Category Archives: The View From Here

The View From Here features the writing of Joanna Chen, based out of Israel’s Ella Valley.

Learning to Walk

By Joanna Chen 

Stand with your legs apart. The earth here demands a different way of walking, a more mindful one. Wear what your mother would call “sensible shoes,” and make sure the laces are tied tightly. It is crucial they do not dangle; tuck them in at the ends. Now put on the crampons — spiky, metal contraptions that should fit your shoes snugly. Now you’re two inches higher above the surface of the earth. Continue reading

The Greatest Show on Earth

By Joanna Chen

It’s hard to miss the American and Israeli flags flying on the main highway that connects Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Too bad President Trump missed those flags, fluttering bravely in the summer breeze. He went by helicopter up to Jerusalem, but the highway was closed anyway, just in case. Trump touched down in Israel yesterday, and tension was high, more in anticipation for the razzle-dazzle than anything else. “We will get it done,” Trump promised Palestinian President Abbas earlier this month, and I wonder today what exactly Trump thinks he might get done here. What kind of a haphazard, hocus-pocus plan does he have up his sleeve that might succeed where others have failed? Continue reading

The Day the Lights Went Out

By Joanna Chen

Nothing much happens in the quiet village where I live in the Ella Valley of Israel. In many ways, it’s like a modern shtetel — houses clustered together in a valley dotted with corn and melon fields in season, perched on the edge of a forest ripe with secrets waiting to be discovered. It’s named Sarigim, the Hebrew word for “tendrils,” in reference to the nearby vine groves that burst with purple sweetness in the summer, their wispy limbs curling around wooden trellises. There’s a single supermarket where people buy milk and eggs and stand around gossiping, and on Fridays they buy fresh-baked pastries and braided challah bread that fill the air with the scent of home. Continue reading

Swans and Seagulls

By Joanna Chen

It’s raining on our first morning in Ireland but my daughter and I struggle into Dublin city for a little exploration. Armed with an umbrella, bundled in jackets, scarves, and boots, we wander through Grafton Street, Dublin’s main drag of high-end stores. People with rustling carrier bags bump up against us; I feel trapped, and long for an escape route. As a child I was fascinated by Lucy’s adventures in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, how she escaped the pressures of war-torn England by traversing the fur coats and entering the wardrobe through to the other side. Here’s the rain, the gloom of existence, and I am about to enter my own wardrobe of escape.    Continue reading

Uprooting

By Joanna Chen

The last time I drove up this hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem was just over five years ago. In front of me was an Israeli army truck with six beautiful olive trees strapped to it, their trucks thick and gnarled, the dull leaves trembling as the truck lurched up the hill in heavy traffic. I could not take my eyes off those trees, which must have been 60 years old at least. They were not chopped up, but whole and beautiful and vibrant. From where had they been ripped up so meticulously, and where they being taken to so carefully, I wondered.  Continue reading

Finding Home in an Arabic Class in Israel

By Joanna Chen

I’m sitting in my studio at The Virginia Center for The Creative Arts in Amherst, writing about Jaffa, Israel, where I recently took a course in Arabic. It’s part of a memoir set mostly in Israel, where I now live. A text message pops up on my cell phone from my daughter, Jasmine. I’m OK, don’t worry, the message says. I’m immediately worried.  I check the wires and discover there have been three attacks in Israel today. One was in Jaffa, I learn. Continue reading

When a Tree Falls

By Joanna Chen

I land in Dulles Airport after a blizzard. A thick layer of snow covers the Lincoln Memorial; the Reflecting Pool glistens with ice. The driver of the shuttle bus notices me taking photos through the window with my iPhone and offers to stop for a minute so I can get a good shot. I start explaining that I’m not interested in the tourist sites; my best photos are the blurry ones in which trees, people, buildings, seem to move, when their outlines are smudged across the frame, when there is something suggestive, something left to the imagination, but the driver has already pulled up to the curb so I snap a couple of photos obediently and say thank you. He seems happy, nods and pulls out again into a road that is strangely empty. It’s President’s Day and the recent storm has kept people indoors. Everything is clean and bright. Continue reading

More or Less Insane

By Joanna Chen

My cousin and his wife are visiting us. It’s been a long time since Steven and I played hide and seek together, growing up in London. When I moved to Israel as a teenager, the connection between us was severed, or so I thought. The few times I saw him over the years on trips to England, we hardly talked. He was a stranger, grown tall, with a gruff voice and a retiring manner. Neither of us could break through the barrier of years on those brief trips, and I don’t believe we really tried. Then last year I visited England on two occasions, and saw him both times. I laughingly told him I would put up curtains in the guest room if he came to Israel. A few days after returning home, his wife, Sue, sent me an email: We’re coming she said, the flights are booked. I was surprised that they would visit after so many years. Continue reading