I’ve been to Jerusalem once before this trip.
Andy and I visited the old city for half a day back in 2013. But I never wrote a post about it.
And I’m wondering now if it’s because the old city makes me kind of nervous.
This time around, we left Tel Aviv in the morning, with Gal, and first went to visit his wife Tamar, to take a gander at her awesome new lab. We talked, got the grand tour, met up with another old collegue (the science world is small), and stole some of their free food.
And then it was off to Jerusalem.
The first thing we did was check out the market, and then grab a bite to eat.
Looking at the food- nice.
Here’s the lunchtime money shot of me posing with my TWO lungs.
Get it? Get it??!!
If I’m honest, lungs are not that fabulous. The taste was amazing, but the meat itself has, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather foamy texture, which feels odd in the mouth.
We wandered around the city for a bit, and headed in the direction of the Wall.
To enter into the plaza near the Wall, you first have to go through security. A this point, men are separated from the women, so, because Mercedes and I are agressive at lines, we got into the square first.
Once we had passed the bag check, we watched a few people head down towards the Wall, and then we ourselves went up to the back of the square to sit and wait in the shade. After a few minutes an old lady noticed our shoulders and mentioned them, and we covered them. By the time the men came in, Mercedes had one shawl around her shoulders, one around her legs.
We told Gal about the lady, and our shoulders, and he mentioned that this was not a rule of the plaza, only of the synagogue area closer to the Wall, and that she was in fact not an official of the site, but a religious fanatic with her own agenda. It was hot, so I took off the shawl.
But I think I should have just left it on.
Within the space of a couple of minutes two of the old ladies approached us, separately, asking Mercedes to adjust her shoulder shawl (it wasn’t covering her shoulders properly), and then asking me to put a shawl on. Gal said ‘no’ to a few times to the first lady, and they argued briefly in Hebrew, and she left. We were also pretty ready to leave. The second lady argued much more angrily with Gal, and I think they both called each other extremists. We left the square pretty soon afterwards.
To be honest, I’ve spent hours since then, thinking about these exchanges that only lasted a few minutes.
I’m generally more annoyed, and more outspoken about problems with my own culture, and my adopted culture (Germany) than problems with other cultures. I get why Gal wanted to argue about what I can guess he sees as an issue in his culture, and I think this is very much his right and even his duty. And for me, at that exact moment in time, when the arguments began, it made sense for me to hear and support Gal’s view over the ladies’.
But the whole thing is particularly confusing for me, because while it is Gal’s culture, it is not my culture. And I don’t want to disrespect other people’s culture, and I don’t want to disrespect other people’s religion. I’ve willingly worn shawls and spoken softly in churches and synagogues and mosques in many locations, on many instances, and will wear them again I’m sure, many times in the future. So I worry that actually, in this instance, I was simply hot, and so I was disrespectful.
And apart from the conflict about my own actions, the whole thing left me in conflict about religion.
More specifically, where the line between religion and fanatiscism is.
When I think about the rest of the world (outside a specific holy site, where I would argue that special rules do apply as dictated by the people who claim the site- see below*), my conclusion has to be that religion becomes fanatiscism when you a religious person stops telling me what they want to do with their body (and, you know, soul), and start telling me what to do with mine.
(And by mine, I mean generally anyone’s, but I also mean my, specifically female, body).
And that’s where my current problem lies. Because if I think of that as the line, then it turns out that ‘fanatics’ are all around us.
As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking about this instance a lot since it happened, and it took me several weeks to try to write this post. I sent what I wrote to Gal, for fact checking, and he ended up calling me so we could chat about what exactly happened. In the end, this ‘claim to site’ that I mentioned above seems to be a particular point of order.
Gal mentioned that the argument reflects a larger struggle over the rights of non- vs very- religious Jewish people to significant Jewish historical spaces and heritage. He noted that while we had passed the security, we were in fact standing in a public space, and had not gone near the religious, synagogue section at the Wall, where it is officially necessary to wear scarves and yamukas. The preceived desire of the religious ultraorthadox to remove his rights to, and push him out of, a place that has huge significance to his cultural identity, is, understandably, very upsetting.
While this issue is rather specific to Gal’s culture, country and the current politics, I do think it comes again back to the broader question of rights in the world.
And as I said, the whole thing puts me in turmoil.
And it makes me nervous.
Before I finish talking about religion, I want to talk about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
We went from the Wall, the most holy of Jewish sites, to the Church, the holiest Christian Site.
To give some context, the site includes both Golgotha, the hill upon which Jesus was crucified, and the tomb, from which he was resurrected.
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Copic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches all have claim on the Holy Sepulchre. These groups have tightly controlled times and places in which they may worship, to prevent conflict (which nonetheless does arise).
Due to previous disagreements between the groups, the main entrance of the church is controlled by a Muslim family.
When we attended, The Church was filled with people weeping, and pressing their bodies against the stone.
And The Church was decorated in gold and marble and hanging jewels.
I went to an Anglican school, and I often find it hard to reconcile the Jesus I learnt about then, with the Jesus that often appears in Churches (Mark 12:31? Matthew 19:24?).
Ok folks, that’s it with religion.
We left the churches, and spent the rest of the day walking around the city.
The sky was blue, the sun was hot, and so on.
As evening settled in it was time to say goodbye to Manuel and Guider Gal, and time for the remaining three of us to check into our hostel, before once again hitting the streets to eat some food.
The meal was followed by a run-around-the-town with one of Asdru’s friends, in which we attempted to find the echo points of some of the old ampitheatres.
When we were walking home from Jaffa to Tel Aviv one night, I noticed that the public spaces were filled with families, specifically Islamic families, bbqing and picnicing. Given that Friday marks the beginning of Shabat, it made me wonder if the many different people in the city sometimes mingled, but sometimes occupied difference contexts, in the case of both space and time. In any case, the market seemed to mimic this idea.
In the end, I’m glad we had more than just a half day in the city. The first few hours in Jerusalem were for the religious sites. The evening was for appreciating the more relaxed side of the city, and the next day was for seeing the colour of it all.
On our last day in Israel, Mercedes and I basically just walked around the old city at a lesiurly pace, shopping and window shopping, photographing, and getting lost or hitting dead ends more than a few times.
In the early afternoon we grabbed some take-away falafel sandwiches (pretty much the best food I’ve ever eaten), saunted to the bus station, realised over the course of about 20 minutes that we were a the wrong station, ran to the tram and rode to the other station, sprinted down the street, and arrived just in time for the hourly bus to the airport.
And that was it of Israel.
Next up, Prague.