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Hangover. Today is 12/20/09 in Jerusalem.

In honor of Shabbat I did not turn on my electronics. No posts to the daily log, no cameras since Friday morning. It is Sunday. I am plugged in again.

I have a hangover – little sleep, too much Vodka.

How did I get to this?

Friday was a simple day with my emphasis being on Shabbat (or Shabbos – Ashkenazi), knowing that at sundown Shabbat would start and I would not use the cameras.

It is raining out – I stay in and write. Sounds like I write a lot, but I am a slow typist and so more time is psent looking for letters than writing.

1:30pm leave for Ha Kotel. Place my families prayers in the wall and pray.

The place is sparse. I await the lighting of the Menoreh and take a few photos.

_MG_3983prayerMenorehThe lighting is scheduled for 3:30 but does not get underway until almost 4:15. This is controversial as it is sundown about… meaning Shabbat starts and no electronics at the Kotel. I am standing to the right of the Menoreh so I can take a shot of the eighth cndle being lit when I am loudly and directly told by an official, “NO PHOTOS!” I look around and others have their pocket cameras out and I say, “waht about them?” and he starts shouting at them as well since his feeling is that Shabbat has officially started (but the candles are not yest lit and lighting them is where the controversy begins if it is actually Shabbat – they are late in the lighting and some would say it is now against Shabbat to light the candles…). Others there are telling me to shoot shoot… I say to the official that Shabbat is not yet officially started as the sun is still up…. That does not go over well. I am told that my camera will be broken if I persist…so I lower the camera… shoot from the chest, while others are yelling for me to take picures still. What compelled me to turn around and ask the crowd if I should take pictures is beyond me. But I did. and it was mixed.

In the end when the official had gone, I was brought up close to take a couple photos of people standing at the Menorah… What a scene. I put the cameras away and that was it for Shabbat officially started.

Hundreds of men pour into the Kotel plaza and form minions (10 or more in a group to pray). Prayers start and singing of prayers of all kinds fills the air. I just stand in the midst with eyes closed absorbing the sensation of worship at the Wall.

After an hour or so I find Gil and head with him to a Shabbos dinner at his place where he has prepared a meal for himself and eight guests (in a sense, he will be the single candle that lights the other eight – a reflection of the Hannukah Menorah).

At the dinner Gil points out that there are rules to this time at his table – there will be NO small talk, and only one person is allowed to speak at a time, to ask him a question (life, death, Torah, etc) – this evening is going to be a teaching oportunity at teh foot of a learned man. And so the evening starts with Gil proclaiming “everything has a purpose – ask why? Why two loafs of bread, why tap it tree times in salt? Why do we do this or that and we begin with Gil making a fast pace ending each answer with, “next question”.

God is One – Infinite vs Finite & Universe and Infinite, Rachel and Leah, Adam and sin, reincarnation – reincarnation in Judaism vs Eastern reincarnation, Free Will, the masks of the Creator – our unknowing of our true selves…Gil’s book….the law, and the joy of getting to practice it is like being asked to kiss your betrothed… it is a joy, and a desire for pleasing, not an obligation…

Eventually we are ushered out and Gil asks me to keep in touch. I will.

The three young female Yeshiva students guide me to the Jaffa gate so I can make my way back to the Mount of Olives. We talk a bit about the evening and they finally ask me why a Jew is photographing Christian Churches. I tell them why and that i am a Christian.

Saying this here in Jerusalem to a Jew is a repellent like two magnets. I have learned to be quick with the fact that i am not here to convert which is what the first thought is from missionaries. The great complaint is that Christians always try to change everyone and don’t really care about anything but themselves…

One of the girls asks with a terseness how can God split himself into three? I replied it as a mystery to us all but that a way to understand is to think of aspects of ourselves… like loving God with all our heart our mind and our soul…three distinct but all one to our essence. Then another girl asked why three and not five or ten…. and I said that i did not know, but it is a perfect number, and wasn’t it interesting that so much of the Shabbos meal was done in threes, and that Gil’s answer to why do we do things in threes was because it shows ‘intention’? Not much of an answer.

We got to the corner of our parting and i bid them all a good night and thanked them for their company at tonight’s meal at Gil’s.

As I walked to my room I thought about a goof I made at Gil’s when I used his bathroom; I turned out the light when I was done. I felt bad because now Gil had to deal with a dark bathroom not being able to turn the light on due to the Shabbat.

It was an interesting night.

******

Following Shabbot morning : breakfast and I am out to find Chabad of the Old City on Khabad Street – the oldest surviving temple in Jerusalem where I will spend the day with my Hassidic friends.

On the way I am lost and ask directions. One Jew does not know – he is from America and just arrived but he tells me this guy might know. SO I am following this man all over at a brisk pace down back allies and I know we are in the wrong direction. He finally stops and tells me we are here in the Jewish quarter – and wants money for taking me here. I tell him that this is not what I am looking for and he is insistent on being given something – I end up giving him 5 Shekel. He wants more and I refuse saying, “I thought you wanted to help me from the kindness of your heart” – he says fine and walks away. As I walk around the corner I see I am just below where I was and where I needed to actually be (I was only a few doors from my destination before the con). I work my way up when I run into the con artist. I stop him and say, ” Hey – you did not take me anywhere I wanted to go, give me my money back” – and he did – he was quick to pull out the 5 Shekel coin._MG_3946Yehudah

At Chabad, I poked my head into the door to see a packed room of men in prayer shawls reading studying – following a cantor singing from Genesis the story of Joseph and Eqypt and his brother Benjamin. I am greeted at the door with a big hug from Rabbi Shmuli and pulled in and sat down next to ben Yehudah (who I had photographed the day before at the Wall and recognized him by his red hair).

I am given a book in English to follow along. Phot Op? Was I jonsing for my cameras? I was told, I would not be allowed to take photos because I am a Jew – had I not been… I could. Well, that did not make me feel any better and I asked if I could maybe arrange something for another time.

After the study and the Torah being put away, there is a meal in the other room – the elders each speak – the light streams in from behind these men igniting their beards to white light while the white tables bounce light back into their faces for a most amazing photographic image (that I will never take) and i sit there ‘jonesing’ like an addict in front of the most pure heroine. One of the men laughs and tells me God wants me present. The Vodka is being poured each time as a l’chaim! There is a lot of l’chaim-ing going on.

I meet Rabbi Shmuli’s Father in Law, a photographer who has taken over 90,000 photos mostly the life at Ha Kotel (6 hours a day). We talk – he is one of the elders. I meet Sander and Josh – we all end up at Yehudah’s house for Shabbos dinner. It is a much different scene than at Gil’s.

I am constantly asked for my Hebrew name, to which I say I haven’t one (to my knowledge). At the table Yehudah tells me I can choose my own Hebrew name. So I do.

Jeffrey means ‘God’s Peace’ – I carry that to Hebrew and have, ‘Shalom’. I am Shalom. The group likes it and finds it appropriate – l’chaim. I am introduced to the table by Yehudah as Shalom.

There is more l’chaim! And then it is time to go.

Sender and I head to his place so I can meet Belle – we take a taxi to Bethlehem. We have a good night of talking and the Christianity comes up to which I am told I am the product of misseducation. But it is all peaceful and I am invited to teh Dead Sea with them the next day.

Sender drives me back to Mount of Olives after midnight in his old Subaru Brat. Sender is 70 years old and looks like Charlton Heston as Moses.

And I am still feeling l’chaim!

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5 Comments

  1. Posted December 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I know the Jews are sensitive to Christian missionaries… who can blame them? Yet how ironic that in their suspicion of you, they still take their own apologetic to evangelize you, point out your miseducation and irrational threenesses… might be bold to bring up, but I’m curious how some would take it.

    Thanks for painting the Shabbos reading with words. Interesting that the memory is allowed to record what the camera isn’t… with probably more effort. So it goes with Sabbath laws. I’m surprised the official at the Wall was threatening to break your camera on Sabbath! Is breaking cameras allowed? I digress.

    Lovely that you’re connecting with so many people… like a reporter, but a sacred one.

  2. Posted December 20, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I know Dale, it is how it is with anyone holding the “truth” – defending that belief is part of the territory. The odd thing here is that I do not bring up my faith. My faith is quiet in me (in display or in conversation, I do not make it a point) as I am here to see life here, not overlay my life on anyone or anything. So when these reactions occur by my mention of my practice of faith as ‘information’ answering a question, it is met with a flinch as a dog who has been beaten before might flinch when you raise your hand to scratch your face. We all have a long way to go on this spiritual journey to loving one another in that spiritual level of recognition (as souls and children of the almighty – as is said here, there is only one Jew…similar in its closed context, that idea of oneness).

  3. Rita
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t heard from you lately. Are you still feeling “l’chaim”?!! I hope that you are doing great. Your journey in Israel is really incredible with all the people that you are meeting and especially the way you are guided towards those encounters.
    I’m also sure that you will have a lot of photos to share with us all.
    Looking forward to hear about your last adventures!

  4. Donna
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Jeff,
    I feel as if I am reading a great book reading about your journey. I can’t wait to read more……. Merry Christmas my dear friend, it is Christmas Eve right now.
    With love and hugs, Donna

  5. Posted December 25, 2009 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Hi Rita, The internet connection here has been down the past several days – it just came back.. I will try and catch up.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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