Monday, July 19, 2010

The Jewish Quarter

To go into the Jewish Quarter, you also need to go through a metal detector and a bag inspection. You emerge into a plaza where right in front of you stands the Wailing Wall, the most sacred place of Judaism. A little piece of wall. People write little pieces of paper with prayers and wishes because supposedly this is the place where the Schechinah, the female spirit of God, rests and it is therefore possible that the wishes will be granted. Having nothing to lose, I scribbled "peace" (and health, and love) on mine. It strikes me that everybody pretty much asks for the same thing, no matter what religion they believe in, or what stones they choose to touch or cry on. Tzuris are the same pretty much the same for everyone.

The other parts of the Jewish Quarter have been developed into residential areas, with yeshivas (religious schools) and synagogues. There are remnants of the Cardo, a Herodian shopping street that now boasts the ubiquitous bad religious art and religious object stores that overun a lot of nice ancient real estate in Israel. 
One of the highlights of our visits to the Kotel, as the Wailing Wall is called in Hebrew, was a tour of the excavations of the wall, which follow it all the way through to the Lion's Gate, on the other side of the old city. There you see the original huge Herodian stones and you take comfort in the fact that there is more wall than that little stretch above. There is an ancient cistern and remains of stones of all the periods after the destruction, Roman, Crusader, Mameluk, Ottoman, etc. Israel is one place that makes Europe seem like a baby. There are stones in Jerusalem that date from 3000 years, so one feels the weight of history. Israel is the cradle of Judaism and it is the place where the Jewish nation should be. Period. Would it have been simpler to designate a solitary island in the Pacific surrounded by sharks and no human neighbors? Perhaps. But that is not where we come from.

 The other highlight was attending on a Thursday morning and witnessing the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies, where many families bring their 13 year old male offspring to complete the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood (they look like pishers to me, but the Bible says that's when they become men). It is absolute mayhem, since the women are relegated to their little section and can't be with their children as they read the Torah. Families bring sweets to pelt the children with, and goodies to eat and everybody sings and dances and it is something to behold.

So that you don't think that I only get farklempt at churches, I must say that what is very moving about Israel is that you see Jews from different countries, all those children from the Diaspora, with different Jewish customs and foods celebrating rituals that remain basically unchanged for thousands of years. That 13 year old kids are still called upon to read the Torah is pretty amazing. And even though I am not a religious person, I believe in the rich culture and history and traditions of the Jewish people and I'm happy to see them thriving still today.

1 comment:

  1. There you see the original huge Herodian stones and you take comfort in the fact that there is more wall than that little stretch above.