Part IV: The soldiers

June 30, 2017 at 4:55 pm (Uncategorized)

It seems to the outside observer that there are many layers of law enforcement within Israeli society. Perhaps there are myriad, or perhaps the armed folks all make up the same agency but with different levels of security clearance or arms-bearing rights.

There are the young soldiers dressed in olive-green, armed with assault rifles that they wear seemingly very casually slung behind their backs. Their pants always are tucked into boots. Frankly, I find that look very cool. Most of the soldiers we saw also had ear buds stuck in their ears. What were they listening to? Messages from central command? Rather, it likely was Katy Perry. There also are uniformed police officers, in blue, similarly armed (minus the ear buds), but also with what look like glocks holstered on their right hips. And they wear bullet-proof vests.

We also saw what looked to be plain-clothed men with those holstered glocks. (I didn’t observe women in that role.) The sun always shines, so they wear reflective sunglasses to keep out the rays. Or to keep one guessing as to where and at whom they’re looking.

Each of these folks described above – both the men and women – are the epitome of health and vibrancy and bad-assness. Bond, James Bond, has nothing on these warriors. And they are everywhere. Their presence at first really stunned me. Then, it made me feel very safe. As a white American Jew, that is.

Where I a Muslim spending time or living in the Muslim Quarter, however, I’d either feel under siege…or I’d have to learn to ignore the ubiquitous Israeli law-enforcement presence in and all around that small piece of real estate. I’m not making a political statement. Rather, I’m simply reporting what it looked like.

For example, one can freely enter and exit the Muslim Quarter. But to enter the Jewish Quarter, one goes through a metal detector station that includes machinery to check into bags’ contents and the scrutiny of a number of heavily armed Israeli officers. And when their shifts are over, they don’t casually clock out; rather, they appeared to come to and leave from their positions en masse. I’d tried to take a photo of them in action, but I never was quick enough to do so. I’m not exaggerating when I say that their movements appeared straight out of a shoot-‘em-up action thriller.

But I repeat: I felt so safe in Israel. Way more than I expected to. And more than the media made me believe I would. The armed-to-the-teeth, highly trained personnel there made me feel amazing to be a Jew; those folks have a singular goal: To protect every second of the day or night the right for their Jewish nation to exist and exist and exist.

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Part III: The Muslims

June 27, 2017 at 3:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Perhaps the most satisfactory part of our time in Israel – other than our fantastic time with the generous, hilarious, and simply fun Hagin-Metzer family – was Hayley’s recognition that it is a land of Jews and Muslims. (She understood beforehand there also are Christians there; as a group, though, they don’t distinguish themselves by their appearance, save for in the Armenian and Christian quarters of the Old City.)

Hayley had believed that only Jews lived within Israel and that Muslims lived everywhere outside the country’s borders. Yet every day of our trip she saw Jews and Muslims. Walking past one another. Doing business with one another. Eating in the same restaurants. Riding to work or school on the same above-ground subway/train.

There likely is a code of conduct among certain in the Muslim population and certain in the Jewish population; I’m not adept enough to have noticed or to have known in advance if this is the case. Did I see religious Jews and Muslims interacting? I don’t believe so. But since the secular Jews are everywhere, too, we saw plenty of Muslims and Jews side-by side, particularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Then, there’s the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. That is a universe unto itself. We’d first walked through it while on our guided tour of the Old City’s four quarters and their history. We then accidentally entered the Muslim Quarter on a second occasion, when on our own and when we’d wanted to access the Old City via Damascus Gate. I say “accidentally” because the girls really got ogled in that cramped quarter, and they understandably hated it and would have preferred avoiding it. Especially the part where they knew they were being catcalled…in a language we couldn’t make heads or tails of.

I had so badly wanted that the obvious ogling wouldn’t occur; I’d wanted them to experience the Muslim Quarter as I’d remembered it when a college kid: It seemed to me then as just another bustling place, like the main street of Ben Yehuda or the New City’s famous and awesome Mahane Market. It’s possible our experience was colored by our timing: We were there during Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar, when observant Muslims don’t eat a thing or drink a drop as long as there is light in the sky. In June, their days without sustenance were long. So, those poor folks were hangry to the extreme.

Perhaps as a result of it being Ramadan, the mornings in the Muslim Quarter – not long after their early morning meal – felt like jostling matches; they had energy. But by later in the day, as the heat swelled and afternoon prayers came on, the quarter was demonstrably calmer and less populated. Many shop owners stuck to the back of their narrow places of business, napping on carpets. Other proprietors hung limply near their wares.

Religious Muslim men seem to have it right in the clothing department. To the Westerner’s eye, they wear the equivalent of long-sleeved dresses; on their feet are sandals. The women, however, cover from head to toe; some wore the face veil, and some even wore gloves to conceal their hands. I truly cannot imagine wearing that level of clothing, particularly in the rising heat and while rubbing elbows with every passerby and being unable to drink water until sundown.

Twice in the Muslim Quarter we came across very heated arguments. Both appeared to be between shop owners trying to protect their own turf. Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages, thus guttural; when spoken in the midst of an argument, it seems the only thing we Westerners hear is the glottal fricatives, no vowels. So the shop owners’ arguments were very, very angry-sounding. More likely, they were hAngry-sounding. Regardless, their disputes clearly caught the attention of their fellow (probably bored) shop owners; the once-languid folks would get up and peak out of their stations to follow the drama.

Once we’d passed out of the Muslim Quarter, it felt like we’d left behind another world.

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Part II: Religious women

June 25, 2017 at 2:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

There are a number of ways the religious Jewish (married) women clothe themselves, but to my eye, the most evident way to tell apart certain groups of them is via their head coverings.

Their vestments are much less specific, with the exception that they are required to dress modestly. And by “modest,” that means their hair is covered, as is every inch of their bodies, too. Thus, at least slightly billowy dresses and skirts are the order of the day, as well as long sleeves, of course. Shoe wear varies; some wear slightly funky clog-ish items on their dogs; others wear the female equivalent of the Hasids’ tennies.

Again, it’s the headwear that distinguishes them, one from the other. (“Where’s the Religious Woman?” series would not be a success.)

Some of these women wear wigs. These human-hair items often are placed ever-so-slightly askew, such that they indeed look like wigs. For example, their parts are just too-too perfect. Their bangs don’t blow in a stiff wind.

Others wear turbans, in varying hues and they look to be silk. As opposed to Indian turbans that go wide, these go high.

Still others wear simply gorgeous wraps. They make it look like they have gracefully and artfully hidden within their many-colored wraps Rapunzel’s hair itself. And they may have. The religious teenage girls and young women who aren’t yet married wear their hair very long; it would take a lot of practice and long bolts of fabric to gather up all that hair to hide from the world outside the home.

    

“Be fruitful and multiply” is a Biblical phrase these folks take very seriously. Most of the younger (and some not very young anymore) religious women we saw were either pregnant, or pushing a stroller, or pregnant and pushing a stroller, or pregnant, pushing a stroller, and herding a gaggle of small children, or wearing babies in front packs while holding the hands of toddlers, or… you get it.

 

 

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The people of Jerusalem (and elsewhere) Part I: The Hasids

June 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been working through in my mind a new genre of the “Where Is?” books. The most famous of this genre is “Where’s Waldo?” where the astute observer tries to pick out the wiry, dorky guy in a horizontal red-and-white striped shirt, white ski cap, big round glasses, and blue pants from a sea of myriad objects and people, all of which and whom are similarly colored or attired. Waldo himself is at a packed beach, or at a busy train station, or in a park full of picnickers, or… For the uninitiated, you get it.

My new concept is “Where’s the Hasid?”

I once was in Jerusalem before this trip. I was 21. That was 24 years ago. I’d come for four days from Toulouse, France, where I was studying abroad, to visit my UCSB friends who were spending the year at Hebrew University. It is not precious to say the world was a different place then. It was. And much has changed for me in the nearly quarter century since I first got to dip my toe in the Middle East. Including my memory.

For example, I hadn’t recalled that the religious also are everywhere outside Jerusalem’s neighborhood specific to the ultra-Orthodox, the Mea She’arim, through which I’d taken a brief walk.

(Nor had I been aware of how religious Jewish women dress. I’m so much smarter now! But I’ll talk about them later.)

Men in the Hasidic community hit a certain (middle) age and then – poof! – morph into the same religious man. So you can imagine how one even slightly differently attired would be hard to find in a crowd.

Here’s how they all seem to look, from the top down:

Big black hat. The girls have been referring to these alternately as “cowboy hats” and “Lincoln’s hat.” Neither is an apt description. The round, flat-across-the-top hat is worn tilted slightly forward, revealing the bottom crescent of a black kippah (skull cap), seemingly well-secured to the back of the head.

Thick, gray beard. Worn long and fairly askew. Side curls, which fairly cover the ears, are called payot or paies. They’re a little scraggly.

Boxy black outer layer. Hayley is calling it a trench coat. It is decidedly not a trench coat. It’s like a robe. But not made of terry cloth. It’s like a jacket. But it’s not. They go down past the derriere and have the option of being cinched at the “waist.” That word is in air quotes because these portly men no longer have “waists”; many, thus, don’t bother to cinch their overcoat, so the tie just hangs limply. (Perhaps like another undergarment. …)

Four sets of white strings swish beneath the coat, over the tops of the black pant legs. These are tzitzit and are part of a white undergarment stating these folks’ religiosity. The modern Orthodox (men) wear them, too. But over jeans. Not black slacks over indeterminate waistlines.

Black slacks. I’ve already lambasted them enough, but I’ll add their bottom cuffs tend to be frayed.

Tennis shoes. Black. Not Nikes. That’s probably why the pants’ cuffs are so frayed.

Plastic bags. I don’t believe one must be religious to carry a plastic bag, nor must the religious carry one – or many – to demonstrate their belief in HaShem. But, just like Waldo wears glasses (and any schmoe – religious or not – can don glasses), the Hasids seems to have plastic bags tightly secured to the wrist opposite the hand carrying a cell phone or miniscule prayer book. What’s in those plastic bags? I haven’t been able to figure that one out. I don’t imagine they do the family grocery shopping; that’s for the wives to take care of. I also don’t believe they carry their tallit (prayer shawl) in them, for those have their own special bags. It’s likely they have their day’s lunch in them – prepared, of course, by the wife or an older daughter. Regardless, it’s clearly part of the uniform.

 

And these folks are everywhere. They dart onto and off of buses. They walk in a straight line with their heads buried in reading materials. (How do they do that?) They run across streets. They crisscross alleys. They stand in lines, prayer book in hand, like at the (heavily guarded) post office near our AirBnB. They scuttle out of tiny shops, carrying their plastic bags!

If I were of their movement, I’d want to live here, too. No one (save stupid American tourists) would stare and everyone can tell them apart instead of musing that their very existence should be a fun new “Where Is?” book series.

But I do enjoy having a waistline, so I guess I won’t make Jerusalem my home.

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