Sunday, April 15, 2012

Khristos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese! Christ is Risen! Video clips of Easter in Jerusalem 2011

I forgot that I have uploaded some of last year's Easter in Jerusalem videos... and boy even uploading these took me quite a while. I wasn't able to upload them until well after I returned to California in June, and uploading them on YouTube took a lot longer than I anticipated!!
In memory of spending Easter 2011 in Jerusalem, I am choosing today to display some of the video clips taken then. I am glad I was able to attend on a year when both the Western and Eastern Christian calendars coincided, although that may have contributed to even bigger crowds?! In any case, to say that Easter in Jerusalem is a one-of-a kind experience is an understatement!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Palestinian Embroidery

One component of Palestinian culture that has fascinated me for quite some time is none other than tatreez, or Palestinian embroidery. As a lover of history, over the years I’ve gradually noticed my natural tendency to gravitate towards the traditional attires of any given culture I happen to be engulfed in at that moment. There may be various reasons as to why I was unaware of Palestinian embroidery for a long time, but its ‘discovery’ has enlightened me as well as allowed for comparisons with other traditional attires as well (ie: Incan, Mayan, African, and Russian traditional attires, to name a few). There is something about exploring the indigenous attire that really seems to transport you back in time by connecting you to the history and culture.

One of the popular designs of Palestinian dress is a long black thob (robe) with a mostly red flower pattern, along with a few other colors like blue, yellow, green, etc., which I saw worn quite often while in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. There are of course other dress colors and pattern designs which may be specific to different towns, such as Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, etc. For instance, I have seen robes in white and blue originating from Ramallah (some pictures can be seen here) but black was the only color I saw worn during my stay.

Why the interest in traditional Palestinian embroidery, and other traditional embroideries for that matter?

For starters, the amount of time and work that it takes to make these dresses, decorations and accessories—handmade at that—definitely gets my utmost respect. In a world where almost everything is mass produced somewhere in a foreign factory, the thought that someone made your garment by hand can be very humbling. Also, depending on which garment you may be wearing, it could reveal a lot about you by appearance alone (ie: age, marital status, family/tribe/town origin, etc.). Thus in this sense, traditional attire can sometimes feel more personal than our modern-day attire, at least in the sense that we often choose not to reveal certain personal information through our clothing. Of course, I note that that is not to say that all thobs worn are this ‘revealing,’ especially nowadays. One can wear a black thob with flower pattern all over it, without it revealing said personal details. I suppose it all depends on how ‘authentic’ you want your dress to be, and what you want it to reveal about you.

Also, a detail I like to remember is the fact that there are no differences between Christian and Muslim dress patterns, as they have never been religious in nature. Given that Christian and Muslim Palestinians have lived side by side for centuries, the religious difference had never made itself apparent via clothing. Christian elements do appear in Palestinian embroidery made specifically for the home, and as such many—if not most—Christian Palestinian homes tend to have embroidered scenes from Jesus’s life hanging up on their walls.

*Edit to the above*: apparently that statement might not be completely accurate, at least in terms of the garments made in the past (think early 1900's and prior). I've talked with several people confirming that the garment patterns were specific to different towns, and seeing as religion was a defining factor, it was also incorporated into the clothing. It might be that these days, the dresses are less specific—or not as intent on specifying religion seeing as the majority of Palestinians still living there are now Muslim, and thus perhaps making the Christian population almost "too insignificant" to differentiate fromrendering that distant and perhaps almost forgotten information somewhat confused and/or mixed up.

It has been a dream of mine to have my very own custom-made Palestinian thob someday. Being vertically-challenged prevents me from going to fairs and simply snatching any of the dresses they have on display, as much as I’ve wanted to. Therefore, it has been and will remain a goal I will work towards, since I have heard they can cost anywhere from $400-$600+ depending on the specifics. Yes it may seem like a high price, but knowing what it entails, it’s one which I will gladly pay when the time is right. J

Here are two pictures displaying Palestinian embroidery taken on June 18, 2011 at the Bethlehem Fair Trade Market and a list of some books on Palestinian embroidery, as well as websites of interest:



List of worldwide collections of Palestinian costumes: 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some beauty trends in Jerusalem, Palestine and Israel

After spending 3 months in Jerusalem, it’s only natural that I’ve done and observed many things of both religious and secular natures. A byproduct of visiting for a substantial amount of time entailed observing the fashion trends of both Arabs and Israeli Jews, and reflecting on how, at least in some ways, they can be representative of culture and lifestyles.

One trend that sparked my attention involved make-up. A common trend I've seen during my stay—on both Arab and Israeli women-- is that of wearing one eyeshadow color on the eyelid and a different color eyeshadow/liner on the waterline/bottom lash. Clearly, it's one obvious way of wearing two different colors on your eyes at once. For some reason the bottom lash colors I've seen worn often happened to be bright blue. I’ve sometimes seen green, but very often bright blue or turquoise. Since I'm familiar with Arabic/Middle Eastern style make-up and have seen this trend in Arabic wedding and beauty magazines, it may be this influence at work on typical Jerusalemites. They might also be more up-to-date on the European trends than say, the US which—at least in my opinion—sometimes seems more resistant to and less adventurous with foreign fashion influences than other parts of the world.

Another make-up trend I've noticed is... 'straight' eyebrows. By that I mean eyebrows that are drawn/styled almost as a 'straight' line above your eye, instead of having an eyebrow that 'curves' above your eye. I'll admit I'm not a fan of this type of eyebrow, nor do I think it's very flattering, but I’ve definitely seen it a lot during my trip. I've seen it both on people and also in many popular Arab and Turkish-but-dubbed-in-Arabic TV shows. Why?! I have no clue... 

I was also surprised to see a lot of colored hair on Arab women because I assumed it would be deemed too provocative (given it is a more conservative society), especially when the most popular color at the moment happens to be… red. I knew blonde is (and always has been?!) also popular (gah!), but red is what I saw the most, worn by both stylish older women and younger ladies. They sure proved me wrong! I'll admit I often rejoiced when I saw just natural, super black long hair... but I’ll have to say that part of the fun of being a woman is the ability to play with your look if you so choose.

In terms of shoes, I've seen pretty much a lot of the same trends the US has like flats, platforms, heels, boots, etc. But what surprised me was still finding pointy-toed shoes... Wasn't this the trend a few years ago? Or is pointy-toe considered a classic that will never go away?

Now for the clothes. In terms of clothing, I found Arab women to be very feminine and colorful. And it makes sense when I recall the amount of times I've been teased for wearing even just a black t-shirt: "black?! why black?!,” I’d get asked. If only they knew back in the Bay I often wear entirely black outfits; makes sense to me! But mostly, I was reminded how much black is perceived as a mourning color and as such, it’s understandable that some cultures limit the use of that color in their everyday attire.

On the other hand, I saw the Western influence on typical secular Israeli women in that they also wear a lot of black. At Israeli malls and on a daily basis, I’d see working women wearing all-black outfits, just like any American or European would do.

Maybe it's my European upbringing, maybe it's American influence, maybe it's that black never goes out of style and is rather forgiving... but really for me black has always been a default, or most importantly, a color I enjoy. But I’ll admit that after being there for 3 months, I did ask myself a few times if I was indeed wearing ‘too much black.’ Ah, the power society has on you… I like to think my wardrobe is pretty balanced, and at the very least, being surrounded by people who favor colors over black provided me with a different perspective. One which I gladly admit did rub off on at me at least a little bit. J

One thing I found fascinating was the way I saw both religious Arab and Israeli Jewish women incorporate fashion and color in their religious attire. Almost always, I’d see some black combined with colors throughout the outfit: veiled, but colorful and stylish in heels, or Israeli Jewish woman in long skirt with colorful make-up. One of my favorite memories I have involves a woman I once saw who was religious, but who was dressed in such a way that by appearance alone I couldn’t tell if she was Muslim or Israeli Jewish. It was only the spoken Hebrew that I heard as I passed by that revealed her identity. This moment was memorable because, aside from the fact that she was both beautiful and religious, it reminded me of how sometimes similarities can overcome differences between different religious groups. Although it’s clear that religious Muslim and Israeli Jewish women don’t dress the same way, both groups emphasize the importance of covering their hair and wearing loose skirts/loose garments which can at times make the identities blur, as it did in the instance I mentioned. Obviously, this may be more likely to happen in an area where both Arabs and Jews interact, such as in an Israeli mall. It’s a given that in Arab areas you can assume the women are Arab because Israeli Jews do not go there, so there won’t be any ‘confusing the identities’ there. In any case, in both Muslim and Israeli Jewish groups of women, I saw traditional religious attire worn as well as incorporation of fashions into religious attire.

There are a few things I noticed that were particular to Eilat. I definitely saw the ‘beach babe/boy’ trend there, complete with super-brown tanned bodies (which I doubt were all natural tans) and gratuitous tattoo displaying. Women wearing Brazilian bikinis on the beach and at swimming pools were also a common sight. This may testify to the area’s extreme heat, but I think it also highlights the (some say ‘extreme’) laid-back attitude and Western flavor.

Needless to say, I saw a variety of things pertaining to fashion and appearance during my stay. Some attires were secular and fashionable, some more religiously traditional while others defied traditional definitions of religious garb.
Clearly, it can be hard, if not impossible, to identify the sole authority on religious attire and to determine how fashion may—or may not—affect it. Personally I believe that that is for each individual to determine and to apply to their life in the way they best see fit. In my experience, I saw the variety as source of inspiration, and I definitely enjoyed the visual elements that testified to the ‘desert life’ influence, such as harem pants, loose skirts/garments and magic carpet-like shawls and scarves (and yes I did bring a few back home with me; thank you Old City merchants!!).
As my experience reminds me, if one thing is sure, it’s that fashion can allow a person to explore different areas of their identity, or simply to reinforce the aspect(s) of their identity they deem most important in their life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Panoramic view of the city from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

One of the popular tourist sites in Jerusalem is none other than the Mount of Olives. Indeed, this is the area where tourists—as well as locals—love to take that ‘signature photo’ of Jerusalem with the Old City and the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the background. Just below the balcony, you can also view the numerous Jewish graves and the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene on the right side.

There is usually a camel that you can sit and ride on as well. Both in 2009 and this year, I saw the same man with crutches who brings his camel for people to ride on, reminding us that for some, these are their modest livelihoods and not just a source of entertainment.
And just in case this view makes you crave more (you are in the Holy Land, after all!), Augusta Victoria Hospital’s Mount Scopus is another great nearby area for such enterprises.

Be ready for pricey souvenir shops all over this area. Being a recent grad myself, I exercised my haggling abilities while in Jerusalem (and it’s nice to know that there are still some places in the world where you can do so!).

As a reminder, since the Mount of Olives is the highest point in Jerusalem, it can get very windy fast and be cooler than other areas of Jerusalem. You would definitely want to layer if planning on being around in the evening.
Also, the word on the street is that this area has recently been a hotbed of drug activity, so just as a precaution I would advise traveling in groups, especially at night. A mix of male-female is always better than an all female-group, again, especially at night. No, I’m not being paranoid nor am I na├»ve enough to assume/claim that those involved in drug activity are/are only Palestinian and/or that anything would happen during your visit. I’m just aware of cultural factors and believe in being better safe than sorry wherever one may be. J

That being said, yes the evening visit is highly recommended!! What’s better than daytime panoramic views of ancient cities? Well, night-time ones… sans crazy heat but with low glowing lights and crazy wind making you deeply regret leaving your hair tie behind on that particular night... But really how can anyone possibly complain, when upon viewing these pictures with flyaway hairs, all you can manage to do is laugh... And feel rather accomplished at the sight of the one that passed the test.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Russian Orthodox Convent of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

One of the important places for my family in Jerusalem—if not for other Russian Orthodox people as well—is the Russian Orthodox Convent of the Ascension (Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia) on the Mount of Olives.
This is the place where I spent the night before Easter on my feet for about 4 hours (as highlighted here), praying and reflecting on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus along with fellow Russian Orthodox folks.

The convent is located in the village of A-Tur on the Mount of Olives, and can be hard to find due to its ‘secluded’ and somewhat hidden location. What helps in finding it? The huge bell tower of course! While the tower serves as a guide to the general location, it’s clearly not the indicator of the entrance itself. The entrance is located between two buildings adorned with food shops, and you have to walk ‘in’ towards the back of a narrow pathway (kind of like a driveway) to get to its green gate. This green gate will have a golden plaque on the door indicating that it’s the Russian Orthodox Convent. You ring the bell and there should be someone who lets you in; sometimes it’s a Russian Orthodox nun, sometimes it’s a friendly Muslim gatekeeper/guard. I suppose the reason there is a gate is because, as is revealed when you step inside, you can drive and park inside the premises.

What do you see upon entering? Pretty much trees, gardens, a pathway leading to the church, and just a lot of space. You will definitely notice how quiet it is, which is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the streets literally steps away.
You can take in the fresh air and quiet as you stroll through the garden and make your way to the church. When approaching the church, the gigantic bell tower will appear on its left side.

The church building is not so huge and is made of a bright cream colored stone, which I presume is limestone (a common stone used in the country). When stepping inside the compound, there is a kind of ‘patio’ built right in front of the church, so that when you enter the premises, you are not inside the church just yet. It is in this ‘patio’ that there are some benches and a wooden ‘chest’ where long aprons and skirts are stored in case women didn’t come wearing one (it’s tradition that women must enter wearing long skirts and their hair slightly covered). Blessing yourself as you then enter the church, you may notice it’s relatively small in size. I’ve made comments about this and was reminded that this wasn’t really meant to be a ‘church’ for huge masses, but rather the place for nuns and priests to worship and live modestly. You’ll notice the altar in the center, with the right side dedicated to Jesus and the left side to the Virgin Mary. Typical of Christian Orthodoxy, there are of course numerous icons throughout the church that are revered by the Russian Orthodox. I found the church peaceful and lovely, and also admired the ceiling painting of Jesus, depicted in a gold and light blue background.
To see the site of Jesus’ ascension, you need only exit and go around the corner of the church, and on the right side (if facing the church), you will see a little shrine.

Continuing on your exploration, on the opposite side, you will find the bell tower on the left side of the church. It is massive and powerful, particularly when the bells are going off. I’ve been told that climbing up the tower’s never-ending steps provides an amazing view all the way to Jordan and I don’t doubt it for a second (I only wish I could see it for myself!!! They don’t allow people up there these days).

As you wander through the gardens, you will soon find the chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist. In the chapel—smaller than the church—one can see ancient mosaic on the floor, including the very spot believed to be the location where St. John the Baptist’s head was found. I found it amusing how it seems as though an almost perfect hole was carved out of the ground to mark the spot; I would be content with just knowing the general area particularly with something of a gruesome nature… (I’ll be the first to admit that I am still learning a lot about Christian Orthodoxy and such ‘detailed shrines’ is part of the deal, lol). Since it’s ancient mosaic, there are carpets covering the floor to help preserve it, and the mention of it once being an Armenian Church brings questions to mind. What happened to the Armenian Church? At what point did it become Russian Orthodox property? What happened to the head? Ok, so maybe I don’t need to know all the gruesome details, but my curiosity on the subject is definitely sparked…

The rest of the promenade will reveal more greenery, the cottage that the church founder had built, the ‘food hall’ for the priests, nuns and other residents, a cemetery in the back, and many lovely panoramic views. And many, many cats (although I must say it’s likely a Jerusalem thing as opposed to an isolated event).

It’s interesting to note that there is another location also believed to be the site of the ascension. That site is called the Chapel of the Ascension and is located just a bit further down the street. There you will see a small, limestone-colored chapel with a domed roof and inside, a rectangle-shaped stone on the ground that marks the location of Jesus’ ascension.

As a reminder, since the Mount of Olives is the highest point in Jerusalem, it can get very windy fast and be cooler than other areas of Jerusalem. You would definitely want to layer if planning on being around in the evening. 

A few helpful links, and my slideshow:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Visiting Imwas, Yalu, and Beit Nuba

The last trip I made during my stay in Jerusalem was to Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba in the West Bank. But these days it might be a bit difficult to find these locations under these specific names. These towns were captured, depopulated and destroyed during the 1967 Six-Day War. On top of where once rested the Palestinian villages of Amwas and Yalu, there is now Canada Park, funded by the Jewish National Fund of Canada. Beit Nuba is now Mar Haven settlement.

What did I see? Lots of greenery and open spaces, with the highway stretching nearby... Of course, trees everywhere, and quiet places to roam through… It seemed like a simple, peaceful place where visitors could enjoy themselves, but I’d have to say I didn’t really feel like I could do this there, or even if I should. Although concealed and unkempt, I saw remnants of Palestinian life there, as the remains of 2 wells and a cemetery showed…

And cactuses… Lots and lots of cactuses. I normally wouldn’t think twice about the abundance of these… Until I’m told that cactuses were used by Palestinians as a kind of ‘fence’ between other towns—in lieu of walls—as well as around towns; thus requiring everyone to enter through the city’s main entrance.

Imwas… or biblical Emmaus. Said to be the place where Jesus appeared to two of his disciples following his resurrection.
Was it the place I visited? Does it matter? And then again… how would we know ‘for sure’? Especially when I hear that there are 4 possible places which could have been ‘that’ Emmaus…

I came, I saw, I reflected… I did share time with caring people of various backgrounds while there, even had a hot dog and sat on a bench with the day’s last sunrays right in my face.

Was it a ‘picnic’? Perhaps, although it felt more like a little church service, what with the prayers said, and traditional Arabic songs sung to commemorate previous, unmentioned Palestinian life on that land…

Brief visit. Yet duration is not necessarily tantamount to impact and/or significance. +

My slideshow of a few photos taken there:

A short documentary in 2 parts, posted on YouTube:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hiking in Lifta, West Jerusalem

Another memorable visit I’d like to share is the one we made to the town of Lifta, in West Jerusalem. It was a relatively short trip, taken in the late afternoon but which was just as enjoyable as any other longer excursions.
The bus dropped us off at the ‘top of the hill,’ and as we started walking, we were soon greeted with a steep, downhill path which was more challenging to partake in than one might expect. We took our time hiking down into the valley until we finally reached the bottom and could finally stop and observe the surroundings as we took in Lifta’s history.

Lifta is a town which was depopulated in 1948 by Jewish troops, and was home to both Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as to some Jewish families. The town is now mostly deserted, but is surrounded by homes inhabited by Israelis. The Israeli presence became apparent as we hiked down into the valley and saw Israeli families passing through, jogging or just hanging out. It seemed obvious that our group was the only Arabic-English speaking group in these parts. As we observed the hills, what we saw were mostly ruins of homes, as well as the remains of a mosque. As our guides related some of the history, we found that on one side had been the home of a Christian family, while the house across from it on the other side had been home to a Jewish family. I could be wrong but I recall a detail about the house owned by the Jewish family, something about the house being built on uneven ground thus threatening the stability of the house…
We also saw a kind of ‘courtyard’ with a big water basin, in which I think Israelis bathe in these days. I believe that area used to be Lifta’s city center, with occasional markets and where inhabitants would join together and spend time socializing.

As we kept hiking further north, we saw more ruins and even saw some homeless and hippie Israelis staying in some of these buildings. I walked into a few of the empty homes and I must say I just felt the strangest feeling… like I was invading someone’s home. Clearly the place had been empty for years—even though there was endless graffiti and drawings adorning the walls—but I just felt like something was missing, like I was walking into someone’s home without them knowing about it… It was an awkward feeling I don't think I've ever experienced before...

We continued our hike, joking and chatting and singing until we eventually had reached the other side, where our bus awaited us to take us back into the center.

Maybe it was actually perfect that we went there in the late afternoon. There was something very lovely about seeing the late afternoon sun shining upon the remains of homes on the hills… I’m sure many people drive by them on the highway, indifferent to the ruins on the hills, unaware of Lifta’s location and history. And who knows how much longer Lifta will be there for people to visit, as I heard plans of building luxury homes there may soon come to fruition?

I know little of what will happen to Lifta in the near future, but I do know I am glad to have seen its remains—as much as I could of them—while they were still there. If I could have found the place very breathtaking despite the obvious destruction that has taken place there in recent history, I can only imagine how gorgeous it must have been when Lifta was a thriving and fully populated town in Jerusalem. +