Monday, August 01, 2005

Israel: The Feeling, The Mood, The Reality - Part IV

The alarm goes off. The candles are lit. The sun goes down. The Queen has arrived. It is Shabbat in Jerusalem.

I walk down the stone stairs, through the metal detectors, and: There are groups of all different sizes and people of all different shapes; there are faces of all different colors and tourists of all different nationalities; there are thoughts of all different textures and emotions of all different sorts; and there is The Wall.

With three minutes left until the sun calls it a day, a lone man puts Teffilin on three familiar strangers. Sixty Chabad teenagers, a Safed summer camp spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, sit in full circle, singing classical and soulful Chabad Niggunim (songs). A beautiful L’cho Dodi melody can be heard from the left corner of The Wall, it is a group of Hassidim praying in the most surreal way, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of their souls. At the far right, near the Mechitza (partition between the male and female worshippers), with their hands interlocked, a mixed bunch of guys dance to a Carlebach tune – dreadlocks, side locks, and gunstocks, bounce in unison.

Friday night in the Old City of Jerusalem, there is nothing like it. Even the stones seem to be resting; and when everything is at rest, the pulse is felt. For those few hours at the Wall, there is peace – no pro this, no anti that, just peace.

However, at the Shabbat meal, it is anything but peaceful. The arguments and opinions of the situation in Gaza are as diverse as the dishes that adorn the table. A commander in the Nachal brigade of the IDF says, “We all have our part in ensuring Israel’s peace, and, if we do not meet our potential, we are just as guilty as Prime Minister Sharon”. “What would you do if ordered to expel Jews from their homes in Gaza?” asks a guest at the table. “I’ll worry about it when it happens”, replies the soldier, “meanwhile I’ll put Teffilin on my ‘brothers in arms’”. Another soldier, who has been in the army for eight months, says, “there is no way I’m going to Gaza to pull out my brothers, but I really don’t know what to do – I don’t want to get kicked out of the army”.

A man from New York, who has been in Gaza for the past three weeks, says, “Forget about the disengagement for a minute; until the residents of Gush Katif are forced from their homes, they are legitimate citizens of Israel, and, with an average of four rockets a day falling into their communities, they are entitled to protection from the government”. “The government wants the Jews to feel scared, and will thus leave their homes with less hesitation”, says the host.

But let the truth be told, this Shabbat table saw only one side of the story – that of those who come to Shabbat tables. To find an alternative view, I ask some youngsters hanging out in the Russian Compound, where the bars are bouncing as if it were just another night, what they make of the whole thing. “Chabibi, ze lo echpat lee, buddy, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend, what else do I need”. An older, more sober, man tells me, “Listen, Sharon makes sense: the Arabs are human, they want peace just like we do; but, in order for us to live in peace, we must make some concessions – give them homes and their own government to control them – and all will be good”.

Throughout Shabbat, I cannot help but notice the contrasts of the Holy Land – on the one hand, it radiates a peace not felt anywhere else; on the other, only here can you know such chaos.

But, once again, the sun has set and the stars have come out – it is time for Havdala (separation of Shabbat and week). The cup is full with wine. The incense handed out. The candle burns bright. We are leaving the holy Shabbat for the mundane week.

Do you think we can make some of the Shabbat peace rub-off onto the weekly chaos?

I don’t see why not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your whole Israel series, I like this entry the best. It radiates hope, confidence, and a happy ease. You seem sure of a "happy ending." But I am not. Can the peace really, really, rub off??

8/01/2005 9:26 PM  
Anonymous sempem said...


WOW mendel, you did it again! keep it up have a safe trip back to buda, and when you get back to ny somtime, im booking you for sunflower cafe.

take care

8/03/2005 1:20 AM  
Blogger The Bearded One said...

it's a personal question asked to a crowd. of course the answers yes when you're talking about others. its when the the we turns into an i that the question starts. i'll try, how about you? or as good ole yoda said "do. not try. only do or not do. no try.".

8/06/2005 5:20 PM  

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