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Israel Trip Days 6-7

By: Scott Gilliland

Shabbat Shalom!  This blog is being posted a couple days late, due to wifi/timing issues, but this covers our time on Friday and Saturday, January 3-4.  I also will stop apologizing for length, because it's just not that easy to whittle down any more than I already do, so it is what it is.  (Sorry for the weird formatting, Blogger is being weird about my photos)

Two Hasidim men outside the marketplace.
An Ultra-Orthodox teen pulling out
his cell phone.  Notice the tallit
tassels tangled up in his hand.  The
posters in the background announce
births, deaths, news, and expulsions
of former Ultra-Orthodox members.
Friday was a dichotomy of frenetic chaos and ritual order, the day the day that marks the beginning of Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath).  Spending Shabbat in Jerusalem is an otherworldly experience as a vast majority of the city follows variations of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox regulations during the time beginning Friday at sundown and ending Saturday at sundown.
Speaking of Ultra-Orthodox, we spent the Friday morning touring a bit of the residential neighborhoods of Jerusalem, most notably the Ultra-Orthodox quarter.  Our chartered tour bus felt completely out of place on the tight, pedestrian-filled streets.  Inside the bus, Ezra (our personal encyclopedia of Judaism) pointed out the subtle differences in Ultra-Orthodox dress and style.  The theme continues: everything in Israel and Judaism seems to mean everything or absolutely nothing.  For example:

Ezra: "So as you can see, this man is wearing a long-brimmed hat typical of Lithuanian Jews, while these felted, brimmed hats are worn exclusively by Hasidim."

Us: "What about that guy with the big rhinestones on his tallit (white and black garment with tassles)?
Ezra: "That means he's flashy."

Ultra-Orthodox (right) and Orthodox (left) guitarists
performing for shekels in the marketplace.  Notice the
Ultra-Orthodox man's tallit worn on the outside of
his clothing.
We spent a good portion of the afternoon before Shabbat in and around the Jewish marketplace.  Turns out, this is the single busiest time to show up to the marketplace all week.  It felt like everyone in the 800,000 person city of Jerusalem was doing last minute shopping for nuts and fruits, meats and fish, this's and that's.  It was total chaos.  I loved it!

From the marketplace, we went back to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat service and home meals.  For me and Raegan, this meant naps.

Marketplace on afternoon before Shabbat. 

Marketplace on day of Shabbat.

Drori, our Shabbat host.
Seriously, nicest guy.

Shabbat service blew my mind.  We walked in to what sounded like an orchestra warming up in the synagogue.  The congregation was murmuring prayers individually, and I was left wondering what little praises and thanksgivings were drifting through the air.  Then the main service began, and my image of a stoic, silent Jewish congregation exploded with the first chord of a capella song that brought goosebumps to my skin.  A man walked in, in his mid-twenties, with long, wild hair and a full beard, and promptly began jumping, thumping his chest, and clapping his hands.  I thought to myself, "Have I found a charismatic Jew?" The service continued like this, never letting up, each song growing louder than the last, and through the sheer cloth that divided the room, I saw a circle of women spinning, jumping, and singing to a God that is clearly very alive in that place.  We had to leave before it ended, unfortunately, because we had to meet our hosts for Shabbat dinner.

We went to Shabbat dinner at the house of Drori and Stacy, where we were joined by their four children, two family friends and their two children, and another couple from the community. We ate, drank, and shared in the weekly meal mixed with prayer. I was moved by their hospitality and completely engrossed in learning about real life for Jews in Israel.  Drori is from Kurdistan, and as an Arab Jew he understands feeling like an outcast among his own people.  Arab Jews are a cultural minority in Judaism and Drori works with a high school in association with Shalom Hartman to give a voice to this often overlooked demographic.  

I keep finding similarities in cultural divides between Israel and the States, especially when Drori was telling us how Arab Jews will change their last names to sound more Eastern European to help their job prospects and help with assimilation.  His assertion is that Arab Jews are not included in the promotion of Israel through media or other avenues, they only see Western and European Jews as an image of what a "Jew" is.  Over time, this leads to a lack of identity for an entire segment of the population, an identity that Drori is working diligently to help his "brothers and sisters" discover.

The next day, we walked through some neighborhoods, specifically an area where Ultra-Orthodox and secular yuppies live right next to each other.  As we exited the neighborhood, we cam across the market we had been the day before, to find it completely empty and shut down.  The entire city, for that matter, moves at a crawling pace, barely any cars on the road, a few tourists out walking... that is until you reach the Old City.  The Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters of the Old City were swarming with tourists looking to buy souvenirs and see sites with a good majority of the rest of Jerusalem closed for the day.

We ended our evening with a final session at Shalom Hartman, discussing the Judaism as a peoplehood and learning about the close of Shabbat at sundown.  We reflected as individuals for our group and for Marcie, our incredible leader for this first week in Israel.  She has been incredibly open, honest, and patient with a group of outspoken, inquisitive, and many times misinformed American Seminarians.  Thanks Marcie!

Raegan, Marcie, and I.  We love her.
Our time seeing the Israeli side of life has been at times beautiful and challenging, yet the one constant has been an emptying of my preconceptions at every turn as I learned the reality of Judaism as a religion, a people, and a nation.  We look forward to Nazareth, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem (from an alternative perspective) in the week to come, but for now, our whole group is simply satisfied with what we've experienced so far.

As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to message me any questions, comments, or reflections of your own!

Group Photo in front of Old City.  Love these people, we're having a blast!


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