It is an amazing thing to be so secure in your faith that you can open yourself up to another religion and simply enjoy it's beauty and complexity. That is how I would describe my relationship with Islam and the Muslim people. Muslims, our cousins in both language and faith, have fascinated me ever since my obsession with Arabic began. They have such a beautiful and vibrant culture, and it is such a shame that because of the ideologies of fanatics (which every religion has), the Muslim people are seen as a people of violence, terrorism, corruption, and murder.
In my experience, this Muslim stereotype could not be farther from the truth. The Arabs here are so kind, welcoming, and simply love to show you how hospitable they are (especially when you show them that you have even the slightest of interest in their world). As I wrote in the previous post, I met a man named Mouhi on my tour of Jerusalem and gave him my phone number so we could practice Arabic. He has called a few times but I have been unavailable, and finally tonight we connected, and it turns out he just called to see how I was doing, and to tell me that whenever I am in Jerusalem to call him and he would meet me on Ben Yahuda street for coffee and Arabic practice. He was just some random stranger who I think will become a very dear friend and wonderful tutor. I would never let my love for this language or religion blind me to the harsh realities that I face both as a woman and as a Jew, but I like to think I have very good judgment, so in certain situations I will always feel it is ok to be-friend Palestinians and open myself up to experiencing their ways of life.
I had just such an opportunity tonight. Through my Master's program I learned that Gamiya Al-Quds (University of Jerusalem) was hosting a Sufi Iftar (meal to break the fast of Ramadan) night in the Old City. Wanting so desperately to go, I convinced my friend Susanna to make the trip to Jerusalem with me so that we could go experience something that neither of us have ever done before. Susanna is like me in the sense that we never need an excuse to go into Jerusalem, so I knew she wouldn't mind the journey! Around 5:45 we hopped on a Sherut (shared taxi) and I was on my way back to the Old City.
When we arrived in Jerusalem we entered the Old City from a new gate; Damascus Gate, the gate to the Muslim quarter. As we were walking along to outside of the Old City to get to Bab Il-3amud (Damascus Gate) we could see many families sitting on the grass outside of the Old City with their picnic blankets and food, getting ready to break the fast of Ramadan for the day. We heard the call to prayer ring out and then everyone started eating. When we entered the Old City through the Muslim quarter it was like stepping into a different world. First of all there were hardly any people in the streets; all of the men were in their closed shops breaking the fast with one another. As we progressed deeper in the Muslim Quarter we finally came to the entrance to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock (this is where the University is located). It is an amazing feeling to stand so close to the Temple Mount!
We went inside the University, paid the "donation" fee, and entered this outside patio where tables and chairs were set up. We were invited to sit at a table up front and close to where the Sufi's would be performing, and we broke the fast in the traditional Muslim style; with dates and soup! The dates were so sweet and delicious, the soup was a kind of lentil, and then we were served chicken and spiced rice. Maybe 10 minutes after we sat down the Sufi's started chanting from the Quran. It was simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard; I could have listened to it all day. When the chanting was over, they started performing and singing, and Susanna and I just wanted to get up and dance. She left for a few minutes, and I got to know one of the men sitting with me at the table. He is an older man from the USA who is an orthodox Jew studying the Quran. It was very interesting talking to him. He asked me what I was doing in Israel, where I was from, and then when I told him I too was Jewish, he couldn't believe it. He looked very confused. He immediately asked me my origins, and when I said I was Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern Europe), he was floored. First, he was sure I was Jordanian, second, when I said I was Jewish he was expecting me to say I was Sephardi (Jews from Spain, India, South America, and the Arab nations). Throughout the night, every time he saw me, he would say "really? You're really Ashkenazi?" He didn't know this, but I actually take that as a huge compliment!
Anyways, Susanna and I enjoyed the music and food for about 2 hours or so, and then we decided to head back home. It was such a phenomenal experience partaking in this tradition and experiencing a new religion and culture. I felt so excited and refreshed upon leaving. We exited the university, walked about 20-30 steps and found ourselves at the Kotel! This is how close everything is in the Old City. One minute we are in the heart of the Muslim quarter, and a few steps later we are in the heart of the Jewish quarter. As I was walking through the square that houses the Kotel I truly felt spiritually overloaded (in a good way), and tonight confirmed that I really do have an Arab heart and a Jewish soul (as it has been said)! When we left the Old City I caught a sherut and was once again on my way back to Tel Aviv.
I have had two amazing days in Jerusalem, and now I'm looking forward to using tomorrow to catch up on sleep and go to the beach! When I first came to Israel I could pull off being Syrian. A few weeks later I could pull off Lebanese. Tonight, according to Baruch (the man sitting at our table), I looked Jordanian. I think a few more trips to the beach and I'll be dark enough to be Egyptian :-)
Lilah Tov Chaverim Sheli <3 I miss you all very much,