Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Now that I am home, I am trying to figure out how to post pictures before I leave for India next month! And, like so many other things--there's an app for that! So, this is just a test, with a couple of my favorite pictures of little Henry--who, by the way, I will be flying to see the day after tomorrow! So very excited to be reunited with my family! (I just realized that I used all exclamation points in this blog!)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pictures from January 22

Another mezuzah - this time on the Jaffa Gate

St. George's Cathedral

There are mezuzahs on almost all of the 7 Gates into Jerusalem

Absalom's Pillar

The Sons of Hezir Tomb and the Pyramid of Zechariah

Leave-Taking & Home-Coming

I said goodbye to Jerusalem this morning, and I have turned my face toward home. The rain that was predicted held off until noon, so I was able to have one more nice run around the city walls, and one more nice long walk through the city. I managed to sneak in one new site this morning, too: I went down into the Kidron Valley, which is the valley between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, where there are three monuments that are right close together. [Two of them date from around the first century CE, making their authenticity unlikely!] First is what is called "Absalom's Pillar" from 2 Sam 18:18 ("And Absalom erected a pillar for himself that is in the King's Valley..."). It is the largest, most striking of the three monuments, and is roughly 65 feet tall. It is said that because of Absalom's rebellion, early pilgrims began the custom of throwing stones at the monument in order to express their anger at Absalom's betrayal of his father, David. It is also said that Jewish parents would bring disobedient children here and warn them of the fate of those who rebelled against their parents! [No crying children were there this morning!] Then, a little further away is what is called the Sons of Hezir Tomb. This is the only tomb that can be positively identified, thanks to an ancient Hebrew inscription, which reads "The tomb and monument of the priests of the family of Hezir." [This is actually from the second century BCE]. The last monument is called The Pyramid of Zechariah is named after the prophet who, according to Jewish tradition, was murdered on Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 24). According to one thing I read, Jews became accustomed to praying before Zechariah's tomb for salvation, especially during periods of persecution, droughts, and other tragedies which befell them for many centuries. Then, I ended my morning with worship at the St. George's Cathedral, an Anglican Cathedral that is a stone's throw from my hotel--I have walked by it dozens of times, and finally got the chance to worship there today: they had an English service at 11:00 am. And, I must say, on my last day here, thinking about the travels ahead of me, it was nice to worship in English, singing familiar hymns, and having communion. That is not to take away from the great worship experiences I have had in Arabic & in Hebrew, but this was a nice transition to home, especially closing with "Guide Me, Ever Great Redeemer." [Speaking of singing, I confess that I did op out of singing "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus": I mean, really? Here?] It was especially nice because today begins the Week of Christian Unity, and so I felt particularly connected to my friends and family worshipping in different places all over the world today. So now? My last hummus sandwich for lunch [my last hummus for quite a while, I'm sure!]; a short ride to the airport, a long wait in Tel Aviv, and an even longer flight to Newark; a shorter wait in Newark and an even shorter flight to Harrisburg; and a short drive home. Have I mentioned I'm ready? Thanks to everyone who has read the blog and accompanied me on this journey. I have appreciated your thoughts and prayers. I will keep writing from home; and then take up the travel diary again when I head to India at the very end of February. [Ooh--I can hardly bear to think about that now, but I know by the time it comes, I'll be ready and excited to take off again!] Traveling mercies to all who are on the road, and who wait for travelers' return.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pictures from January 21

Another one by Gullvag

Here is Handala

Add one more!

One of the paintings by Hakon Gullvag

The church ceiling

The view of Jerusalem

The view from the church tower (see the wall?)

Augusta Victoria Church

At Augusta Victoria

The Messianic Jewish congregation

My Shabbat hosts

Kol Haneshama

A Segway tour in Jerusalem!

Messianic Jews & Lutherans

I'm sure I have already mentioned Luther's explication of the 8th Commandment [Thou shall not bear false witness] at some point in this blog; and I'm sure I will do so multiple times before I am finished. Personally, the eighth commandment is my favorite [hmmm-what exactly does that mean? Surely it's something different than saying spinach is my favorite vegetable. Is a commandment like spinach?]--ooh, wait, I guess the FIRST commandment should be every Christian's favorite. [Maybe I'm over-thinking this whole thing.] ANYWAY, playing favorites aside, I do think that keeping the eighth commandment [or at least always trying one's very best] is of critical importance for our human life together, and one of the best ways we witness to the God who loves us deeply, freely and graciously; and creates in us the possibility to love others--even enemies--deeply, freely, and graciously. Luther really lays out a powerful case for that, as he reminds us that keeping the eighth commandment is less about NOT doing something [not gossiping, not slandering] and more about actively, vigorously, doing something very important--putting the best construction on our neighbors' actions, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and covering their weaknesses with our own honor. I find that it is way harder than it sounds. Why, you may ask, do I start today's blog with a little Luther refresher? That is because I worshipped with a Messianic Jewish community this morning [a very nice couple who work here part of the year invited me to go with them], and I am going to try to describe that experience, Luther-style. Here we go. [And let me say that this information is based not only on information from the couple themselves, but also from some pamphlets they gave me, written by David Chernoff--see his website for more info: http://www.cby.org/dchernoff.html. So, it is from "the horse's mouth," if you will!] First, let me say that Messianic Jewish belief is......unique. Messianic Jews are Jews who continue to affirm their Jewish identity, but who believe that Jesus is the Messiah--but they prefer the name "Yeshua," his name in Hebrew. [They are NOT the "Jews for Jesus" group, either.] They believe Jesus is divine, and believe in the triune God [although they don't talk much about the Trinity--not explicitly biblical]. They use "atonement" language exclusively to explain salvation, and they interpret it with a Jewish lens. They are baptized [but not as infants--they practice believer's baptism], but they call it "mikveh" or "immersion." [In their view, it is a Jewish ritual that Christians call baptism.] They celebrate communion [usually once a month], but it is interpreted through a Passover lens. Some practice the Brit milah [ritual circumcision] and some do not. They also follow the Jewish calendar of festivals [celebrating the birth of Jesus with Sukkot, the fall festival of booths, which is when they understand Scripture to indicate that he was born], but they celebrate them in a "Messianic way"--that is, Jesus is their Passover Lamb, and their atonement on Yom Kippur. They do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, because those festivals are not commanded in Scripture. This is a good time to say that they rely totally on Scripture [this is just one more thing that separates them from Judaism, in that they do not recognize the Talmud or other rabbinic commentary as having any authority]--and they view it as the infallible, inerrant word of God. There is a Pentecostal feel to it all, including the style of worship, the language of being born-again, and accepting Jesus as one's Lord and Savior. Their understanding of the Law is interesting: they know it doesn't save them, but it is still valuable today; and they believe that while "Rabbi Shaul" [Paul] in the "New Covenant" [New Testament] said that all believers are free in Yeshua, he still kept the Law as much as he could, and so should we. They do not support intermarriage, believing that Jews should marry Jews, but if it happens, they should raise their children Jewish, because this is "God's will." They accept Gentile believers into their congregations, as long as they have a "Ruth-like" calling to God's chosen people. Here is something interesting, relating to Zionism: "Most Messianic Jews support Israel unequivocally and unconditionally. We support Israel not only because we believe our Jewish people need a national homeland, but also because we believe that the reestablishment of the State of Israel is a direct fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. We believe that God has done this supernaturally as predicted from Scriptures centuries ago." The modern movement of Messianic Judaism [the ancient experience--Jews who believed in Jesus at the time of his life/death/resurrection, and in the few centuries after that--faded in the 7th century CE] really came to fruition in 1967, when Jerusalem came back into Jewish hands, in fulfillment of a prophecy: "This prophecy indicated that when Jerusalem was restored to the Jewish people God would turn once again to His Jewish people in national salvation. Messianic Judaism is a prophetic movement and a direct result of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon His Chosen People." [Does anyone else think this is sounding more and more like "Pentecostal Judaism?" I do.] Messianic Jews do not call themselves Christians, because this signifies an abandoning of one's Jewish identity--instead favoring the term "completed Jews." That is, their Jewish identity has been fulfilled and completed in Jesus [like the law has been fulfilled and completed in him.] I should also say that the worship experience can vary widely from synagogue to synagogue. So, for example, the service I went to today hardly resembles the synagogue where this couple attends in the States. Here, no head coverings; there, head coverings; here, no Torah scrolls, there Torah scrolls; here, no "Davidic dancing" during the hymns, there, dancing with large, long flags, tambourines, etc.--and this is actually one of the hallmarks of Messianic Jewish worship, they said. My sense is that since the Jewish community really, really doesn't like Messianic Jews [this is understandable, I think], the Messianic Jews here--in Jerusalem especially--try to "pass" more as Christians, so as not to give offense. Indeed, if I would have wandered unknowingly into this very nondescript, unmarked building, I would have assumed I was at a Christian service, except for the small electric menorah up over one corner. So, about my worship experience. Let me just say that it was.....simple and earnest. As I said, the worship space itself was very plain: bare light bulbs; the small electric menorah; small, clear windows; speakers mounted on the wall; no crosses or banners or anything; no altar, and just a small platform with a lectern. We started with 15 minutes of praise-band singing--the last song was to the tune of "It is Well with my Soul"--but we were singing in Hebrew, so I don't know what the words were! Then, there was a reading from Exodus, and about a 20 minute reflection. Then more singing, then prayer [extemporaneous from the congregation, primarily], and then I thought we were finished. It had been roughly an hour. But, wait, things were just gearing up! The children were dismissed for Shabbat school, and then another rabbi/minister got up and preached another sermon on 1 Kings [Elijah and the widow]. That went on for about 45 minutes, and finally, after the VISIBLE, AUDIBLE discomfort and impatience had reached a dull roar, he just sort of stopped in the middle, said we should think about all he had said, and he would pick up next week where he left off. It was not uplifting or engaging by any stretch of the imagination--and I am still 8th commandment-ing, here! [It didn't help me that the guy who was doing the English translation in the headphones kept yawning, either. The whole service was in Hebrew, and even in the States, they use Hebrew for some of the service, because of the primacy of that biblical language.] If what I heard today is any indication, the theology is heavy on God's will, determinism, and the importance of trusting God in suffering. Speaking of synagogues, the brochure says that there are over 125 Messianic synagogues in the States. Suffice it to say that it is a SMALL movement--even globally. Here is the bottom line: fundamentally, they reject the dichotomy that one is either Jewish or Christian, and believe that it is actually "true biblical Judaism" to believe in the Messiah Yeshua as the savior and the fulfillment of the Law. Even after learning all this and talking about it, I can't help but feel like these are two very different world views/belief systems that cannot be so easily harmonized; and it is not hard to understand why non-Messianic Jews are so critical [and maybe hostile? dismissive?] of the movement. I haven't asked anyone, but I can imagine that they would feel like it is supersessionist. In any case, however, the couple was very sweet to me, and kindly answered all my questions. I was glad for the experience, and it was something totally new to me! So, after the worship, I was ready for something entirely different! I met LTSG student Courtney Weller, who is here doing her Young Adults in Global Mission year, and she was game enough to walk up to Augusta Victoria hospital with me! It is located on the north end of the Mount of Olives [you know I can't resist a climb!], so I have been seeing it every morning on my run around the city, but I hadn't been there yet, and I really wanted to see it before I went home. For those who don't know, Augusta Victoria has been a project of the Lutheran World Federation since 1950 [it was built by the Germans originally]. Today, it primarily serves the Palestinian community--particularly Palestinian refugees--and it is staffed primarily by Palestinians. It was a hike [through a slightly sketchy Palestinian neighborhood], but totally worth it. No one was there to meet [it was Saturday, after all], so we just walked around instead. We went into the church itself [the sanctuary was GORGEOUS--more about that in a minute], and paid the 5 shekel fee to walk up to the top of the tower. [Did I mention that Courtney is a trooper?!] We had great views! Then, once we got down, we walked around the sanctuary & I took some pictures [I tried to be quiet--there was something of an impromptu organ concern going on, it seemed!] Besides the beautiful mosaics--the ceiling is particularly amazing--there was this temporary exhibit of paintings by Håkon Gullvåg, a Norwegian artist, who has done a series of "a modern approach to the divine image." They were abstract, vaguely disturbing, but really beautiful, too. After that, we rewarded ourselves with coffee before the long walk back to the Old City. Here is the website for the church: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/AugustaVictoria.html. You can see some nice pictures and get the history there. Oh, I also wanted to say that on our way back, Courtney pointed out an interesting bit of graffiti. The name of the figure is "Handala," and he was created by the Palestinian artist Naji al-Ali. He is depicted as a ten-year old boy, with his back turned away from the viewer, with his hands clasped behind his back. According to the artist, the age of the figure represents a child forced to leave Palestine who will not grow up until he can return to his homeland. His turned back and clasped hands symbolized the character's rejection of "outside solutions." Handala wears ragged clothes and is barefoot, symbolizing his allegiance to the poor. She says you see him often on the West Bank wall. I hadn't noticed him before. Now, I am back in my room, packing up and getting ready to leave tomorrow. I'm watching CNN, and wishing Steven Colbert could win the South Carolina primary!

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Friends, with Connections to Old

So, today is the morning of the 17th [and it is a beautiful, quiet morning--a run on the Sabbath is quite a bit more peaceful than a run on any other day!], and I wanted to report on my wonderful evening last night. I was invited to the Shabbat service at Kehilat Kol Haneshama, a Reformed synagogue near the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. The name of the synagogue comes from Psalm 150, verse 6: "Let every living thing that has breath praise the Lord." It means "every living thing," and it points to the inclusive, open nature of the synagogue. This is what they say on their website: "Congregation Kol HaNeshama is an active & lively center for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem. The kehila is located in Baka and serves as a focal point for Jewish pluralism and social action in the neighborhood and surrounding area, Our community is founded upon the core value of equality of all human beings and mutual responsibility as we believe all are created in the image of God." [Check out their website: http://www.kolhaneshama.org.il/eng/About_the_kehila.] Just to give you a feel for the community, in their English brochure, they talked about their second annual "Pride Shabbat," which took place in August, 2011. They had pictures of the rainbow flag draped over the bimah and the ark--it was amazing! I was told that in Tel Aviv, of course, the Gay Pride parade is no big deal--"just part of the furniture;" but here, of course, it is another story! So, for the synagogue to do something like that is pretty radical--maybe even dangerous. As you might have guessed, the Reformed community of Jews in Israel on the whole is very small; overwhelmingly [particularly in Jerusalem, of course], the Jewish communities are orthodox here. I asked if they felt any discrimination, and the answer was no, not really. However, they work for a more explicitly pluralistic Jewish presence in society [and in education]; one person that I talked to said that he thinks there is a change currently underway in Israel leaning more in this direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming years. The service itself was delightful, and it brought me the first of three reminders of my dear friend Maria that occurred over the evening. So, I was there early waiting for my new friend Sarah, who was hosting me. She didn't come and didn't come, and finally the service was starting and she still wasn't there. So, this very sweet woman Sally, who had already talked to me & knew that I was waiting for Sarah, invited me to just come and sit with her, and she would point out Sarah to me when she came. Well, we sat RIGHT UP FRONT--I mean, the very first row in front of the bimah: the rabbi was so close I could almost touch him! Sheesh--talk about pressure! Luckily they had prayer books in English, with the Hebrew transliterated, so even though I didn't have the music for the songs, I was able to follow along pretty well. The service on Friday night welcomes the Sabbath "like a queen," and so there is lots of singing, lots of joy, lots of celebration and praise. The psalms are very prominent, too, which I loved. It was fabulous! And, as it turns out, Sally had the most wonderful voice--and she just kind of harmonized with each song, doing her own thing but sounding amazing the whole time. And I thought, "Oh, I am back in chapel sitting next to Maria, while she sings the tenor line up an octave!" It was really, really nice. It was a fun, warm, welcoming congregation--they have lots of English-speaking visitors, so I felt quite at home. So, after the service, I met my hosts: Dr. Sarah Bernstein, who is the Associate Director of the ICCI, the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, and her husband, Dr. Michael Marmur, who is the Vice-President for Academic affairs at Hebrew Union College [he serves as the provost over all four campuses (three in the US, plus the one here)]. He is also a rabbi. They were the nicest, kindest people; and they actually speak English at home, because even though they have lived here for over 25 years, they met and married in England. When they had their three children, they made the decision to speak English at home, so that the children would grow up bi-lingual. This made it very easy for me, of course! So, we walked home, and when we got there, I had the second reminder of Maria: there was a lovely long table set for multiple guests, because Sarah and Michael always open their home to whomever is visiting that week! There were many old friends and new, including one woman who is studying to be a rabbi at HUC. She is particularly interested in Jewish feminist theology, and we had a great conversation. The food was good, the conversation was lively, and I thought, "Oh, I am at Maria and John's house for dinner!" We had a lovely Shabbat prayer to open the meal, and then another longer one to close it [They joked that Christians pray their main prayer before a meal, and Jews have theirs after it!]. Michael and Sarah have three children, one of whom is in her last year of high school, another who is in his second year of his mandatory army service, and the oldest one who is studying law in Tel-Aviv. All three of them were delightful, but I spent the most time talking to the oldest, Miriam. There were three things in particular she said that I thought were really interesting. The first was that there is an eruv [check yesterday's post if you have forgotten what that is] around the entire city of Jerusalem--she sees it when she drives to and from Tel-Aviv. However, this is not good enough for the ultra-orthodox [called "Haredi" in Hebrew--"those who tremble at the word of God"], who must have an eruv authorized by their own rabbi. She told me that last year she and her mom came home and there were some men in a truck putting up an eruv right near their house--a clear a signal that Haredi Jews were moving into the area. This is an issue, she said, because if enough Haredi Jews move into a specific neighborhood, they become the majority in that neighborhood, and then they can enforce their own interpretation of Jewish law. The municipality allows this in neighborhoods where Haredi Jews dominate. This is problem for non-Haredi Jews, obviously. For example, Michael and his family, being Reformed, drive on the Sabbath [a fact for which I was very grateful when he drove me back to my hotel last night at 10:45 pm!]. If Haredi Jews were to dominate in their neighborhood, they might close the streets so that no one could drive on the sabbath. So, Miriam [who is specializing in human rights law], talked about her plan to move back to Jerusalem and live here as a witness to a different practice of Judaism, and to be in solidarity [that is my word, not hers] with those who are non-Haredi, working for this more pluralistic vision of Judaism. Michael's parents were also there, and I particularly enjoyed talking with his father, Dov. And guess where he had spent a large chunk of his life--Sweden!! [And we are to Maria reminder #3!] He and his wife had fled Poland for Sweden, and settled in Gothenburg. They couldn't believe it when I said I have family there and in Alingsås, and they were very disappointed in my limited Swedish [Rosetta Stone, you are my new best friend this sabbatical!]. Anyway, they were both really funny and charming; and we added a short Swedish grace after the post-meal Hebrew litany--it was too perfect! The whole evening couldn't have been better, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Next up this morning, service with the Messianic Jews [and now for something completely different....]

Pictures from January 20

One last shot of the market

This was my favorite lion!


Look-dog treats! (Little Henry didn't get anything, though!)

Pomegranates (a very important symbol in Judaism)!

Dried fruits

Mahaneh Yehuda

The source of a fabulous mocha ice blended!

To Market I Go

Today's blog is going to be pretty short, with a brief theological reflection at the end! This morning, after a good, but slightly treacherous run around the Old City [Suffice it to say that millions upon millions of pilgrim feet have made the stones of the Old City slick as ice, and when they are wet, you have to be really careful. The area right outside the Zion gate is particularly deadly], I walked out to the Mahaneh Yehuda, which is this fabulous outdoor market, with vendors selling every kind of food item imaginable, as well as kitsch, clothing, kippahs, and candy. I pulled the following information off Wikipedia [so glad they are up and running again!]: "Mahane Yehuda market is bounded by Jaffa Road to the north, Agrippas Street to the south, Beit Yaakov Street to the west, and Kiach Street to the east. The market itself has two major streets: Eitz Chaim Street (the covered market) and Mahane Yehuda Street (the open-air market). Bisecting these two streets are smaller streets named for fruits and nuts: Afarsek (Peach) Street, Agas (Pear) Street, Egoz (Walnut) Street, Shaked (Almond) Street, Shezif (Plum) Street, Tapuach (Apple) Street, and Tut (Berry) Street." The marketplace was established in the late 19th century, and it got its name in the late 1920s. The walk along Jaffa street was really nice, too--it goes along the path of a new light rail train, which everyone seems to really like. It is very new, and only became fully operational on Dec. 1st, 2011. And, while I was walking, I succumbed to a bit of Americana--suddenly, on the corner, a "Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf" shop appeared out of nowhere! [This is the first chain, other than McDonald's, I have seen--no Starbucks, which seems surprising to me]. And, I simply could not resist the lure of the mocha ice blended. I tasted of the coffee, and it was sweet! The young woman who took my order was really nice--she has only been living here four months, but she loves it, and is seriously considering "making aliyah," if she can get her Hebrew good enough to go to college here. I wonder how many other young people feel as she does--is it common or rare these days? Anyway, I had a great time wandering around the marketplace--people were really stocking up for Shabbat [and, apparently, no one brings their own bags--EVERYONE was using plastic bags! If anyplace needs an envirosac intervention, it's this place!], and the bus stop was so crowded, with people waiting to get home with all their purchases--bread, vegetables, meat, fish, sweets, nuts, spices, etc., etc. The only thing I bought was some flowers to take to my Shabbat hosts tonight--they have some beautiful flowers here. I was tempted by many other things, including all the interesting breads and the sweets, but I didn't indulge [I have been trying to resist the temptation of seeing new foods and thinking that I must eat them, whether I am hungry or not!]. I also walked around and found the Gerard Behar Center, which is where the Eichmann trial took place. I knew it because I had seen it from afar yesterday, but there wasn't any plaque or anything marking the place, as far as I could tell. Somehow I thought there would be. [Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mossad swept in and kidnapped Eichmann from Argentina and brought him back to Israel for trial without going through any formal channels. Needless, to say, Argentina wasn't happy about it!] The other thing I looked up when I got home was the information about all the painted lions I have seen around the city [like the Dala Horses in Lindsborg--and the many, many other "animal parades" that pepper different cities: that trend of scattering painted animals around a city began in Zurich, with cows, in 1988]. Indeed, the Jerusalem Lion Project began around 10 years ago--there were roughly 80 lions spread throughout the city. In my walking, I have seen about 8 or so, and some of them really need touching up! I read that some of them were sold for charity, so I don't know how many are left around. OK--that's enough of that. I am going out to synagogue tonight [Reformed] and then supper, so I'll have to report on that tomorrow. In the meantime, I keep meaning to share something Marty was telling us about a week or so ago--it's about the priests, and the law. She reminded us that in the Old Testament, there are two lines of priests, the house of Aaron & the Levites. When David established the temple in Jerusalem, being no fool, he assigned a priest from each line to be high priest. But, when Solomon was vying for the throne, only Zadok, the Aaronite priest, supported him; the Levite supported his brother. So, when Solomon took the throne, he exiled the Levite to Anathoth [where Jeremiah was born]. From then on, to be a high priest, you had to be able to trace your lineage back to Zadok. And the descendants of Zadok became, in the New Testament, the Sadducees. This sort of helps explain why modern Judaism [rabbinic Judaism] can be traced back to the Pharisees. There were only four major sects of Judaism in the time of Jesus: the Essenes, who were extreme ascetics and fled the world altogether; the Zealots, who were the fighters and were wiped out by Rome; the Sadducees, who were so tied to the temple, that when the temple was destroyed they were out of commission, basically; and the Pharisees, who were able to make the transition from temple to Torah [they were well-equipped to do this anyway, since they were the interpreters of the law]. All of this biblical history led to a quick discussion about the law itself, which, unfortunately, gets a bad rap in Lutheranism [as it is typically contrasted with the gospel, along the lines of: "The law kills, but the gospel gives life."] Marty was reminding us how, in Judaism, the law is understood as a wonderful gift--a way to live life to the fullest & richest, not a restrictive set of burdensome commands. I think it will be important for the interreligious work I am doing with Judaism to think more about how Jewish understandings of the law might helpfully inform Christian anthropology, and the way we understand our relationship to God. I think it can/should be thought of in positive terms as well, not just as a negative, a foil for the gospel. There is something to be said, I think, for structuring one's whole life around God's commands: just like today at the market. Extensive preparations are required in order to properly observe the Sabbath--everything closes early today, so that everyone can get ready and be prepared: it dominates everyone's agenda today; and of course, it IS the order the day tonight/tomorrow. I'd like to think more about what the rich, multi-layered Jewish understanding of "keeping the law" might teach Christianity, where "the law" often gets constricted down to specific moral [even more--sexual] prohibitions, which don't allow for the depth and complexity of the whole concept of "the law" to be expressed, I think.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pictures from January 19

The eruv

An ultra-orthodox neighborhood, indeed!

The holy trash can

An ultra-orthodox "neighborhood"

Again, it was QUITE a scene!

Everyone is helping!

"Getting dressed" with the tefillin

Reading from the Torah

Boys chasing candy!

High heels and unstable chairs!

Smoking AND a cell phone!

The certificate that it happened HERE!

The Women's section

A Sea of Bar Mitzvahs

Isn't she fabulous?

It was a scene, man!

I started the morning with another trip to take some pictures in the Dormition Abbey, and a visit to King David's Tomb. [Interesting, by the way: even though I said yesterday that Jews don't have the same tradition of making pilgrimages to sacred places that Christians have, this clearly is a place where Jews have come/continue to come to pray. There is a women's section and a men's section, divided with a wooden partition that gives each side equal access to the tomb, from what I could tell. However, the site is not authentic--but since it has been honored for centuries in the tradition, it continues to be a holy shrine. My book notes that it became a pilgrimage site for Jews while they were not allowed to visit the Western Wall--that is, before 1967.] Then, I thought I would go down to the Western Wall again for more observation and contemplation. Well, I was totally unprepared for what I found: Bar Mitzvahs as far as the eye could see! Seriously, I tried to count them, and it was impossible--one just flowed into another, and as soon as one place was vacated, another group came and filled it. I just gave up and started snapping pictures like crazy, trying to take it all in! So, again, here are some observations. You might imagine that a Bar Mitzvah would take place right up next to the Wall itself, but that is not how it works: remember, only men can be on that side; so in order for wives/mothers/daughters/grandmothers, etc. to see and participate in the event, the Bar Mitzvahs line the partition wall between the men's and the women's section, and also the back wall, over which stands an observation wall, open to all. However, the partition wall [and even the back wall] is high, so it's not like the women can just stand on the ground and look over. Oh sure, they can try and peek through the VERY small holes in the wall, but that doesn't give you any kind of view. So what happens instead is that you have all these women dressed to the nines [more about that shortly], standing precariously on the white plastic chairs that are stacked around for seated prayer. You might image that somber decorum would be the order of the day, but you would be wrong! Instead, the women are quite busy snacking, taking pictures, talking, smoking [more about that later, too], walking around & chatting--in between taking pictures, and throwing candy at the Bar Mitzvah & singing at the right times. One of the women I saw was leaning over the wall watching with a coke and some chips in her hand! You can hardly blame them, of course--they are only tangentially included, which, if it were my son, I would find highly annoying! Another thing I noticed is that all of the families I saw were foreign: I heard LOTS of English--and if the accent is any indication, New York was well represented--as well as some Russian. I even saw one woman holding a certificate that confirmed the location of "so-and-so's" Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall. I was thinking back to an enormous banner I saw at the King David Hotel [one of the nicest hotels in the city], welcoming the family of "so-and-so" for his Bar Mitzvah. Clearly, there is a whole travel industry built around Jews from other countries coming here just for a Bar Mitzvah. [Maybe we should think about flying Lutherans over to Wittenberg to get confirmed!] Next, I must note how fashionably so many of the women were dressed [again, the American Jewish women particularly stood out]--VERY high heels, short skirts, fur (!), hats--I mean, it was quite a display! Apparently the "modest dress code" goes somewhat out the window for Bar Mitzvahs! As does the cell phone prohibition--I saw several of the participating men [rabbis?] using cell phones, and one guy even smoking: somehow, that struck me as very incongruous! But it was such a mob scene, there was no way to keep any order. I even saw this one Korean guy right up close, taking pictures of one of the ceremonies, and he didn't even have a head covering on--no one said anything to him, because I don't think anyone even noticed! One of the other things I loved watching was the scrum of little boys who were running around scooping up the tossed candy--it was like a parade! I must say, the whole experience was really fun to watch--I loved seeing the Torah scrolls up close, and listening to the young, shaky voices [which were miked, for the most part], read, as they followed with the Yad [the pointer--you don't touch the scroll with your bare hand] on the scroll itself; and I loved watching as the boys "got dressed," having the tefillin strapped on for the first time [officially]--this is the first "mitzvah" of the ceremony. It was pretty cool, to be so close & to be able to see so well. [Incidentally, Mondays and Thursdays are the days the Torah is read in the synagogue--and on the sabbath, of course--these days are the most popular days for Bar Mitzvahs, at least here at the Wall. (You can't do them on the Sabbath.) That's what I was told.] This afternoon, I went for a walk around new Jerusalem, with Ophir as the guide, and it was really interesting to hear about the Jews who settled outside the walls of the Old City. It was in the 1860s that Jews first began to live outside the walls, but he talked mostly about the "Second Aliyah"--that is, the second wave of Jewish immigration, which began around 1904. It was very different from the first, which consisted mainly of older Jews who, with their last pennies and last breath, came to Jerusalem to die and be buried on the Mount of Olives [Jews have been buried there for over 3,000 years--it holds over 150,000 graves. There is a tradition that the resurrection will begin there; and I also read that there is a midrash that says that the branch carried back to Noah's ark after the flood by the second dove was plucked from the slopes of the Mt. of Olives. Midrash makes for great reading!]. The second wave of Jewish immigration was dominated by "secular Jews"--Jews for whom the traditions were still important, but who were not religiously observant. And, they were young, and they wanted to work and build up the land--not just pray and dream and wait for the Messiah. Their slogan was, "We came to the land to rebuild it, and rebuild ourselves in the process." I won't recount all the interesting things I learned, but I did want to mention that in the course of our walk, we visited some ultra-orthodox neighborhoods--and, in this context, by "neighborhood," I mean "building." We stopped at one point, and he asked "How many neighborhoods do you see?" Of course, it was a trick question--as it turned out every long building we could see was a different "neighborhood"--when they were built [and for many, still today] each community has its own school, its own synagogue, its own communal oven [and you certainly wouldn't share food with people who kept kosher differently from you], and even its own mikvah, in some cases. There were no external doors [this was the clearest sign that you were looking at a community focused inward, excluding the world], and instead, all the doors of the individual [SMALL] apartments opened into the shared courtyard. They were originally built by immigrants who all came from the same areas "back home" and replicated their closed communities here in Jerusalem. Today, some of them are more mixed, but many of them are still very closed and very homogeneous. Two other things I saw that I thought were so interesting: first, a "holy trash can." This was a beautifully painted trash can that is used only for holy objects--prayer books, mezuzahs, prayer shawls, etc [but not Torah scrolls, of course]--that need to be disposed of according to specific guidelines. There were smaller openings in the front for donations, to help defray the cost. The second thing was what is called a eruv--this was fascinating! At one point, when we were stopped, we were told to look up: when we did, we saw random lines of string hanging from building to building--they were tacked or tied to posts that looked left over from some forgotten project. I wouldn't even have noticed them, if they hadn't been pointed out to me. So, here is the deal: on the Sabbath, the Torah prohibits carrying anything [or even pushing a baby carriage] from a private to a public space, or from one private space to another across a public space. So, the rabbis came up with a way to make public space private, basically; this enables people in one building [or neighborhood] to walk with a prayer book [for example] to another building without violating Sabbath rules. This eruv system, then [with string and pieces of wood/poles] creates artificial doorposts and lintels, in effect making a larger [somewhat abstract] "home/house" that then can be crossed without a problem. These two things together are clear signs of the ultra orthodox nature of the community, as well as the large sign [in Hebrew and in English] requesting and specifying modest dress!

Pictures from January 18

Here are some modern mezuzahs in a local artists' shop.

The Hurva Synagogue

A cool mosaic over an art gallery in the Jewish quarter - in the wheel are the symbols for the 12 tribes of Israel
The doors to the Kabbalist yeshiva

Marking Mary's tomb in the Dormition Abbey

The mosaic of Miriam

The mosaic of Eve