The alarm goes off. The candles are lit. The sun sets. The Queen has arrived. It is Shabbat in Jerusalem.
I walk down the stone stairs, through the metal detectors, and: There are groups of all different sizes and people of all different shapes; there are faces of all different colors and tourists of all different nationalities; there are thoughts of all different textures and emotions of all different sorts; and there is The Wall.
With a few minutes left until the sun calls it a day, a lone man puts Teffilin on three familiar strangers. Sixty Chabad teenagers, a Safed summer camp spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, sit in full circle, singing classical and soulful Chabad Niggunim (songs). A beautiful L’cho Dodi melody can be heard from the left corner of The Wall, it is a group of Vishnitz Hassidim praying in the most surreal way, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of their souls. At the far right, near the Mechitza (partition between the male and female worshippers), with their hands interlocked, a mixed bunch of guys dance to a Carlebach tune – dreadlocks, side locks, and gunstocks, bounce in unison.
Friday night in the Old City of Jerusalem, there is nothing like it. Even the stones seem to be resting; and when everything is at rest, the pulse is felt. For those few hours at the Wall, there is peace – no pro this, no anti that, just peace.
However, at the Shabbat meal, it is anything but peaceful. The arguments and opinions concerning the situation in Gaza are as diverse as the dishes that adorn the table. A commander in the Nachal brigade of the IDF says, “We all have our part in ensuring Israel’s peace, and, if we do not meet our potential, we are just as guilty as Prime Minister Sharon”. “What would you do if ordered to expel Jews from their homes in Gaza?” asks a guest at the table. “I’ll worry about it when it happens”, replies the soldier. Another soldier, who has been in the army for eight months, says, “There is no way I’m going to Gaza to pull out my brothers, but I really don’t know what to do – I don’t want to get kicked out of the army”.
A man from New York, who has been in Gaza for the past three weeks, says, “Forget about the disengagement for a minute; until the residents of Gush Katif are forced from their homes, they are legitimate citizens of Israel, and, with an average of four rockets a day falling into their communities, they are entitled to protection from the government, which they do not receive. Israel’s response to thousands of rockets that have landed in Jewish settlements has been scarce.”
But let the truth be told, this Shabbat table saw only one side of the story – that of those who come to Shabbat tables. To find an alternative view, I ask some youngsters hanging out in the Russian Compound, where the bars are bouncing as if it were just another night, what they make of the whole thing. “Chabibi, ze lo echpat lee, buddy, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend, what else do I need?” An older, more sober, man tells me, “Listen, the Sharon plan makes sense: the Arabs are human, they want peace just like we do; but, in order for us to live in peace, we must make some concessions – give them homes and their own government to control them – and all will be good. Leaving Gaza will pave the way to peace.”
Throughout Shabbat, I cannot help but notice the contrasts of the Holy Land – on the one hand, it radiates a peace not felt anywhere else; on the other, only here can you know such chaos.
But, once again, the sun has set and the stars have come out – it is time for Havdala (separation of Shabbat and week). The cup is full with wine. The incense handed out. The candle burns bright. We are leaving the holy Shabbat for the mundane week.
E-mail the author at: Jakeyology@aol.com