This page is entitled Shabbat in Jerusalem, but my adventure started and ended in Herzliya. It represents the middle section of a larger trip to Israel, beginning with a Mission to Technion and ending with Sun business in Herzliya. An engaging record of the Technion days can be found in Email From Israel.
On Friday morning, 11 Nov 05, Mical Geva, my Sun host, picked me up for breakfast, and we talked Sun business for a couple of hours. She dropped me off at a bus stop to catch the 400 bus to Jerusalem. A guy at the bus stop started to talk to me in Hebrew, and when I replied, "Lo maivin Ivrit," (I don't speak Hebrew.) he asked me in English if the 400 bus had come by for a while. I told him I had been there for ten minutes and was waiting for the 400 bus, and he confirmed that he was headed for Jerusalem as well. I asked him the fare, and was able to get an answer only after I dug up another of my pigeon phrases, "Kama kesef?" (How much money?) Seventeen shekels ($4). He was going round-trip, which he told me cost twenty-eight and a half shekels. Of course, the 400 bus didn't actually say 400 on it, but I saw my guy get on, so I was on my way to Yerushalayim (shel zahav - the city of gold - referring to a famous song). When I gave the bus driver 100 shekels, he asked me, "Pa-am ehad?" (One way?) which I actually understood, perhaps because he held up one finger. I chose flexibility over saving a buck.
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the bus driver called, "Bevakesha!" (please ... leave I guess), and a few seconds later, "Shabbat shalom." I went through security (metal detectors) to enter the terminal, grabbed some shekels at an ATM, and caught a cab for my hotel, fifty shekels ($11) announced in advance. Talk radio was on, and I could parse and understand a few words now and again. Each section and interaction ended, "Shabbat shalom." She was approaching.
My plan for Jerusalem went like this: hit the Jewish stuff Friday during the Moslem sabbath, and go to the Arab shuk (open market) Saturday during the Jewish sabbath. My only specific goal was to attend Friday night services at a reform synagogue called Kol HaNeshamah, where Debbie very much enjoyed services on her recent trip, also recommended by my rabbi.
I checked in at Bayit Katan (Little House) in Baka , and the clerk was very patient in showing me where some points of interest were on the map. I asked about Kol HaNeshamah (a ten minute walk), The Old City (thirty minutes), and Ben Yehuda Street (an hour). Debbie encouraged me to visit Ben Yehuda Street for the shopping, and rather than take a cab, I thought it was time to become my mother's son, and I set off for a long walk. I was looking forward to a long walk, but I'd be pressed for time (even if I cabbed it), so I decided to explore the neighborhood of Baka.
I went into a vegetable store and picked out two small cucumbers, a tomato, and an orange pepper, and the fellow at the counter asked me in English, "Anything else?" Could my camera and map have given me away? Perhaps it was the confused wandering for five minutes to buy just a few shekels of food. Most shops I entered did address me in Hebrew. My new friend Linda from the earlier part of the trip pointed out her delight at this effect a few days before; in other parts of the world, no matter how hard she tried, she was clearly an outsider, a foreigner. Here, we are mishpocha (family).
I stopped at a cafe for lunch, and got in the line. I saw there was a menu nearby, but it was in Hebrew, which didn't help me. The fellow behind me in line spoke some English, and he helped me formulate a plan. When I got to the head of the line, I asked for dag hayom, the fish of the day. The woman spoke English, but there was confusion until she explained that the line I was in, which happened to be in the cafe, was to buy movie tickets. I simply sat down at a table and was waited on. There was no fish, so I had a salad and a delicious tomato and cheese sandwich, holding most of the bread.
I wandered back to the hotel and sent a quick cyber note: I was in Jerusalem, Shabbat was approaching, and I had an internet connection. Does it get any better than that?
Services at Kol HaNeshama were at 5pm, so I left the hotel at 4:45. A new fellow at the desk gave me the first couple of turns and said that would put me very close, and I should ask someone as he wasn't sure exactly where it was. Suffice it to say that I walked around for what seemed like forty-five minutes asking a dozen people for help, seeing some of the same corners repeatedly. Finally a fellow with perfect English said, "Follow me." He grew up in NYC, made aliyah (moved to Israel) thirty-five years ago, and was headed to the same place. He asked where I was staying, then offering to show me back to my hotel after services.
We arrived at 5:05, and they had already started! The room was pretty full, I'd guess with around three hundred people. That night teenagers were leading the service. I wondered if that night was different from all other nights. Three boys with guitars and a girl sat in the back and played and sang, and two girls (one with blond dreadlocks or maybe tight braids) stood in front and led the service, which was composed of one song after another. I knew all the words, but only about one in five of the melodies. The place was filled with energy. Dredlocks girl was rocking. It was a moving experience, literally and emotionally. Not since USY have I enjoyed a Friday night service as much. The best was L'cha Dodi (to a melody I didn't know). They sang all the verses! How can one do it any other way? That's what the whole Friday night thing is about. A couple of adults spoke for about ten or fifteen minutes total. Other than the amida and the kaddesh it was simply singing. How can one do it any other way? That's what I'd like the whole thing to be about.
After services, which lasted a little over an hour, people milled about, and I heard a lot of English. I didn't approach anyone, and noone approached me, but I did leave and chat with my guide.
There was no place to buy dinner in Baka, so after reading some email from my old friend Deborah that her parents were in Jerusalem, I went off to get some dinner downtown and maybe bump into them. After all, we met once twenty years ago during Passover at a kosher LA restaurant called RJs. I had a nice fish dinner and a glass of white wine as I caught up on my notes for the day.
After dinner I wandered into the Old City, and managed to find the wall by following "black hatters" and others with fringed garb. I believe I entered at the Jaffa Gate, and took a very windy path. There were tables and chairs set up, I suspect for mass Bar Mitzvahs in the morning. I didn't feel like praying or engaging the wall religiously. I did contemplate the history of the wall and the conflict that surrounds it. I couldn't imagine reversing my walking course to leave the city, so I wandered out the nearest gate. If you know Jerusalem, you are probably thinking, "What were you thinking?"
As it turns out, I wandered out of the Dung Gate, a gate on the eastern side of the Old City. After a few minutes I noticed there were no "black hatters," and the signs were in Arabic first and Hebrew second. I managed to hail a cab after wandering for another ten minutes. The cab driver asked me, "Do you know you are in East Jerusalem?" I told him it was a beautiful old neighborhood, which it was. I did get the point, however. He asked me if I was a reporter. We chatted about our families; we both have three kids. He told me he was an Arab Israeli, born in Jerusalem, and he said that his wife had died three years before of cancer. I offered my condolences. He charged me thirty percent more than I paid for the ride into the old city (maybe it was further), and I didn't complain. As I was getting out of the cab, he asked me if I would trade a $20 bill for smaller US bills, and I was happy to accomodate him. He explained that he got a better exchange rate for twenties. Singles got him four shekels per dollar, and twenties got him four and a half. He handed me a five and fifteen ones and insisted that I count them myself. I refused to count them, and he counted them again slowly under my nose. Then he smiled and referred to himself as an Arab thief. I smiled back and shook my head no. As I left the cab he called after me, "Shabbat Shalom." He was a mench. I never found Deborah's parents though; maybe they were in another part of the city.
In the morning, I walked from Baka to the Old City, about a half an hour. The Old City is on a hill, which makes sense as it needed to be defended. After my fun getting lost the previous night, the first thing I did after entering the walls was buy a map of the Old City. The map turned out to be useless as all the little streets didn't appear on the map.
I wandered to the Arab quarter and market, and a fellow almost pulled me into his shop. We talked a bit, and I decided to buy something from this guy. Some people do it the other way around, first checking if a shop has something they want. But I was there to interact with people. I was offered coffee (free, my hospitality) but declined. After being shown this, that, and the other thing, I saw some bracelets for the girls which he said were $12 each (much later another fellow said identical bracelets were $18 each). I offered him $25 for three, which he accepted without hesitation. The proprieter's name was Khalid Khatib, and his shop was called The Oasis: Your Bedouin and Specialty Gifts. I wandered for over two hours, only buying one more thing, some saffron, in two forms. I took the third offer, which I think was probably OK: fifty shekels for two containers of the saffron. I hope it's good stuff.
I decided to see the scene at the wall, and there was no bar-mitzvah action, but two groups praying. One group was reading from a sephardic torah with quite unfamiliar troupes. The were speaking French to each other. Also nearby was a group ending the torah service and cruising into musaf. I left the area after the cohanim (descendents of the priests) in the second group blessed the others. Too bad Debbie wasn't there to participate. From the wall I headed to church.
I'm writing these words sitting in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, the place Jesus was crucified and possibly buried. Unfortunately, there is no wireless access here. Why would I come here (especially as there is no wireless access)? Why not? And, if Jews are going to be blamed by some non-trivial fraction of the Christian community for killing Jesus (and therefore helping establish Christianity --- but don't get me started), I'm going to see the place. The church is beautifully ornate and enormous. People are walking around, taking it in, and crossing themselves, like Jews at the wall (not that I saw any Jews at the wall crossing themselves, but you know what I mean). Candles are for sale, both simple and ornate. People are buying candles, lighting them at what appears to be the central shrine, and immediately putting them out. Fascinating.
This photo was taken inside the church. Shown is the central shrine where people
wait in a long line to enter one at a time. I don't know the significance.
At the left corner is a setup for lighting and putting out candles.
I wandered through Arab shops again, and found myself in Khalid Khatib's shop again, the same fellow and place I bought from earlier. I decided to buy three more things, a hamsa (hand) with an embedded magen David (Jewish star), a rock, and a Jerusalem cross. I decided to buy the hamsa with star for the symbolic value. The hamsa is a Moslem good luck charm, and the six pointed star is a symbol of the Jews. Moslems and Jews need to come together more, to shake hands for starters. Sorry Debbie, the rock is not a diamond, but just a polished rock for Ilana. The cross is for my high school friend Steve, a Jerusalem cross, bought in the old city of Jerusalem just around the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This time I accepted the hospitality of the seller. I sucked down some mud. We sat and talked for twenty or thirty minutes after I had selected my three items, and after he named prices, but before we began bargaining. He has two shops in Jerusalem, and a Hallmark shop in San Francisco! A Jerusalem native, he spoke of his three daughters and an eldest son age ten. I told him about my adventure the night before, and he assured me that East Jerusalem is very safe these days. I pointed to the hamsa cum magen David, and explained my reasoning. Then I pointed to the cross. Of the Moslem, Jewish, and Christian symbols, I asked him which was "mine." He answered that I was Jewish as immediately as if I had asked him if I were male of female. He continued, "We are cousins." He wanted to know why I wasn't buying something for my wife, and I told him she didn't like gifts! (Just kidding Debbie; you don't want me to ruin the surprise, do you?) He asked me if I made $100 an hour, and if I earned $250,000 a year. I told him that Sun, which he had never heard of (he knew IBM), had struggled since the stock market bubble had burst. I said I made a good salary, but there was never enough money as supporting a family was expensive; he related to that. Eventually we bargained and made a deal, and I told him that if my grandmother had been there, he would have gotten much less. We shook hands repeatedly, and he kept trying to sell more things.
I headed for the Jaffa gate, grabbed a falafel and a cup of fresh pomegranite juice, and grabbed a cab back to Herziliya (300 shekels, I didn't bargain). The driver explained that there was little traffic as it was shabbat, and that traffic would be bad from about 4-8 o'clock.
I checked back into the Okeanos in Herzliya and was given a very nice room in the corner with a balcony overlooking the sea. Even Nir would have approved! A couple of dozen people were waterskiing just below my window powered by semi-circular band-sails. Each person rode one ski that was about one and a half feet wide and four feet long, and the sails must have been twenty-five feet in diameter with an inflated leading edge and several inflated ribs.
The day was beautiful. Although I'm not a beach person, I went to the sea (the hotel is on the beach).
Shabbat was winding down and I saw her out as the sun set over some clouds just over the Mediteranean horizon.
I'm not sure I can explain this or I even understand it, but Israel and even Shabbat did not feel like religious experiences.
But there were many Jewish experiences.
Perhaps this is a tase of Israeli cultural (non-observant) Judiasm.
As the sun set, I offered no prayers, but I did call out, "Shalom Shabbat!"