It was a brisk Shabbes mid-morning when I traipsed down to the Jaffa gate to meet Corinna, Debbie, Gavin, and Paola, my friends from Hebrew University, to do some Christmas shopping in the Arab quarter of the Old City. We first found a restaurant on a side street that was blaring American oldies music, and sat down to a not-very-good meal, joked with the waitor, and swapped stories. We then proceeded through the narrow stone streets to look at icons, Christmas cards, plants, and candles. We wandered into a store selling festive table runners and were greeted by a giant saxaphone playing plastic Santa Claus, with which we of course posed for photos. The very nice lady at the store suggested that we go to the bazaar being held in a nearby clinic, the proceeds of which are going to a charity to give healthcare and food to poor Arab families. The women at the bazaar were very pleased to see us (especially Paola, who speaks Arabic), and we were excited to be there as they were selling familiar Christmas ornaments; wreaths, ribbons, snowmen printed on paper napkins, etc. They were also selling non-Christmas items, so I picked up some zaatar and a plastic plant. We each sampled some excellent quince jam, and made quite a few purchases. We continued on our way through stall after stall of brightly colored clothing, religious souvenirs of all sorts, fruit, vegetable, and bread vendors, etc. Eventually, Debbie and Paola parted from us, and we went on to visit Matteo, our friend from ulpan who is, as you may recall from previous posts, a Francescan friar. (Have I written about him before?)
At the front gate to the Church of the Flagellation, we asked the gatekeeper to call in and tell Matteo that his friends were here to visit. We were shown in to a room marked "private," where we sat on old couches in a somewhat stark, stone parlor, to wait for Matteo to meet us. He was very pleased to see us, and we visited for a very long time. He took us inside to what I suppose is the friars' living room - a large room full of sofas and chairs, with today's newspapers sprawled accross the coffee tables, and religious parephenalia behind glass cases on the walls. While Matteo went to fetch us some soda, Gavin peeked through a glass case to gawk at an illuminated manuscript, and I stood in front of a case containing a Torah and a scroll in Phoenician characters. When Matteo returned we sat and chatted for a while, mostly about our lives, our families, etc. After quite a while in that room, we went up to the roof to enjoy the terrific view of the old city and really all of Jerusalem. We could see Hebrew University, the Brigham Young campus, countless churches, mosques, and synagogues, and in the foreground we could see the Dome of the Rock quite closeby. On the roof we discussed religion, and when Matteo saw one of his instructors below, he called down and introduced us by saying that we were having a meeting of the religions: Jewish, Baptist, and Catholic. It was a bit chilly on the roof, so we went downstairs where Matteo showed us the classroom where he studies (he is writing his dissertation on the meaning of the word "fulfilled" in the Gospel According to Matthew when Jesus says that he has not come to negate the commandments of the Torah, but to fulfill them. Before we left, Matteo showed us the chapels at the Church (the parts that are open to the public), saying that he didn't want us to have come to the Church of the Flagellation without seeing what there is to see there. He explained to us that the place where the church is built is now known not to have been the historical site of the flagellation, as the stones have Roman games carved in to them that date to after 135 CE. The chapels were nevertheless quite interesting, and the stained glass windows fabulous. Matteo says that the preists celebrate mass twice a day, morning and evening, and he pointed to the window of a smaller chapel where the priests can go to celebrate mass if for some reason they missed the early morning mass (6:30 AM). We left with warm regards and promises of another visit soon.
It was a lovely Shabbat - how was yours?