(Saturday night, November 21, 1998) – Jerusalem
In case I’d ever wondered, after last night I have no doubt that fundamentalism isn’t my cup of tea. I went to the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Great Synagogue across the street from the Sheraton. It seemed logical to observe all forms of Israeli Judaism.
Now I knew that in the Great Synagogue (an Orthodox congregation), women would be required to sit separate from the men. But I did not know that women are not permitted to pray or sing aloud. I would not last long in that environment. (I nearly came undone with giggles when I envisioned my Philadelphia friend Johanna being told she had to daven silently.)
Backtracking all the way to yesterday morning: At breakfast, I sat near two tables, each with two couples. Table One asked Table Two to come with them to Machne Yehuda. Table Two conferenced and decided it was too dangerous.
Listening to their debate over the wisdom of shopping at a market that had been bombed two weeks earlier in the rush leading up to Shabbat did not change my mind. I was determined to go. It was more than “we can’t let the terrorists win” – although perhaps that played a small role in my thinking. I think it was important to me to experience life in Israel, not tourist traps or “safe” places. In Jerusalem, people shop at Machne Yehuda before Shabbat. I would as well.
I am sorry that Table Two missed out on so much fun. I even bought a few things, although I am clearly no expert in haggling with merchants. I strolled very slowly, knowing it would be a while before I saw that place on “Erev Shabbes” again.
Everywhere, there were lots of soldiers armed with Uzzis (well, I think they were Uzzis). Machne Yehuda Street itself was blocked off, and cars were required to stop for inspection. Even the pedestrian entrances to the market were guarded by pairs of soldiers, with barricades blocking those entrances to automobiles that would try to plow their way through (but easily accessible by people on foot). On Agrippa Street, a man argued with two soldiers, quite literally in their faces. I detoured, fast.
I had to laugh at the Dollar Store near Machne Yehuda. And in the same neighborhood, the Bell Shopping Center, a four-story and very tiny enclosed mall on King George Street just past Ben Yehuda. The shops are a bit more upscale than others in the vicinity, but there weren’t any kiosks or little cafes where a person could buy a cup of coffee.
After wandering aimlessly a while – the best way to get to know a city – I settled on buying my Shabbat meal at the Super Sol near the Sheraton. It would be simple: Challah, cheese, honey, and wine.
Following the Kabbalat Shabbat at the Great Synagogue, I savored the almost-traffic-free (and therefore quiet) evening. I watched Israeli TV, not understanding a single word, but happy for the distraction. And read the newspaper.
When Saturday morning turned out to be the day that I hate Eve, I thought about hiding in my room all day. But I had prepaid Shabbat lunch ($45) and didn’t want to waste the money. Besides, I had heard that the Sheraton’s Shabbat lunch is an event that one should not miss, so I put on my nice clothes and makeup, and headed downstairs.
A very funny thing happened during that elevator ride. An older woman greeted me, and immediately starting teasing me (in English). I wasn’t sure how to take her ribbing, so laughed it off and assumed that she meant her joke as a compliment, as her tone was not insulting. But it was a confusing moment, and she understood my confusion. “Oh my dear,” said this stranger, “you are just so pretty, that’s all.” Which made me blush and stammer.
The ticket-takers at the door seemed to know her, so she went right on in. Meanwhile, the same ticket-takers could not figure out what to do with me. Single women traveling alone really do present a problem for Israelis. I had a ticket for one, and all their tables were set for two. With no other single ticket-holders.
They were still pondering how and where they should seat me when Daniel and Erhla Cantor entered. Daniel saw me first and said, “Young lady, you are going to join us today, aren’t you?” Before the waiter could return, I was joining the Cantor gang for Shabbat lunch.
And it turned out that the funny elevator woman was Miriam, Daniel Cantor’s twin sister! When they brought me to the table, she laughed and said, “This young lady thought I insulted her a few minutes ago!”
What would have been a thirty minute lunch lasted two hours, with lots more laughter. Three high school girls the Cantors had met the previous Shabbat joined us for lunch. (The Israeli government is sponsoring the Cantor’s tour, wining and dining them both in fancy restaurants and in private homes. These high school girls were from one of those private meals.) They were a breath of fresh air, so optimistic about life in Eretz Yisroel.
Erhla and Daniel (and Miriam) invited me up to their suite for drinks and conversation, but my Eve-hating days make me unfit for human consumption. So I begged off, wishing I felt better – the company would have been great.
I just returned from a light supper at the Yemenite Step. It’s my favorite so far, one place that I don’t feel strange sitting at a table by myself.
Time in Jerusalem has flown too fast.