Jaffa Gate, where Jerusalem’s Old meets New

Jaffa Gate,

You are an iconic meeting point in Jerusalem. Of histories, peoples, religions, locals, tourists, pilgrims, empires, old and new.

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You are one of the eight gates of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. You were built in the years 1535-1538.

When people walk into the Old City through you, they can turn left to the Christian Quarter, go straight to the Muslim Quarter or turn right to the Armenian Quarter. If they follow past the Armenian Quarter, they will reach the Jewish Quarter.

Emperor Suleiman
Emperor Suleiman

You are very well known. You are one of the main entrances people use on their pilgrimages to the Old City. As part of the Old City walls, you’re familiar with Sultan Suleiman, the man who thought you up. Legend says he had your planners killed because they didn’t include the City of David (the actual biblical city of Jerusalem) in the walls. They are buried right beside you. Charming fellow, he was.

You saw when a huge chunk of wall was broken down right next to you so that the German emperor could enter on horseback in 1898. Silliness indeed.

You’ve seen wars. Most recently, Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 which saw all Jews kicked out of the Old City and the Six-Day War of 1967 which saw the place inside your walls made into a space where all religions can practice.

For hundreds of years you’ve watched millions of pilgrims from all over the world, passing through you on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the Western Wall, to the Dome of the Rock.

For hundreds of years you’ve watched locals sell snacks, tours and souvenirs to these people.

You’ve seen oh so much construction. You went up in the 1500s. The Ottomans built a clock tower right on top of you in 1907. That came down. In 1912 the Bezalel art school built a pavilion next to you to sell art. That was brought down a few years later too. People put up little shops along the walls. Those were removed in order to preserve the walls’ original look. Most recently, the square on your outside has become large and beautiful and the walls have been fixed up.

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And the traffic has been redirected under a tunnel instead of right next to you as it used to be.

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Jaffa Gate, from the mid-1800s, Jerusalem began overflowing outside of the Old City walls and today it spans many times bigger than it ever was. From where you stand you’ve watched it happen and where you stand, you will always remain one of the main thoroughfares from the New City into the beloved old one.

Yes, you are indeed an iconic meeting point. You are beautiful and you’ve seen it all. If only gates to talk…

This post is in reply to wp.com’s weekly writing challenge.

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Suspicious if people are interested in converting

It’s funny… If someone were to come to a Christian and say, I’d like to get to know Christianity since I’m considering converting to the Christian faith, the believer would be pretty happy to go along with it.

But when a non-Jew says the same to a Jew about converting to Judaism, the natural (or conditioned) response is suspicion.

Oh yeah? Well, what IS your type?

It’s funny how some people when we first meet them, we have this gut feeling that they’re just not our type. Especially when looking for a life partner, when you meet someone, you have a first instinct of, is there potential of my feelings to develop for this person?

I know a couple who, when they first met, they both felt that the other was not their type at all. They are, thank God, happily married. It was a process of working past that and seeing each other for who they really are.

So that problem exists when we meet someone for the first time. We have to remind ourselves constantly that we don’t really know and sometimes our understanding of a person changes.

But then there is another problem. People who never even meet because it supposedly could never work.

We think so much about details today while dating. And so many of these details seem so important! One person wants to move to Israel, the other doesn’t. Sounds like it couldn’t work, right? Well, that is where my parents were at when they met. My dad hoped to move to Israel and my mother couldn’t imagine moving to Israel and leaving all her family in Toronto. I actually have an unprovable theory that my parents would never have gotten married if they were dating today. And yes, that would have been a very bad thing.

Especially in the more religious world, there is a very strong focus on religiosity. Where am I religiously and where it the other person?

It seems like such a legitimate thing to think about. You want to live a certain type of life, religiously. You imagine a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of structure. You imagine raising your kids in a certain environment. Totally legitimate, no?

Well, maybe not. Maybe there is too much focus on this and we freak ourselves out and drive ourselves crazy trying to imagine this home and figure out which human being will fit into the picture perfectly.

Yeah, like that’s gonna work.

I think that maybe our acceptance of the other person isn’t wide enough. And we aren’t cognizant of the fact that people change. You hear that? People change. People develop, go backwards, go through good times and bad times, feel differently, believe in different things… People change. And maybe more importantly than, does the girl plan to cover every strand of hair or leave some hair out, or how big is the guy’s kippah (I said kippah), is, do I feel good with this person?

Someone once said to me that a good way to think when you’re with a person is not, “How do I feel about this person?” but, “How do I feel about myself when I’m with this person?” For some reason that thinking takes so much pressure off and I really believe it’s wise.

How do I feel when I’m with this person? Does he make me feel good about myself or maybe low? Low is bad, fyi. : ) But seriously, a couple will always have differences and the necessity to compromise but if you have the beginning foundation of respect for each other and just enjoying each other’s company, maybe that is a perfect place from which to start a relationship.

Does that make sense?

The most important moment of the week

I heard a talk a while ago around the idea that Judaism is a religion where time is the most important thing. Now someone just told me he heard a talk where the rabbi said that the most important moment of the week is the moment when we go from week day into Shabbat. Our lives, potentially, revolve around that moment. We rush all week, maybe especially right before Shabbat, then we light the candles and *poof*, we’re in a new realm of existence. Not that anything really changed but it did.

When this guy shared that idea with me, I said that it almost made me feel like fully keeping Shabbat again. : ) It seems so powerful, almost like it reminds us that we have the power. We think that life is just pushing us along but we choose to stop it all. Of course we could choose not to and of course some people don’t even feel that they are choosing to keep Shabbat, but if you can feel that you’re choosing to keep it – I mean seriously, you don’t have to, right? – then you can experience freedom through this.

And is freedom not what we all want? True freedom?

Being Jewish is too much work

What an appropriate search for Yom Kippur. Someone googled “being Jewish is too much work” and found Blog Midrash. I’m proud that Blog Midrash came up in that search. Funny.

But it’s a good question. Is being Jewish too much work?

Is this a Jewish country, or what?

I’m sitting in my new writing corner in my parents’ home, listening to the Shabbat begin. What does that sound like in Jerusalem? Less traffic, a quiet calm as people finish up their preparations, some sounds of kids interacting and, of course, the siren.

Have you all heard the siren that sounds at the time of candle lighting? I assume this happens in all cities in Israel but I definitely know that it happens here in Jerusalem.

The funny/weird/freaky thing is that we use the same siren to announce the descent of missiles (God forbid) as we do to announce the descent of the sun as Shabbat enters. It plays a different “tune” – during an attack the siren goes up and down and when Shabbat comes in it is just one flat note (like when the siren gives the all-clear signal) – but it’s the same one anyway.

I wonder what the story is behind that. Who thought of this and how did it come to be so accepted as a normal part of life here?

This city, Jerusalem, is so unbelievably hectic and loud and rambunctious, it almost makes no sense that right now, at this moment, it’s so calm. So calm, it’s like all week people run and rush and chase and now they say, “OK, good. All’s good.” Just like when God created the world and it says at the end of almost every day, “וירא ה’ כי טוב.” And God saw that it was good.

Very good.

Shabbat Shalom

The idea of Mashiach never sits right with me

I have never been able to figure out the whole idea of Mashiach (Messiah). It just doesn’t sit well with me at all. Who is this redeemer dude that we’re all waiting for? What is supposed to be so great about the time of Mashiach? I have always felt guilty to admit out loud that I do not hope for the time of the third beit hamikdash (temple). It just sounds stressful and, the worst part, it sounds like we lose our freedom.

People always talk about it like it’s a time when we all feel close to God, want to serve him, serve him with a whole heart, etc. etc. I’m claustrophobic just thinking about it.

How do you understand the whole Mashiach idea?

Netanyahu accentuated that Herzl was traditional

I just read such an interesting, informative, and even touching speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl’s Jewish identity.

It is quite worth while reading the whole speech. He speaks about how there is a widely accepted idea that Herzl, the father of Zionism, was an unaffiliated Jew. Netanyahu brings proof to show that this was not actually the case. Here is a touching quote from his speech:

While in Basel he wrote of the experience of being called to the Torah before the Congress in Basel. I will read to you what he wrote before the meeting of the First Zionist Congress: ‘Out of respect for my religion, on the Sabbath before the Congress I went to synagogue.  The head of the community called me to read from the Torah, and when I went to the podium I was more moved than on any of the days of the Congress.’  He adds, ‘The few words of blessing in Hebrew got caught in my throat from emotion, more than the opening speech and the closing speech or any of the discussions.'”

I must say that I find it quite intriguing and exciting that this is the topic on which Netanyahu chose to focus on Herzl Day this year. He mentions that he recently read an historical book about Herzl and so I’m sure there were plenty of potential topics there for this speech, and yet he felt it most important, for whatever reason, to bring up this topic.

It is true that even if a lie is repeated many many times, it is still a lie. So, I can see how this topic is important just for the fact that, apparently, there is a wide-spread misunderstanding about it. But besides that, why did Netanyahu choose this topic on which to focus?

You can read the speech here. Recommended.

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