Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Taglit: The Old City

February 1, 2011

Well, the program is over. It ended last week, on Thursday. Last Monday we had our final study day and our closing party. The final party was amazing; we all got our Tikkun Olam shirts, and there was a mandatory talent show, which turned out to be even more hilarious than you’d expect. There was singing, dancing, and immense mocking of Masa, obviously. It was a pretty incredible way to end the semester. It was rough leaving my Ironi Zayin kids, and even the little shits at the kindergarten (well, some of them.) These five months have flown by, and while I’m excited for what is coming next, it’s still really weird for this chapter, which has been intense and challenging and scary and strange to be over.

But, speaking of next, EMMA AND AMY’S SUPER TAGLIT has officially begun! Amy and I decided that we wanted to be tourists in Israel, and see all the things that everyone saw on their birthright trips (which are called “taglit” here in Israel, which means “discovery!”) Our first leg was in Jerusalem, where we went to the Old City and wandered around the Muslim and Christian quarters. I’d been in the Old City before, but only at night and never with energy, so it was very different to be wandering during the day while things were happening.

We went on Saturday morning, so it was Shabbat. Our walk from where we stayed the night before (with friend’s of Amy’s from camp) to the Old City was completely deserted. Jewish Jerusalem shuts down like no one’s business on Shabbat, which I always forget. Tel Aviv shuts down quite a bit, and no buses run, but it is nothing compared to Jerusalem. We hardly saw anyone else even walking around. Of course, Arab-run business and stores don’t shut down, or do rarely, which makes Tel Aviv, and Yafo especially, easy to navigate on Shabbat. But in Jerusalem, Jews and Muslims are so segregated that when in a Jewish area, you don’t see a single (a) Arab or (b) thing run by Arabs. Thus, nothing is open. Segregation: it’s fun! But anyway, once we entered the Old City walls, things were happening.

It’s still very strange for me that the Old City of Jerusalem, arguably one of the most holy sites in the world, held sacred by three of the most powerful religions in the world, reminds me so much of the central bus station in Tel Aviv. In both you can find people hawking their wares; cheaply made tourist crap, scarves, underwear, juice carts, and bakeries accost you from all sides. The owners idle outside, yelling at you to come in, and you are constantly being pushed and bumped by people all eager to buy that “Don’t Worry America, Israel Is Behind You” t-shirt with a picture of fighter jets on it. I don’t feel holy in the Old City, and I don’t really feel the holiness, and I have trouble imagining how you could. I guess that’s a good case for not letting the riffraff into your actual place of worship, like the Muslims (and Mormons) do.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is ostensibly where Jesus was taken down from his cross and awoke. The church is amazing. It is huge, and old, and beautiful, with all these little twisting passages and underground rooms. Unfortunately nothing has signs on it so we didn’t know what we were looking at most of the time, but it was still amazing. My photos (soon to be on facebook) really don’t do it justice, but they’re better than nothing.

Standing in one of the great halls, I began to better understand this Jewish longing for a temple, and the obsession with the Western Wall, which is the only bit still standing of the foundation of the Jewish Temple which was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago. Christianity, all of Christianity, can come to this Church, which is huge and beautiful and amazing, and soak it up. You can actually touch the wood they laid Jesus on to clean his wounds (although the Temple wasn’t built until 300AD, so one wonders where they might have gotten than wood slab from, but ANYWAY), and you can come into this incredibly holy space. I know Catholics have the Vatican, but this place is holy for anyone who loves Jesus. And that’s amazing. I, for the first time, wished that Judaism had something like that, somewhere old and beautiful and steeped in a rich history. Seeing someone else’s temple, so close to the place ours once was, made me feel that loss for the first time. I also understood better why the Wall, even though it was just a part of the foundation, is so sacred. It’s a reminder that we had this too, this imposing building with priceless history and holiness inside of it, and that we can’t forget that. We had a place, and this is marking it. I don’t think I really got that until I was inside what we don’t have.

But then I went to the Wall. As we stood on the steps overlooking it, Amy said: “I’m underwhelmed.” And I pretty much agreed with her. First, and most importantly, men and women are not allowed to pray at the wall together. There are separate sides, and the women’s side is about 1/5 of the Wall, and the men have the rest. A boy will get Bar Mitzved at the wall, and his mother will have to stand on the other side of the divider, on a plastic deck chair, to look over and watch her son become a man. Women also aren’t allowed to wear a tallis, the prayer shawl you are supposed to wear when you pray, at the Wall. Amy told me you can be arrested for wearing it. To put that in perspective for you, just a few nights before, I was downstairs in Apartment 1, and Nate came in to ask Dante to show him how to put on his tallis because he will be wearing it at his wedding. Dante and Hannah both went and got their tallises to show him. Hannah got hers at her Bat Mitzve, and she said that putting it on the first time was more meaningful than the actual torah reading. Why the hell should Nate get to wear that, something he had never worn before, at the Wall, and Hannah, or a female rabbi who has dedicated her life to Torah and Talmud, not get to? I have always believed that Judaism is supposed to be about justice, about giving, about doing what is right even when it hard, about remembering past suffering and lifting the burden of enslavement and injustice from our future generations. So where the hell does this fit in? Why can’t I pray with the men, why couldn’t Amy bring her tallis to the wall, why the hell is Judaism still promoting this injustice? And where the hell does Judaism get off telling the Muslim world that it is backwards for it’s treatment of women when it is legally enforcing gender discrimination at its most holy site?

We went up to the Wall, and we weren’t allowed to write because it was Shabbat so I didn’t leave a note, but I put my hand on it and wished for peace. There were women around me praying and crying, or just sitting and looking. No one was talking. I was more moved by how moved they were, I guess.

After the Wall, I realized that I don’t want there to be a Jewish temple, not right now. I don’t think we’re ready for it. If there were one, who would get to pray in it? Orthodox men only? Black hats only? Would there be places women couldn’t enter? Could Amy wear her tallis in it? Judaism is so incredibly divided without this space; I can’t even imagine the fighting that would ensue if the Temple were actually built. I wouldn’t want there to be a Jewish temple that I felt uncomfortable in, but at this point, I feel like no one would be comfortable in it. No one is willing to compromise on anything, and there is so much Jew-on-Jew hatred and oppression and prejudice here, it is overwhelming. As long as I, a Secular woman, would be prohibited from wearing tallis to the wall, we aren’t ready for any Temple. We aren’t ready for any messiah or any saving, and I sort of wonder if we’re ready for Jerusalem at all.

But, good thing my morose mood was lifted, because on Sunday we went to THE TIME ELEVATOR, which is a virtual tour of the history of Jerusalem. It is inside a theater, and the seats move just like on those space rides at Disneyland that make my mom motion sick. There was a seat belt and everything! And it is simultaneously broadcast in 6 languages, so everyone is wearing headphones. It was AMAZING. It was probably the creepiest thing I have ever seen, one of the most right-wing things I have ever seen, with some of the worst acting I have ever seen, but it was worth every single sheckle. They sprayed us with water and smoke, and told us “everything” that had ever happened in Jerusalem, until 1967, of course. There was strangely quite a bit of reverence for Christianity, and they didn’t even talk that much shit about Muslims, so that was a pleasant surprise. They also used the word “peace” to mean “undisputed Jewish control of Jerusalem,” which was unsurprising. It was also narrated by the guy who played Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” which made it a thousand times better. All in all, it was kind of the best half hour of my life.


  1. Awesome post. I think the separation of men and women at the Wall is ridiculous.

  2. Which Tevye? The one from the movie version? (Let's see, that was Topol, no?)
    Very interesting post. You're right about not having THE temple. Judaism really isn't monolithic enough for that; there would be tons of in-fighting and endless debate. It is maddening that the super-orthodox minority gets so much control. Oy.

  3. I think many (all) of my Orthodox women friends would be baffled by your calling them oppressed and the separation an "injustice."