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Jerusalem Cultural Fellowship – First Thoughts from Elise

June 15, 2010

Our fearless leader, Elise, is in Israel this month superintending our Jerusalem Cultural Fellowship pilot program at Mishkenot Sha’ananim. She will be blogging about her experiences and impressions. Here are her first entries.

Jerusalem – First Impressions
June 12, 6:30ish

This isn’t my first time in Jerusalem, so I’ll rephrase: first impressions sitting on the mirpeset of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. It is so peaceful (the irony isn’t lost on me). There’s a light breeze, the birds are peeping, a soft conversation next door (on the porch) in Hebrew, the occasional buses (it’s Shabbat so the traffic is light).

My shoes are off and as my room doesn’t have chairs in front, I’m sitting on what I figure must be at least 150-year-old marble steps. They are cool to the touch and beautifully rubbed down. I can see through the trees (eucalyptus, from the smell) a sliver of the bleachers erected in the sultan’s pool for the Jerusalem Film festival in a few weeks (that won’t be quiet). The light on the walls of the old city is soft, no glare anywhere (it’s after 6) and the whole place just reeks of calm. I have my Nescafe—the little packets of freeze dried stuff—so Israeli. It’s not bad, really. I made it in the little kitchenette of our lovely room, which I only found by following the light from the kitchen window. Tour groups come and go but even they are quiet. Maybe this is why writers love it here.

I’m excited to see our Jerusalem Cultural Fellows together tomorrow, even such a small group, and I wonder how we will evolve an ‘esprit de corps’ with such a tiny cohort. The writers will come and go, so no telling how that will impact things. The church bells ring out a bit mournfully from some very old church that I hope to know the name of by the end of this week.

Sunday, June 13

Orientation went well—we had breakfast in the little room which was Montefiore’s Chapel (judging from its alignment with the western wall).

The highlight of the day was Reggie Wilson teaching dance to a class of extraordinary 10th graders.

June 14

Reggie Wilson’s class was a revelation in terms of the amazing talent of the 10th grade participants from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance high school. One young man in particular struck me as immensely talented and I asked the head of the dance department about him. He looked like a young Merce Cunningham, with an intensity that was beyond his years. I learned that he comes from a Haredi family and that he and his mother left “the fold” so he could follow his muse. He danced as if his life depended on it, and yet he did so with a sense of humor. After the class he was practicing a solo which looked familiar and yet which he entirely owned—I assumed he had created it for the upcoming end of year concert, but it turns out it was from a Batsheva piece that the class had learned. It was striking how beautifully he performed it and how he made it his own.

Last night was our opening program, and the Fellows, who i knew were all amazingly talented, blew me away with their personal reflections on being in Jerusalem. It was a really moving beginning to our pilot program.

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