Tuesday, June 23, 2009

a brief summary of activities

It's been a while since my last post so I decided to update you on some of my activities in my last few weeks in Jerusalem.

First of all, some of you may have been reading that tensions between secular and Orthodox Jerusalemites have been running high recently because of a debate over a parking lot. Early in the month, the Jerusalem municipality announced that they would keep a parking lot open on Shabbat to alleviate the parking shortage for tourists wanting to go to the Old City. The lot would be manned by non-Jews to avoid breaking halacha in keeping the lot open. On June 6 (a Saturday), thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews from the neighborhood of Mea Shearim held a violent demonstration against the opening of the parking lot, which they feel is a desecration of the holy day. They threw rocks and dirty diapers at policemen and set fire to dumpsters in order to protest the opening of a municipally-owned parking lot in Safra square, near the Old City, on Shabbat. Officers on mounted horses pushed the protestors from the parking lot back toward their neighborhood in a tussle that lasted the whole day. Police did not make any arrests on Shabbat itself, but after 8:30 pm they arrested several protestors. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, promised not to open the parking lot for two weeks, folliwng the recommendation of police, in order that some solution could be reached. Many secular Jerusalemites see Barkat as caving in to the ultra-Orthodox population by listening to the radical and extralegal voices of a belligerant minority. On June 13, hundreds of secular protestors gathered at the city hall in order to protest Barkat's decision to keep the parking lot closed while he negotiates with Orthodox leaders. I haven't read of any compromise being reached yet, so I imagine that this weekend might see a resurgence of protests. While I haven't seen or participated in the protests, they are certainly in the air here in J-lem!

Things are winding down for me - I have only a few more days of class and a few more assignments to complete, and then I'll be flying out of Tel Aviv in about a week!

Last Tuesday I had the Katzes (the neighbors) over for dinner. They gave me a parting gift - a necklace that their daughter (who makes silver jewlery) made - it's a small magen David with a purple gem at its center, and they wrote me a short poem wishing me well, which they read to me proudly. After they left I pulled out my Hebrew English dictionary to be sure I'd understood it completely. The Katzes are warm and patient people and I am continually surprised by their willingness to talk to me even though my Hebrew is far from fluent. We talked about religion, about education, and about History. They told me stories about their pet turtle and their family. It was very pleasant.

On Friday night I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services with my friend Amy in a little one-room prayer space near Betzalel Road. A sheet hanging in the center of the room served as a mechitza, and though the space was evenly divided between men and women, it was a small and crowded space nonetheless. The leader was modest, offering only a few words of reflection before diving headlong into prayer. His voice was smooth and soft but he prayed with intensity, banging his fists on the table and rocking back and forth, facing the ark. The prayer moved fluidly from one tune to another, slow and fast, sad and happy, and in the womens section, pressed against one another, we rocked back and forth, closed our eyes, tapped our feet, at one point we put down our prayerbooks and danced. Something about the closeness of the situation, the familiarity of the words, the evocative tunes, the modest leader, the noise level of the music such that you could stop hearing yourself sing and become one piece of a larger organ... it was all very moving. As we walked home to Amy's apartment for dinner, we asked ourselves how that energy could be brought to liberal congregations in the US - it isn't an easy question.

On Saturday morning I headed to the beach in Tel Aviv with a group of friends from the University. In Tel Aviv the stores are open, the beach is full of loungers, and everyone is scantily clad and darkly tanned. Though we were stung by jellyfish when bathing in the warm water, we had a terrific time basking in the 90 degree weather, with plenty of sunscreen of course.

Otherwise I've been working on papers, reading books (I just finished The Rise of David Levinsky, which was terrific) and winding down. Today is my last day in Gan Pashosh (the younger class) and Thursday will be my last day in Gan Dror (the older class). On Friday I'm having a lot of folks over for dinner, and on Saturday I have an aliyah at Har El. In the afternoon on Saturday the Katzes are taking me on a small tiyyul, about which I am very excited.

The other thing I am very much looking forward to is the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance march on Thursday - I can't wait to go and I'll be sure to take pictures! The assembly meets at 4pm at Liberty Bell park, the march starts at 5pm, and ends with a rally at the park at 6pm. In the past these parades have met with a lot of opposition, and I am so thrilled that one of my last experiences here will be to walk alongside the brave men and women who proudly maintain gay identities under what I can only assume are very difficult circumstances.

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