Saturday, December 01, 2007


Hello all! I apologize for such a long delay in postings. The last several months were spent working on the new website, preparing for speaking engagements, and seriously formulating concepts.

My website is up and running. The site is loaded with sights and sounds so check it out and let me know what you think.

For a quick update, I have my first photo show here in DC In Dec. All info is on the new site. In October, I spent an amazing week in Maine attending a documentary film development workshop taught by Jack McDonald. It was very hard work but I plan to have a proposal finished by the end of the year. I meet with the Syrian Embassy next week to further discuss my book and to begin preparing for the next trip. I plan to return to Syria 2 times next year. The first trip will solely focus on photography for the book which I've named Aleppo: The Essence of Syria . And the trip second is going to finally record the chants and begin gathering footage for the documentary.

The week after next I have a meeting with Professor Bryan Spinks at Yale Institute of Sacred Music to discuss collaborating on a second book. I'll hopefully schedule a meeting with a professor from Harvard for reasons I'll discuss very soon.

Things are beginning to settle so I'll have time to update and begin to put down some of the chaos from the last trip to Syria. Let's do this!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Jason w- Grand Mufti.jpg
This photo was taken at the Grand Mufti's house in Damascus. We spent a good hour discussing ideas and agreeing to work with each other on a documentary film about Christians and Muslims in modern day Syria.

It’s been a long time since I have updated this blog. I’m not getting lazy, just getting much much busier. Here’s an update of my doings.

1. I’ve been working with building my new website , The site isn’t live yet, but you can Click Here For a Sneak Peak

2. Lexar Media, Inc. has taken me on as on of their professional photographers. You can see my bio here and read an article I wrote for them here. I’ll be writing an article in August going into detail on my approach to low light photography.

3. I have been asked to give four presentations on my projects in Syria. The first presentation will be this Friday, July 27th, in NYC for the American Mideast Leadership Network. The AMLP has asked to me to share my experiences as an American in Syria at the orientation of the United States-Syria Future Leaders Program. The American Mideast Leadership Network created the United States-Syria Future Leaders Program “To help address misconception and to foster a more realistic observation of the true American spirit, the AMLN has initiated the United States-Syria Future Leaders Program, the first ever exchange program of its kind. Through the initial exchange of this two-week program, to take place in Syria this summer, a diverse group of Syrian and American university students will have the opportunity for the first time to interact with each other and act as ambassadors for their countries. The student ambassadors will participate in discussions, lectures, tourist excursions, and cultural outings in order to comprehend and share their respective cultural, religious heritages with on another. We anticipate that both groups of students will break through ideological and cultural walls that separate them as they gain a better appreciation for the local culture.”

The Second presentation will be held on Saturday August 4th at St. Aphraim Syriac Orthodox Church in Washington, DC. I will be giving a multimedia presentation on my projects focusing on the chant. This is the little blurb the church wrote: “Jason has been on an adventurous journey that has taken him from Tur Abdin in Turkey and into Aleppo, Syria. His fascination with the vibrant culture of that region thrust him to document and preserve the heritage and habits of the local people. He is currently on a mission to record, for the first time, the sounds of the liturgy of the Syriac Church in Aleppo, the only remaining church with direct roots to Edessa (modern Urfa, Turkey). Through his lens and recordings, Jason will take us on a lively voyage into the ancestry of the Syriac ‘Edessian’ Church and into modern Aleppo. Join us in this exciting presentation; perhaps we will be able to hear the sounds of St. Ephraim echoing again!”

The dates for the third and fourth presentations have not been solidified but will be held at All Souls Episcopal Church in DC and Georgetown University.

4. The Presbyterian Outlook has asked for an article focusing on the chant project. I've submitted a concept draft and waiting to hear back for editorial direction.

5. St. Aphraim Syriac Orthodox Church in Washington, DC has asked me to record a How to Speak Syriac Aramaic CD. I will engineer the recordings as well as provide the English voice.

6. The Washington DC Jewish Community Center has requested I submit a formal proposal for a possible art show showcasing the photographs of Aleppo’s Great Synagogue.

7. Jenny and I have been working on our garden and I’ve been watering plants between 20-30 minutes every other day.

8. Some of the guys and I have decided to go shark fishing this Sunday July 29. We’re heading out to Montauk, NY and getting aboard the Blu Fin IV with Captain Michael Potts. This guy’s been fishing the waters off Montauk his whole life. His father began charter fishing in 1944! It should be awesome! Sunday night is the beginning of Shark week on Discovery Channel. We plan to watch Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever “A dramatic documentary featuring the story of the of the USS Indianapolis in World War II. Explore the sinking and the horrifying shark attacks that cost hundreds of soldiers' lives.” Just a little something to stir the nerves before facing the man-eating residents of Neptune’s kingdom!

Click here to see a slideshow of me getting shaved in Syria!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm home and tired

Sheraton 12.jpg

This last trip to Syria was one of the most intense trips of my life. There were only 3 nights that I slept longer than 5 hours and several where I slept under 3. By day's end I was just to wiped out to write. I did write one entry the first couple of days there when my energy was still high. I'll be writing several stories as I get the time and posting them along the way. To get up to speed:

1. The trip was very successful. The Archbishop and Grand Mufti have both signed a document agreeing to work with me on a documentary film

2. I have been accepted as one of the Lexar professional photographers and will be featured this coming month on their web site. I'll be writing an article on my trip that will be posted anlong with a bio and a headshot later this month.

3. My new website, is close to being up and running

4. While I was gone, Alternative Press published two new articles, one is on stretching, and the other on punk places to visit in DC.

5. I've been asked to give a presentation at ST. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church here in DC sometime in July. Details will follow.

6. I am still working on the photo book of Aleppo but was asked to do a 2nd book on the ordination of the Archbishop of Holland which we filmed and photographed on April 15th. Details will follow.

7. Samson Audio has sponsored the project and donated 2 Zoom H4 audio recorders, 2 CL8 microphones, and 2 BL3 stands that I used on this last trip. Links will follow soon.

8. It looks like I'll be heading back in August for a month to finally do the recordings. Finances are a problem, so I don't know details on that either.

9. I was asked this morning to write a piece for The Presbyterian Outlook about my trip and interest with the project.


It’s 5:52 here in Aleppo. I am staying in a midsized room on the 7th floor of the building located next to the Archdiocese. Things have been going great so far. It never ceases to amaze me to watch God’s hand in all of this.

I flew from DC to Vienna, Austria then to Damascus where my ticket ended. I was supposed to buy a $25 flight from Damascus to Aleppo once I got o the airport. I babbled through a conversation with Syrian Air about buying a ticket. The plane was oversold and they were taking stand-by reservations. The woman behind the counter didn’t lead me to think that I’ll be getting on a plane Aleppo.

I promised Jenny that I wouldn’t take a bus so plan B was to drive. There were a handful of rental companies in the terminal the most familiar being Budget Rent A Car. They offered me a nice car and driver for $100. Not a bad price for a 4-hour cab ride, but I wanted to drive myself and didn’t want to pay $100. They suggested asking one of the “other” companies. I got the same price from them as well. One man was nice enough to call the airline and he said they had plane. I thanked him and hauled my things back over to Syrian Air.

I got the same answer. “The plane is full.” I handed the man behind the counter my official letter from Archbishop Mor Karim in NJ. After he read this he said, “Mr. Jason I will help you.”
“Do you think I’ll make the plane?”
“It is your gamble. But I have a good feeling.”
I paid him $25 and he handed me an e-ticket. Several people swarmed the desk as I was waiting. I didn’t get to say a proper good-bye. I waited awkwardly off to the side of the counter. Time was fleeting, so I waved and headed to the gate.

I made it through 2 security stops and approached the check-in counter. When I gave the guy my ticket, he gruffly shoved it back at me. I pointed to the paper and he shook his head no. The man behind me said, “No room.”
I just paid $25 and expected to get on a plane. This confusion went on for at least 10 minutes. The man behind the counter pointed to a code on the paper and the man behind me said. “Not confirmed.” I got hopes up for nothing. The ticket agent pointed to a place for me to sit and wait. I took out my letter but they wouldn’t read it. I couldn’t do anything but sit and watch to clock.

I was confused, frustrated, and exhausted. To my luck, a man wearing a Syrian Orthodox Monk Hood walked into the departure area. I took out my letter.

“Are you Syrian Orthodox?”
“I need some help. My name is Jason. I’m from Washington D.C. and I’m doing a project with your church. I’m supposed to be flying to Aleppo in a few minutes. I bought this ticket but can’t get on the plane. Are you a priest?”
“I am a Bishop. My name is Malaki.”
“Where do you live?”
“I am the bishop of Australia.”
I asked, “Are you visiting?”
“I went to Germany for a few weeks and have been in Damascus. I am leaving back to Australia now.” I couldn’t believe it.
He asked, “Do you have any Syrian money?”
Bishop Malaki gave me 2000 Syrian pounds ($40).
“I have US dollars please take…”
“Do not worry about it. It’s okay.” He led me over to the ticket counter and spoke with the man. “You are first on the list. If you do not make the flight I gave you enough money for a taxi to the Pullman (bus) station. From there you can catch a Pullman to Aleppo and be there in 4 hours.”
“Thank you so much!”
“Please give my regards to Mor Gregorios. You must excuse me; I need to catch my plane. God Bless you.” (which he did.) We shook hands and he briskly disappeared.

I waited anxiously hoping to get called to the ticket counter. Time was molasses.
A minute later I was handed a boarding pass and was on way to Aleppo.

Someone from the Church was supposed to meet me at the airport but that didn’t happen. I got a cab but couldn’t tell the driver where to go. I showed him the Bishop’s business card but it didn’t do any good. We weaved our way into the city. We stopped several times trying to find our way. No one could understand the little Arabic I spoke and had a hard time reading the Bishop’s business card. The 5th person we stopped knew the church and gave us directions. I arrived tired and relieved.

There was no one answering the intercom at the Church but a curious guy introduced himself in Arabic. I embarrassingly admitted to not speaking the language and he asked if I spoke English. “Yes, thank you. My name is Jason and I just flew here from Washington DC. I am a guest of the bishop but can’t get a hold of anyone.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Let’s get something to eat. What would you like?”
“Za’ater. It’s my favorite.” Za’ater is an amazing blend of spices that is sold on the street served in hot bread. It’s the proof of God.
We walked a couple of blocks and he treated me to 2 Za’ater sandwiches. It was exactly what I needed after the long trip.

We walked back to the church and finally got through to the Bishop. I was welcomed in and taken up to my new home on the 7th floor of the apartment building next to the church. My day ended with the surprise of seeing several of the sub-deacons from last year. We had a great welcome back dinner and then I went to sleep.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Here we go again!

I return to Syria on March 27th for a month to take photos, film, and plan the chant recordings. The Syrian Ambassador has reviewed the project and has decided to sponsor the publishing of an Aleppo coffee table book made of my photography. I will be photographing every aspect of Aleppo. “We will unlock the city for you to document everything the city has to offer.” In addition to various aspects of the city, I will be photographing all Muslim, Christian, and Jewish celebrations. Yale professor, Bryan Spinks, has agreed to co-write the text with me and we are discussing submitting the book through the Institute Of Sacred Music to the Yale University Press but a publisher has not yet been chosen.

I have brought on Asa Palmer to film this upcoming trip. In Damascus we are going to film the ordination of the Archbishop to the Netherlands and in Aleppo we will film a traditional Edessian Sunday liturgy. These two films will complete my obligations with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

The Archbishop is going to set up a meeting with himself, The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr Eddin-Hassoun, and I to discuss my documentary ideas.

I am excited to announce renowned videographer, Ryan Hill, and Emmy Award winning writer/ producer Jack McDonald have agreed to join the project. Ryan is a camera veteran and has traveled the world filming for PBS, National Geographic, Animal Planet, NBC, HGTV, and The Discovery Channel. Jack has been in the business for years. He started out at CBS as a news assistant then moved on to become a news editor/ reporter for Time. Over the years he’s written and produced numerous shows for The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The Learning Channel, and TBS. In 1994 his "Surviving Everest” won the Emmy Award for Best Historical Segment and in 2005 his film “Messingers” won Best Documentary Short at the Crossroads Film Festival. We will be getting together when I get home to review ideas and begin working on a documentary treatment.

I had to change the name of my production company from Blue Flame Media to Lost Origin Productions. Indie Rock Media has agreed to build the website,, and I hope to have it up very soon.

Lexar has agreed to sponsor the project and is donating several high capacity compact flash and SD memory cards. In return I will be featured on there prophotography website and will provide images and an article when I return in April.

I have been doing a ton of photo work this year. My most recent publishing credit is the Syrian Embassy included one of my photos in a cultural report for the Washington Diplomat. Earlier this week I traveled to NJ and shot the press photos for Dillinger Escape Plan’s new record. Back in Feb. I shot the Spring Collection for Klinger Advanced Aesthetics,
Collection 6.jpg
and just finished working with renowned real estate agent, Rita Halstead, for her forth coming international marketing campaign.

I just finished a second “Stretching for Musicians” piece for Alternative Press and am in the revision process for an article for Massage and Bodywork magazine. I am working on piece for A.P. on the history of mid-late 90’s hardcore with Hatebreed, Locust, Converge, and Dillinger Escape Plan.

At the beginning of the year I was invited to begin the review process for the Back in early January I had a meeting with the manager of the National Geographic Emerging Explorers program. He was very excited about the project and wanted me to apply for the Explores Grant. It is a committee decision and after eight weeks they finally rejected the project. The rejection didn’t hurt or hinder the project but it would’ve been cool had it come through.

Dear Mr. Hamacher,

Thank you for your pre-application expressing interest in a grant from the
National Geographic Society's Expeditions Council. We appreciate the
opportunity to review your request for support for your project, "The
Urfalee Preservation Initiative; exploring Syria's Christian-Muslim
relationship by illuminating the history, traditions, and culture of St.
George's Syrian Orthodox Church, located in Aleppo, Syria." While we
understand the importance of your efforts, regretfully, we must decline

The constraints of our budget, current editorial requirements, and the
timing of each project limit us to supporting only a select number of
projects each year.

I regret that we are unable to extend support. I do, however, wish you
every success and hope you will be able to secure the funding you need for
your endeavor.


Program Officer
Expeditions Council
National Geographic Society

In addition to all of this, Jenny and I are loving our house and hating the gas bill. We welcome spring with open arms and empty wallets.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Our Tree is up!!!

We bought a real Christmas tree this year and it smells amazing!

Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

San Francisco Photos

San Francisco 10.jpg

I've finally edited the photos from our trip to San Francisco back in October. Check them out

San Francisco 12.jpg

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mexico Photos Up

Tulum, Mexico 44.jpg

It has been a month since I went to mexico and it was fantastic. The cavern certification course was much harder than I expected. It used different equipment as well as different swimming and rescue techniques. Each skill compouned and commanded extreme concentration. I got through it and loved it. I spent my down time working on an article for Massage & Bodywork magazine and watching movies on my laptop. It was exactly what I needed to recharge. Click Here For Tulum Slideshow

Tulum, Mexico 45.jpg

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Back Under Water

Every year or two I need to go on a solo adventure to reset and recharge. I have decided to take a little break from house and home and head to Mexico to become a certified cavern scuba diver. I got my open water and advanced open water certifications in Egypt in 2001 but I’ve only been diving once since then.

I'll fly into Cancun on Nov 12th and plan on spending the day in Playa Del Carmen. I’ll find a ride south, to Tulum, where I’ll spend the next 4 days and nights learning how to explore underground caverns filled with water.

Television Idea

This is one of my ideas for a television show. I have submitted it to one production house and was turned down. I am in the midst of researching different production houses to see where it might fit. Please contact me with ideas or suggestions.

Proposal: Urfalee Project

“Americans know less about Eastern Christianity than they do about Islam, and they don’t know anything about Islam.”
-Dr. Sidney Griffith, The Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures, The Catholic University of America

To many Americans saturated by sensationalized Western journalism, Syria is little more than a terror-supporting member of the so-called "Axis of Evil.” To the Aramaic-speaking Urfalees who belong to the dwindling Christian community of St. George’s Church, Syria is a refuge for their ancient Christian traditions, stretching back thousands of years to the dawn of the Christian era. Syria’s Orthodox Christian minority has not only persevered, but flourished, in a region of the world plagued by civil, religious and ethnic strife fueled by fundamentalism, international wars and terrorism.

• How has this small sect of Eastern Christianity survived in a 90% Muslim land?
• And how does the nation of Syria make this unique situation possible?

On August 14th I met with the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Moustapha, and was enthusiastically granted permission and support from the embassy and government to explore Syria’s surprisingly strong Muslim-Christian relations. I have also established an excellent relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, who has given his blessings to the project, thereby opening many doors into the actual workings of the church in Syria.

I plan to further gain insight into this multifarious topic by going to Syria and interviewing the individuals who belong to the church community, as well as several important Syrian figures, including:

• Archbishop Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Allepo
• The Grand Mufti of the Republic, Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun
• President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad

I will also attempt to get a feel for the rhythms of life in Syria, focusing primarily on how the Syriac Christians live, maintaining their distinct identity inside the norms of life in a Muslim-dominated society. Among the distinctive practices are not only their church services, so different from Muslim worship, but also through more personal aspects, such as the folk songs and festivities unknown to the bulk of the Syrian community.

A program featuring my research and experiences with the Syriac Orthodox communities would not only be entertaining, but could also help the American public learn a great deal about our own social (mis)understandings and biases about the rest of the world. Such a program would be unique, blending Syria’s history, land, and religion with candid conversation between a young American, Syria’s leadership and the people of this unique land.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You are in Syria. This is the Embassy

One of Jenny’s old coworkers is Syrian and knows the Ambassador well enough to have his family over for dinner often. last February, I asked if she could email my project proposal to the Ambassador with a good word. Her husband did the favor but I never heard anything from it so I figured the Embassy wasn’t into my idea.
Back in April I had a meeting with both Archbishops to review my findings from the first trip to Aleppo and to discuss the next steps. They gave me full run with my ideas. To my excitement I was granted permission to release cd, TV show, documentary, whatever. We all agreed that the next step was getting approval from the Syrian government, but they felt it may be difficult. I agreed.
I came home from the meeting and decided to call the Syrian Embassy here in DC to introduce myself.
I’ve never had a problem cold calling, so I got the number off the internet and tried to call the Ambassador directly. I navigated through several prompts before reaching the his secretary.
“How may I help you?” She cordially asked.
“My name is Jason Hamacher. I am involved with a project with the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo. Dr. Aman, A mutual friend of the Ambassador and myself, emailed a copy of my proposal to the Ambassador a couple of months back. I was hoping to meet with the Ambassador to discuss to the project.”
“The Ambassador is out of town at the moment. He should be back in ten days. If you could fax a copy of your proposal to our office, I’ll make sure he gets it.” She sounded optimistic.
“Sounds good. I’ll fax it over today. Thank you very much.” I got off the phone and drafted an introductory letter. It took me a week to write the thing. This is what I came up with:

“Dear Sir or Madam:

I write to request a meeting with the Ambassador. I am in the beginnings stages of a project with the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo and Archbishop Mor Gregorios and mutual friend Dr. Aman have both encouraged me to contact the Ambassador directly to discuss my ideas. I would like explore the relationships between Archbishop Mor Gregorios, the Mufti and the President of Syria. I feel that the public and private relationship between Archbishop and the Mufti is one to be admired and could be used as a role model for tolerance here in the US. I would also like to discuss with the President, his ideas and philosophies on governing Syria’s religious state. I am not a journalist or a student, just a young enthusiastic Christian eager to make a difference. Western Christians can learn a great deal from our Eastern heritage and I feel Syria is the best country to use as an example. I have attached the formal proposal describing the other aspects of my project. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

It was faxed it on May 17th. I called the following day to confirm they received it. The Ambassador was unfortunately out of town. I was encouraged to call back in two weeks. I called but missed him again.
“You can try back in ten days. He should be available then.”
By this time Jenny and I were house hunting with every free moment and I let things slip. I kept calling and missing the Ambassador for weeks. I called on July 17th
“Hello, this is Jason Hamacher calling for the Ambassador. I was wondering if he has he gotten the chance to review my proposal?”
“Hello Mr. Hamacher. Unfortunately the ambassador has not had the time to review your proposal.” The woman pleasantly responded.
“No problem. When would be a good time to call back and follow up.” I asked.
“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news, but we are pretty busy these days.” She didn’t come across condescending just stating the facts. I was horrifically embarrassed. Israel began bombing Lebanon several days before and Syria was in the hot seat for allegedly allowing Iran to supply weapons to Hezbollah through their territory.
“I am so sorry! I should’ve thought of that before I called. I’ll call back when the war calms down.” When the war calms down? I couldn’t believe that came out of my mouth. She didn’t acknowledge my remark, thanked me and then got off the phone. I had surely ruined my future with the Syrian Embassy.
The next month was spent settling into our new job and house. I was slammed with unpacking, arranging, installing, assembling, and fixing. I was perpetually on hold or trouble shooting with every tech support guy for days. Jenny and I were stressed beyond description but everything was coming together.
Thursday August 10th during lunch my phone rang. It was from a nameless DC number. So I answered.
“Hello, name is Ahmed, I am from the Syrian Embassy, may I speak to Jason Hamacher please.”
I was excited but nervous. Israel and Lebanon were bombing the hell out of each other and Syria was all over the news. Why was I getting a call? “This is Jason.”
“I work with the Ambassador and have gone over your proposal and think you have a good project.”
We talked for fifteen minutes going over all of my ideas and concepts. To my surprise Ahmed was in his mid-twenties, from Aleppo, and had many Christian friends. He thought the project had great merit and wanted to arrange a meeting with the Ambassador.
“When are you available to meet with the Ambassador?” He asked.
“My days off are Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings.”
“Great, I’ll go over the Ambassador’s schedule and call back with some possibilities.” Things were looking good. Ahmed called the following day and set a meeting for Monday, August 14th.
I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. If the meeting didn’t go well the project could be canceled. I woke up Monday morning exhausted. I put on my suite, gathered my portfolio, kissed my wife and drove down to the Embassy. I called my dad and said a prayer before stepping out of the car.
I walked around to the Consular basement entrance and hit the door bell.

Syrian Embassy

Syrian Embassy DC

The door buzzed opened. I stepped into a dim room with low ceilings. A larger plexi glass window separated me from a man sitting at a desk. “How can I help you?” He asked with think Arabic accent.
“ I have a meeting with the Ambassador. My name is Jason Hamacher.”
“Have a seat Mr. Hamacher.” He pointed toward a small waiting area decorated with faded tourism posters. There was a couch, coffee table, a few chairs, and a water cooler. I took the couch and picked up a news paper. A large man, who I thought might be Ahmed, entered the room and asked me to follow him. He was in a suite and looked like Syria’s smaller version of The Rock. I followed him outside and around to the front of the building. The Embassy is an old DC stand alone brick house with white trim and a large front yard surrounded by a tall black iron fence. He unlocked the gates and we approached the front door. We chatted a bit on the way in and I was directed to sit in the salon. It was very reminiscent of the informal meeting areas of both Archbishops. I sank into the couch and the thick gentleman asked, “Would you like a tea or a Turkish coffee?”
“Now I really feel like I’m in Syria. I’ll take a coffee” I said with a laugh.
“You are in Syria. This is the Embassy.” I felt stupid. I forgot that an embassy is technically soil of that country. Nice diplomacy.
I had been freaking out wondering how to address the Ambassador. Was it Ambassador, Mr. Ambassador, Dr Moustapha, I had no idea. My head was spinning as I sat waiting in a foreign country that happened to be in my neighborhood. Ahmed walked in and introduced himself. We spoke for a minute or two and then the Ambassador walked in. We both stood and I shook the ambassador’s hand. Before I could say anything Mr. Ambassador beat me to it. I never officially addressed him. It was to late so I went forward.
“How can we help you?” He asked with a smile while gesturing for us to sit down.
“I presume that you have reviewed my proposal, so I am here to discuss your thoughts and to seek permission to execute this project.”
“Permission is not a problem. Tell me your ideas.” It was that easy. I had permission within the first 60 seconds! His demeanor was very pleasant. I was expecting a stern individual but he seemed dignified yet down to earth. I felt welcome.
I went into my whole deal. What was nerve racking was thinking how to be diplomatic while still getting my point across.
“We both know Syria hasn’t been getting the best press lately. I find it interesting that our president has claimed to be Christian and yet your country, an “Enemy” (I gestured with quotes) houses one of the oldest surviving forms of Christianity. I think that we as a nation can learn from the examples of tolerance shown by the religious leaders of Aleppo.” I spoke with confidence but was pretty sure they could hear my heart beating. The Ambassador nodded his head with understanding, calming my anxiety. “I am requesting your permission because three or four young Americans showing up to Syria with a plane full of electronics won’t look to good at the border.” I said with a slight laugh.
“Of course. You will be fine just as long as you don’t bring any tooth paste or liquid with you.” He said smiling. We all laughed. The Ambassador was also funny! This was turning into a hang out. One of the reasons he liked the project was because Aleppo gets little coverage. Most of the media covers Damascus and that tended to be mostly negative. “Who did you meet while in Aleppo?” He asked.
“Several people. It was the week of the big Islamic Cultural celebration. I have photos if you want to see.” I offered.
“I love photography.” He began looking through my portfolio. “Your pictures are great. They are more than pictures. They tell a story. I would love to display some of these here at the embassy.”
“Thank you very much. I am in the process of making a photo book of all my photos from Aleppo and I can bring it by when I’m done. That way you can choose which photos you would like prints of.” I was beyond excited.
I also wanted to discuss the possibility of filming a documentary TV show or movie as well. My goal is to research the strong Christian- Muslim relationship in Aleppo. I have permission from the Church and I hope to interview Grand Mufti Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun, and with your help, President Assad.”
“What would you speak with the President concerning?”
“I am looking to discuss his ideas on these old Christian tradition and his thoughts on governing a 90% Muslim country with a highly respected and, for the most part tolerated, Christian minority.”
“I think this is a good idea. An Interview would be tricky, but not out of the question. I think we will have to show him some footage or progress of the project before he agrees. You know some people have a hidden agenda and try and paint our country in a different light.”
I nervously responded, “I would like to clear that my intentions are cultural not political. I could have all my questions written out before hand of that would help.”
“I understand.” He said with a comforting nod. “Mr. Hamacher you have not only permission but support of the Embassy and Syrian Government. If you need assistance in Syria I can help arrange support for you there. You will be able to freely enter our country with your equipment.”
I lost 100 pounds. “Thank you very much!”
“If you need anything else we can talk again. Not just regarding the three issues we have discussed, but anything. Continue to liaise with Ahmed and I look forward to seeing your project unfold. Is there anything else we can help you with?”
“I think we’re good. Thank you for taking time to speak with me.”
We stood up and shook hands.
“You’re welcome anytime.” and he exited the room.
I just crossed the finish line of an emotional marathon. Ahmed and I recapped a little as he walked me to the gates. We shook hands. I walked slowly to my car trying to keep composure. Once inside I prayed in utter joy and then called my Dad. The 7 minute drive back to my house felt different. After years of touring, chaos, and adventure I finally felt like I was heading down God’s path. I felt like everything that I have done has prepared me for this project. I just have to keep on going.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Let's do Yale.

Getting ready for Yale Meeting

Several months ago, I began hunting around to see if any of the ivy league Universities would have interest in the Urfalee Project. My research method was to go to a university’s website and go through all the departments hunting for anything that might hold interest. Next, I would go through the department’s curriculum looking for any class that might cover some aspect of my project. Then I would go through the faculty, starting with the department chair, hoping to uncover anything that might translate into interest for the project.
First, I looked at Princeton and came across nothing solid. Next was Harvard, then Yale. Yale had a Department of Sacred Music, perfect. The Chair of the department specialized in Liturgics, exactly what I was planning to record. On top of that, his interest was Syrian Liturgy. This was a man I needed to contact. I got his number off the web and left him a message.
“Hello, my name is Jason Hamacher. I came across your CV online and understand you are interested in Syrian liturgy. I am doing a project with the Syrian Orthodox Church recording their oldest form of Liturgy, and was wondering if Yale would have any interest in a project like this. If so give me a call.” I left my number and never expected to heard from him.
The next day I was on my way to NJ to meet with the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of the Eastern US and to take some photos of Dillinger Escape Plan for an article I was writing for Alternative Press magazine. Some where in Delaware my phone rang.
“May I speak to Jason Hamacher?” A calm British accent took me by surprise. “This is Professor Spinks from Yale Institute of Sacred Music.”
“This is Jason. Thank you for calling me back.” I nervously replied.
“ I received your message and am very curious to hear about your project.”
“I’m actually on the way to meet with the Archbishop.” We spent the next twenty minutes going over my concepts. Yale did not have any film footage of the Syrian Orthodox Church in their archives and was highly interested in discussing making a video for their archives. The conversation ended with a promise to email my proposal, capture some video footage, and reconnect after my first trip to Syria.
After lunch on Easter Sunday I drove directly to New Haven, Connecticut for my big meeting with Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music.I was armed with a DVD of rough video footage and my photography portfolio. The meeting was going to be at Yale Divinity School which was located off the main campus. The red brick with white trim buildings weren’t particularly inspiring.

Yale Sacred School Of Music

I checked in and was asked to “Have a seat. The Professor will be down in a moment.” I spent the next several minutes enthralled by a glass display case that housed ancient biblical artifacts.
The Professor entered the room and introduced himself. He was wearing a blazer, I was wearing a black suit. His comforting voice fit perfectly, no ego, no attitude. I was escorted down a white cinderblock hall way to a small conference room. We chit chatted a bit and then the rest of the faculty came in bearing pizzas and drinks. There were four of them, the Professor, his Colleague, the Accountant, and an AV student. There were introductions and then we went straight to reviewing the video footage. The lights went out and we ate pizza and watched my second rate video work.
After the viewing, the Colleague asked, “How long have you been an ethnomusicologist?”
Smiling at this presumption I replied, “I’m not an ethnomusicologist.”
“My husband is so-and-so.” She replied. Silence fell. I had no idea who he was. “He’s a renowned musicologist in the field of religious recordings.” It was officially awkward.
Confused, I limply replied, “That’s great.”
“What field is your degree in?” She asked.
“I don’t have a degree. I’m actually a rock drummer and massage therapist.” I said nervously smiling.
“How did you become interested in this?” She replied. So then I went into my whole story for the group.
After my explanation the Professor went over the ideas he had for the project. They wanted a film of a formal liturgy His Colleague, was quick to insert that a formal contract would have to be signed and I would have to submit a budget. Thanks.
I had discussed the filming concept with Mor Gregorios, Archbishop of Aleppo, and he said it would not be a problem. He went as far as to offer a special service for filming purposes. He offered to perform a traditional Sunday liturgy mid-week in a small chapel so we could really control the shoot. When I brought this up in the meeting things got a little strange.
“I brought this up with the Archbishop and he gave permission to film what you need. He even offered to do a Sunday service during the week for us to film for you.”
“They don’t do that.” The Colleague exclaimed.
“I know they don’t usually do that, but the Archbishop suggested it might be the best way to filming everything” I responded.
“If the liturgy isn’t on a Sunday it’s not a Sunday Liturgy.” She insisted.
“I understand. But the Archbishop is willing to make an exception and do the same exact liturgy during the week.” I tried to explain.
“That’s something they don’t do.” She repeated. Things were heating up a little.
“I’m just telling you what the Archbishop of Aleppo has offered. That’s all.” I was really confused as to what was happening.
The Accountant stepped in. “What Jason is saying is that the Archbishop has given him permission to film anything we want.”
The Professor was silent through-out this whole exchange and seemed uncomfortable as well. “What my colleague is trying to say is that we want an authentic liturgy. Maybe something on a holiday. We want to see the people in the church participating.”
I fully understood where they were coming from but was trying to offer help. We continued the conversation and the meeting began to wind down.
“What was your undergrad work in?” The accountant asked. “Not that is matters, I’m just curious.”
“I didn’t go to school. I toured the world playing drums in punk bands and have now become a message therapist.”
“Great.” She replied. I believed her.
The meeting ended with an agreement that they would discuss what they wanted as a final product and I would submit a budget based on their wants. We shook hands and the meeting was adjourned.
The professor walked me out to the central campus . “95 percent of the work is developing the relationships to make these projects happen, and your relationship with the Archbishop is clearly strong enough to make this happen.” I felt reassured. I got in the car and headed back home.
Last week Yale excepted my budget proposal and now I am waiting to see the agreement. Once that’s signed it’s time to head back to Aleppo and start the recordings.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Let there be Rails!

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We have owned the house for a month and I've spent just about every free moment drilling, organizing, and being put on hold. We found out three weeks ago that it was mandatory to install handrails in DC if there were 5 or more steps. We technically have five but one is 2.5 inches, which, I think, brings the count to 4 1/2. Allstate doesn't agree. $600 dollars later we have handrails. We hired an Ethiopian guy named Tad and he and a partner did the entire job on our front steps.
Here is the proof.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Syria Photos

I have decided to put some photos from Syria up.

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I don't have the time to caption them. So if you want to know what they are, let me know.
Click Here to see Syria through my eyes

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Update w/ new photos

I have tried to post this thing 3 times and keep screwing it up!

I am sitting at home watching Saturday Night Live as Jenny sleeps. I haven't watched this show for a long time. It is really strange that Fred from Trenchmouth is on the show. I always feel a sense of pride when someone from the Indie scene "Makes It". Last Tuesday I went to see Nine Inch Nails and hang out with Aaron North, their NIN guitarist.

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I've know Aaron for several years now and he was actually considering joining Decahedron just before our demise I went back to their hotel after the show and hung out until 5 am. Click here to check out photos from the show

Jenny and I have started a new jobs working together at Klinger Advanced Aesthetics in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The facility is huge, just under 9000 sq/ft. That has kept me overwhelmed for just about 2 months now.

I finally started writing songs with my dream band. I'm calling it Zealot. The line up is: Mike Schliebaum (Darkest Hour) on guitar, Dimitri Minakakis (Dillinger Escape Plan) vocals, Nate Newton and Kurt Ballou (Converge) on Bass and Guitar. So far Mike and I have written one song that sounds like Entombed. It gets pretty heavy. It'll be good times.

The Syrian project is going really well. I have had meetings with Yale, the Bishops, and Professor Griffith from Catholic University. Everyone has been really helpful. Yale has requested a low budget video capturing the Eucharist from St. George's and St. Ephrem's. The final product will be used as a teaching tool and added to the Yale archives. I have submitted a budget and await a response. I hope to return to Syria in September. I have contacted the Syrian Embassy here in DC and trying to arrange a meeting with the Ambassador. I need his in setting up a meeting with President Assad. I would like to discuss his thoughts on housing one of Christianities oldest traditions in his country. I also would like to discuss his concepts on governing Muslims and Christians that seem to get along well. So all I can do now is wait.

I am finishing a 79 page photo book from the first trip to Aleppo. I made a short run of 3 books about 5 weeks ago, spending $288. I opened the package and found my captions were filled with several really stupid mistakes. Jenny's quote, "did you proof read this?" "I think so" "You misspelled your own name." There you go. I haven't had the will to finish since.

Jenny and I bought a house!
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We settle on July 6th, the day after my birthday. We have been trying to figure out how to celebrate our 30th so we bought a house! This is our new address is 3320 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC. This whole process has been insane. Everything has been insane.

I am finishing up my article for Massage & Bodywork magazine. Both articles that were run in Alternative Press got great response. I am tired and need to go to sleep. More to come.

Friday, March 17, 2006


The archbishop of Aleppo is the un-official face of Christianity here in Syria. Since we are his guests, we have been able to parcipate in several national events. Yesterday we were introduced Price Michael of Greece. I think his sister is the King's wife. The archbishop had me discuss my project with him and he was very excited and demanded we stay in touch. I invited him to come to hear the choir last night and he brought his wife and a friend and we discussed several ideas and were shown several old manuscripts and the old chalice from Urfa.

Two days ago I was invited to participate in photo show with another photographer here in Aleppo when we return in June. I'll show 40 photos and he will show 40 photos. There is so much happening I am overwhelmed hourly.

The Archbishop had a meeting yesterday with the leader of the Syrian Jewish Community. I was introduced and was able to ask a hand full of questions. There are less than 50 Jews living in Syria these days. I asked about the rumor of Aleppo housing the world's oldest Synagogue. He said that was true and he offered to take us there. It hasn't been open for years and no one from the orthodox community has ever been inside. Several of us met up and did a small tour. It dates back 3000 years. I was able to take photos that Father Joseph will be using for a book he is soon to publish.

We have found hours of material that needs to be archived. We are meeting with the church's unofficial historian in 30 min. He has hours of recordings as well as an extensive library to sift through. I need to go prepare for the meeting. Party.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Who let the Sunni Out!!!! (no spell check or editing)

I am sitting in an internet cafe clean as a whistle. We just returned from the Hammam (turkish bath). I have spent $13 so far on this trip. The church has taken amazing care of us. We eat 3 meals a day at the Archdiocese. The food here is the best in the middle east. Everything is spiced perfectly. We are in lent so most of the Christians are fasting, which means no meat just vegetables. We haven't spent much time with the Archbishop, but spend a lot of time with the Deacons. Everyone has a great sense of humor. Marcell, one of the head deacon's, walks with slight arogence and comes across very serious. He's 25 but looks 37 and dosn't speak English. We found out the other day that he was the disiplainarian at the private school which seemed perfect for him. At dinner I said that Sara, the principal of the school he works for, told us that a boy was at school with out a shirt and Marcell got angry and kicked him out of the window. I said it with out a smile and Marcell got super pissed but all the other guys thought it was hilarious. So now everyone jokes about getting kicked out the window.

Today the archbishop had an interfaith dialog with a 3 Sunni Shieks, and one Sheite Shiek. We were invited to come film and take photos. It was an amazing site!

My computer broke so I haven't written anything on this trip. I have so much to write. I'll update again when I can.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Let's Do This!


I update my flickr site with some photos from my trip to turkey four years ago. Click the link on the side bar to the check them out.


1. Jenny and I are driving a laser to Latrobe, PA tomorrow turning around and coming home. Thank you.
2. I quit my job at Natural Body Day Spa on Saturday and will start a new job at Klinger Advanced Aesthetics in April. (Details to
3. I fly to Syria on Friday returning to DC on the 19th getting home @ 6 pm and leaving at 19 hours later for Mexico with Jenny
5. I come from Mexico and start the new job

See you in the PIT!!!!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Flickr Updated

I have finaly updated my flickr page and added all the photos from Gigantour, a Darkest Hour Show, and Dillinger's last show on Miss Machine tour. Get into it!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Darkest Hour in B-More

I just got back from seeing Darkest Hour and Himsa at the Otto Bar up in Baltimore. The show was a good time and it was great seeing the crew. I took a handfull of photos that will go up in the next couple of days. In the meantime I added some more Megadeth photos to my Flickr page. Go to the link on the side bar and check out the set, Party soon!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I just finished the piece for Alternative Press on stretching and it should be out in April. Syria has been postponed due to safety factors. Here is what the Archbishop of Aleppo wrote last week:

"Dear Jason,
Greetings and peace from Aleppo.
I was very glad to see you in the United States. Your project will be a remarkable one. We will all benefit from it.

Regarding your visit, I prefer that you postpone it for while because Europe is very much against what happened in Damascus last week concerning the caricatures. Negative decisions are expected to be taken against Syria. I am afraid though that you decide and come to Syrian, and then we may face some kind of problems. However, since you are an American citizen, we have to let the government know of your visit to Syria, at least this is what I know.
My advice to you is that you leave it for another time, which I do not know, when we can accommodate you in a much more better circumstances and regional situation.

While I look forward to hearing from you, please accept my blessing and beat regards, hoping that thing will turn into the good.
Mar Gregorios"

We'll see what happens next.

Trip to Miami

Jenny and I flew down to Miami this past weekend and had lunch with Elan Sassoon, Vidal's son.

My Wife and Elan Sassoon

On the way down we had a 2 hour delay and got to watch guys tear apart the wing right out our window.

US Airways wing issues

We stayed at the amazing Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Grove.

Our suite at the Mayfair

Porch at The Mayfair

Reading Area

The annual Coconut Grove Art Festival was happening all weekend and everyone came down to party.

My fellow Christians were out ruining the faith.

Spreading the love, 2006.

The Krishna's were out banging on drums having their own little parade

Who let the Krishna’s out?

And these guys thought they were in Germany

Shades Ahoy!

I met with Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame today to discuss the Syria project. Noel is teaching a class at Wesley Seminary @ American University here in DC. Our meeting was cut short and we decided to meet up again in near future. I am still working on my piece for Massage Therapy Magazine and working on an official website that encompasses everything I do. I have several shorts I want to write over the next couple of weeks. Good times.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This is How I Party

Sometimes, you just have to Stage Dive!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"I miss the parties!"

I owe my involvement with the Syrian Orthodox Church to Nextel’s bad cell phone coverage. I had just quit Decahedron and was toying around with the idea of using an orchestra of rock instruments to score music too deep-rooted Christian chant. One afternoon, an excited friend called my cell phone to talk about some chants he found on-line. Through garbled static I heard, “I found these old Syrian chants that could really be cool to score.” What he actually said was, “I found these old Serbian Chants…” The misunderstanding sparked the memory of William Dalrymple’s book From the Holy Mountain that I read several years prior. I vaguely remembered Dalrymple came across a monastery in Syria that chanted possibly the oldest form of Christian music. Intrigued, I searched online and couldn’t find anything about the monastery or chants and then scanned though From the Holy Mountain with equal amounts of luck. After several days of fruitless research, I decided to email Dalrymple directly in attempt to hear the chants or at least learn the monastery’s name. To my surprise, he responded four hours later. “Jason, the earliest chants can be found not in a monastery but in the church of the Urfalees in Aleppo: if you get a taxi driver to take you to the Syrian Quarter, the Hayy el-Surian, ask for St George’s Syrian Orthodox Church you will soon find it!” Dalrymple’s directions inspired a journey East into the lands of Christianity’s birth, offering an opportunity to experience the oldest musical link the world has to Jesus Christ.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian institutions to read, write, and worship in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. They have several forms of liturgical worship; the oldest being the Edessian school which dates back to the hymns, homily, and poetry of St. Ephraem (303-373 CE) and the rhythms and melodies of the Gnostic Bardaisan (154 -222 CE) both whom lived in ancient Edessa, presently Urfa. The clergy of St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church are the last people on earth to perform these ancient and largely unknown rituals.
According to my research the Ottomans killed an estimated 71 percent of southeastern Turkey’s Syrian Orthodox population during the Armenian massacres of World War I. Many survivors fled to India, Europe, and The United States but the Urfalees were deported to Aleppo, Syria.
I emailed my musical vision to in the hopes of gaining permission to use their chants and discover a way to hear them. To validate my interests, I explained my first encounter with the Syrian Orthodox.
In 2002 I rented car and drove 3,000 miles along Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, and Georgia visiting every holy site along the way. I had read there were a handful of Orthodox monasteries in the in Turkish-Mesopotamian region of Tur Abdin where the monks spoke in Aramaic. Eager to hear the language of Jesus first hand, I got a map.
I was greeted at the gates of Mar Gabriel by a young guy who looked to be 16 or 17. I pulled out my Turkish phrase book and began stumbling through an introduction. The kid interrupted, “Do you speak English?”
“Yes. I’m from Washington DC. My name’s Jason.”
“I am Gabriel.”
“Did you name this place?”
He laughed. “No, it was built in 397 A.D. and named after Saint Gabriel. It is the oldest Syrian Orthodox Monastery. Please come in and take a tour with me.”
Amazed, I accepted the offer.
“How do you know English so well?” I asked.
“I attended school for a year in St. Louis.”
“Missouri? How did you end up there?”
“It was through an exchange program.”
“What do you miss most, not living in the US?” I asked.
His face lit up, “The parties!”
“What?” I was totally dumbfounded.
“Oh yeah! We used to dance and party all night!”
“You don’t party here with the monks? I thought Saturday night was Aramaic Karaoke? I know you guys argue over who gets to sing St. Paul’s parts!” We both laughed and continued walking.
“What’s your favorite type of music?” I probed.
“Really? That’s crazy! Who’s your favorite artist?”
“Gabriel, do you know how strange it is talking about DMX in a 1700-year-old Christian monastery that teaches the language of Christ?”
Gabriel laughed and we finished up the tour. On my way out, we ran into a man who invited me to stay and eat lunch. I accepted with a growling stomach.
Gabriel pulled me aside, “You’ll be eating with the deacons and the Archbishop.”
“What? Is it cool I’m wearing a band t-shirt?”
“It’s fine, come with me. I’ll take you to the dinning room.” We wound our way though several stone corridors into a humble dining room filled with 12 men, huddled around a long wood table, eating soup. All eyes were on me.
“Hey, I’m Jason.”
The men remained silent. One man picked up his bowl and left the room. Gabriel escorted me to the vacated wooden chair.
The Archbishop was presumably the stern looking man with a huge black beard cascading over solid black robes. “Welcome to our table.” He said with a deep voice.
“Thanks. It’s good to be here.” I chirped.
A couple of men introduced themselves in English and took the liberty of introducing the rest of the table. We talked for a while discussing my trip, the monastery’s history, and the role it plays in the modern Church. The Archbishop dismissed lunch with a prayer in Aramaic that sent shivers down my spine. We said our good-byes and I hit the road.
After reading my conceptual email, The Archbishop of the Eastern United States, Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, responded himself two days later. “Thank you for your e-mail and your interest in the Syriac Christians. I will be happy to assist in any way I can. If you are planning to be in the New Jersey/New York area please let me know. I will be happy to meet with you and get to know more about what you have in mind.”
I called his office that day and discussed my concepts at length. He explained the Edessian School is only practiced at St. George’s Church in Aleppo and made of 700 sacred liturgical chants that are collectively called the Beth Gazo. I asked how I could hear them and he said chuckling, “go to Aleppo, there are no recordings.” They have been doing this for 1700 years and there are no recordings? He had a book that transcribed the entire Edessian Beth Gazo, and offered to mail it to me. “Unfortunately, the words are in Aramaic. Do you know someone that speaks the language?”
The only person I knew that spoke Aramaic was Christ.
He then asked, “Have you heard of The Hidden Pearl series?”
“It is a book and video set that tells the story of the Aramaic language. It’s very nice. I will send you the Beth Gazo book and The Hidden Pearl for you to enjoy.”
I said, “Thank you so much” but thought, “Holy Crap, this is insane!”
“I will give you now to my assistant so we can schedule a meeting.”
Mor Karim seemed to be a generous, jolly man, who laughed often and truly enjoyed people.
The night before the meeting I felt like a teenager trying to find a suit for Homecoming. On a good day I have no fashion sense, on the eve of the biggest meeting of my life, I was hopeless. I went through four shirts, five ties, and three pairs of pants and still couldn’t decide what to wear.
“I think the suit’s too formal. It’s just your first meeting.” Jenny, my fashion conscious fiancé, advised.
“I’m meeting with the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church. I think that’s pretty formal!” I snapped. I drove North with out a tie in dark green pants and a black dress shirt.
Jenny and I slammed the car doors and walked towards the office of St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church, a converted Presbyterian church located in a suburban neighborhood of Teaneck, New Jersey. We were half way up the sidewalk when Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim swung the door opened and called, “Jason! Welcome!” We were already old friends. He ushered us into a formal sitting room, which had two or three-dozen dark-wood chairs arching off the sides of the Archbishop’s throne. The chairs were covered in fine red linen but the Archbishop’s throne was covered in lavish red velvet. A large red liturgy book, embossed with gold a cross on the cover, rested on the Archbishop’s velvet seat. Small traditional Syrian tables to rest coffee or tea were placed every couple of chairs. We were offered a seat and Mor Karim brought in fresh coffee. I normally don’t drink coffee but took a cup to be hospitable, Jenny passed. After setting down the coffee tray he took a seat next to his throne. He wore black pants and a red shirt with a priest collar, and no head covering. To my surprise, he was very informal; we were just hanging out having a conversation. As he sat down, I crossed my legs and realized I was wearing ankle socks. I immediately planted both legs on the ground and pulled the legs of my pants down as far as possible.
We discussed family, upbringing, and my impending wedding. We chatted for ten-fifteen minutes and, in an attempt to transition from small talk to business, I nervously handed him my proposal and portfolio. “These are the ideas I have been working on the past couple of weeks. Let me know what you think.”
I sat in silent anxiety staring at him as he slowly reviewed the proposal. The first question he raised was concerning our idea to archive the final recordings on reel-to-reel tape. I explained the advantages of using analog storage over digital media for archival purposes, which seemed satisfactory and he continued reading. He made comments to himself and turned to me when was finished reading.
Stroking his beard, “I think all four points you have are good. How much do you think this will cost?”
Underestimating the progress of the meeting I wasn’t prepared to talk numbers. I had nothing to go on except some half-remembered Orbitz tickets. I had no idea what to say; I tried to buy myself some time by talking. “Well, there are obviously four separate parts to this project and I don’t think that it would be fair for the Church to fund parts of the proposal that don’t directly relate to the recording of the Beth Gazo…”
“How much do you think? I can contact Father Tarzi on the west coast to help raise funds.” The Archbishop gently persisted.
“I’m not sure. I need some time to figure costs.” I replied.
“I guess with airfare and living expenses for the month… somewhere between five to seven thousand?” I said meekly. In actuality, I should have said somewhere between 30 and 35 thousand.
Mor Karim looked at the proposal and said, “Oh, I can do that myself. This is not a problem.”
“Remember, I need to talk with Josh about costs and things.” I reiterated.
“Sure.” He said
Well, I undersold the project wearing ankle socks.
His cell phone rang. He took the call and began speaking in heavy Arabic. I sat, ankles exposed, hoping I didn’t sabotage the project. The phone-call lasted a few minutes allowing my doubts to fester. His cell phone interrupted our meeting several times because his secretary wasn’t around to field calls.
“I will call Father Tarzi and His Holiness in Damascus later today to tell them of your ideas. I think this is a great project and is important to our people. You will have full cooperation in Aleppo. The Archbishop there knows the local governments so there will be no problems if you need a cover.”
Smiling but terrified, I asked “A cover?” Jenny didn’t like the sound of it either. She grabbed my arm and listened intently.
“There should be no problems. He will arrange the people for you and they should have a place for you to stay.”
I hid my excitement as he delivered the good news. I was going to Syria.
We moved into his office to check out the St. George’s website which was in Arabic so I couldn’t read a thing. We tried to listen to some Urfalee mp3’s, that were not in the Edessian School, but they were bad recordings and were hard to understand.
The phone rang again. “You will have to excuse me. I am very sorry.” After he got off the phone we walked over to the church’s nave, which retained the look and feel of the Presbyterian church with oak pews, white walls, and blood red carpet. A white lectern laced with gold stood at the forefront of a beautiful sanctuary tiled in marble. In the center of the Sanctuary hung a large white veil, displaying a risen Jesus, hiding a gold domed structure.
I asked,” What’s behind the curtain?”
Mor Karim replied, “Behind the veil is The Holy of Holies or Tabernacle.” I didn’t know Christian Churches had Tabernacles. In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle housed the Ark of the Covenant and was believed to be the throne of God himself. It was kept dark and could be entered once a year by a priest.
“Would you like to see it?” He asked.
“I would be honored.”
The Archbishop opened the veil and invited me up to view the Tabernacle. I removed my shoes and with the utmost reverence approached the Holy of Holies. Under the golden dome resided a communion chalice, a bible, a cross, candles, and flowers, all symbols of God’s new covenant with man. The symbolism was so overwhelming I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and prayed.
I was taken back by Mor Karim’s display of faith. Here I was, a virtual stranger, all he knew of me came from an email and maybe 40 minutes of conversation; yet he offered money, protection, and access to the most sacred aspects of his Church. We were two very different individuals coming from very different places; He was an Orthodox Archbishop, spiritually in charge of half the United States and I was a rock-n-roll massage therapist struggling with wedding responsibilities. I found beauty and reassurance in the commonality of our faiths in God and our willingness to follow the path which faith takes us.
It was 1:30 and our meeting had lasted two-and-a-half hours. Subsisting on a Luna bar and a hand full of pistachios, Jenny and I were fading fast. We walked back to Mor Karim’s office, took a couple of portraits, and said our good byes. Mor Karim suggested the vegetarian restaurant around the corner for lunch. Regrettably he had to stay behind and take care of business matters before leaving town the following day. I walked down the church steps spiritually enlightened, astonished, and amazed that I was going to Syria.

I've been busy

I've gotten out the habit of writng with everything that's been happening. This sums up what's been going down.

1. I'm married. Jenny and I have been enjoying a wonderful married life. She is on the med-school waitlist for GW, so we are waiting to see what happens.

2. I have to get my Visa and it's looking like I’m going to Syria at the end of the month. I've teamed with David Holloway and applied for a grant from Duke University to try and raise funds for the project. I won't know if we get the Grant until the summer

3. I have a second feature in Alternative Press for the May issue. I will have 1/2 to a full page discussing how to treat and prevent "Metal Neck" from a massage therapist point of view. I plan on having a photo shoot w/ Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape Plan doing the stretches.

4. Jenny and I are headed to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for Honeymoon #2 at the end of March. Jenny plans on laying on the beach and I plan on do some serious scuba diving.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Honeymoon Pictures

I just posted a handful of photos on my flickr page. Click the link in the side bar to check them out. More to follow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

We could disapear...

I just got home from my first night back to work after the wedding. On the way to work I decided to listen the Frodus Weapons record. Listening to that record brings up such strong emotions. It pisses me off that we never got to play most of those songs live. That was the hardest I’ve worked on a record. After work the first song that came on was 6/99. For the past 6 years that song has been synonymous with Alanna’s death. I even have the chorus tattooed around my arm in Aramaic as a memorial. It has always been a song reminding me of how rough times used to be and how horrible that year was but tonight I heard something new. For the first time I heard the positive side to the song.

“We could disappear in echoes. We could disappear in the lives of those we love. I thought hope was lost. I tried not to look back. Haunted by darkened thoughts. The void drew me closer. Until we are brought back. By the lives of those we love. Hope was lost. I closed my eyes.”

Now that I am married I have a whole new life to look forward to. I have spent several years trying not wallow in the hell I went through. It took God sending Jenny to pull me into the present balancing me. I wasn’t able to look to or plan for the future for years. That’s all changed. I’ve changed, and I have my wife and God to thank.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

First day of the rest of my life

So much has happened since my last post I don’t even know where to begin. My articles in Alternative Press and Chord are out so go pick up copies and support the troops!! I now have a wife and we are celebrating our marriage in Costa Rica on Sunday. We fly into the capital, San Hose, and promptly get in a rental car so I can drive us 3 hours north to the town of La Fortuna where we have a deluxe suit w/ hot tub on the porch as well a basalt garden shower. We’ll be there for 2.5 days/ 3 nights. We plan on completely abusing the hot springs! Then we drive back down to San Jose and take a Cessna about an hour south to the Osa Peninsula. We will be picked up and taken an hour through the rainforest to the coast where we will be staying in our own deluxe bungalow overlooking the pacific all while eating 3 multi corse gourmet meals a day. I need this!

On October 16th I did my massive photo shoot for the Wizards Dance Team. The shoot went well and it took me several weeks to process and tone 62 files. Four days after the shoot, the Vice President of the Wizards had a problem with the contract that I had negotiated w/ the team. After about a week of intense negotiation we settled and things are almost closed.

Last week we got a call from our good friend Alison, who lives upstairs, looking for the building manager’s number because, “I think my neighbor’s place is on fire.”
“Call 911!” I suggested.
“Can I get the number anyway?”
“I’ll be up in a second!”
I grabbed our fire extinguisher and ran up to find the fourth floor covered in grey smoke. One guy, who was eating ribs, went to try and find keys to the place and I tried to break down the door with the fire extinguisher. I rammed the door several times with no luck. A board member finally showed up with a key I got the door unlocked and went into the smoked filled apartment with a hand towel wrapped around my nose and mouth. The people looked to be having some sort of dinner party. There were four wine glasses waiting on a small table with several breath mints pilled in the middle. On the stove was a yellow pot burning and smoldering. I wet a sponge, grabbed the handle, and put the pot in the sink under running water. Smoke and steam filled the room and I left coughing. Jenny and Alison were waiting concerned in the stairwell. Jenny looked scared beyond belief. Since things seemed to be under control, we walked back down to our place and I washed most of the smoke off and suffered a slight headache for the evening. Good times. A day in the life….

Monday, October 10, 2005

Just Print Please

This weekend has been intense. It started with my friend Bill’s bachelor parties on Friday and Saturday nights. Friday we just went out to eat and saw Flight Plan. I had to work on Sat. so I missed October Fest and the gun range with the guys. I met up with them at the DC United Game then we headed up into my hood for some food and drink. I woke up at 5:45 am on Sunday to fly to Tampa. A good friend’s mom was killed in a car accident and I went to the funeral. It was good to hang out with the Tampa crew. I woke up this morning at 4:40 am and flew back home. I slept on the floor of Jenny’s parents house and woke up around 11:45. We then wrapped wedding favors and I came home and went to the opening of new restaurant Zengo, for DC Style. The night started with some Dragon Dancing. I took a photo of three guys with the dragon. Since the drums were directly behind us I had each person write their name out. When I got to the tallest gentleman he began to write in cursive.
“No sir, I don’t need cursive. Just print.” He stopped half way into his signature and printed Placido Domingo. I felt pretty lame.
I took portraits for about an hour and then came home to Jenny cleaning the bathrooms. We got in bed about 20 min ago and she started complaining of having a cloudy head ,feeling natious, stomach hurt, and sweating,.
“I don’t think I had proper ventilation from the chemicals.”
“What did you use.”
“I used ammonia in the toilet and bleach on the outside of the toilet.”
“You mixed them?”
“I feel bad.”
I called poison control and Jenny has slight ammonia/ bleach poisoning. She was in the shower for ten minutes rinsing off. I just made her drink 8 oz of rice milk against her will. I have the rest of my life to look forward to things like this. Good times.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lights on For Safety

So I get up this morning at 8 to work out with my trainer. I walk to my car and see my right tail light's on (the left doesn’t work.) I ran over to discover that I left my lights on all night. Actually, they had been on since 3pm yesterday. I do this often. I drive with my lights on no matter what time of day. Since I drive on the intense side of the spectrum I figure it’s safer. I’m now sitting in the livingroom in my workout clothes waiting for my trainer to come over and jump the little red truck that could.

On a different note…The A.P. and Chord articles are finished and I’m now working on a feature for Massage and Bodywork, one of the nations largest massage magazines. I called the executive editor last Thursday and she loved my idea. It’s about the massage therapist side of DEP tour. I have my first photo assignment for DC Style on Saturday and shoot the Wizards dancers on Oct 16th. Keepin it real!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Schlie's Wedding

I just got off the phone w/ Mrs. Alindogan. The family got our wedding invitation and they are really happy that I found Jenny and moving on. Understandably, she thinks the actual ceremony might be to emotional so she’s not sure if they’ll come to the ceremony but will come to the reception. I know I’ll be rough on me. She told me Mr. Alindogan cried when he read the invite. Once I heard that, the tears came and I haven’t stopped crying.

Last night was Mike Schliebaum’s wedding. It was the first time most of the old crew was together in years. The last time everyone was actually together was for Alanna’s funeral. At the wedding, I sat with Frodus and their ladies plus Ken Hirsch, Vanessa, Phyte, and Francoise. It was really good sitting with Shelby and Nate, even though they were on the other side of the table. Things between us aren’t 100% back but we’re getting there. Phyte and I had a dance off and we both torn our pants on the floor. The night ended with Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. Everyone one was dancing and hugging. I held Jenny close with Ken Hirsch on my right and Brian McTernan on my left while trying to hold back the tears. We’re not 23 and most of us don’t tour anymore. Everyone is settling down. Last night I learned that no distance, time, or tragedy can take away what our crew’s got.

My life has changed dramatically since Alanna has died. Now, almost 6 years later, I’m actually getting married. The love I have for Jenny is as deep as it gets. Greif runs deep and it’s really rough having to wade through your past just to be in the present.

Monday, September 19, 2005


When I'm not massaging I have been typing away for a couple of articles. One is a 5 page spread for Alternative Press, most likely for the Nov issue. The second is a small piece for Chord magazine. Both are about the Dillinger tour. I will be working on a third in the next couple of days. I got my first photo assignment from DC Style magazine. I will be shooting "The 25th Anniversary with National Dinner Honoring Julian Bond and Cyndi Lauper." I am still figuring out a photo shoot for the Washington Wizards Dance Team. I spoke to the Arch Bishop a couple of weeks ago and he said the project is a go. He spoke to the Patriarch in Syria who has approved us for three weeks in the spring. I am in the process of putting together a budget proposal and plan to have a second meeting in the near future. On top of all this I get married in 5 weeks! Jenny and I just got our wedding bands today. We are going to Costa Rica for our honeymoon. I'll write full details later. I rode my bike 28 miles today and need to sleep now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Finding Forrester

I’m home from tour and go back work today. It feels really good to be home. I'm working on a multi-page tour diary for Alternative Press that's due next week so I might need to pull back from the blog for a bit. On top of wedding planning, writing, and massage, I go back to organizing and researching the Syria project, working on a photo shoot for the Wizards Dance Team, and trying to run and work out daily. I will be writing the adventures of Gigantour over the next couple of weeks then I think I'll write of my Peru adventure last year. In the words of Sean Connery, “You’re the man now, dog!”

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jones Beach

Jones Beach Long Island now holds the all time low attendance record for Dillinger on this tour. There was under 150 people in an amphitheater that held 14,000.


To top this wonderful experience, the local crew were horrible to work with. Everyone had an attitude accompanied by a bad pair of shades. The photo “coordinator” was the worst. She came up yelling at me just after I had finished helping Chris set up the drums. I was standing on the side of the stage with my camera slung over my back.
“You don’t have permission to be on stage!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You can’t be onstage!”
“I’m with the band playing.”
“Get off stage!”
“What’s your problem? Why are you freaking out? I’m on this whole tour!”
“What’s your name!!!”
“Jason Hamacher. Let me know if that works for you!”
“You can’t be on stage with out a pass!”
“Thank you!”
I turned my back on her laughing, as she stormed off into a sea of deserted bleachers.

(this isn't the coordinator but Panama Jack's cousin, Panama Sean)

The handful of people that came up front were totally into the show.




After the third song the other photographers were forced to leave the front and there were only four people left. It was a lonely day, but the energy was really intense. Greg and Ben were all over the place.



After the second song Greg launched the mic stand over the crowd and into the water below. Mid set he picked up the light box and threw it into the audience. It landed next to a father and son who got up and left immediately. Ben brought out the raw by accidentally nailing Greg full on in the nuts!


Greg fell face down for a second or two then got up and hit Ben with the mic really hard. I looked like they were going to all out brawl. It was definitely weird.

Greg ended the set by running and jumping ten feet over the barriers into the bay swimming out of sight. It was amazing.

Greg getting out of the bay


No one could believe what had happened and it was the talk of the tour for hours. The state water police were looking for him for a while since the bay was a state park. Awesome.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Typing glitches

I haven't had net access for over a week. Something goes wrong with my quotation marks and apostrophes when I import a story from word. If you come across mistakes bear with them and email them to me. Thanks.

I didn't order floss with my lobster!

The Great Chaffy once described Maine as, "so famous for its light that photographers and artists come from all over the world to capture it. The light is ever changing, sometimes with subtlety, sometimes with drama, and our house is so positioned with its east/west orientation looking east over the water that we have a ringside seat for this daily drama. Chaffy hit the nail on the head. Yesterday was our third day off and we spent most of the day driving from Pittsburg to Portland, Maine. Mike and I had looked online for a seafood restaurant and came across Cap'n Newick's. Lobster Ahoy!!


It was two miles from where we parked the bus and Chris, Mike and I cheerfully walked twenty minutes day dreaming of what the Cap'n had in store for us.


I started with Newick'’s Famous Chowder followed by some serious Lobster Newburg, chunked lobster meat in a sweet cream sauce over philo dough. Everything was amazing until I pulled a 7 inch hair out of my bowl.


I showed our waitress and she was really embarrassed and had a second plate made which was more amazing than the first. Dessert was fresh Maine blueberry cobbler. Yes!!!!! My whole meal cost $10.86. I welcome hair.

After dinner we moved the bus to a mall parking lot and Ben, Paolo, and myself ended up going to the movies. I talked the manager into letting us see Four Brothers w/ Mark Walberg for six bucks. After the movie we got invited to stay and screen 40 Year Old Virgin and Valint. While the previews were showing some girls began throwing “bomb bags” around the theater. They were small foil bags filled with some non toxic chemical that explodes after squeezing. The employees were yelling and insulting each other. It was total chaos. Ben put it best, “I would normally say something to the guy yelling but it'’s the manager.” Newick's and a triple feature, all for under 20 bucks. Now that'’s a straight-edge party!

We'’ve had massive drives on this tour. The first was from Tampa to Detroit. Midway, we parked at a Super Wal-Mart outside of Nashville for the night. Warren'’s friend George picked us up after a gourmet dinner at subway and took us to his place. We sat around for a hour or so wondering what the heck we were going to do. Then George asked "“Do you guys want to go to a party?"
"“What kind of party?"”
"“Like a college party. School starts next week so some people are getting together tonight."
"Dude!!! I'’ve got my camera! Let's do this!"

Fifteen minutes later we were surrounded by guys in pastel polokhakitucked tightly into kaki shorts topped off with severely creased baseball caps. There were way more dudes than girls. There was a five or six to one ratio happening. Sausage fest 2005!



The Grateful Dead provided a lack luster soundtrack to a low energy game of beer pong.

Beer Pong

We mingled around for a while but there wasn'’t much going on at first. I sat and marveled at the abundence of pastel, stripes, and mandels. I was super bored so it was time to take this party up a notch. I began to get a little rowdy. It was some guys 21st birthday, so to celebrate he decided to take a couple of keg stands. Being that I have never drank I have never actually witnessed a keg stand, this was absolutely hilarious! People were holding him up cheering. I got really close to the tap and began screaming at him. It was on!


Guys were wearing two types of shirts. Either a polo three button or full frontal button up. The guys that chose full frontal were, for the most part, rolling, two buttons deep. Unacceptable. This was a party! I began demanding that everyone roll at least 4 deep.


If they didn'’t want to, I opened their shirt for them. One kid didn'’t want to roll deep at all so I made him trade shirts with me for the night.

There was nothing out for me to drink so I checked the fridge hoping for a ginger ale but only found Coke. I also found a stick of butter that needed to be eaten by a drunk frat guy. We emerged from the kitchen yelling, "“Stick of butter for ten bucks! Who wants ten bucks to eat this stick of butter? Get into it! Get some of this!"” No one was going for it so I upped it to $13. The extra three dollars was the deal breaker for Daniel. He walked up, unwrapped, and bit in.

Daniel first try
(the guy in the back is wearing my blue shirt)

Immediately dry heaving, Daniel put down the butter and shamefully stepped back into the shadows. Will stepped up to finish what Daniel started. The first bite was confident and triumphant.


Everyone was cheering and yelling. The second bite was followed by a heave so he chased it with beer.




Keep in mind it was only 9:30. Will was starting his night out right! Bite three looked like he wasn’t going to make it so I upped the stakes by offering another $10 if he puked on someone. Each bite went down slow with a chaser of warm beer. By 9:40 Will had taken down seven tablespoons of butter and a full red cup of beer. He earned twenty three dollars even though he didn't puke on someone.


We hung out for a little while longer and then went back to the bus. Party’s over.

The next day was the DTE Energy Amphitheater in Detroit. When Dillinger first began playing the only sound between songs was the war cry of a lone metal head standing in the seats holding a guitar shaped carafe of beer thrashing as hard as humanly possible.


Greg called him out and dedicated a song to him which made the dude’s year. I ran into the audience to take photos of the dude and decided to bring him and his friend up front.


They freaked out and began to head bang even harder once they got some front row action. There crowd was way into the show but unfortunately most of the Dillinger fans were way in the back with lawn seats. Even though they were at least 50 yards from the stage, they were singing and moshing on the sidewalk! Greg gave them a shout out so I ran up to the back and pulled the sidewalk pit down to the front. The seven guys I grabbed turned into 150 guys rushing the barrier.


It was amazing! Everyone was singing along and freaking out! It felt like a Middlesex hardcore show.


Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater was watching on the side of the stage super stoked. We exchanged glances so I walked over.
"I hope I don'’t get in trouble for playing Pied Piper."
"I'’ll make sure you don't get in trouble, man. That was awesome!"
After the set everyone went back to their respected seats and I never heard a thing from management. Good times.
More to come....