© 2019 Drew T. Noll

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adventures with Arabs in Jerusalem and a day trip to Beit Sha’an


Recently, while in the Old City of Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, I entered the twilight zone of the Arab Quarter. I hadn’t been that deep into the bowels of the shopping streets since I was there 3 years ago and tried to navigate to some crazy destination into a current of Arabs that were heading in the opposite direction. We hung to the side of the streets to avoid the onslaught of people galloping to the Temple Mount for some kind of demonstration and at one point, a middle aged woman came up to me and grabbed my arm. She put her face inches from mine as she yelled at me in Arabic for what seemed like a long time, until some other Arab guy grabbed her and they both melded back into the river of kafia and bourkah covered heads.

This latest excursion started with a mad dash down the twisting stairs from the clean and festive alleyways of the Jewish Quarter and into the melee of vendors, tourists, and Arab revelers. You see it was a celebration for the end of Ramadan, their High Holy Days, and the Arabs were out in mass. We headed down the familiar street of King David and stopped to ask a soldier if we could head into the Arab Quarter to get to Shar Shchem (Damascus Gate). We needed to get to the other side of the Shuk to pick up my Nephew for the meal that was about to start and didn’t really have time to wander all the way around and through the Jaffa Gate as we usually did. The soldier was kind enough to tell us the way and we left the hubbub of the shopping district and into a very quiet and spookily empty road in the desired direction.

I guess to be consistent with regards to chronology; I should back up to the first day of Rosh Hashanah when we walked down through the village of Silwan in the Kidron valley to get to the Gihon Spring to do Tashlich. This is where Hezekiah dug a tunnel to secure a safe water source in the 7th Century B.C. We didn’t go through the tunnel, though it felt a lot like a gauntlet the way we were all directed down this really steep street. Both sides of the street had Arab houses and little businesses with lots of onlookers poking out through the windows. It felt like Egypt or Jordan accept that we were a parade of Jews trudging down the street. I guess it could have been from the Purim Megillah if we imagined hard enough.

We made it to the Siloan Pool at the bottom and witnessed a truly amazing site. There were Jews of every type praying at the tiniest of openings to living water coming from the spring under Mount Mariah (where the Temple was built). There was a Mikveh (ritual bath) under the mountain as well. There is a tour that can be taken through the tunnel dug by Hezekiah and one of these days I need to get over my claustrophobia so I can do it. Actually this year it turned out that this is to be one of my New Years resolutions (to both get over claustrophobia and tour Hezekiah’s tunnel). Check this site for a really cool virtual tour of the whole area: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/hp_eng.asp

So the way back was not as interesting; however we did almost get creamed by a few really scary looking Arabs. They looked like they were in a convoy for some Hamas terrorist leader and came speeding down this really steep hill so fast that I wouldn’t have had time to get out of the way if I had been in the street like a few moments before. They whizzed by me and I was able to see into the windows of two of the cars. I was glad that I didn’t have to interact any more then watching them go by at about 30 miles an hour an inch or two from my face.

So, back to my current jaunt down through the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem. As we progressed, the crowd became thicker and more threatening. We walked as fast as we could and had to thrust our way through a few crowded spots. As we got closer to the unseen gate, the energy became more frenetic and the air became steadily darker. A few times I wondered about getting stabbed in the side or something and was glad to see the light stream in from the gate as we rounded the last turn. We muscled our way through the throngs of revelers and as we exited into the light and air, I saw a young Arab man on a chair yelling to his friends. He was waving his hands and I just caught his eye as I passed and then I looked down at the cobbled street and made for the stairs leading up and out of the mass of Arabs outside the gate. Then I noticed something strange as it bounced and rolled ahead of me a couple of feet. I had no time to think of what it was or could be when the Arab on the chair jumped down and chased it through the crowd right ahead of me. He grabbed it and looked at me with a faltering smile as he held what he had collected up for his friends to see, held it out close enough for me to see that it was a tooth, and then shoved it back into the opening that it fell out of inside his mouth.

That was some of my Rosh Hashanah experience this year in Jerusalem and I am working on another blog now about my Yom Kippur experience in Zichron Yaacov so I will just move right on to Sukkot. Because of the spirit of this blog I am going to skip all the details of the services and move right into my trip today. We went to Beit Sha’an which is built on the ruin of the ancient Hellenistic city of the same name.

This is the place where the Mishnah was written. The Mishnah was written down because 2,000 years ago, Yehudah Ha’Nasi saw that the Oral Torah was being lost and would cease to exist if the Romans had their way. This would cause Judaism to eventually become so marginalized that it would also eventually cease to exist. The Oral Torah was never meant to be written down and he took a big chance in doing so and this being the case, he kept everything in cryptic text that was only meant to stimulate the memory of future Jews as far as the 613 Mitzvote (Commandments). What, you thought there were only 10? That is because many of our great or great, great grandparents forgot to teach their children… or so goes the theory.

Now we have the Gomorrah and a lot more as well to indulge our Torah thirst. So, I had a lot of fun today with Adele wondering around the ruins and it was just a lot of fun to do something different. I included a picture above of Beit Sha’an. Hope all your holidays have been great and don’t forget to spend as much time as you can in your Sukka’s this year!

Shana Tova le kulam!

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