gilad on this, his 25th birthday, read further here.


Additionally, view this video below, which reminds you tenderly that Gilad is a human being, just like any one of us, who deserves to live his life. It breaks my heart knowing that his fate lies in the balance and that his days and nights are spent alone in the worst imaginable conditions. Join Israel in wishing a Happy Birthday to Gilad and praying that his fate change soon for the better.

Please take a minute to sign the international petition to bring Gilad back home, found at the website for the organization Stand With Us: http://www.standwithus.com/gilad/

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ramadan in Jerusalem

There is so much going on in Israel at any given time that your experience here will be different depending on where you spend your time. Simultaneously, in August, there have been ongoing cultural events and festivals at the Israel Museum, the Jewish holidays of Tisha B'Av and Tu B'Av, an Arts & Crafts Fair in the Artist's Colony, the opening of the highly anticipated Light Rail system, a Jazz Festival in Eilat, exhibit openings in Tel Aviv, busy beachfront life, terrorist activity in the Negev and also the month long festivities of Ramadan. Whew, that's a lot going on in just one single month! Thus, I wanted the chance to show you guys out there what has been going on in the periphery of Jerusalem (and arguably August's main event) which are the month long events of Ramadan.


I say that it's been "in the periphery" of Jerusalem simply because the various different faiths of Jerusalem seem to inhabit completely and utterly different lives while simultaneously occupying the same city. We live so close to one another physically, yet so far away from each other mentally. We live in different areas, pray in different quarters, attend different hospitals and shop in different vicinities. We come into contact with each other, for the most part, on public transportation, at school, and if you literally enter specific neighborhoods that are home to various faiths (i.e. Mea Shearim  and Nachlaot are neighborhoods that are home to Orthodox Jews whereas places like Sheik Jarrah and Beit Safafa are home to Arab populations). For the most part, everyone stays out of everyone's way. Being American, I stick to the many western style neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Thus, though Ramadan has been going on for the entire month of August, my closest connection to it is the sweet Muslim girls  and the respectful Arab men in my ulpan.

I like to think of myself as a pretty open person when it comes to faith. Though I was raised a reform Jew, I attended an Episcopalian high school, took classes about both the Old and New testaments, worked in Orthodox Jewish schools (which is quite different from my own practices) and went to a Methodist graduate school. Thus, when it comes to making friends and learning about other cultures, I am not only open, but curious. So here's the overview when it comes to Ramadan and the experience thereof:

My classmates tell me (and remember, we are speaking in Hebrew, so I might have lost some things in translation) that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which happens to fall between August 1 to August 30 of this year. It is a month long fast, during which time Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during the daytime hours. From 8 pm to 4 am daily, they are allowed to eat and drink, but the fast begins again at 4 am on the dot. The intended lessons are patience, humility, empathy for the less fortunate, self-restraint and self-control, spirituality and what I understand to be submissiveness to G-d. More prayer than usual happens during the monthly fast and you are supposed to make an effort to actually do the five calls to prayer per day as is required in the Islamic faith. As you can see in the pictures above, there's sort of a mass influx of Muslims from all over the country (and possibly world) who make a pilgrimmage to the holy city at this special time of year. Of course, prayers are also going on in the Palestinian territories, as seen below in this photo behind the diving wall:

At 8 pm, according to my classmates, the daily feast begins. This is a celebratory time in contrast to the heavy day, full of hunger, that they have just experienced. It is common to eat together and to rejoice. During the day, they have refrained from food, water, temptations, evil thoughts and bad memories. Every part of the body must restrain itself: the ears must refrain from hearing gossip, the feet must refrain from entering unholy places, the eyes must refrain from watching sinful things and the hands must restrain themselves from touching or taking things that don't belong to them. After consciously purifying their minds and bodies during the day, they have the reward of feasting at night, preparing themselves for the next day's fast and active process of restraint:

During the month long festivities of Ramadan, the entire Qur'an (Islamic holy book) is to be read from beginning to end. Thus, this goes back to the importance of attempting to attend all the prayers during the month of Ramadan:

No matter where you are in Jerusalem, you will likely be able to hear the call to prayer (five times a day) coming from the loud speakers in the Old City's Arab quarter, the sound of which seems to magically transcend for miles. And, yes, now that it's summer and we are sleeping with the windows open again, I am indeed being woken up frequently around 4 am for the morning call to prayer. However, the whole purpose of the loud speakers and the call to prayer is so that  people like this lady below can join in the prayer along with the others at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque:

Here is an image of Muslims praying in Jerusalem during one of the five calls to prayer. Their uniformity never ceases to amaze me:

And here outside of the Dome of the Rock is a nighttime prayer being had in the Arab Quarter of the Old City. As you can see, the area becomes absolutely swamped with visitors as is the case at the Vatican during Christmas and on Easter:

One of the more visual aspects of Ramadan is the decoration throughout the Muslim portions of the city. If you walk through a Muslim neighborhood, like the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, you will find it filled with festive decorations, jazzy lights and colorful lanterns. Christians do the same thing for Christmas, as you all know, but I have to say I was surprised by the festive mood since it seems to be a holiday of repentance and restraint. The colorful decorations are kind of meant for the nighttime when the 8 hours of nourishment take place. Here are a few images of what you might see if you were to walk through a Muslim neighborhood during Ramadan here in Jerusalem:



Pretty, isn't it? This time of year is also a time of charity, when good deeds should be done and help should be given to those less fortunate. When we pass by the Old City, it's possible to see the lights strung up and the crowds coming and going through the Damascus Gate, the entrance to the Old City's Arab Quarter:



Below you will find a few interesting videos, if you choose to watch them, of various Ramadan events happening here in Jerusalem. The first video shows you a panorama of the Old City from the Mount of Olives, looking into the Arab portion of the Old City. You will then see Muslims streaming into the Old City for prayer and various sights and scenes along the way:

This video starts out with the call to prayer in the Old City, where you left off in the video above. It also shows you Ramadan prayer in various nearby locales including Hebron and Bethlehem:

This short clip will show you the vast number of people who flood into the Old City of Jerusalem during the daily prayers for Ramadan. Here they are seen exiting the Old City through the Damascus Gate:

Showing a more festive side of Ramadan, this clip shows a celebratory beginning to the month long holiday of Ramadan. You will see lights, music, and an overall festive mood:

Well, I hope this post has educated you in one way or another to the happenings during the month of Ramadan. I know that my classmates are eagerly awaiting August 30 to be here already, which is just a couple of days away. It's interesting that such a majority of Jerusalem, at this current moment, is taking part in these festivities when it seems nearly invisible to the other neighborhoods and other quarters. Just another example of multiple faiths and religions cohabiting a singular city. If you pay attention, however, you will be sure to see the decorations throughout the various neighborhoods, the influx of people in and out of the Old City, the sound of mass prayer coming from outside the Dome of the Rock and the rumbling of stomachs next to you in public.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Around the World in....80 Minutes

Okay, so you might want to visit this place for a little longer than 80 minutes. I really don't know how I managed to miss this one, especially since I'm a travel enthusiast. Luckily, it's not too late yet. There are still a few days left of the annual Jerusalem International Arts & Crafts Festival, which welcomes artwork, handmade goods, clothing, purses and even multiple performances from dozens of cultures around the world.

Between August 15 - August 27, 2011 (see, only a few nights left to go, but you can still make it) you can head over to the Hayotzer Arts & Crafts Center, Mitchell Gardens and the Sultan's Pool area at the foot of the Old City between the hours of 6 pm to 11 pm to visit booths from around the world with unique arts and crafts that will certainly draw your attention:

If you are eager to get abroad but are stuck at work, then perhaps the International Arts & Crafts Festival might be the thing for you. You can travel "around the world" in just one night as you view booths filled with crafts from all over the world. Here's just a brief sampling of which countries will be represented:

The Israel Pavilion will showcase more than 150 of Israel's most well-known artists and artisans who will exhibit a plethora of paintings, prints, ceramics, leather goods, jewelry, metalwork, weaving, textiles, Judaica, toys, woodwork and additional crafts:

Nearby, in the International Pavilion, guest artists and artisans from around the globe will be here in Jerusalem from all corners of the Earth. From the Far East, there will be booths for China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea. From South America, there will be visitors from Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia; and from Central America, you will have a chance to see unique items from San Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. Nearby, Mexico will be exhibited as well.

From Africa, go visit booths from Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, South Africa and Zimbabwe. From the Middle East, Jordan will be making an appearance. From the nearby European continent, you will have the chance to shop around from visiting artisans from Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Spain, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Macedonia and Ukraine. Lastly, from Eurasia, you will have the rare opportunity to see the unique cultures of various countries including Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.



Where else can you see so many cultures in one location? Go check out the rare arts and crafts or perhaps you may want to go just to people watch the gathering of cultures from around the world. Though it's late in the game, the annual Arts & Crafts Festival here in Jerusalem always hosts musical events and performances as well. For more details on what there still is left to see, head over to the festival's website here.



With a Jerusalem Resident card, the entrance fee will be 45 shekels, and without it, it will cost 55 shekels. From those who have been there already, I hear it's well worth it.

I'm glad I found out about this cultural festival before it's too late. I'm usually pretty on top of the happenings around my neck of the woods, but this event (which ironically seems to have my name written all over it) somehow slipped by me. I think I know where I will probably be tomorrow night...unless of course I find myself a fantastic last minute deal and go out and do some real traveling abroad. In the meantime, this festival will have to do the trick. It's not often you can find so many different countries represented in one little place.