Area Codes (Part 1 of Our Adventures in the Palestinian Territories)

2011-05-25_19-15-28My wife and I begin our last Sunday in Israel outside of the Jerusalem YMCA, a magnificent structure that in terms of grandeur rivals anything built in the Jerusalem of the 1930s. The “Y” is where we are supposed to meet our tour to Jericho and the Dead Sea, but when we arrive, we see no tour bus parked outside, and no congregation of waiting fellow tourists. We wander aimlessly around the “Y”, asking ourselves if the tour has been cancelled. We finally locate a young woman with a briefcase open on the sidewalk outside of the “Y.” She hands us a tour brochure and points to a waiting taxi. “He will take you to your tour guide, at the checkpoint,” she explains. Checkpoint? I feel like I’m in a John le Carré novel. When I hesitate, the representative gestures back to the taxi. “The rest of your tour is waiting.” “The rest of our tour” is a young couple from Bucharest, sitting in the back seat of the taxi.

Our “alternative” tour of the Palestinian-controlled West Bank has begun.

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Highway 443 Revisited

Now the rovin’ gambler he was very bored

He was tryin’ to create a next world war

He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor

He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before

But yes I think it can be very easily done

We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun

And have it on Highway 61

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

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It is possible for a tourist to spend two weeks in Israel, seeing the sights and living the good life, without any realization of the problems people face here. It is also possible to encounter some of these problems in a single day, without meaning to. Evidently, all that is required for such an encounter is GPS.

Last Tuesday my wife and I said goodbye to Tel Aviv and made the trip southeast to Jerusalem, where we will spend the final week of our vacation in Israel. My younger brother is Israeli, and he volunteered to drive us from one place to the other. He arrived in Tel Aviv, and once we were safely packed into his minivan, he hit a few buttons on his smartphone. “Ever use Waze?” he asked me. “It will navigate us to Jerusalem, and even check how bad traffic is while it plots the route.” I was happy to use my brother’s iPhone as our guide. I figured that an iPhone app has to understand Israeli geography better than I do.

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Postcard From Tel Aviv

The “Thermometer House” Tel Aviv

Greetings from the heart of Tel Aviv. I am in Israel on vacation, visiting family and working on my book. I thought it might be nice to take a break from my never-ending review of Anthony Le Donne’s The Wife of Jesus to send you a note telling you how I am.

I am fine.

Life here is … normal. Most Israelis are not living in minute-by-minute proximity to the issues that dominate U.S. media coverage of the Middle East, or the books we read about Israel, or even what I hear about Israel in synagogue. The most obvious sign here of Israeli – Palestinian strife is the security presence. Bags are x-rayed at the train stations and shopping malls; street fairs are marked at start and end by checks of purses and backpacks. But even when conducted in Hebrew, a language I cannot understand, the security here feels relaxed and confident. “We know what we’re doing,” the security officials seem to proclaim, and the people being screened pay it no mind. There is none of the anxiety here that is so palpable during the screening process at any American airport. No one is screaming here to remove shoes or empty pockets of every last gum wrapper.

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Jesus the Confirmed Bachelor

gospel-of-jesus-wifeIn my last post, I began my review of Anthony Le Donne’s terrific new book The Wife of Jesus. I focused there on the first half of Anthony’s book, where he discusses why Jesus’s marital status is so important to us. Anthony argues (and I think he’s right) that we project our sexual aspirations, misgivings and hang-ups onto the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Given the complicated nature of our sexuality, it is no wonder that Jesus appears to some of us as celibate, to others of us as married with children, and to still others (albeit a few others, more than 100 years ago) as married multiple times.

But my guess is, no one purchased The Life of Jesus to read about projected sexualities. My guess is, Anthony’s readers want to know whether Jesus was married. My guess is that some of these readers want Anthony to confirm that traditional Christianity is right to believe that Jesus eschewed all sexual activity, because Sons of G-d do not and would not engage in that sort of thing. My guess is that other readers want Anthony to say that Jesus was married, had children and engaged in sex pretty much like other human beings of his time and place.

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