Shabbat – Saturday June 18, 2011
Our arrival in Jerusalem ended our relative ‘isolation’ as a group of 20 missionaries. We have been joined by another 35 or so from Canada and a total of about 400 from around the world.
This makes for chaos on many, many levels. Mostly involving buses and tour group sizes. Our strategy continues to be based on a simple plan: Walk faster than the halt & the lame (they wobble and tend to fall into you) and avoid buses.
That’s relatively easy for us, mind you. The HUH brigade are having kniptions, however, as they aren’t able to keep us either together or even in sight or proximity. We’re spread out over 3 hotels with a whole swack of options available in the VERY thick guide we were handed along with our BOG registration materials (so far the swag has consisted of a laptop bag; two Hebrew U diaries and pens and logoed baseball caps; a perpetual calendar; and souvenir Hebrew U kippot).
We are very well located here at the David Citadel Hotel (motto: “It’ll cost you an arm and a leg to stay here so it will be very interesting to see how you do in our great swimming pool with only one arm & one leg”).
We had a short two blocks to walk this morning to get to Shabbat morning services at the Conservative synagogue in central Jerusalem – “Beit Knesset Moreshet Yisrael”. It’s connected to and part of the United Synagogue’s flagship offices; Beit Midrash & guest house/hotel complex known as the Fuchsberg Centre.
Outside N.America the Conservative Movement is known by the name “Masorti”. It is entirely irksome to the Noir Fedora’s that there is a Masorti presence at all in Israel, never mind on a prime piece of downtown J’lem real estate. I like to irk them some. I’d like to irk them more some, actually.
Debbie & I first met Rabbi Jerome (Jerry) Epstein of NYC when he came to Edmonton in 2001 in connection with our search for a rabbi at Beth Shalom. They were out there but for 7 years we didn’t know where to find them. Then the Exec. Director of USCJ, Jerry’s mission was to help us find a rebbe.
Over the years I’ve come to know him and his wife Jane quite well and when he retired 2 years ago it was to a ‘part-time’ job with USCJ here in Jerusalem as it’s Chief International Affairs Officer (CIAO), overseeing the interests of the Conservative movement in Israel.
Jerry & Jane bought a beautiful condo in a beautiful new building a few blocks from the shul and had us over for lunch after services. They were very gracious hosts and we were very hungry visitors. Jane put on the usual 30 gazillion small plates of ‘stuff’ (and cholent) show for lunch but started us out with a hunk of sweet as honey…dew. Every single meal I’ve had some here and each time it’s sweet as sugar. How do they do that??
The Hebrew U. gang set up 3 different walking tours of the Old City. We chose the “Mark Twain in Jerusalem” tour. Our guide for the tour, Chana, is an assistant prof & Ph.D. candidate in Christian Bible History at Hebrew U. For 3 solid hours she led us missionaries through the Christian Quarter in the footsteps of Mark Twain, punctuating her tour with quotes from his blog of his visit in 1867, “An Innocent Abroad”.
Here’s my favourite: “My fellow pilgrims would have liked very well to get out their Sharpies and put their names on the rock slab covering the tomb of Christ, together with the names of the city they hail from in the USA, but the priests permit nothing of the kind. What the pilgrims wouldn’t have given to chip off chunks of the rock for souvenirs, though.”
Okay, I actually paraphrased what he said. They didn’t actually have Sharpies in 1867. Just regular felt markers.
I just finished reading “An Innocent Abroad” (it’s hilarious – I think his fellow pilgrims are much like my present day missionaries so not much has changed in that way).
That said, they are a polyglot lot. We had some from Brazil, Switzerland, and France on our tour. There was a lot of multilingual translation going on. As I said, the Hebrew BOG folks have come from all over the world. Hebrew is the lingua franca for us all.
Speaking of trying to speak Hebrew, here is pretty much the dumbest thing I’ve said so far in Hebrew: “Thank you very much for the I don’t need any”. That said, the Arab shopkeeper seemed to understand it anyway. I’ve decided to just keep using the phrase over and over as it kind of rolls off my tongue and out of my mouth easily.
Overall, though, my Hebrew is getting us along just fine. In particular, when the Hebrew menu items are simple transliterations of English words. So far I’ve got “Steak Entrecote” down pat on the mixed grill menu. Might need a little help learning the turkey testicles translation a bit better though, I think.
The Mark Twain tour stopped for a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Helena, the mother of King Constantine, found the cross of Jesus in a well on the site and Constantine commissioned the church to be built starting in 326.
In the big plaza in front of the entrance Chana told us stories about the rival sects that (literally!) fight over territory in and around the Church. The entrance to the church is through a single door in the south transept. The key to the entrance is held by the Muslim Nuseibeh family who were entrusted with guardianship by Saladin in 1178. This helped to keep the peace between the various Christian factions.
Our favourite story (and everyone’s favourite) is about the small ladder that the Armenians set up outside the church which has stayed put for the last 100 years or so. The ladder appeared there as a result of the problem that stems from the fact that the two windows above belong to the Armenians who have the right to clean and repair them, while the cornice on which the ladder rests belongs to the Greek Orthodox. At some point, (last century) the Armenians put out the ladder for doing work on the windows, and the Greeks protested that the ladder was resting on their portion. The Armenians refused to remove the ladder. Since then the ladder has remained unmoved.
This, of course, is a classic situation where you need to hire a cleaning lady who WILL clean the windows.
The Mark Twain tour ended up on the Via Dolorosa with a visit to a few Stations of the Cross. That’s in the Muslim Quarter, near the Damascus Gate. The Mark Twain tour ended at that point and we were hustled out of the area after shots were fired at the Damascus Gate and about a hundred or so Israeli’s armed with an assortment of lethal weapons and in an assortment of lethal uniforms (army, navy, air force, marines) ran past us toward the Damascus Gate.
We were pretty sure there was a terrorist incident underway. Our ‘romantic’ thoughts were off the mark, however. The next day the Jerusalem Post had this to say about the incident: “Police fired warning shots in the air to break up a fight between rival Arab gangs at the Damascus Gate. Rocks were thrown at the police. Two of the rock throwers were arrested. Order was restored.”
Tonight was the opening dinner reception for the Board of Governors meetings, held at the Botanical Gardens with guest Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem. We didn’t go. We crashed after the pre-dinner reception dinner held for the Canadian missionaries at the brand spanking new event room/restaurant owned by Estelle’s (nee Hock) husband Ezra Astruc.
I spoke to Ezra on Thursday to make arrangements to visit with them tomorrow night and he told me that he is good friends with Rami Kleinmann, the Exec. Director of Hebrew U. in Canada, and that Rami had arranged with him to host the pre-dinner reception dinner.
Small world. Even smaller Jewish world. 1 degree of separation, I tell you!
We had a great reunion and visit with Ezra and hung around a little while after the rest of the gang headed for the Botanical Gardens so we could visit with him a bit longer.
Their daughter Adi is completing a ‘gap’ year program where she and 50 housemates (or some stupid number like that) are living in a run-down house in a run-down part of Tel Aviv and volunteering to help underprivileged families in a variety of ways.
The ‘gap year’ here of course simply means the gap between high school and the army. The program is very intensive and the army thinks it is a terrific bridge between high school and the army but only about 2% of the kids currently are in the program. As time goes by, the hope is that the government will provide more funding to enlarge the program.
Their daughter Lior is finishing Gr. 10 and heading to Camp BB next week for the summer as a CIT. The girls spent most every summer at Camp BB, a way for Estelle to ensure that they have quality time with their family in Canada. As it turns out, Lior leaves for Canada the day before us next week.
Ezra opened his new event room/restaurant 6 months ago and business seems to be picking up nicely although he says he spent over budget on improvements. It is a beautiful room and the food is delicious as well. He employs Hebrew U. students and that was a nice touch as Menachem Ben Sasson, Prez of Hebrew U., was engaged in talking to his students for most of the time he was at the pre-dinner reception dinner reception.
I had the fun of doing laundry at the Laundromat in Tel Aviv at midnight last week but Estelle & Ezra volunteered to do this weeks load so he stopped by the hotel to pick up our laundry on his way home later tonight. I sure hope it gets ironed, too! Good service, here, eh?